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This is the blog section of my website, and by far the most active. Check back regularly for updates!

Here I will post anything, but mostly personal ramblings, rumblings, groanings, and moanings.

There is of yet no comment system, and I intend to keep it that way. Click here for some more info on the philosophy of my blog.

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Update 2.06.24 -- On Moving, Stimmy, and Well-Being

Sam Debatin | Tue 06 Feb 2024 10:15:46 PM EST

Oh, it's been a long time... yes it has. A lot has happened -- I no longer reside in Columbus OH, or in Ohio at all. In fact I've moved to the Great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh, the shining city on the river(s). So far, not too bad!

I moved in early December. It's been a long time coming, for as much as I grew to enjoy Columbus there was always a nagging thought in the back of my mind that it was simply missing something. Pittburgh has a landscape that is much more familiar and inviting to me. Hills, rivers, plenty of trees. In short, a reason for the placement of its features. I will miss the bike path that was mere steps from my door, and my old apartment (pictures sure to be attached soon), and of course all my Ohio friends, but I'm glad to be somewhere with some sort of sense of direction and center. It's as if gravity doesn't exist in Columbus; there are no rules, no indication that anything should be anywhere at all.

I don't know if my move will be permanent, or what else is to come in my life. The early 20s are known for being unstable and full of experiment, and I suspect that wherever I land will be in large part out of random circumstance rather than as the result of any kind of grand plan. I wanted to take a moment though and enumerate some things I've learned/been thinking about since graduating college. They are as follows:

This has been a winter of colds for me and my friends. Hoping that the summer brings better health. And as always, hoping that I feel driven to post more updates and writings on this damned thing. Maybe this time it will return in earnest...

Apartment pics: 1 2 3 4 5

Can you run?

Sam Debatin | Mon 24 Oct 2022 12:01:26 AM EDT

I have been driving a lot of new cars recently. I go out of town for work on a regular basis, and on longer trips its usual for my company to rent me a car. Being rental cars, they are generally 2-3 years old at the most, and tend to be solidly in the middle of the car luxury spectrum -- not BMWs, but also not the bottom of the barrel either -- your higher end Chevys, Toyotas, and Fords. Standard upper middle class cars if you will, a mix of crossovers and full size SUVs.

I also recently purchased a 2004 VW Golf. Manual transmission, 2 liter engine, 4 door. It has cruise control, power windows, air conditioning, both a tape and a cd player, motorized mirrors and of course adjustable seats. I am extremely satisfied, and short of writing a product endorsement of a nearly 20 year-old car, it will suffice to say that I don’t plan on buying a newer car any time soon. At the time, this car was considered to be on the upper end of consumer cars. Not a luxury car by any means, but certainly if you could afford a new VW you are not doing too poorly for yourself.

I have always driven older cars. This recent “upgrade” is from the perspective of having driven a 2002 Saturn SL for most of my driving life, as well as a 1984 Ford Ranger pickup that currently sits motionless in my mother’s driveway. All that is to say -- my perspective may be a little skewed, but hear me out.

Granted, the Golf relative to its time is a higher end car than most of the rentals I have been driving. And yes, the rentals are subject to more abuse in their 10,000 mile lifespan than most cars are in 50,000. However, every new car I have driven, regardless of brand or quality, has had the same couple of features and limitations. First -- limited visibility. It has been almost a decade since a sedan, hatchback, or SUV has had any kind of acceptable baseline visibility. What have manufacturers done to compensate you might ask? Fill the car with all kinds of blinking lights, indicators, and autocorrectors to stop you from veering wildly into another object. And this is all well and good -- all metrics point to cars becoming safer, quieter, and more fuel efficient. But what do we really mean by these metrics?

Safety means fewer accidents, fewer deaths and injuries. Of course, that is a desirable outcome. Auto related deaths are far too common, too many people have lost a loved one to car crashes. Quieter is a nice outcome as well, as it means less noise pollution, less fatigue on long drives, and generally points to a more efficient machine. Which generally new cars are -- per horsepower, car engines and design have become far more efficient in the last 10-15 years. These are merely quantitative outcomes however, and I am not interested in those. And this article isn’t really about cars...

In recent months I have been asking myself a question in response to safety-related quandaries: can you run from it? For example:

And in a more abstract sense, the following examples hold true as well:

Essentially, the question is do you have personal agency to avoid the danger to your own body, mind, and well being? There are obviously no clean cut answers to most of these. Snakes are clearly something you can run away from, but what about schizophrenia, or genetic disease, or diminishing air quality? What about the germs??? The idea that our world is becoming increasingly sterilized is not new, nor is it even particularly controversial as to whether or not it is happening. It is not uncommon to hear people actively wishing there were more opportunities to sanitize their hands, while simultaneously lacking the comprehension that ethyl alcohol (the ingredient in hand sanitizer) does not wash their hands, but simply kills any lifeforms present. Perhaps the latter is an example of a lack of education, but what is education if not an attempt at promoting agency?

While this article is not about cars in particular, I would like to return to our rental cars as perhaps the most pervasive example the removal of agency. Self driving cars have been in the works for years, and while truly autonomous vehicles are still a ways off, many of the features have trickled down into mid level consumer cars. I have driven cars in which the steering wheel self corrects when trying to change lanes and where the car brakes while in cruise control if the car in front of me slows down. More concerning are the features that are meant to substitute for our own senses and intuitions -- flashing indicators alerting you that you are drifting lanes, lights in the side mirrors that alert you when a car is in your blind spot, and myriad patronizing beeps and burps all letting you know you are driving too long, slow, fast, or fuel-inefficient.

A recent article in The Atlantic praised the merits of the now-dying manual transmission. Author Ian Bogost argues that the end of the manual signals not just a dying niche market, but the end of one of the few remaining machines that we are able to “feel operating.” Driving a manual -- and driving in general -- is a learned skill, and one of the few we practice in our daily lives. That can be a hard line to walk, however. I have seen countless memes or other media characterizing and ridiculing manual drivers as nothing but prideful in an arcane skill, wanting to drive manual for no other reason than to lord it over other drivers and proclaim how life altering it is.

Agency comes from practice and familiarity. A lifelong musician is able to express his or herself not through some miracle from above, but because of the long and arduous relationship with music as a skill. This isn’t to be confused with pure physical technicality of course, as emotional intelligence and expression is itself a skill to be practiced, but rather an indication that with familiarity comes freedom. In the same way that we feel more free to communicate around our closest friends having already built a relationship to reference, the practice of a skill promotes agency.

And so I ask again, can you run? With self driving cars ever on the horizon, and a generation of GPS-reliant drivers, the answer increasingly seems, no. The GPS seems innocuous and is of course at times incredibly useful, but with overuse shrouds people’s perception of the world. Without any need to read road signs and instead follow blindly the direction to “turn left,” you become less attentive to the world as a whole. The world is presented with the expectation that something out there will come to your aid should things not go as planned. I myself have had moments in which, when looking for something I lost, think for a split second to reach for my phone to google where it might be. A couple of years ago that thought was ludicrous, although now with the introduction of AirTags and other such personal tracking devices, it may not be so far fetched. How feasible is running if you need the validation of a how-to video first?

I fear for what this does to our collective sense of political and personal drive. On the one hand, it damages larger social movements simply by virtue of discouraging participation on the whole. Those who don’t know how to use their voice will begin to fear their voice, and thus never use it. But in a more sinister kind of way, it legitimizes short term solutions to systemic problems. Those who fear are more likely to lash out in unproductive ways, in ways that alienate others and seek to radical change with no foresight. Diplomacy, compromise, and by virtue democracy are impossible without a people who are believe in agency over safety, who are willing to go out on a limb and suggest to stand for something without the fear of creating a situation in which others may not feel comfortable. A people who are used to being able to retreat, to find something else to rely on, become dysfunctional in the face of opposition -- something that is radically important to a progressive society.

Lest this begin to sound like your aging republican uncle telling you to make something of yourself, let’s take a step back. This is not all personal, much of this is systemic. Returning to our metaphor, a bomb is generally something you cannot run from. However, while a bomb is a deadly and horrifying weapon, there is still is some room for error, the ability to by some fluke become caught under a piece of rubble and dig your way out to safety. Improbable, but possible. A nuclear bomb on the other hand is absolutely inescapable and would likely cause the destruction of humankind. There is no running in this scenario, and that is in no way your own fault. This is an extreme example, and there is little to be done as a person living in Ohio about the number of nuclear weapons in Putin’s arsenal, but similarly people can hardly be blamed for losing some of this agency in something like driving -- what other option do they have? It is nearly impossible to buy a car that doesn’t offer these coddling features. Short of the impracticality of driving an old car, like I have chosen to do, there is little choice in the matter. But in the areas where we do have some semblance of control, we should seek to squeeze every ounce of agency we can from them. Learn a new skill, become facile with tools and repair work, learn to cook. And really practice -- learn what it means to have a deep relationship with something, and realize that there are far scarier things than trusting yourself. It will make the world richer for you. Perhaps we can’t run from the systems that seek to strip us of influence, but we can at least choose not to hide.

Ode to the Hyperlink

Sam Debatin | Sun 23 Oct 2022 11:27:02 PM EDT

I’ve had a hard time using the internet recently. Not in a my-aging-relatives kind of way, but just literally engaging with it at all. In a not-so-hot take, I have chalked this up to some kind of online-related attention deficit disorder. More specifically, it’s what I think we can all understand as a changing metaphorical language of the internet.

Reddit claims to be the front page of the internet. Google is the 'homepage' for many users. Apps like Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and Tiktok all use the infrastructure of the internet, but in some ways hide their connection with the system. Increasingly, our experience with the internet is mediated by metaphors that obscure its very nature — disordered, rhizomic, and unhierarchical. Our experience of the internet has had a strong order imposed on it. Increasingly, apps maintain their hierarchy by opening links in a sandboxed browser. The very notion of the app strips the internet of its equalizing potential. An app denies the interconnectivity of the internet through its schematic and its interface. Apps can communicate with each other, but only through very specific methods mediated by the phone UI itself -- even simply opening a pdf from an email on an iPhone is a bizarre charade of "sharing" to other apps.

Browser based interaction with the internet, on the other hand, allowed at least for some kind of parallelism, through tabs, through hyperlinks and windows and tiling. And yet, no browser has made significant progress in terms of UI in over a decade. We are still using the same tab format, the same parallel structures. And these are beautiful structures, but they are underdeveloped. In terms of connectivity, we've actually moved away from an equalizing structure.

The infrastructure of the internet is not immaterial, and therefore requires physical and economic resources to continue running. Reliable server space is not cheap, and our tolerance for ads, cookies, and data collection has been collectively obliterated by the ever increasing need to pay the technological cost of a growing and necessary system. All this precludes a system of organization that would consider Instagram to be as valid of an online space as your uncle's web 2.0 page, or an obscure Wikipedia article about the culinary uses of quail eggs. We assert that each of these items exist in their own space, disconnected from the other, and at times lesser -- less official, less well crafted, less reputable.

User interface has a lot to do with this. Web 2.0 has allowed for more advanced, more 'self-contained' looking web pages. Banners, titles, side bars all create the illusion of a world contained within itself. Hyperlinks rarely redirect outside of their own domain, and on the occasion they do you are presented with dire warnings, scaring users into thinking that they will become victim of a hacking scheme when leaving the New York Times homepage for an external article from the Atlantic. While security concerns can be and often are legitimate, websites also have an economic motive to keep users on their site, driving up ad revenue and increasing time spent browsing. By billing themselves as a front page, an authority, they can increase user trust and increase user engagement.

News sites are especially subject to this — just look at the way Vice, the New York Times, and the Washington Post all have slick, mobile-reminiscent interfaces. Facebook and Reddit, two predominantly browser-based web sites, have also recently converted their interfaces to more 'modern', app-like structures. This comes with a simplification of interface, replacing links with buttons, indexes with sidebars and headers. By changing the metaphors, they are in effect changing our mode of interaction. A button implies an action that is self referential, something that takes an input and plugs this input into itself to return a function. A button is a way of shutting oneself off from the rest of the world, excluding the rest of the internet. A button screams 'interact with ME, and only ME.' The hyperlink, once lauded as a exquisite metaphor for the elasticity and interconnectedness of the internet, has all but disappeared. This format came with its own problems, most dramatically the ability to mark 'places' that you've already been, but it at least implied a sort of level playing field. Plain text hyperlinks looked pretty much the same everywhere, discounting the occasional image or homepage link. Thus, even the formerly slightly-freer world of the browser has fallen victim to the same app-ification that our mobile devices have experienced for over a decade now.

We are collectively losing the sense that the internet is an infrastructure meant for everyone. We can all post content on social media, yes, but it is always mediated through a corporate medium. We lose the interconnectedness that the internet once promised, the ability to explore vast depths of collected human knowledge, the potential to stumble across something truly hidden or unexplored, a website created by someone just for fun, just to tell a story in a creative way. Instagram has all but banned links to outside content — 'link in bio' is the only way of connecting users to the outside world. Apps like to pretend that they are their own one and only, that they are independent of the influence of others. Style guides for apps exist for a reason, and there is certainly an argument for usability and accessibility in computing, but this comes with a price.

Of course, it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to understand their computer from the ground up, or that in order to use the internet at all would require a great deal of programming knowledge (although more on the idea of skill in a later post). In fact, there might even be argument that technology like computers is so alienating from their material grounding that they can never be used responsibly (but that’s another article). But short of this, I believe there is a way that we could be designing interfaces that would encourage at least some questioning of the processes at play. An interface that is too slick, too all consuming doesn’t allow for such questions. Screens are already known to be psychologically manipulative, but perhaps if our digital landscape weren’t so homogenous, we might have a better chance at reclaiming our dopamine receptors from the borg.

Laundry Day

Sam Debatin | Tue 07 Jun 2022 04:30:19 PM EDT

I, much like less than 20% of Americans, do not own a washer or dryer. Nor do I have access to one in a building, despite the mysterious presence of a laundry shoot in one of my seven closets. I'm sure dumping your clothes straight into the ick of a basement floor was somehow helpful in the olden days, but for my purposes I'm really looking for somewhere I can throw my laundry that will end with it being clean.

That place just so happens to be a laundromat, where you don't have to pay for water or electricity, but actually you do because it's five dollars to wash your clothes in a place far from home.

So now I’m sitting in a laundromat -- or rather, I was sitting in a laundromat. I am actually sitting in my car writing, because somehow it is less embarrassing to sit in the passenger seat of my own car writing on a MacBook than it is to do so sitting at one of the many dingy tables dotted around the perimeter. Each time a car goes by it rattles my little 900-lb shitbox as if a small tornado were blasting by. I’m pretty sure my seats are lower than the curb. Also, because its laundry day and I have procrastinated deeply since moving, I am completely commando in skinny jeans. Probably another good reason to sit in the car.

The adventure has been rather unadventurous so far, although there have been a couple moments of note. First, a girl sitting at the next table smiled at me. Having not spoken to anyone all day, I did not smile back and instead grimaced at the coins in my hand. This being a coin laundry, you have to change your bills into coins -- paper for metal. “Seems like a good deal,” I thought (as metal is obviously more valuable than paper), and it seemed even better when the machine spat two silver dollars back at me along with the three standard gold dollars.

In my haste, I figured these silver dollars might be worth something, so I put in another dollar to avoid having to use them. Three coins to wash, one to dry. As I sat down contemplating the coins (and subsequently ignoring the friendly girl), a man speaking loud Spanish to his mom expertly snapped his pants straight, folding them into neat, creaseless piles. Someday I will learn this trick, just as I will someday learn Spanish.

At the same moment, a woman pushing her cat in a stroller began pacing just outside the laundromat, muttering about whether to take her cat home before or after she went to the bar. She decided on before, whining to no one, “maybe I should take you home first?”

After considering a number of options (cafe, library, and grocery store were all on my mind as time killers), I decided to just sit and wait at the laundromat. I have a prime parking spot and making a forty minute trek to a library I don’t have a card at for a half hour load of laundry seemed overkill.

When the wash cycle was finished, I expertly used a cart to transfer my laundry from washer to dryer, only dropping a few items on the greasy floor. It’s ok, I thought, my socks stuck to the walls of this thing anyway. Drying is only one dollar, so I popped in my last gold coin like the good laundry goblin we all should be, selected medium rare on the washer, and returned to my table, again staring blankly at the beige (and pinkish?) walls adorned by a tropical wallpaper runner. Homey.

I don’t know if there is a way to change the time options on these machines -- they use oddly specific times. Washing takes thirty-one minutes and drying takes forty-eight, for a grand total of seventy-nine minutes, or an hour-nineteen. Because of this, I wasn’t sure if this was some kind of “auto-dry” scenario where the dryer suspiciously knows how wet your clothes are. Humans actually have no sense for wetness, and as it turns out, neither did those dryers. Twenty-some minutes in I went to check if I still had drying time, and lo-and-behold, my dryer is motionless. “Finished!” I thought. Wrong -- because of the way the dryers are stacked, I had mistakenly selected the upper dryer and not the lower one. The upper one was completely empty, but spinning quite nicely. I paid a dollar to heat a couple cubic feet of air and someone else’s bone-dry sock. So much for saving the silver coins -- I paid another dollar. Thankfully they weren’t real silver anyway.

I was hoping for some kind of solidarity with the other laundromat users. But seeing as I’m an idiot, I am now stuck here for longer than the normal generation of launderers. Gone are my familiar kin, the smiling girl, the Spanish pants-snapper, the indie-headphone-eye-roller. I am here with a new crowd, one who started their laundry later than me and will likely leave before I am done. My old table has been taken over by a middle-aged man with an iPad, peering over his reading glasses-sunglasses dual setup and tapping fretfully over some website. I wish him luck.

As I sit here, I'm also thinking about yesterday. Yesterday, my first official day of work, I had the fortune of inspecting an older gentleman's piano. On the phone he had seemed mildly testy, but that is also to be expected from somewhat geriatric rich people. He told me somewhat gruffly to "meet me at my apartment development building, it's in a commerce zone," which wasn't exactly a clear description of location. The address was much more informative.

Upon meeting him, I introduced myself. "Hi, I'm Sam, techical service director at Solich Piano," or something similar that tried desperately not to belie the fact that I had worked at this job exactly one day and done exactly zero piano inspections in my life. Instead of returning my greeting, our man (let's call him Michael, shall we?) promptly began telling me about his proudest accomplishments as a brass musician. And as a carpenter, and also as a millionaire, parent, and real estate agent. Tit-for-tat, I guess -- my greeting wasn’t exactly authentic either.

Politely nodding and agreeing, I let him run his course, and each time his body language said "we're going inside," he would rock back on his heels and begin a new set of ramblings. I really have no idea how long we stood there, probably only five minutes, but it was enough to learn that there wasn't a single band back in the day that would play without him on backup brass, he built 22-million dollar homes for 100-million dollar men, and that his children have learned the value and appreciation of music solely through him foisting piano lessons upon them through age eighteen.

When he decided I was wise enough to his life to enter his "apartment development building" (which was in fact in a "commerce zone," located on a similarly vaguely-titled "Commerce Drive"), we made our way to this room that supposedly held a piano. Between the front door and our room was a massive indoor garden, but despite being likely planted in '93 all the plants were still inches high. This is because plastic does not grow.

"Michael" showed me to an entirely gauche (and not entirely womblike) head-to-toe pink room, which contained 1. a couple dozen sets of antique furniture, 2. an overwhelming smell of cheap whiskey and 3. one pre-1980 Mason and Hamlin piano. The furniture, much like the piano, came from Michael's old house, which he had built and was accordingly over 9000 square feet, all of which he frequently (and proudly) navigated blindfolded. I'm not sure if the whiskey smell was of the same genesis. As I inspected the piano, he began to once again run through the same sequence of accomplishments. Carpentry, house building, house selling, house navigating, and house owning. And also child producing and child rearing.

I told him his piano looked nice. He said he knew that, and also that it was solid mahogany, and that it was better than other pianos because it was mahogany. As a carpenter, he should know. He escorted me out, and blankly stared at me while I told him it was nice to meet him, then told me once again that he was a brass player. I got in my 2001 Saturn, and he got in his 2019 Cadillac. We played a game of chicken, wherein the winner is the last to leave the parking lot. I won, but only because I was embarrassed that my car’s muffler was so loud and didn’t start my car until he had picked his music and driven away.

My laundry has six minutes left. A man walked by muttering that his bicycle has caused him a world of pain, only to disgustedly throw it on the ground in the doorway of the laundromat. I suppose it is free. Unlike my fellow experienced launderers who brought suitcases, duffel bags, and carts, I brought two largish shopping bags. While others are using the folding tables to neatly and crisply fold their laundry while it is still hot, I will instead expertly shove my laundry into these two largish shopping bags and fold it when it is wrinkly at home. I’m glad Spanish-mom-phone-pants-snapper can’t see me now. I am still judged by Sitting-iPad-man, who has now upgraded to Standing-iPhone-Man, still peering fretfully over his phone but now at the folding tables.

On my way home, I missed my turn and made an old man angry for stopping to look at sparrows dust bathing. I haven’t met my upstairs neighbors yet, so when I heard one coming down as I was keying into my apartment, I pretended to fumble with my keys to stall so I could introduce myself. I blindly said “Hi, I live here!” to which she replied, “Me too, upstairs!” I feigned surprise, despite watching her walk from one of the only two apartments upstairs. At least I can put underwear on now, though.

Suburbia is Intoxicating

Sam Debatin | Mon 14 Feb 2022 11:15:42 AM EST

I spent this weekend staying in a house in Columbus, in the suburb of Worthington, Ohio. I had never been to a real suburb house (except for the gated community my cousins live in in California, which is its own story...), so it was fascinating to experience what a real McMansion is like on the inside.1 This place was like a time capsule from the 1990s. Every room had its own tv, lifted straight from 1995.

Despite adamently opposing suburban lifestyles all my life, I couldn't help but feel strangely comforted staying there. And yes, it was the fact the house was large and carpeted and cushy (and also nostalgic to some degree), but it was really the silence. Every room was so quiet -- you could just find your nook and sit there. If you didn't want to be around people, you could just move to another room and feel like you were in a whole different house.

This isn't to say that I'm going to up and move to suburbia, but I think it made me realize how distracting and mind-boggling living somewhere crowded is. I think I'm very sensitive to noises, even if it's just car noise from outside. It made my head feel clear and uncluttered to have almost no outside noise filtering in. On the other hand, I can see how that would also be disconcerting after a while -- there is nobody on the street, no sidewalks, no sense of people gathering or wandering around.

TL;DR: I like the peace and quiet, but is that justified or just antisocial behavior?

1. As seen as on McMansion Hell

Denk Plays Adams: A Review (or: geriatric LARPING)

Sam Debatin | Mon 07 Feb 2022 07:52:28 PM EST

Despite living in Ohio for most of my life, I've somehow never made it to the Cleveland Orchestra. And despite the Cleveland Orchestra consistenly ranking among the top five orchestras in the country, I've never registered that they are only a little over three hours away. That's a pretty short drive for world class musicianship. After enrolling in their student program and finding out that I can buy week-of tickets for only $15, I scoured their calendar for something worth going to.

A program entitled Denk Plays Adams caught my eye. I recognized both names -- I've enjoyed Jeremy Denk's playing for a while now, although mostly through his Goldberg Variations, which are good if not a little overhyped. John Adams is familiar to me mostly through the movie Call Me by Your Name, which uses his piece Hallelujah Junction as a major thematic work. Name recognition seemed as good a way as any to choose a day, so here we are. Row J, seat 201.1

To be completely honest, I'm not sure if Adams's conducting (or even composition) are quite my style. In comparison with other conductors I've seen, Adams seemed stiff and uninspired, not giving the musicians all that much to work with. I don't know if stiff is his idea of the conducting required for minimalist pieces, or if he simply is not a very expressive conductor to begin with.

I don't really want to belabor the minutae of the performance, though. The orchestra played well and seemed to be having a good time, and the pieces were overall good. The program was as follows:

  1. Reich - Three Movements for Orchestra
  2. Simon - Fate Now Conquers
  3. Smith - Tumblebird Contrails
  4. Glass - Façades from Glassworks
  5. Adams - Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes?

If you want to know what I liked best for some reason, here they are in order of best to worst along with a two second review of each:

  1. Reich - Three Movements for Orchestra
  2. Adams - Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes?
  3. Smith - Tumblebird Contrails
  4. Simon - Fate Now Conquers
  5. Glass - Façades from Glassworks

Reich in real life is incredible. It treminds me why I like strings and counterpoint. Adams was quite good although a little dissonant at times in a way that didn't make sense to my ears. Smith is a brand new composer who managed to pull off sound effect music in a way that wasn't gimmicky and still harmonically complex. Simon was too bombastic for my taste, but played very well. I like Glass less every time I hear him -- what's up with his sense of harmony?

· · ·

Anyway, on to more interesting matters.

I spent nearly the entire day with old people. Having gone to the Van Gogh exhibition in Columbus as well that day (which was well worth the visit and warrants its own post -- coming soon) and gone out to dinner at a family Italian place, I was struck by how much I actually liked old people. I know that as a twenty-two year old I'm supposed to be annoyed by anyone older than thirty, but old people just know how to hang out like nobody else. I felt at home just perusing the paintings, sitting calmly and eating and listening to a concert. They had nothing to prove, no reason to show off. Having probably exhausted every other topic of conversation in their life already, the octogenarians among the crowd were content with simply talking about a nice set of lawn chairs they used the other day. Maybe that's just normal conversation, I don't know, but I appreciated how people were able to take a moment and talk to one another. Also -- nobody was on their phone during intermission save for one or two millenial interlopers. Darn millenials.

I wonder sometimes if that difference is real, or if it is simply in my head. And if it is real, is that generational, or does that just happen when you get old? Why am I wanting to sit in a comfy chair and spend the evening reading and doing the crossword?2 What happened to going to parties? I used to care about that, but I really just want to chill. My ideal day is sitting and sipping coffee with my friends for hours. Is that too much to ask?

Sometimes I wish I had more performances where people actually listened. While I like when people are dancing and chatting and even sometimes screaming, I sometimes feel like any musicality I attempt to convey is just lost in a mass of screams and noise. It was nice to be a part of a crowd where everybody is forced to listen intently, all enjoying music that is best listened to intently.

I know I linked a photo3 of the interior of the hall above, but I wanted to include a couple more photos of the lobby area. Built in the early 20th century, Severance hall is this weird Orientalist art-deco mashup, featuring ornate railings, "egyptian"(?) people, and palms. Harper remarked: we are on the Titanic right now. It feels nice to enter a space that, although its steeped in bourgeois fantasies and whatnot, is actually kind of nice and people treat it that way? Like you can wear a suit jacket and not feel out of place. It seems good for the soul to dress up every once in a while and feel fancy. We don't often get the opportunity to do that in the 21st century, so I'm glad there are still places that allow for us to play a little dressup.

1. Those seats normally cost upwards of $140. Thank you student prices for letting me think I'm a bougie old man.
2. Crosswords have recently been reinvigorated in me. With everyone playing WORDLE (which I actually quite like now), I've been reminded that language games are a. extremely fun and b. extremely difficult. Maybe when I'm fifty I'll understand more of the pop-culture references in them, although that always seems difficult to me.
3. I will never embed photos in this blog. However, I will be more than happy to link to photos.

Joe Burrow

Sam Debatin | Sun 30 Jan 2022 11:18:07 PM EST

Here's a snack for a Sunday evening: Joe Burrow just led the Cincinnati Bengals to the Superbowl. Whether they will win is still in the air as of writing (check back for an update, although google would work too), but just the mere fact that somebody from my high school is going to be playing in the superbowl has me reeling. And he's not just any player -- Burrow is mentioned in the same breath as Brady these days. He's a household name, and I used to pee next to that guy.

While I can't say that I'm a sports fan really, I do kind of love football. I don't often have the desire to watch it, but I usually enjoy it when I do, and a good football game will give you a heart attack faster than the chicken wings you'll be munching on. It's funny to watch now everybody who was not a football fan before suddenly become a fan as somebody they know of more closely is involved in it. I won't get on my high horse and say "I'm the nerd who liked football before all the other nerds!" because that's not what this is about. I wish we were more accepting of people coming to like things. It's beautiful when it happens -- to quote one friend, "I don't understand how it works, but I like yelling with a beer in hand."

Besides yelling at a TV (which is of course great fun), I have also had multiple people confess that they hadn't realized how beautiful the game is. I am no expert, but a good passing game is a pleasure, even when nothing much else is happening. Though I could do without the constant commercial breaks, it is nice to be able to go grab another snack during those times.

I don't have a great thesis for this post, other than sports are kinda great and those of us who are not "sports types" should take more time to appreciate them. Baseball is another new favorite of mine -- read Roger Angell's "In the Fire" if you need any convincing that that game is worthwhile.1 There's an elegance and a simplicity to the craft of sports. To be a good quarterback is to understand a field of combatting players, make the right call in the moment, and then visualize the right pass so it lands just so. There is a lot at play, so to speak, in every sport, and while you may not be a fan of sports culture as it were, take a minute and just watch the highlights of a game.2 These are people who truly understand the thing they do. They believe in what they do, not because of some higher goal, but because it is good and fun and fulfilling in itself. I don't know many people who can say the same about their own lives.

1. Available here, if you have (godforbid) a New Yorker subscription. Update: I now have a New Yorker subscription for a couple weeks.
2. My recommendation, which did not make it into this post, is to watch tennis. Preferably Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal, though Federer is overrated for a reason -- his grace and styling are unmatched.

Bach, Religion, and What To Do With Yourself

Sam Debatin | Sat 29 Jan 2022 12:19:35 PM EST

Should you be a monk? I keep thinking about that, and though I have a strong desire to self isolate and simply think and reconfigure, I have a hard time wanting to abandon my normal life. And yet, I am continually called by the peace and reflection that would be required of a monastic lifestyle. Imagine -- quiet rooms, waking at sunrise, no phones, no over saturated stimulation.1 Where would you even do that though? Because as much as I love the aesthetic of a Catholic seminary, I don't think I could feasibly invest myself so wholeheartedly into being a true Catholic.

On that note though, I have been reading the Old Testament - or more accurately, the Hebrew Bible. Reading is good for you, as is writing. Time and time again I find myself returning to the values of this website as fundamental to what I believe.2 Text is important, reading is important. Images are deceptive and treacherous, and yet still powerful reminders of humanity. Perhaps it is right that some knowledge is limited. Christine Hayes, a leading scholar of the Old Testament and Talmudic studies, won't let her children read the bible. In Eco's The Name of the Rose, knowledge of certain books is treated as not suitable for young learners, leaving those texts to be interpreted by more wise and learned master scholars. While in some ways Eco's book is a critique on this stance, I think there is some truth to that statement.

It would be easy to dismiss this as a puritanical stance on knowledge, but I think of all the texts and works of art that have been so wrongly misinterpreted. People simply aren't ready for certain texts before a point in their learning. I really don't know where to draw that line, or whether that is a line to be drawn at all. Learning takes time. Or so I think? I haven't really done enough myself to know. What I do know is we all need time for reflection and meditation, and I don't think that nearly anybody is doing that. Blame the internet if you want, although that's a problem that is related to too many other things. How do you have the time to reflect if you are working all day? I sometimes think mail carriers must be some of the wisest people on the planet.

If he isn't already, Bach will soon be a subject of reiteration on this blog. While I have stated already that I am not sure about my own religious practices, Bach is the closest I have found to evidence for a divine order of the world. Whatever he was doing channeled something more intricate and deeper than most people could ever imagine. Sitting and listening to Bach alone is an act of contemplation in itself. The emotional complexity and depth with which he composes is somehow deeper and more intimate than any Romantic artist I have ever found. Sure, Chopin draws out the heartbreak and the day to day emotions, but there's something existential about Bach in the way that he draws out repetition and reflection and thematic development. I have no good words to describe him nor do I really have the musical vocabulary and experience to accurately pick out what is happening, so I will leave it at that.3

My overall point being, I don't think I believe in art that is not religious. I actually don't like the word spiritual, although perhaps it would be a more apt descriptor for what I believe, so religious it is. Because it is not simply a personal connection, it is a sense that the complexity and inner machinations of his art speak to something broader than our own personal spiritual experience. I feel a connection not just with a sense of a higher being, but with all those who have experiences. Cheesy? For sure. True? Undeniably.

And for that reason I think I am sometimes compelled towards religious experiences -- it is not simply a place of personal reflection, ideally a place of communal elevation. It is not enough to be personally spiritually enlightened, but rather it is necessary that those around you are working towards similar goals. In an ideal world, this monastic community would be the university, and at times in history, I think we have seen that. But the university today is nothing more than a career machine, with perhaps a couple of classes that bring about a sense of something greater. I have learned during my time in university, for sure, but it does not feel like I have learned as a group. There is no sense of a cohort, no sense that those around me are reaching similar conclusions, and no spaces that actively encourage discussion. I want to talk about my thoughts without feeling like it is an imposition to others. And sure, I have friends who are interested in this too, but damn it if it isn't hard to socially organize when none of the institutions you are a part of seem to make that any kind of priority. I feel constantly as though I am wasting my time, and yet I know it is counterproductive to think that way. One week at a time, as my mentor told me last week, but that only seems to get me so far. Thus, I'm back at square one -- I need a monastery.

Maybe I'll win the lottery and be able to spend my days contemplating, but even that seems undesirable. What about the thrill of drama, of vices, of vast emotional highs and lows? Are these truly devilish vices, or are they part of a human experience? Should I be pious or nihilistic? Hmm.

Something tells me there is more to be learned in the nature of languages. I spend too much time thinking about words and talking to not know more about what it is the words are doing. Words feel translucent at best, hiding something greater.

Either way, take a minute and listen to some Bach. Preferably the Partitas (Bb has recently been my favorite). Maybe after graduation I'll ditch my devices except for a laptop and just maintain my life around books and music. They seem comfortable and less treacherous than images, and certainly less so than screens.

1. As a side note, I think I am born to be a watchman. I wake at the smallest noise, and would do very well guarding a primeval campfire.
2. See post here. Also see this post for a good breakdown of how to use images.
3. I really hate writing about art. Words don't do it good, that's why it's art. But that's another post. Why am I an art history major again?

Tonsillectomy, or high-altitude re-entry

Sam Debatin | Sat 11 Dec 2021 12:29:18 AM EST

Ok first of all: tonsillectomy is a horrible word. Like really just gross. In fact all of the -ectomy words can really just get out.

With that out of the way, I don't really want to write up a whole "this was my tonsillectomy experience" post because there are a million of those and it's mostly nasty and not that interesting. You mostly just sit around, hope you don't bleed, and go through a week and a half long misery sampler pack.

I'm writing this at the end of day seven after the surgery, feeling largely better although still in a decent amount of pain. That week has felt like a month, and although that is in some ways horrible, I also kind of like that in retrospect? There's something kind of enlightening about spending a week in misery and then slowly pulling yourself out of it to rejoin the regular world. Well, maybe enlightening is too strong a word, maybe more like illuminating? Of course it's awful to sit around and do nothing all day, but it's also a good reset button. I'm finding myself more interested in my hobbies again, more eager to go on walks and experience the world, and socially starved enough that even just hanging out for half an hour feels like I had a really good and intense conversation with someone. Now, I still can't talk very well, but as that slowly returns I know that that will be another pleasant descent into normalcy.

This post is becoming another one of my extremely lukewarm takes, but hear me out. Those experiences of misery are a little bit like orbiting at high altitude. You get to spend a lot of time alone, it's not very comfortable, but you also get to see things that you wouldn't normally see. Even though I only "saw" the walls of my mom's house for a week, its given my brain a lot of time to come out of the regular pathways of thought that it occupies. It's been a complete disruption in my life, and in some ways I hardly feel like the same person. It's easy to switch between feeling ecstatic and dissociative, but the less shitty I feel, the closer it moves towards ecstatic. I think this is some people's experience with hallucinogenic drugs, albeit not mine necessarily, but that feeling of completely losing yourself for a while, becoming something that isn't you at all, and then returning to your normal life with some kind of time and perspective on your side seems like a good thing to practice occasionally.

I guess you could call this controlled sickness, in a sense? I've had surgeries before, but none of them with quite this long of a recovery time. I can imagine that it would get pretty annoying if the recovery were any longer, and I don't want to romanticize misery or pain, because I don't think that's what it is. I guess I mean that it's nice to have some time to just do absolutely nothing and eschew all responsibilities? Like there's absolutely no way anyone is going to make me do anything in the state that I'm in, and I like that. It feels good.

Edit: I also think that at a basic level we're all overworked and maybe I just function better when I don't have a million things to do every day. Turns out creativity shines when your brain is not stressed...

Edit 2, January 31, 2022: Now that I'm almost two months out from the surgery, all that feels like a dream. Re-reading this post made me remember what it was like to re-enter social life, and at this point I"m so fully reintegrated that I kind of wish I had another disruption to make me appreciate the life. Or maybe I just need to appreciate the life as it is more...

Why does my bed always break?

Sam Debatin | Sun 21 Nov 2021 08:27:05 PM EST

I'm frequently greeted at night time by a sagging, lifeless, limp excuse of a mattress. Not that the mattress has anything to do with it, in fact its a solid, well-to-do mattress that has served me well. The problem is the bedframe -- for whatever reason (humidity, wear, old age) the frame bows out at an extraordinary angle. This results in the boards that support my mattress falling through and leaving my mattress with no support at all. Humph.

I really can't find any real cause of this? Like it feels so arbitrary when my bed falls apart, and every time its infuriating. There's something about sitting down to relax on your bed and then having the lower half of it just crack and sink to the ground that really just hurts me deeply. It's too bad because I kinda like the bed frame aesthetically, but it just doesn't seem to serve me very well.

There's no larger message here, I'm just whining.

Towards blogidarity

Sam Debatin | Thu 18 Nov 2021 11:53:35 AM EST

At the risk of making every post on this website just a little too meta, I've been thinking a lot about the potential of the blog to be much more personally engaging than any other form of social media. I've finally deleted instagram - hopefully for good - and am looking to alternatives. My question, of course, is do I truly need an alternative?? I've thought about just writing off any digital communications, and there are days when it seems like any and all digital media are just inherently flawed and disgusting. There's a part of me though that has more hope than that, and would like to strive towards some kind of reachable ideal. That ideal, in this case, being blogging. It seems like having a website has the potential to be much more fluid and open than regular social media. Yes, there's no comment system - yes, there's no sharing beyond copy-pasting links, but that's the fun of it! We have become so used interacting socially on these platforms in such a mitigated way that there is no longer room for personal expression. Instagram might be cleaner than my website, but where's the character? Where are the half-broken links, the text posts, the stupid embedded gifs? Running a little website is like decorating your room. Return to teenagehood and cover your space in tacky posters! Or don't, I don't care - maybe you want a tidy little space with nothing in it.

Dramatic declarations aside, there's also something much more intimate and real about a slowly evolving, largely text-based webpage. We like to think of the web as being fast, and it's true, internet speeds are stupid fast these days. Save for some of our more rural regions, gone are the days of dial-up burps and hiccups clattering through the living room. And yet, as fast as your internet might be, the content of a webpage is only as fast as the person updating it. I can choose to write regularly - weekly, or even daily - or else I can choose to ruminate, and let the page build gradually into a hyperlinked map of my thoughts over time.

As of this writing, I know two other people who are interested in blogging. As my crusade gathers steam (as it surely will -- who wouldn't want to blog?!), I will continue to update that list on my homepage. Also, if anybody has any ideas about what to put on a homepage, let me know. Maybe I need more pictures? More to come.

Thoughts on The Office (2005)

Sam Debatin | Fri 05 Nov 2021 08:19:12 PM EDT

You're probably thinking - wow, what a lame topic. Basic-ass show, The Office. And I would agree, but that's in part the point of this little piece (and by little I mean littttle, this could easily be a journal article with enough time and recklessness). I personally think the show is hilarious. Lukewarm takes aside, I find it interesting that so many people are so enthralled by the show, and that it has created such a niche for itself specifically among white suburbanites as the ultimate "comfort show." In my opinion, this has something to do with the way that the show essentially creates a little corporate utopia -- yes, there's conflict, but never more than "who is the real boss???" or "will Jim and Pam ever get together??" These conflicts serve as great plot devices for sure, but at the same time, there is a sense that whatever office environment these people are existing in is ultimately good. For many people, I get the feeling that this translates into a broader assumption about corporate workplaces. Perhaps it is possible to have a happy corporate life, they might assume. And maybe it is -- I write this not to drag the show for this quality, but instead because I find it fascinating and almost inspiring. I recently read Jose Munoz's Cruising Utopia, and have been thinking about the ways that he understands these microcosms as minor utopias. Maybe it is possible to have a beautiful quirkly little office, or at the very least, it's beautiful to think about.

I'm already getting exhausted just thinking about the way that the more hardcore marxists might respond to this -- accusing me of endorsing media that spreads corporate lies and encourages people to keep their heads down and just romanticize their horrible working conditions rather than actively fight for change -- and I totally see that criticism. I think it's not entirely invalid either. Again, it's no surprise that the show seems to be especially popular with young suburbanites majoring in advanced management and office studies or something of the sort. But I also have no desire to write off media that brings joy to thousands of people, especially when it seems to be just as possible to read as a study in interpersonal relations and the ability to reconcile and build solidarity as an office.

TL;DR: don't come at me, I know the show is "problematic" probably, but maybe we can read something good in it too?

Sickness and fall

Sam Debatin | Wed 03 Nov 2021 10:30:15 PM EDT

It's cold, cold, cold. I do love the winter that way sometimes -- can you tell I think a lot about weather?? -- but I would be enjoying it a lot more if I wasn't so darn sick again... Something about this fall coming out of covid lockdown has just made every cold so much worse than ever. This time around it's 101 degree fever, sore throat, and a whole lot of body aches. Oh well. Shit happens.

I've been passing the time watching youtube and The Office -- I'll have some thoughts on The Office to post soon. Something-something corporate feel-good media? But also wholesome? More to come.

Not much else to say today honestly, looking forward to getting better so I can enjoy the cold weather more. It's hard sitting at home all day.

This website takes up a surprising amount of my time. Reconfiguring things and creating pages is quite time consuming turns out. I know the front page says that this is an experiment in lightweight web design, but I'm curious if SQL could be implemented for something. I don't quite understand it yet, but I've heard tell of its great data management properties. Not that I have any data to manage...


Sam Debatin | Sun 31 Oct 2021 10:17:28 PM EDT

It's Halloween in Ohio, in my opinion one of the best kind of spook there is. There's something just extra special about the way that the spooky season feelings manifest in Ohio, and really the midwest overall. And we're lucky here in Athens too -- we get a cool combination of Appalachian spooky hills and also that all-American what-could-go-wrong-in-suburbia feel. The trees feel deathly, the wire fences bring out a certain industrial charm, and the way the light filters through those humid, overcast skies creates such a compelling ambiance. I often think about the way that the "holiday season" feels timeless, and winter/colder months more broadly feel the same. It seems fitting that Halloween kicks that off. It's not usually thought of as being a particularly communal holiday, but it feels that way to me. As I was sitting on my mom's front steps earlier this evening, handing out candy to little kids, I kept thinking about how trick or treat is really a family affair. The neighbors invited us for squash soup and chili, which my mom unfortunately declined, but I thought that was the nicest gesture. I wish I had gotten some, but I guess that means I will just have to make some squash soup and chili of my own. (is it chili or chilli??) I appreciate that the real entry to the cold and harsh winter months is essentially a societally condoned practice of going crazy for a night or two, dressing up as something horrifying and letting the world believe you're something you're not. I don't really believe in ghosts, but I believe in the spirit of ghosts, if that makes any sense at all.

Related: I've seen Over the Garden Wall nearly twice through now, and it is still incredible. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend to take a look before fall fades away into winter. It captures that timeless sense of wonder that accompanies Halloween incredibly well. I know that is at most an incredibly lukewarm take, but I can't emphasize enough how well that show constructs a world. It's a world that I feel I used to live in as a kid, and watching that show brought a lot back to me from those feelings. I have the overwhelming urge to sit in the middle of a forest and just absorb the magic of the forest. Like I said before, there's something extra special about the Appalachian hills -- knowing they are ancient, and might carry with them hidden powers or something. And the way it feels like you're always a step away from getting irreversibly lost makes my stomach drop in the best way. I miss when I used to have a moped and could just ride around in the cool fall air, taking in the changing leaves and slowly dying plants. Perhaps tomorrow I will take a moment to just lie somewhere and let the creep creep up. Happy Halloween, S

Quick update

Sam Debatin | Fri 29 Oct 2021 03:24:24 PM EDT

I know I haven't written on this website in months, but I just wanted to provide a quick update on the direction of this site. I'm hoping to keep up with some text posts, maybe write about my film score project more, and hopefully produce some more things to post, like potentially some songs and audio works. I want to blog regularly about things I think about, and I'm hoping that in writing this now, I'll actually do that. Last year I got pretty caught up in actually making the site that I hardly had any time to create any content for it. So, here comes new content. Will post more soon. Best, S.

Thoughts on Cheryl Dunye's The Watermelon Woman (1996)

Sam Debatin | Mon 04 Jan 2021 03:18:24 EST

So the history isn't a real history. What is it then? Pure entertainment? Because that doesn't seem quite right either. In fact, The Watermelon Woman walks a fine line between telling a historically relevant story and not telling a history at all. Cheryl Dunye, the films protagonist (and coincidentally, the film's real-life director) tells the story of "the watermelon woman," a film actor from the early twentieth century. The watermelon woman (whose real name was Faeh Richards), turns out to have quite a bit in common with Cheryl — they are both lesbian, they both have relationships with white women, and they both are interested in film. Cheryl tries to dive into the history of this mysterious figure, but ends up running up against countless dead ends. Archives don't want to give her the material she is looking for, and libraries are less than helpful, leading her to seek out personal testimony as her main source of information. After a couple failed attempts and some conflicting information, Cheryl is left at the end with a still incomplete history, full of contradictions and multi-faceted narratives.

This all comes with one caveat though — none of the people or sources exist in real life. While Cheryl is a real person, Faeh Richards never existed, and neither did any of the films she supposedly starred in. To me, this leaves us with a problem: what was the point of telling a history that never happened? Cheryl could have just as well chosen a real actress from the thirties, delved deep into her relations and personal life, and probably come up with a fairly fascinating story to tell. Instead, the real Cheryl Dunye went to the effort of staging over seventy eight historical photographs, developing a background for each of them, and ultimately telling a story about a woman who never existed, all through the lens of a fictional rom-com. Assuming in good faith that this was not done out of laziness or disregard for the truth, why tell such a story?

Partly, the answer is practical. Dunye has said in interviews that they tried to use real archival footage, but were put off by the high price to license such material. And, not only was this material expensive, much of it was missing context and it would have been quite difficult to piece together any kind of meaningful history for the film. And as for what I think may have mostly driven the piece, Dunye had a creative vision, and says so quite blatantly at the end of the film: "sometimes you have to create your own history. The Watermelon Woman is fiction." To me, The Watermelon Woman seems to be less about a single story and more about the difficulty of telling stories. It is near impossible to do historical work on stories and people whose stories have not been told previously. Not only are there barriers in terms of sheer information, but people are unwilling to help, as seen in multiple scenes where Cheryl is treated like a kind of interloper by the white archivists, librarians, and interviewees.

But still, this doesn't tell the whole story either. Watching this now, almost twenty-five years later, the piece is finally what it wanted to be all along — a collection of historical footage. In it, we can not only read the beginnings of New Queer Cinema (this was the first feature film directed by a black, openly lesbian woman), but the political turmoils of the 1990s over explicitly queer and sexual content. The film was later embroiled in a scandal involving the allocation of NEA grant funding, which provided $30,000 to the film's budget. The lesbian sex scene, although not particularly graphic, caught the attention of conservative politicians and pundits, and sparked a controversy over use of taxpayer money to fund what some lawmakers called "pornographic" content. Ironically, this is exactly the kind of escapade that The Watermelon Woman was looking to do research on. Conservatives and establishment figures did everything in their power to try to drown out the voices that were trying to make themselves heard through this film. Dunye has said herself that she often felt like she was being treated like the Watermelon Woman, a faceless, nameless entity in cinema whose only role is to serve as material for the structures of patriarchy and white supremacy to talk down upon. Fortunately, we do know who Dunye is, and we have quite a bit of material to work with to tell her story, as well as the stories of countless other queer and non-white film makers. In this way, Dunye has achieved her goal: to tell a story of a lesbian woman in film who would have otherwise been pushed aside to the sands of hegemony.

First post!

Sam Debatin | Jan 1 2020

This is the first real blog post that I am creating. It is blog post number 00001. It is part of a very simple (but also probably ultimately clunky) blog content management system I'm working on. Every post is tagged with a title, author, and date, as well as its post number (which is its filename). I then can run a bash script that goes through my ./posts directory in reverse order and adds them to a larger php file while adding a little bit more formatting.

Not a perfect system by far, but elegant in its own way. It avoids MySql and keeps editing posts simple. My only concern is that it will slow down when I get a larger number of posts, but we'll see. This is largely text posts anyway, so it can't be that slow.

By the way, did you know if you click post title (which is a link) it will take you to a permalinked version of the post? That way you can send these lame posts to all your friends! Also that might be a lie, still working on getting that to work.