Friday, October 26, 2007

The Gibson Expense Account Fantasy

I read William Gibson's new novel, Spook Country, in the week of Aug. 22, 2007. I know the exact date because that was when I saw this interview with Gibson in The Onion A/V Club.

Once I realized Gibson had a new book out, I immediately bought it and read it. I didn't even finish reading the interview.

Why is William Gibson so important? The way I always introduce a conversation about Gibson is to explain that he invented the term "cyberspace," which those of you over 25 or so might remember as important in the early (pre-Google-ish) internet.

More importantly then the term, of course, is the concept. Early on, we thought of our online universe as what Gibson calls the "goggles and gloves school of virtual reality." (See Johnny Mnemonic, Hackers, Disclosure, blah blah blah).

The idea of such a space, and Gibson speaks to this quite well in his A/V interview, was fundamental to gelling the idea of the internet for the people who went ahead and invented it.

So Gibson created the then science fiction concept that led to the defining real-world innovation of our generation, and all this in just his first novel, Neuromancer. Since Neuromancer, Gibson has published eight novels and a collection of short stories, Burning Chrome

Except for Difference Engine, I've read them all, and a couple of patterns have jumped out at me. First, and I think this is extremely telling, Gibson's most recent novels, Spook Country and the excellent Pattern Recognition, are not science fiction. At least, they are set in the present time and use pretty much the technology of the day.

I like this a lot, because it is further evidence that you and I are living in the future. I've always had this idea that you can take common tropes from sci-fi and fantasy and translate them directly through analogy in to today's world.

For example, no one I know is actually a vampire, but we all know people who live off others' life energy in a different way - sap others' will, drain their money without giving any reward, stuff like that. Take a vampire, forget the blood and the sleeping in coffins, and you've got a certain type of lawyer or a Hollywood agent. Take it one step further, and you could translate Interview With a Vampire in to a pretty good Hollywood morality tale.

Gibson's science fiction no longer has to be science fiction. No one's making commercial flights in Low Earth Orbit, but with a fall in barriers to travel and cheap airfare abroad, we are pretty much travelling like we're in LEO space craft anyway.

No one's using goggles and gloves, but we're all using handheld global communications and informations devices, and even the occasional wireless modem. There aren't any actual aliens around, but with globalization and international markets, you can take walk to another neighborhood in New York and feel like you're on another planet. So we're living a version of Gibson's future already.

(By the way, if you need evidence that Gibson had this figured out way before I did, protagonist of Neuromancer: "Case." Protagonist of Pattern Recognition: "Cayce.")

The other thing that raised my interest by running across Gibson's various books is that, despite their obvious differences in subject and time period, Gibson's novels tend to share a lot of themes and a lot of plot devices.

I could talk about Gibson's grand themes, his take on technology, how art and communications are bringing people together or keeping them apart, how globalisation and consumerism are both creating needless goods and generating a global market or audience for the truly heartfelt art among us, and other large and grandiose ideas, but

1) you'd really do better to read Pattern Recognition, take a look the discussion on Gibson's blog, and form your own ideas,
2) I'm sure somebody else has done a much better job with this already, and
3) this blog isn't about addressing the thematic basis of our own world, it's about making tiny and carefully argued points about obscure media really well, and also sometimes posting pictures of legos.

I'll turn my effusive rant, then, to Gibson's favorite plot devices. First, Gibson loves the MacGuffin, and I love Gibson's MacGuffins right back. Neuromancer had Case chasing a word, Pattern Recognition had Cayce after an author, in Spook Country everyone's after a box, All Tomorrow's Parties they are chasing a world-shifting event. Gibson never leaves out a good MacGuffin.

Gibson's heros, however, tend to be ordinary in the global scheme of things, even down on their luck: drug addicts, the neurotic, a journalist, nothing-special hackers.

So you need a way for hero to chase MacGuffin. Enter the rich patron. In Neuromancer, this part is played by a criminally ambitious AI. In the recent books, the part is played by an overly ambitious Belgian advertising billionaire.

I love how you can see the traces of Gibson's imagined future of yesteryear translated in to his imagined present of today. For example, Wintergreen, the AI in Neuromancer, is built around the principal of not knowing the word that will unlock his abilities, so as better to keep him from comitting the dangerous Turring fete of making himself smarter (there is even a "Turring Police" that foil these AI's attempts to enrich themselves with deadly force).

Analogously, our Belgian advertising billionaire's character is first described as being centered on the idea that he can see nothing funny about his own name. That name: Hubertus Bigend.

(Incidentally, I am convinced that this latest Gibson cycle will eventually be referred to as the "Bigend Trilogy.")

So we have the rich and powerful patron to move the ordinary but somehow unique protagonist on a series of plot crucial and exciting tasks that Gibson obviously researched extensively and so is able to excitingly dismiss in throw away plot points like over-written message board posts about obscure footage, buying antique computing technology of the 1970s and spoofing black ICE with a data packet disguised as an ordinary accounting request.

Still, we need a means to an end, a way to get our hero from point A to point B, a way of giving these unique but ordinary people the power of the patron with out their necessarily understanding the intricacies of how it is used, and to overcome ordinary, plot-encumbring obstacles like airfare and walking-around money.

Which brings me to the final of the puzzle, the part of the post where I move from the obscure stuff you, the gentle reader, may not be able to make sense of even if you've read all this shit and on to the one, simple idea I probably could have laid out in the beginning if I wasn't so excited about writing everything inbetween then and now.

I speak of course of the semi-all-powerful, high-credit limit and no-questions asked expense account.

The escapist dream of living in a future where everything from Boston to Atlanta is all part of the same dirty and underlit urban sprawl has absolutely nothing on the fantasy of an unlimited, no-questions asked expense account.

God I love the idea of this expense account. Stay in a posh hotel, call the company travel agent to get booked on a first-class flight to Japan that very same day, and buy yourself that obscure Japanese-made WWII replicant American fighter jacket that comes up all the time, right now, today, no questions asked, and absolutely guilt-free.

In the real world, travelling on an expense account is never like this. The closest I've come personally is taking care of tasks as a PA on a commercial (budgets on commercials are really high - once I was sent out on an ordinary run and ended up taking four thousand dollars in cash across town for the production coordinator's petty cash).

Even then, I felt a little guilty about spending the production's money, and I'd never do it unnecessarily (although I've met many PAs who have no problem doing this). Receipts had to be accounted for. Efficiency is valued. You need to call your key for approval.

More often, of course, I was managing expenses on a shoot of my own, inevitably low-budget to begin with, and expenses that I have to manage are so frought with worry that there's really no point in comparing them to a fantasy expense account at all.

Friends of mine who travel on the expense account of a big company tell me it's fun at first and then almost immediately loses its appeal. I mean, you can only eat foie gras and steak so many meals of the day before you're sick of it and fat.

Worse, some people I know come to depend on their expense account, so that they get to a point where they couldn't feed themselves if they quit their jobs or stopped working through two or three meal times a day. Who wants to spend every waking moment trapped in opulence?

Gibson expense account are great not just because of the resources they deliver, but because they are truly justified and guilt-free. They are appointed for a specific purpose, something the expense account provider can provide that only the expense account recipient can do, and inevitably something important, even world-changing, and (in the best novels), something that is also of singular importance to the protagonist.

That's what makes the Gibson expense account such a fantasy: not the money, but the ability to navigate obstacles with a singularity of power and purpose that each of us can envy.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Porn Titles for AFI Top 100 Movies

In what may be the most immature writing exercise of all time, I have changed the titles of the American Film Institute Top 100 Movies so that they are now titles of porns.

In other news, I've recently learned that family friends read this blog. Possibly also potential employers. Look away, gentlemen, look away. I am so deeply ashamed.

I'm sure some of these really exist, but there's no way I'm linking to them.* Kids read this shit.

100. Yank My Noodle, Randy
99. Guess Who's Coming At Dinner
98. Your Dick Bitten
97. Bringing It Up Baby's Ass
96. The Smearers
95. Pulp Fuckin'
94. GoodFuckas
93. The Dorm Room
92. A Place in the Come
91. My Fair Lady And Her Hot Sister

90. The Lead Guitarist
89. Gaggin'
88. It's Easy To Ride Her
87. Frank's Back Nine [isn't that slang for something? He plays the back nine? Maybe I just made that up.]
86. Cute Annie Gets Bouncy
85. Duck Slut
84. Women of Fargo
83. Thirty to Fifty Men
82. Giant Cocks
81. Modern Times, Modern Women

80. The Wild Bush
79. The Doe Hunter
78. Rockettes
77. Anne Ericka Does The Grammies
76. City Nights
75. Dances With Wolves, Drinking With Bitches
74. The Golden Shower Rush
73. Wuthering Highs
72. Beniffer Stolen Backstage Sex Tape
71. Forrest Cunt

70. The French Connection in My Pants
69. Shame
68. Anne Ericka In Paris
67. The Manchurian Whore On Dates
66. Dick Work
65. The Silence of the Furries
64. Close Encounters of the Turd Kind
63. Stage Shows
62. Pootie
61. Virgin O's

60. Karen Allen is So Damn Sexy
59. Gay For James Dean
58. Dizney's Fantasia Ft. the Marching Broom Handles
57. The Third Leg
56. Korean Nurses Gone Wild
55. Austrian MILFs Gone Wild
54. All Quiet For West Coast Cunts
53. Nice Wig: A History of German Fucking, 1756-1791
52. Come in My Hair, Drink My Pee
51. Philadelphia Whores Gone Wild

50. When Butches Find Their Cassidies
49. Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs Stolen Backstage Sex Tape
48. Aching Jaws
47. Taxi Cab Confessionals [*except for this, of course. HBO iz teh awesum!!!!1!]
46. My Cunt Worked Pink
45. A Hooker Named Desire
44. The Birth Of A Dalmation [I'm thinking Knocked Up for the furry crowd]
43. King Cock
42. Rear Entrance
41. West Side Sucky

40. Peter North By Peter North West
39. Nurse Zhivago
38. Double Teaming A Stripper Named Destiny
37. The Best Fucks of Our Lives
36. Brokeback Mountain
35. It Happened One Night, Then Went On For Several More Nights
34. To Kill A Hooker
33. High Poon
32. The Load-buster
31. Annie Balls

30. Whores of the Sierra Madre
29. Mrs. Smith Does Washington
28. A Cock, A Lips - Now!
27. Bonnie, Clyde, And A Couple of Other Guys
26. Eyes Wide Shut
25. E.T. - The Engorged Transvestite
24. Raging Bulls, Horny Heffers
23. The Maltese Fuckin'
22. 2001: A Pretty Good Year For Sex
21. The Balls of Wrath

20. One Came On To The Cuckoo's Neck: The Best Pearl Necklaces of 1975
19. Chinatown Bathroom Hidden Camera
18. Psycho Bitches
17. African Queens
16. Balls About Eve
15. Jar-Jar Binks Being Gang Raped
14. Some Like Getting It In The Sauna
13. The Dick On The River Kwai Starring 18-Year-Old Newcomer River Kwai
12. Sunset Blew Him Hard Featuring 19-Year-Old Sunset Kwai
11. It's A Wonderful Life Starring Jimmy Stewart (1946)

10. Fuckin' In The Rain
9. Schindler's Dick
8. Public Exposure On The Waterfront
7. The Graduate 2: Mrs. Robinson's New Seductions
6. The Wizzer of Oz: Best in Golden Showers From the Emerald City [tag line: "Pay no attention to the women behind the curtain."]
5. Lawrence of 101 Arabian Nights
4. Come With the Wind
3. The Godmother
2. Wild On Casablanca

and, of course...

1. Citizen Cunt

That's it. I'm never getting in to elected office.

ps - I just realized that, although I'd written this almost a month ago, it was spending all day reading Encyclopedia Dramatica that convinced me it was, by comparison with the rest of the internet, not too shameful to post.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Women in Overalls

Women in overalls are sexy.

Kimiko in Dresden Codak

True, cartoon people look better than real people, but come on. You've got to admit those overalls and that sports bra are damn sexy.

That picture of Kimiko is the newsbox image that got me reading this excellent, beautiful, rarely-updated comic, proving the world needs more drawings of girls in overalls.

Florence Darel in A La Mode (1993)

I have scoured the internet for a picture of this vision in mechanics' overalls, this poem of a woman, in this otherwise unremarkable movie. Nuthin'.

Interesting point: Florence Darel looks better wearing overalls and fixing a car than she ever does in the absurd fashions that make the protagonist a star in the world of this movie, just like Lindsey Lohan looks better when she's well-adjusted and in jeans than she does crazy and in designer labels.

This One Girl Who Was Pouring Apple Cider at Hampshire College Last Weekend

Due to Facebook, I am hearing more and more often from old friends at my odd and obscure school in South Wales. One of these people is Codename Alex. As of recently, she's going to Hampshire College, so I took the train ride up there this past Friday to see what was going on with her after seven years or so.

It was gorgeous early fall New England weather, and it was Family and Friends Weekend, so there was a good amount of stuff going on. I spent most of my time hanging out with Codename Alex's friends, who refer to themselves as The Amoeba.

One day, we went out to the farm to watch some bellydancing. These farm kids were pressing a bunch of fresh cider, and amongst those serving it was this gorgeous, tall brunette in overalls.

Girl in overalls, I am sorry that when confronted with beauty I devolve in to a stuttering troglodyte.

I miss you. I feel the two of us should be together - maybe we could do some WWOOF time together on an apple orchard upstate.

Maybe once you finish your Group 3 project, you will just want to kick back in the city and watch some recent movies for once, just enjoy the off-campus anonymity for awhile. Whatever you want. I will vacuum my apartment for you. I am here for your needs.

Girl, call me. The Amoeba has my number. Let's get together.

Anyway, I tried to snap a picture of her, but the time I'd composed myself enough to do it, this girl was off her cider shift and she'd put on a fleece.

So instead Codename Alex drank so much cider that she felt a little sick, I took a hayride with The Amoeba, and Jake and I invented the concept of the Amish A-Team (their machine guns never kill anyone, but then they also don't have any buttons).

Saturday, October 13, 2007


"Earworms" is the English translation of a German word that means "songs that get stuck in your head." I like this name - reminds me of something that happens in a Star Trek movie.

I keep track of my Earworms in an iTunes playlist. The rule (and you've got to be strict about this) is that these songs must have no reason to enter my brain or must stay there much longer than they can be of any use.

They do not have to be any good.

I believe that I have by now found all of them. I present my earworms here, in the order they've occured to me over the years, from oldest to newest. From a meta perspective, that means this blog entry represents over two years of work and no more than thirty minutes of work simultaneous.


Can You Get To That


Run on


Praise You
Fatboy Slim

Dirty Harry

Feel Good Inc.

Satan Is My Motor

Zak and Sara
Ben Folds

It Could Have Been A Brilliant Career
Belle & Sebastian

The Bird That You Can't See
Apples In Stereo

Chewing Gum


The 50 States Song (Live)
Sufjan Stevens

She'z in Control

She Don't Use Jelly
Ben Folds Five

Alpha Beta Gaga


Am I Black Enough For You?
Billy Paul

Mr. Blue Sky
Electric Light Orchestra

Sufjan Stevens

Gnarls Barkley

Up for the Down Stroke

Hollaback Girl
Gwen Stefani

Elton John

Y Control
Yeah Yeah Yeahs

My Humps
Black Eyed Peas

All Night Disco Party


Freezepop Forever

Neighborhood #2 (Laika)
The Arcade Fire

I Turn My Camera On

The Man In Me
Bob Dylan

Picture Book
The Kinks

Make Money
Jr Mafia featuring Lil Kim & Biggie Small

99 Problems (Produced By Rick Rubin)

After Hours
The Velvet Underground

Christmas Time is Here (vocal)
Charlie Brown Christmas

Seven Nation Army
The White Stripes

Sir Nose D'Voidoffunk

Beastie Boys

Erykah Badu

Do You Remember Walter?
The Kinks

Erykah Badu

Sister Christian
Night Ranger

Touch The Sky
Kanye West

Road to Nowhere
Talking Heads

Lefty Loosey
They Might Be Giants

Demon Days

Don't Get Lost In Heaven

Where Do They Make Balloons?
They Might Be Giants

Good Time

Over And Over
Hot Chip

Take Your Mama
Scissor Sisters

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger
Daft Punk

Daft Punk

My Doorbell
The White Stripes

Waiting For The Bus
Violent Femmes

The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill
The Beatles

Flight of the Conchords theme song
Flight of the Conchords

The Night Chicago Died
Paper Lace

Mariah Carey

Hooray for Hollywood
Rosemary Clooney

Duke Ellington

I'm Easy Like Sunday Morning
Lionel Ritchie & The Commodores

Genius of Love
Tom Tom Club

Alternate Route To Vulcan Street
Super Furry Animals

Sidewalk Serfer Girl
Super Furry Animals