John’s book, Reno, Air, Kubrick

First of all, John Sheppard has a new book out called Doug Liberty Presents Bandit the Dancing Raccoon. Go get it.

Got back from Reno on Saturday. It was a quick trip, not much to report. We usually stay at the Siena, but it has since been bought by Marriott and had the casino removed. I don’t know how this is from a business perspective, but the new renovations were nice, and the casino is now smoke-free, which is a huge plus. They had a Johnny Rockets, which is not there anymore, and that’s a bummer. The casino area itself was turned into a bocce ball court, with a big bar, ping-pong tables, and some other small games like skee-ball and whatnot.

I brought the little Vivitar camera and shot a roll of film, and half a roll of Tri-X B&W on the drive home. I wish I would have had more time and more cameras, because the old casinos and storefronts of Reno would look incredible on film. Maybe next time.

Horrible sinus stuff in the dry air and altitude. Spent most of the trip worried that on the drive home, there would be mandatory chain enforcement, and I don’t have chains and have never drove with them. So I spent all of Black Friday trying to buy a set of chains, and ended up going to like four different places and ultimately getting gouged on a set of chains I didn’t need to use.

Of course I ended up at a mall. Did a quick lap of Meadowood, an old Taubman that was acquired by Simon along the way, remodeled since I’d last been there, in about 2013. Had a decent Penneys, dual Macy’s, a Dick’s Sporting Goods, and a dead Sears. They have a new food court with a dozen places in it. It’s got the Taubman mall skylights in it, the Simon Mall stark and bleak whiteness (which I sort of like, but groovy Seventies brick is cool, too). It wasn’t terribly busy for a Black Friday. At least I was able to park semi-close to an entrance and do a lap inside without getting stuck behind people.

It started pouring rain as we left, so the air quality massively improved, almost instantly. The AQI was like 274 and it went down to like 3 overnight. Air in Reno was great, and it’s been decent here since I’ve been back, although it’s starting to rain now, so outdoor walking season may be over.

I have the week off (allegedly, I’m waiting for a panicked cell phone call at any moment) and I originally planned on watching every Stanley Kubrick movie in order.  I got up to The Killing and ran out of steam. I need to get some writing done, and can’t kill entire days going through three-and-a-half hour long epics from the Sixties. Maybe next time.

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Smoke and malls and travel

It’s like day nine or ten of the extreme wildfire smoke-out here in the bay area. An air quality index (AQI) over 100 is bad bad and the point where you’re not supposed to go outside, and we’ve been well above 200 all week. The scene outside is post-apocalyptic, with dark gray skies, a weird gold color when the sun is out high, and everyone scurrying about in filter masks. Word is this will continue until it rains on Wednesday. It wasn’t this bad last year, but this makes me wonder if we’re going to have a once-in-a-lifetime fire every year from now on.

I’ve been super busy at the day job, so not leaving the house has dovetailed nicely with that. From Sunday until Friday, the only time I crossed the threshold of my front door was to quickly run downstairs and get my mail. So it felt surreal to actually go to the mall this weekend, drive on the highway and go do some shopping and walking and whatnot. I’ve been trying to walk in the apartment for exercise, which is horrible and doesn’t work well. Walking at the mall was like exercising the day after having the flu. It’s going to take some work to get back up to full speed here.

The malls are all at full swing for Christmas. Trees out, Santa working, decorations hung, pre-pre-black Friday sales. A few of the vacant stores have transformed into temporary quarters for seasonal pop-ups. I don’t know if people are shopping, or were just avoiding the smoke, but it’s been busy the last two weekend.

Also, there were a large number of Pokemon Go players. I didn’t know this was still a thing, but I’d see packs of kids wandering around, cell phones in front of them. I can’t tell if they are 14 or 24. I saw one girl with three different phones in front of her. At least they are moving, so that’s cool.

Sears is depressing. The one in Pleasanton is closing, and I walk through and circle around the Christmas section, and it’s such a punch to the gut. My department at Wards was Four Seasons, which transformed into the Christmas wonderland (or whatever), with toys and trees and lights and tinsel and all that good stuff. Snowblowers, too. So wandering the aisles lined with plastic trees and strands of lights is a weird time machine for me, bringing me back to 1988 again. That Sears is hiring temp help to close out the year and if it wasn’t 30 minutes away, I’d almost be tempted to apply, just to see how much Sears swag I could steal before the place went under. But then I remember I’m too busy with work and writing and whatever else, so yeah, no.

I did buy a Craftsman bottle opener today, though. I don’t really drink anything in bottles, and I have two toolboxes full of real Craftsman stuff, back when they were still made in America. But I felt some need to spend the seven bucks there.

Headed to Reno for the Thanksgiving break. Still headed to Indiana over Christmas. I have done zero planning for either trip, so maybe I should look into that. I’m still shooting a lot of film, so maybe I should figure out what cameras and film to bring, especially since I can’t really run to the drug store and buy a few rolls of Ektachrome while I’m gone.

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Toys R Us

I was not a Toys R Us kid.

No, I wasn’t one of those weird religious kids who weren’t allowed to play video games, and I didn’t have hippy parents who thought GI Joe was promoting war. TRU just wasn’t an option for my corner of Indiana.

Like I mentioned in my previous post, K-Mart was a big part of my childhood. The two K’s really — K-Mart and Kroger. This was before Target, before Wal-Mart, and those two stores were the bulk of my retail experience in the mid to late Seventies. I spent all my time in the toy aisle of K-Mart; I could probably still note its location on a store map, had the store not been gutted and turned into a Big R farm supply. I also did a lot of my toy gawking at a now-gone variety store called GL Perry’s, which was just down from the Kroger in the also-gone Pierre Moran mall. But it was a few years before I really got locked into a proper toy store for my Lego and Star Wars needs.

The Concord Mall didn’t have a Toys R Us, but did have a Kay-Bee toy store. I was definitely a Kay-Bee kid. They originally had a narrow little store just to the left of the anchor that was then Robertson’s, and was later Meis, Elder-Beerman, and most recently Carson’s, before dying. It later moved into a bigger location in the middle of one of the arm’s spokes.

In my mind, Kay-Bee was slightly more disorganized and second-rate compared to TRU. The aisles were narrower, the shelves were more floor-to-ceiling and packed tighter, and the front half of the store was this blue-carpeted dumping ground for pallets and bins of toys, with little walking space between them. All the video games were locked away in glass cases behind the front counter, which was counterintuitive to browsing them for hours. It didn’t have the flow or the larger footprint of a bigger, standalone TRU store. It was a bit of a mess, but wonderful as a kid.

Another thing is that in retrospect, they had a lot more discount/clearance stuff, oddball brands and closeouts. It was a bit of a dumping ground for weird brands on the way out. And I used to fixate on that stuff, both because it was weird, but because it had the magical yellow tag on it saying it was discounted, showing the old price slashed out in red, the perfect argument for convincing a parent that you needed to buy it. And these strange off-brand things are now impossible to find online.

One weird example I was thinking about: so there was this big market for third-party Atari joysticks back in the day. Atari used a common 9-pin connector on the 2600, and they used the same circuit on the Commodore 64. I was always on the lookout for a better controller, a cheaper solution for the C64, and Kay-Bee was the dumping ground for every small company that tried to get in on the video game craze and got burned when it crashed. I remember buying a pair of the garbage wireless 2600 joysticks when those got dumped on clearance. I also had a weird touchpad controller that was like a mix of an Intellivision disc-style stick and the Atari keypads used by Star Raiders and nothing else. It wasn’t that great, but I have some obsession for finding it online, and it’s impossible.

The other big example was that Kay-Bee was a big dumping ground for the liquidation of the Mattel Aquarius, which was my first computer. I’ve already written about this at length, but the bullet is that Mattel crashed and burned about fifteen minutes after they quick-released this underpowered, chicklet-keyboarded machine, and they started showing up at Kay-Bee for like a hundred bucks in a bundle with four games and joysticks and everything else. I got that for my thirteenth birthday, and that started a whole great career that led up to where I am now. (Not sure if that’s good or bad, but middle management at a software company is probably better than coal mining.)

Anyway, Kay-Bee became my default place to go in the mall. Any time there was Christmas money or extra allowance or a birthday coming up, I’d gravitate to that spot in the mall. And every obsession of my pre-teen world was there, almost like a cycle of things I fixated on as a kid. It went from Star Wars to GI Joe to model trains to model planes to D&D to video games. I know a lot of people talk or write about how music or punk rock saved their lives, but for me, in those years, it was everything in Kay-Bee. I don’t know what path, better or worse, I would have traversed if I had not spent the beginning of junior high memorizing the Dungeon Master’s Guide, but going to Kay-Bee (and to Walden Books) to pore over the collection of modules and figurines and dice was a major percentage of my time.

At a certain point, things changed, and the fixation went to the other wing of the mall, the one with the independent record store, Super Sounds. The toy store was somewhat forgotten. It changed its name at some point to KB, and the later, Mitt Romney and friends drove them into the ground, a story that would later repeat itself with TRU. I never shopped at Kay-Bee after a certain point, although sometimes out at College Mall, I’d duck into that location as a nostalgia trip. I remember Kay-Bee going under, but I was tuned out of the news for whatever reason, and never really mourned it in any way.

Much later, Toys R Us did come into focus for me, but it was a place to look for video games. I remember buying a Nintendo 64 there, at the one in Seattle at Northgate Mall, and I’d always check them out to see if they had any weird cartridges, in the pre-Amazon days when you could just look up every cartridge in the world and be a click away from owning it.

But Toys R Us never had that strong reverberation with me, that primal childhood pull, just because it was off my radar. I think Chicagoland had many locations, and there actually was one just north of University Park mall, but I never regularly went to UP until I started driving, and then the interest was in music (and girls, but nothing ever happened there).

I can relate to the same angst that people have about the TRU bankruptcy, and the various rumors about brand necrophilia, the stories that they might come out of bankruptcy court as a holiday pop-up, or a mini-store inside Target, or whatever. I went through this with Wards, which I really missed after working there for years. And some random mail-order place later bought their name and use it for this pickwick-like catalog of Chinese junk, which never sat well with me. Wards vanished quickly, and it’s impossible to find any traces of it anymore. I’m guessing the same will happen to TRU. Lots of people are taking pictures now, but they’re uploading them to cloud services that will also die or be killed. Try finding a picture you put on Kodak Gallery or MySpace ten years ago — that’s what will happen to all deadmall history in a decade.

There was a TRU in Emeryville, a few miles from my house, which is now becoming some sporting goods store. I took a few shots last weekend of the one out in Dublin, which is just sitting there. I’m always curious to see what will happen with these places, and what direction retail would go. I should archive more, but like I said, the more I get into this, the more depressing it gets.

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Film, travel, whatever

I’ve been shooting more and more film. I got back my second batch of 35mm last weekend. I have this Canonet GL17 GIII rangefinder that I bought in 2014 that I haven’t been using, because I have some intangible hang-up about it. Maybe it needs a different strap or it’s too hard for me to focus, or I don’t like having that many manual controls, but I haven’t used it much. I shot a roll in Walnut Creek, and it amazes me how crisp it can look. (See the picture in this post as an example.) I always think of film as having a more blurry or vague quality as compared to the exactness of digital, but that camera is so sharp, it is eerie. I’ll need to sort through these and post the best of them. There’s an album on my flickr for analog stuff here.

And yeah, looks like Flickr is changing. Their free accounts are being limited to 1000 photos, and some other goofy stuff. I’ve always paid for a Pro account, so no change here. I’m old. I have like 12,000 photos on Flickr, and I haven’t even really tried to publish everything I have on Lightroom, which has like three times that. I hope I can keep using Flickr for a while. I’d hate to have to dumb down my collection to fit some new Web 3.0 paradigm or whatever.

I shot a roll of 120 film in my Diana F+, and when I got it back, it was all screwed up. I have an instant back for that camera, and I forgot to take out the little diopter you put in front of the lens inside the camera. So all the pictures were way out of focus and had weird stuff at the edges. I fixed that, and shot a few more rolls. I also, in a fit of stupidity, bought a Holga camera too, which is possibly even worse than the Diana. Shot a roll of B&W in that. We’ll see how it goes.

I think one of the reasons I like film is because when I shoot in digital, I take a picture, and then look at it, and see if it worked, which takes me out of the moment of actually shooting. With film, I can’t see anything, so any incremental improvement I have to take with successive shots is still in the moment, and involves a certain amount of faith in my abilities. It also puts me in the moment with my surroundings, because if I’m walking, I’m looking at everything around me and looking for a perfect shot. I’m not walking and shooting everything around me. That sounds pretentious and precious, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about, especially as I dump more and more money into this.

I booked my winter holiday travel, and will be back in Indiana for a week. I don’t know any details, except that I’m staying in South Bend, and like everyone back there is dying or something. So that will be interesting. Looking forward to taking a few more pictures of Concord Mall before it is imploded or whatever happens there. (There are currently no redevelopment plans. There were, but that’s old news. See also previous post on this.)

Nothing else. Trying to lay low until the election is over, because everything is horrible.

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Death of a Kmart

The news has been out for a bit about the bankruptcy filing of Sears Holdings, and the massive list of Sears and Kmart stores closing. In my area, it’s a bit odd, but the one in Stoneridge mall, an upscale mall that’s doing well, got the axe; the one in Hilltop mall, which is complete devastation, did not get closed. I think all the Sears stores I used to shop last century are gone, but that’s another post.

The closest Kmart to my house, which is in Pinole, is slated for closure. I’ve never shopped there, so I decided to head up there last week. It’s in a little shopping center just east of Hilltop mall, just down from a Target, and sort of hidden away on a lazy stretch of big-box stuff, like a Best Buy, a Lucky grocery, and across from a Sizzler that looks like it’s also circling the drain. (To be fair, most Sizzler restaurants have looked like that for decades, though.)

There are like three eras of Kmart for me. As a little kid, we were there almost every week with my mom. This was the Seventies, before Walmart, back in the days of blue light specials and the K Cafe, the place where I got all my Legos and Star Wars figures. I have very fond memories of that place. I can almost smell what the store in Elkhart smelled like, the mix of tru-green fertilizer in the garden center, syrupy cokes spilled on the floor of the cafe, and the heavy starched denim of Wrangler jeans. And I can still feel the wobble of the wire cart, the one with the broomstick affixed to one corner so you couldn’t push it out of the store.

I worked across the street at Taco Bell, and later just south at the Concord Mall. I bought my first CD player there. And in the days before Target and before Walmart, I bought a lot of stuff there. And that logo is the Kmart logo I always remember, the slanted red K and the minty blue letters for the mart. Those old-school stores all looked the same, too, with the low-slung rectangular marquee, no curves and styling, and the big, all-glass front.

Then there’s the Nineties era of Kmart. By the time I got to college, going to Kmart was not a necessity; it was ironic. I would go late at night with my friends when we wanted to remember childhood, and goof on how crappy things were there. And Icees and corn dogs. Kmart tried to change then, with the big red K and the white mart in script inside the K. Some became a Big Kmart, with the Big in blue, and a yellow swoop under it, in true Nineties graphical style. They also made those marquees big and round and lofty, tried to look less like an early Sixties grocery and more like an actual department store. They added more stuff to compete with Walmart and Target, groceries and drug stores and whatnot. I’d still pop in back when I was back in Elkhart. And when I got to New York, there were magically these Super K stores, which was a weird nostalgic throwback for me to visit. (More stories about those at some point, maybe.)

Then there’s the new Kmart. And I have no connection to this Kmart. None. It’s like brand necrophilia, like someone said, “let’s make a store shittier than Dollar General, and just as a goof, we’ll call it Kmart, and put a monochromatic logo designed by a five-year-old on the front.” A scattering of Craftsman crap, a random layout, and a general feeling that makes the old Seventies redneck Kmart look like a Nieman Marcus. There’s a Kmart out in Concord I occasionally go to on a goof, mostly because it’s a nice drive on the outskirts of Mt. Diablo. But when I’m inside, there’s no connection, nothing that reminds me of childhood, and definitely nothing I’d want to buy.

So, the Pinole store. It was total devastation. There were gaudy clearance signs everywhere, inside and out. It looked like any name-brand merchandise they may have had, was gone. Maybe it was bought up already; maybe it was sent back to the vendors for credit. Entire aisles were closed and taped off. People were throwing stuff on the floor everywhere. Kids were putting on halloween costumes, running through the store, ripping open toys, and throwing them on the ground, while their parents ignored them. The entire store smelled like shit. There were large signs by the layaway department that said ALL SALES FINAL, and others with the Sunday circular, saying WE ARE NOT A PARTICIPATING LOCATION.

I went through the clothes department, and everything was on the floor. It seriously looked worse than when I went to the Astor Place Kmart on the morning of 9/11 and every secretary in lower Manhattan was trying to buy tennis shoes so they could walk home without the subway running. I picked around for any jeans that might fit, and they had no Wranglers left; they had a knockoff brand called “Rustlers” or something. The smallest size was a 50-inch waist.

I took some pictures, and hurried out. Honestly, the whole thing threw me. The entire dead mall, death of retail thing is really getting to me. So many things are shuttering, so many pieces of my childhood are vanishing. And so much of the history will be lost, because it’s only being instagrammed, and in five years, instagram will be cratered and unarchived. It really bugs me, and makes me want to archive more, see more, take more pictures. But the more I do it, the more it depresses me.

The other thing is that the more I dig around in these online dead retail communities, the more I realize I hate 90% of the people in them. Nostalgia groups are the worst. I sometimes creep in this Elkhart group, and it’s nothing but borderline illiterate people bitching about Amazon and technology, and waxing nostalgic about garbage food that will kill them. And maybe I shouldn’t say that. But there’s part of me that thinks that being obsessed about this stuff is only like a degree removed from hoping that coal mining jobs come back, which isn’t going to happen.

There needs to be progress, and there needs to be a future. And in looking back, I feel like we built too many malls because they were a convenient tax dodge, and we bought too much junk that’s now filling our landfills because we were told we needed to buy more plastic from China. And I’m torn, because I can waste so much time looking at pictures of old stores and reading about old malls. It scratches an itch that will always need to be scratched. But it prevents me from doing anything creative, or moving forward with my life.

I’ve had this stupid idea in my head for years, about doing a combination glossary, wiki, and blog about the Nineties, about my experiences and the places I worked and shopped and visited. And I feel some need to do this, before I forget all of it entirely. But I’ve written books that took place in the Nineties, and I did that glossary book, and they were my worst-selling books, and not in my voice. (Not that any of my books are selling anymore. Jesus christ my book sales are morbid these days. Another topic.) So I know I could burn a lot of cycles on this, but I feel it would be wasted time. But here I am, still writing about it.

Also, it hasn’t started raining yet, but when it does, that means lots more time in malls. I’m also going to be in Elkhart in December, so I’ll get one long, last look at Concord before they tear it down. Anyway.

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More Film, and digiFilm

I got my first batch of film back from the shop the other day. I sent in six rolls, 36 exposures each, for a total of $76 for developing and a quick scan to CD.

The shots from this Vivitar I bought are tremendously weird. I mean, they look like they were all shot in like 1994. They have this weird, faded quality to them, a perfect vignetting, and just look old, way more than Hipstamatic or Instagram could make them. Like they all have this dreamlike, lo-fi quality to them, much more so than my old old 35mm gear does. The Vivitar has really good Series 1 glass, but a plastic body. It also has all-auto, no-adjustment shooting, but a modern motorized drive system to it. If it was just slightly smaller, it would be a perfect camera.

I wish I still had the original one. Or I wish I had an exact model number, another copy. This one is very similar, but not exact, which bugs me. But what’s weird is sometimes I forget it isn’t the same camera. I was walking around the Port of Oakland the other day with it, and thought how strange and nostalgic it was that the same camera I had for most of the Nineties was with me now, but then realized, it isn’t the same camera. That old camera went to a lot of strange places with me. It moved from Indiana to Seattle to New York. I have pictures from the Trinity test site where the first atomic explosion happened, from Vegas, from the Empire State Building, the Milwaukee Metalfest, Kent State, Bloomington, New Mexico, Boston, Disneyland, Washington DC, and hundreds of points in between.

Anyway, I dumped a few shots on Flickr here. That album also includes some old 120 film shots taken with a Diana F+.

Another topic: the Yashica digiFilm Y35. So a group in Hong Kong bought the Yashica name and did a kickstarter for a digital version of the old Electro 35 camera. The gimmick was that it was going to have this stuff called digiFilm, which was a little film canister you could swap out and change what kind of pictures it would take. Like you could switch to B&W, 1600, 6×6, whatever. You could also put a switch or button on the camera to do this, but they thought it would be a neat thing to make it “like” film. I thought it might be a fun toy, and the camera looked cool, so on a whim, I backed the Kickstarter.

Ugh, I hate Kickstarter. I’ve backed maybe a dozen things in the past, and maybe two have turned out okay. And I always feel like I get burned, and I always vow to never do it again, and then something comes up. And like clockwork, they met their goal, got their money, and then said, “Ok great! Now we’ll go design it!” and the wait began. There were a few sketchy updates, but it looked like this thing would never come to fruition.

Well, it showed up the other day. My verdict is that the camera is garbage. I think the appeal of the old Electro 35 was that it was metal and compact and had a certain tactile feel to it, like old rangefinders of that era. This camera is all plastic, and very cheap plastic. It’s light, and feels like one of those toy squirt guns in the shape of a camera you’d get from the Archie McPhee catalog. It has a non-operational film wind knob that’s molded into the top of the camera. The viewfinder has no optics, just a clear piece of plastic. The doors feel like they will break off in the next fifteen minutes.

The camera uses two AA batteries (not included) and an SD card (not included), plus the digiFilm thing, of which I received four. You then “wind” each shot with an advance lever, and press and hold a really cheap shutter button, and have to hold it and hold still for like a second and a half. The pictures look roughly like what my Windows Mobile cell phone took back in 2008. The B&W looks okay. The others, just use your iPhone and Hipstagram. It does marginally look okay from a distance. If I ever put my cameras on display on a shelf, it would look okay next to my Trip 35 and Canonet QL17. But, ugh. What a waste of money.

I’ve got another four rolls of film to shoot, and might stock up on more for the holidays. I should probably get some 120 film at some point and try that one again, too.

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More Various Long Reads 9/18

I should probably find a better way to organize these link dumps (see previous), but I’m lazy. Anyway, here’s some more stuff I’ve been reading:

  • Lisp Machinery – A Lisp Machine resurrection blog – Lisp machines are a weird artifact of the Eighties race for AI, purpose-built big computers made just to run lisp programs. Here’s a guy that rescued three refrigerator-sized lisp machines and is trying to get them running again. I don’t know why, but I love stuff like this.
  • Planting a Seed in a Toxic Place with Roger Miret – I had a couple of Agnostic Front albums, and had a poster in my room for a while, but didn’t know much about frontman Roger Miret’s backstory in those pre-wikipedia days. Here’s an interesting read about this, in Psychology Today, of all places.
  • The Unknown Notebooks of Jean-Michel Basquiat – Just watched Sara Driver’s new doc, Boom For Real, which is more about the Lower East Side scene in the late Seventies than Basquiat himself, but was great, except now I’m going to fall down this wormhole for the next week or six. I just wish his estate would do a proper book of his various writing I could buy.
  • Chevy Chase can’t change – I wasn’t a fan of early SNL like others are, so I have no loyalties here, but this is a bittersweet read. Saw him on Norm Macdonald’s show, and was wondering what was up, so here it is.
  • Breathing New Life into Old Cameras – I previously mentioned I fell into this film thing again, and have been reading too much about how to fix old cameras. If you’re in the same boat, here’s a good starting point.
  • Forth: The Hacker’s Language – Forth was a weird language. I always knew about it, but never got into it, because it’s a pretty deep pool to jump into, second only to assembly language. I was reading about the Canon Cat computer, which used Forth, which led to this. Forth is also deeply related to the development of the Macintosh, thanks to the next read.
  • Jef Raskin – The father of the Macintosh computer, sort of. Raskin actually started as a tech writer, the head of Apple’s publications department, but had a lot of radical ideas about the future of the computer-human interface, which eventually led to the genesis of the Macintosh, and many clashes with Steve Jobs. (Two of the biggest things about the Mac, the 68K processor and the mouse, were things he was against.) Raskin later went to Canon and worked on the Canon Cat, which was a Forth-based word processor that never really took off.
  • How Jean Louis Gassée Changed the Mac’s Direction – Sorry for all the Mac archaeology links. My connection to this is I was trying to get a job at Be Incorporated and got into their developer program, but never bought a machine or got the job. (Probably for the best, given the outcome.)
  • The Crash at Sun Valley Mall – Not an economic crash, like most malls are seeing, but an Eastern Airlines puddle-jumper that flew through the roof of Macy’s back in 1985. I mall-walk this place (the other Concord Mall) so it’s interesting to see it in its vintage glory.
  • Too Much Music: A Failed Experiment In Dedicated Listening – I should probably do this. I have way too much music. Luckily, Comcast gave me a DMCA takedown strike for torrenting this week, so I need to quit that, which will help. Everything’s on Apple Music though, and discogs is a problem, too.

Shameless plug: I have a new book. Please check it out.

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New/Old Camera

So, in the “buying old crap I had twenty-five years ago and threw out at some point,” I found another Vivitar camera that is (almost) the same as the one I had from 1993 to about 2000.

I talked a bit about my history with analog film a few years ago, when I last fell down the analog film k-hole. I bought this Vivitar camera during the summer of 1993, after not having a camera at all for about three or four years. I was working at Montgomery Ward that summer (in addition to another full-time factory job) and had an employee discount, so I picked up the most camera I could get for about $100 at the photo counter in their Electric Avenue department at the Concord Mall.

That hundred bucks bought a 35mm point-and-shoot. It had a plastic body, but a decent Series 1 glass auto-focus lens. It was a power zoom, so it could zip from 38 to 70mm focal length with motorized control. The film load/wind was also motorized; you dropped in a film cartridge, closed the door, and the camera automatically sucked the film into the takeup reel. When you hit the end, it automatically rolled it back into the canister. The camera also had blue-teal accents to it, which was Nineties as fuck.

I bought this camera with the intention of documenting shows. It was the height of death metal and the zine scene, and I wanted something I could sneak into concerts. I was going to a lot of shows with Ray, and getting free passes to stuff to interview bands. In practice, I never got to take pictures at shows, because security was always really shitty about it, even when a record label gave me a photo pass. And this was a fairly worthless camera for taking pictures of bands, except maybe candid, backstage stuff at a close range with a lot of light.

Ultimately, I didn’t take that many pictures with this camera. I think maybe two dozen rolls went through it during those seven years. I took a trip across the country in 1995 and shot maybe six pictures total. A Disney trip in 1997 was about two rolls. The 1999 cross-country trip was another three, maybe. Getting a camcorder in 1996 reduced the amount of film I shot. Getting a digital camera at the end of 2000 relegated this thing to the back of the closet. I don’t know when I got rid of it; maybe when I moved in 2005.

Ironically, the most-seen photo from this camera is one you may be familiar with.

I was hunting for this camera online, and found this 5500PZ on eBay for seven bucks, including postage. When I got it, I realized it’s not exactly what I had. Mine was slightly thinner, with the zoom controls on the back, not the front. I’m sure it’s optically the same. But it bugs me that it’s not identical, and scanning through other eBay auctions, I can’t find the model that is exactly like mine. Maybe Vivitar sold some oddball model exclusively to Wards. Anyway, for seven bucks, close enough.

I put a battery in this one to test it. It uses a small lithium battery that was hard to find online. The zoom motor is much louder than I’d expected, and the zoom itself is not smooth and very slow. It’s not exactly the auto-focus that my new Canon has. I didn’t have any film in the house, so I ordered a few rolls, and we’ll see how it goes.

I’ve also gone back and started scanning some of the old photos I didn’t have scanned from this era 25 years ago. It’s a reminder how much of a pain in the ass film was. It also makes me think too much about exactly when and where photos were taken, since EXIF wouldn’t be invented for another half-decade. Trying to not get into too much of a nostalgia backslide, which leads to the regret that I didn’t take more pictures back then. But it’s understandable when I go to pay for film developing. Anyway.

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NyQuil, Cameras, DNA, Writing

NyQuil season has started. Despite my persona, I don’t actually drink the stuff unless I’m sick, and that started last week. I can usually tell when I’m about to get a cold because the bottom completely drops out of writing and I can’t answer three-line emails in under an hour. So trying to update this thing today about anything is a challenge.

The first night I took NyQuil, I had some kind of extremely minor blemish or sore on the side of my nose, like right where the pads of my glasses sit. I don’t know how this happened, but I had some dream related to this, and started digging at this in my sleep. I vaguely remember doing it, but I don’t. When I woke up, I looked like a professional wrestler who got hit in the face with the chair, and there was blood everywhere. I had tore open the side of my nose so I have this half-inch gash there now. It wasn’t that bad after I cleaned it up, but the whole experience was horrific. I’ve quit Ambien and Sonata because of playing with my phone when I’m asleep. I hope I don’t need to start wearing gloves when I’m on cold medicine.

The 360 camera experience is over. I returned that Ricoh Theta V I bought. It wasn’t really ready for prime time. The connectivity between the phone and camera was half-baked, involved too many steps, and the software was mostly garbage. Also, more than anything, it was impossible to take a photo without my fat face being in it, which bothered the hell out of me. I don’t want to be in my pictures. So it went back. Now I’m jonesing to get some other new camera I don’t need. I keep looking at mirrorless cameras, but I don’t want to be walking around the ghetto with a thousand dollars on a neck strap.

I supposedly have another camera on the way to me. Yashica – or a company that bought the Yashica name – did a kickstarter a while ago for a reboot of their classic Electro 35. But this would be digital, and have this gimmicky “DigiFilm” technology, which is where the camera takes these fake “rolls” of “film” which actually contain computer chips that swap out different filters and processing and whatnot. There’s no LCD screen, and you have to flip a “wind” lever between shots. I bid on it a while ago (probably on Ambien) and of course after the Kickstarter was done and no refunds were possible, they announced that the camera was almost invented and would take months to get into prototype stage, then they’d have to actually figure out how to build them, etc etc etc. So I don’t expect it to ever show up, and if it does, I don’t expect it to really work, but maybe it will look nice on a shelf next to my other film cameras.

Still in food jail. I have been fairly strict about it, but very plateaued. I’m managing to lose a fraction of a pound a week. I know, eat less and exercise. Or whatever crazy fad diet is going around. I get it, shut up.

I actually took a DNA test as part of this current program. It was a new offering for them, and only cost fifty bucks, so I figured what the hell. The test looks at certain genetic markers to see if you have a genetic/hereditary predisposition for certain things that might help or hinder weight loss. It said I had average metabolism, normal likelihood of regaining weight I lost, normal carb processing, a normal sweet tooth, and some other average stuff. It said I had an above average predisposition for being obese, which was a test on the FTO gene.

What was most interesting to me is that it said I had a normal ability to process carbs, a lower ability to process fat, and a higher ability to process protein. This makes sense to me because any time I try to eat some fad diet like keto or Atkins, my body clings onto any fat I consume, regardless of what it is. Scream until you’re blue in the face about “good” fats, but to my body, all fats are bad. The only way I lose weight is to eat a lower fat diet, which usually means a higher protein diet. (If you want to deep dive on this, the genes tested for this were PPARG, TCF7L2, APOA5, CRY2, MTNR1B, and PPM1K.)

Since I’ve finished my latest book, I’ve been trying to figure out what’s next. I have this morgue file of writing that I sift through and pick at and eventually pull into new books, and it’s like 406,000 words now. There’s a part of me that feels like I should just not edit it and split it into 100,000 word chunks with some clever name or title and be done with it. But I have a strong need to write the next “real” book, which is problematic, especially when I’m sick. I also have everyone coming out of the woodwork telling me what I “should” write next, which is annoying.

The seasons are starting to shift quickly here. I got a new light box this week to deal with the impending SAD. I think I’ve only got a few more weeks of walking outside before the weather really nose-dives, so I should look into joining a gym. I should probably go walk now, while the temp is still in the low sixties.

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Various Long Reads 9/2018

I love long reads. I remember a time when the web was nothing but long articles, and I wasted a lot of time reading them. I’m finding now that this wasn’t really time wasted, and I’m forcing myself to find more long articles that interest me, which is harder than it sounds.

Anyway, here’s ten articles that crossed my browser recently. Feel free to send me yours. Maybe I should make this a thing.

Shameless plug: I have a new book. Please check it out.

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