Monday, May 25, 2015

Self-Driving Cars Don't Care What You Think

Let's hope that self-driving cars aren't also self-designing.

Fully-automated is where cars have been headed all along.

There’s a problem with the terms “self-driving” and “autonomous" — the terms most commonly used to describe cars that require no human operation — namely, they don’t mean what people think they mean. But that doesn’t mean they’re not still true.

Every car ever made is a “self-driving” car, literally speaking. As is implied by the word “automobile,” cars are machines that move under their own power. Which is why some prefer the term “autonomous” over “self-driving,” although that, too, is wrong. To be autonomous (as opposed to automated — the more precise term), a car would require no input from any outside source, whereas Google’s self-driving car, for example, relies on communication with other vehicles, with GPS satellites, and with the cloud.

There’s an esoteric bit of eggheadery out there called the technological imperative (sometimes referred to as the inevitability theory) which holds that once a technology becomes possible it will inevitably exist. In other words, mankind will always be compelled to move technology forward, if only because it seems like the right thing to do, which makes it seem as though technology has a will of its own.

This explains why no matter who you discuss the subject with — industry analyst, sociologist, drunk guy at the bar — they invariably speak in terms of “when” self-driving cars arrive, rather than “if.” Even those who acknowledge the multifold roadblocks guaranteed to delay the self-driving car’s arrival admit that its coming is inevitable. Because it is.

According to a study titled “Autonomous Cars: Not if, but when,” published by IHS Auto, “It is expected that the autonomous car technology will have a long-term impact on the auto industry and is likely to have a positive impact on auto sales and autos in-use after 2035.”

This pictograph is believed to be the first depiction of wheeled transport. But let's be real; it could just as easily be a bass guitar with a barren tree in the distance.
Not everyone believes in technological determinism, however. As an article in the MIT Technology Review states, “Among historians and sociologists who study the interactions of technology and society, ideas about necessity and inevitability are now considered laughable.”

Part of the reason both terms are incorrect is that they both imply that there is a “will,” or indeed a “self,” at work somewhere deep inside the machinery of a car. On the one hand this is nothing but a bit of linguistic shorthand -- anthropomorphizing helps us to understand complicated systems. On the other hand, there are those who believe that all technological developments are inevitable.

But advances in automotive technology do seem to follow the patterns one would expect from deterministically decreed technology. Auto companies don’t necessarily want to create complicated new technology to keep us safe, and car buyers aren’t choosing to always buy the safest cars, yet the technology advances, because it’s considered good for society.

As a recent report on automated cars published by Eno Trans, a nonprofit, bipartisan think tank dedicated to automotive technology, put it, “Automated vehicles have the potential to fundamentally alter transportation systems by averting deadly crashes, providing critical mobility to the elderly and disabled, increasing road capacity, saving fuel, and lowering emissions.”

Who is going to say no to that?

Examined under the microscope of the inevitability theory, each major advance in the history of automotive technology can easily be seen as another step in the unstoppable evolution of the self-driving car.

The story of the automobile began all the way back around 3200 BC, when the newly conceived axle was first mated with the already-three-hundred-year-old wheel. With that one glorious act of technological copulation, one of the six simple machines was born.

Early wheeled-transport was, understandably, terribly inefficient. One needed to push (the word “drive” literally means “push,” or “urge forward”) or pull one’s cart, chariot, or carriage, or else one needed to employ an animal or a slave. The steam engine (which led to the very first automobile, the Cugnot Steam Trolley, in 1769), along with its successors the electric engine (the first automobile engine to gain popularity) and the internal-combustion engine, finally liberated vehicles from the performance limitations of horses and other beasts of burden.

The evolution of the automobile sped into overdrive with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, and ever since then, the amount of human effort required to operate a vehicle has steadily diminished as technology has advanced.

The introduction of the electric starter in 1911 meant that one no longer needed to turn a crank to initiate the engine’s rotation. Not only did crank-starting require a good bit of strength, but it posed potential dangers; a single kickback of the engine could result in broken fingers, wrists, or arms.

Air conditioning meant that women were now free to wear a hat and gloves no matter the season.
Single brake pedals replaced the pedal-and-stick configurations found in most cars in 1922, and just a year later hydraulic brakes made bringing your vehicle to a dead stop no more difficult than applying gentle pressure with one foot.

Driving was getting so effortless by the mid-1920s that it became standard for car cabins to be outfitted with radios to keep their “drivers” entertained.

One of the last bits of a driver’s physical connection to the mechanical operation of the auto was removed in the late 1930s with the advent of automatic transmissions, which replaced friction clutches with fluid couplings and combined them with a hydraulically-controlled planetary gearbox, eliminating the need for the driver to engage with a car’s transmission while the vehicle was in motion.

With automobile operation now mostly automated, increasing attention was paid to the comfort of riders. In 1939, Packards became the first cars to be offered with optional air conditioning, which meant that wealthy car buyers could now be spared not only the difficulties of physical labor, but the inconveniences of climate as well.

With lane-departure control, adaptive cruise, and park assist, your car can be a much better driver than you. What do you have to say for yourself now, mister human being?

The most significant piece of automated car technology – cruise control – was first introduced on Chrysler vehicles in 1958. This took all control except for steering and, potentially, braking, out of the hands of humans. When cruise control was coupled with forward-sensing radar to create the first adaptive cruise control in 1995 (on the Mitsubishi Diamante), one of the primary operations of a fully automated car became an available option.

It’s tempting to think of these more recently developed “intrusive” features, like adaptive cruise control, traction control, and emergency brake assist, as early signs that cars are inching toward full robothood, but that’s only because those systems literally take control away from us while we are attempting to exert it. We’ve been doing next to nothing for a very long time.

Which gets back to the semantics of “driving.” The way we (meaning average, nonprofessional drivers) interact with our cars is completely analogous to how a carriage driver interacts with a horse. What we do is instruct them to move forward, and we control their velocity and direction. What they do is convert a liquid (or electricity, or both) into enough kinetic energy to get us wherever we want to go and keep us comfortable and entertained. Our primary job is to keep them from crashing.

Up until recently, human interaction with cars has been necessary because cars lacked the ability to monitor their surroundings. But a modern car outfitted with cameras, radar, sonar, and GPS can not only know what’s going on around it, it can react in time to prevent or avoid an accident, something the vast majority of drivers lack the skill to do.

Although the car was conceived as a way to efficiently transport human beings, we human beings have now become the weak link in its operational chain. Cars could be more efficient, more eco-friendly, and safer if drivers were taken out of the equation.

And since they can be, the inevitability theorists claim, so they shall be, regardless of what you and I, or any living human, might want.

Originally published 8/4/2014 on Web2Carz

A Journey Through Space and Time with Jaguar's Best Car in Years

2014 Jaguar F-Type S Convertible Review

The first slimy invertebrate to puff up its newly mutated air sacs and leave the roiling oceans of early Earth to traverse the dry surfaces set the template for all future human beings, who did little else but migrate to all corners of the planet. Then, having become the uncontested masters of the surface world, they devised ever faster and more efficient means of moving through the land by first cultivating an understanding of the physical properties of the universe and then inventing technologies to exploit them.

The story of this journey through evolution and history envelopes all desire, all labor, all survival—all of it pulsating through time at an undiminishing rate of speed as if single-minded in its unwavering determination to arrive at this precise moment. Here, now, behind the wheel of this Jaguar F-Type, top open, barreling down Chicago's North Avenue toward nowhere in particular, having come from back there ... somewhere—none of that matters though. All that counts is now. This second. In this car.

It feels strange to talk about "this car" when relating the experience of driving the F-Type. Because, from the perspective of the only person who matters—the person driving this car at this moment—there is no car, there's only me. And in fact, there really isn't even me. There's just pure unfiltered religious-experience-grade dopamine coursing through whatever it is stuff courses through in this vague, insignificant locus of pleasurable sensations I call me.

At its very best, a car is a kind of open circuit. You sit inside, and you close the circuit. When the engineers have done their jobs, and the overseers and signer-offers and middle managers haven't managed to completely dilute the formula, a car is no longer just a four-wheeled mechanical sedan chair, it's a prosthetic device. It's a set of wings. It's the One Ring.

The F-Type is such a car. On its face it's absurd. It starts at $92,000, seats two, and has a trunk with room enough only for a set of clubs (the main reason trunks still exist), a small Tiffany's box, and several pieces of paper. It gets 16 miles to the gallon (that's city mileage, but try getting much better while still having fun), and once you add all the options that of course you're going to add because who on earth buys a base-model Jaguar, the price jumps up over $100,000.

Yes, yes, but what is money, other than a theoretical construct meant to facilitate trade? Money is a concept that, like all concepts, becomes increasingly abstract the more time you spend behind the flat-bottomed wheel of this magnificent mischief-making machine. Spend a few hours driving the F-Type and it begins to seem increasingly less like an extravagant and irresponsible waste of money, and more like the very thing money was created to obtain.

There is nothing in all of creation that can justify the existence of a 495 horsepower supercharged V-8 engine, especially one tucked under the bonnet of what is, let's be honest, a toy for the merger-makers and the money hoarders. But as any billionaire will tell you, it's not getting the thing that matters, it's what having the thing gets you—which in this case is pure skin-shedding, higher-plane reaching, physical and spiritual ecstasy on demand.

Mesmerized by the warp and weft of everyday living, we sometimes forget that we live in a magical age. We live in the future. Electrical impulses, microwaves, radio waves, and millions of wi-fi signals crowd the air. Power lines shuttle electricity hundreds of miles to light our way, to heat our homes, to cool our shopping malls, and to actuate the various boxes of light into which we spend the majority of our days staring. Man-made orbs circle our planet in a geosynchronous ballet, beaming their signals down to Earth as we beam our own back up to them. Airplanes whizz through the atmosphere as if they'd been there since the dawn of time.

None of this would have even been conceivable to the young Messrs. Lyons and Walmsley, who in the 1920s saw a bright future in building motorcycle sidecars. Little did they know that their modest Swallow Sidecars concern would go on to become one of the premier automotive brands in the world (Swallow became SS Cars Ltd., which, after WWII was changed, for obvious reasons, to Jaguar) before being purchased (and nearly ruined) by Ford before being purchased again and brought back from the brink by Tata Motors.

That's all ancient history of course, because the capital N Now is all that matters, thanks to this seductively supple brain-state-alteration device called the F-Type. The two Williams may not have conceived of this car specifically, but they definitely knew a thing or two about the power of transportation. These were, after all, the men who build the XK engine, which powered every Jaguar made between 1948 and 1971.

You see, transportation is a stealthy word. It conjures up images of crowded bus stations and smog-choked interstates, but to be transported -- now that's something magical. Even if we're only talking buses and trains and Toyota Camrys, think about it: you start out in one place and you end up in another, with very little—if any—effort exerted. That's what I mean about the future. That's what I mean about now.

But this, this sinuous, prowling, mechanical singularity called F-Type—sure, it transports you physically, but the thing it does best, the thing it was designed, engineered, and built to do, is to transport you psychically. This is transportation as experienced by epileptics, mystics, and takers of psychedelic substances. This isn't transportation in the sense of "getting to" but "moving beyond."

In this car, now, there are so many sensory events occurring at once—the shockingly violent yawp of the exhaust, sounding as if it's from the engines that power the very fires of hell; the pulsating vibrations of the tires skimming over the surface of the road; the vapor trails from streetlights that streak past too quickly for their light to reach my eyes—that the mind can barely register them each individually.

Rather, all optical, aural, neural, hormonal, circulatory, lymphatic, and muscular stimuli eddy and swirl together in a miasmic fury to create one singular overarching metasensation—one that is more than the mere adrenal thrill of speed, more than the Grandinian hug of the seat bolsters, more than the lizard-brain-tapping ego gratification of being seen in such an envy-evincing motor car—it's the feeling of being wired in to what Henri Bergson called the elan vital, the life essence.

This is not driving. This is surfing atop the throb and thrum of creation itself. This is a spinal infusion of Fuck Yes. Call it prana, call it qi, or call it consciousness itself. Names don't matter. Nothing matters. Only here, now, in this car.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

From The Archives

With all the controversy about Carrier IQ, I can't help but be reminded of this clever little bit of tomfoolery, taken from MOTORBOOTY #8.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

From the Unpublished Archives

An unused quasi car review from the MPH Magazine days. A "guest review" of the Jaguar XJ8 written by a 10-year-old boy.

Guest Review: Jaguar XJ8

I like the Jaguar XJ8 because I think it is a really cool car and it has a lot of really good qualities that any good car should have. First, it’s really cool because it’s a Jaguar and everyone knows that Jaguars are cool. Also, It’s black, and everyone knows that black is the coolest color. I’m too young to drive it, but my dad says it handles like a woman, but I really don’t know what that means. I just like riding in it. Although sometimes I have to pretend I’m Daddy’s nephew when he drives with women who aren’t Mommy. I’m not allowed to tell Mommy about them because Daddy says that he’s planning a surprise party for Mommy and that these women are helping him plan it. I hope it’s a fun party and there’s cake and stuff because I really don’t like it when Daddy makes me wait in the car while they work on their plans in the motel room. Sometimes I bring DVDs with me so I can watch movies, but I usually just bring my Game Boy, but even that gets boring after a while.

I like it when we go really fast in this car, but sometimes Daddy swears a lot and I’m not allowed to tell Mommy about that either, cos when he does it with Mommy in the car she gets really mad and they have a fight. I don’t like it when they fight, so I usually just look out the window and imagine we’re in outer space. Sometimes people in other cars make naughty hand signs at Daddy when he drives too fast. Daddy tells me they are just waving, but I know that they are being bad. Mommy’s not allowed to drive this car because Daddy says she drives like a woman, which I don’t get because she is a woman so what else is she supposed to drive like?

One time I sat in the driver’s seat and played with the steering wheel and that was fun, so I bet this is a really fun car to drive. One time our housekeeper put a dent in the door with her car door and Daddy got real mad and called her bad names.

I think this car is really cool and I think people should buy it because it’s really nice and as long as they don’t drive like a woman they will have fun in it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hope You Die Before I Get Old: The Case Against Rock Reunions

"I have never, ever, been interested in repeating myself." – John Lydon

When 1950s tribute band Sha Na Na played Woodstock (they were the festival's penultimate act, following The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and preceding Jimi Hendrix) their hyperstylized Eisenhower-era pastiche provided a bizarre anachronism. Here, at the ultimate celebration of the new, the now, and the young, was the world's first "oldies" act, paying homage to the unhip, the out-of-date, and the old. Strange though their trip may have seemed to the attendant Summer of Lovers, Sha Na Na's performance launched a nostalgia craze that left a wide skid mark on the cultural landscape of the 1970s (think "oldies" radio formats, "Happy Days" and "Grease").

Later came the tribute bands; cover acts who painstakingly recreated the look and sound of classic-rock-era bands like The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, etal., often going so far as to reproduce the original stage sets and light shows. This trend culminated with the highly successful 1980s touring show, Beatlemania! which featured a revolving cast of musicians recreating the Beatles entire career--hairstyles, Nehru jackets, mustaches, and all.

In recent years, however, tribute bands have been rendered obsolete. Not that people aren't interested in living in the past (whether their own or someone else's), it's just that now the actual bands have become their own Sha Na Nas, eagerly throwing creativity to the wind and rushing to cash in on the new wave of New Wave and Punk Rock nostalgia. 

A cursory look through the concert listings in any music mag or alternative weekly is likely to induce a Billy Pilgrim-like sense of having come unstuck in time: Recent years have seen the revivification of bands as disparate as Stiff Little Fingers, Pixies, Squeeze, Bauhaus, Human League, UK Subs, Echo and the Bunnymen, Duran Duran, Pavement, and, at a festival celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Chicago-based label Touch & Go that smacked more of high school reunion than label showcase, Killdozer, Big Black, Negative Approach, Scratch Acid, and Jesus Lizard.

In addition, punk pinko stalwarts Crass recently toured with a revival of their 1978 album Feeding Of The 5000, Iggy Pop took his mostly reformed Stooges on the road paying tribute to his former band's first two albums, and Joy Division/New Order bassist Peter Hook is currently touring with a reimagining of Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures, with strings (can "The London Symphony Orchestra Plays The Pop Group" be far behind?).

New Wave pioneer Gary Numan offered the most literal reinterpretation of his own past, replicating the tours for both his Pleasure Principle and Telekon albums, going so far as to dust off original stage sets, lighting rigs, costumes and set lists.

This year's All Tomorrows Parties festival in NYC is touting time warp pantomimes by Aussie proto-grungesters the Scientists ("performing Blood Red River"), pre-Nirvana Sub Popsters Mudhoney ("performing Superfuzz Bigmuff and early singles") and the Godfather of giving-up-and-giving-the-people-what-they-want, Iggy Pop (and the Stooges, "performing Raw Power"). 

As a general rule, bands anywhere near the prime of their creative abilities are loath to perform past hits to the exclusion of newer material. Despite many fan's expectations, most artists are primarily interested in giving a performance of the latest, if not the greatest. This may be an ego-driven preference, a perhaps mistaken belief that their best years are not behind them, but it at least displays a steadfast allegiance to creative momentum, and an unwillingness to rest on any artistic laurels.

When post-punk pioneers Wire reformed in 1986 after little more than a half-decade hiatus, they toured with an opening band, The Ex-Lion Tamers, whose set consisted of a note-perfect track-by-track recreation of Wire's debut album Pink Flag. This was a clever sop to the old guard fans who had come hoping to hear the oldies that the band clearly was no longer interested in performing, and it freed the band to concentrate on their new material.

Clearly such integrity is, unlike these many newly zombified bands, a thing of the past.

The practical reasons for rock reunions are obvious enough. The various members of Captain Beefheart's various Magic Bands, for instance, never got their proper due, acknowledgement-wise or, more importantly, paycheck-wise. So when the "reformed" Magic Band (actually a mash-up of disparate members of various Beefheart backing bands) went on tour in 2003 and later released a CD and a DVD, they were able to at least partially redress those wrongs.

The problem with band reunions are equally obvious. In the case of the Magic Band it was the absence of the Captain himself, whose unparalleled vocalizing and unmatched stage presence could barely be hinted at by drummer John French's workmanlike impersonation. The end result was akin to a masterful art forgery: technically impressive, but artistically empty. The Magic Band shows may have garnered mostly positive reviews, but there's little doubt that history will treat them as anything more than a footnote.

And so it is with all rock 'n' roll reunions. It all comes down to that pesky prefix "re." Rock and roll has always been about newness, youth, rebellion, and often, novelty, and not surprisingly, such things tend to get less new, young, rebellious and novel the second time around. By attempting to reenact their own pasts, reunited rockers inevitably beg comparison to their younger selves. That's not a competetion anyone is likely to win, let alone someone trying to express adolescent angst while closing in on mandatory retirement age. 

This degeneration becomes even more conspicuous in the case of punk rock reunions. It's one thing for aging hippies to dawdle on stage and attempt to revive the Ghost of Flower Power Past. That's just sad. But when bands who were part of a movement that was expressly about breaking with tradition and embracing diversity and change now parrot their younger, angrier selves in the name of "those were the days"-style wistfulness, it seems less like a meager attempt to reignite their youthful rebelliousness and more like a sad capitulation to its opposite.

When the Clash sang "No ElvisBeatles or the Rolling Stones in 1977" it had only been 20 years since the The King was at his peak, a mere seven since the dissolution of the Fab Four, and a scant five since the release of "Exile On Main Street." 

By contrast, Iggy's Raw Power broke its new ground 37 years ago, The Pixies Surfer Rosa is a full one score and two, and Pavement's Slanted and Enchanted is just a hair under being as relevant in 2010 as "Hound Dog" was in 1977.

It could be argued that one thing that makes this newest rock nostalgia different than its Motown or classic-rock era counterparts is that many of these bands (in fact much of the whole pre- and post-punk/new wave/alternative movement) have grown bigger now in legend than they were during their prime in popularity. Unlike Gen Xers, whose moments in the sun were much-revered, well-publicized, and well-attended, the most influential and creative acts of the last several decades have been far more underrapreciated. So whereas a Blood Sweat and Tears reunion could only ever hope to play to a fraction of the number of people at Woodstock, bands like The Stooges, Neu!, and the Magic Band can see their average attendance grow from triple digits to thousands. History has finally caught up with them, and they're simply out there getting their propers.

That doesn't make it any less of a cop out, however. It's still a throwing up of the hands in the face of creative bankruptcy. A putting-back-on of the makeup, as KISS would, and did, have it. A jettisoning of the very spirit of the work they now so meticulously try to reproduce (no reinterpretations, please, we want to hear our favorite albums, in sequence no less, exactly how you'd never in a million years have done it live back in the day). Yes, let's call it what it is: It's a sellout, of the most basic, craven, and cynical kind.

This kind of cultural Eternal Return isn't strictly limited to rock, of course. It's a basic tenent of the modern entertainment industry that nothing can happen just once. Everything must be serialized, sequelized, and franchised to within an inch of its life. Anything that's ever been sold at any time in the past is just fodder for remastering, repackaging, and rereleasing. 

For the post-MTV generations, the redux has become de rigeur. To most modern consumers the remake is the original, as far as their chronology is concerned, and questions of integrity and originality, of neither burning out nor fading away, aren't even worth tweeting about.

And as for those who were there the first time around, they're only too happy to forget all that immature nonsense about living in the moment, flipping off the past, and being part of something new. If it was cool then, how can it not be cool now? 

That an aging generation should attempt to deny their inevitable obsolescence by constantly signifying their own importance is no surprise. That the younger generation takes them seriously is a disturbing disruption of the natural order of things. 

In 1896, the surrealist Alfred Jarry summed up the way things ought to be nicely: "Another lot of young people will appear, and consider us completely outdated, and they will write ballads to express their loathing of us, and there is no reason why this should ever end." 

Except when there are egos to be fed and money to be made.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Dispatch From The Straight Entitlement Parade

Tomorrow may mark Chicago's 41st Annual Gay Pride Parade, but tonight in Chicago's Wrigleyville neighborhood, the Nth Annual Straight Entitlement Parade goes on as usual. Although not as heavily publicized and nowhere near as controversial as the Pride Parade, this ongoing celebration of the SRLM (Straight, Repressed, Latent, Monogendered) lifestyle is far more succesful, both in terms of numbers and cultural impact. And while this event's participants are certainly less diverse and colorful than their Pride-ful counterparts, they are no less loud and proud, with special emphasis on loud.

Wrigleyville is a sports-bar-themed pseudo neighborhood in the general vicinity of Wrigley Field. It's chiefly composed of sports bars, but there are a few sports paraphernalia stores, and even a sports-themed salon in the area as well. (Conspicuously absent is any type of sporting goods store; you don't come to Wrigleyville to express your own athletic prowess, only your frustration or delight in that of others.) But while sports may be the theme in this part of town, the name of the game is getting really, really drunk.

Cultural conservatives and religous zealots may decry the public displays of unnaturalness that Gay Pride represents, but that "I-don't-care-what-they-do-as-long-as-I -don't-have-to-see-it" attitude is nowhere to be found in the world of Straight Entitlement. Straightness is on display in all its mysogynistic, objectifying glory here, as the unattached, the undersexed, and the undermature all strut and shout, peacock-like, in a vain attempt to catch the attention of the paltry number of single females this part of town attracts. For those very few females who find themselves, willingly or not, in the midst of the beer-fueled sausage-fest that is Wrigleyville on a Saturday night, dopey ham-fisted come-ons and the odd groping and/or lewd comment are par for the course.

The main difference between the Gay and Straight parades is, or course, sex. Which is to say, people in the Pride Parade are having it, while the Heteros appear to be getting none of it. This probably accounts for the stultifying stupidity of the behavior on display here in Straightville: The blackout-bound imbibing, the enthusiastic delight expressed at watching uniformed men engage in homoerotic competition, and the near-constant use of the word "fuck." Everything is "fucking" something; fucking stupid, fucking hilarious, fucking cool. The word is used with definite-article frequency, and it's employed as every conceivable part of speech, except of course as a verb. Not much call for that 'round here, it would seem.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Brush With Greatness, Part One

As a youth, I was greatly enamored of the prospect of receiving things in the mail. To satisfy my postal jones, I wrote to every organization, foreign consulate, and tourist board I could think of to request any and all information they saw fit to send. As a result, I would regularly receive copious amounts of printed matter -- brochures, booklets, and other various free publications. At some point I got the bright idea to write to actual people. Not being old enough to actually know any real people worth writing to, I sent letters to various famous people whom I admired. Not surprisingly, this tactic proved far less fruitful. Except in the case of one Fred Rogers, who promptly answered my juvenile inquiry with a personal response.

(click to enlarge)

Sadly, none of the other heroes of my youth deigned to favor me with anything quite so special. Charles M. Schulz, for instance, sent an insultingly impersonal form letter along with a photocopied sketch of the Peanuts gang. Even at the tender age of however-old-I-was, I remember thinking that this made good ol' Charley S. seem like a bit of a dick.