“As a youth, I used to weep in butchershops.”

Richard Griffiths, most famous as Uncle Dursley in the “Harry Potter” films, but most beloved as Uncle Monty in 1987’s Withnail and I, has died. He was 65.

Salon has a good obit, which notes he performed opposite Daniel Radcliffe again in a 2007 production of Equus in London:

“Richard was by my side during two of the most important moments of my career,” Radcliffe said Friday.

“In August 2000, before official production had even begun on Potter, we filmed a shot outside the Dursleys’, which was my first ever shot as Harry. I was nervous and he made me feel at ease.

”Seven years later, we embarked on ‘Equus’ together. It was my first time doing a play but, terrified as I was, his encouragement, tutelage and humor made it a joy.

“In fact, any room he walked into was made twice as funny and twice as clever just by his presence.”

Steve Martin and Edie Brickell have a new record coming out.

You read that right.

Rolling Stone has a little video promo about it that you should watch.

By this point, it should come as no surprise that Martin has a serious music career — he has, after all, won a Grammy for music in addition to the one he got for comedy. However, if you, like me, haven’t seen a picture of Mrs Paul Simon since the 1980s, it may surprise you how little she’s changed. I suspect a portrait in the attic.

Also, it appears this record had its genesis in a dinner party, which suggests there are dinner parties happening that include Paul Simon, Edie Brickell, and Steve Martin. Which is AWESOME.

The record, entitled “Love Has Come For You,” will be released on April 23rd. Mark your calendars.

Books of 2013, #13: Just Ride, by Grant Petersen

I debated whether to include this one, as it’s a slim little tome, but it’s still worth commenting on. The book takes the form of several short articles covering the cycling — what, in the author’s view, is important and what’s not. The central message is in the title: Just ride a bike. No argument there.

Petersen is seen by some as (somewhat) responsible for the return of well-made steel bicycles, among other things. After a career with the Japanese firm Bridgestone (though you probably know them better from tires, they made excellent bikes, too), he struck out on his own with the generally well-regarded Rivendell Bicycle Works, which has been quite successful. A glance at his bike prices may give you a hint why; they’re all very, very expensive. I’m sure they’re very nice, too, but I’ve only ever seen one in the “wild”.

Petersen’s list of things worth ignoring when it comes to biking is long and very idiosyncratic. One review referred to him as biking’s philosopher crank, and that’s pretty fair. Petersen is down on helmets, on clip-in pedals, on athletic/technical clothing (which only means he’s never ridden in the South), on riding predictably, on good cadence, etc., etc., etc. All this rises from something I call the unearned certainty of the autodidact — a weird sort of know-it-all position taken by someone who mistakes their own experience for universal truth, especially when that experience is coupled with a personality that makes one certain of one’s own brilliance. Petersen allows this to color his reasoning and make assertions that are at best tenuously supported by cherry-picked facts.

But that doesn’t mean he’s always wrong. And in fact I hope at least some of the time he’s saying crazy crap to provoke discussion and not because he believes it wholeheartedly.

One area where Petersen and I completely agree is his recognition that race culture has damaged regular-joe biking. Twenty or thirty years ago, racing bikes were absolutely better in all ways than the bikes ridden by normal humans, but somewhere along the line specialization pushed those bikes into completely unsustainable places. As a result, the bikes that the Armstrongs of the world ride are nervous, twitchy, and fragile creatures that withstand the punishing conditions of a multiday race more or less ONLY because the teams have mechanics and spares on hand. They’re all made of carbon fiber, too, which has a pretty dreadful failure mode when compared to metal frames.

But walk into any bike shop, and 99% of what’s for sale that isn’t a low-end comfort bike is basically a racing bike, made of aluminum at the low end (which has a TERRIBLE ride) and carbon from $1800-2000 on up. Carbon’s more comfy, but see above re: failure modes. These bikes typically have no attachment points for everyday niceties like racks, either — it’s all weight-weenies all the time, which is sort of like a car dealership only carrying 2 seaters. Most people who walk into a bike shop don’t want or need a race bike; they are Unracers, as Petersen calls them. But there’s very little above the entry level for these folks in most shops. That’s a problem.

When I was shopping for my bike, I found literally nothing I wanted from either of the “big two” (Specialized and Trek), since even if they MAKE non-racer bikes that aren’t giant heavy comfort bikes, they don’t get stocked because they don’t sell as well. And they don’t sell as well because they’re not stocked. That’s bad. All you see are flat-bar hybrids and racers, so even if the shop can order something else for you, you may not even know something else is an option.

Rivendell makes steel bikes intended for broad use and customization, and they sell well. As I mentioned above, some say Petersen’s success is what made it possible for companies like Surly and Soma and others to make a living selling comfortable steel frames as well, and at a fraction of the cost of Petersen’s no-doubt awesome bikes. If true — and I can see how it might be — that’s an unalloyed good (no pun intended). Just like Petersen’s frames, my Surly has plenty of mount points; the frame could support a variety of build-outs, from true cyclocross to commuting to touring to whatever you want to do. No race bike from Specialized or Trek can say the same thing.

Anyway, this is running long. If you like biking, you should probably consider reading Just Ride, even if you’re sure you won’t agree with Petersen’s more outré pronouncements. His central message, which can get lost in his crankiness, is that biking is fun and you should do more of it, and not worry about the clothes or getting fast or any of the ancillary stuff.

In that, he and I agree completely.

Books of 2013, #12: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, by Jenny Lawson

OH MY GOD this book may be one of the funniest things I’ve ever read. Lawson, net-famous as The Bloggess, has had the sort of life that begs for a memoir, due largely to her truly bizarre upbringing in rural west Texas. (To say more about it would be to rob her book of impact, but it’s literally all I can do to not quote her at length about, say, the 11 ways her childhood was different than yours (raccoons!), or the story of the most freaktastic puppet ever, or her issues with rural wildlife, or the tale of the scorpions, or any of a hundred other bits that left me in tears with laughter.

I’m currently only reading my 15th book of the year (these little blurbs lag), but it’s a cinch Lawson’s screamingly funny memoir will be near the top of my year-end list. She’s astoundingly gifted as a humorist and writer, and her voice stays hers even when she’s recounting painful or scary episodes (Lawson battles arthritis as well as an anxiety disorder).

Every single one of you should read this book RIGHT NOW. Seriously.

Dept. of Films You Need To See: Brick

Rian Johnson hit the big leagues this year with his inventive time-travel noir Looper, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis as the same guy. If you haven’t seen it, make time.

Turns out, though, that Johnson’s first feature — also starting JGL — is absolutely worth your time and, in some ways, is better than Looper. Brick was made for less than half a million bucks back in 2005, and went on to win a special jury prize at Sundance that year. Levitt plays a high school kid named Brendan who’s a bit of an outcast. He had a girlfriend for whom he still pines, but she’s gone missing until one day when she calls him for help before promptly vanishing completely. The movie track’s Brendan’s ersatz PI maneuverings around the teen underworld as he pieces together the rest of the plot. It’s a pure homage to noir, complete with snappy, clever, and confident dialog.

For example, when Levitt’s character is brought into the vice principal’s office for questioning, we get this fantastic exchange:

VP: You’ve helped this office out before.
Brendan: No, I gave you Jerr to see him eaten, not to see you fed.

(The VP, by the way, is Richard “Shaft” Roundtree.)

Or, earlier, when hatching his plot, after his sidekick suggests involving the cops:

No, bulls would gum it. They’d flash their dusty standards at the wide-eyes and probably find some yegg to pin, probably even the right one. But they’d trample the real tracks and scare the real players back into their holes, and if we’re doing this I want the whole story. No cops, not for a bit.

Or this beautiful bit, opposite the genre-obligatory femme fatale, Laura:

Laura: You’re quite a pill.
Brendan: Uh-huh.
Laura: Where are you going?
Brendan: Home.
Laura: Why did you take a powder the other night?
Brendan: Same reason I’m taking one now.
Laura: Hold it. I wanna help you.
Brendan: Go away. Look, I can’t trust you. You ought to be smart enough to know that. I didn’t shake the party up to get your attention, and I’m not heeling you to hook you. Your connections could help me, but the bad baggage they bring would make it zero sum game or even hurt me. I’m better off coming at it clean.
Laura: I wouldn’t have to lead you in by the ha…
Brendan: I can’t trust you. Brad was a sap. You weren’t. You were with him, and so you were playing him. So you’re a player. With you behind me I’d have to tie one eye up watching both your hands, and I can’t spare it.

See. This. Movie.

(Oh, also, this has been on Metafilter as well, which includes a link to Johnson’s own site, where he hosts the script and source novella for download.)

There’s a trailer on YouTube, too.

What happened to Willis & Geiger?

I know at least two Heathen will be interested to read the history of the firm, and account of its loss.

The “modern” W&G was the work of Burt Avedon:

Burt Avedon (cousin of the famous fashion photographer Richard Avedon) revived the company two years after it went out of business in 1977 and helmed it until it was liquidated in 1999. Now 89 years old, Burt is one of the last remaining people to have hands-on experience with the brand. His bio reads like a Most Interesting Man in the World skit: He was a pilot by age 12, raced cars, played football for UCLA, fought at Iwo Jima, was awarded a Purple Heart in the Navy, went from Harvard Business School into cosmetics and fashion, married an Italian princess, and later led attempts to excavate downed World War II planes from Greenland ice. After a short search, I tracked him down at his home in Verona, Wisconsin, to find out what had happened to what many consider to be the greatest outdoor-clothing brand of all time.

Go read the whole thing.

Books of 2013 #11: Empire State, by Adam Christopher

I picked this book up from IO9 at some point, and it’s been languishing on my Kindle forEVER, so I thought I’d finally give it a go. I was hoping, based on press, for sort of a speculative/alt history police procedural a la Chabon’s Yiddish Policeman’s Union, which I found utterly delightful.

Sadly, I was to be very disappointed. Empire State is Christopher‘s first novel, and it shows. It’s all over the place, with elements of noir, steampunk, alt history, mystery, superheroes, and more, and none of it ever quite gels into a coherent story.

I can’t say as I recommend this. Amazon’s reviews seem to bear this out, though that’s a notoriously fickle metric. The narrative just doesn’t hold up, and the characters are kind of flimsy and interchangeable (and not just in the way allowed for in the book’s universe). Christopher’s attempt at worldbuilding here is, well, a good attempt, but it doesn’t really work. The kitchen-sink approach to plotting — masked heroes! war! airships! robots! alternative universes! detectives! conspiracies! — rarely flies well, and this is no exception.

Oh, Snap: Hodgman points us to Gawker’s Epic CNN takedown

Seriously, check this out. A money quote:

For readers interested in learning more about how not to be labeled as registered sex offenders, a good first step is not to rape unconscious women, no matter how good your grades are. Regardless of the strength of your GPA (weighted or unweighted), if you commit rape, there is a possibility you may someday be convicted of a sex crime. This is because of your decision to commit a sex crime instead of going for a walk, or reading a book by Cormac McCarthy. Your ability to perform calculus or play football is generally not taken into consideration in a court of law. Should you prefer to be known as “Good student and excellent football player Trent Mays” rather than “Convicted sex offender Trent Mays,” try stressing the studying and tackling and giving the sex crimes a miss altogether.

Hodgman stops there, but for my money the next graf is easily as strong:

It’s perfectly understandable, when reporting on a rape trial, to discuss the length and severity of the sentence; it is less understandable to discuss the end of two convicted rapists’ future athletic and academic careers as if it were somehow divorced from the laws of cause and effect. Their dreams and hopes were not crushed by an impersonal, inexorable legal system; Mays and Richmond raped a girl and have been sentenced accordingly. Had they not raped her, they would not be spending at least one year each in a juvenile detention facility. (Emph. added.)

Direct link to Gawker here.

Books of 2013, #10: THAT IS ALL, by John Hodgman

Good LORD I’m behind on these things — plus, as my general posting frequency has showed, I’m a little swamped at work. A few books will have to get the short shrift to allow me to catch up, as over the weekend I finished book #13.

THAT IS ALL is Hodgman’s final entry is his “Complete World Knowledge” trilogy, and what you get here is more of what you got in the other two. I’ll confess I actually skipped the second entry, but enjoyed the first when it came out back in 2005.

Because of this, I can’t really tell you much about how the style evolves, but I can tell you that Hodgman is playing at a more substantial game here than just a recitation of made-up facts. TIA concerns itself primarily with a countdown to the end of the world, events leading up to or contributing to it, ways in which one may prepare, and how he intends to survive as a deranged millionaire.

But there’s a metaphor at work here, too, that Hodgman winked at during his performance on the nerd cruise last month, when talking about his children. He noted that everything ever said, more or less, about one’s children boils down to “children are awesome, and I am dying.” He’s not wrong. Obviously, a meditation on the end of the world is a charmingly and grandiose way of confronting the sense of mortality one inevitably acquires in middle life.

Frankly, I was a little surprised how much I enjoyed TIA as an actual book (instead of a multi-hundred-page joke, which is what I expected). I’m actually considering revisiting the first book, and reading the second, as a consequence.

One note, btw: don’t skip the list of 700 ancient and unspeakable gods. There’s gold in there (just as I’m sure there’s gold in the list of hobos in the first book).

Books of 2013 #9: Terrible Nerd, by Kevin Savetz

Terrible Nerd is Savetz’s memoir of sorts of growing up nerdy in California around the same time I was growing up nerdy in Mississippi. Near as I can tell, it was much easier going in California. ;)

I met Savetz on the Giant Nerd Cruise last month, and he gave me a copy of his book as we were playing Cards Against Humanity. I read it on the boat, which tells you how far behind I am on these posts.

He’s a nice guy, and his book is a fun read, but probably only if you’re part of our tribe.


If you’re like me, then part of you wishes you could just pull a Kathy Bates whenever someone pulls out in front of you and makes you slam on your brakes. Why not just hit them, dammit?

Of course, we don’t do these things, because of the damage to our cars that would result, not to mention the possibility of injury and liabilty to the other driver.

Apparently, though, the rules are rather different for Russian bus drivers, as the linked video shows. The driver known as The Punisher refuses to slow down when drivers cut in front of him, with predictably delicious results.

He is, of course, our new Heathen Hero.

Dear Microsoft Project

You know, it’s nice and all that multistep logic is possible in a custom field calculation, but don’t you think it might be NICER to make it possible to debug something like this

IIf([Imported Actual Finish]<>projdatevalue("NA"),100,(IIf([Imported Actual Start]=projdatevalue("NA"),0,(IIf([Imported Expected Finish]=projdatevalue("NA"),0,(IIf([Imported Actual Start]>=[Imported Expected Finish],0,(IIf([Imported Remaining Duration]<0,0,((ProjDateDiff([Imported Actual Start],[Imported Expected Finish])*2/3)-[Imported Remaining Duration]*60*8)/((ProjDateDiff([Imported Actual Start],[Imported Expected Finish])*2/3))*100)))))))))

without resorting to external editors? I mean, just some basic paren matching would save an awful goddamn lot of time…

SimCity: A study in EA hating you

Gamer-Heathen may have heard by now of the serious clusterfuck that is the new SimCity release. EA has decided that an always-on Internet connection is required to play this single player game that has no natural reason to connect to anything, and their servers got swamped on launch day. The predictable result was lots of folks with an $80 game who could not play.

At least one reviewer has pointed out the absurdity of this.

I, on the other hand, proceeded to Good Old Games and payed $5.99 for the last good version of SimCity, SimCity 2000. Go and do likewise.

Who Fans Only!

I’ve been sitting on this for a while, but it’s gold and deserves to be seen: SciFind’s list of 11 alternate universe female Doctors is simply brilliant, and rewards a careful read if you know your Who history.

For example: this alternate-universe Eighth Doctor is Helen Baxendale (as opposed to Paul McGann). There as here, the Eighth appears only in an orphaned TV movie years after the show was cancelled, and more than a decade before the revival. For reasons I’ve never understood, the producers cast Eric Roberts as longtime foe The Master. Go check to see who plays “The Mistress” in the alternate universe. ;)

Also, total wins: Honor Blackman in the 1960s, opposite Vanessa Redgrave as the Mistress; Joanna “AbFab” Lumley in the 1980s; and Suranne Jones as the Ninth (most famous to Whovians as the personification of the TARDIS in the Gaiman-penned “The Doctor’s Wife”).

Go. Read. Enjoy.

The TSA: Fucking things up even when they try to do right

So the big news today is that they’re going to allow pocketknives on planes again, which is nice since, you know, disallowing them had absolutely nothing to do with reality in the first place. Bully for them.

However, the new rules are, like everything that has anything to do with the TSA, arbitrary and capricious. As detailed here, the maximum permitted blade length is 2.36 inches, or 6 cm. The diagram in place clearly includes a Swiss-Army type knife, which was at first encouraging, since they come in essentially two sizes — and the one used as an example is obviously of the larger variety, and therefore should be the same size as the one I (and millions others) carry.

Except it’s been scaled down for the diagram. The normal-sized Victorinox (which is to say, most of them) are 3.5 inches long closed, and include a main blade that measures not quite 2.75 inches long (about 7 cm). Wenger’s knives are slightly smaller — 3.25″ closed, with a 2.5″ blade.

Nobody, to my knowledge, sells a Swiss knife of the size used in the diagram, but you can bet your ass that a shit-ton of TSA goons will have fancy new-to-them second-hand Swiss knives the week after this goes into effect (April 25). Travelers will see the Swiss knife in the diagram, think they’re cool, and have them snagged by the jackass patrol.



Over at the Verge, they’ve got the first real coverage of what it’s like to use Google Glass. I’d really love to try one — especially for navigation when driving or biking.

I just wonder how they’ll deal with the fact that much of their market already wears glasses.