1. Assholes dominate, scumbags explode, shitheads level off and douchebags steadily rise

    Google release a tool called Ngram Viewer several months ago to evaluate trends of words much in the same way Google Trends displays keyword searching trends.

    This tool could be used to evaluate changes in the public lexicon, political views, or the ebb and flow of the public zeitgeist. Let’s use it to track something more juvenile:  Specifically  the words asshole, dickhead, shithead, and douchebag. Click below to expand.

    Assholes, Dickheads, Shitheads, Douchebags

    Assholes Dominate

    Wow, assholes reign supreme. By far there are more assholes than dickheads, shitheads, and douchebags combined.


    Dickheads, Shitheads, Douchebags

    Removing the vast swathes of assholes, we see there are more dickheads now than ever before. Scumbags have soared exponentially above the rest with a boom starting in the 1970’s. Douchebags relatively multiplied in the 1990’s with several bumps in the 1910’s and late 1930’s because of medicinal douchebags rather than the popped collar kind. The number of shitheads leveled off in the 1990’s compared to a meteoric rise of shitheads through the 1980’s.



    The number of douchebags surprises me. Given the perceived growth of stupidly groomed facial hair, people who watch DVDs of Entourage, and an overinflated sense of self worth higher than AIG douchebags would appear more often.


  2. I Speak Tonight of Mighty Taco

    While normally this ain’t that kind of blog and Mr. Veer with certainly give me shit about turning this into some sort of Hey I Ate a Thing and Here’s a Photo blog like he swears every girl in Brooklyn is obligated to have… we gotta talk about Mighty Taco. While it is, yes, a fast food chain, it is also something of a regional oddity, maybe even a mass hallucination. So just fit in in with the kappa, the green flash and every rural Floridian’s tale of their Skunk Ape encounter and listen to me.

    Mighty Taco serves the sort of food that would result if someone had been told of a food called ‘taco’ without knowing what ‘Mexico’ was. Picture this information passing from some half-stoned stranger who had seen a bit of the world who was  giving a ride to a young man in the middle of the night. That man, dimly remembering something about the sleeping bag-like arrangement of a tortilla around cheese, meat and salad then decides to go into business.

    For Buffalo residents, Mighty Taco is the sort of cultural touchstone that’s worth launching a parking lot beating over. Friends from the area assure me that dissing Mighty Taco anywhere in Western New York is kind of on par with heading down to Georgia and showing off your pen and ink portraits of General Sherman at a gun show. All in all, a rather hyperbolic devotion to what is at the end of the day, a kind of quasi-Mexican version of White Castle.

    Seriously. There’s a kind of entertainment to be had by browsing through Mighty Taco’s Yelp page and reading the alternate praise from locals and snooty dismissal by folks who were just passing through. Like the musician from Pittsburgh who said “The vibes were harsh in there as well, with a heavy methed-out Juggalo presence which can strike fear into the heart of anyone who’s seen a book that wasn’t about Ozzy Osbourne in the last three years.” Most of the slagging focuses on the difference between the tortilla wrapped treats they dish out and anything that would be served within the borders of Ciudad Juarez. It kind of baffles me that anyone entering an establishment named ‘Mighty Taco’ would have an expectation of authenticity, especially as that they’re eating in a town with about 8 months of winter. One does not go to Kamkatcha for the hummus, dear sir.

    What most intrigues me is how ingrained this mutant breed of ersatz Mexican food is in Buffalo life. For a city that has been marketed to the world as the home of the chicken wing and the first great failure of the rust-belt, this taco is something that is uniquely Buffalo, opaque to outsiders and absolutely vital to those who keep true to their Buffalo roots. It’s this sort of devotion that spurred the creation of something as mad as Project Chow Down: a mail-order service that ships out Mighty Taco Burritos via FedEx 2 Day on dry ice, complete with their legendary sauce packets.

    Edit: The spirit moved me this morning to finish the original illustration for this post.

    Know of anything in your region that resembles this sort of local following? The closest approximation I can think of is Manhattan’s Papaya Dog/Papaya King hot dog stands that sell papaya drinks. Let us know about your local fast good cult in the comments.

  3. 90s Media Archaeology: Encino Man

    Imagine everything else we know about the period between the LA Riots and Woodstock 99 was deleted in some tragic system backup meltdown. All that is left is a VHS copy of Encino Man that some forward-thinking patriot had in his rumpus room protected in a lead-lined suitcase. Is there any better artifact for recreating the hokey shallow goofiness that is the 90s popular culture aesthetic?

    Even this, a three and a half minute “behind the scenes” vignette–a quick cut mash of scenes from the movie, 20 seconds worth of cast and crew soundbites and at best, 30 seconds of actual behind the scenes material–is a great example of the sort of pointless bonus of media trash that was pioneered in this era. They usually stuck these on the end of the tape, right after you saw the actual movie. Now it’d be hidden in a Extras submenu on the DVD. I could never quite wrap my mind around what this sort of extra was supposed to accomplish. If you’ve just watched the actual movie, why would you want to watch three minutes of it again, cut to looping riffs from the soundtrack, especially if you hustled into sitting through it with the promise of some real insider view of the making of such an epic as Encino Man. I imagine there’s a film studies major out there writing a paper on this subject right now, thereby creating an overly self-serious low-content media artifact in discussion of another.

    Cheap promo hustles aside, we could do worse than recreating a decade from a Pauly Shore vehicle that paired a future Hobbit with the readymade Cro-Magnon good looks of Brendan Fraser. Perhaps the all-screaming spray-tanned whoreapalooza of contemporary pop culture will one day give way to a simpler, goofier, oblivious resurrected 90s that will rise from its suspended animation like a frozen caveman found in an LA backyard. Hell, why not. Let one hologram swallow another.

  4. Hitting That Tablet Sweet Spot: The Atavist

    The idea is a such a simple one that it’s no wonder that everyone who has tried it before has made a hash of it: create a ideal format for mid-length storytelling that recalls the better long form magazine journalism while making use of the possibilities of the multimedia age. Much like it took over a decade for people who actually TALK on their cellphones in public to be treated like the social lepers that they are, with the tablet and mid-length writing (more than an article, less than a book) the technology has preceded its appropriate patterns of usage.

    Enter The Atavist. 15,000 words, give or take. $2 a pop. The writer gets paid a flat fee plus a percentage (likely less than Apple’s 30% cut… ouch!) Stories launch simultaneously for the iPad, iPhone, Kindle, Nook, and soon, Android tablets (“We are working very hard on it, we promise…” says Atavist’s tech page.)

    The writers of the Atavist’s debut offerings–Wired regulars Brendan Koerner and Evan Ratliff–were kind enough to give me a demo on their iPads. “This one’s a loaner,” Koerner admits, dropping a non sequitur about the difference between his and Will Smith’s lifestyle.

    The debut stories are a joy to read. The format definitely encourages linear reading but doesn’t prohibit the sort of skimming and jumping around that internet-trained brains are prone to do. A button offers intuitive chapter selection, another shows or hides footnotes with audio, text, maps and timelines. The timeline features the clever option of hiding any spoilers by shrouding later events when accessed from early pages.

    So what’s the biggest change for the writers in crafting a story for this format? “The notes,” Koerner asserts. “In a book, you assume no one will read them. When they’re in-line, everybody will.” Because of the size, as compared to a full-length book, “I tried to keep things zooming along,” sometimes giving short-shrift to details of the setting–World War II-era India–that the average reader might not have the best acquaintance with. While an in-depth exploration of the Bengal famine or the nitty gritty of U.S. and British troop deployment policies wouldn’t work in something designed as a mid-size read, having inline notes available for background keeps readers on the same page while keeping the main narrative moving along.

    To best exploit this new form, Koerner’s plotting approach also changed. Koerner compares it to his recent experience adapting Now the Hell Will Start, his book about the jungle manhunt for soldier Herman Perry, to a script. Having archival photographs and scans of original sources not only integrated as inline elements but given pages of their own required a more visual approach to plan out the piece’s flow. “Kind of like a storyboard with text.” Because of the format, “I tried to keep it as visual as possible‚ us[ing] photos to create the atmosphere of that era.”

    Having such an expanded set of channels with which to tell a story gives the authors expanded options but also another hazard: reader overload. “You don’t want to overload the reader with links,” Ratliff says. With such intricate stories as a helicopter assisted multimillion-dollar heist in Sweden and the life and times of Asia’s preeminent WWII-era jazzman, there could be novels worth of footnotes luring the reader off into the weeds. It’s a process of managing the reader’s trust in the author, keeping them assured that what makes it into the main text and what makes it into the notes and media sections are specifically selected to create a cohesive story.

    The back end of the Atavist is a content management system built by Creative Director Jefferson Rabb. Ratliff showed off the control panel, emphasizing its versatility and basic writer-friendliness. “[Rabb] built the CMS to make it as easy as writing a blog post,” Ratliff says, adding that the interface would be manageable for anyone who had ever used something like WordPress, but with presets and options fit specifically to a certain Atavist style.

    That’s what’s striking about this debut: a feeling that a lot of thought went into what works and what doesn’t work in mid-length storytelling on a tablet. Where will people be reading these stories? What size chapters best meet a tablet reader’s attention span? What sort of options will build and support the narrative without distracting? From there, the Atavist team crafted a very compelling user experience.

    Case in point: both stories not only come with an audio version, but the reader can switch between audio and reading seamlessly, picking up with either right at the point in the story where they left off. Think of reading on a subway or bus as it fills up or taking your reading from the breakfast table to the car. It’s little details like this that signal that the minds behind this app understand where their user experience fits into the real world.

    The Atavist app and three chapter previews of Koerner and Ratliff’s stories, complete with extras, are available for free on the iTunes App store. Note that getting the full-length of each requires an in-app purchase, a tricky proposition for those of us who jailbreak their iOS devices. The stories are also available, in somewhat more limited form, as Kindle or Nook singles.


    In another sign of the total destruction of the nerd closet, the word’s out that there’s a new series of Red Dwarf in the pipeline for 2012.  I have nearly fond memories of how my local PBS affiliate would end the night’s programming with an episode or two, long after the totebag-buyers had gone to bed.  I was typically stumbling in from some kind of chemical simulation of putting one’s brain in a rock tumbler (extreme Northeast winter temperatures + the finest high gravity malt liquors + early Rammstein) and trying to piece together what was happening with the cat-man in the smoking jacket and the chubby dreaded British guy from the last five minutes of the show as a good way of bringing my brainwaves back to safe levels of bafflement.

    While I always assumed it was a laugh track, apparently these were shot before a live studio audience. Like the Cosby Show! Trying to keep that tradition alive in the 2012 version, however, it hitting some snags.  Martin Anderson at Shadowlocked reports:

    Llewellyn notes, not necessarily without an air of trepidation, that the 2012 Red Dwarf is seriously considering shooting in front of a live studio audience, which hasn’t happened for the show since 1998. And, as the actor points out, does anyone remember 1998? The pre-Twitter years…?

    The fear among the producers now is that it’s impossible to imagine an audience of around 400 people at the recording of a TV show like Red Dwarf, where nobody does a bit of a hint on Twitter, or sneaks a picture on Facebook or posts a bit of badly shot video on YouTube.

    Perhaps the only solution is to do the show live, as the BBC did with David Tennant and The Quatermass Experiment 4 years back…? Otherwise the only reasonable solution is to confiscate the audience members’ phones and execute them straight after the performance, which may put a dent in the show’s comedy stylings.

    While executions might rile the fanbase, confiscating the camera-bearing devices sounds prudent enough. Might I suggest things be taken a step further? Why not strip the audience down to producer-provided Red Dwarf briefs and pasties? Any uncomfortability can be overcome with free liquor and the skimpy undergarments can later be sold on eBay to those fanboys who couldn’t get tickets and terrible perverts alike. Actors reap an added bonus of a reduction of stage fright through that time-tested method of picturing the audience in their underwear, no imagination required.

    Here’s hoping being the one who came up with this spoiler crushing innovation secures me VIP passes to all tapings and a nice tight pair of Red Dwarf briefs.  Make mine with gold trim.

  6. 9 Eyes: Google As Pathos Reservoir

    I usually try to avoid straight up reblogging off of Dangerous Minds, seeing as how our tastes align so much that I’d be doing it daily.  But today they sent me off towards 9eyes, a tumblog that collects Google Streetview shots, in all their weirdness, pain and moments of sublime pathos.

    Beyond how common it is to spy hooligans flipping the bird, streetwalkers streetwalking and people of all ages hitting the pavement, there’s something great about the selections that suggest a grander story.  Stolen moments that would otherwise dissolve into the ether, now immortalized, hinting at a greater depth.  Someone should do an illustrated edition of short stories with one Streetview shot per.

    Give yourself 10 minutes and browse through it all over at 9eyes.

  7. Free Land: Land Rush Continues, Minus the Rush

    Sick of paying rent?  Of course you are.  Every time I write that stupid monthly check I take a moment to reflect on how it seems that every square inch of this earth is owned and occupied by someone or something that had the luck to show up years before I ever got around to trying to live somewhere.  Rare is the place where you can lay down without paying a toll, and…

    OK, I’ll skip the hobo monologue and get to the juicy bit:

    FREE FRIGGIN’ LAND!  You heard me.  There are still places in the US that have land for the asking.  Vurbly did a nice little roundup of six places in the U.S.–in Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, Iowa, and Maine–that are offering free land to people and companies interested in relocating to their town.  While in the back of my mind, I’m thinking that these must be economically struggling areas, battling the inevitable flight of human capital when local industry goes bust, these communities sure do paint a rosy picture.

    Marquette, Kansas woos you like:

    The community of Marquette, Kansas is offering free building lots to interested families who are looking for an extraordinary small town, in the heart of America, to call home. The building lots are located in the Westridge Addition development on the west edge of town with beautiful, open views of the evening sunset and wide-open rolling fields. The Westridge addition has become home to both retired people and young families from right here in Kansas and across the United States. They have all come together to enjoy the friendly, affordable, relaxed, safe and peaceful lifestyle that this small, centrally-located Kansas town offers. A lifestyle where neighbors know neighbors and parents feel comfortable letting kids play outside, take a bike ride and walk to school. We offer you not only a free building lot, but the chance to join these residents in enjoying this exceptional lifestyle.

    Don’t get it twisted, though.  Each and every one of these offers comes with a catch.  Some want you to bring a business to town that will employ locals, others just want you to build on your free lot along a set of building guidelines.  Abandon your dreams of stringing up barbed wire and digging up sod for a prairie homestead.  Or at least find a different venue.

    If rules aren’t your thing, may I suggest the perennially popular option of squatting?  Living in abandoned structures has its charms and adventures as well as a history dating back to the very dawn of raising structures to live in.  Here’s a nice and thorough UK-centric primer for the prospective squatter.  For those of us in the States, the San Francisco Tenant’s Union has a bit of a primer here.

    image by Flickr user davedehetre

  8. Andy Weir’s Short Story “The Egg”

    Briliant short story by Andy Weir: “The Egg“. Highly worth checking out.

    I’ve always been opposed to the Cartesian fueled afterlife that dominates Western society. The Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno once asked a peasant if he believed it was possible there is a God– but no afterlife. The peasant responded “Then wherefore God?” It’s comforting feeling I suppose that there is somewhere else to go when the engines power down, but a dangerous one. A comforting feeling that brings out the most vile aspects of humanity in fear, war, violence, and domination.

    So when a story about the afterlife doesn’t leave a bitter taste in my mouth, it has to be good. I’m damn impressed.

    The Egg” by Andy Weir is just that. I would say its better than any of the short stories in the recent cult-classic Sum: Forty Tales of the Afterlife by David Eagleman.

    Also worth noting is “The Martian” his ongoing saga of an astronaut stranded on Mars and (so far) cleverly survives.

  9. Arcade Fire Frontman’s Grandfather Helped Invent the Electric Guitar

    What’s the diminutive of ‘mind-blowing’?  How does one indicate a spot on the continuum of emotions between ‘oh, that’s interesting’ and ‘holy sweet goddamn!’?

    Among my many areas of interest is that of instrument inventors.  I dabble myself, mostly in making electrical contacts that warp the frequency of a triggered sample, but still, there’s an aspirational admiration for those who have pushed through with their tinkering and made a mode of music that became a standard, that provided the very vocal cord of a whole means of expression.  And of that pantheon, there’s a special place for the tweakers of that universal weapon of the Western music canon, the electric guitar.  Credit due to Les Paul, with his electric log, and credit to George Beauchamp, for guiding this innovation.  Credit to the swamp-pop stylings of Willie Joe Duncan and his unitar.

    So I found it notable to discover that the grandfather of Win and William Butler of Arcade Fire is Alvino Rey, electric guitar pioneer.  Starting off with teenage experiments and progressing on to electrifying banjos, Rey (originally Alvin McBurney) was hired to produce the pickup that was used by Gibson in their first electric guitar, the popular ES-150.  Rey is also credited with creating the first talkbox, prominently featured in the clip above.

    Interested in making your own Stringy?  Speak, Wikipedia:

    In 1939, Rey used a carbon throat microphone to modulate his electric guitar sound. The mike, developed for military pilots, was worn by Rey’s wife Luise, who stood behind a curtain and sang along with the guitar lines. The novel combination was called “Singing Guitar”, but was not developed further.

    Rey’s death in 2004 was one of the inspirations for the title and grief of Arcade Fire’s breakout album Funeral.

    – – –

    Finding these connections between people who have made significant contributions to mass culture puts an image in my mind of a web of associations, bloodlines, shared paths.  For those on the outside, for those not related, connected or bonded to anyone who ever did something that changed the world, this can feel alienating, like the ability to shape events is something reserved for a certain elect or chosen.

    This is obviously loser talk.  If that destiny flows through certain currents, well, sure, you can mope in your own insignificance but that’s just one of two roads.  Either locate those currents and drink from its waters or you can wander around and rent DVDs about those who’ve hit on it from Netflix or whatever.