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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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general

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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?)

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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general

Things change, pocket change

Day off today – I took a four-day weekend, no reason – so I headed to the mall in Pleasanton to buy a pair of pants. I have a wedding next month, and every pair of dress pants I own is comically large at this point. I got to the mall at about 10:37, and didn’t realize that it wasn’t officially open until 11:00. I went inside anyway, because the concourse was open, but half the stores were just booting up, the gates halfway open, lights off, employees setting up signs or counting down registers. It gave me an intense nostalgia flashback, of every time I’d opened at Wards thirty-something years ago, the usual crew of people I knew at every other store setting things up for the daily grind, walking to the First National at the main entrance to drop off last night’s take, stopping at the MCL Cafeteria for a cup of coffee before 10:00 came. The general vibe of a pre-opening mall really threw me back to the summer of 1988. I almost expected to go back into the parking lot and find my rusted Camaro waiting for me.

I got in my walk. I did not get the pants. Everything is now “stretch performance wool,” which is essentially spandex. Also, Macy’s is now JCPenney. JCPenney is now K-Mart. K-Mart is now largely gone. I don’t even know what Sears is.

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Speaking of “Amazon is taking over,” in some contrary news, it looks like Amazon is closing all of their brick-and-mortar stores. I actually liked the feel of the stores, mostly because they looked like a rip-off of Borders, albeit much smaller. I’m all but certain these stores were a sophisticated data mining experiment and nothing more. Even the stock on the shelves was a data-driven algorithm, which was bizarre and somewhat maddening for a person who doesn’t read Oprah books. I’m sure they’re doing a lot more of that with their Whole Foods stores now.

A happy coincidence: so, B&N in Walnut Creek closed around the same time the Amazon store opened. Now, Barnes and Noble is actually opening a new store in Walnut Creek right as Amazon is closing. They didn’t get the old location back, and I’m sure it’s a smaller footprint, but that will be nice to see. As I’ve said before, I used to think B&N was The Enemy, and it’s hard for me to root for them now, but I really don’t want to see the one by my house in Emeryville shutter.

Another odd coincidence, Morgenstern’s books reopened in Bloomington. I’ve written about my memories of Morgenstern’s a  while ago. It’s not in the same place anymore (I think the old strip mall location is now a FedEx) and Keith mentioned from his first visit that it’s nowhere near what the old one is. But at least there’s something, especially since the Borders and Barnes and Noble that jumped into town and killed the old location in the late 90s are now both gone.

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About the picture above: that’s from 1994, the day of Bill’s wedding. I’m standing in front of my old apartment at Colonial Crest, where I lived from 1993-1994. In another bit of dumb nostalgia, I just heard that Colonial Crest, which is now called The Arch, is being torn down and replaced with a new apartment complex, some 5-over-1 monstrosity with a dumb generic name and high rents for rich students.

I did some digging and what’s funny is that these apartments rent for only marginally more than I paid almost thirty years ago. I think we split a $500 rent on a 2br/1.5ba townhouse, and now they go for about $700. That’s saying a lot about the deferred maintenance issues of the place, because it was maybe about a C- in quality and value way back then. I’m sure the redevelopment is for the best, given the student population and need for housing and all that.

That said, I have a lot of strong memories of this place. Various pivotal relationship things happened here, and the start of my writing career happened here in apartment #144. I also didn’t have a car most of this year, and walked the two and a half mile route to school pretty much every day, rain sleet or snow. That long shot down Walnut or College is burned in my head, the zig-zag pattern I’d traverse to cross the northwest side of campus and get to Lindley Hall. All of this is different now. The computer science department has a new facility built where the old Brown/Greene dorms used to be. The long walk up to the UCS offices at 17th street where I worked used to be empty green fields; it’s now a giant dorm, built last year. The UCS office was completely redone into an alumni center. Everything has changed. Things change.

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Another weird one: they are renaming everything named Jordan on campus. Turns out former university president David Starr Jordan was really into eugenics, segregation, and racial purity. Problem is, IU spent a century naming damn near everything after him: a biology building; a river; a main avenue cutting across campus; a northern extension to said avenue; a parking garage on that avenue; a bus route on that avenue; a shopping center. The street is now Eagleson Avenue, or David Baker Avenue for the northern part. (Named after the jazz great, not the architect who coincidentally designed my current home.) The river is Campus River; the Biology building is Biology Building. I think people expect everyone to take sides on the woke/anti-woke thing. I agree with the name change. It’s just interesting to me, given the number of times I reference Third and Jordan in my first book.

Things change. People change. Pocket change. It’s actually odd how I never have change in my pockets anymore. Anyway.

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general

The Land (Epilogue)

So, I sold my Colorado land this week. I probably need to explain this. I used to have a page about it, but it went away two or three web redesigns ago. Here’s the whole story, in case you haven’t heard it.

Back in 2002, I bought forty acres of land in southern Colorado. I’d always had the idea to build a house in the middle of nowhere, probably going back to when I studied architecture in high school and watched too many episodes of This Old House. I don’t remember when or how I found the seller online, but I used to waste a lot of time at work falling down random google searches. (It may have been Alta Vista searches back then, actually.) I did various research on land in Montana, central Washington, and a few other places, but ended up with Colorado.

I think there were a few other things in my head when I bought the land. This was a few years into my New York experience, and I think the day-to-day of being crowded on the island with so many people put the zap on me. My thinking was that I’d stick around Manhattan for my prime earning years, then punch out and go into hiding to write. I was also going through a mild identity crisis around my 30th birthday, trying to figure out what to do with my life. And 9/11 multiplied all of this. I wasn’t a person who was going to wrap their house in duct tape because of domestic terrorism, but there was a real strong vibe in town that something was going to go down again. People seem to forget the Manhattan mass-exodus in 2001/2002, but it weighed heavily on my thought process at that time.

I bought the land right after my 31st birthday. Actually, I think I was exchanging emails with the seller while I was in an Elvis suite  at the Stardust in Vegas on a birthday trip with Bill, Lon, and Todd. The purchase sent me down a giant research k-hole of determining what to do. I bought every book I could find on alternative construction and Earthships and solar power and how to build your own house. I was constantly trying to figure out the best way to get started, maybe buy a geodesic dome kit or something, start planting trees and plowing under clover, whatever. I needed a well; I needed a tractor; I needed to learn how to grow my own food, and this was a time when every meal I ate was delivery food. There was a lot to learn.

Like any of my other hobbies, the land was something that would be white-hot for a week or two, and then quickly fade, get pushed to the back of the stove or off the stove. But I had to get out there, see the place, see the surrounding area. That summer, I booked another Vegas trip, then rented a car to drive out across Arizona and half of New Mexico, and take a left and get to the land.

About the area: this is maybe five miles north of the NM/CO border. Mesita is more or less a ghost town, a half-dozen houses and abandoned buildings are clustered around one intersection, and not much else is there. The nearest town is San Luis, about 15 minutes away. It’s the biggest town in the county, with just over 600 people, a Family Dollar, a gas station, and not much more. The next “big” town is Alamosa, which is an hour away, and is about 10,000 people. It reminds me of Goshen, Indiana back in the 80s, with a small college campus (Adams State) and the usual big box stores – Walmart, Safeway, a Chili’s, Big R, and so on. (There used to be a K-Mart, but you know how that went.)

The land was at about 7,800 feet, in the Sangre de Christo mountains. It’s a high mesa, basically a desert. It looks like it was maybe used for cattle ranching a century ago, and worn dead. The ground is loosely covered with scrub brush and wild pinion trees that are more like bushes. There’s a whole lot of nothing out by the land; every once in a while, you’ll see a farm, but it’s mostly completely abandoned land.

The first trip was somewhat disconcerting. First, that drive from Vegas was horrible. Then the stay in Alamosa was not entirely optimal. I booked a one-star motel that was right across from an AM radio station, and whenever I tried to use the phone, the entire wiring system rang with interference, so I would hear mariachi music in the background of every call. I drove out to the land, looked at it, walked around, and thought, “well, this was stupid.” I had some plans to go to K-Mart and buy a shovel, some water buckets, and a few sapling trees to transplant on a hail mary that they’d live. But this was a summer when there was a large wildfire hours west, and the sky made my eyes burn red the entire time. Plus I was woozy from altitude sickness. After about a day, I gave up and drove back to Vegas.

One ominous thing that stuck with me was that I was driving back to the motel on one of the hour-long loops down to the property, and I went past a graveyard. There was no green grass; just a bunch of tombstones stuck in an acre or two of dirt and brown crabgrass. I had this long thought about if this was where I’d end up someday, buried in a brown field hours away from civilization. This part of the trip made the budget room at the decades-old Tropicana I had back in Vegas a few days before feel absolutely regal.

I visited the land a couple more times after moving to Denver, but never got anything done. Mesita was maybe four hours away, but an incredibly long drive through the mountains and destitute plains. If I was super motivated, I would have spent my weekends hauling house parts bit-by-bit, building temporary shelter, setting up a cabin, whatever. But I never did. I’m lazy; I can barely keep my own house clean. I don’t have the gumption to build another one from scratch. And this whole project was the dream of a bachelor. After I got married, this compound/retreat thing wasn’t going to happen. If we want to spend time in a cabin, I’ll go to VRBO and search in Tahoe, and even then, we’d be sick of it after a few nights. Neither of us are the camping type, and the older I get, the more I think there’s no way I could ever dig a foundation or put a roof on my own house. I had to replace the plumbing under a sink the other day and it damn near killed me.

I get letters every few weeks about the land, blind offers made from investors who grab the tax records from the county and spam out form letters to everyone. They are usually ridiculously lowball offers, but they’ve slowly crept up in price. I finally decided to give up the ghost and see if I could line something up. I think it took a few months of paperwork and research on the buyer’s end, but I got a deal set up. I would lose money on it, but I no longer have to pay property tax on a land I will realistically never visit again. The only other two scenarios I could see here are that I stop paying taxes and the land eventually gets sold by the county at auction, or after I die, whoever handles my estate has to figure out how to sell the place. I’d rather have the cash in the bank now.

And I won’t go on and on about this (but am about to anyway), but everyone constantly hits me with “why don’t you…” scenarios that are impossible to do, which is annoying. The land has no water, no utilities, nothing on it. Drilling a well would easily cost $20,000 and not guarantee water. It only rains a foot a year. Despite nobody being around, the county has strict building codes that prevent any hippy-dippy alternative housing one might dream of: no rammed-earth; no yurts; no tire houses; no shipping containers; no tiny houses; septic field required; no composting toilets; no permanent RV parking. If you think “what about…” the answer is no, unless it’s a ranch house that meets every building code a house would need anywhere else. Winters are absolutely brutal up there, minus-40 temps and high winds; summers hit triple-digits and bone-dry, with that altitude making it even worse. There’s absolutely nothing around except live-free-or-die times hunkering down in makeshift trailer compounds, armed to the teeth and brimming with crazy ideologies that don’t mesh well with me (or anyone, really). It’s the poorest part of the state, absolutely abject property, pretty much half the population under the poverty line. If you built that expensive solar array and then left the house for a week, it would get stripped bare. There’s just no practical way to do anything there except struggle to live. It’s cheap for a reason: it’s like living on the surface of Mars.

Despite all of this, after I closed the deal and got the money, a profound sadness hit me. Having this land for twenty years was a big part of my identity, albeit one that has faded somewhat in recent years. I always joked about building a Hunter S. Thompson compound out there, or a writer’s retreat, or whatever. But the dream is dead. That really bothered me. I guess when I bought the place in 2002, there was some intense need to have that thing that defined me. I couldn’t work on a classic car in the city with no place to park it; I couldn’t afford to buy a boat; I couldn’t build a model railroad in the basement I didn’t have. I don’t know why I had (and have) such a strong desire to do something outside of my job and my bills, but I do. And that’s still going on, and I don’t have an answer to that issue yet. The depression over this mostly passed in a day or two, but I really need to figure out the big-picture void this leaves.

Anyway. More pictures, if you’re curious: https://flickr.com/photos/jkonrath/albums/72177720296890491

 

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general

Death of the Tanforan Mall

So, another one bites the dust. Tanforan Mall (aka “The Shops at Tanforan”) in San Bruno got bought for $328M recently, and will be razed to build a mixed-use biotech research campus and housing.

Tanforan has a weird history. It was a horse racing track at the start of the 20th century, and Seabiscuit used to race there. It was also occasionally used as an airfield. Then in 1941, they used it as an internment camp, housing Japanese Americans in the old horse stalls as an assembly center until they moved everyone to more permanent relocation centers in 1942. Then it became an Army camp, then a Navy base, then a racetrack that burned down, and then in 1971, it became a mall. It underwent a major reconfiguration and reconstruction in 2005, and they added a large movie theater in 2008.

I moved to South San Francisco in the fall of 2008, and for the year I lived there, this was my default mall. I drove past it every day on the way to work; I shopped at the attached Target pretty much weekly. The giant Barnes and Noble was the place for skimming computer books, and I bought my first iPhone there in 2009. My dentist was (and is) there, and the Petco was the usual place to grab cat food and litter on a regular basis. I also remember watching a ton of movies at the theater there.

It’s weird because the building itself is physically in great shape without the usual deferred maintenance problems you’d see in a shuttering mall. They basically rebuilt everything from the ground up except the anchors in 2005, and the structure, especially around the food court atrium, looks incredibly modern and new. But it’s not that physically big – the main concourse is maybe eight or ten shops long. And it’s had all the usual exits from national chain bankruptcy and degradation: Forever 21, Toys R Us, Old Navy, and most notably the death of their Sears, which was probably 30% of the total square footage of the place.

All of this area around South San Francisco is exploding with biotech campuses and identical-looking housing complexes. This mall is right on a BART train stop and very close to the confluence of multiple highways, so it’s super valuable land. This project won’t be one of the usual ho-hum de-mall jobs where they slap down a strip mall or a fake “town center” and then 95% of the stores sit vacant forever. I’m pretty sure that in a year, it will be crammed with science fiction buildings that sprouted up instantly, like the long stretch of glass towers of science lining the 101 now.

I was just in the old neighborhood last month, and it’s amazing how the bones are still there, but wide swaths of old sprawl have been instantly replaced with 5-over-one buildings with goofy names and slogans. (“Cadence apartments – where life, style, work, and play come full circle!”) We vaguely looked at buying a townhouse or condo in that area in 2009, and I can’t imagine what it would be like living there now.

It’s dumb and typical that a mall where I spent so little time has such a nostalgia hold on my brain. I’ll be sad to see this one go. Also, I need to find a new dentist now.