Thu 22

Light My Fire

Max Finlay menaced by giant rabbitIt’s happened! I knew it was coming—the data made that clear—but still, it’s thrilling. Yes, for the first time, more people are visiting my site with Firefox than Internet Explorer.

Two years ago almost nine out of ten visitors were riding Internet Explorer. One year ago it was down to 64%, with Firefox roaring up the charts. Now Firefox sits on top with 46%, smacking Internet Explorer down to second with 42%.

Okay, it’s a little sad, but I really do find this exciting. I’ve grown into a total geek fanboy since I converted to Linux: once I saw a couple of GNOME developers blogging about Jennifer Government and got all giggly. Tell you what, if open source software coders did tours, I’d be in the front row trying to persuade them to sign a bunch of CDs.

In other news, it’s almost Christmas and I live in Australia, so you know what that means: it’s time for me to go somewhere sunny and do nothing for a couple of weeks. I’m going to Perth to show off my baby girl to Jen’s relatives, so until January, I wish you all the best. (After that, I may be more vindictive.)

And in closing, I have included the photo of Finlay being menaced by a giant rabbit because it amuses me.

Mon 05

I Was a Teenage Lawn Mower

Max I grew up in Stratford, a tiny town in Gippsland, Victoria, where there are ten cows for every human being. Stratford is known primarily for being just ten miles away from Sale, and Sale is known primarily for its maximum-security prison, so that was my youth: trudging ten miles to school every morning while watching carefully in case murderers were lurking behind cows, waiting to leap out and grab me.

I mention this because I was recently reminded of my lawnmower experience. In fact, every time I see my mother or stepfather, I get reminded of my lawnmower experience, because somehow a couple of tiny incidents in my teenage years have bloomed into legend. I am most unfairly portrayed in this legend, so I’m setting the record straight here, where members of my family are unable to respond.

Despite owning more acres of grass than Bob Marley, we didn’t have a ride-on mower. We had a push mower, one so ancient and temperamental that it wouldn’t start with less than ten minutes of gentle caresses and ego-stroking. Or, when that failed, judicious application of a hammer. I frequently complained about this, but my parents just thought I was whining. Which, clearly, I was. But with excellent reason.

One time when I was about 16, I just could not start the thing. I’d tried whispering sweet nothings, touching its most intimate places, the hammer—all the seduction techniques popular in Gippsland—but couldn’t get a response. Finally, exhausted, I went inside to declare the impossibility of completing my assigned lawn-mowing duties. But rather than being sympathetically consoled as you might expect, my mother responded: “I don’t care! I don’t want to hear about it, Max, just mow the lawn!”

Already, I’m sure you’ll agree, there was enough unfairness here to keep a regular teenager moping for days. But being a dutiful son, I pondered upon my dilemma until I came up with an ingenious solution: I got out a pair of hedge clippers and began to slowly move across the vast expanse of our lawn, cutting approximately three blades of grass per snip. My mother saw this out the window, but—inexplicably—rather than marveling at what a plucky, dedicated lad she was raising, she interpreted the scene as some kind of surly teenage rebellion and yelled at me to go borrow the neighbor’s mower, if I couldn’t get ours started.

I was a little hurt at having my clever hedge-clipper idea rejected, but, being always happy to help, was willing to give this mower-borrowing idea a run. And run I did, because by now it was almost dark. I had to race over the neighbors—if I remember right, this was several miles away, around several cows and an escaped serial murderer—then race back and sprint around our lawn with the mower while the darkness closed in.

By now you, like me, no doubt have tears in your eyes at my incredible courage and determination. But somehow my family don’t see it that way: oh no, to them, me running around in the dark with the neighbor’s mower is a classic example of how I would do anything to get out of mowing lawns.

I guess what they say is true: you never understand your family. But I know this: as soon as I moved away to college, they bought a ride-on mower.

Fri 09

Who’s Your Daddy?

Max Ooh baby!Oh, I have got it bad.

I think she’s cute when she’s screaming in my ear. I think her poos are cute. I love her to death even when I’m getting out of bed for the fourth time that night.

Yes, I think I’m about done as a contributing member of society. It’s all about obsessing over my kids now.

Here’s what has surprised me so far about being a parent:

  • The amount of time I spend staring at her butt. I mean, not just from a distance. Up close and personal. Usually wiping things off it. And I realize that my parents must have spent plenty of time staring at my butt. That’s a little disconcerting.
  • When I’m carrying her down the street, I expect everyone I pass to drop to their knees and cry, “Dear God, that’s the most beautiful child I’ve ever seen! Please, tell me how I can join the religion that you must be founding to worship her!” If they don’t, I get a little miffed.
  • I’m suddenly saying things like, “No, I got a good sleep last night, six hours all up.” Previously, six hours sleep would have left me with barely enough energy to drool. Now I’m functional on four.
  • How fast I got used to being called “Daddy.” I knew it was coming, of course, but it felt completely weird. And then suddenly it didn’t.
  • Her smell. Why are companies not duplicating this and selling it as perfume or air freshener or something? It’s the most incredible thing.
  • The amazing frequency with which she waits until the split-second when there’s no bib/nappy/diaper and then spits up/poos/wees/all of the above. I mean, come on. This is way past coincidence. It has to be some kind of baby in-joke.
  • How scared I am that something might happen to her. Before she was born, I saw ads for products like the electronic monitoring sheet you put under baby’s mattress to sound an alarm if she seems to stop breathing, and thought they were just nasty attempts to turn parental fears into cash. I still think that, but now I also think I might buy their products.
  • How few photos I have of her when she’s awake. Because when she’s awake, I’m doing something with her. So I have about a hundred photos and they’re all of her sleeping.

Thanks so much for all your congratulations. I love being able to share this. More photos to come! I’ll even try to get some with her eyes open.

Update: Added one of my favorite pics. And I thought of two more things:

  • She didn’t look familiar. For some reason, I expected her to look like someone I already knew… I guess because by the time she was born I’d spent so much time talking to Jen’s belly and imagining what she’d be like, I felt I did know her. Instead she just looked like a totally real but completely unfamiliar baby.
  • How strong she is! If I had that kind of strength-to-body-weight ratio, I’d be out solving crimes in a leotard.

Tue 30

A Brand New Girl

Max Finlay BarryBack from the hospital for a few minutes to do some vital jobs, like announce that I am (at last) Daddy to a heartbreakingly beautiful baby girl, Finlay Jo Barry.

Here are her vital statistics: she is 3.36kg (7lb 7oz), was born at 9:19AM on August 27th, has the sweetest, most intoxicating smell ever, and likes it when you stroke her hair.

I am, genuinely, the luckiest guy in the world. I get to go back to her now.

Wed 24

Retrospective #6: Reviewing the Future

Max BabyWatch 2005: Still nothing! It’s incredible. It’s like waiting for a toaster to pop. Of course, the second I stop staring at Jen’s belly, she’ll have the kid.

Of blurbs and blogs: You’re right. You’re right! I shouldn’t give away Company’s first plot twist on the back of the book. I’ve written a new blurb that doesn’t, and I think it’s a big improvement. If it gets through the publisher, I’ll post it here. Thanks for the feedback. I think this is the first time I’ve altered a book based on what you guys told me. So it’s an occasion! Soon I’ll be putting up polls to choose between plots, and then it’s a short stop to accepting anonymous contributions and stapling them together while I sip margaritas on the deck of a Pacific cruise ship.

Syrup: I finished my Syrup screenplay draft! I think it rocks. Not that I’m biased or anything. I don’t know what the producers think yet.

A Chat with Max: There’s an interview with me up on Possibly of interest if you’re a writer, or I take my eyes off Jen’s belly and end up spending all my time feeding, bathing, and entertaining a newborn instead of posting new blogs.

Mon 11

And now a gratuitous plug

Max Now I don’t do this very often, do I? That should count for something. The thing is, the excellent Aussie comedian Wil Anderson is performing in New York (July 12 & 14) and Montreal (July 21-23, 25), and if at all possible you should go see him. Then you should hang around afterward and say, “Hey, Wil, I’m here because Max sent me, and boy am I glad he did,” because you will be.

Wil’s a big name in Australia. He’s also one of the people I trust with my early drafts, which is why you’ll see his name in the Jennifer Government acknowledgments. If you like my stuff, you’ll like Wil.

Wil’s tour dates: Here.

Thu 07

London bombed; citizens mildly annoyed

Max There is something very special about the Brits. I’ve always admired them, even though I can’t understand their decision to live somewhere with such bad weather and warm beer. Today I’m reminded why. After watching pictures of this horrendous terrorist attack on TV, I jumped on the net to get in touch with English people I know. And as I heard back from them, I realized they seemed… a little miffed. Maybe peeved. But even that might be too strong.

To all Brits: I’m thinking of you guys today. My heart goes out to those personally affected. But it’s also filled with admiration for this incredible British spirit that even a bomb attack can’t dent.

Sun 03

Baby, I love your name

Max Yes! It is only a month and a half until Baby Barry is due. Which means it’s really time for Jen and me to come up with a name.

You’d think this would be right up my alley—I mean, I name characters all the time. But is it really ethical to give a kid a name just because I find it amusing? This is the dilemma I face as I consider such favorites as “Binky,” “Fizz,” and “Alan.”

(Okay, that’s just a joke. The “Alan” doesn’t mean we’re having a boy. I need to be clear about this because we’re keeping the sex a secret, and we have a lot of relatives watching keenly for any slip-up. That would spoil the betting pool—which, incidentally, is currently running 2-to-1 in favor of a girl.)

I know some people say you should wait and see what they look like before naming them (“We were going to call him Sam, but when we saw him we just knew he was a Horatio!”), but I don’t know about this. I’ve seen pictures of newborns, and they all look like aliens. If I named our kid based on what he looked like after birth, I’d probably call him, “Krxz’ll Ak Ak Hrgggggg.”

My other problem is that “Barry” really sucks as a surname. I never realized this before; until now it’s been fine. But just try to put a first name in front of that thing! For boys, anything unusual sounds like we got the name backwards (my Dad went his whole life being called “Barry Hamilton”). Girl names sound ridiculous if they’re two syllables and end in an “ee” sound, and that’s practically all of them. Also, anything that starts with “B” is definitely out.

I tell you, “Barry” makes it tough. And the clock is ticking.

Incidentally, Jen has started referring to herself as “we.” As in, “We’re hungry,” or “We want to lie down now.” It’s little unsettling. She’s become a hive mind.

Wed 25

A Shade Less Perfect

Max I’ve been contacting all my friends with babies, pumping them for information on whether those three-wheeler strollers are really all they’re cracked up to be, and do you want a bassinet that also converts into a car seat or is it fine to have those things separate, and surely, surely, when the baby book says they go to the toilet 10 times a day, that has to be some kind of misprint, right?

In the midst of all this, I had an idea for a short story. So I wrote it. If you’re interested, here it is. It’s 3,000 words long.

Thanks so much for all the congratulations and well wishes! You guys rock.

Fri 20

She’s having a baby

Max Jen at 26 weeks Now, I know other people have had babies. I see them all the time. In fact, I have it on good authority that, at one time, I was a baby myself. So on the one hand, surely there should be nothing newsworthy about the impending arrival of yet another one. But on the other, OH MY GOD MY WIFE IS PREGNANT.

I know, I know. Deep breaths. Work through it. Okay. Here are the facts: The due date is August 22. We know the baby’s sex (my theory is the birth will be interesting enough without needing to build up any additional suspense), but are not telling anybody (because we’re cruel). It’s our first.

Phoooo. Phoooo.

Fri 13

Retrospective #5: Fear my vigilantes

Max Whoa! That blog about my newest arch-nemesis (why stop at one?), Todd Bunker, got quite a reaction. First a lot of people left comments supporting me, which was really nice and quite touching. I did notice a few said some pretty mean things about Todd… but no, you’re right, he deserved it. Then I saw a bunch of people had stampeded onto the site that hosted Todd’s article to rake him over the coals. And some copied me in on e-mails to Todd, pointing out (in some detail) glaring deficiencies in his character.

Now, I had been thinking about writing a blog about The Worst Review I Ever Got—one that makes Todd Bunker’s seem like drooling praise—but now I’m worried that if I do, people will hunt the guy down, smash his car windows, and kidnap his pets.

So, moving on. For a while there I had a metablog: in late March, a guy called Adam left the comment:

Max Barry has inspired me to start my own blog, and since I don’t have a website, I will start writing on the comments of max barry’s blogs. It will pobably be really boring and have a lot of grammatical errors because I am not a professional writer.

But it wasn’t! I was enthralled with whether Adam would ask Jennifer to the prom, and what would happen to his simmering rivalry with Eric, even if this was all clearly fictional. And damn, he made some good points: why isn’t 2% milk called 98% milk? Unfortunately, Adam seemed to lose enthusiasm in April, and then he stopped posting. So my metablog is no more: I’m back to just a regular blog.

Speaking of comments: a couple of people asked about the apparently redundant “A Novel” that appears on the cover of Company. Well, here’s the answer, straight from my editor:

That’s so bookstore clerks don’t throw the book in with WHO MOVED MY CHEESE?

So there you go. Apparently Doubleday is also debating how exactly to “glaze” the donut on the cover! Although:

the scratch n sniff idea was deemed too expensive

Oh well. You can probably get the same effect by purchasing a real donut and smearing it all over the book. If you really want to, I mean.

Tue 03

Love your work

Max Today I got some orthotic inserts for my sneakers, because I’d like to be able to keep running without having my feet collapse, or my knees implode, or whatever else is meant to happen to long-time runners. My podiatrist was an energetic young woman named Allison, and pretty soon she had my feet wrapped up in warm, wet bandages—which was really pleasant, although it was hard to relax due to the threat of tickling. Apparently Allison was making a mold, from which a plaster cast of my feet could be formed, and used to shape the orthotics.

“What happens to the casts afterward?” I asked.

“Oh, we keep them,” Allison said. “We have to. They’re considered medical records.”

I found the idea of a big warehouse somewhere full of white plaster feet a bit disconcerting. But Allison was enthusiastic. She was, in fact, remarkably perky for someone who had to smell other people’s feet all day. I quizzed her about this: “Don’t you get sick of dealing with feet all the time?”

“Oh no,” Allison said, as if I had said something deeply shocking. “Two people walk in, and they’ll be totally different. With feet, you never know what you’re going to get.”

Tue 19

Ride the Walrus

Max I’m always looking for new things to do in the shower, because I’m male and have no hair. There’s very little you can do in a shower when you have no hair; it’s basically “wash face, soap underarms, sing a little song.” I can’t get out after that; standing naked under running warm water is too nice. I want to stay there, but need entertainment—and yet, at this very moment, I have no pockets.

Sometimes I fill my mouth with water and spray it everywhere. The key is not to just blurt it out: you want to generate a fine mist, accompanied by a satisfyingly whale-like PFFFFFFF. That’s good fun. When I’m lacking in inspiration, I just stand there, swing my arms, and watch the water spray off my fingertips.

But now I’ve discovered a thrilling new activity. (No, not that.) It’s terrific fun, and I’m sharing it so you can try it at home yourself.

Now this may require some adjustment of your bathroom facilities—last week I was traveling around and it didn’t work in all the hotel room showers I tried. What you want is a medium-sized shower rose (not a horrible little needly one) with strong pressure (which, unfortunately, counts out all of you living in England). Position it as close to the top of your head as possible.

Then close your eyes and throw your head right back. If you’ve got it right, the shower jets water directly on your closed eyelids. This sensation may be accompanied by a flaring white kaleidoscope or visions of God. And not only that: water streams directly into your ears, making an adrenalin-pumping roar, like you’re standing under a waterfall, or, now that I think about it, hearing the voice of God. Maybe they should choose the Pope this way. But anyway, it’s pure excitement! I’m telling you, you have to try this yourself, before it becomes a Disney ride.

Thu 14

Annnd we’re back

Max I just got home from a week’s vacation to find that my web host decided that was a good time to kill my site. Mmm, helpful. This is a periodic thing: once every few months, they go, “Hmm, this site seems to be generating load on our server, let’s disable it.” They don’t notify me; they just go ahead and do it. When I notice my site is down, I fix it and send them an abusive e-mail. They apologize profusely, say the tech didn’t follow proper processes, and promise it’ll never happen again. A few months later, it happens again.

This is the fourth time. I’m an idiot for staying with them, right? It’s just that they’re a great host in all other respects. They give me everything I need. They’re practically perfect. It’s just, from time to time, they get violent. But it’s not their fault. They don’t know what they’re doing. They just lose control sometimes. I shouldn’t provoke them with all that traffic. It’s really my fault. I know they really love me.

I’m an idiot, right?

Wed 23

Why I Blog (Part 2)

Max Max's supercool web traffic graph I first put up this web site in early 1999, and oh, what a beauty it was. It had a picture of the Syrup cover, and little blue bubbles, and funny hand icons next to the links, and you could only get to it via “,” with the two Xs. I wish I’d kept a copy somewhere, but, alas, all that’s left is this carcass courtesy of the Internet Archive project.

I was very proud of my site, because in 1999 not everyone had one. It often received as many as 8 visitors a day, spiraling up to a heady 13 visits per day in July when Syrup was released. Thirteen! Just imagine, if 13 people visited me in person each day, I’d be exhausted. Clearly this web site thing was a good idea.

I also started getting e-mails from people who liked my book—not many e-mails, but a few—which was very exciting and made me feel famous in a way that the watching my first novel sink without a trace hadn’t. I decided that I would get more serious about the web for my second novel, Jennifer Government. In March 2002 I redesigned the site. In September I added pages for Jennifer Government and my bio, and got to work on an online game called NationStates (which in late 2002 looked like this).

Thanks to NationStates and the US publication of Jennifer Government, my web traffic took off: in January 2003 received almost 50,000 visitors. But over the next year, it steadily dropped. If a new edition of Jennifer Government came out somewhere I would see a little blip, but clearly people weren’t visiting my site so much. And why should they? I didn’t post to it. It was just the same old site, week after week.

I started to worry that by the time my next book came out, nobody would remember who I was. It could be Syrup all over again: a couple of weeks on the “New Releases” shelves, then gone before anybody realized it was there. Then I would start getting e-mails from my publisher saying things like “not as well as we hoped” and I would have to crawl back to Hewlett-Packard for a real job.

I’d discovered weblogs via Wil Wheaton and thought they were a pretty cool idea. I wasn’t sure how exciting my blog would be, since my day generally goes (1) Wake up (2) Type (3) Sleep, but on the other hand I did have a lot of obnoxious opinions and wasn’t afraid to share them. Surely that was enough.

Apparently the first rule of blogging is… wow, have you ever Googled for “the first rule of blogging”? Seriously, there’s like a hundred different first rules. So I guess the real first rule is: “Everybody’s got an opinion.” Or maybe: “People post all kinds of crap on blogs and nobody checks anything so you can’t trust a damn thing they say.” But the one I had in mind when I started this paragraph was: “You must blog every day.” This sounded like a lot of work, though, so I decided I would just post whenever I thought I had something worth saying. I would create a semi-blog.

In March 2004 I rewrote the site into the sleek, attractive, standards-compliant form you see before you, and started posting to it. At first I floundered around, not really sure what to write about, but then I found my groove and discovered Newlyweds and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen and I was away.

I think I get three things out of blogging. First, I get to stay in touch with people who enjoy my writing, and tell them when I have a new novel out that they must immediately purchase because my cocaine habit doesn’t pay for itself, you know. (Since I started blogging, site traffic has steadily risen and is now back to where it was when Jennifer Government was first published. Look, I even made a graph.) This is a two-way thing; via e-mail and comments, I also get to hear back from people, which is just about the best thing ever. Writing is a solitary business, and it’s continually thrilling to hear that a novel I once printed out and mailed in a box to my publisher has become a small part of someone else’s life. Without that, publishing books would feel very odd—like having a child move out of home and never hearing from him again.

Second, it’s good writing practice. The more you write, the better you get at it, and when I’m working on a novel it’s a nice break to write something different. Third, it’s like a diary: I end up with a permanent record of what was important at this time in my life. I can look back on it in ten years time, or show it to my kids. Imagine their sweet little voices: “lol omg dad u r so 1337”.

Fri 18

Happy Birthday to me!

Max Have I been hanging around computers too much? I’m all excited because today I’m 25.

Tue 08

Why I Blog (Part 1)


How are you? I know you get fan mails all the time so I’ll keep this short. I am currently doing an undergraduate thesis paper on blogs and I was wondering if I can ask you one question: Why have you decided to use the blog format for your website?

The short answer is because I thought it was good way to keep in touch with people in the long, empty years between novels. The long answer has graphs, and I’ll write that in the blog after this one. Because you need some backstory: the fact is, I wouldn’t have even known what a blog was if it hadn’t been for that little punk Wil Wheaton.

In March 2003 I started finding odd bits in people’s e-mails, like, “By the way, congrats on the Wil Wheaton rave!” I had no idea what this meant or who Wil Wheaton was. But after I got enough of them, I decided to find out—because I’m very curious, if you prod me repeatedly. I did an internet search and discovered that Wil Wheaton had a web site, and in passing he’d said:

I just finished a great book called “Jennifer Government.” I bought it on a Saturday, and finished it by the following Tuesday. I think it’s the fastest I’ve ever read a book. It’s that good.

This was pretty great, but who was this guy? I clicked around a little more and was struck numb with horror: Wil Wheaton was my high school arch-nemesis.

(Well, one of them. I had a few. Don’t think I’ve forgotten you, Berryman!)

See, one night in the late 1980s a bunch of us teenagers went out to the movies and saw Stand By Me. It was a great movie, and I enjoyed it even though it was hard to concentrate with Jen, the girl I was lusting after, sitting so close by. We came out of the theater and started to talk about the actors in it and Jen said something like, “Ohhh, that Wil Wheaton, he’s so dreamy!”

Well, naturally enough, I was immediately struck with the urge to hunt down Mr. Wheaton and beat him into a bloody mess.

I resisted, because that was illegal and I didn’t have the plane fare to go to L.A. Instead I settled for less extreme but, alas, no more successful methods of pursuing Jen for the next few years, until one day she cracked under the unrelenting strain and agreed to marry me. Ten years of wedded bliss later (I speak for myself here), and suddenly Wil Wheaton is on the scene trying to mess things up again. I could feel my temples throb with the old rage, and hear the voices whispering, “Now he’s not such a big-shot actor, his house probably doesn’t even have that good security.”

But no! I was a grown man, now (I told myself). That stuff was ancient history. And this site of Wil’s, called a “blog,” was clearly something of a phenomenon: he would write about whatever the hell he was up to that day, and an astounding number of people would drop by to read it. It was an intriguing idea, and Wil an excellent writer; I quickly became engrossed reading about his trials and tribulations as an actor, writer, stepfather, and human being.

I wrote to Wil to thank him:

Hey, you liked my novel! And then you told hundreds of thousands of people about it. Boy do you rock. Thanks a lot.

Wil wrote right back:

Right on. :)

You rock for writing it. It’s the first novel I’ve read in years that was so compelling I only put it down to sleep and drive. Yeah I read it while I ate. Best 4 days in recent memory.

He also put my e-mail to him on his web site, which was an unexpected introduction to the custom of bloggers to make just about anything public, along with a complete fabrication about how he e-mailed me first. But this was surely just a harmless mistake, and it was quite thrilling to get a reply. “Hey, Jen!” I called. “You’ll never guess who I just got an e-mail from. It’s that guy, Wil Wheaton, who you —”

“Wil Wheaton!” Jen exclaimed, her eyes lighting up. “He’s dreamy!

Damn you, Wil Wheaton. I’ll get you one of these days.

Tue 22

We’re not in Redmond any more, Toto

Max About nine months ago I switched from Microsoft Windows to Gentoo Linux. I wasn’t unhappy with Windows, but Linux is very handy when you’re designing a web site, and I got sick of rebooting all the time to switch from one to the other. So I decided to suck it up and go all the way.

This turned out to be a lot like moving to another country, both in the sense that I didn’t know where anything was or understand the local language, and because I realized things about the place I’d left. So here’s what I learned.

(Note: There are several different types of Linux, and they each do some things better than the others. Not all my comments apply to all Linux distributions. But I’m still going to just say “Linux.”)

  1. Linux is a religion. When you first hear about Linux, it’s from slightly creepy people whose eyes shine with a born-again fervor while they rattle on about all kinds of things you don’t understand. I have become one of those people. There really needs to be some kind of warning sticker on the CD: “May cause you to blog about the philosophies of operating systems.” I mention this up front because it helps to explain everything else.

  2. Windows thinks you’re an idiot; Linux thinks you’re a genius. What I love about Windows is that no matter what it asks you to do, you can choose the default and it works. You can actually install software by inserting the CD, closing your eyes, and hitting ENTER over and over again. You have no idea what you’re doing, but you don’t care.

    Linux, on the other hand, wouldn’t dare to assume it knows what you want. There’s hardly a default setting on anything, anywhere. Naturally you will want to do some in-depth reading about horizontal frequency rates before leaping into anything as advanced as displaying a picture on the screen, right? The first time you do anything in Linux, you come away with an education.

    Each approach is handy at different times. It’s very handy being treated as an idiot, until you want to do something smart. Then it’s annoying.

  3. Windows plays soccer; Linux plays rugby. In soccer (sorry, to me this is football), whenever one player makes the slightest contact with another, he collapses to ground, writhing in agony and clutching at his ankle. Everyone gathers around and looks very worried until the referee holds up a yellow card and then—amazing!—the player springs up again, completely cured. So too Windows: as soon as anything goes wrong with any program, the whole thing collapses in a screaming heap, and requires a reboot. Linux, on the other hand, shrugs off application failures like a rugby player ignores broken fingers. Programs crash, but Linux keeps going.

  4. Linux marketing sucks. Microsoft is a corporation with an overriding financial interest in persuading people to buy Windows. The people who make Linux, on the other hand, are mostly volunteers who simply love building good code. So while there are plenty of Microsoft advertisements and salespeople and lobbyists to tell the government that you can’t trust Linux, there is practically nobody on the other side. It’s always a bit creepy when you have a big corporation up against a non-profit or non-entity; you end up being told that sugared drinks are better for you than water, you wouldn’t dare breast-feed your baby when good old manufactured formula is available, and there’s no such thing as global warming. Linux people don’t merely lack the funding to match Microsoft’s marketing; they also don’t really want to. The Linux attitude is that they have built a magnificent operating system and if you can’t see that, well, that’s your problem. So Microsoft’s aim is to sell operating systems while Linux people focus on building them.

  1. Windows lets you, Linux unleashes you. Occasionally I see the phrase “lets you” in discussions of Windows software—as in, “This software lets you press C to get a preview.” The idea that you are not allowed to do anything to your computer unless it “lets you” is, I realized, very Microsoftian. Because in Linux, you can do whatever the hell you want to pretty much any piece of code: improve it, change it, or break it. Not that you need to, because everything is incredibly customizable already, but you can. If you complain about any piece of software in Linux, you stand a good chance of being told, “Well go make it better, then.” By comparison, Microsoft asks, “Where do you want to go today?” but then strongly recommends you select: “Default.”

  2. Windows gets in your face. Like an annoying four-year-old, Windows can’t go two minutes without attention. You boot, start to do something, and suddenly there windows are flying at your face. Everything is checking for updates or activating or deactivating or switching channels and IT HAS TO TELL YOU THIS RIGHT NOW. Linux puts its messages in the log, and you read them when and if you feel like it.

  3. Windows fails silently. Oh my God. Before, I never even noticed this. But now every time I have to use Windows I end up bug-eyed and yelling at the screen, “Just tell me what’s wrong!” When something goes wrong in Linux, it spews messages into the system log, which you can read through to see what it was doing. Then you copy a phrase or two into Google, click Search, and choose from a list of pages competing to tell you exactly what the problem is and how to fix it.

    Windows doesn’t do this. Windows doesn’t even have a system log, as far as I know. When things go wrong, they do so mysteriously and without complaint: you click buttons and nothing happens, or you try to run a program and it just vanishes. There’s no way to discover what the actual problem is. If you Google for the symptoms, you find endless pages complaining about the same thing, but no solutions. Or you do find solutions, but they all come down to the same thing: (1) Reboot (2) Reinstall. They should issue a Microsoft Support Manual that contains nothing except these two words, because that’s the solution to every single Windows problem. Even if you manage to fix it, you never find out what exactly the problem is; you just grope around blindly reinstalling things until suddenly and just as mysteriously things start working again. The other day I e-mailed a company’s tech support and their semi-automated advice was to reinstall their program and Windows XP. If that didn’t work, I was to e-mail again to get help from a human. That’s right, wiping my hard drive was the first step in their diagnoses process. This is like having to get a heart transplant before the doctor will see you about your hiccups.

    The end result is that even though Windows is simpler to get to grips with, I never felt really confident with it, because I couldn’t tell what it’s doing. Linux requires more understanding, but when you’ve got that, you’re more assured.

  4. Linux people rock. One day my Windows PC choked on an automatic security update, and thereafter every time it tried to update itself, it failed. Having an unpatched Windows computer connected to the internet is like walking through a bad neighborhood tossing your BMW car keys from hand to hand, so I wanted to do something about this. There was no error message, of course, aside from the gloriously unhelpful, “The update failed to install.” I ended up going through the maze of Microsoft’s technical support to send in a problem report. I received an automated e-mail back saying my report had been received, then nothing. Weeks went by. I tried again. Same thing. Then one day, it just started working again.

    Of course, this is not specific to Microsoft. Pretty much every company treats a support customer like something they just stepped in: their aim is to get rid of you with as little touching as possible. I can’t remember the last time I e-mailed a company for support and it didn’t go like this:
    1. Receive automated response suggesting I look in FAQs
    2. Receive response from alleged human being that consists of copy-and-pasted text from FAQ
    3. I write back thanking them for the information and expressing regret that none of it is remotely relevant to the problem I described
    4. Human being actually reads my e-mail starts being helpful.
    By which time I figure out the problem myself.

    The other day I had some trouble getting a piece of hardware working on my Linux machine, and found a web site by
    a guy who had written Linux drivers for it. Not because it was his job; he just felt like it. The hardware was Australian-specific and Google wasn’t helping much, so I e-mailed him a question, not really expecting a reply—because it’s a bit like e-mailing Bill Gates to ask what that DOS command is that displays all the directories. (Or would be if Gates actually wrote DOS. Bada boom! Sorry. I’m sorry. See point #1.) He wrote right back with the answer.

Wed 16

Retrospective #4: Comments, e-mails, Ellis, and Arjun

Max This is the bit when I look back at—ah, forget it, I can’t hand-hold you new people forever.

No sooner had I posted the blog about getting the Syrup screenwriting gig when I received an e-mail back. “Ah!” I thought. “Already the congratulations are rolling in!” This is what it said:

you only write about your scripts, and that too few and far between. youre ignoring your loyal website readers such as me. you stopped writing funny stuff long ago. im upset. :(

you need to get back to the old days when you wrote a post every other day, and incredibly funny ones too.


This evoked several competing thoughts. First was, “Kiss my butt, Arjun!” Second was, “Maybe he’s got a point. I haven’t done so many comedy blogs lately. And he is quite flattering about my older stuff.” The third was, “Kiss my butt, Arjun! What do you want, a refund?”

I know artists have to put up with people saying, “I like your old albums/books/films better than your new ones,” but geez, I didn’t think I’d get that about my web site. I searched through my e-mail and discovered that Arjun had written to me a couple of times before. If I were petty enough, I might observe that his earlier e-mails were much more entertaining than this one. And I am, so I have.

I finally changed my e-mail page to announce that I can no longer reply to all letters. I cringed as I did it, because I knew some people would take this as proof that I am an out-of-touch egomaniac with no time for his fans, and I’d prefer to keep that a secret. I also worried I would get fewer e-mails, since people might not bother writing if there wasn’t much chance of a reply. Instead, my e-mail inflow practically doubled. It’s like everyone was looking at that pathetic line, “I will try to reply in 19 weeks,” and thought, “Poor bastard, I’ll leave him be.”

Or maybe it was because of my interview with Ellis. This blog clearly encouraged a lot of people to e-mail me crazy comments in the hope that I would interview them for the site, too. Either that or a lot of genuinely crazy people suddenly all wrote to me at once. Hmm. That’s a more disturbing idea. But anyway, Ellis has his own web site now, which promises to reveal more of the enigma wrapped inside a riddle that is Ellis. Compulsory reading.

In December I added the ability for site members to post comments in response to my blogs, which, to my surprise, turned out great. If I post a funny blog, people post a bunch of funny follow-ups; if I post a serious blog, people post lots of thought-provoking comments. I have to admit, the reason it took me so long to add this was because I was sure it would get spammed into the ground by idiots. And I guess this will happen sooner or later, since this is the internet. But so far, so good!

I received many long, thoughtful e-mails in reply to my “On Capitalism and Corporatism” blog. I took the time to read them and mull them over and think how lucky it was I didn’t have to write equally thoughtful replies. Amongst them was a one-sentence letter that, possibly inadvertently, made the most persuasive argument for the ascendancy of capitalism of all. After digesting my opinions on political economics, globalization, and corporatism, Joseph had this to say:

you play world of warcraft? Cool lets play sometime