Upwork: like OKCupid but for jobs

I started using Upwork.com, a site for finding freelance work, this weekend -- and it is by far the most comfortable and usable site for finding work I've ever used. And I think it's because it works pretty much like OKCupid, which is one of my favorite websites (although I haven't been using it lately because I have approximately 0 free time to meet new people).

You set up a profile as a freelancer, list your skills, and search for jobs. When you find one you want to apply for, you submit a proposal, in which you say how much you'd charge, and, generally, write a cover letter. The basic functionality of the site is free, but submitting proposals costs points, and free users' points reset at 60 every month. 

Upwork offers guarantees for getting paid, whether hourly or by project, at regular intervals. It takes 10% of the money earned as a fee, but so far that has seemed overwhelmingly worth it for the level of convenience it offers. By far one of the least pleasant things about my previous freelance experience was the knowledge that I was working for improved odds at a random paycheck somewhere in the next 6 to 12 months.

Once you have a job, Upwork has a time-tracking app you can run on your desktop that reports some info about what you're doing to your employer, including keystrokes and clicks per 10 minute interval, and a screencap every 10 minutes. You can delete whatever screencaps you want, but it's at the cost of that 10 minute interval, so if you decide to take a Tumblr break you're unlikely to get paid for it, but you also get to manage that workflow for yourself.

It also has an internal messaging system for communicating with employers, which works really well. I got the messenger app for it on my phone too, so I'll be alerted immediately if my employer needs me to get something done. (Which I will do immediately if I'm free, or if not I just respond as soon as possible to let him know when I will be working on it.)

Upwork also has aptitude tests -- like the quizzes on OKCupid (which appear to no longer be a thing) but instead of community-made and goofy these give you the chance to demonstrate your competence in various professional skills. This feels a lot more accessible than the vouching system in LinkedIn: I'd rather take a quiz that demonstrates I'm in the top 20 percent on AP Style competence than awkwardly approach a bunch of my past coworkers to ask them to connect with me on a network they might not use so they can promote me. I'm happy to build that credibility by working on the site, but it's nice to have a foot in the door on demonstrating skills that doesn't require me to know a bunch of people using Upwork already.

I got the first job I applied for, and of my 11 other applications I was declined for 4 and 7 are still pending. That might be a statistical fluke but I'm being positive about it rn.

Tumblr messaging

I got Tumblr messaging yesterday. Here are my thoughts.

I just had my first real conversation with another person on Tumblr’s new chat device – like, more than three or four lines – and I have comments

  • I’m really looking forward to seeing what kind of tumblrish converesation conventions emerge for chat, and whether they spread to other chat forms.
  • I wonder if an explicit distinction between “just idly scrolling” and “here to be social” moods are going to emerge, and if they’ll tend to be respected? Like, I just reconnected with someone I hadn’t talked to in a while, and it was really cool, but I’m not in an extensively social headspace right now and I’d like to retain the option for Tumblr to be that.
  • There’s no so-and-so is typing notification. idk if that’s good or bad.
  • You can’t minimize the chat box in-window. It looks like you should be able to. And you can’t have more than one open at once. 
  • New messages were making it to my phone before they showed up on-screen. That seems like a problem. It means messages go through really slowly. I wonder if they’re going to sometimes fail to send to one device or another at all.
  • There are a few people I only have contact with through Tumblr. I’m not on facebook, so that limits my ability to retain a gradient of connections with people. I expect I will continue to not share my Tumblr with people I don’t want to follow on Tumblr, but still, this creates more steps in between “mutual follower” and “communicates outside Tumblr” that makes the gradients of friendship more mobile. I think that’s a good thing. I may be biased because my first full conversation on Tumblr chat was a manifestation of the best possible version of that.

Those are the thoughts I have right now. I’m going to go back to idly scrolling and reblogging now.

"Kindred" by Octavia Butler, and enjoying reading

I finished reading Kindred this morning. I was reading it for a class, and I was excited for it because I hadn't read anything by Octavia Butler before and I kept putting it off.

I have a lot of thoughts about it, but I'm going to let them filter through my classwork for a while longer. 

On one hand, Kindred was hard to read. It's about the experience of slavery in 19th Century America, and I don't feel confident enough to say "It doesn't pull punches" but it did plenty to make my guts twist up for a whole variety of reasons.

On the other hand: This was the first book I really tore through in, like, months. The first book I couldn't put down. That I didn't find myself reading the same sentence over and over again.

Kindred was familiar territory: Octavia Butler is a science fiction writer. She writes in that genre-y way that I'm at home with, she gave me the information I wanted when I wanted it and made it easy to trust her about what she was withholding. The other books we've read this semester, and the other works I've read lately, mostly haven't been like that. Dracula tended to lay things out refreshingly early, but it was deeply different than the SF/F style. Never Let Me Go was just a straight-out literary novel. It occurs to me that both of those books were written with a hypothetical audience: Dracula is a collection of documents written by the characters, Never Let Me Go is the protagonist telling stories to the reader. 

In Kindred, Butler just tells the story. It's first person, but it isn't written like it's something Dana (the protagonist and viewpoint character) wrote. There's no sense of what was going on in her life when she decided to sit down and write this book, who it's for, what she'd do with it if she had the manuscript. There's no narrator's detachment from the moment of the story. Dana's not an unreliable narrator. She's barely a narrator. She's first-person as an extremely close third-person.

I hadn't realized how tired I was getting of works that perform themselves as an artifact that exists in their own worlds until I realized how much of a relief it was to read something that had no trace of that quality. It adds so many layers of things to think about: The motives of the author, and therefore their reliability; the quality of their memory, the audience they were considering. Those qualities can be worthwhile but often it feels like they're unnecessary. In Kindred it felt like Butler knew she was asking the reader to do a hard thing, to face the reality of enslaved life, and didn't ask us to do any extra work to get there. 

Even as I write this, I fear I'm over-stating the case against texts that exist within themselves. Maybe it really is just that I'm sick of them right now. But I think there's more to this thought, and it's an aspect of works that I'll be keeping an eye out for now, as much when it's absent as when it's present.

A love letter to Rhodia notepads

I worked at Borders before they went out of business. A few years later, I worked at Barnes & Noble for a while. One of the noticeable differences between them for me was the quality of the notebooks section.

Barnes and Noble has a very consistent collection of quality notebooks at a great range. Within a bit of wiggle room, you can generally go into a Barnes and Noble and find the notebook you're looking for, if you know it's one that Barnes and Noble carries.

Borders had a somewhat more chaotic notebooks and stationary section. It often had an assortment of unexpected or unusual things -- things that felt rare. They may not have been, but finding something cool in that section felt like a treasure. Especially since the more obscure products were rarely re-stocked.

The Rhodia notepad was one of those things. A yellow lined one. It was discounted -- it wasn't too expensive, but I would never have been able to bring myself to pay full price for it. Paying more than five dollars for a notepad felt ridiculous, plus I was broke, and I used to have a lot of anxiety about taking risks on spending money for things I might turn out to not like.

It was amazing. The paper was smooth and sturdy, it took ink and pencil lead exceptionally well, and the perforations were better than any I'd ever seen before. They're really, genuinely reliable. I have a real problem with accidentally tearing sheets of paper in half trying to remove them from notepads. I never had that problem with that notebook.

I don't use up whole notebooks often, but I used up that one. Then, it was gone: I didn't really do online shopping then, at the time I probably didn't even have a debit card. And I didn't have free money. I would have switched over completely to Rhodia notebooks, but it wasn't within my power to do so.

Lately, I've been listening to the podcast The Pen Addict. They talk about paper a lot, and they mentioned Rhodia notebooks in a few episodes. And I immediately went to Amazon and bought one.

I got a plain white notepad, and it has been pretty close to the only paper I've been using since. I've been finding excuses to write stuff so I can use it. It's fantastic.

I downloaded and printed some line and grid guide sheets from The Well-Appointed Desk -- you can put them under the top sheet of a blank notebook and the lines show through -- and those worked out so well that I decided to make my own, structured around my note-taking style. I'll blog about those tomorrow.

(Disclosure: Product links are Amazon Affiliate Links.)

Sense8: impressions

I just finished watching Season 1 of Sense8, and I'm glad I got around to it -- I really enjoyed it.

I haven't spent a lot of time with the philosophy and metaphysics of the series, so I may ultimately change my mind. (I'm particularly aware of that possibility with a film by the Wachowskis, because of The Matrix, which has more narrative holes than narrative.)

But I am absolutely in love with the relationship that the series has to its medium. It's like they built the metaphysics of this universe backwards from the question "What can we do with a camera?" It's a really, amazingly, brilliantly film-based series.

(Spoilers hereafter)

In the last handful of episodes, I started to realize that the mechanics also justify the series's action-movie-style events. The standard-issue action hero seems to have several careers' worth of professional experience, including more than one kind of martial skillset, plus the backstory of a normal, well-adjusted person, and a perspective and goals within the realm of sympathy for a standard human adult.

In Sense8, this wild inconsistency of persona vanishes in what becomes eight separate narratives about individuals with their own coherent pathos, plus seven other people's worth of skill sets and temperaments. 

When Wolfgang couldn't lie to get himself another couple inches to reach his gun, Leto -- a professional actor -- took over. When Whispers played chicken with Will's sense of moral obligation to human life, Will let Wolfgang take the wheel (figuratively and literally), granting him a moment of plausible utter disregard for human life without destroying Will's character.

I've only watched through once, but I was paying careful attention when I did, and I noticed a lot of places with blurry material continuity -- like, sensates who are not physically present picking up and handling things when they aren't embodying the present character in the scene. But I don't remember ever seeing a moment where it was consequential -- like, in Episode 12, Kala makes a bomb for Wolfgang and prepares a shot for Will, when she isn't present. The two men just sit there, but Kala noticeably doesn't help by manipulating materials until after they're in a position where they can do it themselves. 

Which is a long way of saying I'm really impressed with the attention to detail they give to their visual abstraction of the sensates' abilities.

Sense8 reminded me most vividly of two other peices of media: Inception, which also used an elaborate metaphysics to explore filmmaking, and the short story "'Run,' Bakri Says," available for free in audio and text at that link, published by Escape Pod in 2012. That story uses a metaphysical conceit to explore the mechanics of video games.

I'm excited for season 2, which I heard got picked up, and I'm excited to start digging into commentary by other people on the show. 

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (in review)

I finished Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell today, and I liked it very much. I recommend it for both people who aren't going to read the book, and for people who have already done so. (I'm undecided on whether it'd be better to put off watching the show until you've read the book, if you're ever going to do that, but if you're not worried about it, I'd say go for it.)

There were a lot of things missing from the book. Obviously. There would have to be, because the book is gigantic. The things they skipped or simplified were, in my opinion, very well chosen -- the quantity of stuff that happened each episode was very satisfying, and while I would definitely have been on board for a six season exploration of every page and footnote of the entire novel, I understand the need to make TV shows tolerable to people who want to see a plot moving forward, and they did an excellent job of adapting for that purpose.

Strange and Norrell are brilliantly cast and played, by the way. It was very exciting to see those characters portrayed on screen.

Catching up on Steven Universe

I saw the first episode of Steven Universe a while ago, and it was kind of unimpressive. It turns out the show gets a lot better pretty much right after that, though. You know what was really weird and disturbing? The episode of Steven Universe when Steven gets existentially worried about aging and it nearly kills him because his gem powers cause him to transform into a person near the edge of death by old age.

(Sorry for the terrible quality of this post, and also yesterday's post. I'm a tad burnt out right now for idea-generating energy.)

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

I just noticed last night that the Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell TV series has started! I'm so excited. First things first: The show confirms, it's pronounced Norrell, not Norrell. The only person who accents the end of the word (and who also trills the R) is Drawlight, which is not a point in favor of that pronunciation.

Second: it's fantastic. So far, it has the feeling of a period romance, which is exactly the sort of feeling I would have hoped I'd get from the show.

Third: It's apparently free online. So go watch it. It's great.

Wayward Pines is boring

I'm all caught up on Wayward Pines, because OnDemand is unnavigable and the backlog of episodes of The Daily Show is unacceptably small. So, like, spoilers.

Oh my god Wayward Pines is SO BORING. It's basically Lost: people are stranded in a strange place under strange circumstances and maybe there's magic or sinister government or something but basically things are BAD for REASONS.

I kept with it because I thought there was a chance they were going to come up with something really clever to tie together all the strangeness in the world. But -- and here come the spoilers -- the secret of Wayward Pines was revealed in the latest episode, and it sucks.

It turns out, it's 2000 years in the future, and everyone who got in car accidents and ended up in Wayward was actually, like, selected to be cryogenically frozen to preserve the human race against a future radical divergence. Wayward Pines is a replica 20th century suburb behind an electrified fence surrounded by a wilderness filled with a species of mutant subhuman super-predators.

And, by the same logic employed by the unplugged cast of the Matrix, only the children are told the truth: the adults, apparently, can't handle it, and being informed is guaranteed to trigger suicide.

Instead, all the adult citizens are coerced into participating in a paranoia-fueled Kafka-esque police state, turning on each other's attempts to escape in order to preserve their own chance at a dash for freedom later.

I'm so sick of apocalypse stories. I'm especially sick of apoclaypse stories where the only humans who get to keep living are the ones who immediately go full-scale totalitarian or are otherwise blatantly hostile to basic human rights and dignity.

I'm probably going to keep watching it, because whatever network is airing it is pushing it hardcore and I'm vaguely amused by the fact that I can keep up with a plot that's trying as hard as it can to be inscrutable while also fighting dragons in a video game. (Though, full disclosure, I lost that fight. Badly.) Also it looks like there might be time travel so maybe this is just the first of several nested OMG HUGE TWISTS. Plus, Game of Thrones is about to end. I have zero confidence that it's going to get better, though.

They Might Be Giants Dial-A-Song week 23: Hello Mrs. Wheelyke

Yesterday, I wrote a handful of short reviews of recent They Might Be Giants songs. Then, when I hit publish, I got an error message and they were all gone. So today, I’m going to try and write them again, as four separate posts, and save regularly. As in, like, every couple of sentences.

Week 23: Hello Mrs. Wheelyke

This is the latest Dial-A-Song song, and it's just so damn cute. It's coded, but not like ECNALUBMA: it reminds me of something Lemony Snicket would write, which is a welcome kind of nostalgia. Also, it's fun to watch a video that's just John and John singing.

They Might Be Giants Dial-A-Song week 14: End of the Rope

Yesterday, I wrote a handful of short reviews of recent They Might Be Giants songs. Then, when I hit publish, I got an error message and they were all gone. So today, I’m going to try and write them again, as four separate posts, and save regularly. As in, like, every couple of sentences.

Week 14: End of the Rope

I didn't pay much attention to this song when it came out on Dial-A-Song, probably because I didn't find the video very engaging. Then Glean came out (TMBG's new album, which was mostly songs that had already come out on Dial-A-Song) and this quickly became my favorite song on the album.

It's really melodramatically poetic, which makes it feel a lot like mainstream music. But then every once in a while, there's a word or phrase or note or rhythm or instrument that hits wrong, and, to me at least, that makes the song feel much more like the genuine expression of a real person's deep pain, in a way that expertly produced contemporary songs about heartbreak just can't, even if they totally are.

They Might Be Giants Dial-A-Song week 19: ECNALUBMA

Yesterday, I wrote a handful of short reviews of recent They Might Be Giants songs. Then, when I hit publish, I got an error message and they were all gone. So today, I'm going to try and write them again, as four separate posts, and save regularly. As in, like, every couple of sentences.


Some They Might Be Giants songs sound incomprehensibly coded. Like "Stuff Is Way" from Nanobots -- it sounds like there's a narrative that should be comprehensible, and like there's probably a good reason it's veiled, but there's no way to reach into the song and pull out meaning.

ECNALUBMA isn't really like that. The concealed narrative is really transparent. The concealment doesn't serve to hide the message, just to render it strange. It's nauseating, in such a good way -- like a horror movie, like a twisted version of dramatic irony where the narrator knows something that the audience doesn't, but we're invited to stand in the narrator's place, where we know the thing we're not supposed to know and still don't know it. Why did he know it was coming? Why does he talk about it in that worshipful way?

This song is engrossingly twisted and I love it.

They Might Be Giants Dial-A-Song week 22: I Sold My Mind to the Kremlin

Yesterday, I wrote a handful of short reviews of recent They Might Be Giants songs. Then, when I hit publish, I got an error message and they were all gone. So today, I'm going to try and write them again, as four separate posts, and save regularly. As in, like, every couple of sentences.

Week 22: I Sold My Mind to the Kremlin

This song, more than any other of the Dial-A-Song songs that have come out this year, really sounds to me like a They Might Be Giants song. It reminds me of "I Should Be Allowed To Think" and "Everything Right is Wrong Again" and "She Thinks She's Edith Head."[1. By the way -- "She Thinks She's Edith Head" exists in two different versions on two different albums, "Mink Car" and "Long Tall Weekend," and I'm pretty sure they only recorded it once, and they accidentally split up some of the tracks and decided to release it twice. It's a lot of fun to listen to with both tracks playing at once. There's no mysterious reveal or anything, it's just a nicer, more complete sound.] I know that's kind of a ridiculous thing to say, because so many of the other songs fit perfectly in the tradition of TMBG work, and because so much of what TMBG does is all about trying to do new, interesting things, and not sound the way they sounded in the 80's. And maybe it's just the cold war cultural references, but I feel like the structure and the instrumentation evoke that feel, too: so much of what TMBG does sounds like a build on, or parody of, other genres or traditions or narratives. This one just sounds like them.

Pitch Perfect 2: response to problematic elements

I really want to gush about Pitch Perfect 2. I loved it. There was so much great stuff going on. It didn't exceed Pitch Perfect in quality, but it did way, way better than I feared it would. And I'm going to gush. Probably tomorrow, but maybe not until after I've seen it again, which I will definitely do.

Before I do that, though, I want to talk about some of the problematic stuff. Because there was plenty of it. Spoilers probably.

Cynthia Rose, who is the only explicitly lesbian character, continued to sexually harass Stacie. This running joke, which perpetuates the narrative of the predatory lesbian, had no lampshades or narrative disapproval. Stacie was obviously uncomfortable, but her discomfort was not at any point confirmed as valid, nor did Cynthia Rose face any consequences for her predatory behavior.

Previously queerbaity Chloe was confirmed bisexual -- or at least interested in sexually experimenting with Beca -- but no ships thereof sailed. To me, this felt like a token effort to address the previous queerbaiting without really dealing with it.

John, the acapella podcast host, continued to make routine openly misogynistic jokes, countered by his cohost Gail with routine disapproval and embarrassment. This routine felt kind of icky to me, though to be honest I laughed at all the jokes. It's not hard to interpret it in a way that's not at all problematic: it represents the perpetuation of, and the lack of serious consequences for, misogyny in formal institutions; but it's also easy to not interpret it that way, and just read it as "Misogyny's fine, just as long as it comes with a wink and a nudge." And while I think an audience member is justified in choosing to interpret the bit charitably, I also think the movie is accountable for reasonable uncharitable interpretations.

I can't remember any lines Flo had that weren't a joke about global poverty. Unlike the previous example, I can't think of any charitable interpretations. I can think of several uncharitable ones, but not with enough clarity to effectively explicate at the moment. I'm sure other people have written, or will write, about it, and I'll link them when I see them. (I've been avoiding commentary on the movie because I didn't want to see spoilers but I'll be seeking it out now.)

That's all I've got right now, which is what's still clear enough in my head to feel comfortable writing about after about 24 hours after leaving the movie.

And, again: I loved this movie. I really enjoyed it, I want to see it again, and there's a ton of stuff in it I want to gush about, in narrative, music, cinematography, and in ethics and social justice. This movie got a lot right. But it did also get a non-trivial amount of stuff wrong; to a degree where I don't think it's unreasonable to say they could have done better. (Especially with Cynthia Rose. I really would have loved to see some acknowledgement that, somewhere in the three years between this and the last film, somebody told her "You need to stop sexually harassing other group members, it's not okay.")

I feel the same way about the first Pitch Perfect, which I've seen at least a dozen times. If, for some reason, they make a third one, I'll definitely go see it, even if I've heard from every corner of the earth that it's terrible, because that's the amount of goodwill these films have earned in my mind.

And I intend to write positive things about this one. I just knew I was sitting down right now to write either that post, or this one, and I felt more comfortable starting with this one.

They Might Be Giants is SO GOOD LIVE

I want to blog about the They Might Be Giants concert I went to last night, but I honestly can't think of anything to say other than "OMG it was So Cool you guys have no idea" which is not particularly useful communication for people who didn't go to, and aren't going to, a They Might Be Giants show. Seriously, though, they nailed, like, everything. They were funny, they did a great mix of songs from throughout their career, they did a really funny cover, their lighting was amazing -- like, I don't really want to dwell too much on the lighting because obviously it's not the most interesting thing about the show, but usually when I see the use of lights in concerts, it's kind of annoying. Like, they're trying to do something interesting with the lights, but they're only trying hard enough to make the fact that they're trying distracting, making the experience worse instead of better. But TMBG genuinely used the lights in their show to astounding effect, in a way that added a lot to the experience of watching them perform each song.

And they did two sets. They opened for themselves. Which was funny. And they played several of my favorite songs that I really didn't expect -- "Dead," "Fingertips," "Cyclops Rock," "Man, It's So Loud In Here" and "Can't Keep Johnny Down" were a few of the songs that were genuinely surprising and exciting to hear. And the way they arranged them made it surprising and exciting to hear the songs I did expect -- "Erase," "Number Three," "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" and "Birdhouse in your Soul," for example.


Maybe I did have a little more to say "OMG it was So Cool" &etc.

Anyway, here's some They Might Be Giants songs:

Can't Keep Johnny Down:


Birdhouse In Your Soul:

Good To Be Alive:

Man, It's So Loud In Here:

Hello, Dolly!

I saw the first night of the Pentucket Players' performance of "Hello, Dolly!" tonight. It's running for two more nights this weekend, and it's really incredibly good. I had heard of Hello, Dolly! before, but I was pretty much going in blind -- I had no clue what the show was actually about, except that it took place in New York and that the main character's name was Dolly.

It reminded me a lot of The Importance of Being Earnest, and of Jeeves and Wooster. It's funny, and tightly plotted, and really well performed. If you have time this weekend and can make it to North Andover, I recomend it.

Community season 6

Okay, first thing: I'm super disappointed that in s6e1 Abed hung a lampshade on the fact that his girlfriend is missing from the plot so far. That was easily my favorite story arc originating in Season 4. Alright. Moving on.

I like the new episodes of Community. If you're a fan of the show, it's worth sitting through Yahoo's obnoxiously long sets of ads and weirdly buggy streaming app.[1. To be totally fair, it's possible that the bugs were my internet connection or my computer. But I would not be surprised to hear that other people are also having problems with the app unexpectedly starting the video at the beginning again or going back to episode 1 from the middle of episode 2.]

Four of the seven original group members remain, for anyone keeping track: Jeff, Britta, Annie and Abed are still there. (And Chang is apparently part of the group now?) Pierce has been gone since the end of Season 4, Troy left 5 episodes into season 5, and Shirley didn't return for season 6. Also, Professor Hickey from season 5 is gone, and there has been literally no mention at all of his absence.[2. Nor of the eccentric computer programmer living in the school's basement from the last episode of season 5.] [3. Or the meteor.] [4. There are a lot of loose threads, I guess we can't expect them to tie them all up.]

As for the new cast: Frankie is great. I love her character and her plot lines so far. I'm looking forward to spending way too much time thinking about the similarities and differences between her role on the show and what Shirley's role was. And Annie's. And Abed's. Elroy seems good, but he wasn't really very much in the new episode -- we got his introduction, but not very much character development. (And Chang is apparently part of the group now?)

I have more thoughts, but my brain is kind of fuzzed over right now and I don't think that's going to go away until after midterms.

New episodes of Community are apparently going to come out every Tuesday on Yahoo Screen, here.

Jupiter Ascending: a quick review

I really liked Jupiter Ascending. It had almost everything I look for in a Space Opera: an interesting and coherent plot, an internally consistent setting and science, and the force of evil is capitalism. (Like, really explicitly. It was great.) I remember reading somewhere on Tumblr that someone was disappointed in the movie: that they were expecting to go and see something that was so-bad-it's-good, and what they got was just a regular good movie. And that's what it was like for me -- as a concept, it looks like it should be a hilarious flop. It's totally tone-deaf to the kind of plot that's fashionable right now, it's packed with explosions, the cast are often cartoonish, and it just looks like it cost a ton of money and wasn't going to make any. (It didn't, but that's beside the point.)

The thing is, the writers, cast and crew really did work hard to make this movie the best it could possibly be of what it is: a space opera. Jupiter Ascending is a really good space opera.[1. The  phrase "Heartland science fiction" comes to mind, but I'm too tired to explicate what I mean by that, and I'm sure I'm gonna forget it. So I'm just going to leave it here, hoping that the context of the post is enough to remind me what the hell my point was there.] It's funny in the right places, dramatic in the right places, incredibly thick with pathos, as high stakes as it can possibly be.

My only criticisms are the lack of queer representation, and that the action scenes ran long enough to bore me.

Lots of sad, dark thoughts on Serial (definitely spoilers)

Mike Rugnetta did not address the aspects of Serial that I had guessed he was going to. Instead, he talked about the nature of subjectivity and objectivity and the law, and saved a discussion of the same re: journalism for next week.

So, unfortunately, I don't have the jumping-off point I was hoping for -- it would have really helped to have someone smarter than me get the ball rolling on this one.

Serial doesn't resolve. That's a really stressful quality it has. It's a story about a person possibly-wrongfully in prison, it's an exploration of the circumstances surrounding his case. It started airing while the investigation was ongoing. Resource-laden people who believe he's innocent became involved in the case during the series. Sarah Koenig can't possibly have known that it wouldn't have resolved. She says so a number of times: she expected to catch a break. She expected the case to be solvable.

Mike takes the time to remind the audience that Serial is real, but in case you didn't watch the video: Serial is real. It's actually a story about a real person who is currently in prison, about a real teenage girl who was actually murdered in 1999. The ambiguities and conflicts were not artfully constructed and balanced to be just-barely-uncrackable. It's real. Adnan Syed is really in prison. Hae Min Lee is actually dead.

I'm going to keep trying, but I can't think of a better way to say what I'm trying to say. It's real. It really happened in 1999. For Adnan and his family, it really is still happening now. It's real. It's real.

In the closest he comes to talking about what I thought he was going to talk about, Mike calls the end of Serial Kafkaesque. It reminded me of something I once saw Christopher Hitchens say in an interview, about a story he was writing about Soviet Russia.

He had been smuggled into the country and was in the basement with his hosts, and he was going to be the first person to write a news story there without calling it Kafkaesque. But on his first night there, the secret police burst in and arrested everybody. He said, "They make you do it."

The idea stuck with me. That that's what a Kafkaesque real world would have to be like: if it were anything short of cartoonishly, surreally, randomly, capriciously oppressive, it wouldn't really be the kind of world Kafka described. And that's what still makes me sick to think about: that Kafka's world was the real world. That he wasn't exaggerating or making it up. It was real. It was real.

Would it be unfair or over-dramatic to say that Adnan Syed woke up one day in 1999 to discover that he'd turned into an insect? If he's innocent. Or that he's performing an extraordinary feat of starvation? If he's guilty.

The United States is second on Wikipedia's list of countries by incarceration rate. And next to our number, 707 per 100,000, is a note that leads to a section explaining all the different kinds of prisoners the United States leaves out of that count. Those are real numbers.

In a 2012 study people who watched certain major TV news sources performed worse on questions about international affairs than people who watched no news at all. After NPR (the people who make Serial) the next best performance came from people who get all their news from a parody news show on a comedy channel. That was a real study.

As jobs that require only a high school education become harder to find, and the minimum wage lags behind inflation by about a third and behind the cost of living by about half, the cost of attending college has increased at a rate that exceeds inflation for at least three decades. Those are real statistics.

My first thought about Serial was "Oh, isn't it cool that we're getting culturally used to hearing stories with a lot of ambiguity?" But that line of thinking ignores one huge, important detail: It's real. It's real. It's real.


I listened to all six episodes of the dislike.club series from Benjamin Walker's Theory of Everything on the bus ride home tonight. Consequently I was kind of disappointed to discover that dislike.club just redirects to the Theory of Everything homepage -- which, on the other hand, makes citation easy in this post. Walker did a great job in making me feel really pessimistic about the internet today. If you want to feel pessimistic about the internet too, I recommend these episodes highly.

(Also they're packed with cool and interesting chunks of information. The Facebook stuff is amazing and did you know that scholars have names for Groucho Marks jokes?)