No, you don’t want to connect EVERYTHING.

People have been yammering about “The Internet of Things” for a long time now, probably dating back to the 1990s and Java and the idea of a fridge (e.g.) smart enough to know when you run out of milk. It’s a neat idea, but even moderately sophisticated software people see the problem immediately:

Every time you connect a device to the net and give it information, you’re trusting that manufacturer not to be stupid. If we can’t even trust phone and computer makers that implicitly, then why the hell do you think we ought to be trusting car makers or appliance vendors?

Look, information security is hard. There’s no goddamn reason you ought to trust your refrigerator with your Gmail password. There’s no reason to need a “smart” TV at all. Don’t buy a car with a wifi adapter, and be circumspect about turning on Bluetooth for anything but phone integration. That neat shit your friend can do with his Tesla? Yeah, it’s cool, but do you REALL think Detroit can do the same shit with the same level of execution? Christ, they can’t even make switches that don’t fail. Don’t ask them to do SOFTWARE.

Don’t connect shit to the Internet that doesn’t need to be connected to the Internet. You do not need to watch Netflix on your toaster. Trust me. I know things.

How you should feeding your cat

This guy did something pretty great:

So instead of feeding my cat, I hide these balls around the house…

This all started after I read an explanation of why cats go about repeatedly exploring the same areas: it’s partly to establish and survey their territory, but they’re also practicing ‘mobile’ hunting: moving about, being curious, and poking their noses around in the hopes of upsetting potential prey and finding a meal.

So what if my cat, while out on patrol, actually found its prey? Surely this would bring him one step closer towards a more fulfilled and self-actualized indoor kitty existence.

I imagined hiding little bowls of food around the house… then I imagined me actually refilling these bowls. Then I imagined having to move them around to different hiding spots, spilling, forgetting, and every so often, perhaps only after following a trail of ants, finding one undiscovered and rancid. Hmmm, maybe there’s a way to hide something else, a way to hide something other than food, a way to make something not-food = food…

Click through. It’s brilliant.

Do Not Miss This Play

From 25 September until 17 October, my friends at The Catastrophic Theatre will be producing my favorite play: Maria Irene Fornes’ The Danube.

The same people — director and cast, though I don’t know if puppets are involved this time — staged this play in Houston once before, with Infernal Bridegroom every bit of 15 years ago. I saw that performance, too, and reviewed it for a long-defunct local paper.

Because I am a packrat, I still have that review, which I’ve pasted in below. It’s amusing to me to read, because at the time none of these people were my friends. I hope it’s amusing to you as well, and encourages you to see this show. Performances are all at 8pm, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings. All shows at Catastrophic are pay-what-you-can.

Let me be perfectly clear: prior to entering the Atomic Cafe on Friday night, I had no idea what I was going to see. All I knew was “IBP and Bobbindoctrin puppets,” which sounded at least interesting, so off I went. An article from American Theater posted in the lobby gave me a bit more background: The Danube is a piece by Maria Irene Fornes. (This is a name worth remembering.) Her work as described by the AT article makes her sound like a perfect match for Infernal Bridegroom – experimental, often challenging pieces that may well leave the audience just a bit (or more) bewildered. And, as if this wasn’t enough fun, the Danube includes puppets – making the collaboration with Bobbindoctrin Puppet Theater a natural development.

The Danube has its origins as a piece of found art; Fornes built the play around an old Hungarian language record. The initial scenes between Paul (Troy Schulze), Mr. Sandor (Charlie Scott) and Sandor’s daughter Eve (Amy Bruce) are enunciated and exaggerated to the point of parody. Add to this an intermittent voiceover from the language record itself preceding each line, and an odd sort of disconnection rules the scene. From these pattern sentences, though, Fornes weaves a simple enough story – at first. Paul is an American businessman sent to Budapest; he meets Mr. Sandor and Eve; courting ensures; eventually, Paul is called home, prompting them to marry, which essentially concludes the linear narrative – but not the play’s action. The pattern-sentence language-instruction motif fades (but never completely) in favor of a sort of Euro-film surrealism that grows into the outright bizarre before the play’s abrupt conclusion. Paul becomes ill; he may or may not have been conscripted. Everyone deteriorates dramatically, apparently afflicted with some grotesque palsy. There is plenty of goggle wearing, and frankly there’s just not enough of that in modern American drama. Two scenes are done with tiny puppets manned by the actors on a perfect miniature version of the stage, complete with smoke and light wafting from the floorboards.

So what’s happening here? Is it life during wartime? Is it a plague? What is Fornes up to? In the American Theater article (September, 2000), the author (Steven Druckman) suggests that “the best way to wrap your mind around the plays of Maria Irene Fornes is to abandon all hope of understanding them.” This is probably true. He goes on: “[Fornes] is for people who prefer passion to fashion, who prefer awe to wit. She is for those of us who don’t mind admitting that we’re still groping in the dark.”

Spot on, I think.

To allow this play to swirl around you is to experience it most fully and, ultimately, purely. Do not chase the plot, ticking off characters and events as if you were at a hockey game. There is ample time for reflection after the final curtain. Allow Fornes (and, by association, IBP director Jason Nodler and company) to assemble this thing on their own terms; you will be hard pressed to find this experience elsewhere. Certainly no one else in town will go this far from the beaten path. IBP is in fine, fine form here, aided in no small part by the collaboration with Bobbindoctrin. The small cast – Bruce, Schulze, Scott, and the irrepressible Kyle Sturdivant in four supporting roles – is well chosen. Schultze exudes the alien confidence of a businessman abroad when the U.S. ruled the world; Scott and Bruce are exemplars of a formal old-world charm. Sturdivant, when so called upon, delivers some of the few genuinely comic lines with scene-stealing aplomb – and his almost menacing monologue as a waiter is not to be missed. Costume, properties, and sound are all beyond reproach; the primary set pieces are beautiful drops painted by Bobbindoctrin. Small details throughout the production are universally solid, from the costumed set-changers to the upholstery on the puppet-stage furnishings. This is some of IBP’s finest work yet.

In a conversation with Nodler after the show, he mentioned that this is at least the third time he’s attempted to stage The Danube – and each prior time he cancelled the production when he feared it would miss the mark for some reason or another; that mark must certainly be met here. Nodler studied under Fornes in college, which no doubt drove his ambition for the play, and in turn informs his obvious pleasure with this show. He told anecdotes about the production, the play, and Fornes, and led my date and I backstage to show us the smoking apparatus used for the puppet stage. His excitement and enthusiasm for the play and production were infectious (and this from a director I have previously described as “grouchy”).

You will almost certainly not “understand” the Danube in the way you might understand a more conventional play. You may find yourself, as we did, unable to properly describe the work – or at least unable to do it justice – when you meet your friends for beer afterwards. You will use words like “postmodern” and “experimental” and “surreal,” but none of these will be equal to the task. It is true that Fornes seems to be playing games with narrative, but not in the traditional postmodern sense (if there is such a thing); there is no winking here. What there is seems best described by Druckman’s quote, above: the characters grope about in the dark for meaning, for understanding, just as we in the audience do. This is a splendid script and a strong production of the sort we don’t see too often in Houston. Do not miss this play.

Bye, Jon.

Last night, Jon Stewart finished up his astonishing 16 year run at The Daily Show.

I got nothing, really. I’ll miss that show horribly, and Stewart’s take on things in particular. He somehow managed to create an entirely new sort of program, largely because the actual media was too busy making noise and had abdicated their traditional role. I wrote this 13 years ago, on this site:

I just watched a fascinating dialog on the Middle East question that was both nuanced and interesting — and altogether free of bombast. Moreover, said dialog featured substantive contributions from both show host and guest. The show? Comedy Central’s Daily Show, which featured the New Yorker’s David Remnick as its guest this evening. A comedy show is the only place we can see discussion without some talking head going apo-goddamn-plectic over the sound of his own howling. Why is this? Contrast this with the softball handling Jay Leno gave Dick Cheney, and you’ll see what I mean.

What’s especially depressing, though, is that even though it was obvious people WANTED real discussion 13 years ago, the only places offering the kind of depth Stewart’s Daily Show provided today, in 2015, are spinoffs of his own program — Larry Wilmore and John Oliver in particular are doing spectacular work (and Oliver, on HBO and without sponsors to placate, is really flying high).

Much was made of Letterman’s retirement earlier this year, and much should have been, but Stewart’s departure is just as big a deal for many people in comedy. As the traditional talk show format aged, it was The Daily Show that became the must-watch show in the evenings, and in that way Stewart became the new Letterman, or the new Carson, for an entire generation.

Books of 2015, #AWholeBunch: In Which I Punt.

I’ve gotten terribly, terribly behind, so forgive the omnibus.

True Grit, by Charles Portis

Underrated, even after the spike in interest after the Coen film. It’s chock full of fantastic language, as in this description: “Not a day goes by but there comes some new report of a farmer bludgeoned, a wife outraged, or a blameless traveller set upon and cut down in a sanguinary ambuscade.” He is, of course, speaking of Oklahoma.

The Whites, by Richard Price

I was put on this by a pal (howdy, Frazer) after having bounced off Price before — I found him kind of a mess. Assured this was his best work despite being initially published under a pseudonym, I dove in. And found it wanting, again. Oh well.

Cyclops, by Clive Cussler

This is the one with the improbable plot, unconventional automobile, and unusual boats, when danger lurks but Dirk saves the day. Right.

Home, by Marilynne Robinson

I discovered, rather late, the enormous and humbling beauty of Gilead, and so I was pleased to discover there were other books that dealt with the same cast and time period, but from other points of view. Sadly, I found none of the stirring magic in Home that had so transfixed me in Gilead.

Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson

Jesus, Neil, can you please learn to write endings? And, while you’re at it, plausible middles? Anathem and Reamde were so much better than his prior work that I had hope he’d gotten past his former foibles, but this was just kind of a waste. Andy Weir made a novel out of problem solving, and it’s like Neal took entirely the wrong lessons from it, because herein we receive long, involved descriptions of orbital mechanics, how to build in orbit, how to re-terraform the planet, and how to harness a comet, and goddamn near every word of it bored me to tears. And I’m a nerd.

In which I do something MailChimp probably doesn’t want me to do.

I get lots of bulk mail.

Some of it is scattershot spam from bots or whatever, but a significant portion of the spam I get is stuff from people who should know better, and who’ve bought my address from some list somewhere else on the assumption that if I wanted to get mail from Party X, I also must want to get mail from Party Y!

This is never, ever the case, and it is never, ever legitimate to make that assumption.

MailChimp is increasingly seeing use as the bulk emailer of choice amongst these sorts of people, and because I’ve started seeing this pattern, I’ve taken a step I’ll bet MailChimp hopes doesn’t happen much.

I configured my mail server to sequester anything sent my MailChimp into a folder other than my inbox. It’s not going directly to spam, but it may as well be. I might survey the folder occasionally, but it’s out of my way. And the truth of it is that nothing of value is likely to come from MailChimp anyway.

This kind of thing wouldn’t be necessary if MailChimp was more serious about ensuring its clients were doing real opt-in. But they’re not, and I’m getting the idea that their whole business model is predicated on not being too much of a stickler on this point. They’re keeping out the Nigerian princes, but as far as I’m concerned the Marty McVey Mayoral campaign is no better than any other sort of unsolicited commercial message.

Take for example their “report abuse” method. First, you have to search their site to find a way to do this, but it’s there. Their approach involves a web form that requires the user know how to view the raw headers of the message to pull out a unique value that identifies the campaign and client.

Yeah, nobody is gonna do that. Nobody, I mean, other than me.

It’d be WAY simpler if there was always a “report abuse” link in the footer of every message sent through MailChimp, but that would produce actual reports of abuse, which are not in their interest. This way, they get to say there’s a mechanism for reporting and dealing with abuse, but their implementation means only nerds like me will ever bother doing so.

It’s reasonable to assume this means that MailChimp isn’t that interested in preventing abuse or getting reports of abuse from bulk mail recipients, because it’s bad for business. Most people who get spammed by a given campaign will just delete the mails when they come in.

As I suppose is obvious, at Amalgamated Heathen, we’re not most people.