RW11 - To Serve Man

This week, Dan and John talk about:

  • John offering listeners to send him stuff (Packages)
  • Receiving a box with Chivaz socks (Packages)
  • Follow-up about the ending of the show (Podcasting)
  • No country for Old Men (Movies)
  • Twilight Zone, To Serve Man (Movies)
  • Not recommending books (Books)
  • Getting the book A Fan’s Notes from his girlfriend (Books)
  • Reading on the phone or the iPad (Books)
  • Meeting George R. R. Martin (Books)
  • John voluntarily limiting his fashion choices (Style)
  • Music is consumed digitally, but people eschew digital books (Technology)
  • Customizing your car in the 1980s (Cars)
  • Handling email, inbox zero (Technology)
  • Follow-up: Albanian soccer match (Stories)
  • People correcting John for saying ”the Ukraine” (Geography)
  • Dan’s General Anxiety Disorder, GERD (Dan Benjamin)
  • What would they have liked to learn before finishing school? (Education)

The show title refers to an episode of The Twilight Zone where aliens had a book called ”To Serve Man” that first seemed like the aliens were there to be servants for humans, but it turned out to be a cookbook.

Many people emailed Dan to ask if John could finish talking about the dolls (John mentioned them in RW6 and RL187).

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

John offering listeners to send him stuff (RW11)

A lot of people have an impulse to make things, but then they don't know what to do with it. They might take it down to the farmer's market where they either can't sell it or only a couple at a time. John wants to provide people a place to test their things out in the real world. If you are making something and you want to send it to John, you absolutely can. If it is a hat he will wear it, if it is a wallet, he will put it in his pocket. He will do real world testing for their listener’s art crap. John mentions his office address (see Packages, no longer valid).

John is interested in all of your grandfather’s and grandmother’s old things, whatever they are, particularly their old Bausch + Lomb glasses. John is interested in any old glasses their listeners might have lying around. He does have a collection of glasses with different people's prescriptions, but he doesn’t wear them, he just likes to look at them.

John has size 44 long in the suit department with an 18 inch neck and he will be happy to go through those and see which ones are cool. Listeners can send him old maps and old weird books with maps in them. If you send him an e-mail: ”I am going to send you something!”, he will have forgotten about it before he even pushes send on the reply. The reply is always going to be: ”Great!” He will consider anything. He will even consider baby chicks or night crawlers and give it a good once over, but he is not making any promises that he will keep them and incorporate them into his life. If you want some feedback on it John can generally provide that.

Receiving a box with Chivaz socks (RW11)

When John arrived at his office today there was a white shoebox-sized box waiting outside the door. It said Chivaz on the side and their logo is the silhouette of a mountain goat with qualities of an Ibex and with a long almost Egyptian beard in the way the Egyptians had false beards. It is from Redmond Oregon, but it does not smell like weed, postmarked October 30th (a week before recording this episode), and it is not heavy. To open it John has an enormous pair of shears from IKEA.

John is not worried that someone has sent him anthrax and he needed to be ready to evacuate in a hurry if there was a powder in there. If he were out there in the public eye like for example Andy Richter who is attracting crazies, he might be a little bit more cautious, but John attracts crazies who are like him and Dan and if they had real anthrax they wouldn’t waste it on killing John, but they would be doing something with that anthrax.

This show attracts a lot of scientists and John has no doubt their listeners could concoct a lethal formula at the drop of a hat, but they are not trying to kill but they are busy discovering new kinds of penicillin and he doesn't think some kook is going to send him something. The worst he is going to get is a bouquet of dead flowers from some angry girl, but he gets those all the time and it just goes in the compost with all the other angry flower bouquets. If there is something dead in the box he will be able to smell it and he is not going to open it. Don't send John anything dead unless it is a skeleton of some roadkill that you bleached and assembled, like a beaver skeleton that you meticulously assembled and packed carefully.

Today’s package looks like some kind of clothing, but when you shake it, it sounds like a jigsaw puzzle. Most of the people who are crafting things are either making stuff out of wood or out of leather and fabric. People who are making stuff out of metal are probably not mailing stuff to podcasters, but they would be mailing stuff to Slayer. John doesn’t think it is a vintage item, but it is probably something new. Chivaz sounds like a Belgian beer (Chimay) and the logo of the goat looks very much like that.

As John opened the box he remembered the e-mail conversation. They sent some stickers, which was very thoughtful, and a nicely written letter. Curiously the letter is written on an envelope, but the envelope isn't sealed and there is nothing in it, meaning they didn't have any paper so they used an envelope as paper. Their handwriting is small and meticulous. It is a box full of cool socks.

Chivaz is a sock-making company and John is so into these socks! They are very tall, cool, athletic-y socks like soccer socks with funky patterns on them. This is the kind of sock John wears, which is to say big chunky socks with designs on them. They are fancy socks, but not Jesse Thorn silly socks. These aren't dandy socks, but these are snowboard socks that you could wear if you were going to do something rad.

The sender owns a sock-making company and they had asked if they could send John some socks and he said: ”Absolutely!”, but then he forgot about the conversation and was surprised and delighted to receive a box of socks. The first sentence of the letter is: ”It is a great honor to send you these Chivaz!”, so the owner of the company has decided that Chivaz are now the proper name for the socks and when people say: ”Nice socks!” John is going to say: ”They are Chivaz!” - ”You mean that is the brand?” - ”No, they are not socks, they are Chivaz!”

Follow-up about the ending of the show (RW11)

A lot of people have tweeted to Dan because they think of him as John’s handler or interlocutor: ”To John, c/o Dan: Please see that this message gets to John if you find it appropriate!” The tweets and emails complain about the ending of the show. In the first few episodes they had the intro music, which is an unreleased Long Winters song, one that John still occasionally pulls out with the intention to finish it. It is from his alternate tuning days, but he doesn’t remember which one because he is not like David Crosby who publishes all his alternate tunings.

For the first few episodes they had the music fade in and then fade out and in one of the episodes it faded in a little too early and they got lots of e-mails from people complaining that they couldn't hear the end of the show because the music was too loud. The episode after that finished in a way where John left a pregnant pause after saying something profound and Dan decided to not do any music this time because that will shut up all the people complaining about it and the way John left it was this kinetic energy and the weight in the room was just hanging there. Dan listened back to it and thought that it really worked.

Then they did a few more episodes like that and started to get emails and tweets from people, saying the show ends too abruptly and then the next podcast starts that is one of these: ”Welcome to the Tech News Show! We are going to tell you about the latest…”, a super-loud person who is talking about some new Apple thing. It is too jarring!

It is one of these situations where the modern world does not allow for pregnant pauses because many people are using podcast apps that will strip out silence. They are listening to the show at one and a half or two times speed anyway and then the app removes silence between things that people say to one another. All of the comedic pacing is taken away, all of the suspense that one builds when telling a story is stripped out and removed for the more efficient delivery of information and data.

People want data, that is why they are listening. They don't realize that John and Dan are constructing an epic poem like The Iliad, which can only be understood through telling and retelling around campfires and the pauses and the slowness of it during the part where they are on the wine-dark sea assailing Troy are essential because it is not data, it is song. Let a long pregnant pause go there! Let their scrobblers scrobble it!

It is like Luke getting in the land-speeder and someone stands up: ”How does it end? Just tell me how it ends!” - ”No, I want to be taken through the journey! Give me three films, give me three more” - ”Wait a minute! Don't give me three more. Give me three films, then stop!” - ”The new ones, the three more by J.J. Abrams are the ones I meant!” People are not hearing the pause. Dan did get one e-mail from someone who was very nice and said how much they loved it and how they were left suspended with the flavor of the show still swirling in their brain, but 100 other people said it ended too abruptly.

An obvious choice would be to play the music again and Dan could pick another point in the song to make it a different music than the beginning. For people who don't like pregnant pauses John would just suggest that Dan finds the ”Barabapbabapbap bap!” and just put that at the end with an 1920s car sounding its little air-powered horn: ”Ahuha!”. That will give them a very clear indication that the show is done and then it will be: ”Hey, you are listening to World Tech Podcast!” and it will be perfect.

It will make everything they listen to after it sound idiotic, especially if John was telling a meaningful story and if they don't end on a humorous note: ”And then she died in the quicksand (sound effects)" That is the solution! Let the haters have the world they want: ”We don't like pregnant pauses, it is too abrupt!” Let's try it out for a few episodes!

No country for Old Men (RW11)

After having seen No country for Old Men John is looking for a duffel bag full of cash, preferably Euro, that was the product of a drug deal gone wrong. Dan thought John wanted a pneumatic cow euthanizer (maybe reference to this tweet), but John is not in the market of killing people one at a time. People are doing a good job of killing themselves en masse and the prospect of trying to earn a dollar by going around and whacking people doesn't appeal to John, but finding a bag of money in the desert does.

This movie is burned into John’s head! He was going to see it, not thinking much about it, but as he was sitting in the theater they were playing out exactly the scenario that he had fantasized about 100.000 times: He knew that drug deals went wrong in the desert, he knew that sometimes there were gunfights where everyone died and the money and the drugs were left sitting there next to the cars, he had been thinking about it for decades, but now someone had taken his dream and put it on the big screen. ”Damn it!” First of all: Why doesn’t he write screenplays? Second of all: Now everybody is going to be looking for that! When they see a bunch of jacked-up Ford Rancheros or F250s out in the desert people are going to think that it is a drug deal gone wrong!

Twilight Zone, To Serve Man (RW11)

There is this weird NPR interstitial music that would be playing in an airport that actually turned out to be an extermination camp. ”This airport is really clean!” - ”Here is the gate! Come on into the gate!” - ”I'm on my way on a trip! Wow, this jetway is really long! Oh no, it is getting hot!” Thoughts like this are present in John’s mind every time he goes into an airport, fuck yes! Everything comes back to that! It should do that for Dan (because Dan is Jewish), but it doesn't!

When a cow goes in there to get no-country-ed, there is no big sign over that first chute that says: "Today is your last day!", but cows go into chutes all the time to get food. That is how they are going to do it to us: "I'm going to Washington DC on a 737!", but this one has a different configuration.

It is like The Twilight Zone episode called To Serve Man. John has seen all the Twilight Zones, but he doesn’t remember them by title. It is based on a short story, probably some Harlan Ellison tale (actually Damon Knight): The aliens land on Earth and say: ”We are ending all war, everyone in the whole world will now have food and be taking care of, there is nothing to worry about anymore because we fixed everything! In fact we would like to take you to our world where everything is a perfect utopia and you live forever in happiness.”

Meanwhile the humans discovered a book, because aliens have regular old books, they don’t have Kindles, and one of the people is trying to decipher their language by reading the book and they determine that the title of the book is: ”To serve man!”, which makes them think that the aliens had a whole book about helping people and they are flying around just to help them out. How sweet!

In the very last part when the hero of the story is boarding the spaceship to go to Utopia, a woman runs out and someone says: ”It is a cookbook!” It is very well parodied in an episode of The Simpsons and elsewhere. They were going to all this length just to eat us and it makes pretty good sense! John can’t imagine that we taste very good, but Midwestern people would be pretty tender because they eat that jello salad out there.

Not recommending books (RW11)

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell is a good science fiction book that covers an overlapping theme. John highly recommends it to the readers out there, but Dan has not read it. John doesn’t usually recommend books. He gets a lot of e-mails asking him to recommend a shelf of books for people, but his own experience of discovering his own shelf of books was a process. He never asked somebody: ”Give me a shelf of books!”, but he took every book he could! Now it is harder because there are infinite books and a young person who wants to read has to find a way to sort through it.

Getting the book A Fan’s Notes from his girlfriend (RW11)

When John was 20 years old there weren't infinite books. If you wanted to read a book, first of all you had to get your hands on a book. One time John went into a bookstore with a girl he was dating and Frederick Exley’s A Fan's Notes had just come out. John had heard about it, he picked it up and read the dust jacket, turning it over in his hands and it was wonderful! He wanted this book, but he could not afford to buy a new book because it was like $11 and he was a little bit upset.

John could not think of a way to get this book short of shoplifting it, but that was against his principles. If you are going to steal anything, stealing literature is probably the best thing, but stealing is against his principles and it always has been. One of the main themes of this podcast, ”How do you keep two contradictory ideas in your head at the same time?”, doesn't get talked about in the world very much, but it is crucial to being a good person. It is not like John has never stolen anything and he understands the logic of stealing all kinds of things, but he tries not to steal.

A couple of days later his girlfriend handed him a nicely wrapped package and it was A Fan's Notes and inside she had written on the title page: ”No one should have to go without a book they want!” What a fantastic utopian idea, but sadly people go without books they want all the time. "Thank you my darling!” It turned out to be one of John’s favorite books at the time and it is still a good book.

When John was 20 years old you just read what you got. John was lucky enough to be around people who knew he wanted their cast-off books and they would pitch them to him when they were done. If you know enough people you get books from people that are very different from each other. Some people are reading the classics, some people reading contemporary fiction, some people reading SciFi and fantasy, and you are not stuck with one person's readings. When people ask John for a reading list he always feels like that is a bad plan and instead you should take 25 reading lists, shuffle them, and never read just along somebody else's path.

Reading on the phone or the iPad (RW11)

John reads more than anybody else he knows. It seems like he is always reading, but not the way a lot of us read these days, like reading about the new jQuery API, but John is reading a work of fiction or a historical thing. Especially late at night in the traditional way to read he is reclining and recumbent and reading a book, perhaps by a candle or fire light. It is a habit that you have to get into. Lately John’s phone has ruined life for him because the act of reading on a phone is the same in the sense that he is taking in information through his eyes and imagination.

The phone has made it much easier to read book reviews and the cloud of writing that attends culture. People are writing criticism and essays about other people writing about things, stuff that used to be hard to get ahold of, and John likes all that stuff! You used to have to buy the Times Literary Supplement and that is a lot of work, but now it is everywhere and the Twitter account of the New York Times is content content content all day!

Even if you only read 1 out of 10 things, there is still this pressure all day long. Sitting down and reading a good old-fashioned 900 page book about the Holocaust, a novel that your friend just wrote, or an autobiography is now in competition with this phone and it is just a nightmare, but John can't put it down either, so it is obviously not a nightmare.

John has never read a regular novel style book on his phone or his iPad. Dan doesn’t like it either and he doesn’t read a lot of comics anymore, but there was a time when he would pick up all the comics every Wednesday, but now he has transitioned to reading them on an iPad. His friends told him it was way better because you can subscribe and they just download when they come out, but there is something different and Dan misses flipping pages of a comic book and looking at the art. On the iPad he does enjoy the aspect of being able to really zoom in on the artwork and see the amazing detail. Comic books are created on computers anyway, so it is not foreign to the way that it is created and Dan got over the hump.

Dan just doesn't like reading a novel on an iPad. A Kindle is a bit better, but his 7-year old kid doesn't like it either. Dan reads to him most nights and one time he read a book that they had gotten on a Kindle so that they could bring it on a trip without having to schlep around a whole bunch of hardcover books and when they got back his son asked why they were still reading it on this thing. They had bought it on this and this was where it was, but he asked if the next one could be a real book again.

Dan wanted to get Harry Potter books for his son and his daughter who is not old enough yet, and you can get the whole set as a hardcover thing. Dan's son just loves the whole act of getting the next book out of the box and putting the slip cover away carefully, looking at the book, and when they get to a new chapter he will look at the illustrations. You can do a lot of the same stuff with a Kindle, but even for him at age 7 a book is a tactile tangible thing that is different. Dan is raising that child correctly!

Tactile consumption of a handmade thing as opposed to the downloading of a thing: Why should that matter? Words are words? No! Words are an imperfect way of communicating the thoughts of one human being to other human beings. With a successful book one human being's thoughts are transmitted to a million people and with an unsuccessful book or just somebody writing a handwritten letter it is from one person to another, but there is still a connection between one person's mind and imagination and other people. We get more and more divorced from the understanding that a book is a product of somebody's mind and the Internet makes it just seem like all this content.

When someone writes in a unique voice it really stands out and the voices that are garbling English are the ones that stand out as jarring, when you are reading something and: ”Oh my goodness! This is a unique narrator! I can't wait to get to know this person and I can't wait to go down a road with them!”, It stands out from the flat-affect writing that most people do. Even those of us who know that stuff is created by individual people have a tendency to feel that the Internet is talking to you and you are digesting data that is coming to you in the form of words. A book makes it much more evident that this is a work that someone has made.

Now kids come up with everything being available all the time and they have a different sense of authorship. They are further away from it. When they open up their iPad, the complete history of television, all movies ever made, all comic books, all stories, and everything is all there and in a way authorship belongs to Apple now: ”Apple is providing me all these things. This device is the portal!” and that is one remove from that connection to the author and it changes our nature of the relationship.

Dan wonders if he and John are the dinosaurs. When the television came out people said that nobody is going to want to sit in front of a box with light shining at them in the dark, but now that is all people want to do. The Internet was going to be a giant leveller because all of a sudden everybody had access to everything, but it was just the latest iteration of the idea that we are trying to create a civilization of philosopher kings: If everyone has equal access to education, everyone will avail themselves of education.

Human history is full of this idea! "The printing press is going to change everything!" It certainly widens the circle, but it does not create a nation of philosopher kings. There is always going to be a small minority of people who is interested in really educating themselves, but most people aren't. Technology puts a lot of bright lights in front of people and as we move into the future there are going to be a lot of flashing lights.

Millennial music consumers are buying vinyl records again and they get themselves a HiFi, not just because it is cool and hip, but it is part of the filtering. There is too much music and this archaic format is intentionally limiting them as a part of trying to put some boundaries around things.

The same is going to be true of printed work: It may only be consumed by a small anachronistic group of people, but really: Who the fuck is reading poetry anymore? People who are writing poetry and reading poetry are by definition anachronistic and have been for 60 years. We have a tendency to say: ”Oh, you are just being precious!” and dismiss the impulse as one of putting a bird on it. ”You are just trying to differentiate yourself by being cute and effete!”, but in fact it is a perfectly legitimate way to say that there is too much to think about.

Meeting George R. R. Martin (RW11)

This story falls into the category of: ”John learned to play the bass on an airplane before playing on national television”. A couple of years ago John was flying with John Hodgman from Los Angeles to New Mexico on some small de Havilland propeller plane on their way to do a show at George R. R. Martin's theater. They were going to be there for the weekend and George was going to be there and they were going to hang out with him.

Hodgman got a look in his eye and said: ”You have read Game of Thrones, have you not?” - ”No!” - ”You have seen at least the television show Game of Thrones?” - ”No!” - ”You are going to meet George R.R. Martin and you have never read anything that he has written?” - ”I don't know, I think I have maybe read something in Playboy in 1990, some short story about I don't know what!” - ”Oh my fucking God!” and he pulled out his phone, handed it to John, and said: ”This is Game of Thrones. Start reading it! I am not introducing you to George R.R. Martin if you have not even read a chapter of this book!” - ”Okay!”

John read the first couple of chapters of Game of Thrones on a phone with all his hair standing on end, he did not want to be doing this, but the story grabbed him and he forgot he was on a plane, he forgot he was looking at it on a phone and he was in the story, even though it was unclear at first. There is all that talk about the dire wolves right away that was like: ”What is this about?”, but it is an adventure tale written in a good voice and it felt like reading Master and Commander set in Dungeons & Dragons land.

John was afraid to meet George R.R. Martin and say: ”Hey George! Nice to meet you! Big fan!” - ”Oh yeah, what are you a big fan of?” - ”All the great books!”, but at least now he knew where he was coming from and John loves talking about medieval armament and all that fucking feudal politics, he will talk about that shit all day! It was an entrée, but they ended up talking a lot more about ComicCon than feudal life. That is the world we live in! He didn't want to talk about ComicCon either, but they were at a big table of people, what can you do? It wasn't really a big table, there were four people there, but ComicCon anyway.

This was the only time John ever read parts of a book on his phone, but he couldn’t sit and read a whole book on his phone, for the love of God!

John voluntarily limiting his fashion choices (RW11)

John decided to not buy anything in China and specifically to not buy any two-button suits. His suits all have to be three-button suits with the third button pressed into the lapel in a style that is described as three-fold-two, an old preppy style where there are three buttons but you are never meant to button the top button and the lapel is pressed as though it was a two button suit. It was a sartorial flourish and preppy-indicator from the 1950s and over the years it has come and gone out of style.

Italian tailors often will do a three-fold-two or three/two because it is an indicator, but for the last ten years all suits have been two-button suits and you can't find a three button suit. When John is sifting through suits he is just completely ignoring two-button suits although some of them are great but he had to put a filter on. He was not going to buy 800 suits, he wanted them to be specific. In the 1990s all suits were three button, but meant to have the top button buttoned and John doesn’t want any of those either.

By putting this bracket around what he is going to look at in thrift stores he can go into a Goodwill with 80 suits and flip through them like flipping through a card catalog, going: ”Nope nope nope nope nope nope nope” and when he sees that little flourish, that little sartorial moment, he will consider this either very old suit or well-made suit. Listening to music on vinyl is the same impulse that will pretty soon extend to: ”If the book didn't warrant being made into an actual book, then it is not going through my sieve and onto my reading list”, convenience be damned!

Music is consumed digitally, but people eschew digital books (RW11)

Dan has an English degree, his mom was a college English professor, his aunt still runs the library at the university, and books and reading has always been near and dear. People self-publish e-books to download it and read it on a Kindle or an iPad and Dan definitely understands totally what his son and John are saying that it is not a real book. Of course it is!

Dan's son would never hear a song playing from iTunes through the car stereo when they drive to school and say: ”That is not a real song because you are not putting a needle onto a record!”, he doesn't even know what a record player is. If Dan would show him a record player he would think it was amazing and really cool, but he would look at it as incredibly old fashioned and funny that this was what you had to do to hear a song.

He has never seen a record player, a cassette player or an 8-track, even though the 8-track was the number one format for listening to music when John was a kid. He had a gigantic collection and his dad's collection of 8-tracks would fill a Chrysler Imperial. They traded pictures of that strange 8-track player that is like a red ball (see BW205). Both John and Dan had one where you changed the channel by pushing down on the handle.

8-tracks were a terrible format for listening to music because they cut the song off in the middle, but Dan’s son should perceive that records were how music was disseminated. Dan is still the filter for him! He doesn't have to go out into the world and decide about music. Dan is saying: ”Here are the Beatles. Here are The Long Winters, two bands that are comparable because The Long Winters, although less popular, are just as good!”

Dan actually knows the guy from The Long Winters, which bumps them up in the rankings. He son sometimes says: ”Ah, yes, I feel like I understand!” and because he is a kid he is going to say: ”I understand everything!”, but he has probably never heard The Oak Ridge Boys and if you haven't heard The Oak Ridge Boys you can't really say you know everything!

Dan knows some people who have 50.000 songs, tons of music, that was once on CD, but now it is all digital. That is culturally accepted, we are alright with listening to stuff digitally, but we are not necessarily okay with reading stuff digitally because there is something real about it and Dan’s kid picks up on that. Maybe because he has seen books his whole life and now there is this digital book and he thinks: ”What are you doing?”

On the other hand there has never been a record player or a cassette tape in his life. Dan said that music can come on a CD, but he didn’t understand why you would do that. They didn't have the Internet and they didn't have the way that it works now. Those didn't exist because no-one had thought of it yet and things weren't fast enough. ”That is stupid!” You used to get your Internet on a CD thanks to AOL who sent it to you right in the mail. Before that it was on a floppy disk.

The first two Long Winters records were made on 2” 24-track through a Quad Eight board into a Studer 2” tape machine and the Ultimatum EP was made on a 2” 16-track owned by Tucker Martine, probably an Ampex 16-track. These are just brand names and there are a few listeners who are like: ”What? An Ampex 16-track 2”? Wow!” and John is just throwing them a bone. It is probably somebody in London who is like: ”Wow, I didn't know those things were real! John Roderick has even touched it!”

Dan’s first record was a 45. He doesn’t remember what it was and how old he was, but he was growing up with 45s. In his early teens you would get an album and on the sleeve there would be lyrics, Liner notes, photos of the band and all this great stuff. When cassette tapes took over there would be a little folded-up booklet with pictures and notes and things like that. CDs also had little booklets, but eventually it was just a little piece of paper in there. Now CDs are gone.

Dan is not saying he misses them, but that was a big part of it. The cover of an album wasn't a tiny little thumbnail that would show up in the corner of your screen, but it was a big thing that many people would display on their shelf. When you would put an album on you would listen to the whole album, not just one track, because it was a lot of trouble to take the album out of the sleeve and put it down on the record player and put the needle on the record. You are going to listen to that whole side and you might flip it later. Shuffling a playlists is very different!

John never bought a record on a cassette because you could buy a 90 minute cassette at the drugstore, buy the album, and all it took was 90 minutes to record the album onto the cassette and then you had it in both formats. John never understood people who bought cassette versions of albums because it seemed like they were blowing it. There was a campaign saying: ”Tape decks ruin the music business!” or ”Home recording kills artists!”, targeting that exact impulse of buying a record and taping it onto a cassette because getting this record on tape to take it to your car was going to kill the music industry that was growing by 50% every year.

Customizing your car in the 1980s (RW11)

The first time John's car had a tape deck instead of an 8-track was a third party install. In the 1980s everybody was an amateur tape deck installer. John’s friend Jim McNeil had a Mitsubishi Mighty Max pickup, a tiny little truck that was not as impressive as it sounds. Mitsubishi began to export to the United States early on and it was a first generation 1978-86 model from 1982. That era was all about customizing your car when you were in High School, it was the dawn of the real aftermarket era.

The first Volkswagen GTI arrived on the scene with black trim instead of chrome back in the old days when there was no black trim on any car. On the GTI they had painted the chrome black and it started a revolution in people's minds. Everybody painted their chrome black, which was called Euro-treat. People would say that you Euroed your car by painting the trim black and it looked so dynamic, dark, and scary, but it was still a fucking rabbit that you had Euro-ed.

One time John saw a Volvo DL that was just a normal Volvo DL, probably with gold paint, but they had blacked-out the trim and put some BBS rims on it: ”Oh my God! Look at that cool car!” Underneath it was a DL that can go 0-60 mph (0-100 km/h) in 11 minutes, but it was cool-looking!

Jim McNeil put a tape deck in his Mitsubishi and he installed a sunroof. He was pretty handy, but it probably compromised the structural integrity of the car. You couldn't install your own sunroof that would slide back, but it popped up to let air in, it let the sun in and you could pop it out completely to just have a hole in your roof, which Jim would do because he wasn't afraid of a little action.

He had customized this lightweight pickup which had a two liter engine and was not a hot truck, but he had hotted it up and they cruised around Anchorage all the time and John wasn’t ashamed. If it had tangled with a Ford Bronco it would have been crushed, but it was a hot little mini truck. People put a lot of effort into customizing their cars and a tape deck was a big part of that.

People say MP3s sound bad, but most of the music John has listened to as a kid was played on an AM radio through a 1” (2.5 cm) diameter speaker mounted underneath a plastic dashboard, a completely analog process that sounded awful. Even though MP3s don’t sound good they sound better than a dashboard speaker in a Ford Ranchero. People are so starved for music that they take it in whatever form it comes, which takes them out of a connoisseur relationship, which is a specialized relationship to things.

John doesn’t expect everybody to be a connoisseur. People are listening to this podcast right now just hoping that Dan and John will come up with some computer hacks for them. They still don't get the program and they are wondering if those guys will ever start talking about Macintoshes or what? ”What is this program? I have listened to nine episodes of it and there are no hacks. I got it on 2x speed! They never talk about computers!”

Handling email, inbox zero (RW11)

Is Dan a practitioner of Inbox zero? At one a point he was managing the email that was coming in on a daily basis pretty effectively, but he was not doing a very good job at the email that had gotten into the backlog. Things got really busy for a while and he ended up with a tremendous amount of emails where so much time had gone by that he would never realistically get to it. He would try and he would get through 10 emails, but then he would get back to doing something else and there were still months of email until he finally one day just archived all of it and started fresh with the current month. Dan wouldn't quite call it inbox zero, but it is Inbox-a-few and it feels really great to be in that situation.

John is bad at email despite having known Merlin for 15 years. Right now he has 25004 unread e-mails. Dan recommends him to get honest about what he can do and just archive the older emails. Replying to an email that someone sent three months ago (can me quite awkward). John might get different emails than Dan: People are telling him important personal things and they are telling him stories, but if there was anything time-sensitive in that email it is done now. Time-sensitivity was never a criteria for John for whether or not he would be interested in a thing. Every once in a while he would do a search and decide that he was just going to delete every single email he has ever gotten from the Grammy Awards.

For some reason the San Francisco State University decided that John was an alumnus and they continue to send him stuff no matter how many times he will unsubscribe. One time he flew to Chile on a South American airline called LATAM and they continues to send him update emails saying: ”You ready to go back to Chile?” - ”I absolutely am, but I can't book that flight today and why are you sending me email still?” John would love to get rid of all that garbage, but there are emails in his 25.000 unread e-mails from people who aren't alive anymore and he doesn’t just want to delete those.

John has transferred from computer to computer and his desktop is not on the Cloud, meaning that the e-mails on this computer don't know that he is also reading emails on his phone, but they just stack up. Here is one from the Tribeca Dental Center because five years ago he needed a dentist while he was in New York and he went to the Tribeca Dental Center. They are sending him an email, saying: ”Been a while since we have seen you!” - ”Right! I have been to the dentist since then. I don't live in New York!” BMI is also sending him stuff.

John would like to have all the emails archived in a way where he could read them all as a novel. There are some great threads among the emails where he was arguing back and forth with somebody! He went back all the way to when he first got this computer in 2004 and his first e-mail is from Merlin Mann, which is appropriate, sending him some photographs he took at an early Long Winters show. This was early on in the band and John is wearing a Fiver T-shirt, playing a Rickenbacker while Eric Corson is playing a Rickenbacker bass. Merlin took those pictures with a state of the art little camera he was selling on his 43 folders website.

The next email is an MP3 of the song Christmas with You is the Best, their first Christmas tune. There is tons of very interesting stuff in John’s email! There are early photo-shoots of the band all the way back to 2004. Dan explains that John should archive all these emails, not delete them, which is possible for example in GMail. Eventually that computer will die and then it will all be gone and John will say: ”Oh well, that solved that problem!” He needs someone to handle so much for him, he really needs an assistant still after 2.5 years of searching for an assistant.

Follow-up: Albanian soccer match (RW11)

I just want to clarify something you mentioned in Episode 9 about what was actually on the flag which some Albanian soccer fan. It is believed that the drone was controlled by the brother of Albanian prime minister sitting on a VIP seat, flew over a stadium in Belgrade during Euro 2016 qualifier match between Serbia and Albania. (He has a link of what was on the flag and the explanation of these images and who the people in the photo are) The guy on the left is Ismail Qemali and the guy on the right is Bulleteeny (?)

But the biggest problem and the thing that provoked the incident was the image of Greater Albania shown in the middle. This image was widely used during World War II on Kosovo where Albanian fascists backed by Italy and Mussolini killed and expelled hundreds of thousands of Serbs and non-Albanians, so the Serbian player who pulled the flag and drone was actually trying to calm the situation.

Unfortunately Albanian players first attacked him, then Serbian players attacked them, and finally fans broke into the field and attacked Albanian players, so this is not some flag that Albanians consider as their national one. It is the one representing Albania that consists of half of Montenegro, half of Macedonia, parts of Serbia, including Kosovo, and a huge piece of Greece. I don't think that this flag would be taken peacefully in any of those countries as well as that I don't believe the SS flag or flag with swastika on a drone in a stadium in Tel Aviv during Israel Germany soccer match would be taken as a good joke. Regards Milan

Milan seems vested in this. Either he is a Balkan resident or someone who is very familiar with Balkan politics. John was not suggesting that it was a good joke, but only reporting on it from the standpoint of an American who has no real vested stake in the Balkan milieu. He did understand that it was an inflammatory thing for the person to do. It wouldn't have sparked a riot in the stadium if it had been a flag with a picture of Mickey Mouse.

Even for those who really try to stay on top of world politics the Balkans in particular are very difficult to understand, even if you have a sense of the tension between the Muslims, the Orthodox, and the Catholics, the history, not just of World War II, but of the Ottomans and the Austrians. Only the fact that there even is a country called Macedonia really antagonizes the Greeks. Macedonian people of the country Macedonia say that they have a historical right to the name, but the Greeks say they don't. Montenegro Serbs didn't want Montenegro to be its own place, but then they made an accommodation. Everybody is always fighting the Albanians. Let’s just not even get into all the problems of the former Yugoslavia!

John understands it better than most Americans, but he still doesn't really understands it, even speaking as someone who walked across Romania and Bulgaria during the Kosovo war. He got a lot of firsthand talkings to, seated somewhere when somebody was wagging their finger at him and explaining to him exactly why so and so and so forth. It is a lot to process and there is a lot of intentional antagonism going on down there. Although there are terrible sports rivalries even in the US, it never has nationalistic consequences and soccer teams are not proxies for armies. It is wonderful when the combat can happen in sports. That is the whole principle behind neighborhood stick fights. Let the combat happen in a stadium!

The listener is saying Greater Albania. John has a tremendous interest in that region, but he did not have that many conversations about it, even with people from down there and he certainly doesn't understand all the symbolism. He didn't think for a second that it was lighthearted. Things matter to people and John is at a distance, broadcasting from the United States where that it is not clear. There are many ways to cause offense just within the small culture Dan and John occupy, let alone world culture.

People correcting John for saying ”the Ukraine” (RW11)

There is one guy who sends John an e-mail every time he makes the mistake of saying ”the Ukraine” rather than saying ”Ukraine”. Ukraine is a country just like Poland is and ”the Ukraine” was the term of art when the Ukraine was a region, like ”the Steps”. When John was growing up Ukraine was part of the USSR. It is one of these things, like you are not supposed to say "the CIA", but you are just supposed to say "CIA" and people in the CIA orbit refer to it as CIA. ”Are you CIA? No, I'm FBI!” That is one way to demonstrate that you are inside.

Because John grew up saying ”the Ukraine” he still absent-mindedly says it although he knows it is wrong. It is important to people from Ukraine to be recognized as a country and not a region because the implication of ”The Ukraine” is that it was still just a part of Russia or an area whose ownership is in dispute and maybe first this country has hegemony over the Ukraine and then this country does.

This guy is sternly correcting John and he tries to remember not to say it, but it slips out. Some people still say Czechoslovakia or even Yugoslavia because they don't remember or they don't know. It is a struggle to stay on top of everything, particularly broadcasting to listeners around the world.

Not very long ago John got a very nice fan letter from Skopje in Macedonia and he had a very wonderful conversation with the person. He realized he needed to know more to picture them in their town, listening to him on the Internet and having things to report, and he looked at some pictures of Skopje to get a sense of what it is like there. Then he also has to look at porn on the internet like everybody else, so his day fills up!

Dan’s General Anxiety Disorder, GERD (RW11)

Hey Dan and John!
I am just writing to thank you for the latest episode 10, ”The parts you don't need” Your discussion of your experiences with meditation and the effects were very interesting to me. Dan, as someone who has recently been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, your account of your experiences gives me hope for being able to live a good and meaningful life with my condition. I know that no two lives are alike, but the fact that you have been able to get to where you are today gives me a lofty goal to work towards. Keep up the good work! You two are definitely helping people like me. — Sincerely, Brian.

Dan hears this a lot every time he talks about this kind of thing, whether it is here with John or with Merlin on Back to Work. People get this diagnosis from a therapist or a psychiatrist and there is the term Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Dan learned that it has a name and it was not just him who feels stressed or him who doesn't understand why he was not sleeping well. No, he had this thing! Frequently the prescription for it used to be Zoloft and they told Dan to take it as well.

Dan didn’t want to take anything that could change his personality in any way, but that is what everyone with Generalized Anxiety Disorder worries about when they get told they should try Zoloft and the whole fact that he didn’t want to take this medication was further proof that he needed it. Obviously he didn’t have to take it, but it helps a lot of people to get things under control so that they can start modifying their behaviors, work on their thinking and get things straightened out. The way she said it was: ”You are not going to make much progress unless you do this!” Maybe he was reading into it at the time.

It was the same thing when they gave him a little purple pill for heartburn, Prilosec OTC (Omeprazole) or Nexium or all of those. Dan had heartburn, but not because he had too many burgers, but persistent heartburn that lasts for weeks at a time, called GERD: Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. It is a sad story with a happy ending. His heartburn wasn't going away until he finally went to a doctor who told him he had GERD. He handed Dan the papers and sent him to the cashier and under diagnosis it just said: GERD.

Dan took his prescription and within hours of taking it he was 100% better. The problem is that you have to take this all the time, you don't just skip your GERD medicine! Dan didn't want to be taking Prilosec forever and he talked to people who had been on Prilosec for years, asking why they were still taking this. They said: ”I have GERD and there is nothing else I can do!” Changing your diet won't help. It is another eel they got on him. Dan went to another doctor who suggested to do an upper endoscopy on Dan to see what is going on in there.

One of his neighbors was telling him horror stories of her older uncle who had GERD and couldn't lay down because it had progressed so badly that it had damaged the little muscle in your esophagus that controls the back-flow of bile. Dan was freaked out because General Anxiety Disorder not only causes GERD but also makes you freak out when you are diagnosed with GERD. His doctor told him there was no damage and no problem with it, but he didn’t know what was causing it. He was from India and he said in his country they had a saying that hurry, curry and worry are the three things that cause GERD.

Dan really didn’t want to be taking Nexium for the rest of his life and the doctor just laughed because Dan would probably be taking it forever. People with GERD just have it and it doesn't go away, but Dan said he was going to make it go away! Then Dan got diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and asked the therapist how he could start addressing this in a more proactive way other than coming and talking to them for an hour a week. She said: ”There are a lot of things you can do, but people usually don't do these things when I give them as recommendations.”

She had the attitude that it will be so beneficial for you if you would do those things, but you are not going to do them like nobody else ever does. Dan ensured her that he would do them and she recommended a CD with super-entry-level basic premeditation breathing techniques for relaxation. He played it and said: ”I can do this, Doctor Weil //(see RW108, RW143)” and they helped! It gave him some background about how meditation and yoga and other things work, how important breathing is, and this actually helped dan a little bit. It was scratching the surface of breathing and meditation and he thought that maybe a full on real Buddhist meditation could have even more of an effect on him and it had a dramatic completely life transforming effect on him over the next few years.

If somebody said: ”I am taking Zoloft and it really helped!” - ”Great!” Dan is not saying to not do whatever you and your advisers think is right for you. This is what Dan wound up doing and it worked really really well for him and he just wants to point out that you would be absolutely shocked and surprised what we as human beings are capable of doing physically and mentally and otherwise if we set our minds to it.

What would they have liked to learn before finishing school? (RW11)

I am a teenager from New Zealand and I love your show Road Work. I want to ask you and John what are the three things you would have liked to learn before leaving or finishing school? Thanks! — David

Dan’s reply

So little of what happens in High School is as big of a deal as it seems. If Dan could go back as an incredibly wise, much older person he would say: ”This stuff that is stressing you out is nothing!” He wished he had learned that. ”Also, don't stress out and work so hard in college. Getting B's and C's is just fine!” unless you are trying to keep a scholarship. No employer is ever going to look at your GPA unless you are working for that kind of place. Focus on finding the thing that you truly love and are interested in as opposed to the thing that you think will lead to an effective career of some kind. It is going to lead to a happier life and being a better person.

The popular kids in High School had it all together. There was another Dan who worked in the auto shop. He had a cool car and the girls liked him and called him Cool Dan to separate him from Nerd Dan, but no-one would have been able to confuse them anyway. Dan had worked hard to get into college and one night he ordered a pizza while he was studying for finals. Who delivered it? Dan delivered it! He had moved to a different city and they hadn’t seen each other since then. He said he was pretty good with delivering pizzas and he was not going to school, he had just started this job, he got fired from his last one, and he was still driving that same car.

It didn't make Dan feel good. The closing shot in that scene in a TV show would be Dan thinking he got it made, but instead he felt confused and bad because this guy was the cool person and the cool people always win in the movie except in The Revenge of the Nerds where the nerds got to win, but they would win by being cool in their own way. Here was this guy who by any measure was going to come out ahead, the guy who was going to win, who clearly had it going, but Dan doesn’t know what led him down the path he eventually wound up on. People around you may seem more or less popular than you or smarter, but none of that matters. Nothing that happens in High School matters at all. Nothing!

John's reply

John loved High School, but he graduated last in his class (see OM128 and the references there). By adult reckoning he was a complete failure in High School. High School failed him and he failed it, but he liked going to school and if they had just left him the fuck alone to read he would have gotten twice the education he got. What was great about High School was all the time in the halls between classes and all the weird stuff.

One time John walked into the principal's office and said: ”Every morning somebody reads the morning announcements over the intercom and that person is boring and I should do that job!” - ”What?” - ”Yeah, you should have a student do it and it should be me!” and John started reading the morning announcements and it was great. He was right: It was way better!

John loved that shit, but the fact that he just got F's in everything was the thing everybody cared about. Bunch of dummies! The world as portrayed by adults to teenagers is not the actual world. Adults who are in charge of shepherding teenagers into the world give you a version of the world on a tray: ”Here is the world and here are the ways that you can join the world! If you choose this, then you go this way, and if you choose that, then you will go that way. Don't choose wrong! If you choose this you will absolutely go that way and you can't change your mind and all will be for not!”

This version of the world isn't real! Adults in charge of showing the world to teenagers are scared that to show the world as it actually is, which is: ”You can do a lot of different things, none of it really counts against you later, you can fuck up for years, you can go off and do dangerous things, you can rumspringa for five years and come back and it is not like any time was lost.” They think it is going to reflect badly on them and if you do go rumspringa then your parents are going to come yell at them. There is the feeling that teenagers can't handle the truth. The truth is: Nobody knows!

The idea that you should pick what you are going to do for the rest of your life when you are 15 works for some people. John has friends who decided they were going to be a doctor when they were 14 and they are a doctor today at 47. It worked for them and John can't argue with that. But if you are a teenager in New Zealand and you are listening to this program and you are asking for that kind of advice, it sounds like you haven't decided without a doubt that you are going to be a doctor.

A lot of teenagers, John included, are very suspicious of the world that the adults portrayed, but they don't have independent outside confirmation. You open up a magazine and see some Punk Rock guy saying: ”You don't have to listen to your parents! Do what you want!”, but that is not very convincing either. It doesn’t sound cool, but it sounds stupid. There aren't a lot of people who will take the pipe out from their teeth and say: ”Listen, young man! Do what the fuck you want! Don't be scared! You can make a life for yourself and it is scary, but it is scary to decide you are going to be a doctor at 15, too! There is nothing that can put fear completely out of it, but you don't have to buy the clear-cut world that people try to sell you!”

John was a straight-up fuckup for a decade. Everyone agreed that he had squandered his potential and that he was a tragic case, but then it turned out that: Here he is and he is at the same fucking Rotary Club meetings as all those people who never ever did one thing off the path.

The second thing for John would be to figure out your level of physical conditioning. There are a lot of different body types and a lot of different conditions that you can choose to be yours, but find a level of conditioning and maintain it! When you are older it is much harder to start conditioning yourself, which is to say: Human beings want a certain amount of exercise, their bodies want to be put to use somehow. You can establish that when you are young because some people want a ton of exercise and some people just need a maintenance amount of exercise.

John lifted weights, he did sports, but he considered it all to be a drudgery or an obligation. If someone had explained to him that it is a mental trick to decide that this was part of your life and you don't have to dread it, then it would have been good. It's not hard! You just lift some dumbbells or walk on a treadmill or sit on an exercise bike and it keeps your blood pumping and your heart going and that is very useful throughout your life, but it is especially hard at 50 years old to say: ”I guess I better figure out how to exercise. I have high blood pressure and my shit is starting to fall apart!”

Sport in school is connected to competition and all the other kids are better at this. The adults encourage it, they are ranking kids and the good kids get to be on the sports ball team and the bad kids have to sit over on the bench and never get chosen for dodgeball or whatever. All that competitiveness is a bummer, but it is not connected at all to exercise, which is a sense of competition you have within yourself.

You are competing against inertia and the forces of entropy, not against other kids, and you are not trying to be fit for anyone else, but it is part of a process of getting to know your own body. John wishes he could say that to himself. He was exercising and he understood and he enjoyed it, but there are certain things in life that you have to muster the intestinal fortitude to make not optional for yourself, and as long as everything is optional then it is very easy to say: ”Well, I don't want to, and so I won’t!”

When you are 20 you exercise because you like it or you want to lose a few pounds or you want to look good in your wife beater. You have a specific short term goal. When you get a bit older you need to do it and there will be real life-threatening or life-impeding problems if you don't. If Dan wasn't working out he would be having much worse back problems. It is not like: ”I worked really hard in the yard over the weekend, my back is a little sore and I am 25 and tomorrow will be better!”, but it is a real thing that he has to do! Of course it wouldn't be like this if he had some good resistance training going for the last 10-20 years.

You should establish discipline within yourself at a young age and have it be disconnected from competitiveness. A little bit of self-discipline goes a really long way and it is also called work ethic, practice, or ritual, but you just need to find a relationship to that little bit of making this not optional for yourself, which is still within the realm of optional: ”I am optioning to make this non-optional!” Having made that decision you have to look at yourself in the mirror and it is not anybody else who is doing it.

Also, you really don't regret kissing anybody as much as you regret not kissing somebody. In a situation where there is a choice between kissing somebody and not kissing them, kiss them, because if you kiss them and you don't like it you go: ”Oh, I realized that I wanted to kiss you and I did and now I feel like something about it is just wrong for me going forward. But thank you for the kisses and let us part friends!” If you are presented with an opportunity to kiss somebody and you are complicated about it and you are like: ”Oh, should I? should I not kiss them? What will happen? What if I this? What if I that?”

If you catastrophize it or overcomplicate it, then you will later go: ”Oh God‚ I should have just kissed them! Why didn't I just kiss them?” That is still true in middle age, it is true for people throughout their lives, but it is a habit you can establish early on. John is not advocating promiscuity, but if you are given the opportunity to experience something or to not experience it, then go for it every time because you just regret not doing it later. John has kissed some terrible kisses and he has done some terrible things, but he doesn’t regret them. Does he regret breaking his hands and breaking his body multiple times? Yes, but would he take it back? He is not sure!

If he had the choice to not have broken himself multiple times and if he had chosen the alternative to live a life where he took no risks, he would just regret it. A lot of the times when he fell off a thing he could have been paralyzed and he would have regretted that. Cautious people always go to the worst case scenario: ”What if you get paralyzed? You are going to be sorry then! What if you die?”, but that is not reason enough to live in a bubble. It starts with kisses, it really does, and it applies to shy people even more than non-shy people: ”It is hard for you to kiss people because you are shy, but later on you are only sorry about the things you didn't do. So do it!”

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