Semper Ubi Sub Ubi
As observant readers will have noticed, this issue of TWD spans two months, rather than the usual one (although the most recent issue was also a two-monther, and a bit late to boot, as is this one). I apologize for the delay, but my MS has made my vision very unreliable lately, making getting anything done quite difficult. On a good day, my visual field resembles an old analog TV with bad reception: constant visual “noise” and fluctuating sharpness. On a bad day it’s all that plus flashing lights at the edges and big patches of fog or (my fave) total blackness drifting across my field of view. My eye-hand coordination has also decreased to the point where I make constant typos even with my new two-finger hunt-and-peck.
To be honest, I might very well stop writing these columns if we weren’t so dependent on the small income from donations and subscriptions. Nah, I kid. Sort of.
Onward. The easiest way for me to read something, oddly enough, is to take off my glasses (I am very myopic) and hold the material about four inches from my eyes. This does not work well with computers, but it’s great with my little old Simple Nook reader, especially if I’m lying in bed. The Nook also makes it easy to read very long books that would test the strength of my wrists (which isn’t great) in even paperback editions.
So lately I’ve been reading The Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen, which is a ginormous (580 pages) novel about a writer, also named Joshua Cohen, who is ghostwriting the autobiography of a tech billionaire, also named Joshua Cohen (who is clearly modeled on Steve Jobs, though this Cohen has developed something very like Google). The name thing is the least consequential part of the book (and the Cohen-Jobs figure is, thankfully, referred to as “the Principal” throughout).
Reviewers seem a bit flummoxed, especially by the long mid-section consisting of transcripts of Cohen’s interviews with the Principal about the origins and development of the company and the technology (“algys,” i.e., algorithms) behind it. Enough of them are puzzled by such terms as “octalfortied” to make me wonder if they find some of the tech jargon (and Principal’s neologisms, such as “cur” for “curious”) off-putting and annoying. But there’s this thing called Google for that, and the middle section actually does a good job of filling out the Jobs/Principal figure as a weirdo wunderkind naif swept along by both the implacable world of venture capital and the moronic inferno of the internet.
Parts of this are very funny, including pages of Cohen’s manuscript complete with large blocks of struck-through text punctuated by the author’s all-caps-swearing frustrated rages. There’s a very sharp bit about a ludicrously pointless (but entirely plausible) home backup server concocted and marketed to take advantage of the Y2K panic, and the brilliant but doomed engineer named Moe, from Goa, who is forced by the VCs to debase his talents by supervising its development. It’s also a nice touch that the climactic scene of the book takes place at the Frankfurt Book Fair and involves a thug apparently inspired by Julian Assange. And what’s not to like in a book that sends a clueless sorta-Steve-Jobs into a backroom poker game to fleece (under the guidance of Moe) Keanu Reeves and Ben Affleck?
Cohen (the non-fictional one) has been compared to Pynchon, and The Book of Numbers did remind me of Gravity’s Rainbow in its form as a bizarre and confounding odyssey, but it’s far better than Pynchon’s own stab at exploring the internet in 2013, Bleeding Edge, which was a painfully prolonged damp squib reeking of geezer.
Elsewhere in culture news, we finally caught up with the first season of Mr Robot, an odd but fascinating series that somehow landed on the USA cable network. I think it’s a great show, but that may be in part because it makes jokes about Raspberry Pi and denigrates KDE as the desktop environment of choice for homicidal losers. I hate KDE almost as much as I hate eggplant. Ugh. Anyway, the catch to this show is that it’s hard to be sure that what you see is actually happening (Elliot, the protagonist and first-person narrator, tends to hallucinate), but it’s a fun ride.
Also very good (actually very, very good) is Humans, a British/US series that ran recently on AMC. You can catch up with the first season on Google, iTunes, yadda yadda.
So there’s that. Our internet still does not, and probably never will, operate in a credible fashion. (For several hours this morning we were running at a blinding 5 b/s. That’s five bits per second, kids. Slower than having your computer turned off.)
As always, and as I mentioned above, we are dependent on the kindness of readers, so please donate or subscribe if you can. And now, on with the show….
Semper Ubi Sub Ubi
Way to go, Downton Abbey. Your show’s been staggering around on crutches since Matthew stood up from his wheelchair, and you blithely kick them away. This has not gone over well with either viewers or critics, quelle freakin’ surprise. The best analysis I’ve read (I’ve lost the source, sorry) is that the writers, having trod the well-worn path forged by Jane Austen, et al., had reached the point where Austen and the gang usually stopped, i.e., the happy ending/wedding.
But Fellowes & Co. forged bravely on, realizing too late they hadn’t a clue as to a proper plot beyond thwarted love, and wound up wandering in circles, spinning ludicrous subplots that went nowhere, and sporadically killing people. Literally in circles. Seriously, that’s the third maid canned for inappropriate romantic behavior, Daisy has unwanted suitors stacked up like incoming flights at LaGuardia, and why can’t poor Lady Edith get a boyfriend who isn’t a simpering wooden weirdo on wheels? (“Yes, you’re right, I am actually married … but my wife is in an asylum because she watched this show.”)
And now they’ve done away with arguably the most appealing character (Lady Sybil) and Matthew, who Slate dubbed “the Magical Middle-Class Guy,” the audience proxy and primary pivot in the arc of the show. Well done, chaps. That leaves Daisy the dramatic elbow room she’s always lacked, and the path is greased for another chapter in the treacle-sodden adventures of Bates and Anna. Perhaps they can open a Thomas Kincaide poster shop in town. But hey, no harm, no foul. Most of the audience probably shows up primarily to admire the furnishings and fantasize about how nice they’d be to their servants, so the fewer yammering actors in the way, the better. Not for nothing is PBS selling replica tiaras.
Yes, I know that Jessica Brown-Findlay and Dan Stevens, playing Lady Sybil and Matthew Crawley, both declined to renew their contracts. But either Dan Stevens should have been replaced (it is a soap opera, after all, and that’s how soap operas handle such moments), or the entire series should have been rolled up and ended. But is life without Molesly, Little Jimmy, Thomas, et al., really necessary? Bewitched replaced Darrin and went on for another three years. It’s not too late to patch things up for next season. Why not go Full Gonzo and hire Charlie Sheen?
While we wait to see what lies in store for our plucky band, I recommend these two spirited and well done parodies made by the BBC back in 2011: Uptown Downstairs Abbey Part One and Part Two.
Oh well. It occurred to me the other day that if I ever won the lottery I’d probably watch a lot more TV. I see online discussions and I’m amazed that perfectly normal, intelligent people can actually DVR and watch 19 series episodes every week and be devoted fans of shows I’ve never heard of. But when you work at home, you really never leave the office, so there’s always a nagging feeling you should be doing something productive, which makes it difficult to really relax and veg out.
I’m also reluctant to watch any new series because I seem to cast a hex on whatever I decide to like and — bam — it’s immediately cancelled. Carnivale on HBO, The Event on NBC (I think), some weird thing about aliens in Florida a few years ago, and Last Resort on ABC have all fallen prey to my baleful interest. I started watching Law & Order UK on BBC America a while back, and in the third episode I saw they offed a major cast member. Seemed like a warning. Disheartening, to say the least.
For the moment, anyway, we’ve been watching The Americans on FX (an awful channel, judging from the ads they run), which centers on two KGB sleeper spies operating as a married couple with children in the suburbs of Washington in the early 1980s. The series was dreamed up by an ex-CIA agent and is predictably implausible, but does have some nice touches, such as a sly allusion to Soviet numbers stations and a plot involving an umbrella with a deadly tip, clearly modeled on the 1978 murder of Georgi Markov by Bulgarian and/or KGB agents in London. Note to the production designers, however: I seriously doubt that the Soviet embassy in DC in the 1980s actually decorated its walls with Bolshevik recruiting posters. But you can make up for that by showing the spies’ kids watching Rocky and Bullwinkle outwitting Boris and Natasha. Moose and squirrel forever!
OCD Update: OK, now we have our early 80s anti-hero crouched in the woods with a 21st century mini Maglight LED flashlight in his mouth, using what appears to be an early 2000s Kenwood transceiver and a small UHF Yagi antenna to communicate with somebody, hopefully somebody close by. Fifteen miles maybe, Moscow not so much. BTW gang, if you’re looking for authentic 1980s tech gear, eBay is full of it.
Here are some goats expressing their opinions.
As always, your support is deeply appreciated, which is to say that I spend every day obsessively scanning my incoming mail for those “You have a new subscriber” PayPal messages that keep us in peanut butter and cat food. So please consider subscribing. And now, on with the show…
Semper Ubi Sub Ubi
OK, it’s not November. November was not a good month. October wasn’t so hot, either. There will be a December issue as soon as I can muster one.
We went to a doctor’s appt. in Columbus, 40 miles away, in late October and somebody kicked in our back door and robbed us. We don’t have much of anything anyone would want, but these creeps went straight upstairs to the bedroom and took some heirloom jewelry (grandparents’ rings, etc.) that they found in a drawer. Unfortunately, what they took was not only emotionally important to Kathy, the only direct, physical mementos of her parents and grandparents, but also our last-resort, end-of-the-world nest egg. Now we’ve really got nuttin’.
It was a weirdly fastidious robbery; they closed the drawers and some boxes on the dresser, and closed the back door on their way out. If they hadn’t cracked the door frame and part of the wall next to it, we might not have noticed the robbery for days. The Sheriff’s Deputy who came to investigate suggested that, based on the method, it might be the work of either a family member or a neighbor, but we lack an eligible relative and it has since become apparent that our robbery was just one of about a dozen identical crimes that have swept our general are in recent weeks. What we need now is an alarm system that plays the sound of somebody racking a 12-gauge pump shotgun.
Brownie & Fifi the Cat
What happened next is hard to write about, so I’m going to keep this short. Our beloved dog Brownie died the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, apparently of a seizure of some kind as she slept on the living room floor. Brownie was 14-1/2 years old. She was our best friend, the most wonderful, loving, smart, sweet dog I have ever known. We got her as a foundling puppy soon after we moved to Ohio from NYC, and we were lucky to have spent all day every day with her ever since. Apart from some arthritis, she had no known health problems; I had taken her for a walk earlier in the day around the yard, and she seemed fine. I’m glad she wasn’t sick, I’m glad she could still play ball with me in the living room the night before she died, I’m glad she knew how much we loved her, but we miss her terribly. She was the third person in the house, and it seems impossible that she isn’t sleeping downstairs right now.
Onward. Because this seems to be how the universe works, I greeted Thanksgiving Day by coming down with either the worst case of food poisoning possible or, more likely, a killer case of some Norovirus. Whatever it was meant a solid week of Exorcist-level projectile vomiting and inability to eat that left me too weak to walk and severely dehydrated. Multiple Sclerosis acts as a force multiplier in such things, so everything hurt like hell and my eyes went completely blurry, making it impossible to read. I seem to be on the mend now, but I lost about ten pounds and I still feel yucky and my eyes are still iffy. Thanksgiving, of course, simply did not happen.
Have I mentioned that today is my birthday? Oh, yay.
But the Holidays are here, and Subscriptions make lovely holiday gifts! So please consider giving a few. And random acts of contribution are, of course, always appreciated.
And now, on with the show….