Friday, April 2, 2010

The Redirection

Lucy recently moved her site to WordPress, and in the process of helping her move - tinkering, tweaking & tuning things behind the scenes - I realized I was jealous. From here forward, my blog will be hosted at Thanks for reading, and please update your RSS readers.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Support autism research!

Last May, my brother Tyler and I encouraged dozens of our friends & family to donate to our team in Walk Now for Autism, a charity event planned by Autism Speaks.  Thanks to the support of those generous folks, our team contributed over $1,000 to autism research.

This May, I’m participating in Walk Now for the third time, and my goal is to beat last year’s fundraising total.

Autism has a higher profile now than ever before, due to increasing rates of diagnosis in children and debates over the causes of the disease.  Many new parents have been spooked by hearsay and flaky anecdotal “evidence” linking autism to vaccinations.  (The scientific community vastly agrees there is no connection.)  It’s easy to see why searches for the cause, and cure, have become more desperate: autism now affects 1 in every 110 American children, and 1 every 70 boys.  And those numbers are on the rise.

As the brother of an autistic adult, I know the toll autism takes on its victims and their families.  It’s essential that we increase our understanding of autism as soon as possible.

Please donate to my team here:

Yes, I know that once again the minimum donation you can make on the site is $20.  If you can donate $20 or more, AWESOME, thank you!  If you want to contribute a smaller amount, I will still think you are a rad person and I will want to be your friend.  You can use the printable donation form to mail your payment, you can send me money via PayPal ( and I can donate it for you, or you can bring a donation to Lucy’s table at one of the following conventions:

Thanks in advance for your help!  The walk is on Sunday, May 15th, and I’ll be sure to post an update before then.

Chicago Walk Now for Autism 2010 home page

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Misery and Maximizers

John Maeda made a brilliant observation in his TED talk about simplicity.  To paraphrase: people like complexity in things they enjoy, and they hate complexity in things they dislike.  Yes!  Complexity in music & books captivates me, complexity in my tax returns makes me want to jump in front of a train.

In 2010, I’ll be trying to reduce some of the unnecessary complexities in my life.  As an organization freak & computer lover with a subconscious lust for complex systems, this won’t be easy, but I think Maeda’s point provides excellent guidance.

I’m also getting some terrific input from a book called The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz, a psychologist and professor at Swarthmore College.  The book aims to explain why a culture with greater freedom & variety than any other in history is causing people to be unhappier and less satisfied with their decisions.  In Chapter 4, Schwartz explains the difference between maximizers (those who must find the best possible choice for every decision) and satisficers (those who settle for good enough and don’t worry about the existence of better possibilities).  Guess which one correlates more strongly with less satisfaction with life, less happiness, less optimism, and more depression?  As a solid maximizer (as evaluated by the survey in the book), I wasn’t happy to learn the answer.

One recurring theme of the book: reducing the number of options often leads to greater satisfaction with a decision.  I think that’s something I can work with.

* * * * * * *

This week, the girl you see here turned 25.

You might think a 25-year-old should be more mature.  I blame her boyfriend for being a bad influence.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

On sharing

Mike Doughty’s new album, Sad Man Happy Man, came out this week.  Mike has been one of my favorite singer/songwriters for years, so I have to pick up a copy.  Only one decision is preventing me from finalizing my purchase: Should I buy the physical CD or the mp3s?  There are a number of arguments for one side or the other, but for some reason I’m really focusing on one thing: Do I want to own a piece of plastic that will eventually end up in a landfill, or do I want to own the rights to data files that provide a lower fidelity experience but don’t require the manufacture and eventual disposal of physical materials?  Sure, it’s convenient that so many mp3s can fit on a portable player, but the environmental benefits of digital music files shouldn’t be ignored.

Music files can be purchased in innovative ways these days, too., for example sells web songs, which play in your browser and only cost 10 cents.  Basically, Lala is selling rights to the music rather than music itself.  You can listen to your music as much as you want, and you don’t even need room in your apartment or on your hard drive to store the product.  (Bonus: Lala will also let you listen to any song in its catalog one time for free, and all users get their first 50 web songs free.)  In a way, it’s music as a service rather than a product.

I’m a big fan of this idea, mainly because it means people get to own less.  Car sharing companies like I-GO and Zipcar let people get by without owning a car.  Tool-lending libraries are springing up in cities nationwide.  Hell, I’m still surprised that so many people buy DVDs when movies are so cheap to rent via Blockbuster, Netflix & iTunes.

Well… I just bought Sad Man Happy Man on CD through Amazon, and it arrives in a week.  I’m sure it’ll spend the next month in heavy rotation on my computer, interspersed with my newly purchased web songs.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Pop curators

Pitchfork Media recently published a list of the top 500 songs of the millennium, along with several other retrospective lists covering the past 10 years.  These “top x” pop culture lists are bullshit in most cases, since the lists imply that the authors are definitive authorities on purely subjective matter.  These lists might be relevant if they were compiled as “most influential,” simply because influence is easier to assess than quality (though it’s still a fuzzy science).  Instead, they usually come across as snobby and irrelevant.  Also, the evaluation criteria is usually unpublished or nonexistent; if Pitchfork posted their criteria somewhere, I couldn’t find it after about 10 minutes of searching.

Still, I don’t mind throwing out the rankings and using this list as a general guide to the music of the ‘00s.  Ryan McGinness, one of my favorite visual artists, has a great quote from a 2005 interview in Giant Robot in which he discusses the role of the curator.

Everyone has a word processor and can cut and paste, so that has created more "writers."  With digital video you have more "filmmakers."  We have "musicians" who can't even read music.  Ultimately, when you broaden any field, the whole of the output becomes diluted, and it's more and more difficult to separate the extraordinary from the average.  This is why the role of the curator or DJ is becoming more and more important.

I trust Pitchfork as a filter through which I get my music, but the whole “official list” thing really gets under my skin, no matter what the context or medium.

Sometimes I wonder if young people are so compelled to passionately argue over & defend their preferences in music, movies, art, etc. because these are the few areas in which they can claim “expertise.”  In our 20’s, most of us aren’t really experts in anything, so we have to construct pride in areas of personal preference - which is easy to do since our preferences can never be objectively proven or disproven.  Not saying this is the case for everyone, just speculating that this is a factor for some.

And of course, since I felt compelled to write a blog post about a pop music list, I’m obviously not above this behavior.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


In July, I went to Paris.  Physically and mentally.  And with my girlfriend.  Amazing Paris comic journal courtesy of Lucy Knisley.

Lengthy vacations allow us to pull up the anchor and drift for a bit.  The difference between today’s Johnny and June 2009 Johnny is probably greater than the difference between June 2009 Johnny and the Johnny of one year prior, and not just in fromage content.

As such, New Johnny’s in charge now, and he’s plotted a new course for the ship.

For starters, I’m cleaning house.  Earlier tonight, I dropped a load of clothes and rarely-used household items at a local non-profit resale shop that funds LGBT services.  (If anyone needs a white noise machine or a shaving cream warmer, hit up the Brown Elephant on Halsted.)  More of my apartment detritus is going up on eBay later this week.  A friend is stopping by tomorrow to pick up half a dozen dress shirts that have been too big for my scrawny frame since the first day I bought them; their departure is long overdue.

I’ve also begun making changes in my computer use.  Patton Oswalt said in his recent AV Club interview, “You can replace the internet with five really smart friends,” and wow, there are a lot of things I like about that brief quote.  As a technophile, mitigating my habitual and at times junkie-like interaction with personal technology is a difficult and evolving process, but I’ve made a few inroads.  One big help: Leechblock, a Firefox extension that lets you lock yourself out of websites you choose, during time frames you choose.  I’ve configured it to keep me away from Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, and several other sites after 9 PM.  It also locks me out of certain sites after a time limit of my choosing; this keeps me from spending all day on 4chan or some other such internet sinkhole.  Per Aldous Huxley via Neil Postman, I’ve ruined many hours on the internet, and I’d really, really like that to stop.

This post will have to end here.  I’m approaching the dangerously recursive territory of losing sleep to spend time on the computer writing a blog about how I should spend less time on the computer.

Monday, June 22, 2009

In Which I Am Maybe Unmasked As Sexist?

Last week, Lucy told me about The Bechdel Rule, and I’ve been fascinated by it ever since.  Actually, I’m not fascinated by the rule itself, but rather by how powerful a statement it makes despite its simplicity.

Alison Bechdel is a comic artist, creator of the long-running strip Dykes To Watch Out For and the autobiography Fun Home, which was nominated for numerous awards and appeared on many of 2006’s best book of the year lists.  The Bechdel Rule, as it is informally named (though Bechdel credits a friend with the concept), appears in a DTWOF strip circa 1985.  Two lesbians are walking past a movie theater, and one shares her criteria for seeing a movie.  “One, it must have at least two women in it who, two, talk to each other about, three, something besides a man.”

Sounds simple, right?  OK, everyone reading this right now: try to think of how many movies you’ve seen that meet these three criteria.

I’ll tell you right now, that number is pretty small in my case.  When Lucy & I scanned our DVD collection, we found four (4!) movies out of roughly 50 or 60 that stood up to The Bechdel Rule.

One conclusion that was immediately apparent was how my demographics – white male from the suburbs – affect my choice in movies.  Of course, there are other factors at work, such as the type of movies Hollywood makes, which movies are selected for screening by local cinemas, etc.  Still, I feel vaguely guilty over my somewhat sexist entertainment track record.

This train of thought is like an offshoot of the current controversy over some statements made by Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.  She’s discussed how her background informs her decisions as a judge, and for some reason this is a big deal?  Where was the outrage from the Right when Samuel Alito said the following during his confirmation hearing:

When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender.  And I do take that into account.

That quote was recently used in a article; hit the link to see Alito’s full statement defending the empathy he draws from his personal background.  In fact, just read that whole article: like The Bechdel Rule, it’s short, but it packs a punch.