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versimilitude, tangent, and sophistry

fresh (squeezed emu) juice

fresh (squeezed emu) juice

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Last night, I went over to talk to meestagoat. As it was late, I feared that she might have already fallen asleep on the futon, poisoned by cthulhie as usual. Fortunately, she had turned the tables and drugged him into deep slumber first. At one point in our conversation, we had gotten to discussing the Ultimate Lemon Machine about which she dreamt the other evening. Being the budding and inquisitive academics, we theorized some about its purpose and its operation, to be sure, but we primarily deconstructed its greater social meaning in the milieu of our modern push-button society and Western cultural hegemony.

Now, for the record, I would like to state that I'm not certain that the Ultimate Lemon Machine (archival photo) is really what she was dreaming about the other night. Certainly she has no recollection of talking of it. After all, she was in that half-dazed, liminal state that is so lovely because you can say and do crazy things -- taking apart your neighbor's Volvo, for example -- and be absolved of all responsibility because, hey, you were half-asleep. So, the only documentation we have of this fabled Ultimate Lemon Machine is Cthulhie's word. And as we all know, that and a buck-twenty-five still won't get you a bus ride to Shoreline during rush-hour.

I believe she really dreamt about something similar yet entirely different, ontologically speaking. She dreamt, say, of the Ultimate Sugar Beet Machine and it is this device that is the key to harnessing the secrets of the Universe. And now, only Cthulhie knows this and is drawing up plans for such a device right now. The Ultimate Lemon Machine, then, is a decoy, something to throw us off the path - but not too far. After all, I can see how both the Ultimate Lemon Machine and the Ultimate Sugar Beet Machine would share technologies and processes, conceptually anyway. They doubtlessly share a few parts, too; I would expect both to operate on 220VAC, for example, and have 5/8-inch pipe fittings. Thus, when one of us would talk about we increased the efficiency of the x-axis transducer for the Ultimate Lemon Machine, Cthulhie would know that he could re-appropriate this technology for the Ultimate Sugar Beet Machine. And when we finally built the device, all we'd get is lemonade while, in his secret laboratory, Cthulhie would be kicking back with a tall glass of cosmic secrets, cleverly disguised as a glass of sugar beet juice.

In our apparently dramatically ironic conversation last night, Meestagoat and I figured that the Ultimate Lemon Machine ought to have a user's manual of some sort. This made me think of a manual I had written yahrens ago for the NM-156 Reciprocating Emu Press. The year was 1995. I was working at a small publishing house in Champaign, IL at the time. Those were heady days, friends. The dark days of Y2K were not yet a blip on the cultural radar. A crazy thing called the "World Wide Web" was catching on. And bolstered by the successful activation of the very first HAL-9000 a few years before as well as the National Center for Supercomputing Application's "Mosaic" browser, the twin cities of Champaign and Urbana were enjoying their time in the limelight.

My friends at the publishing company typeset academic textbooks using LaTEX; I made crappy workflow and job-accounting databases in MS Access. As part of my duties, I decided to document my work so that future generations would know how to decipher my crappy databases built on a crappy platform. As my time at the company approached its end, more of my time began to be eaten up by documentation. This actually made me quite happy because I somehow managed to convince my supervisor to turn my 20 hour position into a 30 hour one, giving me 10 more hours per week of paid goofing off.

Because the "typesetting" occurred on computers, my friends ran off reams and reams of hard-copy proofs which the copy-editors and the like edited. After corrections were made, many of these proofs ended up in the recycle bin. The textbooks that we were publishing frequently had excellent drawings, diagrams, and pictures. Thus, as part of my slacking rounds -- when I wasn't making toxic sludge, the poor man's mocha, by mixing powdered hot chocolate with industrial coffee from the Bunn-o-matic -- I would raid the recycling bins and pick out pages that intrigued me. Like any good publishing haus, we had all manner of office supplies, volatile chemicals, deadly adhesives, and the accoutrements to handle them. As a result, I would put together all kinds of flyers and posters using good old-fashioned, literal cut-and-paste methods.

Some time toward the very end, I got inspired to write an entire technical manual from scratch. Truth be told, I probably spent most of my last two weeks at the company working only on that -- and getting paid for it. I wrote all of the copy in one pass: no revisions, no real forethought, no grammar correction, no spell-checking. I figured that using such a method would yield a very realistic technical manual. I don't want to get all big-headed, but to this day, I believe that A Technical Manual for the NM-156 Reciprocating Emu Press is both the finest parody and the most accurate archetype of a technical manual.

The manual has given me a modest amount of mileage in the years since I've written it. I've made friends laugh. It has repulsed friends. I've used it as a prop in class presentations. And I've used it to woo literary-minded potential lovers. Naturally, with Cthulhie dead to the world on the futon in the other room, I took this opportunity to share the manual with Ms. Goat.

Being lazy and feeble-minded, I had forgotten that I had a link to it on NebCorp's site. As a result, my quick net search turned up this hit on someone's blog. Of course, what struck my attention immediately was that the link to the manual pointed not to NebCorp, but rather to a huge, nameless, local e-retailer which possessed, as far as I can tell, Earth's biggest selection. I was overjoyed.

A few years ago, I was temping for said organization; for sake of argument, let us call this dot com by the name, Amazon. It was my second of three temp gigs there. For that reason, I always now refer to my gigs at Amazon using biblical notation. Thus, that gig was Amazon II. My task, as part of the Electronics team, was to scour the Net looking for product manuals of the electronics sold on the site. The result was to have a link on the product page to its user manual. More poignantly, however, we got to validate our own submissions to the system. Thus, after we added links to the manual, a spider would go to those URLs, capture and store the manuals on Amazon's server. And after we validated the manual, they would go live.

The site already has a ton of easter eggs, fake products, and people generally goofing off. As far as I can tell, these are various test pages. However, the sociologically curious part is not only that shoppers find them, but people write product reviews for them. At the time, a friend of mine even wrote a So You Wanna... guide to some of them.

Of course, the "product", the Qwert Iggle, to which I had linked my manual is long gone. However, the blog post that I found last night still pointed to a live link for the manual itself. And someone else found this item as well. Yay! The little archivist in me jumps for joy. I am at once fascinated that Amazon has amassed perhaps the largest collection of user manuals for electronic products - and proud that I had a part in it -- and saddened that they are not doing anything more esoteric with it. Of course, the corporation doesn't care about products they no longer sell. What can you expect from a bunch of philistine MBAs?

Anyway, most importantly and egotistically, however, I find it very satisfying that something I had written while wasting one company's dime has now been subversively ensconced into the dusty, forgotten archives of another company and thus been given corporate legitimacy… especially since I threw the monkey wrench into the corporate machinery.

You hear that, Cthulhie? You may think you are clever by working out the plans to the Ultimate Sugar Beet Machine. But just remember: perhaps the Ultimate Sugar Beet Machine is nothing more than an NM-156 Reciprocating Emu Press that was dreamt up out of thin air and deliberately planted into your mind just to throw you off the track. So while you'll be trying to wash the sugar beet blood off of your hands, we'll be kicking back with tall glasses of dee-licious lemonade, sweetened with the secrets of the Universe.
  • I find this diatribe enlightening and will adjust my plans accordingly. I must, however, take issue with one part of it. It's not the part where you call me a liar. With regard to that: history will tell. And reinvent as necessary. No, it's the following.

    I believe that "A Technical Manual for the NM-156 Reciprocating Emu Press" is both the finest parody and the most accurate archetype of a technical manual.

    I hate to say it, but my experience has shown that, in the assignment where they have to write a technical manual, wave after wave of my students write fine parodies. Unintentionally, mind you, but there it is.
    • (Anonymous)
      damn it, jim! I concede!

      I simply cannot win against wave after wave of pheromone-leaking undergrad.
  • You fool!

    It's LaTeX! And that's a Chi, not an Ecks.

    This is clearly some kind of Illuminati conspiracy.

    I love the archival photo. Would the lemon machine have a pretty fast lemons switch?
  • my god

    I read that second blog on a regular basis, as its auteur is the author of a brilliant book...of parodies!


    If you have often wondered--as I often did before I read this book--what poems would sound like if their titles had to be, by rule, anagrams of their poets' names, this book will remove all doubt. I have it at home if you need to peruse it. This man once commented on rosewater's Quasi Professional Non-LJ Blog.

    I sense a conspiracy!
    • Re: my god

      We should definitely inform him of the provenance of the emu juicer. Except really I guess Tom should do it. Don't worry, Tom, he is friendly and brilliant!
      • Re: my god

        Oh, his wasn't the emu press... well you know what I mean.
      • Re: my god

        Tom already has! Check it: http://www.yarnivore.com/francis/
        • Re: my god

          Yay Tom!

          You know what the emu press reminds me of?

          Yes you do.
        • Re: my god

          Thank you for the Yays!

          Of course I know what the emu press reminds you of! However, due to feeble-mindedness brought on by the ravages of the thesis, I just can't remember. :) :)

          (I believe that after today, the light at the end of the thesis tunnel is certainly closer than the hard deadline for submitting it to Das Graduate School)
        • Re: my god

          You know what the emu press reminds me of? The Polytron.

          Yes, that is a real product advertisement.

          [Just a random passerby via MeFi.]

    • Re: my god

      Cogs within cogs!

      First the lemon on that other blog and now this!

      Cheez-it! They're onto us! ...it's a good thing Trabant has a s3kr1t stairway so that we can always make a quick getaway!
  • http://www.metafilter.com/mefi/47269
  • Dude, somebody on mefi is dissing Tom's writing in a really obnoxious way, apparently not realizing that this entry was not written solely to explain the Qwert Iggle mysteries but also for, you know, friends to read. Because it's about us. And it's from a conversation we had. So I can't help take umbrage at the suggestion that we are unfamiliar with the history of modernism.
    • Okay, now there are defenders. Thanks, internets!
    • Re: the history of modernism

      Tom, can you retrofit the above post for its new metafilter context? Maybe you could shorten it and take out some of that fluff about, you know, what the post was originally about. I mean, it's a bit meandering and really only deals with that Qwert Iggle as an aside. Or maybe you could write up a quick abstract for it.

      No? That's not what you were writing? It was initially a LiveJournal post? But what about PeterMcDermott's incisive criticism based on skimming your first paragraph? What about Duchamp and the Single Most Important strand of modernism? How will you impress your readers? It is, after all, universally valid to criticize a text based on having given up reading it at the get-go.

      With new criticism like this, traditional criticism looks to be... well, hell, I've lost track of what I was saying. I'm well over a hundred words here.

      Intellectual laziness I can accommodate. Laziness cast as intelligent discrimination makes my hackles rise.
      • Re: the history of modernism

        Indeed, I will get on this immediately! But first I ought to devise a PeterMcDermott Filter that will strip out "new media" elements such as narrative, context, tangent, and "writing to one's audience". I will deliver it as a bulleted list, perhaps in PowerPoint.

  • Dude, one of the product reviewers for the Qwert Iggle is one Karl Mamer, aka mindme, one notorious former Canadian and ex-Seattlite now of South Korea, and resident of my friends list for some time.

    The plot sickens.
  • Qwert shmarble, rather; as you say, the qwert iggle is long gone.
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