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Sunday

Sunday morning. It’s been two months since I updated, so here goes. Unrelated picture: thanks to Jessica Anshutz for the Christmas ornament. Do people still call it surfing the net, or was that just a 90s thing? The phrase reminds me of my time at Spry/CompuServe, when Internet World was a big thing, and there was no shortage of dumb marketing trying to drive people online. And look how that turned out.

Exhausted today. I had an accounting final yesterday and it was like running a marathon in warm weather. I’d been studying three or four hours a day for the last two weeks, and in May, I’d done a finance boot camp that covered the same information. I took the practice test twice, and woke up at 0500 on Saturday to drill for three hours before the proctored exam. The class is a graduate-level accounting class, and I’ve never taken accounting. One test, 70 questions, three hours, about half multiple-choice stuff about auditing rules, and the rest big formula problems. I got through it in about an hour and twenty minutes, and got an exemplary score. So I’m happy, but tired.

I haven’t gone into any details on this program, and I will probably write an end-to-end summary when I finish, but the basic gist is that it’s an MBA in IT management, and it’s a self-paced degree, meaning you pay every six-month term, and you finish the classes as fast as you finish them. Yesterday was day 60, and I am 54% through the program. But aside from an ethics class I am taking now, the only things I have left are not easy. I blew through most of the IT planning and project management classes fast, because that’s all I do all day every day. But now I’m left with that business ethics class, then finance, econ, a data-driven decision making class, and the capstone project. I’d like to finish by the end of my first term, but this might creep into next year.

* * *

So last night, I crack open that ethics class. Chapter one, section one, example one, page one: the 1978 Ford Pinto explosion in Elkhart. That happened about a mile from my house when I was a kid. I only vaguely remember it, but it’s one of those events that launches me down a deep k-hole every few years, digging up old newspaper articles and pictures. Anyway, I can never escape. I think Kurt Vonnegut said something about this, but I’m too lazy to look.

* * *

In two months, I’ve written exactly 100 pages of papers. When I was writing fiction, I would write maybe a page a day. So even though I have “quit” writing (or whatever), I’m putting out way more than I used to. But, it’s not exactly enticing stuff, unless you want to read the marketing plan of releasing new Irish-themed Taco Bell menu items in Japan. I have fun doing this stuff, even though it is a completely different part of the brain. But one of the sad realizations of this is that these papers have no audience. I put in some cute reference I find clever or funny, and the paper goes to a grader who reads through it with a checklist in the other window, looking that I completed each step in the grading rubric, and that’s it. Nobody is “reading” my papers. I didn’t have much of an audience as a writer, but there was that thought that people would read my books and catch the little jokes I would hide in there, and I realize that is an important part of the writing cycle. If I was writing fiction and never releasing it, I’d have the same problem. Lots more to say about this problem, but not right now.

* * *

Big trip next week. On Saturday, I leave for Stockholm, Sweden. I’ll be there for a week, taking pictures and eating. I have not planned anything yet, and have been too busy with work and school to do anything other than book the tickets and the hotel. More on that as it happens, I guess.

I have not really been taking any photos lately, either. I think I took the new camera out once since I’ve been back to Denver, just the usual loop around NAS Alameda. I don’t think I even posted that many pictures from Denver. I’d go take more today, but I’ve got to tear down the camera gear and plan my pack. I’ve wanted to go to Sweden probably since college, so it will be a fun one.

 

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Denver

Hello from Denver. I’ve been out here for a week, for the first time in a dozen years, and… it’s weird. Weird doesn’t start to explain it.

So I lived in Denver from 2007-2008. Made a few work visits back in 08, and I think I came out maybe two more times for Rockies games. I haven’t been back since except for the occasionl layover in the airport. I had to take a week off, and wanted to get out somewhere to take some pictures and do nothing, and after the usual searches of prices versus temperature versus infection rate, I landed on taking the week in Colorado.

This whole trip has been a weird deja vu experience. I sat in the baggage area and had flashbacks of every time I ever flew home, going back to the first time I flew to the city in 2007. Got my suitcase, went outside and breathed the rarefied air and gazed out at the big sky and fluffy clouds that looked like they were floating ten feet above the ground, and I felt like I’d been gone for a week and was back. Something about the look of the place, the way the light comes through the sky, the way the air tastes, is totally unique in my head, always brings me back to that specific time of my life.

I got the rental car, headed out on the highway towards my hotel in the tech center and realized everything was different. They built a train to the airport. They built apartments everywhere. They built shopping centers everywhere. There are new giant towers of tech industry where there used to be empty fields. It’s like when I go back to Indiana and the bones are the same but everything has decayed, but the opposite. Some of the highways and such are in the same place, but everything else has grown.

* * *

One of the reasons I came out was to work on school stuff. So part of the stay has been hanging out in this residence hotel and banging out papers. I’ve written three, and barely started a fourth. Not into talking much about this yet, except to say I’m incredibly rusty and not in the zone yet. First, I haven’t written anything in six months, but I haven’t written sourced scholarly papers in… a while. 1993, maybe? So, it’s taking me about an hour a paragraph to knock out 16-page papers, which is not ideal. Didn’t I used to write thousand-page books?

The other reason was the photo thing. I got a new camera before I came out, a Canon EOS 5DS. It is a monster of a camera, weighing about double my old DSLR. Full-frame, 50 megapixel, weather-sealed, dual-card, and none of the nicey consumer features like a built-in flash or a selfie screen or a Wi-Fi adapter or anything. It’s a beast, and honestly, I’ve been fighting it the whole trip. I’m not used to any of the settings, and I’m constantly screwing up metering or getting depth of field wrong, because it responds completely differently than my old body. So I’ve shot a few thousand shots on this trip, but I’m not super happy with much.

* * *

I’ve been specifically avoiding various nostalgia points, because I don’t want to completely deep-six myself mentally. I did see my old apartment Sunday; I went on a long walk with a photographer friend, and went in loops around the ballpark area and the 16th Street mall for like eight miles. The more I walk around Denver, the more I see that either I didn’t get out much, or things have totally changed. And the areas where I did spend time are completely different. I used to work down in Meridian/Lone Tree, and all I used to do is drive to work, drive to Taco Bell, drive to Target, drive home. And that area was nothing but the Target, the Taco Bell and a few other fast food joints, and lots of barren land. I went down there, and it’s now a sea of condos, and a new train station and pedestrian bridges and lots of parks and sod and outdoor sculptures and the whole nine. So I lived here, but I didn’t live here.

Lots of other photo ops. I drove down to Garden of the Gods. Drove to the Air Force Academy. Hit air museums in Pueblo and at the old Lowry AFB. Went to Idaho Springs and walked around the old mining town a bit. Three or four malls were visited. Also met with a coworker (only the third time this has happened in a year) and did a big lap at Washington Park. Weather’s been decent, other than a freak hail storm when I was in Colorado City, so the walks and photos have been nice.

* * *

Had a really weird deja vu last night. I was walking around this area after dinner. This part of the DTC is all residence inns and empty condo buildings, with the occasional warehouse or factory, so it’s a great walk to take at dusk. Something about the weather, the heat, the air, the darkness, gave me this exact time travel portal, and I felt like it was a night in the summer of 1989, a late night after working at Wards all day, in the air conditioning from 10 to 9, then hitting the air that was a hundred all day and was then 80 after sunset. There was always such a strong feeling of… I don’t know, a mix of loneliness and possibility. Like I was the only person alive in the town, mixed with an uplifting feeling that something big was going to happen soon, and this was the temporary lull before it did. I don’t know how to explain it more than that, except I would get fleeting flashes of the same thing in the summer of 1992, the summer of Summer Rain, and that was one of the real motivating reasons to write that book.

And I’m thinking about that, too. And I should write more. But the sun is going down in about 20 minutes, so maybe I will go take another walk.

Flying out tomorrow, then it’s back to the grind. Stay tuned for more pics.

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The backpack

backpackMy nephew is graduating high school and going to Indiana University to study computer science in the fall, which has set off all sorts of nostalgia triggers for me, as I think about when I made the same journey 247 years ago. My sister updates me on various registration and orientation events and visits and whatnot, asking questions on what dorms are better and where you’re supposed to eat lunch on campus and everything else. I love talking about this, although most of this has changed. Computer science is now in a new modern building that’s built where part of my freshman dorm was, and every restaurant and store I remember has closed or changed names ten times. But the bones are still the same. Kirkwood is still Kirkwood, even though Garcia’s, Spaceport, most of the record stores, and even McDonald’s are long gone.

I was shopping for various graduation gifts, and one of them he wanted was a laptop backpack, which is my forté, given that I buy a new bag about six times a year (in the Before Times, anyway) and I’ve got travel coming up and I’m probably due again. But that got me thinking about my backpack I had for my entire IU journey, as pictured above. There’s a story behind it, of course, and I’ve probably told it nine times, so buckle up for #10.

* * *

OK, so when I was a freshman (and this still happens, apparently) there’s a series of events leading up to matriculation, culminating with class registration. That takes place in the summer, maybe in July. This is a bit of an evil trick by IU, because what happens is you go there and they reserve blocks of typical freshman classes, like all the hundred-level math, English, and foreign language classes. They run a special registration and hold your hand and you get all the classes and time slots you want, and it’s easy-peasey. Then when you have to register in the winter for the next semester, you find out that the entire process is horrible, and registration dates are based on how many credits you’ve completed, so you’re dead last in line, and every good class is taken and you end up with an 8am basket weaving class.

Anyway. I had to go down to Bloomington for this thing, and it’s usually a parent/child event, where your folks take you there, and they go to various orientation things that convince them it’s a good investment and their child is safe and whatever, while the new student goes through registration, takes any assessment tests to test out of foreign language or learn how much math they really know, and sits through some orientation things where guidance counselors tell you how important it is to study. Also, some people in specialized programs met with advisors, and music students did their auditioning.

I did not go there with a parent. Every time I write anything about my parents on here, I get in trouble about it, even though I have lived on my own for almost twice as long as I lived with them, so I’ll shut up about it, except to say I had to figure out how to go there by myself. I was 18 and had a car, so whatever.

IU had a deal for registration where they opened up Foster dorm like a hotel, and you could rent a room for some ridiculous amount, like eight bucks a day including food. So even though I had a day and a half of stuff to do, I rented a room on the top floor of Foster-Harper for the entire week. My plan was to drive down the four hours and change, get the registration over with on the first day, and then just hang out all week.

One thing that really stuck in my head about this visit is that it was the only time I had my old Camaro in Bloomington. The Camaro era and the Bloomington era had no overlap, except for that one week. Those are two heavy nostalgia eras, and it’s bizarre to me to think about driving around the IU campus and going to College Mall in that old car. It’s like thinking about Helen Keller and Jimi Hendrix hanging out together. (Technically possible, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t happen.) It was a bizarre colliding-of-worlds that really stuck in my head.

I loved that week. Bloomington in the summer is always awesome, and I got to explore all those record stores and restaurants and booksellers and everything else off campus, plus wander around the big limestone buildings and wonder what it would be like in a matter of weeks when this place would be my home. If I could re-live any part of my life to experience it again for the first time, I think it would be that week.

I met a lot of music majors during the stay in Foster, because they were all auditioning. That was great, because people come from all over the country to go to IU’s music school, so I was staying up late every night, sitting on the rooftop deck of this nine-story building overlooking the entire campus from the north. I met musicians from places I’d never been, from Boston and Vermont and California and Washington, and we’d stay up there in the cool summer air and wait until midnight when they would turn off the main library outside lights. I didn’t know if all of college would be like this, but I hoped it would be.

(And oddly enough, I had a brief but spectacular relationship with someone who lived on the same floor in Harper a few years later. Another colliding of worlds, and some late nights there, but I was too busy to watch the library lights.)

* * *

So during that visit, I was super amped to buy my books at the bookstore in the student union. I don’t know why, but I really wanted everything in hand and ready to roll for August. (I was the opposite later on, especially when those book costs added up. I remember taking this SPEA class on public management in 1993 and never buying the book.)

I went there with this new friend named Susan, from Dyer, Indiana. (It was always important to find out where people were from, and figure out where that was. “Oh, you’re from Auburn? Isn’t that right down the road from Kendallville? They have that speedway.”) I had my schedule, and could buy like half my books. And while I was at the store, I bought some other IU paraphernalia, like some notebooks and pens, and a backpack.

The backpack was this gray thing, with an IU logo on the front. It was made by Caribou, a company in Chico, CA that made bags for L.L. Bean and others. It was a bit of a knockoff of the JanSport bags that were popular in the 80s, made of 100% nylon. It had a single main compartment with a wraparound zipper, a smaller front zippered pocket, and a pair of very non-ergonomic, barely-adjustable shoulder straps with like a millimeter of padding in them.

Like I said, I used this backpack for the entire time I was at IU. It held maybe four or five textbooks, plus whatever I could cram in the front pocket. That usually held the cassettes I needed to get through the day in my walkman. I usually wore this slung on one shoulder, unless I was on a bike. It was one of my trademark items, as stupid as that sounds. I always had three things with me: my leather jacket, my walkman, and this backpack.

It’s odd to look at it now, compared to modern bags. It’s so small, with no organizational compartments or sleeves or dividers. This was the pre-laptop era, and it was meant to carry books, a few pencils, and nothing more. There were none of the creature comforts that backpacks developed in the 90s and beyond. There were no ergonomics to the straps; there wasn’t a side sling or any other handles; the bottom was not weatherproofed; there were no cell phone pockets or cord management solutions. There wasn’t a side pocket for a water bottle, because this was before we were told to always carry water, and before most people drank 300 ounces of soda a day. It’s so simplistic, and it’s amazing I used it for so long without complaint. It’s even more amazing it still exists.

I can’t think of the last time I actually used this bag. There was a gap of a half-decade between when I went to school and when I had to start carrying a laptop everywhere. By then, I was in New York, and messenger bags were a thing, so I moved on to one of those. I still have it for some reason, probably because I can’t throw it out. I have a lot of stuff like that.

* * *

Also, a spoiler alert. Another reason I am in this fit of nostalgia is I’m going back to school, starting this week. All virtual, so no backpack needed. More details on this later, although this might also mean my already scarce posting might get worse.

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Finger

There was an interesting post that came up recently about the history of the unfortunately-named finger command in unix here. This jogged a few memories for me, because I remember finger as being the early precursor to blogs, web pages, and social media platforms.

Back in the days of unix and logging into mainframes and big workstations through terminals, there was a program called who, which listed every user currently logged into the machine. That was cool, except when there were hundreds of people on a machine and it quickly scrolled past in an indecipherable flood of text. It would show you a few brief details about each user, like how long they were logged in, or what program they were currently running. This was, in a very primitive way, similar to the little green dot next to a name in a messaging program, that tells you if the person is online or not. (Or maybe they never logged out, and their terminal was sitting idle overnight in a locked office.)

The next level of granularity was finger. If you were logged in and typed finger jkonrath, it would show a bit of info about that account, like that user’s home directory, the shell they used, and where they last logged in, or how long they’ve been logged in. That can lead to some stalker-y situations, but this was decades before anyone really thought that through.

One cool feature about finger was that if you had a text file named either .project or .plan in your home directory and they were would readable, they would also be displayed. The former was a one-line thing, and the latter could be any length. I think the original intent when this was written back at Stanford in 1972, you’d set your project to “AI Lab, Compiler Division” and your plan would be something like “I teach M-W-F in the basement of the science building. I will be on vacation June 1-9. Contact Dave Smith for questions.”

I first got a unix account (ULTRIX, actually) at IU in December of 1989. One of the first things I was absolutely infatuated with was the idea of coming up with a perfect plan file. I was 18 and of course had Big Thoughts I needed to tell the world, probably involving dumb song lyrics or movie quotes. I think for months, the only thing I used my account for was setting a new plan file and playing the text-based Tetris game someone installed on there. But it was almost like a really rough social network, sort of.

At some point, a CS buddy (it may have been either Brad Ramsey or Jesse Martin) told me about named pipes. A named pipe was a way of creating a file that really was a redirect to a program. I don’t remember how this worked, but they showed me a way to create a plan file that actually ran a script which did a who command, looked for the person who was running the finger command, then print some cute message like “hey $username quit spying on me” and output that to the pipe. It worked great, as long as the person was on the same machine, which was almost never the case. (I forgot to mention: you could run a finger command to any other machine that had a finger server running. So finger jkonrath@gnu.ai.mit.edu would also work on my burner account over there.)

Most undergrads and casual users were over on the VAX computers at that time for their general email use, and that VMS system had some half-baked implementation of finger that didn’t entirely work right, or didn’t support plan files, or something. VMS had its own arcane commands, like the much less sexy SHOW USERS/FULL and the like. This led to Sid Sowder and 19 other people (including me) writing their own VMS utility programs to meld together the disparate systems into something more usable as a social network, way back when Mark Zuckerberg was probably still learning to read.

That’s all another story I’ve told before. But one tangent on it is that I wrote a replacement for the finger command, sort of. The thing was, we needed a database to store various things about users, like preferences and login times and dates and whatever. So I wrote a program for Sid called XINFO, which was a horrible Pascal database program where his utility program would stash login information. Then I wrote a couple of different client programs that could hit this database for information, like an XFINGER command which was everything the VMS finger command wasn’t. And one of the biggest draws to Sowder’s program was a WHOIS program that was all neat and pretty and would show you where your friends were logged in from and so on. So yeah, maybe I should have filed a patent on this and sued everyone. Or maybe I should have gone to classes and studied instead of doing this.

The plan thing had an interesting connection to present. Back in like 1992 or so, the Computer Science department installed this thing on their server that at first was touted as some king of super-finger doodad. It was a server that would show your plan file, but let you put graphics and markup text in it. It called these a HyPlan file. You would write them in this weird markup language which was apparently called HTML, and then people all around the world could use a special program to read your HyPlan and click links on it and go to other HyPlan pages. This was called the “world wide web” and of course I thought it was a stupid fad and made a dumb HyPlan that I think had a gigantic uncompressed audio file of like three seconds of a Cannibal Corpse song that would play when you clicked on it. The name HyPlan became Homepage and was forgotten, and thirty years later, people are using a distant relative of that same system to try and sell me boner pills. And once again, I should have gotten in front of this early and maybe patented selling books on the web or something.

Anyway, the finger command still works if you’re on a Mac. Maybe I should go back to just updating my plan file, instead of upgrading WordPress plugins every 17 minutes so this site doesn’t get hacked by Russians again.

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general

On the Road

Hello from Chicagoland. I am here for a long weekend, for a wedding. As per policy at rumored dot com, I don’t write about family, and most of the trip is family stuff, so this will be short.

Flying for the first time in over two years was… fun. I had a real trial by fire, because I ended up taking an Oakland to Denver to Kansas City to Midway flight. And unbeknownst to me until the day of the flights, this was right after the TSA dropped the mask mandate. I kept N95’ed the whole trip, but a whole lot of other people were not masked, including every single Southwest crew member. I know my desire to not get sick this week makes me a Nazi and anti-freedom or whatever the hell. Nobody bothered me about it, but I’m expecting some flak this trip about it. I hate this timeline.

I’m in the same hotel type I was in last August in El Segundo. My room is reversed, but otherwise identical, except my view is of an industrial park instead of palm trees. It’s at an intersection of highways that is identically cloned in many other parts of the country. There’s a Hyatt, a Hilton, a Holiday Inn; a Wendy’s, a Burger King, a Denny’s, and a Walgreen’s. The whole area feels like it was cloned in the early 00s, and is a duplicate of the same office park area that could be found outside Denver, or in the far reaches of Seattle, or somewhere outside Columbus, Ohio.

I managed to take photo 10,000 on my T6i DSLR yesterday. It was of a Golden Corral that’s by the hotel. (No I am not eating there.) There’s not a lot to snap around my hotel. I did find a Zayre’s store that looks like it was abandoned in 1990, when Ames bought the chain. I also wandered an office/light industrial park next to the hotel loop. I don’t know why I find that sort of thing interesting, but it’s somewhat relaxing to me to walk an empty set of factories on a sleepy Saturday morning. I like the identical brick one-story buildings, each with a picnic table by the rusty loading dock on the side. I guess part of it is working at those places as a kid. But yeah, it’s not like taking a photo tour of the glaciers of Iceland or anything.

I did get to see John Sheppard on Friday. Always good to see him. We met at the big mall, Woodfield, in Schaumburg. I last went to this mall in 1989, and it has completely changed. It’s a Taubman, and I’ve spent enough time in them in California that I instantly recognize the bones of the place. Like in both Woodfield and Hilltop in Richmond, CA (RIP) if you’re in the JC Penney on the top floor, you hang a right and there’s the mall offices and restrooms. At Stoneridge, it’s on the left. The balconies are similar; the stairs are in similar spots. That mall has been “Simon-ized” since I last visited; the brown bricks and red carpets and wood trim and fountains have all been replaced with white on white on white. Other than the dead Sears, the mall looked healthy, lots of shops and foot traffic for a mid-day. But the mall of my memory was completely gone.

Pouring rain today (cue that Alanis song) and I’ve got to get dressed up for a 4:30 wedding. Probably time to go find a mall and do a quick lap or two, though.

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Sunday, travel, dental, driving randomly

Now that I’ve posted here the last few Sundays, I feel like I need to post here every Sunday. That would be a good routine to get into, although I don’t always have anything to talk about, especially when I’m too busy all week and do nothing but work and try to sleep. So, here we are.

I might not update next Sunday because I’ll be in the Midwest. This is a quick trip back for a wedding. No Indiana; this is in Illinois. I’m being somewhat vague about my actual travel plans, because who knows how much they’ll shift, and I don’t want to make solid promises on anything. I haven’t flown in two years, and have no idea how this will go. I am going to bring a single camera, my main DSLR, and maybe an extra lens, but maybe not. I’m not going to mess with a backup or a film camera or whatever else. My backup is my iPhone.

That main camera – the Canon Rebel T6i – has been getting a ton of mileage on it. I mentioned hitting 8000 shots the other day. In the last 11 days, I’ve shot another 1600 pictures. If I don’t cross the 10,000 line by the time I leave this week, I definitely will when I’m gone. It’s funny that my biggest year by volume was in 2010 when I shot just under 4000 shots across all of my cameras. In the first four months of 2022, I’ve shot over 5000 shots. Gotta keep the rhythm going. (If you’re curious, the best of this stuff is slowly getting posted over at my Instagram.)

* * *

True to brand, I managed to crack a tooth right before vacation. Actually, I should have done it while on vacation, but I got a head start on it. It’s fairly minor, no pain and just a little edge next to a filling that’s chipped. I went to the dentist yesterday, and he said it needs a crown, but filed it off a bit to get me sorted in the short term. I’ll go back the day after I return and get it all tore down and set up, then spend a few weeks on protein shakes and soft foods.

I got finished with the dental appointment down in San Bruno at about 9:30 in the morning Saturday. It was raining, just a sprinkle, and a fog had socked in most of the hills in South San Francisco and Daly City. I drove around the peninsula, stopping here and there to snap a few shots with the mist in the distance, which was harder than I thought. Every time I would see a perfect scene, I’d then try to park the car somewhere, run out, and realize it didn’t look as grand, or the wind would shift and the fog was gone or the clouds moved. I need more practice with this, or a good map and some research.

Daly City is the little boxes made of ticky-tacky as made famous by the Malvina Reynolds song. (Or Pete Seeger, or the theme song from Weeds, depending on your age.) So I was driving around there, trying to capture a good line of little pastel houses with a dense fog in the background, and did only so-so with that. I also drove to Thornton State Beach. I was more excited about that one, because by the time I turned onto Skyline, I was basically driving through a gray cloud. But when I got to the beach, it was closed to the public, and I could only walk on one little trail to a roundabout and take some distance shots of the ocean from there. Lots of choppy waves and low-hanging clouds off the water, but I didn’t have the right spot or the right light to get anything too grandiose.

I did a quick lap at the Serramonte Center mall, then got home by noon. Decent field trip.

* * *

I have been making more of an effort to drive around randomly without a GPS. I did that today, too. Exited the highway near Moraga, and just drove, winding through hills and looking for places where I could shoot a photo or two. I used to do a lot of this as a kid in Indiana. When I first got a car, I would drive everywhere, going to places I never usually traversed as a kid, finding different routes and seeing new things.

I can remember many a weekend in Seattle doing the same thing, just aimlessly driving up and down the isthmus, heading parallel to I-5, avoiding traffic by taking side streets and getting lost in parts of Echo Lake or Ballard or whatever, driving in a direction I thought might be east, trying to get back to a highway or a Denny’s or something I recognized.

Back then I only had the laminated tri-fold map, Seattle’s grid/numbering system, and the mnemonic “Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Protest.” (Jefferson, James, Cherry, Columbia, Marion, Madison, Spring, Seneca, University, Union, Pike, Pine.) This is how I vaguely figured out the city, found a lot of weird record stores, and burned a lot of time. It’s a bit of a lost art now, since I only drive from A to B and follow the road Google tells me to follow. I’m trying to break myself of that on Sundays to find new places to shoot.

* * *

Not much else. I have an abbreviated work week and a lot to do, plus figure out packing. Provided this trip goes okay, I think I need to take another trip in June, but I have no idea where. Not the Midwest, not Vegas. I was thinking Seattle, but I am not sure. I’ll have to pull up Amex travel and see what’s cheap, what I’m willing to deal with. But first, I have to see if I have any travel-size toiletries that haven’t turned into solids in the last two years. (And Target was closed on Easter? That’s surprising, at least out here.)

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general

Failing networks, forts, film

It’s Sunday again. Time to try to type something here.

Every time I log into WordPress, it has a failed update and 19 plug-ins that need to be updated or were updated. It doesn’t matter how long ago I last logged in. I can log out for five minutes and this happens. I think I’ve been clear that I really do not like WordPress. But I’ve also used static site generators, and I’m not into that, either. And I’m definitely not paying yet another monthly fee to switch to something else.

I think Facebook’s about done, too. A lot of my friends have fled, and right now, it’s doing this transient thing where it does not give me notifications on anything I post. It doesn’t tell me if someone reacts to a post or comment, and won’t tell me if someone comments on anything I write. It’s essentially useless now, at least from a dopamine hit standpoint. I’ve looked at going to Twitter, but Twitter seriously gives me PTSD. It’s just a wall of text, people screaming at each other whatever’s in the front of their head that second. I can’t follow the threads and cannot deal with it.

So, here we are.

* * *

I was thinking the other day about how obsessed I was about forts as a kid. I don’t even know if kids do this anymore, but I was really into the idea of getting a bunch of lumber and building a treehouse or a lean-to or a clubhouse or some other structure. Maybe this was from Hardy Boys books or Cub Scouts or something, I don’t know.

Part of this involved tree climbing, finding the perfect tree to scale. I had a tree in my side yard as a kid with a perfect branch sticking out at a 90-degree angle at maybe five feet off the ground. It was very easy to grab onto the branch, pull myself up, and sit there, thinking about how if I had a few boards, I could easily build a platform up there. It was also the right height to reenact the Empire Strikes Back scene of Luke letting go of the antenna on the bottom of Cloud City and falling. I think that tree died when I was in college, or maybe after. Anyway, I never built anything on it.

(It’s weird how a lot of the big trees from when I was a kid are not there anymore, but the area is still fairly wooded. Trees that were twigs when I left thirty-some years ago are now giant. I don’t know if this is natural progression, a tree disease, or some failure underground that happens when you put houses and septic tanks and roads in the middle of a woods and disrupt the root systems. Also, I don’t know why Amazon or Google haven’t named something “Cloud City,” except maybe Lucas would sue them.)

There was a lot of vacant land around my subdivision as a kid. Part of this was that the entire township was mostly farmland and woods, until they plowed it up in the sixties and seventies to plop down tract housing. The subdivision was done in “phases” and random plots were sometimes left open and then developed later. So for example we had “the woods” that was three lots down from us, and it was simply an empty wooded lot with a trail blazed through it so you could cut through and go to the next road over. A few years later, it was cleared out and another identical ranch house popped up there.

But there were larger chunks of land that were our stomping grounds, especially when I got a BMX bike and was more mobile.  A large chunk of land east of us extended back at least a quarter mile, maybe fifteen or twenty acres in the form of an isthmus surrounded by the Elkhart River. A series of trails cut through the thick woods in this area, and between the ages of about ten and twelve, my neighbors and I were constantly trying to find ways to build forts in this area.

I remember a lot of primitive lean-tos and pits dug in the ground and then covered with fallen trees. Sometimes, someone would dump some construction material and we’d find a decent piece of lumber or two. We never got very far with any of these, and I now realize we must have been annoying as hell to whoever actually owned this land.

* * *

A year or two later, I met my friend Jim, and he had an actual treehouse, I think built with his dad’s help, probably from leftover boards from when they built out three bedrooms in the basement of their ranch. There was a woods behind Jim’s that was rife with potential building material. That area had a lot of old houses that were destroyed by a tornado in 1967 and then left to nature to rot. Also, construction crews would sometimes dump junk out there, because there’s no harm in pouring motor oil, PCBs, and asbestos into the water table. This was the eighties in Indiana, who gives a shit.

We’d drag this stuff back to Jim’s and nail it into his treehouse, concocting grand plans of adding extra stories, rooms, stairs, hidden passages, and everything else. I built out a set of three rooms underneath the main platform, and Jim was building a drawbridge and a third floor on top of it. It was like we were constructing our own Winchester House in Jim’s parents’ yard.

Anyway, Jim’s dad got sick of his back yard looking like an M.C Escher masterwork built from garbage, and ordered Jim and his brothers to tear it all down. Shortly after, Jim got sent away to his first stint in juvie or rehab or some lockdown Christian reprogramming center, because he was probably either getting high or hiding shoplifted D&D books out in the fort. And by that time, I’d moved on to the Commodore 64 or something else.

It’s weird for me to think about this now, because I now see the connection between this and the desire to build a house out in Colorado. And I guess why I waste so much time on Townscaper.

* * *

Not much else is going on except I’m still trying to figure out this trip, which is the week after next. I thought about bringing a film camera and a dozen rolls of film just for kicks, but I don’t want to deal with the TSA and hand-checking film, especially given the current airport situation. I need to minimize the amount of hassle while things are still on edge, and probably just carry a single camera and maybe a spare lens.

Categories
general

Photo numbers: a history

Yesterday, I took the 8000th picture with my Canon T6i. It was nothing spectacular, just a quick snap at the park by my house in a series of a hundred-some pictures of a park where I’ve taken way too many photos over the years. The sun was wrong and the glare was a bit much, but I hit hit a big round number on the odometer, a curiosity, but something I’ve been slightly obsessed with.

I’m not sure what is considered a lot of photos. I think wedding photographers take maybe two or three thousand per event. Baseball photographers are about the same. I think an average outing for me is about 100 shots an hour. Turn on bracketing and I take three times as many. I haven’t shot a baseball game in forever, but that’s when I turn on continuous shooting and burst through a dozen shots at once.

My Lightroom catalog currently has 47548 photos in it. Maybe 200 of them were taken by others, childhood photos. My pre-digital film history is about 600 pictures, plus or minus whatever I haven’t scanned yet. After I got my first digital camera at the end of 2000, the magic of EXIF metadata takes over, and it’s very easy to track my output.

I got an Olympus D-460 in the final days of the year 2000. 1.2 MP, a 3x optical zoom, SmartMedia cards, and a odd-sized disposable lithium battery (CR-V3 – try finding that on vacation). The camera was small, but not pocketable. It was similar to film cameras in that you consciously had to carry them with you, in a special case or pouch, along with special cables and card readers and batteries and accessories.

From 2000-2005, I took 2817 photos with the Olympus camera. That includes I think eight Vegas trips, two Florida trips, a Hawaii trip, and some other oddball jaunts, plus everything around town. A week out of town would typically mean maybe 150 photos, with about 20% of them being blurry or dark. It was definitely behind the curve technology-wise, but I managed some great pictures with it. An example album: my 2003 Hawaii trip.

In 2005, I was about to go to Hawaii for the second time, and wanted a better camera. I picked up a Fujifilm FinePix S3100, which was an oddball hybrid point-and-shoot. It looked almost like a baby DSLR with the side grip and larger 6x (non-removable) lens, but it was only 4MP, and definitely not pocketable. It did use AA batteries, but sported the oddball xD memory card, so I needed yet another card reader. This camera was capable of taking better pictures, but it was also notoriously bad about botching things in automatic mode.

The Fuji saw 4044 shutter activations from when I bought it in 2005 to when TSA broke the zoom lens in the fall of 2007. It went to Hawaii, Berlin, Amsterdam, Alaska, a few Wisconsin and Indiana trips, and made the move to Colorado. I just about doubled my annual pace with this one. Example albums: Amsterdam 2005 and Berlin 2006.

In 2007, right as we were entering Rocktober and I was going to many baseball games, I picked up a Canon PowerShot A570. My dad had a similar camera, and Canon seemed to be ticking a lot of boxes with the PowerShot series: a bit bigger than a deck of cards; standard AA batteries; standard SD cards; a decent (4x) optical zoom; 7 MP; manual modes; optical viewfinder (this was when they were vanishing from smaller cameras and you had to hold it at arms’ length and squint to look at the LCD screen you couldn’t see in the sun), and about two hundred bucks. It even shot video. This camera wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t pro, but I loved it.

I got 2093 shots out of the A570 in the 15 months I had it. It went through the end of the 2007 baseball season, went to the Bahamas on our honeymoon, and covered our move to LA and then to the Bay Area. And then on a Christmas trip to Milwaukee in 2008, I dropped it in the toilet at the Harley-Davidson museum, and that was that. An example album from before its subermersion: Bahamas 2007.

I quickly ordered the next iteration of the PowerShot, the A590. It was mostly the same camera, with a 1 MP bump up, and weighing about an ounce less. I still have that camera (somewhere) but it effectively was used only in the year 2009. Two things happened: the addition of a DSLR for a main workhorse, and the addition of an iPhone, which meant my day-to-day shooting pictures of cats and walks at work and whatnot now happened on the camera always in my pocket. Regardless, the A590 got 1838 shots in a year. Example album: Mexico 2009.

My first DSLR was a Canon Rebel XS, which I got for my birthday in 2010. This completely exploded the amount of photos I took. There were two baseball games that August in Denver where I took more pictures in 18 innings than I did in the entire 2007 season. Part of that was burst mode, and part of it was a constant need to change lenses. Due to the DSLR, my more frequent use of the iPhone, and my return to film in 2014, I quadrupled my output in this era. My total shutter count on that camera is 10873. It went about everywhere in the six years it was my main camera: London, Berlin, Nuremberg twice, Frankfurt, a few Hawaii trips, a bunch of Midwest holiday runs, and I’m sure more I’m forgetting. There’s lots of the XS on my Flickr, but a good example is Hawaii 2013.

I tried going to the EOS M mirrorless, but it didn’t take, Right before my trip to London, I upgraded to the T6i I use now. I used it on that first London trip, my last Alaska trip, some Vegas weeks, and other odd stuff, but I didn’t put a lot of mileage on it. It also didn’t get much use at the start of the pandemic. Total shots from 2016 to last fall was about 2500. I’m still using it, but a good example album would be Memphis and Graceland 2016.

So I’ve about tripled that in the last three months, and I need to continue. I don’t think I’m a great photographer, and I don’t know if the number of times the shutter clicks is any indicator of progress. But that’s the goal right now, to get as many pixels into memory and try to look at them, learn, correct, and keep going.

Categories
general

Sunday

Sundays. Not a fan. It seems like every Sunday afternoon, I have no idea what to do with my time from lunch to dinner, except I get this panic that I need to completely reinvent my life and I’ve only got two hours and seventeen minutes to do it, and then it’s back to work for another week. I generally spend this time vacillating between trying to start coding something (which is the same brain center as work, so why do that on my day off), write (but that’s done), or… I don’t know what else. Take pictures? Try to play music? I don’t know.

Sunday used to be the day I would catch up with people on the phone. My “phone book” was a sheet of printer paper folded three times and shoved in my wallet. Every semester or so, I’d start a new sheet fresh, copy the numbers that still mattered and still worked to the new page. The old page was generally falling apart at the seams, or the numbers had all changed, because everyone constantly moved. I thought it was somewhat a miracle I kept the same phone number (333-2254) from 1991-1995.

Anyway, I never do the phone catch-up thing. The more tools we have to keep in touch, the less I actually talk to people. It’s amazing that when it was ten cents a minute, I probably spent an hour a day on the phone. Now that it’s essentially free, other than family calls, I probably talk to one person every three months, if that. And my phone book is in my Mac, on my phone, “in the cloud.” It’s never updated now, because it’s forever there. I think the same core file has existed since I first got a Palm Pilot in 1999.

(Not to get all weird about it, but I never know what to do about dead people in my address book. There are maybe a half-dozen in there. I can’t delete them, but I hate when I start to type a letter in something, and someone who died years ago pops up.)

(Also the whole talking-to-people thing is one of the things I liked about having a podcast. Unfortunately there were like 163 other things that were a pain with podcasts, so that’s not something I’m revisiting any time soon.)

* * *

At least things are open on Sundays here, more or less. I remember being in Indiana and things were closed, and you couldn’t buy alcohol. For some reason, Tracks was the only record store I remember being open on Sundays, or maybe they were the only one open after five. That’s probably one of the reasons I could get people on the phone that night. Nothing to do but study, or avoid studying.

I have a very vivid memory for some reason that was in the summer of 1994. I had a car for the first time in two years, and I drove from Colonial Crest out to the mall, and the mall was closed. So I looped back to the aforementioned Tracks on Kirkwood. I only vaguely shopped at Tracks – there were better alternatives – but I had a soft spot for them because there was also a Tracks right off the Notre Dame campus. I was hipped to that place the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, and that was when I found out about import singles, more specifically ones from Pink Floyd, so I could pay ten dollars for two songs, one I already had on the album, the other being too sub-par to be on the album. But it was from England! I also got started working through the entire SST discography at Tracks, which was problematic when only making $3.35 an hour.

Anyway, the memory, I bought Brian Eno’s Ambient 4: On Land, and a sandwich at Dagwood’s. Corned beef, of course. Drove home, listened to that album like four times that night, loved it.

Tracks is still there, although they mostly sell IU sweatshirts and other logo junk. Dagwood’s is still there, although in a new building, and the old basement location is gone, and that was half the charm of the joint. Like I mentioned, Colonial Crest is getting torn down. I’d just heard they emptied the place out, squatters took over, and they lit the place on fire the other night. So, that’s a neat end to an era.

* * *

I have to travel in three weeks, and I’m a bit nervous about that. Not nervous, per se, but I’m not used to it, and I have no idea how to pack or prepare anymore. I keep fixating on what camera gear I will bring. Of course I want to use this as an excuse to buy a new mirrorless camera and lighten the load, but I need to not do that. I swore to myself last Thanksgiving that I would not buy another DSLR until I took another 10,000 pictures on my main camera body. Since then, I’ve shot 7,800, and it’s starting to get nice outside and I expect to rack up a lot more. To be honest, my current 2016 Canon Rebel T6i does about everything I need. I would like a full-frame sensor, a built-in GPS, and a viewfinder level. I’ll keep going with the T6i for a bit longer.

Depending on how the trip goes, I need to start thinking about more travel, but I have no idea what that means. At the start of 2020, when I had a week to take off but no idea on trips, I researched everything, trying to find something neat or new or inspirational or whatever. I flinched, didn’t find anything I was completely sold on, and went to Vegas. As I was there, the pandemic was picking up steam, and I got out just in time.

When I was trying to line up that trip, and I guess the one before, I had this complicated ten-axis criteria list that had to do with distance versus price versus temperature versus hassle versus newness versus six other things. And now I have to add to that the general safety factor of the place virus-wise, and the test requirements to cross an international border. So, no idea what the other travel will be this year.

* * *

A few people enjoyed the last thing about blogs, so maybe I need to write more about that. Or maybe I just need to write more in general.

One thing I’ll mention, as it’s been a decent waste of time, is that I started using https://raindrop.io to collect together and save bookmarks. I know, you can just save them in the browser, whatever. But there’s some intrinsic value to me to doing it this way, and del.icio.us has died (or has it?) and I don’t know of a better way. Anyway, I have a ton of saved bookmarks, from various browsers and del.icio.us and exported Safari reading lists and whatever else, and I dumped them all into this thing. A benefit of my memory being completely gone these days is I can go back and read stuff I bookmarked in 2014 and I occasionally find gems. I mean, 60% of it is dead, and about half of the remainder has to do with self-publishing garbage I don’t have to deal with anymore. But it’s fun to pick through this, and it’s even better when I can find a current blog that I enjoy reading.

And yeah, ironically, I worked at Frankov’s startup doing this exact thing in 1999, a bookmark manager. Maybe too ahead of its time, I guess.

* * *

OK, 11 minutes until dinner. I guess I’m not going to do this 47-hour Lightroom class this weekend.

Categories
blog

Every day I don’t delete this blog is a goddamn miracle

I can’t believe there was a time I used to write here daily. I really can’t believe there was a time I used to write here daily, write in a journal, write books, plus write a dozen hours a day at my actual job.

Now I write here… checks posts… five times in 2022.

Why? Why is this so hard?

* * *

I keep meaning to write a post about “why blogs are more important than ever” or “why you should blog” or something like that. I actually have a draft post where I paste in the occasional thought blast or loose link I find about this topic, and keep meaning to structure this stuff into a cohesive manifesto of sorts.

But… life. There are only so many hours in the day, and by the time I sit down after a day of work, I’m usually completely strung out and exhausted. I consume so much caffeine to keep running at combat power for ten or twelve hours every day, that by the afternoon, I’ve overdosed to the point where I’m about to black out. I cannot focus on this stuff at all.

But when I started this thing back in 1996, the point of it was to not focus. I wanted to write just to write, dump a few hundred words into the void and keep my chops up. It was like jogging, running laps around the neighborhood, not to go anywhere, but to just run for 45 minutes. There was something liberating about posting the day-to-day in an unstructured format, without needing a genre or a “container” or a specific format to put things in. It was. Nothing more.

This was before Facebook, Twitter, and everything else lowered the bar on posting inane personal updates for no reason. This was before the term blog was even invented. It was before LiveJournal or MySpace. To people born after the year 2000 who doesn’t have the attention span to watch an entire TikTok video, these updates were probably like reading Leo Tolstoy do an hour-long jazz set on watching his lawn grow. But having that “container” to do this, without comparison to other platforms – that gave me the freedom to sit down and do this without being blocked on exactly what to do.

* * *

When I sit down to write on Rumored dot com, this is the thought pattern when an idea pops into my head that typically makes me give up and go waste two hours doom-scrolling investment news:

  1. <XYZ> is boring.
  2. You already wrote about <XYZ> in 2011.
  3. Nobody cares about that memory of going to the Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, Indiana on the morning of Friday, August 24th, 1990, buying a new car battery for your 1984 Turismo at Target, and then spending two hours playing Tetris on the Gameboy display because your shift at the English computer lab at IUSB didn’t start until noon.
  4. You can’t write about <XYZ> in a public place because some family member will see it and get pissed off, or it will come up in a search result five years from now during a job interview.
  5. <XYZ> is some disparate thought, and what you really need is some SEO-friendly format, like only writing about pay phones or media trends or book reviews or… something, a format that will draw in people, one or two set things that I can focus on every time I write.

* * *

That last one is what kills me. I’ve complained about this a lot, especially during the “Golden Era” of blogs (which, christ, was 18 years ago now) when people suddenly decided blogs had to be “about something.” And that wasn’t because some grand arbiter of taste codified the online world and listed out what you could write about, and it wasn’t a tool limitation, like you had to choose one of five things when you created your account and you could only do those five things.

Like everything else, this was about money.

People suddenly realized that instead of blogging being like jogging on a treadmill but for writers, blogging became a stepping-stone in the world of publishing. Blogs with a cohesive vision became more trafficked, so once AdWords and affiliate links were a thing, the blogs with the most visitors rose to the top, and got more visitors, and became A Thing. Blogging wasn’t about writing about your feelings. Blogging was about producing some self-contained docudrama about your persona’s supposed life, and were hopefully a launching pad to a book or movie deal. Or they were basically a self-produced magazine, about politics or news or whatever, and the line between mass-media and blogging became blurred until they basically became the same thing.

(I cannot count the number of times I wrote a thousand-word essay here off the cuff, just to burn two hours between work and dinner, and some other writer or random civilian emailed me and said “wow you should submit that at XYZ and sell it.” This always launched me into a white-hot rage. If I was trying to write puff pieces for McSweeney’s, I’d write them. I write here to write here, god damn it. If I was thinking about what markets would take my writing, I wouldn’t be writing. I could not walk 10,000 steps a day for exercise if I spent every waking moment wondering what media outlet would pay me for walking 10,000 steps. I walk 10,000 steps. God DAMN it why is this so hard for anyone to understand?)

* * *

(Stay with me here. I know I’m rambling.)

* * *
I’m not going to go old-man-yells-at-sky about how these damn kids don’t have an attention span to read anymore. They do if they wan’t to; that’s not the problem. I think the dopamine-killing feedback loop of social media has fully been documented elsewhere, and people fail to factor in that people don’t have time and have too many other competing things to prevent them from sitting down and reading a series of 2000-word blog posts like we used to do during every office workday in 2003. I get it.

There’s a much more subtle thing that happened with this tool evolution, aside from the shortening of the media form. The “democratization” of tools like LiveJounal, then Facebook, then Twitter, then TikTok made it easier for anyone to journal their life in real-time. When I started this site, I had to write code by hand, telnet into a remote computer, and use unix commands on a terminal to publish each day’s page. Now, you get an app on your phone, press a button, and a video of your dance routine is live for the world to see, which is great. Anyone can do this.

But the issue is this has transformed the nature and value of the word “blogging.” It used to be that blogging was about constructing a text essay to post. Now the word is a generic verb used to chronicle something in any format online. Live-blogging used to be a CNBC journalist feverishly posting up-to-the-minute copy about the 1998 midterm elections. Now it’s someone taking pictures of their visit to the grocery store. Blogging has lost all meaning. There’s no way to give meaning to the term again.

* * *

I think the most frustrating thing with blogging is that if you search for the term “blog,” the first hundred results you find are people saying you need to create a “blog” to generate SEO for your dental practice or real estate venture. The Reddit group on blogging is filled with people “finding their niche,” which means drilling into a genre that can create a profitable drop-shipping business. People don’t blog to express anything. They use blogs to store marketing content to game search engines.

Because there’s no money in this, there are no successful blogging platforms anymore. They have all been overrun by people selling boner pills and work-from-home scams. Blog discovery is now impossible. Any mechanism to create a directory of blogs or link together similar blogs will quickly be exploited and gamed by vitamin tycoons and destroyed. And once any fun personal hangout where you can converse with authentic people gets overrun by sales bots peddling a revolutionary new mop, they leave. It happened to Blogger, to MySpace, to LiveJournal, and it’s currently happening to Facebook.

Case in point on the blog directory thing: I just searched for “blog directory” and clicked the first result, then clicked the first article shown, and it was “Great Ways To Increase Customer Engagement!” Stock photo of a bearded hipster guy at a Square point-of-sale in an all-white store, smiling at a smiling woman from a Gap ad. Exactly 600 words long. A listicle. Exactly four outgoing links. Textbook SEO. Garbage. This is where we are. This is the entire web. It’s all useless. Old man yells at sky.

* * *

There are like 17 other things in my list of reasons we got to this point. RSS died. Google Reader died. WordPress is horrible. PHPbb is horrible. Blogger got bought and then left in the yard to rust. Every Tumblr in existence got banned for being NSFW. Everyone switched to reading on their phone, which left many sites unreadable. Video. Walled gardens. Privacy concerns. Whatever. I can go on forever. I’ll stop.

The truth is, I have a Notes document that has a list of URLs on it, of every blog I still like to read. Maybe once a month, I find a new one and paste it in there. Maybe six of them still post regularly. I revisit the other ones, read old posts, wish I could find more blogs about nothing.

Blogs are still important. Someone needs to figure this out. I need to stop caring about someone figuring this out and keep writing here. I don’t care if nobody reads it. There are 1,381 posts here. That’s a good start, but I need to keep going.