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general

Film, memoirs, rollovers

I just got back from another walk around NAS Alameda with two of my film cameras, the Vivitar point-and-shoot and the Canon QL-17. Nice weather for a walk, although there was some event going on and the west side of the island was far too busy for me. I should probably get used to that, because at some point, they’ll tear down the old barracks and put in live/work condos and it will always be this busy.

Shooting with that Vivitar is always weird, because sometimes I forget it isn’t the same one that I bought in 1993 and had back in the 90s. When I’m walking around the Bay Area with it, it’s a strong memory hole back to my first trip to California in 1996.  Looking at grainy, faded analog pictures (like the one above) reminds me so much of that trip, and the late 90s San Francisco, and it makes me wonder what it will be like in 2045, looking at 20-megapixel DSLR images on whatever crazy 3-D 200K screens we’ll be staring at by then. (Provided I still have vision in 25 years. And will still be alive.)

I made a vow to not buy any more film until I shot everything I have on hand, and I did that today, minus the 20-some shots of black-and-white still in the Canon. I’m expecting some crazy supply-chain stuff that’s going to completely throw that off, though. I haven’t bought any film since 2018, and I’m sure things have changed. I’ve got a dozen rolls waiting to be processed, so maybe when I drop those off at Mike’s Camera next weekend, I’ll see what they have in stock. Or, it’s off to eBay.

* * *

Writing is still going nowhere. This week, I was revisiting a book I started writing in 2012. I’ve tried a few times writing a book that is basically a Summer Rain prequel, that takes place in the summer of 1989, between high school and college. I’ve had at least two false starts totaling maybe 100,000 words between them, and they always die about halfway through. I started a very Raymond Federman-esque book in ’12 that was about the attempts to write this book, and the problems therein. It came from reading Double or Nothing too many times.

I thought I’d revisit it, thinking about how I look back at that era as a 50-year-old, and all of the problems I have now with nostalgia. And maybe a meditation on the need to write a memoir, and why it’s a bad idea, or has been distorted or changed in recent years. I think when I was living in that era, and a bunch of stuff happened that summer, I always thought, “this would make a great book,” because it all lined up so exactly with the traditional novel plot curve, and the events were so extraordinary or traumatic or whatever. That was before I considered myself a writer, and back then, writing a book was a giant, insurmountable goal, like climbing a mountain or running a marathon. The idea of “getting published” was such a high bar, a lofty thing, and I always thought maybe someday I would.

Now, I’ve published so many books I can never remember how many and have to look it up any time someone asks. (It’s seventeen, more or less.) Anyone can publish their own book in five minutes. And the national zeitgeist isn’t about publishing a book, because nobody even reads books anymore. It’s about going viral, making a fifteen-second video that catches on, or whatever. Old man shakes fist at air, I know.

The other main reason I need to put this down is I know I have some deep, unsettled trauma about those years. It’s not like Trauma trauma, like I watched my parents get killed after going out to a movie and had to become a crime fighter dressed as a Chiroptera. But there’s some heavy unresolved something there, something that’s best left alone. Nothing specific, just generalized. I don’t want to spend my time going back anymore. But it’s a problem that when I’m faced with a blank page and no ideas, that’s where I go.

* * *

Nothing else. I wasted about half of today trying to figure out how to roll over an IRA from Schwab to E*Trade. That place I worked in Denver got bought by McAfee a long time ago, and I had like a month of 401K stuck there, which got moved to an IRA, and they mailed everything to my old address and it got lost. After much phone tag, I found it sitting in an account at Schwab, then promptly forgot all about it. I just remembered, and 25% of it is gone because of fees. I thought transferring it would involve actually finding a fax machine in 2021, but it appears they take a PDF by email. Fingers crossed.

Categories
general

videos, writing, programming, pocket computer

I am sort of done with the Random Life project. There are 100 videos there now. It was fun digging through some old stuff, but I got almost zero reaction from anyone out of it, and maybe it was a dumb idea. Oh well. Maybe in two or three years, I’ll look at it again and it will be interesting.

Been insanely busy with a big work release, and that’s finally done, but I haven’t been back on the horse with anything writing since then. It’s the time of year where I start to panic about not getting a book published this year, since the last year I had nothing published was 2010. But I’m in a weird place right now, where I am having a lot of trouble writing anything cohesive. I am just repeating myself at this point, and I really don’t like what I’ve been doing the last few books. And a lot of people agree, based on my sales numbers. So who knows what I will do. Maybe I will pull something together in the next 96 days. Or maybe I will pick up this writing thing after I retire. I really don’t know.

* * *
For whatever reason, I started programming again. One of the three projects I always take up when I think I’m going to learn programming is writing a Zork-like game, a text-based RPG. Yes, I could just use Twine or some other game engine to do this. I mean, I could just play Zork. This is mostly just a dumb hobby for me to do because I can’t write, I don’t want to spend two thousand dollars on a gaming PC, and I am not about to start playing golf.

So I started writing this game in straight vanilla C, with nothing but the standard library. I still know a remarkable amount of C, given that I think I learned it thirty years ago. What I didn’t remember is that C is such a pain in the ass to work with. Every data structure that isn’t an integer requires you to either write or steal a library to do it. Dynamic arrays? DIY. Binary trees? You’re on your own. It all involves pointers and malloc’ing memory, and every time I would write ten lines of code, I’d think, “well, that’s going to break in actual use” or “that’s completely insecure.” I got a few hundred lines into the thing before I decided to switch to using Ruby.

I guess Ruby is now an inherently uncool language. All the cool kids use Rust, or JavaScript, or maybe Python. I first started messing with Ruby in the context of Rails development in 2006 or 2007, and spent a couple of years doing a ton of it, on a brief  sabbatical from tech writing. Haven’t done much since then, but I thought maybe I’d do this game in Ruby, no Rails, no ActiveRecord, no crazy gem dependencies. I think it took me about 25 minutes to redo the couple of days of work I did in C.

It was easy to get lost in this, but I also ran into a few issues. The first is the constant though of “nobody uses Ruby anymore.” The other is thinking that some bit of code is a very un-Ruby way to do things. I started reading more about Ruby, and it sort of drove me nuts because the Ruby way to do stuff is usually inherently unreadable. It’s neat and cool, but in my mind, doing a “if this thing is nil, do something else” is more readable than “do something else unless this thing is nil.” I realize I’m probably losing all of you non-programmers here, and I’m being pedantic, but I have some basic fear of writing this thing, publishing it on GitHub, and then having a seasoned veteran look at it like I’d look at a Reddit DIY post about some idiot who proudly enlarged their living room by removing every load-bearing interior wall in their house.

Also I get to the “why are you even doing this?” point. And the fact that I’m relaxing after a dozen of hours of hacking away at unreadable garbage in the Atom editor and pushing it to GitHub by spending a few hours hacking away at unreadable garbage in the Atom editor and pushing it to GitHub. So, yeah. How much does golf cost?

* * *

I bought this “Pocket Computer” – a Sharp PC-E500S. It came out in 1995, and has 32KB of memory. It’s roughly half the size of an iPad lengthwise, about 9×4 inches, maybe 3/4-inch thick. It has a 4×40-character display, LCD, and more or less a full QWERTY keyboard, except plastic little keys like a calculator. You can write BASIC programs in it, but it also has a bunch of crazy engineering software in it, so you can do integral calculus or pull up a periodic table of elements. It runs forever on four AAA batteries.

I don’t really know what I’ll do with it. I won it on a lark – made a hail mary offer on it on eBay, and the seller accepted. It has a serial port that uses a connector I’ve never seen, and a cartridge port for proprietary memory cards that are impossible to find. It is slightly more useful and interesting than the Casio FX-7000GA I have from 1990, which currently spends its time in a storage container in my closet. I need to keep in mind that buying things doesn’t really give me the joy I think it will.

* * *

The helicopter picture above is apropos of nothing. It’s from my Alaska trip in 2006. I think I’m at the point where I want to go back to Alaska, and I’m currently stuck with a bunch of Alaska Air credits I can’t use, but who knows when it will be safe to get back up there. I sometimes think it would be cool to go further north, head up to Fairbanks, but I don’t know the logistics of it. Maybe at some point.

Categories
general

Random Life, Data Hoarding, Pictures

The Random Life project is running out of steam, which is fine. I have posted 100 videos, and I’m about out of footage. They’re scheduled to come out one a day for the next month. 81 are live as of this second. I might get bored and post all of them in one big deluge. I’ve pretty much scoured all of my old tapes and what’s come out of my digital cameras. Maybe a second pass through the old Hi8 would reveal more, but I think doing more on this involves me leaving the house, which won’t happen any time soon.

I had some vague idea that I’d take all of the footage — I’m not sure how long it is, maybe an hour? — and glue it all together and make one long “movie” out of it. There are a few problems with that, most notably that that aspect ratios of things differ. The other is that iDVD was the perfect software for making a nice version of this, and it died a few years ago. Also, I thought it would be neat to list it using CreateSpace, and I could order DVDs on demand, but they stopped doing that a while ago. And I don’t know how I would even play a DVD anymore, without digging out an old external drive. The other issue is that with no plot or linear story, people wouldn’t “get it,” which is probably why the project has mostly gone nowhere. But I’m sure in a year or two when this is completely out of my head, this will seem interesting again.

* * *

So, I’ve had FreeNAS installed on my data hoarding server since maybe 2014, and never updated it. The machine itself is a Lenovo TS-140, which is great because it’s low-power but also supports server-type stuff like ECC memory. I threw FreeNAS on it and set up a ZFS pool with three drives in it, which gave me something like three or four terabytes of redundant storage. I run Plex on it and it can transcode videos on-the-fly, which is good because every time I have an AVI or something and I need to watch it on a real TV, I don’t want to have to google the entire history of video compression to figure out how to view it. The server is also a black hole of large PDFs I will never read. There’s about a half-terabyte of government PDFs about UFOs, and I now have zero interest in that, but I can’t just delete them.

Anyway, I had a drive fail in that pool in 2019? or so, and it was an easy and fun process to replace it. No data loss, because of the redundancy. I bought a larger drive, swapped it out, and it “resilvered” it with the stripes of redundant data from the other ones and magically healed itself. The pool size is calculated based on the smallest drive in the pool, and that thing had two 3TB drives and I replaced the dead one with a 4TB, but didn’t have the cash or will to buy three new drives. I replaced the 3TB with a 6TB, and that expanded the pool to 5TB. If I was smart, I’d do the math and come up with some schedule where I rotated out the oldest drive with the biggest I could afford at some regular interval, but I’m too lazy to figure this out.

Felt a need to upgrade this thing, because I’m sure it’s full of security holes, and my TV started complaining it needed a newer version of Plex, and the NAS wouldn’t upgrade it anymore until I upgraded the OS. I thought maybe I’d do incremental upgrades, like go from 9.0 to 9.1 to 10.0, etc etc. I did the first minor upgrade and it bricked the machine. So I needed a different plan.

I’d heard the new versions of TrueNAS (they changed the name from FreeNAS for some damn reason, probably money-related) kill USB thumb drives, which I was using to boot for the last 7 years. I’m surprised that one lasted as long as it did. So I bought a small SSD drive (120GB) for thirty bucks, and installed that in the box as a boot drive. Then I got the latest TrueNAS installer, booted from that, and did a fresh install. Imported the old pool, installed a fresh Plex install, added an AFP share so my Macs see it, and done. I ran into zero kinks in the install, and the web dashboard looks all shiny and new.

I just realized nobody will care about the last few paragraphs. I run into that a lot. Why do I even do this anymore? I think someone famous said “I write things down so I won’t forget them.” Or maybe that was the marketing slogan for a hipster notebook. I didn’t write it down, so I forgot.

* * *

Oh yeah, Shuttle photos from the trip are on Flickr: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmWub6uW

Also, I have a ton of pictures of NAS Alameda that need to be sorted and labelled and organized, but here’s a raw dump of all of them: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmWwqwem

I don’t know who still uses Flickr, if anyone. I noticed my last photo dump was my Vegas trip right before the pandemic started. I’m not sure if that’s because of the lack of travel, or my general apathy about sorting and organizing photos.

* * *

I have to drive to the dentist in a minute. I’ve already covered this earlier, but I still go to the dentist I had in 2008 when I lived in South San Francisco. The drive stinks, but he’s a good dentist, and he’s open Saturdays. His practice is attached to a rapidly dying mall, and there are all of the usual ghosts from living there way back when. Oh, and he’s got to drill up two teeth, and I have to pay for it.

Categories
general

Every mall I’ve ever visited (list)

Here is a list of every mall I have ever visited, that I can remember.

A few disclaimers:

  • I only listed enclosed malls (or ones that were enclosed at the time)
  • Some of the names have changed. I’m not going to go through every mall bought by Westfield and change stuff like Fox Hills to Westfield Culver City or whatever.
  • Some city names don’t match actual postal addresses. Like is Mayfair legally in Wauwatosa or Milwaukee? Whatever.
  • I’ve obviously forgotten exact names of places from childhood. I know I’ve been to some malls in St. Louis and Chicago that I’ve forgotten.
  • These are in no real order.
  • This isn’t an encyclopedia or a published peer-reviewed dissertation. It’s a list of memories. Don’t even think about giving me corrections.
  • § = dead or demalled

The list:

  1. Concord Mall, Elkhart, IN
  2. Pierre Moran Mall, Elkhart, IN §
  3. Scottsdale Mall, South Bend, IN §
  4. University Park Mall, Mishawaka, IN
  5. Glenbrook Square, Ft Wayne, IN
  6. College Mall, Bloomington, IN
  7. Southlake Mall, Merrilville, IN
  8. Markland Mall, Kokomo, IN
  9. Lafayette Square Mall, Indianapolis, IN
  10. Oak Ridge Mall, Oak Ridge, TN §
  11. Woodfield Mall Chicago, IL
  12. Northgate Mall, Seattle, WA §
  13. Factoria Mall, Factoria, WA
  14. Southcenter Mall, Seattle, WA
  15. Alderwood Mall, Lynwood, WA
  16. Totem Lake Mall, Kirkland, WA §
  17. Bellevue Square, Bellevue, WA
  18. Columbus City Center, Columbus, OH §
  19. Three Rivers Mall, Kelso, WA
  20. Triangle Mall, Longview, WA §
  21. Lloyd Center Mall, Portland, WA
  22. Manhattan Mall, New York, NY
  23. Newport Center, Jersey City, NJ
  24. Staten Island Mall, Staten Island, NY
  25. The Mall at the World Trade Center, New York, NY §
  26. Queens Center, Queens, NY
  27. Short Hills Mall, Short Hills, NJ
  28. Hudson Valley Mall, Kingston, NY
  29. Pyramid Mall, Ithaca, NY
  30. Roosevelt Field Mall, Long Island, NY
  31. Eaton Centre, Toronto, Ontario
  32. Ala Moana Mall, Honolulu, HI
  33. Lahaina Cannery Mall, Lahaina, HI
  34. Cherry Creek Mall, Denver, CO
  35. Park Meadows Mall, Denver, CO
  36. Fox Hills Mall, Culver City, CA
  37. Beverly Center, Los Angeles, CA
  38. Tanforan Mall, San Bruno, CA
  39. Serramonte Mall, Daly City, CA
  40. Westfield San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
  41. University Mall, Davis, CA
  42. Hilltop Mall, Richmond, CA §
  43. Northgate Mall, San Rafael, CA
  44. Stoneridge Mall, Pleasanton, CA
  45. Vallco Mall, Cupertino, CA §
  46. Sun Valley Mall, Concord, CA
  47. Bayfair Mall, San Leandro CA
  48. Southland Mall, Hayward, CA
  49. Newpark Mall, Newark, CA
  50. Eastridge Mall, San Jose, CA
  51. Great Mall, Milpitas, CA
  52. Sears Mall, Anchorage, AK
  53. Fifth ave mall, Anchorage, AK
  54. Meadowood mall, Reno, NV
  55. Reno town mall, Reno, NV
  56. Fashion show Las Vegas, NV
  57. Boulevard mall Las Vegas, NV
  58. Meadows mall Las Vegas, NV
  59. Galleria at sunset, Henderson, NV
  60. Grand Canal Shops at the Venetian, Las Vegas, NV
  61. Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas, NV
  62. Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas, NV
  63. The Shops at Crystals, Las Vegas, NV
  64. Mayfair mall, Milwaukee, WI
  65. Bayshore, Milwaukee, WI
  66. Southridge, Milwaukee, WI
  67. Grand Avenue, Milwaukee, WI §
  68. Galleria at Redondo Beach, Redondo Beach, CA
  69. Galleria at Sherman Oaks, Sherman Oaks, CA §
  70. Tyrone Square, St Petersburg, FL
  71. Tampa Bay Center, Tampa, FL
  72. Regency Mall, Racine, WI
  73. MyZeil mall, Frankfurt, Germany
Categories
general

Back to Earth

I guess I’ve been back from LA for almost a week, but haven’t done the full stupid trip report, as usual. Not a lot to report; I tried to get out and do a few things, but I wanted to avoid three particular activities: eating ten times the normal amount; doing tourist trap stuff; and catching the plague. I gained a pound and a half, but tested negative on Friday, so partial success, I guess.

Let me try to reconstruct a bulleted list of stuff:

  • I forgot to mention, but the new gear for the Random Life project is a DJI Osmo Action camera, which is essentially a GoPro competitor. It’s about 2×3 inches, an inch thick, with screens on the front and back, waterproof (allegedly), and takes both still or a variety of video formats, up to 4K. It is extremely tiny. In practice, I found that it’s great for dash cam footage or tripod use, and would be good if I did any sport more extreme than walking. When I’m just randomly walking, I found that I would never hold the thing perfectly straight, which is problematic. Wind noise can be an issue too, I guess. Anyway, I brought that, the Canon EOS M mirrorless, and my DSLR, which never left the case. The mirrorless was great for quick shots, but horrible for video. Oh, I had an analog point-and-shoot, the Vivitar, but only shot maybe a roll of film.
  • Went walking at Dockweiler beach one morning. I used to live just east of here, and would walk to the beach a lot during the day. It was pretty empty but a lot more people than I expected. I got there just as the marine layer was not yet clear, and there was a slight haze over the air. It’s so peaceful on that beach, and I wish I still lived nearby so I could walk it every day in the morning.
  • Went to Santa Monica and saw the Space Shuttle Endeavour. There’s some other great stuff to see at the science center, like they have a Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsule, and the only surviving F-20 prototype. But I hustled past everything to get to the Shuttle. It did not disappoint. I was such a huge space nerd as a kid, and the Shuttles were such a big part of my childhood, it honestly made me emotional just to be standing right next to one. It’s also amazing to look at one up close, because from a distance, they look like an airplane with a solid metal body painted white and black, but when you’re a few feet away, you see that it’s made of 21,000 tiles, which look like a reptile’s skin. I took many laps and many pictures around the thing, and the museum was almost dead on a Monday morning, which made it even more awesome.
  • I mentioned the malls in the last post, and didn’t go to any others. Fox Hills (aka Westfield Culver City) was too new and bland with the latest refresh; Galleria Redondo Beach had some good bones to it, but looked like it was in the slow slide;  Galleria Sherman Oaks is now an office building (no more Fast Times); FIGat7th is not a mall at all, just a semicircle of stores downtown, with insane parking fees.
  • Always fun to go back to Ralph’s, and even more weird when it’s the one I used to shop at every week. I forgot that I still have a Ralph’s fob on my keychain. Also forgot that their parent company is one of our biggest customers at the day job.
  • If you were looking to buy houses in LA in 2008 and still remember the prices, do not go window-shopping on Zillow. Just don’t do it.
  • The Promenade in Santa Monica was somewhat depressing to me. I think I’m used to going on a Saturday afternoon in the summer when it’s busy and there isn’t a pandemic going on, so going on a Wednesday morning was a drag.
  • I’ve never been to the Getty, so I drove up there and checked it out. I was more interested in the buildings and grounds, even more than the art. You park at the bottom of a giant hill and take this tram that snakes upward for a mile, but you can also hoof it, which was a nice break. Lots of great architecture, and amazing views of the city from up there.
  • Went to an air museum in Torrance, at Zamperini Field. I primarily went because they have two rare prototype planes there: Northrop’s YF-17 and YF-23, which are the planes that lost out to the F-16 and F-22 in bake-off competitions. Unfortunately, both are locked down in a part of the field you can’t get to right now. But they had a lot of other great stuff on display, and were very nice and helpful there.
  • I ate a lot, ate too much junk. Went to Shake Shack twice. In-N-Out once. Went to Carl’s Jr. once to try their chicken sandwich and only got halfway through it before I had to pitch it, because it tasted like it had a cup of mayo on it. I went to Veggie Grill I think three times, because it was a 30-minute walk each way, and I needed the walk. I walked 30 miles over the course of the week.
  • Didn’t get a lot of writing done. Got some video editing finished. Some reading. I realized how hard it is for me to relax in general. But at least I didn’t check work email.
  • Trip back was pretty easy, and ran into no traffic on the way out of LA. Two traffic jams in the middle of the state, so there’s that.
  • No pictures posted, maybe I’ll get to it. Videos have been showing up or are scheduled on Random Life, so like, share, subscribe, etc.
Categories
general

The Second

So, change of plans on the Seattle thing. I am not ready to fly. And I’m not ready to see people, or see any of the various ghosts of Seattle that would bother me. And then there’s Delta. So, about two days before leaving, I canceled everything, backed out, and then needed to correct course. I wanted a place to hide out for a week, somewhere that wasn’t in the bay area, wasn’t Las Vegas, and was somewhat within driving distance.

So, I’ve been in Los Angeles since Saturday. More specifically, I’m staying in a residency suite in El Segundo, which is about five miles from my 2008 apartment. I figured the weather was nicer here, it was all easy to drive, and maybe I’d see some malls and get some writing done. And of course that hasn’t happened.

* * *

First, the drive down took about six hours and change, a pretty much straight shot through the middle of the state on I-5. The longest trip I’ve taken in this car was maybe two hours. I did the SF-LA round trip a couple of times in 08 with the Yaris, but it’s been a while. And it’s been a while since I’ve done any long-distance driving. (I have had four-hour drives home from work, but that was about 38 miles.)

The middle of the state is a strange world, and reminds me of what’s left on the surface of the planet in those Asimov robot books where everyone lives underground. It’s factory farms in every direction, broken up by stretches of nothingness. It would be the perfect long run to zone out on some true crime podcast, except it’s two lanes each way, and a constant war between people going way too fast in the left lane and way too slow in the right. There was also this strange haze in the air for the entire trip. At first I thought it was just morning fog, but after I got further south, I could tell it was some combination of agricultural dust and the debris from the fires up north, getting sucked into the wind tunnel of the central valley.

I stopped about two or three hours in for lunch, at this weird little non-town that was nothing but four mega-stations on each corner of an intersection, each with a fast food place grafted onto it. A bit further out, an older set of fast food joints lay abandoned, either arsoned or destroyed by the elements and vandals, probably stripped of any metal. I got out of my car at the gas station and realized the temperature had risen maybe forty degrees since I left the house. There was no sun overhead, just an amber-brown haze of dust.Too bad John Steinbeck’s not around to write a sequel.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. I had to stop maybe 50 miles out from the hotel for a tank of gas. Not only had I forgotten to turn on Eco mode, which cut my range maybe thirty miles, but I didn’t remember that the last bit was a rough uphill climb through the pass, going from sea level to about 4400 feet and back down. I went to a station right by Magic Mountain, which reminds me of my very first trip to LA in 1997. No restroom there, so I went to a McDonald’s, After using the facilities there, I ordered a drink and some fries that I probably should not have eaten anyway. After ten or fifteen minutes of waiting for a simple order, I said fuck it and left, $3.14 off into the universe.

Once I got back on the highway, it was pretty much bumper-to-bumper for the next fifty miles. Welcome to Los Angeles.

* * *

Somewhere on the 405, Google Maps started complaining about the traffic and routing me onto various parallel surface roads, which I usually ignore, but this time I went for it and dumped off on Sawtelle, maybe around West Los Angeles. And then it became rows of tall palm trees and tournefortia, rows of rancher houses and stucco cottages. And the first reaction was that I really, really missed LA.

And then it was weird, because I’d shut off the GPS, and was just driving, and I realized that Sawtelle runs into Culver, and Culver runs out almost to the ocean, and hits Pershing, and Pershing goes straight to my old apartment. And keep going past LAX, and hang a left on Imperial Highway, then a right on Sepulveda, and you’re at the strip of stores like my old Walgreen’s and my old Ralph’s. And hang a left a block from that, and there’s my hotel. The entire week has been half-remembered connections like that, strange deja-vu moments of remembering driving on a road a dozen years ago, and that it connects with another road and goes to another neighborhood I dimly remember.

* * *

I had almost zero plans coming down here, except that I brought all of my photo gear, thinking I’d take pictures, and of course I haven’t. I thought about going to every mall I could find, and made a list of maybe a dozen of them. But every mall has been bought by Westfield and looks identical. I went to what was Fox Hills Mall, and it feels like it was 100% changed from when I was last there in 2008. Went to the Galleria in Redondo Beach, and it has the bones of a great mall — three stories, giant domed ceilings, plenty of walkways — but it’s largely abandoned. When your Nordstrom leaves and the anchor becomes a dinosaur museum that doesn’t have actual dinosaurs in it, good luck. Today I drove out to Sherman Oaks to look at the galleria that was in Fast Times and Valley Girl, and I should have read the wikipedia before I left, because it was redeveloped into office space.

That’s been the depressing theme here. Everything has been redeveloped. I only lived here for about six months of 2008, so my set of reference points is very small. But it seems like every place I ate or shopped or hung out has been completely nuked. Any strip mall with a large parking lot has been blown up and replaced by a 500-unit apartment building with a Trader Joe’s on the ground floor. I was in the middle of a weight loss thing when I was in LA, and only ate at two places: Koo Koo Roo chicken and Souplantation. Both of those chains are bankrupt. The tiki-themed Fry’s Electronics down in Manhattan Beach went bankrupt. The Panera in Marina del Rey is now a physical therapy place. It’s understandable that chains flip and new things come in, but there’s an insane amount of redevelopment. I guess that’s better than closing stuff down and letting it sit vacant for tax purposes, though.

* * *

Anyway. There’s probably more to write about here, but I have to get stuff done. I have been mostly hiding out in this hotel room, because it has a kitchen and an office, and I can get from the room to my car without passing through a common area. There’s a staircase downstairs, and nobody here uses stairs. Other than that, it’s mostly been driving around randomly. It’s weird to have my own car, And LA is driveable, but not parkable. I went to the new “mall” at Figueroa, which turned out to not be a mall, but three anchors butted together with a piss-poor food court. I turned around and left, and that was $21 in parking. Went to the beach Sunday morning for an early morning walk: $13. An hour at the science center: $20. And the hotel is charging me $15 a day to park, too.

I’ll be here until Saturday. I should probably hit the book stores tomorrow, since I don’t have a weight restriction on my return luggage.

Oh, the title. El Segundo is Spanish for “The Second.” It’s where Chevron’s second refinery is.

Also, still working on this: Random Life. Check it.

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general

New Project: Random Life

I’m starting a new video project. It is called Random Life.

TL;DR: Random Life

The long story:

I have always been a fan of Structural films, or minimalist filmmaking. This started with Richard Linklater’s movie Slacker, which I always liked because it captured the zeitgeist of a college campus at the end of the 80s/start of the 90s. I think a lot of people like the funny characters and weirdos of the movie, and I appreciate that, and the non-linear-but-really-linear structure, which was a big influence for my second book. But what really got me was how it captured the atmosphere of being on a campus in the summer. It trapped in amber that feeling, the sparseness and the undertone of it, the wide shots of off-campus housing and dive bars and Texas landscape.

Go backwards a step and you get to his earlier self-produced film, It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books. This is a largely non-narrative movie he shot on his own, about 90 minutes of Super-8 footage of him taking a trip on Amtrak to Montana to hang out with some friends. This is like Slacker minus the plot gimmick, and most people would think this is like watching paint dry, but I’ve probably watched it a hundred times. I sometimes leave it on a loop while I’m writing. It documents that exact time in history perfectly, the way it looked in 1987 or so, living in the dregs of student/dropout life.

The commentary of that movie led me to Structural films, like Michael Snow or George Landow, and then thanks to Linklater, I fell down a deep wormhole on minimalist James Benning. There’s a lot to be covered there, and it gets a little too art-school, especially in how it’s framed and explained for galleries. But at least there’s a formal name for it, and it’s a thing.

Another thing: I love “slow YouTube.” This started with Astronaut.io, which I’ve covered before, but is a great way to watch short clips from an endless list of random, no-traffic videos. Then I got into long videos, things I could run in the background. A couple of my favorites were a guy in the middle of nowhere in Sweden, building a log cabin by hand and a seven-hour train ride from Bergen to Oslo, Norway. These have a specific audience, and probably aren’t great for folks who expect a Pixar-perfect plot line in everything they watch, or if you have zero attention span. But I love this stuff.

I also love videos that are documentation. The classic example is Heavy Metal Parking Lot, but there are so many other gems out there, like this video of a 7-11 at 2:30 in the morning in 1987. Or Lyle Hiroshi Saxon has a YouTube channel that has videos going back 30 years of him wandering around Japan for hours, capturing nothing in particular but everything. And my absolute favorite of this genre is Nelson Sullivan. He dragged a full-size VHS camera and shoulder-luggable deck through Manhattan in the 80s, capturing tons and tons of footage of the club, arts, and drag scene back then. It’s awesome that he captured and documented a large amount of musical performances and shows, but the stuff I love is when he’s randomly taking a beat-up subway to Coney Island in the 80s.

Vlogging is common now. But today’s influencers are chasing viral attention and endorsements. Their short action-driven bits about product placement are meant to draw people in quick. Everything is overproduced and a two minute video will have three minutes of ads. I have no use for that. I want raw footage that goes nowhere.

* * *

So, the project.

I bought a camcorder in 1996. I don’t know why, maybe I thought I would Kevin Smith a film, or maybe a bonus check burning a hole in my pocket. I shot some random stuff with it, and used it a lot on my 1999 trip across the country. It was a huge pain in the ass to lug around, and I didn’t vacation much. But I shot maybe a dozen and a half tapes in the 90s. I never did anything with them because they had no narrative, and they also didn’t look great: grainy, blown-out colors, too much vignetting in  the lenses. Of course, now people download apps to specifically get that nineties look, so that liability is maybe an asset.

There was a gap there, but then in the late 00s, my point-and-shoot camera could suddenly take videos. And then my iPhone could, and starting in 2014, my DSLRs could shoot movie-grade video. Anyway, I have a ton of old footage I’ve never used, never cut, probably never even watched. And I need to do something with it.

That’s where Random Life comes in. I’m starting to dig through this, and post regularly to that channel. I’ve already started uploading and scheduling daily video drops, and will hopefully keep things good and random. I’ll also start shooting more now. What I shoot now won’t be important, but in ten years, it will be.

The focus: I’m just trying to document. No narrative, no voiceovers, no music, no jokes, no storytelling. I don’t want to appear in the videos, and I don’t want to film characters. No voiceovers. Just footage. AND NO ADS. I’ll probably keep each video short. The goal is to have a full playlist you can put on random and flip through each of these minute-long videos aimlessly. That’s what I want, anyway.

I might quit this in a week, but we’ll see. I have no idea about branding and marketing this thing, and don’t care, but subscribe if you want and let me know what you think.

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general

The Death of the Good Internet

I’ve been meaning to write a post about this forever, but someone else at The Ringer did such a great job of it. Check it:

The Day the Good Internet Died

The one thing I find interesting about this article is the thought that maybe it wasn’t that the death of Google Reader killed off blogging, but that the death of blogging killed off Google Reader. It’s true that we all devolved into social media doom-scrolling instead of actually reading, but another factor is that Google was pushing people into Google Plus, and the asinine assumption that people would rather find what they wanted to read by scrolling through eleventy million messages rather than going to a list of exactly what they wanted to read. (What Google actually meant was that they wanted you to scroll through eleventy billion messages, with every fourth message being an ad someone paid them to run.)

I’m old enough to remember the first wave of blogs and interesting/time-wasting web sites, because I spent a lot of the late 90s and early 00s paging through them while I was at work or sitting at home without cable TV. But in that pre-Reader era, I did it by having folders of bookmarks. I’d go to my “daily” folder and sequentially click through each bookmark, trying to remember where I left off the day before. This was a great way to waste time, but not user-friendly, and it required me to remember where I left off. (I still had a memory then, which did help.)

Compared to this, Google Reader was amazing. I could keep track of everything in one place, and read the things in order, with counts of unread articles, and indications of what I already did see. All of this was possible because of RSS, which was a perfect example of the interoperable web. The closely-related iGoogle also had the ability to make a widget based on a web page’s RSS feed, and RSS was very integral to the advent of the podcast. It was so mind-blowing and vital at the time, that I hacked together a script that would output RSS for the pre-WordPress version of this blog, which was hacked together with a bunch of homebrew shell scripts, emacs extensions, PHP, and gaffer’s tape.

After the death of GR, I went on to Feedly, but every blog I read either died a high-profile death, or stagnated with no new posts. I keep hearing about these revival of blogging things and people saying Medium or or Longreads or Substack or whatever the hell else is the next big thing. And no matter what it is, it devolves into people selling Tony Robbins-esque bullshit classes on how to get rich in real estate. There are still a ton of people blogging, but “blogs” are now the things hanging off the side of dentists’ web sites and posting daily listicles about proper gum care to increase their SEO.

I used to bitch about how the money people and con men would fuck up the web long before the web even existed. I started throwing letters into this void (ala usenet) before AOL’s Eternal September started. In 1995, at my first real job. I was writing docs for one of the first web browsers that added SSL, while a marketing drone stood in front of my desk barking about how they needed to ship this immediately so they could sell fifty-dollar t-shirts on the web for the first time ever, and I thought this is not going to end well. And it didn’t.

And now, every time Google drops a vital service or Facebook decides they want me to look at stuff in a new inconvenient way, I always have a first thought: maybe I’m just too old for this stuff, and when I lose my shit because I’m forced to watch a TikTok video to figure out how to change my refrigerator’s water filter, I’m doing the same thing my parents did in 1987 when they had an aneurysm and started screaming about the Japanese taking over because channel 16 suddenly moved to channel 34. But then I always remember: follow the money. Google Reader got killed so we could be forced to watch more ads. The Facebook algorithm is set up to force us to watch more ads. Amazon stopped putting the names of products in their receipts because Google was using them to sell more ads. Everything is because of money. I was right. The money people ruin everything.

Baker’s article brings up an old Alex Balk article, which says the following:

Here I will impart to you Balk’s Third Law: “If you think The Internet is terrible now, just wait a while.” The moment you were just in was as good as it got. The stuff you shake your head about now will seem like fucking Shakespeare in 2016.

This is so fucking true it hurts. I blogged almost every day in 2010-2011, frequently wishing blogging was as good as it was in 2004, which is when I was bitching about how much better personal journals (the predecessor to blogs) were back when I started this stupid site in 1996. Now I wish things were as good as 2011.

I always wonder if there will be another era of Good Internet, or if we’re in the middle of it and I don’t realize it. All I know is blogging is still important to me, because I know as long as I keep paying my bills, I can still keep my stuff here, even if nobody can find it anymore.

 

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general

Coke Zero, Hybrid Failure, SR2, Etc

They recently changed the formula of Coke Zero to make it “more like regular Coke.” It tastes like a mix of Listerine and cloves now. The only thing is has improved is my ability to quit soda, which hasn’t happened yet, but probably should.

I would normally be more upset about this, but I ultimately have no time to care. I drank a case of it and can’t tell the difference now, so on to the next problem/outrage. I used to be much more upset when a company made a lame decision like the discontinuation of Surge, the dropping of the Taco Bell Mexican Pizza, or the fact that I’ve eaten the same exact oatmeal every morning for twelve years and they decided to stop selling in packets. Life is too short.

* * *

After dumping all the money into my car over the last month, I had a fun experience with it. I was driving off to the mall a week ago, and after I got up to highway speed on the 580, every warning light in the dash came on, and the info panel said “HYBRID SYSTEM FAILURE – PULL OVER IMMEDIATELY.” The dynamic braking stopped working, and the EV system went completely offline. There was a Toyota dealership just past the next highway exit, so I swung in there and dropped it off. They said they’d get to it on Monday.

This began a weekend-long spiral into figuring out if I needed to buy a new car. The hybrid system is still under warranty, so if it needed a $5000 battery, that’s covered. But I figured the dealership would add a $4000 spine reticulation charge or whatever the hell, or take six months to fix it. The car’s probably worth about $7000 in good condition. When the Yaris reached the end of the line in 2014 and had unknown wiring problems only fixable by a dealer, I brought it to the sales counter and they made me a good deal on the trade-in, so I figured I’d do the same. They don’t make the Prius C anymore, and the Camry and Corolla hybrids are honestly better cars than the Prius, so I burned a lot of cycles pricing this stuff out, trying to figure out what I wanted to pay, what I wanted to finance, etc etc.

Monday morning, they ran the diagnostic and said it was just the ECC lost communication with the system and threw a few codes, so it shut down the entire hybrid system. (If you stumble across this in a search, the DTC codes were U0140, U0073, and U0126.) The only obvious culprit was that I have a ScanGauge II plugged into the ODBII port. I have since I got the car; it’s a holdover from when I had the largely-gaugeless Yaris. I don’t really use it anymore, and the tech theorized that maybe the cable got bumped, or something else happened. He cleared the codes, unplugged the ScanGauge, and no problems since. No charge on the scan, either. So I saved $200 plus another $25,000 on a new car.

* * *

I’ve been having a lot of trouble getting anything going writing-wise. In a fit of “do something completely different,” I did a Ctrl-C Ctrl-V on the project file for my first book, and started on page 1, taking notes and editing things. I’ve had this stupid idea to write a thirty-years-later sequel of the book, and I thought I came up with a good gimmick to get it going, but I needed to go through the old draft, partly to get it all back in my head, and partly to George Lucas in a few minor changes to get the two books to line up correctly.

It’s an …interesting experience to read writing I haven’t touched in over twenty years, especially when it’s a radical departure from what I’ve been writing ever since. There’s obviously some very wooden writing, and little bone-headed typos abound. The usual complaint about the book is that it’s too long, and generally plotless. I could see trimming the book slightly, tightening up things. But for every subplot I would think about trimming, I think there’s another that could have been explored more. And it surprises me now that there are so many characters, so many subplots. It also follows an overall arc more than I thought.

After I got about a third of the way through it, I got disinterested with the idea, though. I can’t go too into it without revealing the gimmick, but I wasn’t interested in writing that book. And it’s been a long time since I’ve put a lot of focused thought into Bloomington. I haven’t spent more than a few hours in town since 1999 when I stopped there for a few days on my move east. Writing a sequel would need some solid reason to be there, and not just the main character wandering around having regrets about every person he dated a million years ago, and being amazed at how all of the stores at the mall closed. Maybe at some point I will visit again and get the spark to write this, but who knows.

* * *

Speaking of, I’m still on for the Seattle trip in two weeks. I have been working on a list of what to do, but I haven’t done any heavy research yet. I just now started thinking about what camera or cameras to bring, or if it’s time for a new one, and I need to shut down that conversation before it starts.

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general

Death of the Astor Place Kmart

So the Kmart at Astor Place in Manhattan finally closed. I honestly did not know it was still open. I think Kmart only has a couple dozen locations still remaining in the US, and none of them are anywhere near me. I haven’t been back to New York since 2013, and probably won’t be returning any time soon, since I switched jobs. But I still have a lot of random memories of the place from the years I lived there.

Like I mentioned in Death of a Kmart, I was a Kmart kid. (Or K-Mart, rather, before they dumbed up the name for Y2K.) By the time I was in high school, Kmart was a joke, the place where poor rednecks shopped for school clothes and electronics that would break in a month. And by college, it was an ironic place to go. You actually shopped at Target, but you went to Kmart late at night to make fun of the muzak and the bad clothes.

So when I got to New York, Kmart was a strange callback to childhood in a city that was a completely alien landscape to me. There wasn’t a Target or a Best Buy or any big-box store in Manhattan at the time.  It was almost comforting to go back to a store with big aisles and cheap housewares and prices that ended in a .97. I spent most of my time in haphazard bodegas and crowded mini-groceries, where I couldn’t find anything. Kmart was filled with giant-size everything.

The store itself was giant. The only big stores in Manhattan then were places like Bloomingdale’s or Saks. The main floor that opened up from the Lafayette street entrance seemed cavernous, like the ceiling was two stories high, held up with giant pillars, a giant Valhalla filled with Kathy Ireland clothes and the Martha Stewart collection. An insanely long escalator took you up to the second (really third) floor, where there were more home goods and a cafe. Or you could go to the basement, which had electronics, toys, seasonal goods, and as much junk food as you could possibly imagine. And the basement was even directly connected to the 6 train.

I arrived in New York in 1999, a few years after the place opened. I remember first hearing about it because the band U2 played a live show there. At the time, I hated the band U2, largely because I had an ex a few years ago who worshipped them, and I probably wasn’t over her at the time, so I found the whole ironic Bono stunt a bit silly. There are videos of it on YouTube, which are so incredibly 90s, they give me horrible flashbacks, but would be a big hit with the vaporwave folks.

Anyway, here’s a bulleted list of a bunch of random memories of the place:

  • My first celebrity sighting in New York was seeing Gilbert Gottfried there in 1999, trying to buy an oscillating fan.
  • The store had a Big K Cafe on the third floor. Despite the bad food, it had a very nice view of Astor Square from the giant windows on the front of the building, and was a great place to sit and relax, until everyone realized it was a great place to sit and relax.
  • Everyone seems to mention that there was a public restroom by that cafe. Nobody seems to remember how dirty it got after a few years. Every Kmart has horrific restrooms. I think it’s because of the merger with Sears, because every Sears bathroom anywhere in the United States smells like it was painted with a thick coat of raw sewage.
  • When I lived in Seattle, I got addicted to Slurpees. Every night, after I hit my daily writing quota, I would drive to 7-Eleven and get a Coke Slurpee. Then I moved to New York, and there were no 7-Elevens. The Kmart Icee was an imitation Slurpee, and I could never figure out why they were inferior – maybe not enough syrup – but it was almost an acceptable substitute. Also, corn dogs were for some reason rare or hard to find in Manhattan, but they had them at the cafe.
  • In 2000, I met someone online and we had a long-distance thing going for a bit. When she came down to Manhattan to meet me for the first time, the public rendezvous point was at that Big K Cafe.
  • Kmart had holiday stuff disturbingly early, or what seemed disturbingly early then. (Target probably has Christmas trees out already now.) When I was at Juno, they told us we could decorate our cubes for the holidays, so I went to Kmart and bought an unnatural amount of Christmas lights, like a Clark Griswold amount of strands, including ones that played carols and holiday music through a cheap little speaker. They probably stayed up until May.
  • This was the era when Kmart was trying to be a “hypermart” and had an almost full line of groceries in the basement. You typically had to go to the outer burbs and rent a car to get any giant multi-pack staples like this. I could never hack grocery shopping there and dragging everything home on the train. But it was always awesome to buy snacks in bulk and bring them to the office. Either you could buy a candy bar for a dollar at a bodega, or you could buy 96 candy bars at Kmart for like five dollars.
  • I bought a lot of cheap home goods at Kmart, because I could never find them at other places. Like any time I needed a dish drainer or a bathroom plunger or whatever, I normally stopped there first. I had a fluorescent light fixture in my kitchen, and the only place where I could find the special circular bulb was at Kmart. I also remember buying a new toilet seat for my Astoria apartment, and ten years after I left, I saw some realtor photos for the place, and it’s still on there.
  • I also loved wandering around the basement level, looking at all the weird stuff you could only find at Kmart in Manhattan. Like they had a full aisle of fishing gear, in case you wanted to fish for dead bodies and toxic trout in the Hudson river.
  • I talked about this in The Replay but that Kmart was a pivotal memory in my 9/11 experience. When I walked home that day, I stopped at that Kmart to develop my pictures (remember analog film?) and buy a pair of sneakers so I didn’t have to wear my messed up dress shoes home. I ate corn dogs at the Big K Cafe and watched the destruction on CNN while a large armada of office workers all bought new shoes to walk home in.
  • After not going there for years, I stopped in to use the restroom and was dismayed that the Big K Cafe was gone, converted into a makeshift furniture overflow area.
  • My last memory: in 2007, we had packed up everything for our move to Denver. All I had left in the apartment was a week of clothes, and I didn’t have a bag to put them in, because the movers had packed and shipped my luggage. While I was taking a shower on the last day there, one of us who may not have been me (trying not to blame anyone here) turned on the automatic oven cleaner and almost burned down the house. The entire apartment filled with a dense smoke and the fire department showed up. My week of clothes now smelled like they’d been in a house fire, which they had been. So on my last day in New York, I went to K-Mart, bought a large gym bag. a couple of pairs of Wranglers, some generic t-shirts, and a bunch of multi-pack Hanes socks and underwear, plus some junk food and extra toiletries. That was my luggage on the flight to Colorado, and all I had to wear until our house showed up on a moving truck ten days later.

No big surprise on the store going away. Aside from the greater death of everything Fast Eddie Lampert got his dirty hands on in the Sears/Kmart empire, pretty much everything in New York changes every year or two. Within a stone’s throw of that store, there’s been a complete turnover of damn near everything, except Starbucks. And that Chase bank is doing okay. (So’s the six other locations within a thousand feet of there. too.) Anyway.