Interview with Simpsons' Great John Swartzwelder  

John Swartzwelder, writer of some of the greatest episodes of The Simpsons (like “Itchy & Scratchy & Marge”, “Homer at the Bat”, “Krusty Gets Kancelled”, “Itchy & Scratchy Land”, and many many many many more), which contained some of the greatest lines from the show, like:

“Y’ello? You’ll have to speak up. I’m wearing a towel.”

“We are now approaching our final destination, Itchy and Scratchy Land. The amusement park of the future where nothing can “possa-bly” go wrong. Uh, possibly go wrong. That’s the first thing that’s ever gone wrong.”

“My eyes! The goggles do nothing!”

If you like The Simpsons, those make you laugh. And you will like this interview with Swartzwelder, who responded to this interview with the same comedic wit that he wrote his episodes or his insanely funny detective novels.

John Hughes was another writer who was working in Chicago advertising at the time. He has been credited with the famous credit-card shaving test, for Edge. Did you know John?

John and I had a few mutual friends, so I knew who he was, but the only time I ever sat down with him was when he tried to hire me to work for him at Leo Burnett, one of the biggest, richest, and boringest—to me—advertising agencies in town. Charlie the Tuna, Tony the Tiger, that sort of thing. I almost took the job, because the money was good and the view was terrific, but I discovered I wouldn’t have an office of my own. I would have to work in a kind of horse-stall setup, in the middle of a huge open area full of similar horse stalls. See those tragic figures down there? One of them is going to be you.

Well, I’d always had my own office, so I said no. Later, when John was making a million dollars per second directing movies, it occurred to me that maybe I should have taken that job, after all. When he went to Hollywood, I could have hung onto his leg. Nothing wrong with horse stalls, when you think about it. Horses like them.

I agree. I’m looking through your window as I type this next question: What do you make of the compliment “Swartzweldian”?

I guess I understand what they’re driving at, and it all sounds very complimentary, and I thank everybody for that, but I can’t help thinking “Swartzweldian” is about the most awkward-sounding word in the English language. I mean, I thought “Oakleyesque” and “Vittiriffic” [after “Simpsons” writers Bill Oakley and Jon Vitti] were bad, but “Swartzweldian”!

So how would you describe your sense of humor, your comedic sensibility?

Swartzweldian.

Working Through the Backlog  

Apropos of nothing, working from home has had a couple of interesting benefits. Well, that and my body’s adjustment to spring (thanks 5am wake up time!)

I find myself keeping up with podcasts more readily, and TV and movies put production (rightfully) on hold due to the pandemic. So, music exists again!

Thanks to my dogged usage of OmniFocus, it turns out that I’ve got stuff on my “to listen” list going back to 2016. It’s a little strange to think “oh, I remember hearing this song and wanting to listen more” and realizing that the hearing this song part was 3 or 4 years ago.

Turns out I missed a lot of good stuff in the past few years.

Fixing The Fridge Water Dispenser (for my future self)  

About once a year, I manage to cause the water line to the water dispenser inside my fridge to freeze. This dispenser isn’t in the fridge door, but on the interior wall of the fridge. (This is a Kitchen Aid French Door fridge with an interior water dispenser.)

I then spend a bunch of time googling how to fix it, never find anything, pull the fridge out from its embedded spot in the wall (a giant pain in the ass), and start using a blow dryer on any of the water line I can see.

This year, I even went one step further, and bought this little tube you stick up the dispenser and flush with warm water. Which was able to make a little bit of a mess, but definitely not clear out any of the ice.

And, then, eventually, I stumble upon the fact that there is a coil of water line behind the fruit and veggie drawers, and that’s where the little bit of ice is, and 30 seconds with the hair dryer thaws it out.

So–for future me–don’t move the whole freaking fridge. Just pull out the drawers, hit it with the blow dryer, and enjoy fresh, cold water.

New Music of 2021  

A couple of random albums have dropped unexpectedly in January. In a different time, I’d spend a lot of time writing about them, diving into the meaning, comparing to albums of the past. Right now, I have a hard time getting motivated to do that. Someday, that motivation will be back.

In the interim, a couple of quick notes:

Typhoon Sympathetic Magic Apple Music

This album is a grower. I love me some Typhoon. The band creates a soundscape that is both poppy and atmospheric. Kyle Morton’s lyrics are just poppy enough to get you singing along to a song about death. This is a beautiful album with some lush songs that creep up on you, and just when you’re sort of drifting along on some strings or a quiet guitar, you get a stanza like this:

Everybody’s angry

Everybody’s lonely

And maybe it’s hopeless and maybe

Love is not enough

But let’s not rule out the possibility

Weezer OK Human Apple Music

Another “someday list” item is my thesis on Rivers Cuomo and how he’s the closest thing to another Brian Wilson. Weezer’s output is a lot more hit or miss these days (and that comes from someone who can defend a lot of Weezer songs that most people despise). There’s a couple of great songs on this album (the lead track “All My Favorite Songs” is one), but it’s a very light album. There’s a few songs where it feels like you can see the seams (you can tell the lyrics the songs built out of, and how it doesn’t feel like it ever grew from there). That being said, it’s typical modern Weezer: short and poppy.

Optimism  

A couple of weeks ago, I said maybe I’d feel more optimistic after January 20th.

I do. I do feel more optimistic. I don’t know if we’re going to get to where we need to as a country. But, for a small period of time, it feels like things are moving in the right direction (enough vaccines to vaccinate all adults and administration actually talking about how to make those supply chains work are both good starts).

We’ll see what it leads to. Maybe I’ll even spend time writing about music again, rather than just how the internet is destroying democracy.

1 Week Away  

We’re one week away from one of the most momentous inaugurations of my lifetime, and I’m filled with a mixture of hope and profound dread.

It seems to me the events of the last week have lead to many folks at least reckoning what their unfettered support of a tyrant has lead to – “I supported a violent insurrection, and all I got was this lousy tax cut” – but has also highlighted those people whom are either ill-suited to represent anyone in government, or are so craven for power that they continue to be ok supporting violence, misinformation, and white supremacism.

The only path out of this I see is the good and just portions of society, on both sides of the political spectrum, making this behavior beyond the pale (i.e. GOP leadership holding Fox News accountable; expelling or censuring reps like Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene; regulating Facebook/Twitter/Youtube who clearly cannot be trusted to police themselves).

If 2020, and now 2021, have taught us anything, a lot can happen in a week. Maybe I’ll feel more optimistic on January 20th.

The Worm Turns Slowly  

“With so many internal forces propping up the production of hateful and violent content, the task of stopping hate and violence on Facebook starts to feel even more sisyphean than it already is,” the employee wrote in their “badge post,” a traditional farewell note for any departing Facebook employee. “It also makes it embarrassing to work here.”

Yikes.

More stunning, they estimated using the company’s own figures that, even with artificial intelligence and third-party moderators, the company was “deleting less than 5% of all of the hate speech posted to Facebook.”

Yikes. Yikes.

I’ve talked to a number of people who’ve given up using Facebook over the last year. I haven’t found a single one who regrets it. For the few good things that Facebook does (I do think community groups and affinity groups that let you stay connected are admirable), it is clearly a net drain on society.

Big Sur Gotchas  

My upgrade to Big Sur has gone reasonably well. I like the new UI a good bit, with some small quibbles (bring back the proxy icon, please), and there’s some nice capabilities that have been added, along with (seemingly) a little bit of speed up juice.

Here, however, are a couple of the random things that broke and how I fixed them.

Proxy Icon Delay

As mentioned above, if you use the proxy icon in places like Finder (or other toolbars), having the proxy icon hidden behind a mouse over and delay.

I don’t get why they did it, and I expect it’ll be an option in an upcoming point release. In the meantime, the best thing you can do is remove the delay.

defaults write -g NSToolbarTitleViewRolloverDelay -float 0

Apple Wallet Not Working

After upgrading, the cards I’ve added to my wallet, that work everywhere else, weren’t working in Big Sur. Going to the Wallet System Preference Pane would give some error that would direct me to a link about System Integrity and using “Full Security”.

All of that was a red herring. Though I did need to boot into Recovery Mode.

  1. Reboot
  2. Hold CMD+R to get into Recovery Mode
  3. Utilities -> Terminal
  4. csrutil clear
  5. Reboot

Somehow, my system integrity was in an “undefined” state. This fixed it.

Apple Watch Not Connecting

I often use my Apple Watch to unlock my Mac (especially since I’m working from home for the foreseeable ever). But, for some dumb reason, it wouldn’t connect.

Eventually, after a bunch of googling, the advice was “re-pair with your phone”. So I did. And that fixed it.

(And now I can unlock 1Password with my Watch, which is pretty nifty.)

iCloud Tabs Not Syncing

This is just seemingly broken across a lot of users. Sadly, I don’t have a fix.

Don’t Upgrade to a .0 Release If You Don’t Need To

This stuff is why people recommend not upgrading to a .0 release unless you need to. Or, you’re a glutton for punishment.

That being said, these are mostly minor things. All-in-all, it’s been a pretty stable, solid release.

Time Management in the Age of COVID  

In a bit of a break from everything else that’s going on, I thought I would document (mostly for myself, but, hey, maybe it’s useful to someone else) how I manage my time/workload.

I’ve always had a pretty rigorous process that I try to adhere to, so that I can keep a number of plates spinning at once. During this new COVID reality, I’ve worked hard to adhere to my process and tools, as sitting just feet away form my computer (or with my iPad/iPhone) could lead to simply filling up every available minute with work.

Inboxes

Mostly, my life is run out of two inboxes. Mail and OmniFocus.

Email

Much of my work comes in via email. Questions to answer, work to do or delegate, etc. There’s a lot that flows through here. I try to optimize this in a few ways:

  • I keep my inbox lean and mean because I’m ruthless about what shows up there. If it’s stuff I need, but never need to read, it gets filtered via a series of rules, and marked as read. For me, unread messages are a mental tax. I’ve got a reasonable amount of rules. This is a place that running mail through something like Google (GSuite or GMail) is nice. Those rules run server side, and mail is taken care of. If I never to need to read it, it gets unsubscribed, or gets filtered and deleted. If I start getting a new type of message frequently enough, I’ll flag it in OmniFocus to build a rule about it later.
  • Then, what hits my inbox, is mostly stuff I need to deal with. I try to follow the “4Ds of Time Management”. Do it now (it’s fast an easy), Delegate it (it’s someone else’s work), Defer it (I don’t need to do anything with this yet), or Delete it (I don’t need it at all). Do and Delete are pretty obvious. Defer involves me adding the message into OmniFocus, and then archiving it, using the OmniFocus Mail Clipper to send it to OmniFocus, and set the defer/due dates to come back to it. 1Delegate is also something I use OmniFocus for, in the same way. I ship the mail into OmniFocus, and update it to know that I’ve assigned it to someone else, and with a date to follow up on it. Then, I forward that mail (or stick a task in Jira, etc.) to handle the actual delegation.
  • What’s left in my inbox is things that fall in the “I just want to do them, but haven’t had the time or energy yet” category. Most people would say “well, then you should defer them”, but that is an extra mental tax that I don’t want to deal with. So they stick around my inbox for a day or two. Maybe even longer. As soon as my inbox gets to more than maybe 10 messages, I get ruthless about pruning it back. These “messages I should do, just haven’t done yet” are the first ones to get culled.

These steps keep my inbox (and my unread message count) in the single digits (or, occasionally, empty), which for me, is a wonderful little place to be.

However, that does mean that lots of stuff ends up in my next inbox.

OmniFocus

I swear by OmniFocus. I pay a lot of money every time there’s an upgrade, so I can run it on every device. Even if it’s not perfect, and there’s little UX things I’d like to change, it still is far more valuable to me than almost any other tool. Why?

Basically, it just lets me dump everything from my brain, my email, Slack, whatever, into a place where I can build little views that surface what matters to me.

There are a lot of ways to manage your life in OmniFocus. You can go down the rabbit hole with fiddly little bits. I try to limit that to occasional bursts of fiddliness. Mostly, I use a couple of views:

  • Forecast view show me in a week/month glance, what is due. I go back and forth on using due dates. I mostly have come to agree with the viewpoint that due dates are for things that are really due, and everything else should just be available for you to pull when desired. I’ve taken to working that way, but I add due dates to things like checking in or following up, so that I don’t forget to do those.
  • I have a couple of Perspectives I use. One, a Today view, is pretty simple: what is due today, what is flagged, and what have I tagged to focus on. The last bit there is a recent addition and has helped me. Every morning(ish), I go through my work projects, look to see if anything should get tagged to focus on, and if so, I tag it. Pretty simple. My other perspective is a view of work I’ve delegated out to people who work for me. What needs following up, what is due by someone else, etc. I check this every morning (and, again, may tag something so it’s on my Today view), and also check it out whenever I’ve got a meeting with someone.

More or less, that’s it. Those are the big rules. Everything else is little things I do to make my life easier, but those are the big rocks that I don’t change that frequently, and it’s how I keep all my plates spinning.

There’s probably one other, minor, inbox for me …

Slack

Work pops up in Slack. Generally, I follow the same rules. The “defer” option though, is I’ll flag it as a Saved Item. If it’s Saved, and has been there for more than a couple of days, I’ll move it into OmniFocus. If it’s Saved, because I need to store the info, it goes into something like Notes.

Those are the processes/tools I use to keep my life afloat. I mostly talked about work, but personal tasks also follow these same rules. So I can just run my life off of my laptop, or my phone, or my iPad, whatever tool I happen to have in front of me. And I don’t worry about missing something, because I can quickly drop it into OmniFocus (I’m starting to play around with Drafts for quick capture, but I’m not all the way there yet).

It does give me comfort to know that, mostly, if stuff matters, I’ve got it captured somewhere.

  1. I think I use this more than anything. I ship emails into OmniFocus at least a few times a day. 

Time to Breathe  

After not sleeping for the better part of a week, last Saturday was the start, I hope, of a new era of not being quite as worried about the future.

I’m still worried.

But not quite as worried.

Time to breathe, before we get back to work.