Video: John Roderick on String Art Owls, Copper Pipe, and Bono’s Boss

Hotrod, with cape and flag

[jump to video]

Long story (not very) short? One night in 2003–after killing it in front of audience of about 30 lucky people in Oakland–The Long Winters needed a place to crash, and my wife and I were happy to oblige. 

So, they drove their Big Stinky Blue Van over the bridge, slept on our floor, and by breakfast the next morning, it’d become clear to me that I’d provided lodging to a man who was not only very likely a member of my karass–he was also one of the smartest bullshit artists I’d ever met. 

Almost eight years later, although I don’t see him nearly as much as I’d like, I still count the guy as one of my best pals ever.

That’s John Roderick. And, I think you need to know about him.

John doesn’t read this site–he’s more of a Twitter person–so I don’t risk feeding his astounding excess of dignity by saying he’s one of the most gifted writers and bon vivants of our generation. He’s just the best. In large part because he’s congenitally incapable of suffering bullshit.

This was never more apparent than the Saturday morning in 2007 when we sat in my back yard and talked about a lot of stuff. Playing guitar, advertising on the web, the evil work of promoters, and why everyone is always trying to shortchange everyone on copper pipe. 

That talking became a four-part interview I ran on the late and occasionally lamented The Merlin Show, and, to this day, it’s one of my favorite things I’ve been lucky enough to post to the web.

So, y’know how I’m definitely “not for everyone?” Well, John is really “not for everyone.”

He’s opinionated and arrogant and undiplomatic and unironically loves Judas Priest–meaning everyone will find at least one thing not to like about him. Despite being hairy and enjoying laying on your bed, John is not exactly a teddy bear. 

But, John’s also right a lot. And, he never sands off the edges of his personality or opinions to make you theoretically “like” him. Which, it will come as no surprise to you, is a big reason I love the guy more than a free prime rib dinner. 

So, why the jizzfest about that awful jerk, John Roderick?

Because, as I noted the other day on the Twitter, in our first episode of Back to Work I misattributed a line that should have been credited to John. Which in itself is unimportant, except inasmuch as finding that link to correct the error got me watching our 50-some minutes of chatting again. I also received some at-responses and emails that reminded me how much people enjoyed our chat. 

But, really it made me realize how much that rambling morning in my back yard still resonates so much with stuff I care a lot about. Independence. Agency. Directness. And, never apologizing for wanting to get paid. Also, guitars and talkative hippies.

So, anyway. John. 

I edited all four parts of the video into one big (streamable/downloadable) movie that should make it way easier to watch at a sitting. Should that interest you. Which it may not. Which, as ever, is totally fine, and kind of the point.

But. If you like Dan and my new show (and, seriously—God bless you magnificent bastards who helped briefly make B2W the most popular podcast in the world [gulp]), I think you’ll really like this interview a lot too. I hope so, anyway.

Thus, submitted for your disapproval, permit me to present my four-year-old visit with the acerbic, opinionated, and reportedly unlikeable bullshit artist whom I respect and adore more than just about anybody. 

Meet Hotrod.

43 Folders icon
Video: John Roderick on String Art Owls, Copper Pipe, and Bono’s Boss” was written by Merlin Mann for 43Folders.com and was originally posted on January 21, 2011. Except as noted, it’s ©2010 Merlin Mann and licensed for reuse under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0. “Why a footer?

Hotrod, with cape and flag

[jump to video]

Long story (not very) short? One night in 2003–after killing it in front of audience of about 30 lucky people in Oakland–The Long Winters needed a place to crash, and my wife and I were happy to oblige. 

So, they drove their Big Stinky Blue Van over the bridge, slept on our floor, and by breakfast the next morning, it’d become clear to me that I’d provided lodging to a man who was not only very likely a member of my karass–he was also one of the smartest bullshit artists I’d ever met. 

Almost eight years later, although I don’t see him nearly as much as I’d like, I still count the guy as one of my best pals ever.

That’s John Roderick. And, I think you need to know about him.

Continue reading “Video: John Roderick on String Art Owls, Copper Pipe, and Bono’s Boss”

“Back to Work” – Merlin’s New Thing with Dan Benjamin at 5by5.tv

[update 2011-01-18 @ 16:07:40: We’re up!]

5by5

5by5 Live

Before Christ was a corporal, Dan Benjamin was already a bit of a hero to me.

Since the early aughts–long before his insanely great 5by5.tv podcast network–Dan’s Hivelogic Enkoder was saving us millions of spam messages. His thoughtful tutorials on OS X (including unmissable advice on doing sane installs of MySQL and Rails, among others) are among the best on the web. His CSS has been widely stolen and reused without acknowledgment by thieves as diverse as other people and me. And his polymath posts on everything from Buddhism to The Paleo Diet to how to record a “Double-ender” have shown a charming combination of curiosity and empathy that, amongst numerous other reasons, clearly makes Dan a better human than me.

A propos of nothing, Dan’s also the guy who conducted one of (mp3) the three best interviews with me in which it’s been my good fortune to participate.1

Today, I’m honored to say that Dan and I are starting a thing together.

If it suits you, drop by 5by5.tv/live in about 35 minutes–at Noon Eastern/9am Pacific–to find out what we’re up to. I think it might be good. I’ll just say I’m as excited about this as I’ve been about any new project I’ve started in the past year or so.

Anyway. You can judge for yourself. Whether you can tolerate me or otherwise, definitely do not miss the work Dan’s doing at 5by5. Because it really is outstanding and very polished stuff.

As for our thing? My own goal, to paraphrase a bit from that interview with Dan, is to help you get excited, get better–and then?–Back to Work.

More soon. Thanks.


  1. Favorite interviews. Just for the sake of completion, my all-time favorite interview was conducted by Colin Marshall for The Marketplace of Ideas (mp3); Dan’s “The Pipeline” eppy with me was a close second; and David and Katie’s recent nerderrific interview on my Mac workflow (mp3) on Mac Power Users has turned out to be a lot of peoples’ favorite thing I’ve done in years (love LOVE David’s stuff). ↩


And…we’re up

Back to Work

Back to Work | Ep.#1: Alligator in the Bathroom

Download MP3 of “‘Back to Work,’ Ep. 1”

In the inaugural episode of Back to Work, Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin discuss why they’re doing this show, getting back to work instead of buying berets, the lizard brain, and compare the Shadow of the Mouse to San Francisco, and eventually get to some practical tips for removing friction.

It’s a start.

Feed icon Sexy Audio RSS Feed
iTunes icon Sexy Subscription via iTunes

Episode Links

43 Folders icon
“Back to Work” – Merlin’s New Thing with Dan Benjamin at 5by5.tv” was written by Merlin Mann for 43Folders.com and was originally posted on January 18, 2011. Except as noted, it’s ©2010 Merlin Mann and licensed for reuse under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0. “Why a footer?

[update 2011-01-18 @ 16:07:40: We’re up!]

5by5

5by5 Live

Before Christ was a corporal, Dan Benjamin was already a bit of a hero to me.

Since the early aughts–long before his insanely great 5by5.tv podcast network–Dan’s Hivelogic Enkoder was saving us millions of spam messages. His thoughtful tutorials on OS X (including unmissable advice on doing sane installs of MySQL and Rails, among others) are among the best on the web. His CSS has been widely stolen and reused without acknowledgment by thieves as diverse as other people and me. And his polymath posts on everything from Buddhism to The Paleo Diet to how to record a “Double-ender” have shown a charming combination of curiosity and empathy that, amongst numerous other reasons, clearly makes Dan a better human than me.

A propos of nothing, Dan’s also the guy who conducted one of (mp3) the three best interviews with me in which it’s been my good fortune to participate.1

Today, I’m honored to say that Dan and I are starting a thing together.

If it suits you, drop by 5by5.tv/live in about 35 minutes–at Noon Eastern/9am Pacific–to find out what we’re up to. I think it might be good. I’ll just say I’m as excited about this as I’ve been about any new project I’ve started in the past year or so.

Anyway. You can judge for yourself. Whether you can tolerate me or otherwise, definitely do not miss the work Dan’s doing at 5by5. Because it really is outstanding and very polished stuff.

As for our thing? My own goal, to paraphrase a bit from that interview with Dan, is to help you get excited, get better–and then?–Back to Work.

More soon. Thanks.


  1. Favorite interviews. Just for the sake of completion, my all-time favorite interview was conducted by Colin Marshall for The Marketplace of Ideas (mp3); Dan’s “The Pipeline” eppy with me was a close second; and David and Katie’s recent nerderrific interview on my Mac workflow (mp3) on Mac Power Users has turned out to be a lot of peoples’ favorite thing I’ve done in years (love LOVE David’s stuff). ↩


And…we’re up

Back to Work

Back to Work | Ep.#1: Alligator in the Bathroom

Download MP3 of “‘Back to Work,’ Ep. 1”

In the inaugural episode of Back to Work, Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin discuss why they’re doing this show, getting back to work instead of buying berets, the lizard brain, and compare the Shadow of the Mouse to San Francisco, and eventually get to some practical tips for removing friction.

It’s a start.

Feed icon Sexy Audio RSS Feed
iTunes icon Sexy Subscription via iTunes

Episode Links

43 Folders icon
“Back to Work” – Merlin’s New Thing with Dan Benjamin at 5by5.tv” was written by Merlin Mann for 43Folders.com and was originally posted on January 18, 2011. Except as noted, it’s ©2010 Merlin Mann and licensed for reuse under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0. “Why a footer?

No One Needs Permission to Be Awesome

Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address

No one wants to die, even people who want to go to Heaven don’t want to die to get there.

And yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it.

And that is as it should be. Because death is very likely the single best invention of life.

It’s life’s change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new.

[…]

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

None of us should ever have to face death to accept the inflexible and, too-often, novel sense of scarcity that it introduces.

In fact, it’d be great if we could each skip needing outside permission to be awesome by not waiting until the universe starts tapping its watch.

A simple start would involve each of us learning to care just a little more about a handful of things that simply aren’t allowed to leave with us–whether today, tomorrow, or whenever. Because, I really believe a lot of nice things would start to happen if we also stopped waiting to care. A whole lot of nice things.

If that sounds like fancy incense for hippies and children, perhaps in a way that seems frankly un-doable for someone as practical and important and immortal as yourself, then go face death.

Go get cancer. Or, go get crushed by a horse Or, go get hit by a van. Or, go get separated from everything you ever loved forever.

Then, wonder no longer whether caring about the modest bit of time you have here is only for fancy people and the terminally-ill.

Because, the sooner you care, the better you’ll make. The better you’ll do. And the better you’ll live.

Please don’t wait. The universe won’t.

43 Folders icon
No One Needs Permission to Be Awesome” was written by Merlin Mann for 43Folders.com and was originally posted on January 17, 2011. Except as noted, it’s ©2010 Merlin Mann and licensed for reuse under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0. “Why a footer?

Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address

No one wants to die, even people who want to go to Heaven don’t want to die to get there.

And yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it.

And that is as it should be. Because death is very likely the single best invention of life.

It’s life’s change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new.

[…]

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

None of us should ever have to face death to accept the inflexible and, too-often, novel sense of scarcity that it introduces.

In fact, it’d be great if we could each skip needing outside permission to be awesome by not waiting until the universe starts tapping its watch.

A simple start would involve each of us learning to care just a little more about a handful of things that simply aren’t allowed to leave with us–whether today, tomorrow, or whenever. Because, I really believe a lot of nice things would start to happen if we also stopped waiting to care. A whole lot of nice things.

If that sounds like fancy incense for hippies and children, perhaps in a way that seems frankly un-doable for someone as practical and important and immortal as yourself, then go face death.

Go get cancer. Or, go get crushed by a horse Or, go get hit by a van. Or, go get separated from everything you ever loved forever.

Then, wonder no longer whether caring about the modest bit of time you have here is only for fancy people and the terminally-ill.

Because, the sooner you care, the better you’ll make. The better you’ll do. And the better you’ll live.

Please don’t wait. The universe won’t.

43 Folders icon
No One Needs Permission to Be Awesome” was written by Merlin Mann for 43Folders.com and was originally posted on January 17, 2011. Except as noted, it’s ©2010 Merlin Mann and licensed for reuse under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0. “Why a footer?

Resolved: Stop Blaming the Pancake

In a classic bit from an early Seinfeld, Jerry and Elaine are at the airport, trying to pick up the rental car that Jerry had reserved. As usual, things go poorly and get awkward fast:

Seinfeld – “Reservations”

JERRY: I don’t understand…I made a reservation. Do you have my reservation?
AGENT: Yes, we do. Unfortunately, we ran out of cars.
JERRY: But, the reservation keeps the car here. That’s why you have the reservation.
AGENT: I know why we have reservations.
JERRY: I don’t think you do. If you did, I’d have a car. See, you know how to take the reservation–you just don’t know how to hold the reservation. And, that’s really the most important part of the reservation…the holding. Anybody can just TAKE them. [grabs chaotically at air]

And, how weirdly similar is that to our conflicted relationship with New Year’s resolutions?

In Seinfeldspeak?

See, you know how to make the resolution, you just don’t know how to keep the resolution. And, that’s really the most important part of the resolution…the keeping. Anybody can just MAKE them!

Oversimplified? Probably.

But, ask yourself. Why this? And, why now? Or, why again?


Welcome to Resolvers Anonymous: I’m ‘Merlin M.’

A few years ago, I shared a handful of stories on the failures that have led to my own cynicism about the usefulness of life-inverting resolutions. Because, yeah, I’ve historically been a big resolver.

Here’s what I said when I first suggested favoring “Fresh Starts and Modest Changes” over reinventions:

Download MP3 of “Fresh Starts & Modest Changes”

Five years on, I think I probably feel even more strongly about this.

Partly because I’ve watched and read and heard the cyclical lamentations of folks who decided to use superficial totems (like new calendars) as an ad hoc coach and prime mover. And, partly because, in my capacity as a makebelieve productivity expert, I continue to see how self-defeating it is to pretend that past can ever be less than prologue–that we can each ignore yesterday’s weather if we really wish hard enough for a sun-drenched day at the beach.

It simply doesn’t work.

Companies that think they’ll be Google for buying bagels. Writers who think they’ll get published if they order a new pen. Obese people who think they’ll become marathon runners if they pick up some new running shoes. And, regular old people with good hearts who continue to confuse new lives with new clothes.

Has this worked before? Can you look back on a proud legacy of successful New Year’s resolutions that would suggest you’re making serious progress by repeatedly making a list about fundamental life changes while slamming prosecco and wearing a pointy paper hat?

My bet is that most people who are seeing the kind of change and growth and improvement that sticks tend to avoid these sorts of dramatic, geometric attempts to leap blindly toward the mountain of perfection.

I’ll go further and say that the repeated compulsion to resolve and resolve and resolve is actually a terrific marker that you’re not really ready to change anything in a grownup and sustainable way. You probably just want another magic wand.

Otherwise you’d already be doing the things you’ve resolved to do. You’d already be living those changes. And, you’d already be seeing actual improvements rather than repeatedly making lists of all the ways you hope your annual hajj to the self-improvement genie will fix you.

Then, of course, we make things way worse by blaming everything on our pancakes.

Regarding “The First Pancake Problem”

Anyone who’s ever made America’s favorite round and flat breakfast food is familiar with the phenomenon of The First Pancake.

No matter how good a cook you are, and no matter how hard you try, the first pancake of the batch always sucks.

It comes out burnt or undercooked or weirdly shaped or just oddly inedible and aesthetically displeasing. Just ask your kids.

At least compared to your normal pancake–and definitely compared to the far superior second and subsequent pancakes that make the cut and get promoted to the pile destined for the breakfast table–the first one’s always a disaster.

I’ll leave it to the physicists and foodies in the gallery to develop a unified field theory on exactly why our pancake problem crops up with such unerring dependability. But I will share an orthogonal theory: you will be a way happier and more successful cook if you just accept that your first pancake is and always will be a universally flukey mess.

But, that shouldn’t mean you never make another pancake.

So Loud. Then, So Quiet.

I offer all of this because today is January 7th, gang. And, for the past week, all over the web, legions of well-intentioned and seemingly strong-willed humans have been declaring their resolved intention to make this a year of more and better metaphorical pancakes.

And, like clockwork–usually around today or maybe tomorrow–a huge cohort of those cooks will begin to abandon their resolve and go back to thinking all their pancakes have to suck. Just because that first one failed.

And, as is the case every year, online and off, there won’t be nearly as many breathless updates to properly bookend how poorly our annual ritual of aspirational change has fared. Which is instructive.

Not because new year’s resolutions are a universally bad idea. And, not because Change is Bad. And, not because we should be embarrassed about occasionally falling short of our own (frequently unreasonable) aspirations.

I suspect we tout the resolution, but whisper the failure because we blame the cook. Or, worse, fingers point toward the pancake. Instead of just admitting that the resolution itself was simply unrealistic or fundamentally foreign.

And, that’s a shame.

Remember, there’s no “I” in “unreasonable”

Granted, I’m merely re-repeating a point I’ve struggled to make (to both others and myself) for years now. But, it will bear repeating every January in perpetuity.

Resist the urge to pin the fate of things you really care about to anything that’s not truly yourself. The “yourself” who has a real life with complicated demands. The “yourself” who’s going to face a hard slog trying to fold a new life out of a fresh calendar.

Calendars are just paper and staples. They can’t make you care. And they can’t help you spin around like Diana Prince, and instantly turn into Wonder Woman. Especially, if you’re not already a hot and magical Amazon princess.

First, be reasonable. Don’t set yourself up for failure by demanding things that you’ve never come close to achieving before. I realize this is antithetical to most self-improvement bullshit, but that’s exactly the point. If you were already a viking, you wouldn’t need to build a big boat. Start with where you are right now. Not with where you wish you’d been.

Also, accept that the first pancake will always suck. Hell, if you’ve never picked up a spatula before, be cool with the fact that your first hundred pancakes might suck. This is, as I’ve said, huge. Failure is the sound of beginning to suck a little less.

And, finally, also be clear about the sanity of the motivations underlying your expectations–step back to observe what’s truly broken, derive a picture of incremental success that seems do-able, and really resolve to do whatever you can realistically do to actually get better. Rather than “something something I suddenly become all different.”

At this point, you have logistical options for both execution and troubleshooting:

  • Make a modest plan that you can envision actually doing without upending your real life;
  • Build more sturdy scaffolding for sticking with whatever plan you’ve chosen;
  • Make a practice of learning to not mind the duds–including those messed-up first pancakes;
  • Or–seriously?–just accept that you never really cared that much about making breakfast in the first place. Care is not optional.

Otherwise, really, you’d never need to resolve to do anything. You’d already just be cooking a lot. Instead of being all mad and depressed about not cooking.

But, please. All I really ask of you. Don’t blame the pancake. It’s not really the pancake’s fault.

Like me, the pancake just wants you to be happy. This and every other new year.


43 Folders icon
Resolved: Stop Blaming the Pancake” was written by Merlin Mann for 43Folders.com and was originally posted on January 07, 2011. Except as noted, it’s ©2010 Merlin Mann and licensed for reuse under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0. “Why a footer?

In a classic bit from an early Seinfeld, Jerry and Elaine are at the airport, trying to pick up the rental car that Jerry had reserved. As usual, things go poorly and get awkward fast:

Seinfeld – “Reservations”

JERRY: I don’t understand…I made a reservation. Do you have my reservation?
AGENT: Yes, we do. Unfortunately, we ran out of cars.
JERRY: But, the reservation keeps the car here. That’s why you have the reservation.
AGENT: I know why we have reservations.
JERRY: I don’t think you do. If you did, I’d have a car. See, you know how to take the reservation–you just don’t know how to hold the reservation. And, that’s really the most important part of the reservation…the holding. Anybody can just TAKE them. [grabs chaotically at air]

And, how weirdly similar is that to our conflicted relationship with New Year’s resolutions?

In Seinfeldspeak?

See, you know how to make the resolution, you just don’t know how to keep the resolution. And, that’s really the most important part of the resolution…the keeping. Anybody can just MAKE them!

Oversimplified? Probably.

But, ask yourself. Why this? And, why now? Or, why again?

Continue reading “Resolved: Stop Blaming the Pancake”