I don’t often make New Year’s resolutions, at least not publicly, but this year I have a few. (Well, two.)

  1. Quit Facebook for a year. Last summer I deleted the Facebook app from my phone and didn’t miss it at all. Now I’m ready to take the next step. It will be interesting to log back in in 2016 and see how the interface has changed. If people want to get in touch, I’m still very easy to find through other means.
  2. Amplify voices that need it. Over on Twitter, there was a period of about a year (I’m not sure of the exact dates but Wendy Davis’s filibuster was the catalyst) during which I retweeted only women. Anil Dash did the same thing, only to gazillions more followers, and the experience changed him, as it did me. He writes:

    For me, for my experience, it’s better. I feel happier about the time I spend on Twitter, and it’s made me try to be more thoughtful, and more disciplined with other things I do in my time online.

    I’m back to retweeting the occasional dude, but I’m much more mindful about the voices I amplify. In 2015 I will continue this mindfulness and expand it to include a broader range of diversity. I might have only 400 followers, but dammit, I care!

  3. Think of a third resolution. Seriously, you can’t have just two.

Hermit Crab Care and Feeding

  1. Hermit crabs make great first pets because they are easy to care for and don’t require a lot of room.
  2. They molt several times per year.
  3. All you need is a cage and a few basic supplies.
  4. The molting thing will surprise you.
  5. The cage can be either glass or plastic. You can start with a small one if you’re just getting one crab.
  6. During the molting process, the crab burrows under the sand and sheds its exoskeleton.
  7. You need three dishes: For food, fresh water, and salt water.
  8. They stay burrowed for a really long time. Like, weeks.
  9. Hermit crabs are scavengers and will eat almost anything: fruit, vegetables, Cheerios. One of their favorites is shrimp!
  10. After a couple of weeks you will dig up the hermit crab. Its lifeless body will fall limply out of its shell.
  11. You will also need a spray bottle for frequent misting. Hermit crabs need a warm, humid environment.
  12. You will tell your daughter that Hermione — the name she has given her hermit crab — is dead.
  13. If the temperature in your house gets below 70 degrees you should also get a heating pad to go under the cage.
  14. Your daughter will cry real tears. Along with her empty shell, you will place Hermione’s corpse in a plastic baggie and leave it on the windowsill overnight. Funeral planning will begin.
  15. Hermit crabs are natural climbers, so a stick or a climbing wall make great additions to the cage.
  16. The next day your son will observe Hermione moving inside the baggie. You will not believe him.
  17. An inexpensive thermometer and hydrometer will ensure that conditions within the cage are acceptable to your hermit crab.
  18. But he’s correct! Hermione did move! It turns out that the thing you thought was a crab corpse is actually Hermion’s exoskeleton. It really did look exactly like a dead crab. And Hermione is actually inside the shell but you didn’t see her before because the shell was clogged with sand and in all honesty you didn’t really look that closely; your attention was on the corpse, not the shell. Your daughter is both overjoyed and extremely pissed at you. You gently return Hermione to her cage, where she commences eating her own exoskeleton. Hermione regains her strength and is quite active for a couple of months, until she burrows again. Once again you get impatient and dig her up and think she is dead and tell your daughter and break her heart all over again. But the crab is actually alive (again). You are an idiot and can’t believe you did this whole Hermione-is-dead-no-just-kidding-she-is-alive rigamarole not once, but twice.
  19. Some people like to give their crabs baths. This is not recommended.

PJ Harvey’s “Rid of Me”: 21 years later

It’s 1993. You’re young. Kurt Cobain is still alive, but he’s in your periphery; you’re more into the Chicago scene — Jesus Lizard, that sort of thing. You make zines and mail them to friends around the country. One of those friends sends you a cassette of PJ Harvey’s “Rid of Me.”

PJ Harvey - Rid of Me album coverYou know nothing about PJ Harvey. There is no Google, no Wikipedia, no place you can turn to for information. The cassette from your pen pal is hand-labeled, so you don’t even have an album cover or liner notes. You can vaguely picture the poster at the local record store, but you’ve never examined it.

You play the cassette. The first track begins with a muted guitar riff that emphasizes rhythm over melody. She plays low, single-string notes that one could almost play on a drum; the beat is tribal. A woman’s voice sings over the riff, full of restrained anguish.

You are terrible at deciphering lyrics.* But this deficit makes you more attuned to the emotions behind the words; her vocals are just another musical instrument to you, but they carry as much emotional weight as Rachmaninoff’s piano. (In the absence of lyrical comprehension you also tend to project your feelings onto the singers you like.)

Then the drums kick in and all hell breaks loose.

The soft/loud dynamic is more startling than any Nirvana song. Yet it only lasts a few seconds before going back to the muted plucking. Hell breaks loose again during the outro and the song ends with PJ’s distorted soprano and these lyrics are clear enough for you to understand: “Lick my legs, I’m on fire / Lick my legs, of desire.”

WTF was that? “Lick my legs” was so unexpected that you forgive PJ Harvey for rhyming “fire” and “desire.” You play the cassette again. And again. For months. It’s perfect.

PJ Harvey remains a favorite through her 1998 album, “To Bring You My Love.” Now she’s doing the diva thing; she’s not the howling basement caterwauler you once imagined; but that’s okay: you’ve grown up a bit too. You see her once in concert at a large amphitheater as part of a bill with Veruca Salt (!) and she plays only six songs, this tiny figure in a red dress on a huge stage. After that you kind of forget about her.

Fast-forward 21 years and you see this tweet:

It’s PJ Harvey in 1993 on…Jay Leno? You must have missed that the first time around.

You watch, hoping to unravel some of the mysteries of 1993-era PJ Harvey. Somehow it feels as uncomfortable as watching yourself on video. The camera is too close. The vocals are too high in the mix, like on the karaoke of American Idol. The loud/soft dynamic is neutralized. When she sings “Lick my legs” in her throaty, higher register, it almost comes across as farce. Like she knows it’s a weird line sung in a weird voice. When you heard this on your hand-labeled cassette for the first time, that voice sounded otherworldly, not quite human. Now it’s clear that PJ Harvey was Polly Jean Harvey and all too human.

Moments after performing her psychodramatic masterpiece, PJ Harvey sits down with Jay Leno to make small talk about sheep castration. The other guests are comedienne Kathleen Madigan and actor Michael Richards (whom Jay Leno mistakenly calls Michael Kramer.) It’s surreal, as seeing your adolescence repackaged and commercialized always is. You worry that this was PJ Harvey’s first introduction to millions of people and they did not get it. (Today’s analog is St. Vincent’s performance on SNL.) This happened 21 years ago but it still bothers you. This is 100% your problem, not PJ Harvey’s. She moved on many years ago.

Today you accept that instant access to information is mostly a good thing. But you also miss not knowing things. When you had only partial information — a hand-labeled cassette, a scrambled image on a late-night cable channel — your mind filled in the blanks. It was possible that your favorite bands could be apocryphal — projections of your own psyche, not just a humans with guitars. Who could prove otherwise?

You wanted so badly to know everything, but the years of not-knowing may have been the most formative.



* One time you asked your dad what “correnulate” meant. He said he did not think that was a real word. The lyric you had misheard was “But it’s too late” from Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” (“I wish I could / But it’s too late”). You went years thinking it was “correnulate” and that you just didn’t know what that word meant.



Weaning off Facebook

I’ve known for awhile that Facebook is a net negative in my life. I like keeping up with people I care about, but the people I care most about are not usually the ones dominating my feed.

I still want to be on Facebook. A close high school friend just joined, and I would not have known about another friend’s death without Facebook. It’s also the best place to share photos with family. I just want to be on Facebook much less.

My current solution, since self-control wasn’t working, is to delete the Facebook app from my phone. This way Facebook becomes intentional behavior instead of default behavior: If I want to be on Facebook I have to be in front of a computer and go to the Facebook website.

It sounds really simple and obvious, but it’s worked: I’m now on Facebook about 90% less than I was previously. I log in a few times a day, usually for less than 30 seconds each time, and only on weekdays.

My default, mindless-phone-scrolling behavior now leans heavily toward Twitter, but so far that remains a net positive. And I’m blogging again!


One Reason People Are Not More Outraged at NSA Surveillance

My fellow web people will relate to this one.

Several times in my career, someone, usually a senior marketing executive, has asked me whether we can collect the email addresses of everyone who visits the company website. Not “can you set up a form where users submit their email address?” but “does the website do this automatically?”

They were not thinking through the implications of this question. They were not considering that if we could do this, so could every other website, and therefore their email address had already been collected thousands of times.

It’s not that they’re dumb; they just wanted to know if we could send email to our site visitors. And to them, as with most people, technology is a black hole. No one knows how it works.

So, at least on a subconscious level, many people, if not most people, assume that their personal data is being constantly collected.

Which, it turns out, it is.

Mandatory Retirement for Old White Dudes

Baby Boomers have decided to live forever and the net result will be more old white dudes ruining the planet. These old white dudes believe factory smog is a sign of progress, that being called a racist is worse than being a victim of actual racism, and that women should be forced to bear children.

Some of these old white dudes will still hold elected office when I become an old white dude myself. This has to stop.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Gen-Xer with Boomer parents (which tempers my cynicism with over-inflated self-esteem), but I think the younger generations are mostly getting it right.


Source: League of Conservative Voters

So, young people: If you want to accelerate your eventual world takeover (i.e. you don’t want to wait until you’re 60 years old and my generation is still trying to run things at age 80), start now on enacting legislation that forces — or at least entices — old white dudes into retirement at a reasonable age. I’d be cool with age 45 if my retirement package includes free wifi for life, but 65 is probably a tad more realistic.

At the same time, get some more non-old-white-dudes elected. I know you can do it. I have full confidence in you. You have my vote.

Evolve, Punk!

My post last week about heavy metal’s negative influence on punk rock included this:

I get that no band can stay together for any length of time and not want to evolve. I’m all for bands evolving. I’ve stuck with the Flaming Lips all these years. I’ve helped introduce my kids to the Beatles and I love listening to how much they changed in just 10 years.

It turns out I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. This is from a review I wrote 13 years ago of Jello Biafra’s “Live from the Battle in Seattle”:

…I still like the Dead Kennedys all right, and there are some musical numbers on this EP. But these present problems as well. Most rock musicians exceed their usefulness at around age 30 (I intend to retire from rocking on September 27, 2002), and Jello is considerably older than that. On “Live” he covers his own early material (“Let’s Lynch the Landlord,” “Full Metal Jackoff”) and throws in an anti-Microsoft ditty called “Electronic Plantation.” It sounds no different than his collaborations with the members of DOA like 15 years ago. Personally, I want my heroes to evolve. (At least until they’re 30, anyway—then I want them to quit.)

Now that I have passed the 30-year mark and rounded the corner of 40, I laugh at my youthful sentiment that rockers should retire at age 30. (On the other hand, I did indeed retire from rocking in 2002. At least I lived by my principles!) Now, as my kids get older and become increasingly embarrassed of their old man, it’s time to start a Wiggles cover band, or a polka-disco band, or a vaudeville act, or something.