Web of the Big Damn Spider Relaunched

Some of you may know that a handful of years ago I had a podcast and website dedicated to movies. It was called The Web of the Big Damn Spider, and while several spider movies were featured it was really more about tracking tropes in horror and other genre films.

That endeavor collapsed under its own lack of focus, but I always wanted to revisit the idea.

I am proud to announce the launch of the re-focused and reanimated Web of the Big Damn Spider!

From here out, it is wholly dedicated to reviewing spider movies and (because I must have some leeway) sharing spider-related information. The first post is a review of the 1959 Three Stooges film HAVE ROCKET — WILL TRAVEL, a film better read about than viewed.

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That is One Ugly Mug

There were no more packets of the flavor of coffee I drink at work, so I rummaged through the cupboards in our kitchenette to see if there were any boxes hidden away.

That’s how I found the ugly mug.

I -- Wow, no.

I — Wow, no.

I can only imagine that someone left it here out of spite. Surely nobody actually tries to drink out of this horrid thing.

The Corner Guitar Store

One selling point for my current job was that it was close to Herb David’s Guitar Studio. In business since 1962, the shop sold and repaired instruments and hosted independent instructors. Having just inherited a mandolin from Wendi’s family, I wanted to learn how to play it.

Once a week for the first year of my employment, I climbed up to the second floor of the shop and learned how to make progressively less unpleasant noise. I bought my Mid-Missouri M-0 mandolin there, and for one of my birthdays Wendi ordered a Makala MK-P ukulele from them and had a pickup installed in it.

On the corner of Was and Is No More.

On the corner of Was and Is No More.

Over the years I’ve picked up songbooks, slides, tuners, a bunch of ukes, strings, and my Epiphone VeeWee from Herb Davids. They repaired my grandmother’s Gibson Songbird, and I’d been planning to see what they could do for my vintage banjo.

From my use of the past tense, you’ve probably ascertained that Herb David’s Guitar Studio is no more. In a few more days, you’ll be right.

Herb David is retiring, and the doors will close for good on March 30. I’m happy for him. His store has been open for 51 years, and that’s an accomplishment well worth noting. Still, downtown Ann Arbor will lose a little more of its personality next week.

Strum on, Herb! We miss you already.

A Fair Exchange

I was chatting with D____ about movies when the following exchange occurred.

Me: I got the see the director’s cut of Alien at the Michigan, and it was GLORIOUS!
Me: I forgive Ridley Scott a lot, because that is still my favorite movie.

D____: I think that’s fair

Me: I still want my money back from the free screening of White Squall, though. THAT, I will not forgive him for.

No sooner had he called me fair than I turned into a judgemental jerk. It’s that sort of IM whiplash that could launch a thousand psych term papers.

Reporting Gone Wrong

Trigger Warning: This essay is about rape and rape culture.

When I planned this essay, it was inspired by an unfortunate phrase that I caught in a true crime show on ID. An officer described the rape and murder of a woman as a “rape gone wrong”. Clearly, he was just recycling the phrase “burglary gone wrong”, which is used to indicate that someone was unexpectedly home or awake. I don’t think the officer meant to imply that the presence of the rape victim was unexpected, but it’s that kind of casual language that supports rape culture. The implication is that there’s a right way for a rape to go, which is a damn creepy way of thinking.

That’s what I had planned to write about. Then the verdict came in from the Steubenville, OH rape trial, and news agencies fell over themselves to mourn the “promising futures” of the convicted rapists.

Personally, I believe the only their futures promised was more rape, but I’m a cynic.

The 24-hour news cycle promotes a lot of lazy reporting. Something needs to fill the time, so the latest big event is worked over until every last cliché has been wrung from it and those clichés have in turn been ground into nothingness.

Communities are ‘quiet’, ‘close’, and ‘peaceful’ up until they’re ‘shocked’ and ‘saddened’ by ‘sudden violence’. Everything in a trial is either ’emotional’ or ‘not betraying any emotion’. These are some of the building blocks reporters use when they have nothing to say.

In a rape trial, especially of a minor, the victim is protected, so all the press has to work with is the defendant. So, when pressed for material, they pull out the usual time-filling nonsense and wind up reporting on the wasted potential of rapists. There is no excuse for it; it’s sheer laziness.

It’s reporting gone wrong.

We See Your Underpinnings

Well, I learned about the server and technology used by Letterboxd, but I’d rather see my movie list.

Yes, but why don't you show me the bytecode?

Yes, but why don’t you show me the bytecode?

It’s not difficult to present a useful screen to the user when something goes wrong. Clearly, that’s not an important consideration to the Letterboxd developers.

I expect, however, that they are talking plenty about database availability and access today.

May I Freshen Your Documentation?

There’s a post-it on a cupboard at work that explains how to make coffee. I wrote earlier about how these instructions were modified to convert the measurements to decimal.

The coffee maker was recently replaced with a Keurig pod brewer. The only thing to measure now is the size of the coffee cup. No more scooping; just pop in your pod in push the button.

So we can toss the instructions now, right?

Wrong! As developers it is our responsibility to update documentation!

I see the Keurig. Now what?

I see the Keurig. Now what?

All of the previous text has been commented (crossed) out, and “see Keurig” has been added to the document. Good job, developers! Keep documentation relevant!

On Writing Wrongs

Some stories come out easily; Dignity, Always Dignity was written in a few hours. Others are painfully constructed over several writing sessions, with little corrections each time through and the occasional new sentence. I’ve begun to think “Oh, I should write about that!” whenever I remember something that happened, and my iPad is filling up with tiny text documents that contain a few words to nudge my memory.

“The hubcap incident,” one reads. “The whole everyone’s a salesman bit” is written in another. “Tarantula” is empty, the file name telling me enough to know what I’d wanted to write.

These all mean something to me, and I’ve grown curious about the machineries of memory. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how to jot down the thoughts. In some cases my notes don’t even reference the main association I’ve attached to the story. What these messages to myself do reflect is the association I had at the moment a story occurred to me.

The file for Stasis Meeting, by way of example, included helpful sentence fragments that I didn’t need in order to remember what the essay meant to be about. The title came by way of a freudian slip while trying to say “status meeting”. It perfectly captured my feeling that such meetings put projects on hold in order to discover why they aren’t moving faster. None of the notes were as powerful as that title.

Then there’s the file simply titled “Thanks”. The title meant nothing to me, so I opened it. Inside was the following

6. “Thanks for fucking me!”

Among my finer moments, you will not find this one. Late on a Friday afternoon, the week before release, with my stress levels at maximum, while I was attempting to decipher a colleague’s configuration problem, management descended. I already had two extra people in my small cube, so my fight-or-flight nerve was twitching excitedly. Add two managers with a question about a bug that had just been filed, and — well, I’m not proud.

I cursed and stomped around the office glaring at everyone. Then I looked at the bug and discovered it was a problem of bad test data. Then I found out that they’d only wanted to me to estimate effort. Then I hid under my desk, figuring that I couldn’t be fired if they couldn’t find me.

It seems that this was a rejected section from I Wouldn’t Say That, a collection of unfortunate workplace conversations. I must have pulled it out but decided it might be salvaged for another essay.

Since the incident in the above fragment, I’ve gone over a year without a major blow-up. There have been rough patches, but on the whole I’ve regained the trust of many co-workers and a few managers. I’ve even been promoted and given more responsibilities. The pressure wears at me, but I’ve learned to handle it better.

This isn’t who I want to be, and it’s not what I want to remember. Probably the hardest part about writing autobiographical essays is determining what I’m prepared to admit about myself. As I described in my About page, everything but certain names is true — for a given value of truth. Memory isn’t perfect, so details may be erroneous. Sometimes too many facts get in the way of a good story. On occasion there are details that I’d rather not show. Or see.

Maybe I shared this because I’m depressed and want validation for my self-loathing. Maybe it’s just that I’ve been thinking about the events that don’t even have an empty file to mark them. I think if this blog is going to continue to help me, it’s time to open up just a little more and risk abandonment over what I’ve been hiding.

I’m going to stop thinking now and play some uke.

Hall Passing

There’s a hallway at work that is so narrow that only one person may use it at a time. It extends for around 10-12 feet and provides several daily opportunities for hilarious collisions. This constricted space was created by the installation of a large cube, purportedly to create an open work area.

A convex mirror has been placed at one end of the passage, and I don’t know anyone that actually checks it for oncoming traffic. Usually we just round the corner and discover that a Zax is already in transit. Then we back up and smile awkwardly until the way is clear.

The cube wall is about 5 1/2 feet tall, so I can see over it. I’ll sometimes see the tops of heads bobbing along, which cues me in that someone might be about to run into me. Or vice versa, to be fair.

Diagram of hallway created by cubical

Every day we have to clear Spartans out of this narrow passage.

This morning as I crept down the hallway, over the wall I noticed a thatch of dark hair approaching the intersection. This matched the scalp of a programmer I’ve worked with for a few years. Perhaps a bit loopy from my sinus medicine, I decided to spring out in front of him.

I leapt sideways out of the alley, facing my victim with my arms spread wide.

“AAAAH!” I yelled.

The release manager nearly spilled her tea as she clutched at her heart.

Sheepishly, I apologized for scaring her. She was very kind about it — even thanking me for preventing a collision — but I felt really stupid about the whole thing.

I slunk away, wondering if I’d have gotten that good of a reaction from the guy I’d intended to scare.

Review: Girls

A stretch of sick days, coinciding with my having finally gotten HBO GO running on my iPad, found me watching the first season of “Girls”. The show was created by and stars Lena Dunham, who has been criticized online for everything from not being progressive enough to not being thin enough. Having heard zero about the actual content of the show, I looked it up in the HBO app and pressed play.

I have to say, I hadn’t expected to like it as much as I do. Not to say it’s without problems, but I enjoyed it and will likely catch up with season two.

The premise is simple; four young women in New York are struggling with the transition into adulthood. Dunham’s character, Hannah, has just been financially cut off by her parents. Nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, as has been pointed out extensively, we’ve seen plenty of privileged white youth supposedly struggling in the big city.

While I join the chorus of voices pleading for more diversity, this isn’t the show to complain about. Not that it isn’t absurdly pale for a show set in a major metropolitan area. The show can and should do better at reflecting the richness and variety of culture that surrounds its main characters. I just don’t think it’s a valid example of business-as-usual television.

Although most episodes of the 10 episode season are half an hour in length, it is not a sit-com. It’s often funny, but there are no catch-phrases, the situations change, and everything doesn’t get resolved. In a sit-com the discovery of a diary leads to hurt feelings, misunderstandings, and finally heartfelt apologies. In “Girls” relationships are strained and destroyed. It’s a subversion of story cliché of the sort that the show tends to do well.

There are exceptions. Shoshanna (played by Zosia Mamet) is treated poorly in this season. She is the least defined of the four friends, and she tends to surface only to serve as butt of jokes. In her longest appearance, she manages to accidentally smoke crack and leads her guardian on a chase through oddly empty streets. This is a time where the show descends back into formulas, and while amusing moments like this feel like a let-down.

The movie “Pleasantville” deconstructed the world of mid-century sit-coms by allowing disruptive change. This kind of change can introduce advancements while at the same time undermining business models or established ways. In one memorable scene the family patriarch returns to an empty house. No one is there to greet him or ask about his day. Suddenly his world has been overturned, his privilege stripped away, and not everything about him any longer. There is nothing he can do but wander through the dark rooms asking the emptiness where his dinner is.

At it’s best “Girls” reminds me of that moment, where someone who doesn’t even understand his or her own privilege is confronted by its absence. These characters have had the rug pulled out from under them, and they have to decide whether to regain their balance or behave as though they never lost it. It remains to be seen which way they’ll go.