Seachange

Has anyone out there in corporate America ran into the marketing-speak term “seachange” yet? It might be hyphenated or two words, and I just found it’s also the name of a TV show in Australia, but it’s also a legitimate term that is used by people who frequently verb their nouns and vice-versa, and essentially means a paradigm shift (a term that has been heavily burned out by the same group.) This serves as a warning for the first time you see it in a mission statement or something and wonder what the fuck a seachange is, but it also has to do with two other things I was going to mention, and since I’m still on this Lester Bangs kick, I’m going to take a few thousand words to explain them. So here goes.

About ten years ago, I worked at the Support Center at IU. My boss, to put it lightly, did not like me. She never wanted to hire me in the first place, despite my good record consulting in the public facility labs, because I worked for Sean Sowder on the Sowder Utils. I was never doing anything illegal or illicit when I knew Sean, and I’d since drifted from Sowder and kept my nose clean for years, but she had a grudge against me since day one.

One day, aforementioned boss pulled me from the phones and dragged me in her office, and I knew from the general tone of things that she had somehow found out about something that I’d done that I didn’t even think of as bad but was to her a firing offense. She said “someone was sent an obscene email that you’re responsible for”, and then showed me a forwarded sex story called “Suzy Q’s Party Game”. She said the person who got this story was so offended that they wanted everyone involved with it either fired or expelled from school. And, of course, I was “involved”.

I remembered the story well. Back in maybe 1989, when I first got a VAX account, a guy across the hall from me in the dorms had sent the story to me. It was basically a tale of a woman at a party playing some sex-related games that slowly turned into an orgy, with a group of people sucking and fucking her while she was blindfolded. It was not a rape story; it was consensual, and not in any way degrading to the woman in any sense. (If you’re truly curious, search google for “Suzy Q’s Party Story” and you’ll find a copy.) I had long since forgotten about the episode, as I’d been sent a million things erotic or not in the mail that I either forwarded to friends or quickly deleted.

But I was “involved”, as if I had written the story, or maybe personally took part in anally violating the author during said party game. It was almost humorous, in that the list of forwarded headers on the message were at least five years long, and read like an archaeological expedition through the history of the VAX. What wasn’t funny is that I had to quickly explain to this stupid bitch that this was something I’d done a half-decade ago, and since I’d left one school, went to another, come back, and then worked for UCS for years. This wasn’t a political office or government security position; it was a good job at the time, but I was basically making $6.50 for answering phones. But I had to describe to her that this was eons ago, and if the word “seachange” was in my vocabulary, maybe I could have used it to explain that I’d experienced a major seachange since my days of being a freshman dweeb in the dorms.

I guess I was thinking about the concept of seachange as I think about music and try to think about what I should listen to, and what old groups I should embrace and what ones I should vilify. And in thinking about this, there really aren’t any groups that can survive a paradigm shift, especially in modern times. I mean, if you’re a group like Korn, and it’s no longer 1999 and Kurt Loder no longer wants to kiss your ass, you pretty much can’t turn around and make a pop country album and completely change your group’s mission. Sure, a lot of groups try, and a lot pretend. I mean, Puff Daddy changes his name every other year in order to make people think he’s doing something great or new, but that’s just marketing. And Madonna is always pulling some new stunt in order to make people think she’s more club-oriented or English or Jewish or lesbian or whatever is the hot button at the moment, but if you put MP3s of all of her albums in one playlist and put it on shuffle, it would be hard for the untrained ear to tell what ones went with what year.

I think a lot of bands that have hit it in, say, the last twenty years have such a narrow focus that it’s impossible to change course; it’s like recalling a nuclear missile that has already been launched and crossed over the north pole. A band like, say, The Prodigy, which enjoyed great popularity five years ago when MTV suddenly decided that “Electronica” was the next big cool thing probably isn’t getting many calls from Carson Daly these days. And they’d probably have a hard time retooling to compete with Godsmack or OutKast. Who knows, they could – and I’m not blaming this on the band entirely, as there were certainly dorks in suits involved in shaping their career in such a way that would ultimately make them obsolete. That’s why we have this whole cycle, where right now, Britney Spears is limping through this obviously bullshit “club” tour, in which she does blatantly retarded posturing to prove she’s “not a girl anymore”, and it’s like Elvis in his last days on the toilet. In five years, she will be back with her “next big album” after a detox session and a marriage or two, with maybe some solid sitcom guest-acting to boot, and it will essentially be the same shit with different plugins for the ProTools computer.

The only band that has weathered a seachange successfully actually did it at least twice, and that’s The Beatles. I know, you can say that Dylan did it, but all he did was plug in his guitar. Led Zeppelin had their ups and downs, but basically went from a powerhouse that did I through IV and then dicked around with Houses of the Holy and did a bunch of half-ass stuff until John Bonham woke up dead one day. I think fans of any band that’s around for at least a decade can probably sketch out a timeline on a bar napkin that consists of multiple phases, but it’s not like Zeppelin recording “No Quarter” started a huge “pre-grunge” blues movement that would consist of a legitimate change in careers. It was just another sound on another song of another Zeppelin album (albeit one of theirs that’s a big departure from their earlier work.)

Anyway, the Beatles. I should add, by the way, that all of this is my opinion, and I’m no scholar, and I wasn’t there. So please feel free to tell me I’m full of shit at any time, but I’m entitled to my opinions here. And if I had out the cocktail napkin and I was drawing up, you of course have to start with the Beatles that were the fab four, the skiffle band from Liverpool, who spent time in Hamburg and then moved back to the Merseyside area, blah blah. The whole sterile, bubblegum sound turned a big seachange at some point around Help!, when the band, despite the continuing Beatlemania press for giant world tours and teenybopper movies, they started working in riffs they copped from The Byrds, using a bit of feedback, and working in guitar solos that were actually guitar solos. Maybe Help! just plated the seeds, but by the time Rubber Soul their hair was growing, the lyrics were starting to take on a self-exploring folk rock quality, and hey – there’s even some sitar in there. This is what I would consider a well-worked change, especially since all of the core fans would continue to love this album, but it was like switching the entire backbone network on a system without informing any users that the new trunks would allow for much greater upgrade in the future.

The next seachange, and the one people remember, was the shift to Sgt. Pepper, in which everyone had really scraggly hair and beards and totally sixties clothes, and looked like they just got back from hanging out in India or something with their spiritual advisers. There’s a funny American Bandstand where they show a video from the album right before it breaks in the US, and all of the teenyboppers are like “why are they so ugly?” Some shrewd suit out on the left coast jumped on that, and realized that not everyone else was ready to open up their minds, and The Monkees were formed.

Ah shit, I’m bored of writing about seachange. I’m bored of the Beatles, too. I never really knew their music until college, and it’s infectious enough to get you buying the albums and humming “Yellow Submarine” when it’s on the Muzak in an elevator, but I’m fearful of trying to complete my collection, because I know those fuckers are going to re-release everything with all of the singles on each CD and a ton of other extra shit, and I’ve got enough to contend with in all of the other “upgrades” I need to make to my CD collection. I think it would cost me thousands of dollars to re-buy all of my Peter Gabriel and all of my Queensryche and all of my Rush CDs, and I know in another year or five, I will have to get it all on SACD or DVD-A or whatever. Another seachange. Fuck.

I managed to eat a whole small pizza while typing this and not get any in my keyboard. That is a first!

Metal versus grunge

Courtney Love has been in the news a lot lately, and it’s really pissing me off. I mean, it doesn’t piss me off that she’s a skank attention ho doing everything possible to get her name in the news as she releases her album. And I haven’t listened to the aforementioned CD and I probably never will, so that doesn’t bother me. What gets me is that eventually, every conversation about this no-talent walking petri dish is that eventually, almost everybody has to get on my shit about how great and talented and wise Kurt Cobain was, and then treat me like a pedarist when I wholeheartedly disagree. And since a “go fuck yourself” never seems to give enough of an explanation to people, I thought I’d take a moment to give my perspective on the issue.

Way back in the Eighties, when I was in high school, most of the people my age were listening to retarded pop music that is now on those “Hey, it’s the eighties” types of CDs that K-Tel sells in the middle of the night between ads for inflatable beds and hair replacement products. And I guess in the early Eighties, like when I was in grade school, I listened to a lot of that crap too: Men at Work, Journey, The Police, and whatever else was on MTV or WNDU U-93 back then. But at a certain point, while my classmates continued to like Banannarama and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, I branched out, and found music that seemed truer to me. Maybe it was because I was a computer geek, and I wanted to find a music that was more efficient and more powerful in the same way that I wanted to learn machine language to write computer software for my Commodore 64 that was more efficient and powerful and true. Or maybe it was because I was antisocial and somewhat isolated and this genre of music spoke to me and told me it was okay to not be into the same generic bullshit as the rest of my high school, and that there was a world beyond pep club and the Fellowship of Christian Atheletes. But anyway, that’s how I started to listen to heavy metal.

Heavy metal has evolved evolved over time, of course. And I kept buying the newest stuff, the latest artists, the heaviest extremes. It’s like a drug where you might just start snorting a tiny pick-me-up, and the next thing you know, your entire life evolves around the substance. Some of the first music I liked was, for the lack of a better category, probably called thrash. Stuff like Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and others formed the basis of my listening diet as I approached college. Sure, I liked a lot of other stuff, but those were the artists I sought out whenever I hit a record store. And although they would be indelibly etched into my brain forever, I would push it with faster and harder and heavier stuff. Finding heavier thrash, like Helloween and Dark Angel and Xentrix, opened up an entirely new world of loud and fast music. And just as I got used to finding more and more of this stuff on the Combat record label, Ray introduced me to Death Metal bands like Nocturnus, Entombed, Dismember, Morbid Angel, and a bazillion others.

While most people might just buy an occasional CD or go check out their favorite band, Death Metal became an all-consuming, all-defining lifestyle for me. I talked to everyone I could on the internet about music, hunted down any release from Roadrunner or Earache I could find, and started helping Ray with his magazine. Pretty soon, I started my own zine and also started to DJ a show at WQAX. This wasn’t about money or chicks or fame; I did this mostly to get access to more stuff, and to give access to more people. I would tape everything I didn’t have, and make tapes for anyone who asked. I got tons of free shit from record labels, and reviewed all of it. Any artist who wrote me got support, in the form of reviews, interviews, gossip, other names and addresses, or anything else. I called everyone I could and put a serious amount of fucking toll charges on my phone card in the process. I went to every half-ass, all-ages, amateur-night show I could find, even if the bands were more punk than metal, just so I could “support the scene.” Music meant a lot to me, and it all had to do with that ever-consuming desire to have more, to be more, to find more, and to quote a band that has long since sold out, go against the grain until the end.

Then came Nirvana. I can’t even remember the first time I heard these guys, but it must have been a freak accident, as I never listened to regular FM radio or pop music. I think at the time, stuff like MC Hammer or PM Dawn or something was popular, and I assumed that Nirvana was just part of this greater pop music universe of suckage. But then “grunge” came into its own being, and I guess I pictured Nirvana as “alternative” music. At that point in time, there was something called “alternative”, and it was where most music that fell somewhere between the pop and punk world was relegated. For example, most of REM’s work before the Green album, when they really sold out to FM radio, might be considered “alternative”.

Then in maybe 1991 or 1992, I started going to clubs and saw that people would slamdance to Nirvana songs, one almost always being “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” This was an interesting phenomenon, and at least it made it easier to rush out to the dance floor and knock over dumb jock types who were trying to slamdance. But around that time, the press machine behing Nirvana created this whole phenomenon called “The Seattle Sound”, and tried to make it as if Seattle was the new Berekley in the 60s, and it was the braintrust of all cultural and fashion decisions that were to be made at that moment. Soundgarden, which was more of a straight heavy metal fratboy rock band, got in line with Kurt and crew, and so did Alice in Chains and a big second tier of bands.

Why does any of this piss me off? Well, a bunch of uninteresting bands replacing a bunch of uninteresting bands in the world of pop music doesn’t bother me. And the fact that “grunge” had this crossover appeal to punks and homogenized the “alternative” scene with the pop scene didn’t do much to me either. I’ve always appreciated punk and enjoyed any brief exposure to it that I’ve encountered, although I haven’t really tried to follow it or live the lifestyle. But what really bothered me was when “grunge” purposely tried to fuck with heavy metal in some intellectual pissing contest, to prove that it was somehow obsolete.

Every retrospective TV show or magazine article talking about music of the early 1990s will talk about the rise of “grunge” rock and the death of heavy metal. But they will usually make it sound as if every person that was into heavy metal suddenly dropped their spiked wrist bands and black t-shirts and put on some flannel and started listening to the Seattle sound. THIS IS BULLSHIT. A lot of people may have done this, but a lot of people were just riding the heavy metal wave briefly, listening to hard rock shit like Poison and Cinderella and Bon Jovi and then jumping to the next trend that happened. And while I acknowledge that this is true, I don’t think ANYBODY who was into death metal suddenly watched the Nirvana Unplugged special and suddenly decided that Kurt was god and it was time to stop showering.

Most people today look at “hair metal” (once again, I will mention that this term was never used back in the day, until all of you stop using it) as one big group of people, but you have to remember that people who listened to Skid Row and the Bulletboys did not, as a rule, listen to Terrorizer and Cannibal Corpse. The former was a group very much into style and eye makeup and big hair and the pop-music crossover of this brand of heavy metal, while the latter were more involved in the death and mayhem and gore and screaming solos and banging of heads and secret satan salutes. There may have been some crossover (I liked Guns N’ Roses but I also liked Deicide) but the two groups were not related.

They were, however, the same in the eyes of political correctness, something that was born on college campuses around the time everyone started wearing flannel. And Nirvana, among other achievements, seemed to be, at least in my eyes, one of the first really politically correct bands, with a highly PC fanbase. Every Nirvana fan seemed to be a feminist, against discrimination, against The Man, and very politically involved, typically left-leaning. The movie PCU made a poke at the “causeheads”, the group of students on campus that always protested everything. Hell, Nirvana’s bassist, Chris Novoselic, recently considered a run at lieutenant governor of Washington. “Nirvana was a political band,” he said. “And we were the prophets of the disenfranchised. We spoke to the disenfranchised because we ourselves felt that way.” I don’t see how a band who a couple of years ago topped 50 million total sales in its catalog could be considered disinfranchised, but it’s important to note that the band and the fans feel that way, because maybe it explains their general attitude toward non-Nirvana fans.

I don’t remember how many arguments I got into online with Nirvana fans that were things I started myself, rather than things that I got pulled into. But it usually involved Nirvana fans saying I was inbred or a redneck or a rapist or a dumb jock because I listened to metal. And I realize this is childish, and probably just as bad as when I posted Kurt Cobain suicide haiku to the Nirvana newsgroup, but it was amazing how wrapped up in the argument these people would get. I mean, even mentioning “hey, your music sucks” was like walking up to a Jewish person and saying “Hey, I found your grandma’s body at Dachau, so I fucked it with a piece of pork.” One time me and my pal and coworker Chuck were harassing a few people about their grooming habits in a Nirvana group and the fuckers had the gall to write our boss and demand that both of us get fired for harassing a minority or something. I’m not trying to say that they were pieces of shit for not playing fair (which is true) but rather that they seemed to take great pleasure out of playing this “I’m better than you” game. They were like the smug drama club fags that always got the shit beat out of them in high school, but similarly, they were always the type of people that acted like you were a piece of shit because you didn’t subscribe to their viewpoint or like what they liked.

And I never WANTED their love and affection or whatever. But what made them different from Garth Brooks or INXS or whatever other stupid pop trend that came down the pike was that everyone else came and went and left our little pocket of humanity known as heavy metal alone, while the “alternative” music people had to fuck things up, and it wasn’t enough for them to dominate the pop music chart, they also had to destroy our world by Making A Difference. They had to institute a sly form of genocide, a Final Solution against those who didn’t like them, who chose to listen to music that had guitar solos and didn’t faithfully subscribe to every tenet of political correctness. They could have stayed on their side of the Billboard chart, and had their little trend, and left it at that. But they had to fuck things up for us, and that’s why people into heavy metal still hate “grunge”. And that’s why many people think that Kurt Cobain’s headless corpse can go suck a dick.

And besides that, Nirvana sucked. I seriously tried to listen to Nevermind once, because a friend of mine thought they were the next Beatles. I thought maybe “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was their one shitty song, their pop track, the hit single of the album, and everything else was cool. But I thought the whole thing was useless pop dreck. I mean, it’s all too sappy sweet and predicably bland, with no musical exploration into anything complex that could derail the predicable angst of the songs. It’s like listening to the entire Hendrix discography and being subjected to a fucking god of the six string, making it talk and explode and fuck and destroy and wail and cry in every way possible, and then putting on the Beatles’ Please Please Me and humming along to “Please Please Me” and “Love Me Do”. It’s fucking impossible – you’d kill someone. I mean, I listen to Motorhead on 11, Lemmy screaming Ace of Spades at me, and then I’m supposed to find anything I like with some unwashed postpunk strumming along chords like a folk hero on methadone?

(Let’s not forget the fact that in “In Bloom”, Cobain actually makes fun of the fans who were clueless enough to be pulled in to their simple riffs and didn’t understand the super secret arcane political bullshit PC themeology that all of the cool kids did. To me, this is further proof that this whole movement was a crock, but true Nirvana fans will think that they were of the upper two percent of fans that really understood Kurt, man. Whatever.)

So it’s been almost ten years since Cobain blew his brains out. “Grunge” died, and “hair metal” came back, but neither one really mattered to me, because the one legacy of Nirvana that seems to still live on is the political correctness of fans who think they are always right, and the general wimpiness this seems to propagate in many genres of music (although most thug rappers aren’t going to pressure you into thinking about freeing Tibet or anything.) That’s all part of the “make them think they are thinking and they will love you” philosophy, and there’s no way to shake that one.

Okay, I can’t think of a way to end this, except to save and go get something to eat.

Reviewing a bunch of music I normally wouldn’t even acknowledge

Many moons ago, I wrote an essay about my different tastes in music, because I didn’t really have a common musical genre that I could tell people that I was into. At the time, I actually listened to FM radio, and could at least name more than five artists that had released a new album in the last decade. Now that I no longer listen to the radio or watch MTV, I look back at this old essay and realize that aside from buying a lot of new Dream Theater albums and replacements of old 80s heavy metal tapes that have been remastered, I really haven’t kept up with music at all. In fact, I recently found out that not only do I not know the difference between Dave Mathews and John Mayer, but I thought they were the same person.

In an effort to educate myself and possibly give you the reader some information on pop music (although I know neither of you give a fuck about this, and I know for a fact that Larry has absolutely no preference or use for music, other than selling it on eBay if he somehow happens upon it) I decided to go to Amazon and listen to a few samples provided for popular albums. Coincidentally, they have a new feature which enables you to easily browse music and listen to thirty second samples, usually with five of them provided for many albums. Instead of clicking each individual sound sample, this new media browser lets you load up a whole albums’ worth of samples in a jukebox, and will show related titles for your perusal.

I decided to hunt down a bunch of albums that are either very popular at the moment, or were recorded by artists that I had some sort of curiousity about. This meant hitting the new releases and top seller tabs of this Amazon browser. When I got bored of the suggestions it gave me, I went to Billboard and got a few ideas from the top 100. I weeded out anything immediately identifiable as rap or country, and went from there. Here are my brief reviews – take them with a grain of salt, as I’m more of a heavy metal sort of fan.

Seal – Seal IV

I actually really like this. It’s got a really funky sound, very energetic. He’s got a dynamic voice that sounds like a classic, like classic Stevie Wonder. The music is more modern, newer beats and fresh rhythm. I seriously think I’m going to pick up a copy of this.

Dido – White for Rent

I don’t know anything at all about her, except that more women than men seem to like her, and when I first saw her name listed, I thought it said “dildo”. Coincidence? Anyway, the music reminds me of Natalie Merchant or something. No wait, it’s more like Suzanne Vega, except not as artsy-fartsy. But it’s not as sly either, not as sexy. It’s more poppy, straightforward. It doesn’t do much for me.

Outkast – Speakerboxx/The Love Below

This starts with some kind of big band intro. “Love Hater” continues the motif, although there’s rap-style lyrics over it. It’s not hardcore rap stuff, it sounds more like Fishbone. And now on “Happy Valentine’s Day”, there’s more of the funkified lyrics that sound like Fishbone, but without the heavy, funky rhythm behind it. “Spread” is a faster rap thing, not as good. It’s mixed, and I don’t know what the focus is, so I don’t get into it as much. I think I’d like some songs, but not the whole concept.

Coldplay – A Rush of Blood

Are they trying to sound like the Beatles? Allmusic.com calls them “Brit-pop darlings”. I asked Renee, and she said they are “whiny white boys who think they are Radiohead.” And I remember Chuck Klosterman doesn’t like them, but I forget his exact reason. Oh wait, I have heard “Clocks” before, in a commercial or movie or something. I thought it was a U2 song. Well that’s enough of a reason for me to not like them.

The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

A bunch of people online seem to like these guys, so I had to listen to them for a bit. This sounds like if Beck’s band recorded a solo album without Beck, like The Beck Experience or something. It’s got this more relaxed and acoustic guitar, with a totally geeked-out synth sound. “Flight Test” and “One More Robot” sound sortof like an old Yes album with a different vocalist, so I could almost deal with that. I think I could come to like this, since it sounds enough like Spock’s Beard, but I’m afraid that if I went to one of their shows, there would be a lot of hippies and people with star tattoos there.

Radiohead – Hail to the Thief

I have OK Computer but never got into it that much, except to listen to it when I was trying to sleep. This is pretty much the same deal. This reminds me of the slower parts of Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon, very subdued with piano and quiet vocals, like “Sail to the Moon”. “Backdrifts” has a pretty cool drum sound, all sampled and electronic. “Go to Sleep” has more energy, more like REM or something. It’s not bad, but I’ll stick with OK Computer.

Probot – Probot

Holy shit, I was hoping to hear this! Dave Grohl (I think he was in some stupid band in the 80s before the Foo Fighters) got all of these metal figureheads together to record new songs with his band. “Centuries of Sin” has Cronos from Venom, although it sounds more like a Sepultura song. “Red War” has Max Cavalera from Sepultura, but it sounds more like a Slayer song. “Shake Your Blood” has Lemmy! Lemmy! Lemmy! It sounds like Motorhead, maybe a few bits of the equation changed to make it sound different. There are a couple of more hardcore songs, like “Silent Spring” with Kurt from DRI and “Access Babylon” with the guy from CoC. I will surely get this CD.

Jessica Simpson – In This Skin

I know what she looks like, and that she doesn’t know that tuna is a fish, but I had to hear her music. She sounds a lot like Britney Spears, who I have heard on commercials and everywhere else. But she can actually sing a bit better, her anunciation and vibrato is softer, more flowing. Britney always has that forced, pseudo-ebonic e-e-e-e-e sound, where Simpson actually hits and holds notes. “Sweetest Sin” sounds like classic Mariah Carey, and “With You” is a lot of fun. If someone gave me a copy of this, I could see myself being a closet fan of it, but maybe I shouldn’t say that publically.

Britney Spears – In the Zone

I had to do a back-to-back comparison, and I’m not impressed with this, even for the genre. There’s more talking than singing, talking that’s crammed into a dance beat or whatever to make it sound more like actual music. And on stuff like “Breathe on Me”, they make her sing the chorus over the verse so you can’t tell that she isn’t really singing. It’s more of a rap album than the infectious bubblegum pop, not that either one works for me.

Nickelback – Long Road

This is what Ray would probably call “pit-riffy”. I think “Do This Anymore” is catchy, and I almost considered this album until “Someday” came on – this is the sickly slow song. “Believe it or Not” is almost okay, but “Feelin Way Too Damn Good” peters out. The CD probably sounds better with a lot of low bass, but it mostly reminds me of the entrance songs in WWE Wrestling.

Hoobastank – The Reason

What a weird band name. Here’s another riffy one, sortof mixing lightweight hardcore with really catchy lyrics. It’s something I would expect a 14-year-old skateboarder to be into. It does have a really clean, poppy sound. I’d just be afraid if I was listening to it in my car, that someone would pull up next to me and start laughing at my 33-year-old ass.

Audioslave – Audioslave

When this started off, I was thinking “this band is the biggest fucking Soundgarden ripoff ever! The singer even sounds like Chris Cornell!” Then I looked up the CD info and it turns out it is Chris Cornell. Well, that earns an automatic disqualification.

Those are the brief, useless reviews for today. I’m sure I will have a bunch of teenagers sending me shitty email about trashing their idols, so I better go adjust my spam filters appropriately…

Why Lost in Translation pisses me off

Jesus Christ, I can’t sleep. And let me tell you why: I just spent $21 on the Lost in Translation DVD, and although the movie was passable when I watched it, the more I think about it, the more it really pisses me off. So, here we go.

There’s some saying about if you make people think they are thinking they will love you, but if you really make them think, they’ll hate you. And because Lost in Translation was getting a lot of buzz from who I consider The Wrong People here in the big onion, I basically wrote off the film as being from the former category. I figured it was some kind of John Hughes flick for the metrosexual world traveler who considers themselves unique because they do the same exact stuff as everyone else. But for some reason, it stuck to me; too many people were telling me to check out this film, and I needed the ultimate excuse to say that I wasn’t into it, which would be to actually see it and decide if I hated it or not. So while standing in line at Virgin and waiting for a cashier, I snagged a copy of the DVD, and gave it a run later.

I’ll admit that without the hype, without the examination, it’s not a bad film. Bill Murray does a decent job, and Scarlett Johansson is easy on the eyes. Japan is a character in itself, and the mix of high tech and feng shui against busy people and crowded masses gives the film a beautiful quality that makes it easy to watch. Everything flows well, the humor about the modern Japanese lifestyle gets a giggle or two, and the story progresses naturally. It wasn’t unbelievable, it wasn’t difficult to swallow, and it felt just like sitting in a plus-class American rental car with low miles on the odometer and no traffic on the road. Except for the ending, which I’ll get to in a bit, I had no real complaints.

But then, the ending. And I thought about this movie more and more. What was the direction? What was the story really about? I went to IMDB and read up a bit. I talked to a friend about it. I thought about it more. And then I slowly came to the conclusion that I was duped, I was burned in a way that wasn’t as extreme as if a Puerto Rican gang bashed in my front door with a pipe wrench and carted my electronics into a waiting van, but it still really pissed me off.

Okay, first of all, Sofia Coppola. There was a lot of hype about how great of a director she is, her gift, her vision, whatever. I saw her first movie, The Virgin Suicides, and I’ll admit that I am a little biased about this movie because I took a somewhat lukewarm second date to this film at the BAM and it was about the stupidest thing outside of a GWAR concert I could’ve taken a date to, and I never spoke to her again. But aside from her, I thought the movie was the kind of thing that only a critic could love, like a cinematic version of Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica. The only strong theme was the suicide thing in the family, and the setting looked okay for a period piece, but wasn’t like The Omen or something, but it wasn’t supposed to be. The story just unwound, and yeah, Kirsten Dunst was great and the deaths were tragic and slightly gruesome, but it wasn’t supposed to be an all-out bloodfest and it wasn’t much of anything once you pulled away the hype. So she spent six million on a movie that pulled in four million and everyone forgot about it, but the critics kissed her ass and everyone had high hopes for her next one. But nobody really said she had great talent or hope. This was like a hobby for her, something her dad did and she dabbled in it, and she lost out, but maybe next time.

So then next time comes, and of course everyone says she’s a genius for making this film, and it’s not her dad’s fame or her (ex)husband’s influence or anything else, and that’s just a coincidence. To everyone who said that, I invite you to carefully re-read the opening credits to the film. Under Executive Producer, you will see the name Francis Ford Coppola. That is not a typo. What that means is that her dad was the one with the checkbook, and she went to him and he gave the greenlight and he signed his name on the dotted bank-type line. Maybe the money didn’t come out of his pocket, but it came out of a pocket that he knew well. And with that, he got a certain conditionally, and he granted a certain degree of acceptance, and I’m not saying he was on the set making sure all of the pants were pressed a certain way, but if you say he didn’t have anything to do with her ability to make this film, you are obviously high.

So she made the film. And one quality that a lot of reviewers say is how this film doesn’t have direction. Not that she let the assistant camera operator block all the shots or whatever – what I mean is that the film isn’t an action-packed, line-by-line, total French Connection dash from start to finish. It’s all loosey-goosey, all relaxed, like sitting back and watching the world wind out. Bill Murray is very relaxed, very minimalist. There are long periods where no dialogue happens, where people sit and stew in their juices. This is all planned, People like this. Less is more, right? That is the *direction*.

What pisses me off about this is that instead of building character, the film tends to let you build the character. You fill in the blanks about how Bob and Charlotte work, what makes them tick. This isn’t a film in which the social causes or ulterior motives are written on cardboard signs and shoved in your face. In fact, it makes you wonder halfway through what the ulterior motives might be. And while you’re waiting to see if Bob Harris turns out to be a big prick or a nice guy or a romantic loser, you tend to put your own shit out there and build up the character yourself. I have to admit that sometimes, that kind of thing is a useful thought in film. One of the reasons for the brat pack film is that you could put the jock and the stoner and the loser and the princess and the pervert on the screen at the same time and then have people pick which one they were or they wanted to be. And in a strange way, that’s almost what Coppola tries to do here with the two characters, but it uses less choices.

But this is what pisses me off about it: the film, not to ruin it, is ultimately a chick flick. It’s meant to be consumed by the individual that will identify with the Charlotte character, who will sympathize with her loneliness and lack of direction in life and confusion about what’s next. It’s meant to sell to the forever temp that’s the office admin who wants to be a dancer or a writer or an actor or whatever else, who is stuck with the dork boyfriend from college that isn’t working out and wants the has-been movie star with the charming manners to be their next project. This film is almost the opposite of Pretty Woman, but instead of Richard Gere in a mid-life crisis, it’s a late-twenties woman who doesn’t know what’s next and wants to find the answer. IT’S A CHICK FLICK!!! It’s not a comedy. It’s not a philosophical discourse into what makes us work or what we have become. It’s another great big “I want a man to complete me so I can have babies and be happy and live a life that is in no means real” movie.

Another thing that pisses me off about this genius filmmaker is that this story is largely based on her personal life of sitting in a hotel room while husband Spike Jones went off to work, leaving her to wonder what to do with her useless art degree and no direction to get on with the next project. So she took her reality and added some daydream of a guy that was neat and fun and interesting and the white knight in shining armor and slapped it on top. Of course, I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t mention that in Summer Rain, I took the boredom of the summer of 1992 and added a woman that was total fiction that I wanted to meet at that time. Of course, it sold like 17 copies and didn’t win any awards, so I think I’m free to bitch about it.

The ending is stupid. The whole movie never really tells you what’s going to happen, knowing that you will expect them to get together but that they can’t be together and they will say goodbye and blah blah blah. And the ending, it’s like the rest of the film in that nothing really happens, and you have to walk away from it wondering “so will they get together? Are they changed? Will he go with the burgundy carpet?” And it makes you talk. And it makes you think you’re thinking. And really the movie did NOTHING except show you a bunch of pretty pictures of Japan.

Bill Murray did a decent job in this. But he got a hell of a lot of hype that this was his big “comeback” performance, and that’s a load of shit. Everyone was saying the same exact thing about him when he did Rushmore, and he’s just playing the same basic character, except maybe on half of a lude. He’s done a lot of good stuff, he’s not bad here, and he’ll get much more work in the future. But he’s not Jesus Christ out of the tomb after three days.

Why do I feel ripped off? Because I feel like Coppola did something analogous to selling empty boxes on eBay. She made this film and generated this hype that it was some great, life-altering experience, but all it does it preys on the insecurities and invulnerabilities of a soul-seeking middle class yuppie group of people, and falsely affirms them. It’s nothing but empty resonation, with some good shots of Tokyo in the background. I’m glad I finally checked it out, but now I’m going to have to unload this DVD.

Okay, time to go to sleep now.

Media format history

Let’s wheel out the way-back machine, boys and girls, and set it to about fifteen – no, seventeen years for today’s history lesson, as we talk about something called media formats.

Don’t run off to another random website because you think I’m going to get into some Noam Chomsky, FAIR media studies bullshit. What I’m talking about is how the music gets from your favorite band to your head. Now, I know most of you kiddies nowaways use something called MP3s, which enable you to steal all of your music from the intraweb thingee through a program that lets you immediately download that one song from the album that your friends say you should listen to. This lets you immediately type “that milkshake song” into your music-stealing program and download the one song from the album, ignoring the other dozen that don’t matter, so you can listen to it over and over and over until the powers that be tell you to move to the next trend. And that’s fine, but I thought I’d take a moment to riff on some ancient, archaic formats that were around when your grandparents were in high school in the mid-eighties, and the company that made iTunes had a game called Breakout as their cash crop and all of this interweb stuff was just a wet dream of nuclear scientists hidden away in a DARPA laboratory, spending money on new ways to digitally transfer porn into MX Missile bunkers deep below the earth’s surface and transferring the cost to the taxpayers in the form of $670 hammers.

You may be familiar with the Compact Disc. It’s the recordable format you use when you want to get a whole bunch of stolen MP3s from one computer to another. There’s also a lesser-known form of this that comes from the factory with the songs already on it. And instead of being packed 50 to a spindle, each individual “album” comes with a tiny booklet that has the names of the songs and sometimes pictures of the band, which are for people who don’t have cable TV and can’t see videos on MTV. It sounds very wasteful and old fashioned, and even counter-intuitive that people would *pay money* to buy one of these “albums”, but these are also the same people that bought games like the Atari 2600 for hundreds of dollars and thought it was neat when two different blocks moved around the screen and shot at each other. And what’s even more strange is that there were actually more formats of music before the digital age, in something called analog.

Okay, I’ll drop the facetious trip and get to what I really wanted to talk about, which is the whole analog versus digital format. I know that analog and vinyl are back in the sense that everyone is spinning records in clubs, but playing records is music about as much as mixing housepaint is art. I know everyone is into the whole trip of house music or DJ music or whatever the hell you call it, but I think there’s pretty much an unwritten rule that if you have any Ted Nugent or Grand Funk Railroad in your collection, you can’t be into DJ-type music. Maybe I’m wrong, and I guess I do have at least a couple of BT albums in my collection, but that’s about where the story ends as far as I’m concerned, and if you’re looking for my weigh-in on the debate, you just got it.

Back to analog. I have an all-digital setup here in the pad: Dolby 5.1 and DTS if needed, fed out of fiber from a DVD player and with a 6+1 changer riding shotgun and the PS2 optically hanging out in case I need some backup (like when I get some fucked-out DVD-R-Audio-G from Taiwan that the mailman fucked up in the envelope or whatever. Sony put some mighty drives in those PlayStations – they can crack almost anything that spins and is five inches across.) There’s the iPod to go with me, and a stack of (legal) MP3 in my home PC and at work. I’ve even got a CD player alarm clock to tell me to get the fuck out of bed every morning. The analog gear has long left the rack, though. My circa-1993 dual-deck tape recorder lay disconnected by my never-played Korg M1, and I don’t even know what happened to my tape walkman, but it’s probably in a shoebox under my bed with my Pez dispensers and collection of broken Sony MD recorders. I think my collection of Iron Maiden albums on vinyl might still be at Marie’s place – not that I have a turnable to listen to them. I still have a few shoeboxes of tapes that were too good to get rid of, but since I sold my VW with a tape deck five years ago when I left Seattle, I haven’t had much use for tape, and even less for vinyl.

But I thought about tapes the other day, when I was listening to the new Queensryche album on headphones. One of the songs, “Desert Dance” has this really weird filter effect, I think it’s called a comb filter, on a verse as the first few lines are sung, and then the music almost stops but comes to a head, and then the filter vanishes and the whole thing charges on. It’s the kind of thing that’s indicative of when a band like QR or Dream Theater self-produces an album because of whatever ego trip they happen to be on, and everybody ends up twirling every knob in the booth just because they happen to be there. While the effect is cool, it’s also disorienting, because it’s the sort of thing that makes me think that my batteries are dying or my headphones have taken a shit yet again or… or…

The tape is fucked up! Man, how many years has it been since you’ve thought about that? It almost slipped my mind, the decades of capstans getting a bit too gummy or reels not being tensioned correctly, or slight folds on the tape from the whole thing getting vomited out of the player while you were doing 90 down the road and you threw the whole thing into the passenger seat and told your shotgun officer, “find a pen and fix this fucking thing!” Everything is digital now, and while I’m constantly running into problems like MusicMatch fucking up and putting all of the tracks in the wrong order, or finding out on the train to work that some fucking idiot on FreeDB has tagged Venom’s Black Metal album with the “Native American” genre label or something. But that’s the kind of thing that you fix on the fly or edit later or, god forbid, re-rip the album on another computer to get the shit straight. It never alters the sound though – every bit still ends up the same from the factory to your ear.

But remember when tape made this the exception rather than the rule? I know every time I listen to the CD for ZZ Top’s Eliminator album, I expect this low warble at about three seconds into the first track and three seconds before the end of the last track, because the felt pad had some kind of oxide on my old tape copy from 1983 and sat for a decade before I got back into the tres hombres in college. Every time I hear the Rush song “Witch Hunt”, I think of the copy my friend Derik taped for me; we used the stereo down in his basement, and when I was fucking around on his drum set, it vibrated the turntable’s needle, and left a slight audio ghost in the background of my C-90 copy that I heard again a million times, until I upgraded to CDs. When I listen to Electric Ladyland, I still expect the needle to jump just like it did on side three of my stepdad’s old copy, which became permanently recorded on my tape. And remember XDR tapes? I think only EMI made them, but they had this sweep of five tones at the start and finish, an indicator that their jazzed-up bullshit Dolby ripoff was giving you superior sound when you popped in that Pink Floyd tape. All of these artifacts became permanently engrained in my unconsciousness as I listened to these tapes over and over through my teens and college years, and I never thought of it, except the distant thought that “I wish these fucking Compact Disc players were smaller than a kitchen appliance so I could fit one in my god damned car and get rid of these tapes.”

I lived through the change from analog to digital, which in fifty years I hope to be some smaller version of some other great technology handoff, like the people who grew up riding horses and then graduated to the Model T. I remember first seeing a ten-thousand disc player in Omni at a time when I barely had experience with the cassette tape, maybe around 1982 or so, and thought, “that might be cool, if you were Howard fucking Hughes or something.” (Actually Hughes was dead by then, and I don’t know who I thought was rich back when I was ten – maybe George Lucas, or the members of Kiss.) Anyway, I think I’ve told the whole story of me buying my first CD player at some point in the past (sorry, no link.) But I remember the growing pains of the media, the long box era gradually being replaced by the shrink-wrapped jewel box (but sans the fucking security stickers). I remember when everyone was way too concerned about upgrading to digital, and there was a flurry of digital-ready analog cables, analog speakers, analog tuners, analog power strips, and everything but carpeting. I remember once, while buying one of the Aiwa tape walkmen I had during college, that a salesperson at that snooty audio store out by College Mall in Bloomington was telling me that Sony had a discman coming out that would read ahead a CD while playing it and store a few seconds of the tune in RAM memory as a sort of skip protection. I was looking at the guy like, “you are fucking high, my friend! I just bought four measly megabytes of memory for more than the cost of two Sony Discmen!” and he’s explaining the future of portables to me like the Navy explaining the USS Nimitz to a bunch of 1940s dimrods in that movie The Final Countdown (or insert your own favorite time-travel machine movie.) Lo and behold, a few years later, every single pink disposable portable CD player available at Target for under $50 has like an hour of skip protection built in. It’s like the CD was a big deal, and then I woke up one day and everyone had a hundred of them. And every car came with one, standard.

Weird, wild stuff. And that, kids, is a quote from this guy Johnny Carson. Believe it or not, Jay Leno was not the creator of the Tonight Show, you see… Oh, nevermind. I’ve got new CDs to rip.

I hate grocery stores

I hate grocery stores in New York. I know I’ve said this a million times, but it’s true. The grocery store, as the provider of food and foodstuffs, is probably one of the few things with which I require regular interaction to survive. Record stores in New York suck too, but I can not buy records. Cable TV in New York sucks, but I gave up on that after they pulled my bootleg connection, and it’s probably better that I don’t watch TV. Booksellers in New York – well, there are many good points, but they can also be run by snooty pieces of shit, and I can always take my business to Amazon.com. But aside from eating food off of a cart or ordering delivery every night, I need to eat. And it would be nice if this interaction was a pleasant, helpful, quick, and value-added experience. But it’s more like having a metal bucket full of feral rats strapped to your ass and heated with a blowtorch until the rodents seek escape by tearing through your anus and into your intestines. Well that, and they require you to carry a plastic card for a 1% discount.

I’ll admit: I’ve been spoiled. When I was in college and had my first real experience with buying groceries with my own money, I used to shop at Kroger all the time. Kroger went 24-hour when I was in high school, and around the same time became pretty much the first place to take credit cards. That meant it was no big deal for me to go in and buy a two-liter and a frozen burrito for $1.37 and put it on my Visa. Plastic was the lifeblood of the student, and Kroger made me a loyal customer (until Marsh showed up by my place in Colonial Crest.) Kroger also started building these mega-stores, that contained everything from fishing gear to bulk foods to fresh seafood to stationery supplies. Many a night, I would go to the Kroger at College Mall at three in the morning with a UCS paycheck burning a hole in my pocket and fill an entire square, top-heavy cart with everything you’d need to make two back-to-back Thanksgiving dinners for twelve with groceries left for the next week.

In Seattle, I had my choice from two major chains: Safeway and QVC. Both were open 24 hours. Both had sizeable stores with full-service delis and giant freezer sections. They offered a wide variety of health foods and veg-friendly stuff (I wasn’t vegan or anything, but it was when I had stomach problems and tried to watch what I ate.) The help at both were pretty friendly, and I managed to know cashiers who remembered me by name. Credit card payment was quick and easy, and sales and specials made a good dent in my bills. I shopped at Safeway a bit more, because they always sent very good coupon books, and some weeks, every single item I wanted to buy was on sale, and I’d end up getting $47 of food for about $16. Later, the Safeway closest to my house closed down to get knocked down and rebuilt as a super-Safeway, but at about the same time, QVC opened a new mega-store with an underground parking garage and a produce section bigger than most grocery stores overall. The two kept each other in check, and overall it meant that a trip to the store, be it for a single item or a trunk full of food would be enjoyable.

Okay. Fast-forward five years. I’m here in Astoria, and there are two stores near me. One is C-Town, the other is Key Food. There are also a lot of tiny groceries and bodegas that old ladies shop at, but I don’t speak Greek and I would rather not shop at a place where they’re going to avoid every health precaution available and spray my food with Windex. Neither Key Food or C-Town have around the clock service, but that’s typical, seeing as we’re in the city that never sleeps, and every fucking person who has ever used that phrase to describe New York has not tried to do something like buy a case of Coke at 1 AM, something that is even trivial to do in Goshen, Indiana.

To get a good picture of what Key Food looks like on a Saturday morning, watch the first twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan. To imagine the same at C-Town, do the same, but on one of those 2″ Sony Watchman TV sets. Much like a quick drive just outside of Tripoli will confirm that there are no traffic rules except “he who has the biggest gun welded to the back of his Toyota pickup truck has the right-of-way”, you will see people who obviously have no idea what the normal flow in a grocery store should be. I thought this was something you learned at an early age from sitting in the cart with your mom, or maybe the grocery store chain pays some Pavlovian psychiatry think-tank design firm to put up the signs and aisles and dividers in such a way that people could instinctively tell that you step in the front door, take a cart, go toward the aisle with the salad and crap, and then corkscrew through the store. Not so. Most people flail in every direction, as if a boxcar of geriatric prisoners were pushed out of a boxcar and into some Nazi maze of death while SS officers shot machine guns over their heads. It’s always a total clusterfuck. And to be fair to the people who are lost and confused, the stores here don’t always follow the smooth intestinal track of back and forth and back and forth, calmly oozing customers with full carts toward the multiple anuses of the cash registers. There are always protrusions and extra counters and racks and bizarre design issues made largely because square footage is so limited and they can’t simply put in twenty foot aisles with lots of breathing room in between.

The total lack of square footage means a radically reduced product line, of course. An Albertson’s or Safeway may have twenty feet of ketchup in an aisle; ketchup products that are hearty, light, lean, dietary, squeezable, industrial-sized, single-serving, kid-friendly, eco-designed, spicy, low-sodium, or even various non-ketchup colors, such as green. There may be different brands of ketchup, from the store brands to the generics to Heinz or even some organic hippy brand that substitutes agave juice for the sugar that gives most ketchup its flavor. But the bottom line is, you’re going to have a shitload of choices, and that always helps the consumer. You buy what you want, you try other options to find the ones that make you happy, you meet your dietary needs, and you probably save money, because there will be competition between the brands and they will strive to make you happy.

This, of course, is not true in a New York grocery store. More often than not, certain products will have a “family line”. For example, the Frito-Lay family has several brands of snack chip, such as Doritos, Ruffles, Chitos, and so on. At a smaller store, one or two big family lines, plus the shitty generic, will push out all other products. So, for example, Key Food might not have Kettle Chips. You might say “tough shit, Jon, they don’t have the space.” But my bitch is that because they don’t have the space, they can’t meet peoples’ needs. And if I want Kettle Chips, I’ve gotta rent a fucking car and drive to Rhode Island and buy them. How is that “the city that has everything?” Why doesn’t the store just sell everything that people want and then build a bigger store from the profits? Or spend some money to design a better store where the cashiers can ring people up faster and it’s harder for people to rip them off and less food is damaged while it’s on the shelves and everything else that would make them more money? Because they don’t give a shit.

This is usually evident the first time you get rung up at a Key Food or a C-Town. Anywhere else in the country, the cashier usually gives you a fake, forced smile and asks how you are, or maybe if you have anything on the bottom of the cart. While she rings up the shit, it goes to the other end, and a dude puts it into bags. Then she announces the total, and you pay her. Then she says thanks or have a nice day or whatever, and you go through, and the dude has put all of your bags on the cart, and sometimes they even offer to put it in your car if you drive up.

Okay, here what happens is you put all of your stuff on the belt. The woman acts as if you aren’t even there. In fact, she will try her hardest to not look at you, as if you are some kind of crazed sexual pervert with his cock out, jerking off to the Young Miss magazines right there in the checkout line, attempting to reach a climax and spray her face with your evil seed. She does not say hello. She does not greet you. When your total comes up, she does not annouce it to you, and chances are that the register does not contain a readout that is facing you, so you have to ask her what the total actually is. If you attempt to pay with a credit card, she will act as if you have attempted to insert a large household appliance in her rectum with no lubrication. Meanwhile, there is no guy bagging your shit – it is just sitting there, and most of the time, you have to bag it yourself. She does not say goodbye. Many times, she will not give you a receipt. And god fucking forbid one of your items does not come up in the computer during a scan.

People who work at grocery stores do not give a shit. The customer is never right. When you need help, they are not there to provide it. It is never their job to tell you where something is, and there’s also no system of telling where things are anyway. Need a corkscrew? In Kroger, there is a whole section of Aisle 8 dedicated to housewares – choose from any one of eight different models. At Key Food, tough shit. You’ll need to go up and down every single aisle to find that they have one sitting under the maxi-pads, and it’s probably broken.

The deli at any one of these stores is proof positive that these people are fucks. Well, first, if you ever have to get into line at a deli counter at one of these places and any more than, say, zero people are in front of you, it’s recommended that you carry a Japanese sword for your ritual suicide at this point. Any person ahead of you in a deli line is guaranteed to be borderline retarded, with some serious OCD issues and a project that involves 37 different kinds of sliced meat, because they will spend all day ordering shit you’ve never even heard of and then bitching because the fixed-blade slicer is making the stuff too thin or too thick or whatever. Then when you get to the front of the line and you ask the guy, who you assume speaks enough of some dialect of English that you can at least point at something and scream an approximate weight at him and he will understand, won’t. The most simple order for, say, a half-pound of cheddar cheese (which you have to buy from the deli because they don’t even have the most basic Kraft shit you’d normally get) is a huge fucking ordeal, and he has to go into some meat locker dungeon that, based on the time he is gone, must burrow straight down into Middle fucking Earth. And even then, you’ll pay like $16 for a slab of shit that tastes like the government cheese they dumped off of Long Island back in 1982.

I don’t even know where I was going with this except to say that I went to Key Food tonight and I was really pissed off because I wanted some frozen corn dogs and they didn’t have any. Now I’m bored with this, so I’ll stop. I hope they get freshdirect.com here soon.

Dell Axim

My newest toy showed up on Friday, a few days ahead of schedule. I got a Dell Axim X3 pocket PC. I know I’ve railed on Windows CE devices in the past, especially as a former Palm OS user. I’ve always thought they were underpowered, with an anemic version of Windows trying to run full-sized apps in a downsized way. But as the Palm becomes more and more lacking and the hardware behind mobile Windows becomes more powerful, I’ve become more interested in these machines. And I haven’t been entirely happy with the Danger Sidekick, either. It’s a good machine for a few things, like mail and instant chat, but it’s entirely worthless as a game machine, and I don’t like the fact that you can’t add or modify any of the existing apps.

So I think the sweet spot in price and performace finally happened, mostly due to Dell offering the X3 at a slightly reduced rate. Most Pocket PC machines start at about $300, and price modifiers include processor speed, WiFi, or Bluetooth, with features like physical size, looks, memory, and expansion slots fitting in there also. I thought about getting some sort of wireless, but as neither my work or home is equipped, I worried that it would become a huge money sink, with me eventually spending a grand on routers and wireless access points and cards and whatnot. So I hemmed and hawed on different configurations and different manufacturers before I finally went to Dell.

Dell originally released the X5, and now came out with the slightly smaller X3. The X3 is also available in a WiFi version that’s called the X3i, and I decided not to spend the extra $50 on it, although now I wonder if that was the right decision in the long run. (In defense of the no-WiFi version, it gets much better batter life, and I don’t need to rush out and buy all that extra shit and spend the next 9 weekends configuring it.) Anyway, there’s a low-end X3 with half the memory and a slower processor, but I spent about $270 on the version with a 400mhz XScale processor and 64mb SDRAM and another 64mb of flash ROM. I’ve had pretty good luck with my Dell laptop and other Dell machines at work, so I figured I’d be okay with trying them out with this, too.

My first impression was that this thing is LIGHT. I mean, it’s lighter than the cheap 4-function calculator you get free with a fillup at your local Marathon station. There’s absolutely nothing inside of it, and the battery, which is smaller than a nine-volt and a third as thick, also feels completely hollow. It’s also a very good-looking unit. The cradle is very strange, because the front of it is chromed, but the chrome is see-through, like mirrorshade glasses. There’s a blue glowing Dell logo inside the cradle, and when it is on, it looks like a hologram or something.

Windows Mobile 2003 (the marketspeak name for the latest WinCE) is pretty weird at first. Many of the GUI rules are different than Windows or just not there. Instead of right-click menus, you click and hold on an item, and a menu comes up. And because every window takes up the whole display, it’s a bit off when you are running more than one app at once. There is this switcher app you can run that lets you swap in and out of things fast, but it takes a few minutes of dicking around to get the hang of everything.

The interface dumps you into a “Today” page by default, where you can have your appointments or other various things show up. There are a lot of apps included, like pocket versions of IE, Word, Excel, a book reader, and Windows Media Player. I immediately got the Bubb Rub video and dumped it to the device. It was pretty easy to do: there is a link on my desktop of my Windows PC that now goes to the Pocket PC. So I just dragged the file to that directory, and a couple of seconds later, it was on the handheld. The Windows Media Player lets you do a landscape full-screen mode, and the 3.5″ screen showed the video with as much color and clarity as a TV set, if not better. This thing will be excellent for watching movies on a plane.

There is a single Secure Digital slot on top of the unit for memory cards and expansion. I almost wished I would have paid $100 more for the X5, which includes SD and CompactFlash, because there are far more peripherals with CF. I hope that the new generation of SD-only handhelds will push manufacturers to make more devices for SD. I went out on Saturday and picked up a 256mb card, which should last me for a while. I also eyed some of the shrinkwrapped software; there are a couple of dictionaries and games out there, in the $20-$40 range, shipping on SD cards. Maybe when I grow bored of the freeware on the net, I’ll consider that.

I now need to install a bunch of junk. I didn’t bring the cradle home this weekend, so I filled the SD card with stuff from the web. Most freeware consists of an installer that runs on a desktop machine and shoots the installation through the ActiveSync conduit and onto the handheld, so I can’t do that without the cradle and it’s assorted services. I did manage to get AvantGo set up before I left work on Friday. This runs a program on your Windows machine to grab various web news articles and then smash them down into a handheld-friendly size and push them onto your PocketPC. So I’ll be able to catch the news and a few articles from Wired on the train.

Not much else going on. I finished reading Idoru by William Gibson, and had mixed feelings about it. There was a lot of cool imagery, neat technology ideas, that made part of it really appealing to me, in a Snow Crash sort of way. But it also really felt like he phoned this one in, and it’s one of those “two people with plots colliding” thrillers where halfway through the book you know how it will all end. It was not horrible, but it wasn’t Gibson’s best. I started reading something else that I am not really into, and I have a huge Amazon order that got delayed that is finally shipping, so I’m finding it hard to commit to anything in order to keep my plate clean.

P.S. a random aside – if you read this and you have an AIM username that I don’t know about, mail it to me. I always keep mine open, but I feel stupid looking for those of friends or whatever. And if, for whatever reason, you don’t feel comfortable emailing me or commenting about anything (tinfoil hat, etc.) you can use this to write me. It tracks your IP and hostname, but maybe for some reason this would be better than putting my name in a mail program and hitting send, who knows. I mostly use it so I don’t have to put my real email address on all of my web pages, although I still get more spam than ever.

over and out.

Missing Emerald City, sort of

A nice photo and the details on the new nephew are here. His name is Wesley Douglas Owens, and all is well. I know that me gloating over a new nephew is very unkonrathian given that I hate kids, but I’ve found that I’ve actually enjoyed having my first nephew Phillip. My younger sister managed to be a good mom and raise a kid that’s smart, funny, and well-behaved, and I’m more than certain that Monica will be a good mother too. And what’s weird is that I remember when I was Phillip’s age, and being around him is almost like a portal into my past, the days when I spent all of my time playing with Legos and the last Star Wars movie was bigger than Jesus. So that’s cool, and I’ll enjoy watching another one grow up.

There’s a new guy at work who came to us from Seattle, and when I first talked to him on Friday, it turns out his wife also worked at WRQ, my last employer in the Emerald city. I always have the same conversation when I meet another Seattleite, similar to the one I have when I meet a fellow Hoosier that is expatriated and living in New York. It’s the conversation that starts with where you lived, where you worked, where you hung out, and goes into how much you miss Safeway or the Upstairs Pub or Garcia’s, and how cool it was to hang out in the Pike Place fish market or the Irish Lion, and how you can’t get good salmon or parking or whatever else. But this conversation was even more detailed, because we talked about the offices on Lake Union and the benefits policies and the Fourth of Julys on the terraces with the fireworks on the lake and the company picnics at Mount Si. And then I thought more about it, and realized it has been FIVE YEARS since I left. FIVE YEARS.

That’s a real sack of bricks in the gut right there. I guess when I talk about Seattle, there are a lot of reasons I’m finally glad I did get out when I did, and try something new. I mean, it’s not hard to create a list of reasons why the place hit the shitter around 2000: the vanishing job market, the WTO riots, the vaporware monorail and the taxes that prop it up, the taxes for the two stadiums (a quarter billion dollars to a football team that was 6 and 10 in 2000, so they can play six home games a year in a non-multi-purpose stadium), the traffic, the Microsoft millionaires driving up the rents, etc. etc. etc.

But I still miss it. Seattle was a far more liveable city if you can overlook the flaws. I mean, New York has way more to offer to most people, but the quality of life issues are so horrible, and you’ve got to spend some cash to avoid them. I have a lot of good memories of Seattle though. I think the real problem is that the Seattle in my mind is Seattle 1997, and I can never go back to that, just like I can’t go back to Bloomington 1992.

Speaking of getting out of New York to improve the quality of life, I’m thinking about vacations in a vague sense. I might try to skip out of town for a week in August, to spend it in cooler climates or at least in air conditioned hotel rooms for the worst part of the heat. I bought some book called 1001 things to see before you die or something, it is a giant flip-through book that you read when you are bored rather than when you want to travel, but it has all sorts of crazy ideas in it. I’d like to do something cool and travel-oriented like drive a dune buggy around or go rally racing or even snowmobiles, but I have no idea what the hell I’m talking about. Maybe I’ll just go to Coney Island and ride the kiddie go-karts.

OK, gotta go write…

New nephew

My sister Monica had her kid this morning, after about 15 hours of labor. It’s a boy, and was something like 7 pounds, and both are healthy and okay. I didn’t get any other details yet, but photos are forthcoming. So I’m happy to have another nephew, as this will mean another round of buying all of the toys I wanted as a kid. If she had a girl, I would have had no idea what to do, unless I just stuck with Lego anyway.

It’s mostly been a boring weekend, and my biggest excitement was going out into Queens to shop at Target. That used to be part of my big weekend routine, going to Target to get the usual junk, like deodorant and cases of Coke and film and batteries and other supplies. I really miss having a Target just a quick drive away, like I miss having a car to drive to places like that to convenience shop. I can always walk to the crap grocery store here, but then you have a choice of like three kinds of deodorant, and each one is $20. At Target, there’s a wall of deodorant bigger than the grocery store down the street. Unfortunately, the Target in Queens Center didn’t really do it for me, as it’s pretty small and split up into two floors, and it’s fairly run down. It’s nothing like the Super Targets that spring up all over the Midwest. Oh well.

I’m allegedly going to the bookstore today so I need to get moving…

5th grade teacher sadist

Back in the fifth grade, I had this sadist sociopath of a homeroom teacher who, in the interest of not getting sued if his kids ever decide to google his name, I’ll simply call Mr. Cool. Mr. Cool was not, in fact, hip or neat or whatever; I chose the somewhat ironic name because his real surname is a phonetic synonym for cool. In reality, Mr. Cool was a high follower of one of those overly zealous splinter factions of Christianity like the Mennonites or Quakers or something, the kind of we-think-the-bible-is-a-literal-document idiots that people in New York cannot fathom actually exist when a discussion on gay marriage or posting the ten commandments in courtrooms.

As an aside, I am still so fucking sick and tired of people who live on one of the two coasts who consider the entire country between LAX and JFK to be a “flyover zone”, to think they are the authority on what these people actually think. I recently had to sit through a discussion where a bunch of metrosexual hipsters were exchanging “No, these people against gay marriage believe…”, silently trying not to throttle the involved persons and start screaming “THAT IS YOUR FUCKING UNINFORMED OPINION! YOU HAVE NEVER TALKED TO A SINGLE PERSON WHO DOESN’T BUY EVERYTHING AT THE FUCKING GAP!”. PLEASE, people, try to liberally ad the words “I think that” or “it’s my opinion that” when you open your pie-holes, and the world will be a better place.

PS, that rule doesn’t apply to my journal entries, because my opinion is right. Back to the story.

Okay, Mr. Cool. He looked like Les Nesmond’s older brother, with a bad comb-over and a lot of generic clothes and everything but the bow-tie. He came from Kansas or Iowa or something, and like I said, was really religious, but also had a short fuse, and while Jesus may have said to turn the other cheek, this guy would rather put his foot in your ass when you crossed him, and that’s a talent that seldom works out in a fifth-grade classroom. Other than flooring the whole group of us in science class by pulling out a fucking bible and reading Genesis when we got to the part of our book about how the world was created, he also had a bad habit of going completely apeshit when you fell short of the stature of, say, a military school’s ideal behavior model. So pretty much everybody in my class got yelled at or shook or smacked in the back of the head, and regular hellions like Gary Rink got beaten within inches of their lives on a daily basis. In the fifth grade, I was old enough to know that something was wrong with this guy, and it probably wasn’t right for him to be hitting kids in class. I mean, I couldn’t look up the exact law or rule or anything, but I knew the guy was whacked, and I dreaded every day of the fifth grade because of him.

Another reason the fifth grade sucked is that instead of sticking to the books (or his god damned bible), Mr. Cool used to have us do these asinine projects that were meant to broaden our horizons. The most corporal of these was the 50 states and capitals book, which was a thing where we had to draw a picture of each state with its capital and three or four major cities and all of the rivers and stuff, and then list its resources, populations, and other interesting and/or useless factoids. To a fifth grader, fifty pages is a damn book, so this took more than a Sunday night to prepare. And Mr. Cool knew what encyclopedia we had in the school library, and would bust your ass if you simply copied shit out of there. I’m sure he meant good by this sort of thing, and probably got the idea because some Jesus magazine like Reader’s Digest had a fear-inducing article about how kids couldn’t name more than five states or their major cities and the Russians would be using that to our advantage and killing us all Real Soon. And I guess it was better than the fact that my dad had to memorize all of the states and capitals, and could still rattle all of them off faster than I could currently name off a random list of, well, anything. (To be fair, there were only 13 of them when he was in school. Sorry dad, old joke.) Anyway, he was always coming up with dumb shit like this for us to do, little take-home projects which would have been great if we all had Beaver Cleaver families, which none of us did.

So one weekend, he came up with this great project: to prove to us that TV was warping our minds with Satan, we were to completely abstain from the glass teat for the next 48 hours. The project was to tune out and then see what we did with our time when we didn’t rot our minds with cartoons. And in some fit of stupidity, I actually mentioned this assignment to my mom when I got home, and she thought this was a real great fucking idea. So I had both parents lording over me about this stupid assignment, and instead of watching the usual cartoons, I went outside and tear-assed around the neighborhood on my BMX bike.

Granted, I watched a fuck of a lot of TV back in the day. In fact, since we only got five channels and didn’t have a VCR, I watched pretty much every damn thing on, even if it totally didn’t appeal to me. I mean, I remember religiously watching Barney Miller for the plot, because I was too young to get any of the jokes in it and I needed a way to kill time until WKRP was on. (And it’s not like Johnny Fever’s dope addicts or Herb’s attempts to diddle Loni Anderson would have been that funny to a completely uninformed ten-year-old like myself.) BUT, I also spent a lot of time away from the tube, too. I had a regular gang of friends, and I rode my bike around a lot and killed bugs in jars and buried army men and played out Star Wars episodes two through ten with the unending amount of 3″ tall plastic figures I had and everything else. So I guess I could survive a lack of TV with no problem, except one:

Superman was premiering on TV that Sunday.

Fuck! This was the original Superman movie, with Christopher Reeve and Margo Kidder and live action and all of that shit. I never saw it in the theater because half the time when I asked to go to a flick, my parents would say “god damn it! That’s going to be on TV for free next year, why do you need two bucks to see it now?” And not only that, the network was going to show an extended version of the film, with all kinds of scenes showing Clark Kent growing up and pushing ten-ton locomotives on tracks and bending shit and using his heat vision and everything else. And my sisters were going to get to watch it, even though they didn’t give a fuck about Superman at all. I loved Superman! I had a paperback book of all of these old Superman comics, and I could tell you backwards and forwards every plot of every one. That January, I even had a superman CAKE for my birthday. And I couldn’t watch it because of that stupid Quaker Jesus freak motherfucker and his stupid assignment! I was so god damned pissed that Sunday night. And the next morning, when I got to class, every fucking person but me had completely forgotten about the assignment about an hour after they got home, except me.

Anyway, I haven’t watched TV in a week now, and I’m back to being TV-less thanks to, not a Jesus faggot, but a lack of cable TV. (OK, maybe the people who found out I had illegally had cable and cut it worship Jesus. Maybe it’s even Mr. Cool, fired from teaching and working a minimum-wage job at Time Warner. Who knows.) It hasn’t been that bad this time, though. It’s just a matter of not caring anymore about the regular shows. I will miss ER, but that’s about it. I also miss the background noise, like during a meal, but I have DVDs for that.

Fuck, I feel like there’s more to talk about, but I’m tired and want to do nothing but read for a while.