Browsing through some Airbnb listings for L.A. and I saw this in the photos for a nice looking place in the west end:

How generous! Two Buck Chuck and a bag of chips!

A little welcome gift for renters. Except anyone familiar with California will immediately recognize that wine as Charles Shaw, also known as “Two Buck Chuck” because it literally costs two bucks at Trader Joe’s.1|2

Oh, and a bag of Lay’s potato chips. Single serving.

You don’t need a PhD in semiotics3 to get the meaning here: “We’re friendly, we’re happy to rent our space to you, but we’re as cheap as fu*k.” I wonder if they even bother to launder the linens.4

1Sadly, in 2013 I saw that Two Buck Chuck had gone up to $2.50.

2Although only $2.50, it is surprisingly drinkable for the price. I’d rate it about equal to any random $11 wine from the SAQ, or a top-ender from a depanneur. In other words, it won’t make you gag, and if you open it as your third bottle of the night nobody will notice.

3If I ever become a billionaire I will donate money to whatever university will create a chair in “full-otics.” I fully blame government underfunding for the proliferation of semiotics classes and the dearth of 100% otics.

4BTW, today is the ninth anniversary of the death of David Foster Wallace.

What’s really behind those Facebook quizzes


Here’s what’s really behind these quizzes on Facebook.

1) First of all, the “92% of people can’t…” line is total BS. There’s nobody keeping track of scores. That “92%” line is designed to entice you into taking the challenge. It’s not based on any collected data at all, and has that “92%” number on it from the moment it’s released on Facebook.

2) The quizzes are designed to be easy so that you will do better than the “92%” and will share the quiz and brag about it, thereby enticing others to take the quiz.

3) You’ll notice that every question in the quiz is on a separate page. That’s not because there are slick web designers or usability experts behind the page; it’s because every time you go to a new question you load a whole new set of ads, thereby generating loads of ad revenue for the people who made the quiz. (There can easily be 12-20 ads per page.)

4) For quizzes that are designed to tell you something about your personality — what Star Wars character you are, or some other personal quality — know that the results are based on total BS. Some person spent half an hour in a cubicle drawing up a matrix based on nothing more than what kind of mood they were in that day, and that’s it.

5) By going through the quiz and then sharing it, the people making the quiz are gathering data about the things you like. (Car quizzes label you as a car fan; geography quizzes label you as a person who likes to travel, etc.) They sell this data back to Facebook (or perhaps a third-party ad manager) who uses it to build your Facebook advertising profile, which in turn determines what ads and “sponsored posts” you see.

So please do not think that these quizzes tell you anything about yourself, or that the results have any research or scientific thinking behind them. Go ahead and keep doing them if you like — after all, they can be fun — but remember that you’re a bit of a sucker every time you do so, and the results mean nothing.

The only purpose behind these quizzes is to keep you clicking and sharing so that other people can make money from it. But hey, people have to make a living, right? Fair enough. But for Pete’s sake just be aware of the level of BS you’re engaging in when you do it, and don’t bother bragging that you’re better than “the 92%” and don’t even bother questioning the veracity of that figure, because now you know it’s all just made up to suck you in.

(Published simultaneously on Facebook.)


One day in 1979 I put a cowboy hat from a Johnny West action figure and a scuba diving mask from a G.I. Joe on a Timbit. Then I took a photo of it. Such was the boredom of my youth.

Since then I would happen upon this photo — a Kodachrome slide — every handful of years, and I’d chuckle at it and put it back in its box. It is a ridiculous and meaningless photo, but over the years it became a sort of talisman, and I couldn’t throw it away. Now, almost four decades later, I feel like it has time-warping properties, as if on every viewing, spacetime folds and those collected moments come together and touch.

In many ways I feel haunted by this photo. Between viewings I tend to forget it exists, and then one day I’ll see it and it all comes back, like the mixed emotions of seeing an old friend and realizing that the old friend is still an idiot. Why couldn’t I have an interesting talisman, like a spider encased in amber, or a jewel-encrusted monkey skull?

Let me remind you; this is a photo of a goddamn Timbit wearing a cowboy hat and a scuba diving mask. It is meaningless. Or is it? Perhaps this was the beginning of a surrealist art career, and in a parallel universe I’ve graduated to bagels wearing Hugo Boss suits. I’ll never know. But I feel it is finally time to break the spell of this mysterious image by showing it to the world. Here you go. Now I am free.

Don't laugh...

(Published simultaneously on Facebook.)