Robotic Vacuum Cleaner, I Thought You Were My Friend

I've never been a conspiracy theorist—mostly because it's hard to imagine a group of people keeping a juicy secret for decades, let alone centuries. (Knight of Templar to girl in a 12th century bar: "If I told you I protect the hidden bloodline of Jesus Christ, would you hold it against me? Wait, hang on... [clears throat] If I told you that you had a beautiful body...") 

Still, the increasing surveillance and infiltration by data-collecting devices is admittedly beginning to spook me. I'm sure you've all experienced some version of the situation where you mention something to a friend or family member in face-to-face conversation (ex: "When's the last time you saw a grown man wearing overalls?") and then, an hour later, an ad for that topic of conversation pops up on Facebook or Google or a random site. You weren't even on your phone—but it was listening.

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Recently, I discovered that our perky little robo-vacuum cleaner, affectionately named “Toad” by my son, might also be spying on us. According to an article about a WIFI flaw in robotic vacuum cleaners: “Since the vacuum has WiFi, a webcam with night vision, and smartphone-controlled navigation, an attacker could secretly spy on the owner and even use the vacuum as a ‘microphone on wheels' for maximum surveillance potential.” That is freaky, and not in the good way.

So I'll be deactivating Benedict Toad. Sorry to see the little fellow go. Who will get charmingly tangled up with my laptop cord now? Time for our cats to step up and earn their 18 hours of daily sleep around here. 

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What's new with me

This month, I'm excited to share a new essay of mine that Lit Hub just published: MTA Versus MFA: On Trains as Writing Spaces. For those of you unfamiliar with the MTA (i.e. non-New Yorkers), it's the department that oversees all public transportation in the state of New York. And MFAs, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, are Masters of Fine Arts graduate programs (in this instance, creative writing programs). Yes, you know a title is good when you have to explain it... 

If you like the idea of writing on trains, or are curious about how it works, or just like to click on photos of trains chugging along a verdant landscape, today is your day.

MTA Versus MFA: On Trains as Writing Spaces


Things I'm reading that you might enjoy

Bright Dead Things: Poems by Ada Limon

Despite the title, there's a strange and hard-earned optimism at play in these wonderful poems. I was reminded at times of Frank O'Hara's poems; there's the same urgency and honesty, as well as a fearless, forthright lyricism. Here's a link to the first poem, “How to Triumph Like a Girl”.

Sabrina by Nick Drnaso

The first graphic novel nominated for the Man Booker Prize, Sabrina reproduces the alienation of modern life with startling, creepy accuracy. While there's a compelling mystery that keeps thing moving along (no spoilers, don't worry), the smart, unflinching examination of public vs private life was, for me, the most fascinating part of the story.   

The 100 Million Books Chrome Extension

Technically, this isn't a book—it's a browser extension. But it leads to books that, thanks to its random book generator, I'm now reading (or soon to start). Think of it like spinning a literary roulette wheel. It's a fantastic alternative to mindlessly scrolling through social media (oh hello!)  

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Goodbye