The Psalms

A narcoleptic yokel on software and culture.

Mk VII and Mk VI

Though I grew up on a farm surrounded by (and loving) diesel equipment, owning a diesel-powered automobile somehow never occurred to me. This is especially puzzling given the overwhelmingly positive experience I was privileged to have with one 2014 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sportwagen over the past year. It would find me signing up to Facebook groups, using real Fast Boy terms, revisiting long-lost roads of home, and returning to my local community in an extremely intimate ridesharing stint. Throughout it all, the Jetta made me smile much much more than I would’ve thought. I found a real love for this relatively simpleton form of transportation that I should have seen coming, but did not at all. There is something delightfully indulgent about a manual-equipped diesel wagon. Even The New York Times knows this:

Auto writers have long tooted the horn about the benefits of diesel engines, and a bunch of them have also argued that the old-school station wagon is a far more efficient way to haul things around than a bloated high-set S.U.V.

I knew it, too, apparently, long before I actually decided to act on a purchase. On October 24th, 2012, I Tweeted “I sat in a Jetta wagon today. I need one.” I really did intend on becoming The Jetta Man (perhaps without the fashion.) In acquiring it, my plan – and it was a good plan – was to cease an era of general insensibility in my life's decisions by entombing my wayward self within the most sensible expression of modern automotive design I suspected I could live with. The wagon component joined with diesel power and a manual transmission upon casual research. Diesel, manual, wagon – of the people's car, these I sought. Nay, demanded.

An ex-girlfriend of mine drove an utterly decimated Mk. V Jetta Sedan which she’d acquired in some sort of dicey deal. I remember finding it surprisingly robust given its lot, and quite dynamic to drive. We traveled all over the Midwest in it – from central Missouri to Des Moines to Chicago to Kansas City and back again. I mocked, but it was everything one could hope for in cheap transportation and quite a bit more. It turns out, Volkswagen was shooting high. As Tony Quiroga recalls for Car & Driver:

During the press launch of the outgoing Jetta back in 2005, Volkswagen touted that car as a less expensive alternative to an Acura TSX or Volvo S40. Volkswagen pointed to its growth in size, high-quality interior, new rear suspension, and refined demeanor as evidence that the Jetta had moved out of the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla class.

In terms of premium compacts, my experience is quite limited, but it’s no wonder the company has struggled to find a place in the market for this product: in German, “Volkswagen Jetta” literally means “people’s car jet stream.” The first component is infamous, of course, because of the Nazis and their horrid Beetle, but the second seems to be almost entirely unknown. In my research, I had to specifically investigate the Jetta’s name before reading anything about it. When an American thinks of “Jetta,” they unconsciously dissociate the word from the “jet” sound and make largely unsophisticated jokes. (It’s also Regular Car Reviewsmost hated car.) Now, the name has become a marque in and of itself: in China, Volkswagen began selling several different models under the JETTA brand last year. This also was news to me, and I try to keep up with the industry.

In 2011, the Mk. VI Jetta was released with an outdated base, 115-hp powertrain and a “hard plastic [interior] that wouldn’t look out of place in a Chrysler Sebring.” (Quiroga insults, to clarify.) Compared to the Mk. V, “Volkswagen made it clear that the targets are once again the strong-selling Civic and Corolla.” Once again, I’m at a loss for experience in the equivalent extra-Volkswagen competition, save for the Chevrolet Cruze and Kia Forte. (Surprisingly, GM actually produced a diesel version of the Cruze and AutoGuide compared it against the Jetta TDI.) It’s been too long since I last drove my ex’s Mk. V to really have much to say, but I do remember a particular solidity about the steering – perhaps because it was still hydraulic. Once again, I’ll rely on Tony:

Less obvious cost cutting includes the loss of adjustability for the center armrest, a lack of lumbar adjustment in most models, no more power-reclining seatbacks, and a simpler stability-control program that can no longer be shut off or even reduced.

When I began searching for my first ever truly modern car in February 2019, I surprisingly only needed to pass up a single option in the Kansas City area before I found The One: a 2014 post-Dieselgate example with ~65,000 miles on its odometer in “Deep Black Pearl” with a “Cornsilk Beige” interior which had been previously owned only by a single Michigan cyclist. I’d been without a car since dailying/living in a 1976 Lincoln Continental the year before, in Portland, and my friend had driven me around everywhere in his Wrangler for a full month (thanks, Jack!) I’d walked around and cold-idled another, high-mileage Sportwagen, but I was committed to getting something with a light-colored interior after the red velvet cake Lincoln and my dank smoking room-dark XJR.

Martin Racing

Three of us walked into a dealership in the middle of a frigid Kansas afternoon – Jack, my girlfriend Sierra, and I. We hovered by a smart, gleaming little Golf GTI whilst my salesman, Charles, retrieved the car I had found online. After he finished copying my driver’s license while the little diesel warmed up, the four of us set off into suburban Lawrence. Back when the Mk. VI Golf was released, I attended a Volkswagen dealership event in which Mk. V and Mk. VI GTIs were driven back-to-back – I’m assuming to reassure buyers that yes, they really had made it better (though I was quite vocal in my disagreement about this, to the dealer’s chagrin.) The car I bought immediately reminded me more of the former – perhaps I just enjoy the increased body roll of a 50,000+ mile suspension – albeit with a much longer wheelbase and significantly more torque. Rowing through the gears, I was immediately impressed and bewildered by the characteristics of the 140-horsepower, 236 lb.-ft.-developing diesel powerplant. The diesel engines I grew up around in tractors, combines, and other heavy machinery were designed to more or less remain at a constant, relatively low RPM for the majority of their use cases. It’s not a screamer, but the idea that a diesel engine can rev at all was something that took a bit to wrap my head around. However, it is almost immediately evident that carrying on to the 6000 RPM (?) redline is a futile and incorrect practice. There is nothing at all to be found up there.

I’ve driven some quick straight-line cars in my time, but none of them have delivered their power anything like the Jetta’s long-distinguished 2.0L inline-four. It’s very odd having comparatively so little actual horsepower, yet so much torque – I’d heard Jeremy Clarkson complain about diesel power coming in “great lumps,” but I’d already started to find them extremely (and positively) amusing in my first few minutes. When asked, the oil burner will produce protracted front tire squeal and torque steer from a stop, which is odd and hilarious coming from such an otherwise docile automobile. Also hilarious: Charles likely noted that Jack, Sierra, and I were (and are) entirely unafraid of facing The End when a very near collision during our test drive did not perturb us in the least, but left him huffing and puffing from adrenaline. He was a star, though, throughout the more than four hours of deliberations required for his institution to reckon with my credit history. Eventually, I ended up spending almost exactly $12,000, which was probably too much, and named my new automobile Martin – “Marty” for short – after Martin Winterkorn, the former CEO of Volkswagen AG who bore more than his share of the blame for Dieselgate, including charges of fraud by the German government. Dirty diesel rolling coal in prison.

Naughty Diesel

By “post-Dieselgate,” I mean that my new car was a part of Volkwagen's $10 billion buyback program, so the Michigander sold it back to the manufacturer for its “fair replacement value” – between $12,500 and $44,000 according to Car & Driver on behalf of FTC chairwoman Edith Ramirez. To be technical, the powerplant is a 2.0L EA189/CJAA turbodiesel four-cylinder. “The EA 189 was one of the most important engines in the company, destined not only for millions of Volkswagen-brand cars but also for a wide variety of other brands from the parent Volkswagen Group, like Audi, Skoda and Seat, as well as some light utility vehicles,” said The New York Times regarding the “clean diesel” “scheme.” In original spec, 236 lb.-ft. of it arrived between 1750-2800 RPM, but my (admittedly, unscientific) perception indicates that post-update, the torque was coming a bit later. If I thought you were interested, I would attempt to detail exactly what my car was then subjected to by a dealer, but suffice it to say that it was made less fuel efficient and a bit less powerful, to my displeasure. For a complete and comprehensive video on the scandal, try Regular Car Reviews. I’d also recommend the following reading from Jalopnik, The Verge, The New York Times, and The Independent.

Martin and Locomotive

My own views on Dieselgate are entirely irrelevant, but I will note that buying back a buyback car for such a price felt like a favor to my dealer and that it’s pretty cool to have my own copy of VW’s Extended Emissions Warranty Notice, not to mention the fact that I actually made use of it (which I will discuss later.) From my perspective, the automotive industry is the most heavily-regulated business space in the world and I’d suggest a company like the Volkswagen Group feeling like they should cheat on emissions testing might indicate that the standards of the test could be unreasonable and/or unrealistic.

After returning from almost two hellish, extremely confusing years in Portland taking public transport, Martin became a vehicle for a rediscovery and newfound appreciation for my Missouri home – the great Missouri River, especially. Not since owning my Miata had I driven so much in the country. Sierra and I visited Cooper’s Landing in the wet and ventured down to Springfield, Missouri (very far South,) near which we discovered Hodges Speedway – a then-abandoned dirt oval surrounded by demolition derby casualties and the large trucks used to haul them around.

Martin Hiding

Somewhere North of Kansas City, I opened the taps all the way on a very long straight and reached 125mph, which is either the aerodynamic VMax, an electronically limited limit, or both. Surprisingly, the modern People’s Car feels quite stable at this speed – were it not my own automobile, I’m not sure I wouldn’t just travel this fast everywhere. In the past few years, Interstate 70 – which cuts Missouri just about in half from West-East, connecting St. Louis and Kansas City with my hometown in the center – has become significantly faster-paced than I remembered it before moving to Portland for two years. 80mph used to be the accepted number, 70 (the actual speed limit) was the unenforced minimum. In my old Toyota pickup, I could travel at 65 without attracting too much criticism. Now, however, one must maintain 85 to keep up with traffic, especially when traveling with commuters. 90-95 will no longer garner judgmental looks and 100mph left-laners are given a pass.

“I’ll bet that’s great on the highway” is probably the most regular comment received from passersby and riders right after “is this a diesel!?” (Really, the fact of my Jetta’s existence as a manual-equipped diesel wagon seemed to utterly astound a great many people.) There is truth in this general supposition: the ability of the diesel powerplant to deliver hill-climbing torque at low RPM is simply unmatched by gasoline powerplants of the same displacement, which means that “highway” driving entails virtually zero downshifting – arrive in sixth gear, set the cruise control, take a nap. Everything else is taken care of. There is a definite luxury in the knowledge that one is no longer needed in the process at speed – luxury that is NOT present in a gasoline-to-manual Jetta drivetrain. From Hackaday:

[Diesel] has a higher volumetric energy density than gasoline, and thanks to low volatility, diesel engines can run at significantly higher compression ratios without risking detonation. These benefits allow diesel engines to produce significantly more torque than similarly sized gasoline engines.

Fat Martin

“Diesel engines are typically poor when it comes to power to weight ratio, as their high compression ratio and torque output demands heavier materials in their construction,” notes Lewin Day, meaning steel engine block. Here we arrive on my singular dissatisfaction with the Jetta: its weight. While traveling from Kansas City back home in the East one day, I decided to satisfy a longtime bucketlist item and stop by a weigh station. As I drove up to the scale, the police-uniformed attendant looked up at me from his glass box and gave the standard white guy smile frown. It took a moment for the scale to register Martin, but it eventually displayed a whole 3440 lbs. My little “compact” wagon… weighed significantly more than one and three-quarter tons – just 528 lbs. less than the full-sized, supercharged V8-powered Jaguar saloon car I call the automotive love of my life, and almost a full 200 lbs. more than its GLI sedan sibling. There was one single advantage to this weight: we were able to use Martin as a ballast to help re-spool the winch cable on Jack’s Wrangler.

After discovering this figure, I did what I could to diminish the weight easily without tearing into the seats or removing some of the car’s fourteen airbags. Upon lifting up the base of the “car-go” area in the rear, I found a full steel spare wheel – some 30 lbs of it at least – which I immediately removed, along with some sort of flapping cargo restraint that I can only suspect was designed to keep objects (like dogs, perhaps) in the cargo area from sailing into the passenger compartment during an accident (it’s called the “luggage compartment cover” in the owner’s manual.) Ideally, I intended to one day strip out all of the interior except for the driver’s side chair, but it ‘twas not intended to be.

After driving the Jetta for about a week, I was on the short commute back home from the office when I noticed that the cooling fans were running at what sounded like maximum capacity. Then, at a red light, I felt some rough dips in the engine’s idle. When I reached home minutes later, I turned off the ignition and removed the key only to find the fans still spooling. I was convinced I had already broken the car somehow in rough driving, but in reality, Marty was in the process of Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) Regeneration – a procedure designed to clean the little shitpot under the hood by heating it up some thousands of degrees to burn off built up diesel exhaust soot. At least, this is the way I understand it.

Otherwise, I disagree with most reviews about the “diesel rumble” being bothersome. Perhaps it’s because this is by far the most modern car I’ve ever spent this much time with – the only car I’ve ever spent so much consecutive time with, in fact – or because I did, indeed, grow up sitting (and standing) right next to 8-liter turbodiesels at full chat for hours on end. Compared to my mother’s 1.4L gasoline-powered Mk. VII sedan at idle in her garage, there is a more pronounced clacking, but it’s nothing you’d have any trouble sleeping through. I would know! Whilst driving for Uber and Lyft through one of the warmest summers on record, I idled away many hours parked on the street with the (averagely effective) air-conditioning on. I idled when I wasn’t online, too – I would even go as far as to say that I made idling one of the trendiest activities of Summer 2019.

What’re you up to man? Nothin’ much yo. Just over here idling.

Ridesharing

For more than six months, my primary income was from Uber and Lyft driving around Columbia, MO – a distinctly academically-dominated demographic. Frankly, I can’t think of any vehicle more suited to what ridesharing actually entails than a diesel Jetta wagon. It’s a relatively spacious and comfortable place to be for four adults – certainly when no trip lasts longer than thirty minutes – with a ridiculously stout cargo capacity. I was able to fit 9 freshman fraternity guys in for a short trip once. Their faces were all genuinely somber as one expressed “it’s really hard having 8 friends when we try to go out.” (No, you’re not supposed to accept those rides.) It was a challenge carrying some 1500 lbs. of Sad Boys, mostly for the brakes. Once, a group of young men and women began to make fun after noticing the DIESELGEEK decal I’d stuck on my side’s rear quarter window (which I’d acquired with a new shifter bushing kit.) “So are you a diesel geek?” they asked, jeering to themselves, to which I responded: “you know, it’s so weird you mention that because I know this place that sells these stickers…” They no longer seemed amused.

All of the cars I’ve owned have been attention-grabbing in their own way – my old Toyota pickup was adored by the locals; my Miata was adored by other Miata owners. My XJR was gorgeous and my Swamp Continental seemed to be passionately coveted by absolutely everyone over 40. With the Jetta, though, I did not expect any unusual attention whatsoever, yet I must confess that more conversations were started about it than of all of the others, combined. Ridesharing will do that, yes, but it is ridiculous how many people of all races, classes, and ages were enamored by – or overly curious about – Martin.

What is this a Jetta, dude? Is this a Jetta? Whoa! Dude, is this a stickshift!? Dude I think this is a stickshift. BRO. I can’t believe you’re driving a stick right now. He’s driving a stickshift car! Wow I think this is a manual car! Oh shit this is a diesel!? It’s a diesel too?! No way! I can’t believe you’re out here driving a diesel Jetta wagon bro. Is this a stickshift? You can drive stick!?

No.

Early one morning, a ride was requested from the local news station just out of town – a fascinating place. News vans parked in a converted horse stable. They farm televisions out there. A few minutes into the ride, after picking up the young woman, I noticed in the rearview mirror out of my eye’s corner that she had put down her phone to watch my right hand with total bewilderment. Eventually, she asked “what are you doing to the car?” She’d never heard of a manual transmission before. I did my best to explain, but when she asked “but why wouldn’t you just buy a regular car?” I did not have a sufficient answer. Unlike many automotive enthusiasts, I think it’s totally okay that people are allowed to exist independent of this knowledge. There are many, many other things in life to worry about. 80% of cars sold in the United States are shipped with automatics and expecting every young person who lives in an urban environment to think about automobiles as anything beyond simple transportation is asking a lot.

While we’re on the topic of manual transmissions, it’s relevant to mention how excellent the Jetta TDI is as a vehicle to teach first timers how to operate one. With the clutch in, the engine will not rev beyond 3500 RPM thanks to an electronic limiter, which dramatically reduces the number of obligatory stalls when learning clutch control. The learner can simply hold the accelerator to the floor as they get the hang of declutching instead of having to receive shouts of “more gas!” repeatedly. Of course, being a diesel further eases those stresses with much more readily available torque. Sierra was able to grasp the basics this way in a single night, which is unprecedented in my experience. She found particular comfort in the suggested gear indicator on the instrument panel’s main information display, which is very conservative, naturally, but also apparently relief from some great anxiety regarding the question which gear should I be in right now?

Community

I have derided Facebook for my entire adult life for its shitty design, inaspirational effect on its users, and its massive intellectual power, but strangely, through Jetta ownership, I was able to find a community on the service that couldn’t be found elsewhere. Groups like TDI Scumbags, VW TDI Owners, VW TDI support group, and VW TDI Owners Performance and Tech Talk are full of absolutely hilarious and insightful content that I’m genuinely glad I didn’t miss.

On Instagram, I found @jp_eurogarage’s Mk. IV diesel sportwagen, which I adore. I especially love its idle. @projectownersclub posted a video in December, 2018 of a very rusty diesel Mk. III with a straight vertical stack spewing smoke all over its owner’s yard. A video was shared on one of my Facebook groups captioned “when you only drive manual” in which a very generic-looking white man with moustache finds himself gagging in a car with a traditional automatic transmission. The wholesomeness of these posts is often adorable, and not only on Facebook. VW Vortex is an active and helpful forum/blog for TDI owners that I found to be invaluable when researching modifications.

Performance

For the first time in my personal automotive history, I felt the desire to modify one of my own cars. Perhaps the most famous appearance of the Jetta Sportwagen in The Web Era was driving instructor Austin Cabot’s 2014 Sportwagen in one of Matt Farah’s infamous One-Takes. You can find the full list of modifications on the car’s WheelWell page. I intended to emulate Austin with a few modifications including Dieselgeek’s Sigma 6 shortshift kit and “high performance” shifter bushing kit (which I did get around to buying, but never installed.) For those interested in engine/ECU tuning, Malone Tuning has a beautiful tool to help you customize your order.

Malone Tuning Stage 2

Instead of installing the shortshift kit right away, I decided to splurge on a bespoke Raceseng Ashiko weighted shift knob, which made throws immediately better. The issue these products are combatting is the particularly disconnected gearshift which Volkswagen has been notorious for the past few decades. The best way I can describe it is that it feels like you’re just operating a lever instead of shifting a transmission, if that makes sense.

The knob itself is beautifully machined and extremely satisfying to hold. I also “deleted” (removed, in other words) the (likely) faux-leather shift boot after realizing that I’ve always hated the sound and sensation of them, but hadn’t been willing to modify my previous cars in any way. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s actually quite personally noteworthy that I was able to traverse the unseen boundary into mod culture. The result was a slightly more mechanical-feeling shift that would’ve certainly been vastly improved by installation of Dieselgeek’s kit.

Another aspirational goal of mine for Martin: H&R’s Sport Springs Set paired with a set of Firestone Firehawk Indy 500s. The goal was to sure up some of that body roll and torque-induced wheelspin. I suspect the result would’ve been a very, very sticky Martin. Unfortunately, I would not get the chance before I killed him in an accident on December 22nd of last year.

Efficiency

Average: 29.84 mpg Total Gallons Pumped: 644 Total Spent: $1726.94 Total Miles Driven: 19506

According to my fuel logs, (they are public, yes, though not necessarily 100% complete,) I averaged close to 30 mpg over 78 fillups and just over 19500 miles. Considering that I was ridesharing most of that time and driving quite obnoxiously for all of it, you should be very impressed. “Diesels tend to get about 30-percent better fuel economy than their conventional counterparts,” says Consumer Reports in a comparison between diesels and hybrids dating back to 2013. From the Union of Concerned Scientists:

Much of the reason for diesel vehicle’s high fuel economy has to do with the diesel combustion process; however, some of the increase in fuel economy is due to the simple fact that a gallon of diesel fuel contains more energy than a gallon of gasoline.

The joy my Sportwagen brought me was not expected. My plan to make myself a more reasonable person (and driver) by buying a “boring” car was obviously foiled by the diesel’s torque, the community’s dynamism, and my own communion with mod culture. I spent more consecutive time driving the Jetta than I have in any other automobile and was able to truly enjoy it. After my experience owning a diesel-powered Volkswagen, I would very much like to try driving/owning the Golf GDI – a performance-oriented diesel version of their excellent hatch. Truthfully – given the way I killed Martin – I did not deserve his kinship, but I’m certainly grateful I had the experience.

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Star Trek Discovery

Discovery is pushing boundaries, but for what purpose?

Discovery may no longer be new – not even the newest Star Trek property – but it is new to me. According to the alternate timeline exemption of the J.J. movies, I've been left without “Canon” Star Trek television since 2005 (or 2155) with the last episode of Enterprise, but I've been looking forward with moderate anticipation to an opportunity to watch this new entry into “the stodgiest and squarest of all sci-fi universes.” Though I am extremely well-versed in Gene Roddenberry's baby, I come to both you and Discovery with absolutely zero desire to analyze whether or not it is “Trek” enough, “good” science-fiction, or even “good” television – I'd like only to land on your screen between all of these institutions and their proctors in some unique insight from all of them, without the clichés, cringey jokes, or unnecessary Trekism. What I will strive to do is perform my Special Duty in relation to American intellectual property mastodons for which I have my own adoration: to determine whether or not they should die. I know absolutely nothing about television writing – the same amount I know about film – so I hope I can provide something usefully unique.

I would rather Star Trek not have to die, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s necessary. Without sounding like I have to prove myself, know that the property – in particular the history of Star Trek Online’s development – was a very important part of my adolescent life. I have watched every episode of every series several times at least, but I know better than to entrust my entire emotional existence into the promise of a continuation like Discovery. It most fascinates me how revivals of old names like this go about contextualizing their dialogue and other elements for today’s audience. “Snug as a bug in a rug” is surely not an expression we should expect to survive the next 250 years of human development, and yet this is supposed to be an aspirational series? It even made it in the recap! I should confess now: it is actually Star Trek Online which made me curious enough to seek out a CBS All Access Free Trial. The marketing worked very well.

The Measure of Morality

I tend to install the game for a few weeks or so around this time every year just to check in. This time, I was greeted by Star Trek Online: Legacy – a new expansion featuring Voyager’s Jeri Ryan and Discovery’s Sonequa Martin-Green reprising their respective characters in voiceover roles. I figured out that Michael Burnham must have been from The New Show fairly quickly, but I was disappointed to find out that the character was not in fact a trans man, but rather a female character with an unusually male name. For the most part, Burnham is simply an outlier in The Measure of Morality Parts I and II. She accompanies one’s character (along with Seven of Nine) to several different battlegrounds and stories we’d already seen before in previous episodes – when the budget’s running low, reuse sets, but there is one instance where we are brought into her (Discovery’s) world, which feels disorienting. The whole experience plays like it was forced upon STO by CBS in order to squeeze as many viewers into our free CBS All Access trials with as little developmental investment into the game as possible. Well, here I am!

In Season 1, Episode 4 of Discovery, the writers made a very foul mistake… They placed fucking Elon Musk’s name alongside the aviation pioneering Wright Brothers and the fictional inventor of warp drive, Zefram Cochrane.

How do you want to be remembered in history? Alongside the Wright Brothers, Elon Musk, Zefram Cochrane? Or as a failed fungus expert?

I can’t be timid about this – it straight up makes me ill. I can guarantee you that Orville and Wilbur Wright would have never watched fucking South Park and that I am actually going to be sick right here on this couch.

I’ll spare you further ranting, but… Jesus Christ. I will not believe that I live in a world where this sort of comparison is acceptable. I’m not going to freak out because they say “shit” and “fuck” now, though I do wonder what Gene Roddenberry (though he wasn’t all that great, it turns out) would say – something like “profanity is no longer a necessary part of 23rd century language.” I thought Morgan Jeffery’s take on this for Digital Spy was an interesting one:

There's an argument to be made that the old style of Trek might feel naive in 2017. But there's another that it'd be a refreshing antidote to the times, the Trek we really need right now as opposed to the one we deserve.

I like to watch fellow Star Trek enthusiasts squirm and cry “continuity” and “canon” as much as any reasonable human being, but I’m not sure this sort of boundary-pushing is actually productive. Is anything being accomplished? Other than marking Discovery forever as notfamily-friendly entertainment?” Linguistically, the word “fucking” in “fucking cool” was used for emphasis, which perhaps suggests there was no other way for the character to express that level of enthusiasm. In his IndieWire interview, Anthony Rapp (Paul Stamets) explains:

“These people just put their brains to work in a really tough way and they had a breakthrough. And I imagine there’s scientists in their labs who might do that any time. We didn’t drop the F-bomb in ‘Star Trek’ by telling something to go fuck themselves. It’s like we did it by saying ‘this is fucking cool.'”

Stamets in the Spore Drive

If Discovery was “making history,” I’m not so sure what Star Trek: Picard was doing with fucking and pissant. I’m also not sure it matters at all in the grander scheme. What other freedoms should CBS feel free to explore, now that they’ve said the bad words? What else hasn’t been explored? Bathrooms? Shitting and farting? That has my vote. I really don’t remember as many colloquialisms showing up in the earlier series, but perhaps that’s just because those colloquialisms have since become part of our language. I’m not the greatest television watcher of all time, but I got lost in Discovery’s plot, and apparently I’m not the only one.

There turned out to be too many of those twists in Discovery’s first season, and it was frustrating to watch as the writers sidled up to new, risky frontiers for exploration, only to suddenly change course right when things were starting to get interesting.

Season 1, Episode 7 is called “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad,” and it’s the most classically Star Trek of what I’ve seen. One of those stuck-in-a-time-loop stories which truly makes you want to die. What’s even better and slightly meta: playback kept resetting for me at exactly 21:26 and starting from the beginning while the cat kept stepping on the delete key and destroying this paragraph. I had to keep watching the man from The Fucking Office continually kill the captain after the crew parties to 250-year-old West Coast hip hop and 300-year old Al Green all whilst writing this over again. I do not like Rainn Wilson invading my Star Trek. He gives Aquariuses a bad name and… beard. “Listen, petunia, I've been screwed over since the day I was born. I deserve this,” he says, and I wonder if in fact it is Rainn himself speaking of his invasion. He looks and sounds like a fucking incel. All of this makes me wonder if my entire problem with this show is simply that I do not particularly like its characters.

USS Discovery

The Vessel

Relying on Memory Alpha – a tried-and-true Star Trek fan resource – we can examine the U.S.S. Discovery, itself. I’m not so sure about this spore drive shit. If the NCC-1701 Enterprise was indeed launched in 2245, its existence would blatantly overlap with Discovery’s, now wouldn’t it? I don’t actually care all that much, but here are a few screenshots from Star Trek Online.

USS Discovery - Star Trek Online

USS Discovery - Star Trek Online

Note how much larger this Crossfield­-class ship is than the Intrepid-class from some 120 years into the future. Then again, the latter was designed for “long-range exploration missions” and Discovery is the fleet’s flagship(?) Its “most advanced ship,” at least. The inclusion of technologies like the holodeck and the spore drive (perhaps the show’s most potent plot device,) though, are really stretching the canon timeline’s ability to accommodate them. The decision to include the Discovery as a playable, top-tier ship in Star Trek Online is 100% a business one, surely. I’m not here to judge, though – after all, games are about having fun, right? One of Star Trek’s ironies has always been its existence in a capitalist society as an IP within a debatably socialist future. (Everybody wants to see their own ideal socioeconomic label in this future, it would seem.) “What makes Star Trek’s economics fundamentally different, and, in many ways, fundamentally incomprehensible to us, is that scarcity is no longer a factor,” says Dale Franks. Today, though, Star Trek properties still require finite resources and labor to produce, and they always have. Atari spent over $50 million to acquire Cryptic Studios – the original developers of Star Trek Online – and Discovery supposedly cost “$6-7 million per episode.” Though the former is free-to-play, it’s filled with microtransactions and about 5 billion different currencies. When Star Trek.com saysStar Trek Online is best described as a permanent Star Trek convention,” they’re correct: it is full of shit to buy.

There is also a lot of combat, though Discovery seems to have struck a healthy balance between warfare and other intrigues. It is definitely Trek in many ways: redshirts die without any plot consequence and all the classic character flaw tropes are represented. There is the aforementioned time loop episode with fucking Harry Mudd and even a mirror universe arc beginning with “Despite Yourself,” in which the crew actually responds to their new environment and does the research required to blend in with the Terran forces. This took an ancient Star Trek format and actually explored a new, interesting avenue within it (the time loop episode did not.) They even change the Discovery’s registry on the hull to read “ISS Discovery” instead of “USS.”

Every moment is a test. Can you bury your heart? Can you hide your decency? Can you continue to pretend to be one of them? Even as, little by little, it kills the person you really are.

Complaints

There’s a reason we all hate Captain Lorca, and why he says things like “sometimes the ends justify terrible means” and “there’s no way we’re asking these neighbors for a cup of sugar.” I do not believe in Spoilers, but there’s not much reason for me to tell you why, specifically. Perhaps it is racist and/or misogynist to say so, but I found it difficult to get as attached to Discovery’s characters as I have to those of series past. Michael is great, of course, though my girlfriend Sierra surmised that her purpose in the show is to illustrate that “nobody listens to black women.” Sierra was also quite aggravated by the misunderstanding and mistreatment of the tardigrade. When Paul Stamets mentioned that his uncle Everett participated in a Beatles cover band, we both despaired, for we discovered an entry in Memory Alpha for “The Beatles.” If I were to standardize a system of measurement for my television ratings, Discovery’s cringe factor would be 9/10. The holodeck hasn’t been invented yet!

Also, CBS All Access’ user interface is the worst I’ve ever seen from a streaming service, across iOS, desktop browser, and my Samsung television. It’s impossible to scrub, really, or to dictate a preference for high definition. One cannot navigate backward between episodes without re-searching the title and navigating through an incredibly clunky menu sequence. I was able to cast to both my Samsung TV and Sierra’s Chromecast from my iPhone, at least.

Star Trek Discovery - CBS All Access

Compliments

Despite its failings (including Rainn Wilson,) Discovery’s acting is superb. James Frain as Sarek, especially, is the best of the three. I thought it was especially thoughtful that for the most part (at least in Season 1,) the Klingons actually spoke Klingon to each other. Given that Dr. Marc Okrand spent the time and effort to construct a fully-functional Klingon language, it seems only reasonable to include as much of it as possible. I also love Hugh Culber’s doctor’s uniform and the “cinematic” cinematography of the whole thing. It’s very much an action show, yet not quite obnoxious.

So, should *Star Trek* die? Perhaps it shows my extreme bias, but no, I do not think it need perish quite yet. From my (white, male, cishet) perspective, Discovery does an okay job at remaining thoroughly Trek whilst acknowledging the present context’s social issues. It remains a very capitalist enterprise and wholesomely cringey generation X cultural mastodon, but I think it’s still worth our time.

🗎 Print/PDF


Further Reading

Jason Isaacs is giving a very compelling performance. But the writers seem to be turning him into a fundamentally different person from who he was earlier in the season. Some might call this character development. Others might say there are more shoes to drop.

#television

I was interviewed by Write.as Community Manager CJ Eller about writing software, Extratone, blogging, and self-curation.


So I am super curious that you mentioned Markdown as something that saved you from fiddling your life away. Can you go more into that?

I started an online magazine four years ago originally on WordPress. I thought I knew something about web development, but honestly I did not. It ended up becoming a fixation on trying to make something technically different from what I'd seen done with WordPress, which detracted heavily from my Editorial duties over the years. I'm on the OCD spectrum so I just couldn't let it go. I spent thousands of hours fiddling with different themes and formatting within those themes, and what I ended up with was a mess. I would make changes that would break old posts, so I'd go back and fix those, only to make more changes days/weeks/months later and have to go back again. I'd known vaguely about Markdown, but it wasn't until it was mentioned in the WordPress dev Slack that I really considered it seriously as a way out of what I'd been doing. I realized that its inherit limitations were actually very good for me – that I needed a limited system to constrain my workflow to keep myself on task. Finally, in late-2018, I started to convert our old content to Markdown and essentially haven't looked back since.

Did it take a while for you to accept Markdown's limitations? Was there a turning point for you? Did you look for a Markdown plugin on WordPress to help after making the change? I imagine there's something like that out there.

There are third-party plugins, yes, but I believe the new WordPress editor now supports “markdown blocks,” which is sortof handy for those who want to continue in that direction. The turning point was probably when we ran out of money and lost our account with our hosting provider. I was left with an old external HD full of old backups and an empty domain. I'd already started moving that direction within WordPress (largely because of the Gutenberg editor project,) but losing the site in its entirety was what I really needed to push us into a more modern, progressive CMS. Honestly, Markdown is capable of everything we actually need and nothing more. I'd like to think I was able to realize this from the beginning.

So you're left with an old external HD full of old backups and an empty domain. Talk to me about the process then of finding that modern, progressive CMS. Did you have a vague idea of what you were looking for? I imagine getting those backups ready for whatever you were going to choose as another process entirely.

I actually decided to ditch the backups and just move forward with a different Editorial direction (the project has since been more or less put on hiatus.) I knew Markdown had to be involved and that I never wanted to look at anything like WordPress' dashboard ever again. I played around with a local Ghost instance but just didn't feel anything for it, if that makes sense. I'd already moved my personal blog to Write.As months before and eventually realized that it was just what Extratone needed – so far, I've only imported my own contributions and the most recent work from others.

Could you explain what you mean by feeling something for a piece of software? I noticed this in your recent post on your personal blog and what I enjoyed about it so much. There's an enthusiasm about the software you do recommend that jumps through the screen. I want to use Bear after reading your post.

I'm glad to hear that! I suppose it dates back to my upbringing on a farm in rural Missouri, where I felt a real affection for – and attachment to – our tractors, combine, and such. When one cares about their work, I think it's inevitable for them to be emotionally invested in the tools they use to accomplish it every day. During my brief stint in IT in the beginning of 2019, I saw a lot of users struggling with outdated and ridiculously unintuitive software throughout their entire workday and it made me really appreciate the idea of “good workflow.” I'm not really a developer, but I believe software can always be better because I've seen it. As an End User of sorts with not much cash, I feel like my main contribution back to developers should be celebrating their good work. This is an idea I feel I do not encounter enough in day-to-day life.

As someone who also had a brief stint in IT, I totally agree with the struggles people go through because of outdated & unintuitive software. But IT also made me realize how much of software is personal — someone will want a solution that's unintuitive to you but is intuitive to them. You learn a lot of empathy from that.

I am intrigued by your last point there — why don't you think you encounter the idea of celebrating software developers enough in day-to-day life?

I suppose specifically I mean I don't see enough celebration of good development. It's hard to challenge the personal workflow of anyone, yes, but I hope folks will continue to want to better their lives with new solutions. As I mentioned in my Tips post, Microsoft Word is a great specific example of software that simply should not be used anymore – especially in composition for The Web. Not that Word is celebrated, necessarily, but its alternatives are not. It should be noted that I have no specific authority in this matter other than years of experience with – and enjoyment of – playing around with software. I just think that End Users deserve better than they get, and awareness of new/different software is a huge part of the problem. Making average people aware of better solutions should be the primary function of special interest tech journalism, IMO.

Great point about Microsoft Word. I don't even remember the last time I seriously used it — high school maybe? And like you said, discovery can be an issue to the adoption of these alternative tools. So are there any common patterns you've noticed as to how you've come about these software alternatives that you now use? Patterns that someone could adopt?

It's not that I slave away, but it does take a lot of time to discover them. The simple answer is: I drink a lot of caffeine and hyperfixate on the internet. I'm not sure it's something the average user should want to adopt, but if they do, they should be on Mastodon. They should be googling “alternatives to...” regularly, and they should worship Free and Open Source Software. Accepting that you never have to settle for one piece of software is probably the beginning. For lack of a better term, I just love playing around with software. That's not something I would advocate for my old clients or other End Users – I would rather find out myself and then present a list of alternatives in an entertaining way. I hope that's an appropriate and sufficient answer hehe.

No that's great! The acceptance of never having to settle for one piece of software is at once valuable and challenging to adopt. If you keep switching you could be a sort of software vagabond who throws their data into a rucksack to head to the next viable platform. I've always had trouble trying to find the proper balance between playing around with software & learning a tool well enough that it can be useful. How have you personally navigated that? I could imagine your foray into & out of Wordpress as an example.

It's always a challenge when trying new things. I obsess over different ways to accomplish tasks. I've probably signed Extratone for 15 different newsletter services (including Buttondown today) though I haven't actually written a single edition of our newsletter in nearly two years. I think it's only recently that I've been able to look at these habits from a reasonable perspective. As in, I am now able to finally differentiate between playing and being productive, but it took some 15 years. Self-awareness of one's actual progress is key. Asking questions like why am I actually doing this – for profit or for play? Differentiating between these two is something someone like me will always struggle with, I think.

The distinction between playing and being productive can be quite blurry. I sometimes find that playing around with a piece of software can lead to a productive use of it. How about you? Did you start with the idea of creating Extratone first and then tried to find the right software to fit the job? Or did you start playing around with Wordpress and then the idea of the digital publication took form soon after?

That's an insightful supposition. I actually tried to launch an online magazine before Extratone with virtually zero editorial focus along with a standalone podcast that I'd been hosting on WordPress for years. I originally began playing around with WordPress sites in my early adolescence, so you could say it all culminated in the idea. It took maturity to realize that I actually wanted to build a platform for other voices rather than continue to invest in my own. I'd like to believe that was all enabled by the playing hehe.

So what lead you to the conclusion of building a platform for other voices? Especially curious from the maturity angle. Because you still have a personal blog, so it doesn't feel like you've completely neglected your personal voice. But would you consider that as not the same investment of time & effort that you'd put into something like Extratone?

I should be clear that I have not accomplished what I set out to do with Extratone. After a fairly big personal trauma in 2015, I had a bit of an existential crisis and realized that I had surrounded myself with so many talented (in a particularly relevant way) online friends who were producing all sorts of incredible content – music and videos, mostly. I realized that I was better at editing and other platform duties than I was at writing, and that perhaps the online communities I was astride could be provided a single banner to give themselves. In that sense, I haven't figured out how to do what I set out to yet. Ideally, my byline would be completely gone from Extratone, so I've more or less put it on hold until I figure out how to accomplish that. Turning it into a somewhat profitable media company is still my biggest long-term life goal.

The curatorial characteristic you describe is underrated, even though the “everyone is a curator” idea is jammed down our throats all the time. There's something about this curation on a person-to-person level that still has lots of room for experimentation. On that subject, do you have any examples of communities, sites, or models that guide where you'd want Extratone to go?

My citable aspirations in that regard have been somewhat superficial, I'm afraid. From a technical perspective, I really admired what Joshua Topolsky was trying to do with The Outline – which just closed this month, actually. They built their own CMS including a bespoke advertising delivery platform which really looked great but they just couldn't figure out a sustainable editorial focus. In my fantasy world, I have the connections and digital media insight of Topolsky and know how to apply them in a way that supports our community because I don't see any one brand popping up any substantial umbrellas over the electronic musicians I know. (It wasn't until “too late” that I realized Extratone's sole editorial focus should have been electronic music all along.) I read a lot about media but I'm pretty picky as far as hero worship goes when it comes to my own professional goals. I once promised that Extratone would never run ads, so I could see some sort of non-profit classification working out in our future. I believe I could be an excellent curator – I'm just not quite sure how to get there yet.

I think you're a great curator — had to ask that question of influence because I think you have a unique curatorial presence on the web. Just saw you tweet about tractordata.com. Who else would recommend that? Love it. That's why I thought Are.na would be right up your alley.

So you emphasized “our community” there — what do you define as your community in that broader context?

Well thank you! That's a question I'm still struggling to define. Electronic music is about as far as I've gotten. I met most of my talented friends on Twitter over the past 10 years or so and have tried to contain them in a list before. There are innate challenges in defining such a creative community – I have done my best to label without being constricting, but it's definitely difficult trying to figure out how to provide a flag which everyone feels comfortable flying. I still think the best I've done to articulate what I'm trying to say was for Extratone's About page. Most of the folks I'm talking about are used to hustling their own brand so it's been a real challenge working on the right way to reach out.

A flag which everyone feels comfortable flying — that's a great way to put it. What I find interesting about your internet presence is that you defy the idea of flying just a single flag. Along with Extratone you have multiple podcasts, multiple blogs, and now you're starting a Motorsports & Tech dedicated Mastodon instance.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how important it is to have many online buckets to put your ideas in. One just feels too limiting, especially if it's solely linked to your legal identity. How do you think about this matter of identity & expression with your own online presence?

That's a very good question. I can't take credit for mastd.racing, actually – I'm not sure who created that server but it's administered by an account called RaceControl. You've arrived at another one of my biggest challenges. Consolidating my interests has always been a problem, especially on The Web. Age has definitely helped narrow them down a bit, but I still can't help myself sometimes. I think it's ended up alienating a lot of my followers on social because I have a hard time posting just within my niche(s). I'm not so sure how to feel about this, honestly. One could argue that I should post whatever I want, whenever, but consider your audience is also a concept I can no longer ignore. If anything, I need to learn to let myself be limited a bit more by those buckets. Once again, Extratone is a good example of this – I should've never published app reviews there, but I did. We're all learning, I suppose.

Do you feel like you have to even learn to limit yourself on your personal blog? It seems like a personal blog can act as the release valve — a way of getting around cornering yourself into the niches that Extratone and other projects require. You can freely write about pens and Picard without feeling constrained to a single subject.

I think I'm just now coming around to understanding personal blogging and the freedom that entails. It's been a long while since I've had the urge to write about things on which I don't consider myself at least somewhat of an authority. I think – like many people – I originally just used my personal blog as a guinea pig for messing around with themes, and I'm just now actually catching up on some of the lesser items on my “to-write” list. Since we've begun talking I've begun building my blogs bookmark folder back up and following the #100DaystoOffload challenge, which I find immensely impressive. I can't say I'm quite up to it, personally, but I definitely plan on opening up the taps a bit more. (I also don't want to flood read.write.as with too many joke posts ya know hehe.)

That's awesome! You're reminding me of the interesting relationship between writing & tinkering when it comes to blogs. They both feed into each other in a strange way. Before, when my blog was on Wordpress, I didn't care about tinkering around — writing was my sole focus. When I moved to my new blog, however, I found myself shift towards creating apps that extend my blog and messing around with its CSS. So it's interesting that you've gone the opposite way, publishing more instead of solely tinkering.

What has awoken the urge for you to tackle those items on your personal “to-write” list? To open up those taps a bit more? Because I can see the publication mindset, being somewhat of an authority, getting in the way.

That is interesting. I'm wondering how many people are in each of our camps. I hate to be so topical, but the pandemic and being home constantly has definitely contributed. I've also begun to learn to let things go, which is an essential skill. Being able to actually kill work when it needs to die is the real secret. I just built up the strength to delete the rest of my 2019 list a few weeks ago.

I wonder also! And hey, no problem bringing up the current situation. I think it's making me write more also.

Want to drill into that practice of letting go as an essential skill for blogging. As a final question for this chat, how have you gone about the decision of keeping ideas that you've had for a long time and when to let them go? It's been something I've been struggling with for recently as ideas for blog posts start to pile up.

Self-curation is definitely tough. Generally, it's very hard to let things go – especially when I've progressed at all significantly into research/first drafting, but I know when to kill something if I reread and am unable to immediately see where I was going. I've noticed that trying to rekindle interest or momentum in a topic is unusually not a worthwhile use of time in my case. If I can't get my rhythm back fairly early in, I am very unlikely to, ever. That said, I think it's also important to forgive yourself for investing time in something that won't work out – otherwise, you will settle for less than what you originally intended and release something you won't be happy with.

Thank you so much for your time! I really enjoyed this!

Forgive and forget! That's a great point about rekindling an interest being a sign of letting go of an idea. I've done that too many times. This has been a blast to chat virtually David — really enjoyed your thoughts and am looking forward to future blog posts and installments of Extratone!

#meta

Star Trek Jowls

A highly-informed analysis.

He named his dog Number One. His eyebag game disastrous. The Romulans are in a Borg Cube. They’re flirting in The Cube. It’s a Sex Cube. Its shields are very loud, now. They’re smoking weed on Weed Road. There is simply not enough runtime for a truly episodic television show anymore, is there? A Borg Romulan Scott. (Imagine Borg snot.) The shear fucking hubris. There’s the F word again. I didn’t know Romulans could be so hot. Jesus Christ. “I never really cared for science fiction – I just didn’t get it,” says Picard. Very funny, folks.

Did he drop something or...? Paradigmatic. CBS’ closed captions are janky and I’m getting older by the second. They are in the Sex Cube again. The Star Trek OS looks like it has annoying notifications. A son? Using the term Quest. This is segregation. The Nightingale was a slave ship. This is not lost on me. Spanish speaking! Nothing about operating these ships is visceral at all. Hey! Jeri Ryan! These CBS All Access ads are absolutely bizarre. Icheb is here!? Jesus what a coincidence. Oh.

Star Trek Jowls

TECHNO FUTURE. That head tilt was sudden. Romulans are freaking out in English, for some reason. Colonel Jane – Sterling’s young wife – is still a bitch. What a surprise. I still haven’t gotten tired of the introductory credits’ theme. Pissant, really? “And now the windmills have turned out to be giants.” I have no idea what that’s referencing. Admirals should not say shut the fuck up. The holograms are just different levels of Scottish according to their class. Did they do this just to make sure Scots continued to be represented in Star Trek? Why does Rios have so many pips? What rank would he be if he put all of them on? God? ALISON PILL. Dr. Pill.

Fear is the great destroyer.

Coordinated bonk. “We’re at a threshold” is not political at all. If I was watching this show by the week, I would be very frustrated by its pace. Very sad about the Orchid deaths. They were cute. They mentioned the Picard Maneuver correctly. Jonathan Frakes directed this. Seven of Nine just said “same,” but we will forgive Brent Spiner for aging and – I hope – for dying.

I think we probably should’ve let ourselves let Picard die.

#television

Kaweco Skyline Sport

It’s very pretentious to talk about pens, I agree, but I believe there’s a level of pen pretentiousness which is worth sharing with the writing masses. I continually encounter people in both personal and professional settings using – and often worshipping – very shitty pens. I'm not going to pretend spending $15 on a pen has not become a novel or ridiculous idea in contemporary culture, but if you're willing, this is one of those areas where some retrospective can lead to real pleasantnesss. Here are some of the tools I've owned. (I'll be linking heavily to The Pen Addict in this post. It's all we've got. Sorry.)

Parker Jotter

Parker Jotter

I believe everyone on Earth should own a Parker Jotter. It's a slim, small ballpoint designed for sketching with a clicking action that just about everyone loves. I have owned and lost many and I will continue to for the rest of my writing life. I cannot even begin to communicate how worth it $16.99 is to never write with another disposable ballpoint ever again. They're tough, light, and beautiful. Sarah Read for The Pen Addict:

If you're primarily a fountain pen user, but you acknowledge the occasional need for a ballpoint, this really is the perfect one. It looks and feels like you're spoiling yourself, but the price is low enough that you'll still have to add a fountain pen to your cart to get free shipping.

Pilot Metropolitan

Pilot Metropolitan

The Pilot Metropolitan has been the entry-level fountain pen for all of time as far as I know. Google for reviews and you'll find praises across the blog spectrum – from Little Coffee Fox to Writing For Pain and Pleasure to The Gentleman Stationer. “I'm not sure there is anything on the market that even approaches a pen of this quality for $15.00,” says the latter. Testimony from the first:

I love how the Pilot Metropolitan feels in my hand. The brass body is cold and weighty while you write without becoming a burden to use. Despite its low cost, the look and feel of this pen will be sure to leave an impression on your friends and coworkers.

The Pen Addict argues for the next pen on my list as The Ultimate Beginner, but I'll stick with the Metropolitan. It's a little unorthodox, actually – it doesn't feel quite as substantial as the other fountain pens I've used in my time, but it's a blast.

Lamy Safari

Lamy Safari

The modern alternative to the Pilot Metropolitan, the Lamy Safari is the coolest instrument on this list to own, but it is generally twice the price. Though I liked being seen with the Safari more than the Metropolitan, and its writing experience is more conventional in terms of what to expect from other composite fountain pens, I still think the Metropolitan is more fun to use. Instead of reading what I have to say, though, check out the only words about any of these pens I spied in a major publication. For The Strategist, David Notis writes:

Fountain pens can be complicated and intimidating, but the Safari was designed to be approachable. (It was apparently originally meant to help teach proper handwriting to schoolchildren). Pen enthusiasts often recommend it as a great “starter” fountain pen, which I’ve found to be spot-on. [...]

Not that I’m suddenly an expert, but there is something special about writing with a fountain pen. The steady flow of ink is so expressive; it somehow makes the weird, messy quirks of my handwriting feel intentional.

To be honest, I feel like I could've done without my Safari, but I did actually write with it quite extensively. Here are two more opinions: The Gentleman Stationer and Little Coffee Fox.

Kaweco Classic Sport

Kaweco

Huge bias here: I adore Kaweco as a company. I first bought a Mint Skyline Sport (the featured image of this post) in 2016 and I fell in love. I love the breeziness of their colors. I love how Germanic their old logo is and how anything you read about their history is inevitably found on a website looking like this. As Susan M. Pigott points out for The Pen Addict, the plastic Sport series can be a bit lacking in refinement. “The Skyline Sport is made of plastic, and it feels rather cheap in the hand,” she says. Unfortunately, my white Classic Sport had the same problem, though I also adored it. From Shashwat Vardhana:

If you have small to medium sized hands and like the screw cap action, you should most certainly go for this pen. While it might not be the best writer of its class, its reliability is absolute and I have never had any complaints with the pen in this aspect.

Kaweco Steel Sport

Kaweco Steel Sport

My baby – my ultimate pen acquisition – was my Kaweco Steel Sport. I bought it in person with cash at Pen Place in Kansas City, and it was by far my favorite writing instrument of all time. As far as I'm concerned, this is as high as pens get. Find yourself in the position to buy one and you will be satisfied forever. From The Pen Addict:

The Steel Sport features a – wait for it – stainless steel barrel. What is it about stainless steel that I love so much in pens? It tends to land in a barrel weight sweet spot that is heavier than aluminum, and lighter than copper and brass. [...]

Stainless steel has a density and warmth that I enjoy in a pen barrel. It is also practically indestructible, which is what I want in a pocket pen.

If you write by hand, you should treat yourself to one of these instruments. If you'd like to write more by hand, you definitely should. A good pen will have you looking for excuses to write.

#meta

Face Computer

I don’t want you to think this is just another listicle to mark as spam or ignore completely – though it technically is, I suppose. I know how it looks… because I’ve run into many of them and have been just as irritated as you. In fact, I would be so bold as to presume I’ve run into many many more than you have simply because a primary hobby of mine has always been Just Trying to Do Things On The Computer without any academic authority or hands-on training. This is a way of life for my generation and those proceeding it, yes, but I promise you that I have gone far, far deeper than the vast majority of anyone you know. What I’m ultimately trying to do here is to spare you the hundreds – perhaps thousands – of hours I have had to spend mulling through shitty workflows throughout my childhood and adulthood before I stumbled upon Good Practices (i.e. Better Ways to Do Things.)

I want you to come away from this list feeling as liberated and powerful as I do now when I’m On My Computer without any condescension or tedium. Unfortunately, there’s probably going to be some of both, so please stick with me and don’t take it personally. I do a lot of online reading, writing, and fiddling. I’ve been compelled to do these things in one form or another since very early childhood, and what follows could be described as a list of my favorite tools to accomplish things. Almost all of them are entirely free to use and the vast majority of them are easily and beautifully functional as well. They are what I suggest for my own mother to use, for what that’s worth, and I would argue sincerely for their extreme importance. Don’t waste your life on bad software.

Enpass Password Manager

You Need a Password Manager

In 2020, password managers are no longer optional for digital life. They are mandatory. If you only ever heed a single piece of my advice, ever, please make it this one. Most password managers available are secure, cross-platform, optionally cloud-synced tools that help you generate, store, and organize digital credentials. More likely than not, you’re already using one in your favorite browser. On MacOS and iOS, Safari is linked to a service called Keychain, which is – functionally – a robust password manager. On signup for a given website or service, Safari should prompt you to automatically generate secure, complex passwords to store in Keychain. Generally, it’s pretty smart about knowing when it’s time to retrieve the credentials with Touch-ID, but for when it isn’t, you should know how to manually retrieve passwords from Keychain. If you’re deeply enough embedded into the Mac ecosystem, you can feel free to continue to rely on this process as long as you know how to help yourself when it fails. I’m not going to tell you who to trust, but I do almost actually believe in Apple’s commitment to securing user data, if only because of the way their incentives are aligned (in contrast with those in front of data-funded organizations like Google.)

If you’re using a Windows Home Machine and/or an Android smartphone, I believe it’s more urgent that you find a standalone password management solution immediately. I use a gorgeous app called Enpass to store all of my passwords as well as my bank credentials, credit cards, driver’s license information, and anything else I might need to keep handy, securely. I can use virtually any cloud or file-sharing service to keep my “vaults” synced between all of my devices: Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud, Box, etc, and I also regularly create encrypted local backups just in case. I can even share end-to-end encrypted credentials with another device or Enpass installation. I migrated to Enpass two years ago after using 1Password for nearly 10. It was intuitive and virtually seamless, as such things in software tend to be these days, and as a result, I haven’t had to memorize a single password since my adolescence. Enpass allows me to create custom login templates for quick differentiation when creating new entries as well as picturized categories and tags. With one click, even the icon can be pulled from a given URL’s favicon to help keep my vault looking visually itemized. It also includes presets for a hundred services or so – from Google to Wix to Yahoo! Japan.

Total Recall with a Clipboard Manager

Imagine if everything you had ever copied (as in Ctrl-C) were listed in linear order, easily and instantly searchable via a single global keyboard shortcut (Alt-`) and navigable with the arrow keys. Imagine if you could then export an archive of your clipboard so nothing could ever be lost. Imagine clipboard tabs that are easily switchable. CopyQ – an “advanced clipboard manager” – is one of my favorite software discoveries of all time. Some workdays, I use it literally hundreds of instances in my workflow. It is difficult to describe how much more useful it makes the clipboard feature – something we’ve all been using for decades, now. For someone like me who copies a ridiculous amount of links every day, CopyQ’s functionality has truly become life-changing.

Windows 10 Keyboard Shortcuts - General

Alt-D and Other Keyboard Shortcuts

Somehow, I did not discover Alt-D until 2018, which means that I had spent the entirety of my 24 years since triple-clicking to select every single URL I’d ever copied. I built a media company this way, and I can’t believe nobody told me about this shortcut. Open any given web browser, use Alt-D, and your selection will move to the URL in the address bar on top of the page. It’s very possible this will be of little use to you, but anyone who regularly shares or copies links will save themselves so much time. I felt the same way when I discovered text navigation with Alt, Shift, Ctrl + the arrow keys. Most of these are cross-platform, but I am specifically focusing on Windows shortcuts for this piece because that’s what I’m currently using.

· Shift in conjunction with the arrow keys selects text in a document surrounding the cursor.

· Alt in conjunction with the arrow keys allows one to go forward or backward in a browser.

· Ctrl in conjunction with the arrow keys allows one to navigate text by word.

Virtually all of the “Windows logo key” shortcuts are usable in day-to-day workflows. I use Win-D to immediately minimize all windows and show the desktop on the regular. Microsoft is currently testing a feature like MacOS’ spotlight which is triggered with this key.

Designed to replace the existing Win + R shortcut, the new launcher will include options to quickly search apps and files across Windows and support for plugins like calculators, dictionaries, and search engines.

We can only hope this feature will be as useful as spotlight (which is triggered with ⌘-Spacebar for you Mac users,) and will be implemented as standard as soon as possible. If you’re not already using basic shortcuts for functions like closing tabs/windows and cut/copy/pasting text, I’d advise you to begin as soon as possible. It can be hard to commit, but I promise it’ll make your life better. Try printing out a list of shortcuts for your particular operating system to keep by your workspace and/or find or create an image of the list to set as your desktop background for a while.

Learn Markdown Immediately

While we’re on the subject of text – and hopefully without finding ourselves exploring the entire history of word processing – I’d like to evangelize what very well might be the Ultimate Formatting Language for digital text. It’s called Markdown, and it’s something you’ve likely already used in one form or another. Technically, Markdown is “a text-to-HTML conversion tool for web writers,” but – more importantly – it’s a method of stylizing text which is as simple as possible, easy to universalize, and already quite popular. While Vice argues that Markdown is a “power-user tool,” I’d suggest that it’s one everybody should make use of. Though I am currently writing this in Word (for the first time in a good while,) I’m going to pay for it later.

A Word file is the story-fax of the early 21st century: cumbersome, inefficient, and a relic of obsolete assumptions about technology.

“[Markdown] has all the advantages of plain text, but with the organizational power of a word processor,” says Lifehacker. From Ian Lurie:

I once had to convert a Word document to a web page.

Once.

After spending hours deleting mso-style blocks and cleaning up thousands of lines of crap, I swore (and swore, and swore) that I’d never do that again.

So I moved to Markdown. For a writer who publishes mostly to the web, it’s perfect.

Before I committed to writing in Markdown and moved Extratone to Write.As – a wonderfully simple, open-source web CMS entirely based on Markdown – I really struggled with text formatting on our old WordPress-based site, spending hours cleaning up text from Word, Apple Notes, Dropbox Paper, and Google Docs. Now, WordPress natively supports Markdown along with Ghost, Slack, Discord, Tumblr, and more.

Mashable published a formidable list of Markdown editors in 2013, but many are since significantly out of date. Instead, I’d refer you to @awwsmm’s “State of Markdown Editors 2019,” which suggests Joplin as the winning pick. Joplin is open-source and syncs across devices using your preferred cloud service, but it requires that all notes be written in a monospace typeface, which I do not prefer. If you have a MacOS-running machine and/or an iOS-running smartphone, you must download and try an application called Bear. It is quite simply the most beautiful piece of software – aesthetically and functionally – that I have ever seen, and therefore the most beautiful possible execution of a Markdown Editor. From The Verge’s Dieter Bohn:

Bear uses a simple three-paned design. The largest column is devoted to your current note. A smaller column to the left contains your notes in reverse-chronological order, topped by a search bar. The left-most column contains notes that you’ve pinned, as well as any tags you’ve created to organize your notes — #recipes, for example. I spent years trying to sort my notes into notebooks in Evernote, only to learn that what I really needed was a faster search box.

As much as I despise the term “seamless,” everything about Bear is its definition. For someone like me, it, alone, almost warrants a reversion to MacOS. If you have the correct platforms, I require you to try it. Unfortunately, there can be no true Windows or Linux equivalent without the work Shiny Frog has done to streamline Bear’s near-instantaneous iCloud integration, but there is one application that can literally simulate its functionality in every other way. Typora is an infinitely-customizable alternative that spans all three platforms with a well-populated themes gallery (including an actual copy of my favorite Bear theme.) My installation is not nearly as smooth as Bear, but it’s technically more powerful – bad news for users like me who can’t resist fiddling. I’ve downloaded (and attempted to author/modify) a billion themes for Typora. Bear, by contrast, allows just enough stylistic modification (color theme, a choice list of 7 beautiful typefaces, and sliders for font size, line height, paragraph spacing,) without any access to its internal workings. In this way, it provides the perfect blend of customizability and minimalism. If you tend toward the latter, try an ultra-slim solution like WordPress’ Simplenote.

Telegram Desktop

Telegram

I ran a poll on both Twitter and Mastodon yesterday asking “do you still email things to yourself?” Overwhelmingly, my “audience” responded “yes,” which is awfully surprising considering their demographic – young, techish early adopters. Though email is not yet “obsolete” – as envisioned by Inc’s John Brandon in 2015 – it has indeed been replaced by other software in many of its functions, especially the old Mail-to-Self practice. I cannot remember the last time I emailed myself anything – even to transfer photos from my cellular to my computer, as I used to do often. Instead, I use a private Telegram channel to send myself photos, videos, links, text, and any other file up to 1.5GB! There’ve always been plenty of reasons to use the messaging app for general communication – especially since Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014. Though press coverage of the application has all but dried up, I would argue there are now more reasons than ever to make use of Telegram in your day-to-day life.

As of 2016, Telegram had 100 million active users, but it’s certainly experienced its fair share of controversies. I see no reason to be worried about encryption or privacy at all, for that matter, for the vast majority of Mail-to-Self cases. If the files you’re sending yourself are sensitive enough to worry about, you shouldn’t be emailing them, anyway.

Other Stuff

If you’re the sort of person who regularly types out 500+ word text messages (or have to do homework/any real writing) on your smartphone, I have a secret to reveal to you: most smartphones still have Bluetooth keyboard support. It may look strange, but yes, you can use a full qwerty keyboard with your phone. Those of us who’ve livestreamed or used screenrecording software know that OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) is an absolute gift from Gourd, but these days, it’s also easy enough for most computer users to make use of. I’d encourage everybody who can think of a reason to record their screen – to show somebody how to do something, for instance – to download and install it. Finally, I think every Windows user should look into compacting their operating system into just the essentials. “Compact OS” is really just a Windows 10 install without bloatware: the shit you almost certainly don’t need. If you do find yourself in need of default Microsoft apps, you’ll be able to redownload them instantly from the Windows Store.

I’d been meaning to write something like this for a very long time, so I hope you or someone you know has found it useful. I’m not an authority in the technical sense, but I’ve used every one of these suggestions in my own computing life for years, now, to great benefit. If you have any comments/suggestions/feedback/petty insults, please do contact me via email, Twitter, Mastodon, or Discord.

🗎 Print/PDF

#software

When I have to pee too much to actually finish anything.

Anxiety Theme by Max Henderson adapted for The Psalms

I've updated the look of this blog with a theme adapted from “Anxiety” by Max Henderson but I've yet to update the colophon with the new colors (partially because I don't have the energy to name them yet.) Extratone's theme was listed on write.as' new themes project a while ago, of which I am quite proud. I've begun crossposting to Mastodon from Twitter again.

Autos And Such

I'm mostly blogging because I am fairly stuck on the Volkwagen Atlas review I promised to get done this week. (That link is to an online Word doc of my live progress, on which I'd love any comments on if you have them.) I've been playing enough Gran Turismo Sport that I've created a new blog specifically for automotive writing at dieselgoth.com. There, on Titanic day, I made a post including an “exclusive” invite link to mastd.racing, which I would compel any enthusiasts among you to oblige.

Me and Myself

Hanging out with myself trying to get Zoom-bombed.

Listening

This feature on the Bandcamp Daily regarding “Bleep” has really been my shit. Imagine my 70-year-old mother dancing to this.

[Matt] Anniss subsequently went on a local Bristol internet station, penned a blog post, and posted a DJ set of Bleep, as a way to convince those same DJs that his thesis had some merit. He wrote an in-depth feature on the form for electronic music site Resident Advisor—which caused him to think bigger about this formative, unsung moment in UK dance music history. “I found the sound itself alien and otherworldly, but also endlessly fascinating for some reason,” he says. “It seemed so fresh and futuristic still, but also mysterious.”

Software and Stuff

Still waiting on my tax return/possible Corona stipend, I have lost my subscription to Google One, meaning the business Extratone Gmail (ihadtopee@gmail.com) is about to be unhooked(?)/deleted/no longer able to receive mail. As such, I've spent the past few days moving accounts to davidblue@extratone.com including the newsletters I'm most fond of (like Nextdraft.) This has given me a good opportunity to weed out those I don't particularly care about and to try using Outlook as my primary email client once again. Somehow, this has got me reverted into trying to make use of my Microsoft Office business subscription once again – I have (eeek!) not been writing in Markdown. May the Gourd have mercy on my text format-fucking soul.

Two Microsoft Apps on My Homescreen

The other project I've been trying to distract myself from the Atlas review with is my list of poweruser/especially handy Windows/iOS/MacOS applications/tricks that I believe just about everyone should be using. From “Dirty Dave's Poweruser Tips” (working title):

I want you to come away from this list feeling as liberated and powerful as I do now when I’m On My Computer without any condescension or tedium. Unfortunately, there’s probably going to be some of both, so please stick with me and don’t take it personally. I do a lot of online reading, writing, and fiddling. I’ve been compelled to do these things in one form or another since very early childhood, and what follows could be described as a list of my favorite tools to accomplish things. Almost all of them are entirely free to use and the vast majority of them are easily and beautifully functional as well. They are what I suggest for my own mother to use, for what that’s worth, and I would argue sincerely for their extreme importance. Don’t waste your life on bad software.

Fucking Medium

In late March Nieman Lab's Laura Hazard Owen published “The long, complicated, and extremely frustrating history of Medium, 2012–present,” which includes the most complete, linear timeline of the website's existence anyone could ever ask for. Naturally – in classic medium fashion – she begins many of her sentences with “But,” which I really hate.

Why spend so much time worrying about what Medium is? Maybe because we wanted to know whether it was a friend or an enemy. The answer is that it’s neither. It’s a reflection of what the media industry has worried about, and hoped for, and not received. But Medium was never something that we would get to define. Instead, it’s turned out to be an endless thought experiment into what publishing on the internet could look like. That’s not much fun for people who got burned along the way, but Medium was never exactly ours to begin with.

Other Stuff

#meta

VW's Jumbo new offering is titanic to live with and genuinely amusing to drive, but is it a condescending German prank on America?

[2019 Volkwagen Atlas SEL w/4MOTION]

Upon meeting an elderly recently immigrated German friend of my mother's for the first time yesterday, she exclaimed He looks German!... and so tall! Both of these compliments were relatively true, but certainly not extremely. I am more German-looking than not, perhaps. Supposedly, I am half a product of a very large family whose elders are only one and two generations from German royalty – my legal last name is on a state sign in front of a small black castle somewhere in Der Vaterland. I slacked through two years of high school German language classes – Frau Rosa once took me aside to ask you’re not going to shoot up the school or anything, right? (Sorry Frau & peers.) Though my much-older half siblings grew up mostly in the town of Schweinfurt, I have never actually set foot in Germany, yet I’ve come to identify with and admire its culture enough to (perhaps unjustly or inappropriately) feel comfortable joking about Deutsche peculiarities as vain self-mockery.

Despite all of this (carefully nationalism-free) affection, the real truth of myself is an American one. I have long since broached the point of no return: no matter how hard I might try, I would never be able to mold the Me another perceives in such a way that I’d become observably German-native. I’m just a midwestern boy with a Germanic name on his paperwork, and therefore have more in common with Volkswagen’s newish entry into the dramatically different full-size Sport Utility Vehicle segment. The Atlas bears a remarkably good name (annoyingly, literally everyone's reviews seem to begin with a comment on how decipherable the new name is for Americans) – especially among new automotive products introduced to market in recent memory. Honda’s Clarity should be clever alongside the definitively 21st-century Insight marque, but violates an unfortunately universal law in the industry: never name a car for a state of being (Introducing the New 2020 Honda Ambiguity [Insolence, Fugue, Debacle, Setback]) ~especially~ one so obtusely irrelevant to the product itself. Insight comes from a chat with a colleague over coffee, but Clarity is a metaphysical, zealous plane that sounds our ever-inadequate platitude alarms in a very unsettling manner. Um... Is Honda doing okay? It not only ends up irritating and off-putting: after Hannah’s season of The Bachelorette, it’s just dumb, lazy, and foul.

After decades of trying to force Yankees into models that many found too small, VW has figured it out: Big-ass SUVs are what Americans want, and the Atlas is designed around the biggest asses you can imagine.

In contrast, the fucking Nissan Kicks ages so swiftly and uncomfortably that it’s pitifully tacky before it even hits the lot, which is particularly disappointing considering the most cleverly bestowed Juke name was. One marvels at the situation Nissan has found itself in: young American black men love our brand, but they also love shoes! Atlas, though, is on par with Honda’s Odyssey inspirationally, though a smidge more grounded through the distinctly Earthen science of topography, just as it should be. Originally billed as a replacement for VW’s Routan minivan, the three-row Atlas is Volkswagen’s newest bid for the Panic Room-loving American parent demographic. Therefore, it’s crucial for us to examine it thoroughly for any signs of condescension from the Germans and their brand “whose business in the US is built on providing small, fun-to-drive cars like the Golf, the Beetle, the Jetta, and the Passat.”

From our perspective, what we have here is a German take on the American family SUV. A Ford Explorer by way of Wolfsburg, if you will. Well, sort of. The Atlas is actually built in Chattanooga, Tennessee alongside the Passat sedan.

Unavoidably, the most notable, remarkable, and extraordinary item to note about the Atlas is simply that it is fucking fat. Just about any review you watch or read will mention this. Even CNET calls theirs “a very broad boy.” After I first read the number – 5997 lbs. – I was never able to escape it throughout the entirety of my time with it. Three tons is unbelievably, inexcusably, violently, hopelessly heavy. Hopelessly not because it stands out in its segment, but that it does not. Obesity is still a problem in America, but it's our automobiles now. While we continue to worship safety and fuel economy together, we skew the triangle (the other side is performance) further and further, and yes – a good portion of the blame can be placed on our obsession with SUVs. I spent 2018 driving a 1976 Lincoln Continental Mk. IV around – the second-longest two-door car ever sold at 228.1 inches from its pointed nose to its massive ass. Despite being a full thirty inches longer than the 2019 Atlas, my 460-powered mammoth yacht weighed some 700 pounds less, and it was filled with real wood. I'm no expert in physics by any means, but I can tell you that every pound has expounding effects on the energy required to move, turn, and stop a vehicle, which just about sums up the ultimate formula to pulverize efficiency. When our friends at the IIHS say that “fuel economy can be improved without sacrificing safety,” they are just... fundamentally wrong, (though technically correct.)

I'm not entirely sure why the Atlas weighs so much, but its mass is inevitably a major variable in just about every facet of its experience as a product. The best potential hoot to be had from it as a driving device should be sought by ordering it to shuffle briskly on curving country blacktops in Sport Mode with all the assists (save for lane-keeping) on. Not to be too crude, but it's fun to make the fat fucker run. Through your ass, you can feel the suspension squirm and struggle to redirect all 266 lb.-ft. of VR6 oomf between 4 wheels beneath an entirely separate war against the physics of such top-heavy body roll.

Scrambling is definitely the correct verb. Pleasantly light steering in Comfort Mode (where I'd advise you leave it in virtually any situation) combined with a supple-ish ride from multilink suspension provide a trace of a past luxury sentiment not unlike the energy exhibited by my old Connie through and through. It's all about the sensation of power. Not in the horse sense, but in the satisfaction achieved from the manipulation of maximum mass with minimum effort. Comparatively, the level of actual ego-stroking is of course quite miniscule, and unfortunately, it is the numbness that is most noticeably left over with very little gain.

Also unfortunate: I did not end up making the opportunity to truly test whatever offroad capabilities the Atlas may posses in any sort of formalized test. My example came with Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist, and I was able to find a small hill just steep enough to trigger the former. I cannot say I'd put my money on the Atlas winning the Dakar as it is, but we now know it can handle wet grass on a mild incline. What about county road gravel? Realistically, these are the two extremes 99% of Atlas' will ever face in their usable service lives. I found an entirely quiet section of back rock road and walked through the steps to disable all of the traction and stability control assists before stomping on the throttle, but was unable to provoke any significant wheelspin. In an episode of Autoline After Hours, Michael Loveti (Vice President, Product Line Mid/Full-Size, Volkswagen Group of America, Inc.) confirms the drivetrain really is all-time all-wheel-drive, (though the dual exhaust ports in the rear are unfortunately fake,) and that the Atlas is actually based on the MQB platform, which is astonishing. Prospective buyers should definitely have a listen.

This theme of “thoroughly German, yet somehow distinctly Americanized” occurs over and over and over and over again in the Atlas' story. Its horizontal lines match both the Jetta and Ford's Explorer. In that way, surely it is a success. I cannot imagine a better execution of its marque's directives as stated by Mr. Loveti than what I drove.

Cover the Volkswagen logo and you might think the Atlas was made by someone else. The hard lines and boxy shape are a sharp departure from the rest of the VW lineup. But look at its competitors here in the states, especially the Ford Explorer. It’s almost like Volkswagen tried to build its own Ford with the Atlas.

Even though it has been on the market for only a year, the Atlas had become VW's second-most-popular car in the German automaker's lineup in March 2018, showing that the American car-buying public's thirst for crossovers and SUVs remains unslaked.

Place in The Segment

The only other modern SUVs I've spent significant time with was the Range Rover Evoque I crashed and the VW Tiguan I reluctantly borrowed (and had absolutely nothing to say about,) so my authority in comparing the Atlas with its competitors is severely lacking. However, I can at least send you the way of Regular Car Reviews' Roman reviewing his mother's Ford Explorer, Business Insider's direct comparison between their long termer Atlas and the Explorer, or Cars.com's vs. the new Subaru Ascent. Car & Driver also compared the Atlas to the intriguing Kia Telluride.

In the splitting of already fine hairs, it's the new Telluride that makes a stronger case over the Atlas, thanks to its price advantage, its plush and thoughtful appointments, and its slightly more comfortable third-row.

The Passive Safety Fairytale

Define: Active safety

Freedom through security. In truth, neurotypical people are naturally driven to minimize risk, yet also to romanticize the sick, inhibitionless madmen – to envy them both internally and externally (in a most restrained way.) Collectively, our authority in (or mastery of) risktaking remains pathetically irrational. If we were to itemize our ability to asses risk into a sixth physical sense, it would rank just as poorly against the rest of the world's creatures (or perhaps neck-and-neck with those of the squirrel or the deer.)

So many struggles of the too-often-cited “Human Condition” are grounded in the incompetence of this sense. It shouldn't be surprising, then, that risktakers in general are a very special topic amid The Middle Class – those who occasionally find themselves atop just enough excess to call it “capital.” This equates in day-to-day life as only the most potent – yet almost entirely inert next to the cushion of multi-millionaires – subject, catalyst, and indicator of dire fret. By far the most widespread affectation of this petty affliction spreads like divine wrath over the upper forty percent of this Middle Class. Thus, we must ask ourselves how safe doth the Atlas make me feel?

Volkswagen Atlas Digital Dash

Inside

My Atlas’ interior was finished in Titan Black Leatherette, which sounds both grandiose and a bit like a kink. “Volkswagen is known for good build quality and tight-feeling interiors,” writes Danny Geraghty for Auto123, “but I found I was encountering just a bit too much hard plastic, making for a somewhat dated feel.” Perhaps my loaner was less worn in because neither I nor my girlfriend found anything wrong with the Atlas’ interior quality – even after bombing gravel roads to the point of sustaining a left-rear puncture, we did not encounter any annoying squeaks or rattles. She spent an entire afternoon sleeping in the passenger’s seat reclined and described it as “comfy.” For The Car Connection, Senior Editor Andrew Ganz writes:

It’s not much to behold, with a chunky shape as conservative as they come that is not offset by a distinct lack of flair inside. Instead, the Atlas is quietly competent and exceptionally good at carrying seven humans—even seven adults.

Standard with the SEL trim is Volkswagen’s “Digital Cockpit” instrument panel, which I like much more than I expected to, though its color options are already dated and unfortunately unchangeable. Ageability is an inevitable issue with these sorts of bespoke graphic design decisions automakers are making now, but at least you’ll be able to tell your friends that your Volkswagen has a digital dashboard “just like the Rolls-Royce Phantom,” which is, of course, the ultimate Queen of timelessness in the industry. Perhaps it’s telling that the only layout I found acceptable for the digital dash was the one with simulated analog needles for the tach and speedo, and how often do you really use a compass in day-to-day driving? For that matter, how useful could a digital compass in the speedometer’s center hub really be in an “offroad” situation? It’s a bit petty, but I also really despise the typeface shared across the instruments and infotainment system. It’s just… bad.

2019 Volkwagen Atlas SEL w/4MOTION

Outside

In Platinum Gray Metallic, the Atlas looks authoritative enough in a very ordinary way. Unless you’re on the lookout for one, you’d hardly notice it, and you certainly wouldn’t expect what you see to cost as much as it does. That is why I’d prefer any one of the other exterior finishes, especially (in order): Pure White, Tourmaline Blue Metallic, Pacific Blue Metallic, and Fortana Red. The real wonder is how VW managed to execute a seven-seat SUV with its existing design language. Though the Atlas is by far Volkswagen’s largest vehicle, it fits neatly within their lineup.

Road Rage

My only authentic Road Rage experience in some 5000 miles of rideshare driving occurred on All Hallow's Eve when I stopped – no more illegally than usual – on the opposite corner from a popular downtown Mexican restaurant called The Nap with hazards and all courtesy interior lights shining. The car immediately behind me hesitated no more than necessary, but the Biggest Big Infiniti behind them (a QX80 – the Atlas' competitor) just... stopped. There was honking and frenzied, hoarse screaming of what the fuck are you doing? and such.

I responded with pleasantly amused but relatively-encouraging glances at the impersonal black mass of the Infiniti's windshield through my mirrors. I rolled down the Atlas' driver's side window and politely gestured that they go around me, but failed to coax any movement whatsoever from the ugly behemoth through at least two full cycles of the nearby traffic light. There must be some aquatic authority in the bulbous black ass of the QX80, for no one behind it seemed willing to pass either. The driver waited significantly longer than you'd imagine before emerging, huffy. She was wearing a classic poofy black North Face vest some sort of slate gray turtleneck. Nothing below these were stimulating enough to retain any memory of. Uggs?

How positive are you that the truth has absolutely zero consequence: contrasted silver-beige eyeliner and little eye contact, dirty-ish straight blonde hair over a spray-tanned face, exhibiting zero anxious tics or hesitation. She was obviously the New Matriarch, and she was obviously much more of an authority on traffic law than I. As she approached, she scanned the street as one naturally does when they enter a busy one... except it was completely empty, thanks to her blockade. She first informed me that I was “not supposed” to be stopped there. I tried to listen and respond with as much sincerity as possible as I realized all at once that my behavior had genuinely perturbed this woman – that her choice to leave the huge hideous warmth of the guppy wagon to speak as humans to one another required great courage.

2019 Volkwagen Atlas SEL w/4MOTION and Prius-C

I inserted the next logical question which I'd been screaming telepathically: can you not get around me? I began to pity her when I then saw in her face the distinct possibility that going around as a concept had not occurred to her whatsoever. She stuttered a wee bit in retorting “I could go around, but I don't want to get a ticket.” Here, one of the most fascinating avenues of suburban psychology is explored: Guppy Mom is not being ingenuine with this expression, nor has she had an untoward experience with law enforcement, ever. Guppy Mom did know her excuse was bullshit – nobody has ever been written a traffic citation for carefully circumventing an obstacle in the road. Given the opportunity to interrogate this kernel of entirely uncompromising obedience to utterly delusional traffic law superstitions, I think we'd simply discover a life of unnaturally positive interactions with LEOs. We must conclude, then, that the source of her fear was either myself or the Atlas.

Granted, to her I am still a Young Man, and am therefore instinctively programmed to believe myself more informed than literally everyone – even the very foundational architects of modern civilization. Her Stucco Highness may have felt a representative of these builders (edgy take: she is in fact their servant.) Her own folks surely complain regularly about their distaste for disrespect, and my gig-economy, Austin Powers-looking ass was somehow disrespecting the order laid down by her would be (entirely fantastical) forefathers. Though her expression of her quaint fear of such “ugliness” (if you will) is hard-headed, an ugliest decision of hers (or her kin) idled behind me, its giant seafood-looking mouth gaping, unhinged. It'd almost be more redeemable if it was a hardcore, chronic mouthbreather. (The QX80 is actually powered by a comparatively oldschool V8.)

Freedom from fear is the sum desire of all the most primitive compulsions we share. Ultimately, the only efficient and reasonable response to Mrs. Guppy's kind in such a situation is to very kindly oblige, which I did, of course, with great respect and great pity. In the months since this encounter, I'd been wondering what was missing from the outline of this Atlas review. I recently realized that it is this analysis of fear as a factor for the American carbuyer.

Though it has been disproven over and over again for decades, consumers often cite safety as their primary motivation for buying full-sized SUVs. Mrs. Guppy's Great Guffaw led me to realize why this particularly disconnected supposition/folktale continues to thrive so uninhibited by the truth: the brand image, physical presence, and actual driving sensation must communicate and “feel” safe – these are far more integral to buyers' perception of a product than the testable reality. Even the people of the world's most Christian nation do not have faith – they trust not unless they see with their own eyes; feel with their own asses. They entrust their souls to the Word of the Lord, but not their lives to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (I recently gave both of mine to NHTSA for All Eternity.)

2019 Volkwagen Atlas SEL w/4MOTION

The Collegiate Take

The two or three nights I spent Uber/Lyft driving around my college town shuttling Halloween party traffic in the Atlas were expectedly uneventful. I had to create a preset text message to send immediately upon connection with a rider to communicate as succinctly as possible that I was not going to be arriving in the Jetta Sportwagen on my profile but instead in the Atlas, and to transparently try to make sure that was okay. (No, drivers are not supposed to do this and you should reserve the right to bail on a ride should you find yourself opposite my own position in this situation because nobody refused me.)

Hello! Just a heads up: My Jetta is in the shop so I'm driving a gray 2019 Volkswagen Atlas

(It's VW's largest SUV and has 7 seats.)

License: FATLAS

If this is inconvenient or uncomfortable for you, please let me know.

Thank you!

I made a point to try and ask most of the riders if they had any thoughts on the Atlas without sounding like I was just desperately fishing for compliments on my own car, but I don't remember any significant thoughts being imparted whatsoever – certainly nothing negative. Folks here are just too polite – they won't speak up no matter how many times you insist that you do not own the car. We experienced this phenomena years ago when we tried to interview people on the street regarding the horrid Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet. Regardless, there's no reason to expect young people to have anything to say about the Atlas – it is neither extraordinary nor cheap.

If you are an American carbuyer, you might give a shit about the sort of awards manufacturers love to quote in their television commercials like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's “TOP SAFETY PICK,” which the Atlas won for 2017. For 2019, it won MotorWeek's Best Large Utility Driver's Choice award. How about Cars.com's 2020 Family Car of The Year? How quickly can this story turn into churnalized commercial copy? From Scott Keogh, Volkswagen Group America CEO:

[Atlas] was designed and built specifically for American families, and buyers and critics alike are letting us know that we’re hitting the mark with this seven-seater SUV.

It's immediately evident from the outside that the Atlas is the most Americanized product in Volkswagen's lineup – indeed, in its entire history. For Car Magazine's review, Ben Barry notes “the square-jawed front, Jeep-like wheel arches, and the suggestive utilitarianism of the stampings in the bonnet and roof” before remarking on just how much more you can spend on the Porsche Cayenne's cousin, the beloved Touareg.

Ultimately, the Atlas is far from a dynamic, agile machine, but it feels comfortable and unintimidating to drive, and perfectly at home on US city streets and the slower-paced driving of California highways.

2019 VW Atlas V6 28 mpg

2019 VW Atlas V6 28 mpg

Efficiency, the Other Fixation

Surprisingly, the Atlas carries a rare and precious jewel of automotive history under its broad, satisfying hood. The VR6 “zig zag” arrangement is actually one of Volkswagen legend – defining icons like the Corrado. As Dan Prosser explains for Evo magazine:

‘VR’ stands for V-Reihenmotor, which translates to V-Inline, describing both vee and inline cylinder layouts. That is, of course, contradictory. The unit is actually a very narrow-angle V6, displacing 2861cc, with two offset banks of cylinders at 15 degrees to one another. Unlike a conventional V6, but exactly like an inline six, there’s just one cylinder head. The result is a six-cylinder engine that’s both much narrower than a typical V6 and shorter than a straight six. In fact, it’s more comparable in size to a four-cylinder than a six, which meant it could slot easily into a Golf floorpan. A creative and borderline ingenious engineering solution.

The Atlas' 3.6L VR6 makes 276 hp and 266 lb-ft. of torque. Though other reviews cited highway mileage figures of 23-25 mpg, I was able to coax a whole twenty-eight miles-per-gallon on a live Periscope stream without air conditioning or cruise control through a two-way simulated 20 minute commute, through which I suffered for the hard data. My average before resetting the odometer for that feat, though, was 14.7mpg. “Good range and miles between trips to the gas station are criteria I look for in a good car, and the fuel-gulping Atlas rates low in this department” may be the blandest statement of all time, but MotorTrend does have a point – with the same 18.6 gallon fuel tank shared between the four and six cylinder models, the latter realistically has 250 miles of range between fillups, which is pitiful for a modern vehicle in just about any segment. Crossing one State is not enough.

2019 Volkwagen Atlas SEL w/4MOTION

An Attempted Conclusion

So, is the Atlas indeed just a lucrative German prank on Americans? If it is, the subtleties are beyond even me. In the time since I drove the Atlas last year, Volkswagen has unleashed the Atlas Cross Sport on American roads. Apparently, it is the ideal SUV for “dual incomes, no kids,” or “DINKS” (surprisingly, not a homophobic slur.) MotorTrend, on the other hand, argues the ideal buyer has “teenagers who are growing faster than dandelions.”

It's a straightforward conversion from Atlas to Atlas Cross Sport. In the name of perceived sportiness, out goes that most minivan of things: the third row of seats.

Normally, I'd be disgusted with such a thing, but from where I'm sitting, the Cross Sport appears to be what the Atlas should've been all along. The third row seats in my example wasn't any more comfortable than that of a 10-year-old minivan, so removing them for the sake of the second makes perfect sense. According to Car & Driver, the 2021 Atlas will “adopt” the Cross Sport's styling, though there are some technologies – like road sign recognition- which are exclusive to the Cross Sport.

Instead of getting 20.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row in the Atlas, you get 40.3 behind the second row. Fold that down and it becomes 77.8 cubic feet to work with. And that’s from an SUV with the same wheelbase as the upcoming 2021 Atlas at 117.3 inches, yet it is 5.2 inches shorter and 2.2 inches lower to the ground.

There was even a one-off concept Atlas pickup called the Tanorak, and no one seems to yet know whether or not it (or something similar) will be put into production. As far as longevity and extended livability is concerned, enough time has passed since the Atlas' release for long-termer conclusion posts to be published from the likes of Car & Driver, Cars.com, and MotorTrend. The last of these reported an odd turning radius issue which was eventually fixed by Volkswagen.

Once we got the steering fixed, my opinion of the Atlas did grow sunnier, though it's still not perfect. Maybe it's not fair to compare the driving experience to my previous long-term vehicle, the slightly smaller Mazda CX-9, but in my opinion the Mazda still sets the ride and handling bar for the competitive set. Setting the Mazda aside, if you hop behind the wheel of one of the newer competitors like the Kia Telluride, there's a noticeable disparity in the refinement in ride quality and body control in the Atlas... Volkswagen should have made the GTI of three-row SUVs, not just another minivan alternative.

This pullquote from Andrew Ganz’s The Car Connection review is as good a summary as I could ever come up with:

The 2018 Volkswagen Atlas does little wrong, but it's light on personality and a little low-rent inside—and it guzzles fuel. It's worth a look, but mostly rivals do more for less.

Volkswagen’s first substantial entry into the SUV market is well-named, relatively well-endowed, fairly bland for its price tag, and very, very heavy. Also, Start/Stop is still unbearable – thanks Obama – but the Atlas is not a scam.

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2019 Volkswagen Atlas V6 SEL 4Motion Options as Tested

Further Reading

Volkswagen traditionally tuned its suspensions closer to the European ideal, firm but well-damped, which incidentally made even non-enthusiast Volkswagens more pleasant than average to drive (with a few recent exceptions). But Volkswagen made a conscious decision to soften up the Jetta for American tastes, beyond what softening Volkswagen traditionally applied, and it seems like this philosophy scaled up to the much larger Atlas. Maybe the soft ride impresses on test drives, but a firmer setup would likely make life nicer for occupants over the long haul.

#auto

David Blue Sleepy Transit


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The Crossing Auditorium

Askeptical spectacle in the day-to-day typhoon of Faith’s modern enterprise.

The year I was given my first generation iPhone was the last of 14 through which my mother was still comfortable enforcing my obligation to attend Sunday morning church service. She and my stepfather had migrated 18 months or so prior from [Suburban Church of Mediocore Dope Christ-Appropriated Lukewarm Dilluted Prog Rock and The Occasional Teachings of Protestant-ish Side-Glances at The New Testament] to the New York Times-appointed champion of Columbia Missouri’s 20-Year-Long Quirk the Church! Soverignty Crusade: The Crossing. Like its competitors (of which my parents’ previous church had ranked quite poorly,) the blatantly death-cult-sounding House of God includes its own artisanal, latte-equipped coffee shop (I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s actually a Starbucks affiliate at this point,) a regularly-replenished catering table full of doughnuts immediately to the side as one enters, and a sophisticated childcare operation staffed no less thoroughly than my public elementary school.

Since 2007, the church has been expanding from its first home (as a functional place of worship, anyway,) which lies within 1) line-of-sight from one of Nancy Walton’s properties, 2) a mile of the southernmost exit off US-63 – mid-Missouri’s primary North⟺South roadway – and includes a powered pump-arrogated pond, though the majority of the acreage is blackened by pragmatically-arrayed big box store-caliber multi-rowed parking. Ye, by night, it is flooded in coordinately-distributed cold white light suspended by the same uniform steel poles which guard long-term airport lots. Naturally, the entry and exit points for the asphalt spread are arranged deliberately opposed so that four figures’ worth of God’s children may be fed, digested, and evacuated through their weekly appointment with Christ as efficiently and hassle-free as possible.

God’s ~white~ children become especially sensitive to entirely-trivial delay or other perceived deviation from Their Expectations when inside an automobile thanks to a rampant misconception that simultaneously allows them a renewed sense of control over their environment. Psychoanalytic observation has suggested it is catalyzed by delusions of physical anonymity, exemption from civic responsibility, and a titanically-inflated perception of their personally misattributed contributions to the perpetuation of the universe. This vehicular component of the customer experience is a fundamental ingredient in The Crossing’s stellar member retinenance record – the single metric above all quantifying a Christian organization’s overall effectiveness in accomplishing the faith’s (mostly cross-denominational) evangelistic Prime Directive / General Order Number One as abridged by Christ himself to the Pharisees after his resurrection: “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of [The Holy Trinity].” I did not take the opportunity to sample The Crossing’s baptismal services, but I’m sure sufficient combing of the church’s Yelp! page would yield as qualitative an analysis of such a “service” as you could possibly imagine. (Notably, it would appear the “lowest” review is the singular 4/5 star entry.)

I do not mean to disparage The Crossing, specifically nor even organized religion, generally, but instead to emphasize the absurdities which have leapt just as readily into what I’d specifically call The Business of white protestant Christianity over just the course of my own maturation as it has into any other aspect of our lives. The difference, of course, is the universal set of exceptions – and the particular age of said exceptions – which religion maintains, societally. The perspective formed by my own experiences having grown up wholly embedded across the spectrum of white midwestern Christianity – including two years of vigorous and quite academic study of the Bible in a tiny private school headquartered in the basement of a Lutheran church – lends to a particular skepticism, amusement, horror, offense, and existential astonishment that latches my fascination into a not-entirely-voluntary hold.

(Before I go on, I suppose I should also note that it’s been at least two or three years since I last set foot inside the church building at all – my only recent experiences/engagement with The Crossing has been with their digital content from a relative distance.)

Apple Leadership Headshots

The ludicrous parallels between Apple events and services at The Crossing, especially, come immediately to mind every single time I watch one (live or otherwise,) as they did just weeks ago when I first engaged with this summer’s WWDC keynote. Pastors Dave Cover, Keith Simon, and Shay Roush all look, dress, speak, and photograph exactly like Steve Jobs, Tim Cook, Scott Foristell, Jony Ive, and just about any public-facing leadership figure we’ve ever seen giving an Apple Keynote. They’re hilariously interchangeable, as are other explicit aspects of the typical Sunday morning service at The Crossing. As far as I can tell, the church as a whole only uses Mac computers and the projections in the main auditorium/worship hall – mostly sing-along hymn lyrics and referenced bible verses – are exclusively created through Apple’s office presentation software, Keynote, just as the company itself does for its “Keynotes.” This was immediately obvious to me upon first entering that space because they both use the default theme – typography, color palette, transition animations and all. Indeed, during the sermons, the three pastors would take command of the slides by fairly inconspicuously clicking what I’d imagine must be a very sweaty Apple Remote in the exact same manner in which Tim Cook and his underlings still do.

I JUST REMEMBERED DAVE EXPLICITLY USING MENTION OF APPLE PRODUCTS IN HIS SERMONS

The Crossing on WordPress

Nay, the likenesses do not diverge when comparing the fundamentals of the two organizations more broadly: The Business of the faith is very much a volume business, which also describes Apple’s contemporary strategy with perfect precision. It’s been a few years since “ecosystem” ceased to be an exhaustive buzzword in tech media discourse, perhaps because the term falls very short in expressing the change in global Apple scale. My recollection of high school biology has failed to produce a scientific substitute, but I find Matt Honan’s “very lovely swamp” exceptionally said in 2014, but the fact of the swamp’s becoming generally lovelier in the interim – in a less linear fashion than would have been ideal, mind you – leaves ample room, I think, to fear and respect whatever it was that we then called The Apple Ecosystem in 2014 as a ruling deity or daemon (just as Google’s sought to be, recently.)

The church live streams every fucking keynote sermon in HD on Vimeo, not YouTube. (I had no idea Vimeo offered “professional streaming services” until this moment.) They have a fucking iOS app (apparently developed by an outfit called Subsplash, who had the audacity to include analytics meta tags following the root of their website within the in-app attribution button) which features a calendar-bound tool containing full-text preparatory reading material from scripture, on-demand audio and video recordings

I genuinely wonder quite often if the individual who set the digital template for the sign in front of our Portland neighborhoood’s Episcopalian church paused to look at the text he was arranging: “PRAYER REQUESTS BY EMAIL.” I'm not sure any of this really means anything, but it's sure spectacular to look at.

#software

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