Yesterday, the second to last day of October, saw the first truly fall like day we've had in Los Angeles this year; windy and cloudy, and with intermittent showers to boot.
Faces were glum everywhere, and people eyed the sky fearfully before going outside. As usual, drivers seemed to speed up on the slick streets, a behavior I will never understand as long as I live. My friend Chris, who lived here briefly, theorized that they drive faster in a futile attempt to get away from the rain.
It is as though the world is about to end when it rains in Los Angeles. I understand that most of the people who live here relish the usually sunny, usually warm (if not hot) weather, but my god, is a little break in the monotony of baking in the sun under a greenish-brown sky such a terrible thing?
The first "winter" we lived here there was an amusing thing on the news. It was probably Fox. They had a remote reporter someplace relatively close, but much higher up... like Big Bear. It had snapped unexpectedly cold and actually snowed a little bit there, and a sprinkler that had been left on in the freezing temperatures caused icicles to form on the chainlink fence the reporter was standing in front of. The carefully coiffed reporter actually stood live in front of the camera and explained how the icicles got there. I got the feeling I was supposed to discuss this around the watercooler the next day.
"Hey, did you hear that some icicles formed up in Big Bear last night? Yeah, the reporter looked like he was really cold! Boy, you sure wouldn't catch me up there!"
Such behavior would almost be amusing if it weren't usually accompanied by a smug attitude of superiority about living in a place where the weather almost never, ever changes. It's not just a matter of preferring this climate, it's as though people here think less of those who live in places where it snows.
So when it rains here, I like to think that maybe my suddenly improved mood serves to further darken the moods of others distraught by the mere fact that water is falling from the sky.
Addendum: 11/26/2001 - If you don't believe me, read this!
Apple has made a fine computer with the Ti Powerbook, and it's the one that's going to get me to jump the Wintel ship just as soon as I can justify the cost.I've spent quite a bit of money on tech stuff (computer & related components like hard drives, network equipment, etc) and gadgets (PDA's and related accessories) over the last couple of years, thanks to a booming economy and good salaries at my last several jobs. I'll be the first person to admit that I probably should have put most of that money away for a rainy day (or couple of months, which was how long this spring's unemployment spell wound up lasting.)
The problem is that technolust was just too strong for this early-to-mid-twenties geek. The real gadget orgy started with my purchase of a Handspring Visor Deluxe, which I bought back in January of 2000 back when you could only order them directly from Handspring. The folding keyboard upon which this is being written came next, followed by a couple of Springboard modules, my Visor Prism (I actually received one as a Christmas gift, but I had already decided to buy one for myself), and culminating early this year with the purchase of a new Cell phone and a cable for connecting it to my Visor.
I've been a pretty good boy since getting laid off in February; my current salary requires it, but I'd also like to think those two months of unemployment were a little bit sobering. I did buy a Wacom Graphire tablet back in September when I got the creative itch that turned into this site, but that's about it.
Handspring hasn't released any new updates to the Visor line that I absolutely must have, which has been a blessing... for the most part, I haven't had any burning material wants since that cell phone / cable wireless rig. (Well, that's not entirely accurate - I badly want to purchase an Etherwave kit from Big Briar, but that's worthy of a whole other blog.)
Even Apple's rollout yesterday of the new iPod MP3 player didn't give me that pining feeling. Yes, it's a very cool unit and I'd love to have one, but I don't feel like I neeeeed one.
I shouldn't have gone to the Apple web site to read about the iPod, though; while I was there I thought I would take another peek at the Ti Powerbook, a computer that grabbed my interest when it was released earlier this year.
It wasn't lust at first sight because after all, it's a Macintosh, and I got really burned out on the whole one button mouse thing in 1997 when I worked on a PowerMac 9600 with OS 7 for the better part of a year.
But 1" thick...
and that wide, wide screen that's bigger than my damn CRT monitor at home...
The Ti Powerbook has been slowly but patiently working its mojo on me, and I visit it every time I find myself at Fry's Electronics much the same way I try to slow down as I pass the Audi dealership on Van Nuys boulevard to catch a glimpse of the TT coupes. I had heard about Apple's price cuts on the Powerbook about a month ago, but I didn't realize that in addition to dropping the price by $400 they had increased the processor speed and hard drive space on the low-end model. 550Mhz PowerPC plus a 20 gigabyte hard drive. (Hell, I could put OS 9, OS X, and Mandrake Linux 8 on that thing!) Anda free extra 128 megs of RAM through the end of the year.
I've got that pining feeling, and it's not going away.
The other thing that's hurrying me down the path to Camp Macintosh is Microsoft's Windows XP shenanigans; aside from their invasive and cumbersome product registration process, their .NET and hailstorm initiatives scare the hell out of me. Linux is fun, but not quite stable enough as a 24/7 desktop OS for my liking.
OS Wars aside, I also like the fact that Apple (love them or hate them) seems to understand the fact that Microsoft has won the shoving match for desktop market share; Apple's goal instead seems to be making quality computers that appeal to people on certain key levels; aesthetic (I really don't care what my desktop tower looks like; a beige computer works just as well as a shiny translucent grey and white one, but Apple does make some damn fine looking machines), philosophic (people bought into the whole iMac simplicity thing in a big way), and of course the fanatical (I promise, I won't become one of those people.) Just yesterday somebody made the analogy on Slashdot that Apple is trying to position itself as a sort of Harman-Kardon of computers... a higher end, niche market, but a very loyal one. I don't know if I would actually rate Apple as Harman-Kardon to E-Machines' Yorx, but you get the idea.
Microsoft gives me the impression that it will settle for nothing short of world domination over all aspects of computing from the desktop to the internet to the anti-terrorism ID chip they'll be putting in the backs of our necks soon - quality, usability, privacy, and security be damned. I'm really tired of it, and ready for a change. Apple has made a fine computer with the Ti Powerbook, and it's the one that's going to get me to jump the Wintel ship just as soon as I can justify the cost. Anyone need twenty two hundred bucks' worth of web development?
As I sit here with these glasses on, I'm amused to recall what a looming threat it was in elementary school for a kid to need glasses... I remember it being like a social kiss of death, and being glad that I was spared having glasses on top of all my otheSince I had never had a full eye exam that I could recall in my life, I decided to take advantage of my vision benefits and made an appointment for an eye exam at the local Lens Crafters yesterday morning. Prior to yesterday, the only testing my eyes have had was looking at the red 'apple' on the picnic table in the nurse's office in elementary school, that sort of thing; just checks to see if you can focus on whatever it is they show you.
I didn't have any reason to believe I would need glasses; aside from occasional eyestrain after over-long days (and nights) on the computer, my vision has always been pretty good both near and far.
Well, here I am looking at the monitor through my new glasses; as it turns out I'm pretty far-sighted. Thanks to being young and having fairly strong eye muscles, I've never had trouble focusing on things up close, like computer screens and books. My eye muscles were working pretty hard at the close-up stuff, but without the benefit of comparison I never felt it.
With the glasses I can definitely feel my eyes relaxing when focusing on anything within 5 or 6 feet. Beyond that, though, I get the sensation I always did whenever I would try on somebody else's glasses; that swimmy, distorted vision that will give you a headache if you look for more than a few seconds.
This will take some getting used to. I expect I will have a mild headache for the next couple of days while my hand-eye coordination adjusts to the magnification of close-up objects and the mild distortion of objects in my peripheral vision.
As I sit here with these glasses on, I'm amused to recall what a looming threat it was in elementary school for a kid to need glasses... I remember it being like a social kiss of death, and being glad that I was spared having glasses on top of all my other social shortcomings.
I don't remember exactly why it was such a big deal, though. I guess a big part of it was the athletic aspect; if you have to wear glasses all the time, it impedes on your ability to run around doing the stupid stuff kids do, and is therefore exclusionary in that regard. And of course, anything from the norm in elementary school is a strike against you.
It is nice not to need to worry about stupid bullshit like that any more. Even in Los Angeles, which I'd be willing to wager is the stupid bullshit capital of the world, the issue wouldn't be so much whether or not you have glasses as much as whether your frames are Armani or the LensCrafters $50 special.
Sherman Oaks, California. Ventura Boulevard at Cedros, looking east.
We met Lulu at the Sherman Oaks street fair.
Last fall I wrote some fairly acerbic things about the general lack of quality of coffee in the workplace and posted them on Intercrap… I’d link to it but Intercrap has been experiencing technical difficulties for some months now.
Anyway, the gist of the thing was that I’m tired, so very tired of bad coffee maker maintenance at the office… just the basic stuff, like actually washing the carafe and filter basket before making a new pot. Quality coffee helps too, but it is gracious of companies to provide free coffee at all, and they can’t be faulted for going with the cheap stuff like Yuban.
But ye gods, our department’s designated coffee maker is in a room without a sink! I think somebody rinses and wipes out the carafe somewhere at the end of the day, but that’s about it.
Soon after I started here I went the bring-your-own-Thermos route for a while, but that got old quickly. A month or so ago I brought in a jar of instant coffee, reasoning that at least instant coffee is consistent, even if it’s not really coffee.
Every once in a while I will still go for the gusto and pour myself a mug of black coffee from the office carafe, and every time I am unprepared for how awful it is; bitter, overextracted, and burnt.
This week I have taken to adding non-dairy creamer and sugar to the stuff, which makes it tolerable… and it finally occurs to me (duh) that this is probably why a lot of people add copious milk/cream/creamer and sugar to their coffee.
I’ve been accused of being a coffee snob, but what I really am is spoiled by a small place in Sherman Oaks, CA called The Coffee Roaster - they roast their own beans in the store, and brew it to perfect strength.
I know a lot of people drink coffee for the caffeine as opposed to the taste, but to me that’s buying some Oscar Meyer sliced turkey for Thanksgiving because all you’re after is the Tryptophan. Or drinking Budweiser/Coors.
It’s like anything else… if your mom/aunt/grandmother makes the best apple pie in the world, all other apple pies will prove disappointing
Then there are those who will actively avoid good coffee. The experience that truly blew my mind happened a couple of years ago, when I worked across the street from Mani’s Bakery on Fairfax. They’re an organic ingredients only type of place, right down to their coffee. One day somebody from another office of my then employer came by our office to pick up some paperwork or some such. Somebody was going to make a run across the street for coffee, and asked her if she wanted a cup and she said, “Sure!” Then, clearly as an afterthought (After all, it’s not an exaggeration to say there’s a Starbucks on every corner in Los Angeles) she asked “Is it Starbucks?”
When we told her it wasn’t Starbucks but maybe even a little bit better, without that omnipresent burnt taste, she rolled her eyes and proudly proclaimed, “Well, I only drink Starbucks coffee.”
It was as though we had suggested that she drink some bottled toilet water instead of Evian. Were we supposed to be impressed? Or feel inferior? I don’t know. I just want a decent cup of coffee.
Mod_rewrite wasn't nearly the monster to figure out that I was anticipating. Actually, I think I spent more time recompiling Apache than I did figuring out the rewrite rules for the blog indexes and entries.
Still, that Voodoo quote at the top of the Apache page holds true. Mod_rewrite is damned cool voodoo. Two quick rewrite rules, and with a flick of the switch (well, with an apachectl restart) a nasty URL like '/blogs.php4?year=2001?month=10' becomes /blog/2001/10/index.html
This sets up an easily remembered taxonomy for looking up a blog index from any given month and year, and the second rule lets you take it right down to the day, as in /blog/2001/09/25/index.html
Nor does it have to be arranged by day; I could set up paths like /photos/architecture/greene/gamble/index.html if I were so inclined. I'll have to give that one some thought.
But probably the biggest plus is that, as far as search engines are concerned, this is one big static HTML site. As far as other surfers are concerned, the URLs are highly transportable.
The rest of the day was spent shoring up the database interface page, allowing for adds/updates of blog entries, that sort of thing. Next comes the lower-level automation stuff; automatic links to the next & previous blog entry, next & previous months' index, etc.
But now it's late Sunday night, and since I have to drag my sullen self to work in the morning I'd best get to bed.
It's way too late on a weeknight to be getting a cup of coffee, but here I am. Some time last year Starbucks opened a store on the same as block as The Coffee Roaster here in Sherman Oaks. The Coffee Roaster happens to have the best coffee and beans in Los Angeles, or anywhere in my experience.
As much as I hate patronizing the store that is obviously trying to oust the independent, I still wind up coming here every once in a while at night, after The Coffee Roaster has closed - that's the justification. Well, that plus the fact that Starbucks has ample seating if you want to stay for a while. The Coffee Roaster recently got some nice tables and chairs that sit in the front of the store during the day, but the only seating inside the store is two seats at the counter that also serves as a display for the muffins and scones.
All of which is great, if you have the time to linger a little bit in the morning before work. It's a very cozy place, and when I worked at Stan Lee Media I would often delay the trip to the office by fifteen minutes to hang out... fifteen minutes earlier or later to work didn't matter at SLM.
But it's not really a place to whip out your PDA and folding keyboard and start writing; there are only so many tables, and I would have the constant anxiety of people waiting behind me, which is just the reason I'm so terrible at golf.
So, Starbucks it is, for a couple of reasons:
I didn't go to the Horseshoe very often, but one of my fondest memories of the place is the night two years ago when Chris and I were there until about two o'clock in the morning.
I think we were both still working at Edmunds.com at the time, and much of the conversation that night revolved around how miserable things were getting - even Chris, who had only been there for four months, had seen a dramatic decline in the corporate climate in that short time. I had been there a year and a half, and the change was terrible to behold. (But that's a tale for another rambling blog entry.)
We had always gotten along at the office, but we hadn't particularly 'hung out' after work until we wound up at the Horseshoe. It was, for lack of a phrase that hasn't been overused into ineffectiveness, a bonding experience.
One of the things that came out of my bitter departure from Edmunds.com was a web site called Intercrap.com... born of anger and frustration with the now universally reviled Dot Com culture, Chris and I cranked out about one essay per week targeting some new harebrained business plan or pointy haired boss management philosophy.
After the bottom fell out of the whole industry last April, the pace on Intercrap.com slowed down; we were finally preaching to the choir, but writing those angry pontifications had become depressing rather than cathartic.
Still, it felt good to be writing something, and my work on Intercrap actually got me some work at Webmonkey. In May I landed my job with Stan Lee Media, and I used part of my signing bonus to purchase a Stowaway keyboard for my Visor. I got into the habit of getting out of the apartment to write, usually coming to this Starbucks or sometimes the cafe at the newly opened Borders Books further down the boulevard. Intercrap limped along at a gradually slowing pace until late last year, when neither Chris nor I had anything more to say. I haven't gone out for the express purpose of writing since early this year; I think the last time was probably early this last March, in the weeks following the loss of my job at Webcamnow, and I don't think anything ever came of it.
But now I've got this here web site that I'm forcing myself to update everyday, and after a crazy day followed by an afternoon nap, I felt like I had to get out of the apartment to get rid of that post-nap fuzziness. I figured (and rightly so) that a small cup of coffee would nudge me back into consciousness, at least enough to do a write up of the day's events. Look what I came up with instead.
I'm still not entirely comfortable with keeping a daily blog; I'm very aware of the fact that most of the stuff I read on other peoples' weblogs annoys the hell out of me, and that makes me feel like a hypocrite. It also makes me worry that somebody who finds this page while searching for a source for good coffee in Sherman Oaks will read this mess and think to themselves "What an a-hole... why does he think I would give a shit about his old friends or going to Starbucks to write?"
But I guess the reason I'm sticking with it this time is that I don't give a shit... I just want to build a site out and see how many hits it gets, while playing with new PHP and database stuff along the way.
The problem with Intercrap and the much earlier 'Randomonium' site I tried to run back in 1998 was that every update had to be a finished Article with a capital A. It seems fun at first, but it quickly becomes a chore. This stream of consciousness format takes the pressure off, and turns site updates into more of a meditation/hobby, giving me the same satisfaction that other people get out of activities like gardening and crossword puzzles.
So that's it, I guess. As longwinded as this wound up being, I'm glad I wound up writing about writing instead of writing an hour by hour account of my hectic day.
Old Trapper’s Lodge
Woodland Hills, California
Lonesome George sits near the entrance of Cleveland Park at Los Angeles Pierce College in Woodland Hills, California. If you think he looks creepy in this shot, just imagine him sitting there on that bench in the dead of night, still staring his glassy stare into the darkness. George is a part of the Old Trapper's Lodge installation which inhabits the park.
As the days turned to weeks after the destruction of the World Trade Center, social commentary began to shift its focus. At first it was comforting to read a lot of things being written; accounts of America's generous outpooring of support in the form of blood and monetary donations, patriotic unity as everyone rushed to the nearest street corner to buy an overpriced American flag, even the networks' scamble to organize a celebrity benefit telethon was, in its own strange way, reaffirming.
But at about the same time as the Daily Show came back on the air with Jon Stewart's tearful monologue, the new big topic (aside from The War On Terrorism) was "When will it be OK to laugh again?" Or, "If it's OK to laugh, what is it OK to laugh at?" Or, "Do cynicism and irony have a place in humor after September 11?"
Well, if White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer telling American citizens that "they have to watch what they say and watch what they do" isn't cause for cynicism, I don't know what is. I am still just as shocked, saddened, and dismayed about the destruction that happened in New York and Washington as I was on the day it happened, but after 5 straight days of watching CNN and scouring new web sites for news and information, I had to turn it down a little bit and get back to something that felt somewhat normal. For me (and a lot of people, judging by the shows' longevity) normal is watching shows chock full of irony, sarcasm, and cynicism... shows like the Daily Show, The Simpsons, and Seinfeld. These shows made me laugh before September 11. After the initial shock of that day wore off, why shouldn't they make me laugh now? I can appreciate that there are those for whom cynical humor isn't a comfort right now... but I'll be damned if I'll acknowledge "What's OK to laugh at" as a legitimate social issue.
If you don't think a particular type of humor appropriate, don't read, watch, or listen to it... and don't tell me I have to watch what I say, either. I was under the impression that our President's War on Terrorism was for the express purpose of protecting America's freedoms, which include not having to watch what I say. That one is protected by that pesky Bill of Rights that always seems to be getting in John Ashcroft's way. That's not to say that Bill Maher didn't make an even bigger jackass out of himself than usual by calling the U.S. Military 'cowardly', but his show is called Politically Incorrect and he does have a right to make a jackass out of himself if he wants.
In the end, The Onion came to my rescue with this week's feature story, A Shattered Nation Longs To Care About Stupid Bullshit Again. The Onion really nailed that sucker - when the pundits at sites like Salon.com wring their hands over learning how to laugh again, maybe what they're really wondering is why people suddenly feel empty when they watch shows like Big Brother and Love Cruise.
Ahem. Who pissed in my Cheerios yesterday? When I read that last bit this morning I was taken aback - I haven't written with such vitriol since Intercrap was at its zenith. But you get the idea... it's October, and the temperature is in the 90-100 degree range. October is when the leaves turn orange, red, and yellow, and it gets cold enough to have a fire in the fireplace, if you're lucky enough to have one. October is when you go to a pumpkin patch and pick out a blank canvas for the Jack 'o Lantern you'll be bringing to the festival. October is not when you have to leave the AC on 24 hours a day just so the temperature inside your apartment will stay in the 80s.
For the most part, I've made an uneasy peace with Los Angeles... there really are things here that I actively like and will miss when we finally move away. Unfortunately the things I don't like outnumber the things I do, and the unbearable heat of the last week has skewed the like/dislike ratio far to the dislike side, resulting in gems like "smog-ridden cesspit". Maybe I should sleep in the pool tonight.
The ungodly heat wave of the last five days here in the San Fernando Valley is not a “late summer” as I’ve heard people around calling it. It is hell on Earth.
In my five years here, I’ve noticed that there are three kinds of people:
Unfortunately, a lot of these last people (read: me) get stuck here a lot longer than they’d like. We are the people who find ourselves subjected to the reflexive response of “But the weather’s so nice here!” from the natives and willful transplants whenever we raise an objection of any kind to Los Angeles.
Well, I propose we take all those folks who like to tell people how nice the weather is and put them in a station wagon with the windows rolled up (You know, like some inept mother from Simi Valley) for a couple of hours and see how nice they think the weather is. Come to think of it, maybe they could just spend a couple of hours in my second floor apartment. Of course, upon exiting their first words would be “…but it’s a dry heat!”