Expanded from a post at Brontoforumus, 2017-10-22.


Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff, formerly of MST3K, have been touring the country, riffing movies, under the name The Mads. I caught them at the Chandler Alamo Drafthouse two weeks ago, riffing the Vincent Price "classic" The Tingler. It was fun! If you get a chance to see them, I recommend checking them out.

The event was smaller and felt more intimate than when I saw Cinematic Titanic some years back. They've got a merch table (books and posters) where they hock stuff before and after the show, and I had a chance to chat with them for a bit (and picked up copies of Trace's Silly Rhymes for Belligerent Children and Frank's How to Write Cheesy Movies). They did an audience Q&A after the movie, too.

The riffing...well, you know how MST3K keeps things PG and doesn't make timely political jokes? Well, it's not like that. They say "fuck" a lot and one of the more memorable riffs involved a corpse covered by a sheet and Frank saying, "That sheet makes you look like a Trump supporter." So keep that in mind if you're planning on taking any kids or Republicans.

At any rate, the Mads put on a good show. Keep an eye on that tour schedule on Facebook (because for some reason their website is down) and go see 'em if you get a chance.

They've also got a podcast, Movie Sign with the Mads, where they discuss movies -- including some that are actually good! So far I've listened to their episodes on The Shining and Young Frankenstein -- it was Halloween season, after all. I enjoyed the shows and look forward to hearing more. And I expect I'll have more to say about podcasts in a future post.

In 2006, I bought a used 2002 Chevy, for $4000.

It was a reliable damn car, and lasted longer than any of us expected. But about a year ago, the AC compressor went out. I decided it would make more sense to get a new car than fix the old one, so a few months ago, that's what I did.

I planned on giving the Chevy to my dad, who needs a car. But when we went in to transfer the title, we found out I couldn't. Turns out that, some years back, he sold his van to a coworker without getting the title transferred over. The coworker abandoned the van (whatever "abandoned" means; as we'll see below, in the eyes of the law "abandoned" can just mean "parked on the curb too long"), and now Dad's stuck with a $500 fine before he's allowed to register another car.

So the Chevy's been sitting out on the curb for the past few months, while I've been waiting for Dad to get his paperwork sorted. During these months, I didn't take the car out regularly to keep its battery charged -- I knew I should have, but it was a-hundred-and-fuck-you degrees out, and if I wanted to drive a car with no AC in that weather, I wouldn't have bought a new car.

So, my own damn fault; by the time I tried to take the car out again, the battery was dead.

The design of the street I live on makes it difficult to line two cars up for a jump. I've got a little device called a Power Station PSX that's got jumper cables and an air compressor built into it, but its battery was no longer holding a charge. I had already E-Mailed the Power Station company to ask if the battery was replaceable, but I'd received no response.

At any rate, on Thursday the 19th, I got home to find a bright orange sticker on my Chevy declaring that it had been confirmed as abandoned and I had 120 hours to move it or it would be towed.

I don't know if the police officer who left the tag was just a busybody -- it's pretty obvious to a casual observer that nobody's driven this car in awhile; it's got cobwebs and leaves and shit under it --, or if one of my neighbors complained about my car to the police. In the latter case, jeez, neighbor, I wish you'd just come and rung my bell and talked to me about it. I know the thing's an eyesore, and I didn't mean for it to be there this long, but is it really going to be any less of an eyesore in my driveway? If you'd asked me to just clean up the leaves and the cobwebs, I'd have done it.

And yeah, I've been meaning to get that battery charged anyway, but a hard 5-day deadline is a little tight. I mean, it's nice to have a weekend in there, but even if I can find a battery with Amazon two-day shipping at this point, it's Thursday night and that means I won't be getting it until Sunday.

I wondered if I could just reverse the thing back a car-length. What's the legal standard for moving your car? So I called the Tempe Police Department, and talked to an officer who politely and repeatedly failed to answer that question. "How far do I need to move it?" -- "You need to move it." -- "Yes, but what is the legal standard for moving it? If I move it one car length, will it still be considered abandoned? If I move it a couple of houses over, will it still be considered abandoned?" -- "Sir, you just need to move your car within 120 hours." And so on.

Ultimately, I decided the only safe course of action would be to move the Chevy to the driveway and keep my new car on the curb. This doesn't really seem like it solves any kind of a problem. I pointed this out, in exasperation: "If I just switch them so that the old car is in the driveway and the car I drive to work is on the curb, I don't see how that's helping anybody."

"Because," she said, "then the car isn't there during the time you're at work." And I remembered, ah yes, never ask a police officer how a law makes sense, and disengaged from the conversation. It reminded me of the Douglas Adams story about the time he was pulled over to the center lane in the middle of a curve, and when he protested to the policeman that this was unsafe, the policeman responded that it was safe because he was there at the request of a policeman.

Yes. Yes of course everybody is better off because, during work hours, there's not a car in that spot. In case there's, like, a block party in the middle of a weekday and there's no other place to park. How silly of me.

So I went back to trying to figure out whether I could change the battery in my Power Station, or, if I couldn't, whether I could replace the whole thing -- and, either way, whether I could do it by Tuesday afternoon.

A replacement Power Station would run $150 -- and wouldn't be there in time.

So I searched some more for answers on whether I could replace that battery. And I found a YouTube video demonstrating how to do exactly that.

The official battery, the brand and model that came with the Power Station, was expensive and I couldn't find it with Prime shipping. But, for the first and only time in human history, a YouTube comment proved helpful: commenter Maverick Alchemist noted that, based on the voltage, wattage, and physical dimensions of the battery, an item listed as ExpertPower EXP12180 12 Volt 18 Ah Rechargeable Battery with Nuts and Bolts should do the job. And whaddaya know: two-day shipping.

I kept busy Friday night and Saturday; I made sure to get my chores out of the way -- yard cleaned, dishes washed, laundry done, bills paid, groceries purchased -- before Sunday, to make sure I'd have plenty of time to take care of the car -- change the Power Station battery and jump it, at minimum, and then, if something broke down along the way (battery didn't arrive on time, battery didn't work, jump didn't work...), time to get somebody to help me push the damn thing into the driveway in case my wife and I couldn't manage it by ourselves.

I managed to finish all my other chores up in time to take Saturday night off and go to the Alamo Drafthouse to see the Mads. I'll have a post about that along soon.

So Sunday rolled around. I took the Power Station out front, grabbed my tools, and set to taking it apart to change the battery. The process was tedious -- a hell of a lot of screws, and a couple of inconveniently-placed nuts -- but straightforward. The new battery arrived, the new battery worked, I buttoned it back up. The new battery didn't have a full charge, so I went ahead and plugged it in for a few hours, just to be sure.

And so finally, Sunday evening, around sundown, I went out, popped the hood, wired it up, and turned the Power Station on.

I turned the key.

It started.

First try. It really couldn't have possibly gone any better. Like I said: this old girl is reliable.

So I drove around the neighborhood for about half an hour, to make sure I got a good charge. It was a nice drive, too, with the windows down; we're still seeing some pretty warm days here (I think that day got up to the high 90's), but the evenings are pretty much perfect.

I'll try and take it out once a week or so from here on in, so I won't have to do that again.

As I mentioned last week, I've been avidly following Nathan Rabin's The Weird Accordion to Al (today's entry: Harvey the Wonder Hamster from Alapalooza). As it happens, I've also been reading Nathan Rabin's Weird Al: The Book. All this Nathan Rabin stuff has really got me thinking about Weird Al.

I'm pretty sure the first time I ever saw Weird Al was in UHF, running on HBO a year or two after its release. My grandpa was channel-surfing; we came in right around the time George and Bob get to the TV station. Grandpa mistook Philo for Doc Brown and thought it was Back to the Future, so we kept it there; it wasn't long before we realized it was not in fact Back to the Future, but we liked what we saw enough to stick with it through the end.

I'd have probably been 8 or 9 years old. I didn't even catch the name of the movie; it'd be awhile before I saw it again. It was on its way to becoming a hard-to-find cult hit; I remember by the early '00s, there was like one video place that had a copy on VHS (the DVD wasn't out yet), and we'd rent it sometimes.

After UHF, I next saw Al on the PBS math show Square One TV. He did a song called Patterns, which is sadly not included on the Medium Rarities disc in his new "complete" collection.

He also appeared in the Mathnet segment, playing a sleazy DJ who Frankly and Tuesday suspected of accepting payola. Or possibly flyola.

A few years after that, we got cable, and we'd see Amish Paradise and Gump in regular rotation on MTV. I remember I was in eighth grade when Spy Hard came out; a classmate of mine was telling me about the opening Bond-parody number and said something like "What's that guy's name? Crazy Al?"

The first Weird Al CD I ever bought was the Gump single, which also featured the Spy Hard theme. It wasn't long after that I got the Permanent Record: Al in the Box set. The first Weird Al album I ever bought was Bad Hair Day -- and I think I'll come back to that later. Rabin's just a few songs away from getting to Bad Hair Day, and I expect I'll have some Bad Hair Day-related thoughts as he wends his way through the track list.

An overdue update:

A couple of years back, when MST3K: The Return was still a Kickstarter campaign, I talked about the lack of royalties most of the show's writers and cast members received from episode sales when the show was still owned by Best Brains, Inc. I noted that Rifftrax shared profits from its MST3K episode sales with all the principals, and expressed my hope that the show's new owner, Shout! Factory, would do the same.

I've been meaning to update that post, and have finally gotten around to it, because I found out some time ago that Shout! Factory does indeed pay royalties to the former MST3K cast members. Here's from the FAQ from The Mads are Back (currently an archive.org link, as the site is down as of this writing):

It was previously stated on this site that Shout Factory was not paying us any royalties for the classic episodes of MST3K. That was completely and totally untrue. Don't know how that slipped by, but Shout has been nothing but kind and generous with us. If you have attended our live shows, you know that they give us lots of boxed sets and DVD’s of the show to hand out to fans.

It's also notable that Mary Jo Pehl and Bill Corbett, who had complained about the lack of royalties in previous interviews, both returned to write for and appear on the new MST3K, so it would appear that they're satisfied with the new arrangement.

So please, rest assured that if you're buying your MST3K episodes from any legal source, whether that's Rifftrax, VHX, or a DVD set on Amazon, the cast members are getting a cut. (I'm not sure about streaming subscription sites like Netflix, but I'm guessing, and hoping, that Shout! shares the profits from those sites too.)

And I'll have more on the Mads later. (Or earlier, since I'm planning on repurposing a Brontoforumus post.)

Arizona Senator Jeff Flake announced last week that he wouldn't seek another Senate term. It's not at all clear what that means yet.

I didn't like Flake, but I thought he was a better choice than "Chemtrail" Kelli Ward, the Bannon-endorsed candidate who was running against him in the primary (and, according to current polls, was likely to beat him handily). I was strongly considering voting for Flake in the primary and against him in the general.

I don't agree with Flake on the vast majority of issues, but I think he really is sincere, honest, and principled. He helped save Scalise's life after the shooting in June, and never tried to make political hay of it. He defended a possible Democratic opponent against his own supporters when they smeared her for being Muslim. When other Republicans were canceling town halls, he faced an audience of protesters and even stayed late to talk to people one-on-one. Hell, here's a video where he holds the door open for someone following him around in a chicken costume.

All in all, I think Flake is probably a decent human being. I think his criticisms of Trump come from a place of genuine moral concern, not political calculation. (And if it was political calculation, oof, he sure miscalculated.) That said, his objections to Trump seem to be almost entirely on tone, not on substance; he agrees with Trump on economics, healthcare, choice, and government surveillance, to pick a few nasty examples off the top of my head.

But, non-trivially, he's strongly criticized Trump's racism. He vocally opposed Trump's travel ban, and for years he's one of a handful of congressional Republicans who's favored immigration reform. That doesn't excuse all the issues I disagree with him on, strongly, but I do think it's worth recognizing and praising a bad politician who does a good thing.

But I'm not gonna miss the guy. At least, not unless somebody even worse takes his seat.

Right now the frontrunners for the nomination are Kelli Ward (R) and Kyrsten Sinema (my rep, the most conservative Democrat in the House). But that could change.

FiveThirtyEight has a pretty good article called How Does Jeff Flake’s Retirement Change The Arizona Senate Race? and KJZZ's The Show had a discussion about Flake as well. Both pieces note that, while Ward's currently the Republican frontrunner by default, there's plenty of time for another candidate to enter the primary. In fact, that's almost certainly what Flake is counting on: he wants his seat to be filled by someone who's like him, but more electable. I see a lot of people saying Flake's a coward because he's quitting instead of staying and fighting, but quitting is honestly his best shot at keeping a Trump-friendly candidate out of his seat.

I think Sinema's got the best chance to win a Senate seat of any Arizona Democrat in thirty years. Just how good a chance isn't clear yet. Her conservative record, while deeply frustrating to liberal constituents like myself, will be an asset in a statewide election, she'll be running for an open seat instead of against an incumbent, and midterm elections usually favor the opposition party, especially if the President is incredibly unpopular. Flake's was the most vulnerable Republican seat in the Senate before he announced his retirement, and it still is.

But even assuming Sinema is the nominee -- and the primary's not until August -- we don't know who she'll be running against. I think she'd stand a good chance against Ward, but not decisively so; I'm legitimately worried that Ward could win.

And if it's not Ward, then who? We don't even know who else will enter the race at this point, if anyone. There's plenty of speculation -- Graham, DeWit, McSally, Schweikert -- but nobody's announced yet.

But shit, I'm getting ahead of myself. Never mind next year -- don't forget to vote next week.

My skin gets irritated when I shave. It gets irritated when I don't shave. I've tried electric razors and I've tried cartridge razors; the past few years, I've been using a Merkur 25C safety razor with Bic double-edged blades (which I settled on after a comparison of double-edged razor blades).

A couple of weeks ago, I developed a shaving rash, on the left side of my face, around and under my chin. I've been trying to get it to clear up, but haven't had much luck yet. (I'll try not to use the word "rash" again for the remainder of this post.)

I found some articles with titles like How to Get Rid of Razor Burn Fast, Simple Ways to Prevent Skin Irritation After Shaving, and How to Prevent Shaving Rash (hey, that one's not my fault; it's the title of the page). I also found my way to /r/wicked_edge, Reddit's Home for Traditional Wetshaving. It's...quite the rabbit-hole.

The users of Wicked Edge have some opinions on things. First of all, they don't much care for William's Mug, the cheap shaving soap I've been using, though several of them say that, if you add enough water to it, it foams up more and isn't so bad.

I tried that. I grew out my beard for a few days and then, when I couldn't take the itching anymore and it looked like the redness was clearing up, I shaved again. True to the Wicked Edge users' recommendation, more water meant better foam. But after a couple days, my chin started to flare up again. So I'm going to have to try something else.

And oh! there are so very many things to try. Blades! Soaps! Oils! Moisturize more! Moisturize less! Use alum! Use witch hazel! Stop using astringents! Lotion-based aftershave, alcohol-based aftershave, stop using aftershave! Ultimately, the challenge is that everybody's different, and what works for one guy won't work for every guy.

For now, I'm growing the beard back out, hitting the irritated skin with tea tree oil (a couple of drops on a wet cotton pad) and aloe vera (straight from the plant) a couple of times a day and hoping it'll go away soon. Once that happens, I've got some new stuff to try.

I saw several recommendations for Voskhod razors as providing a smooth shave without being too sharp; I'm going to try those. I know my technique needs work; I'm in a habit of pressing, which I need to unlearn because I know that's contributing to the irritation.

I also saw a number of soap recommendations. Consensus seems to be that the best soaps are tallow-based, but I'm not big on animal products; fortunately, there are lots of recommendations for vegan soaps, too. I ordered a few samples from Maggard Razors; I'll try them out, see if any of them work, and plan on reporting back later.

A few months back, I tried to start blogging regularly again.

It lasted five days and five posts, at which point I started experiencing some debilitating thumb pain (carpal tunnel?). The thumb pain's not gone but it's under better control, so maybe I'll take another crack at it.

As I noted at the time, there were a couple things that inspired me to give another shot at regular blogging. One was an angry Sonic the Hedgehog fan who was so incensed by a years-old series of blog posts about Ken Penders that he just had to tell me about it when he came across my name in an entirely unrelated conversation. (Since then I've actually toyed with the idea of reposting my old, 1997-era Sonic the Hedgehog comic reviews here, but unfortunately I haven't been able to find them. They were on the same hard drive as KateStory Book IX, which I went to all that trouble to recover nine years ago; I suspect the files are still somewhere in my giant stack of hard drives but I haven't been able to find them.)

But another big inspiration was a blog called Nathan Rabin's Happy Place.

I first became a fan of Nathan Rabin about a decade ago, when he was the head writer of The AV Club and writing a column then called My Year of Flops. Every week for a year, Rabin reviewed a movie that was a commercial failure and evaluated whether it was really as bad as its reputation suggests.

I love bad movies. I love good movies. I love movies that other people don't love. My Year of Flops was right smack-dab in my wheelhouse.

My Year of Flops was eventually completed and released as a book. But the column continued after that first year, under the title My World of Flops; it expanded beyond failed films to include failed books, albums, and recently even a failed presidential campaign.

The AV Club is no longer the kind of site that does features like My World of Flops. So Rabin has started his own, Patreon-supported blog, Nathan Rabin's Happy Place. He's still writing My World of Flops, and other, similar features where he examines lesser-loved media (like Cannon Films). He also talks about other stuff, from politics to brutally honest discussions of his life experiences, including financial hardships and struggles with depression.

But my favorite of his features right now is The Weird Accordion to Al. Rabin literally wrote the book on "Weird Al" Yankovic (it's called Weird Al: The Book), and now he's taking a song-by-song look at Al's entire discography. (As of this writing he's up to Talk Soup from Alapalooza.)

I love Weird Al. I've loved Weird Al for over 25 years. Hell, all this talk about Weird Al has me thinking maybe I'll write some posts about Weird Al. (They won't be as good as Rabin's. But they'll have the added benefit of being about me.)

If you're a "Weird Al" Yankovic fan, you owe it to yourself to read The Weird Accordion to Al. And hey, if you like what you see and can spare a little money for it, kick in on Nathan's Patreon.

It's not just that Nathan's work is enjoyable, insightful, and frequently funny. It's also that his enthusiasm for his blog is infectious. I read a post where he talked about how easy it's turned out to be to write blog posts every day, and I got to thinking, shit, I used to do that for free, I enjoyed it so much. And I thought, y'know, maybe I should start doing that again. I'm going to be writing about whatever the hell's on my mind anyway, whether it's here or on Brontoforumus or The Avocado or the Techdirt comments -- so what the hell, why not here?

So thanks, Nathan Rabin, for giving me the bug again. I don't think I'll manage the same pace I did back in '11-'13 (seven posts a week about Frank Zappa, five posts a week about other stuff), but I'm still going to try and post more often.

And I'm sure those Sonic the Hedgehog comic book reviews are around here somewhere.

In 2004, in the summer before my last year at NAU, I worked at USGS, on the Astrogeology Team. What I did there was nothing special, but it was a pretty special place to be, especially at that time.

I worked on a package called ISIS, Integrated Software for Imagers and Spectrometers. It was software for processing high-resolution photos we received from sources including the Lunar Orbiter, the Mars Rover...and Cassini.

Cassini entered Saturn orbit shortly after I started working there. It was an exciting time. I got to spend a lot of time looking at images that looked a lot like these:

Enceladus features
Enceladus features.
I grabbed this image from FiveThirtyEight. Original source is, obviously, NASA.

My work on ISIS wasn't anything high-level or complicated. I edited makefiles, so that the ISIS source code (a mix of C and FORTRAN) would compile for different platforms. If memory serves, we supported Windows, OSX, Solaris, and x86 GNU/Linux.

My work wasn't glamorous, and I'm sure it's all long-gone for the codebase. But I was thrilled just to be on the team, to be part of something like that -- getting photos back from Saturn.

It's been more than thirteen years, and I've had nearly that many jobs, since my time at USGS. But I still feel that connection to the work and to the project. In all that time, every time I've see a headline about Cassini or Saturn, I've checked out the article. My favorite part is always the pictures.

Today, Cassini concludes its journey, burning up on entry into Saturn's atmosphere, transmitting data back for as long as it can.

It's been a good run. And I'll never forget the small part I played in it.

I've got some kind of carpal tunnel or arthritis or something going on, and my right thumb's been bothering me for days. I'm going to try and spend less time typing until it gets better.

Today's the Net Neutrality Day of Action.

Here's what I said about net neutrality during the open comment period in 2014, before the Title II rules passed, when the FCC was pushing a policy that would allow ISPs to charge websites for fast lanes:

This is exactly the kind of policy you get when you put a cable company lobbyist in charge of the FCC: a plan nobody but the cable companies could possibly want, and that seeks to make the Internet work like cable TV.

This plan has no benefit whatsoever to consumers. Cable companies demand extortion money from content providers; the providers who are willing and able to pay pass that cost on to their consumers (as Netflix has already done by raising its streaming subscription price), and the providers who aren't are put at a crippling disadvantage. You can bet the ever-increasing bottom dollar on your cable bill that if Comcast had had the opportunity to demand a premium from YouTube to stream video in 2005, we wouldn't be talking about YouTube today -- though maybe that would have been good news for Real Networks, as we'd probably still be limping along on the vastly inferior RealPlayer. Buffering...

This proposal is a government handout to the kind of companies that need it the least: monopolies and near-monopolies that already provide poor service at exorbitant prices, and suffer no market backlash for the simple reason that they provide a necessary service and have no competition.

Google doesn't want this. Microsoft doesn't want this. Netflix doesn't want this. Amazon doesn't want this. Consumers don't want this, and small businesses sure as hell don't want this. The only ones who DO want this are the cable companies who pick our pockets every month -- and their former employees like Chairman Wheeler.

And here's what I said during the open comment period this year, with the FCC preparing to repeal the Title II rules and, once again, proposing Internet fast lanes:

Seeking public comment? This is a farce. Chairman Pai heard exactly what the public had to say in 2014. The public responded, overwhelmingly, in support of net neutrality; indeed, the public interest was so high that the traffic brought down fcc.gov.

If Chairman Pai cared what the public thought, he would not be reversing a rule supported by the public in order to grant more power to internet service providers, some of the most despised companies in America. Nobody wants this except Comcast, AT&T, Charter, and Time Warner.

There is no free market competition in broadband Internet in America. There is no incentive for ISPs to compete on price or on service. We, as Americans, are a captive audience; our only choices are "use whatever ISP is available at our address" and "try to participate in twenty-first century America without Internet access".

We've already seen AT&T prioritizing its own traffic and Comcast banning protocols it didn't like. We need net neutrality protections to prevent predatory, monopolistic ISPs from engaging in that behavior. This is obvious to every American who's seen their monthly bill go up while the quality of service goes down.

But Chairman Pai has made it abundantly clear that he doesn't care what the American public has to say. If he did, he wouldn't even be considering repealing net neutrality.

I was wrong about Wheeler. He backed away from the fast-lane proposal, and passed Title II regulation. It wasn't perfect, but it was better than I ever thought we'd get.

I don't think I'm wrong about Pai. I'd love to be, but I think the fix is in. Pai doesn't give a fuck what the American public has to say.

But it's not about Pai. Pai won't last forever. Trump won't last forever. Even if the Republican majority in Congress sticks around, they're going to have to face their constituents sooner or later. And while net neutrality is a partisan issue on Capitol Hill, it's got broad bipartisan support everywhere else.

I don't think today's protests are going to make a damn bit of difference to Pai. But this is a long game. We need to keep the pressure on.

And hey, I've been surprised before. I thought SOPA and the TPP were foregone conclusions too. Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised again.