Ode to a 2017 MacBook Pro

So I was in a meeting yesterday, looking over at my Mac, and the lid didn’t seem to be closed all the way. My only thought was the usual “Apple doesn’t make them like they used to” and I ignored it. A few hours later, at the end of my work day, I went to unplug the laptop and go sit on the couch and write, and I noticed the side of the laptop was popped open, and the battery was swollen.

God damn it.

I got this machine at the very end of 2017. At the time, it was the top-of-the-line 15-inch MacBook pro you could buy from the Apple Store inventory without a custom order. It was great and slim and bigger than my last one, and way too expensive. I moved everything over, went on a trip for Christmas, and when I got home, it was completely 100% dead. No battery, no lights, no plugging in a different power cord, no magic reset NVRAM bullshit, it was flat out DEAD. I went to the store and after much bitching, a manager gave me a brand new one, and a “sorry, that happens.”

I’ve never been 100% on this machine. It had the magic touchbar thing, which is completely useless, except there were no function keys or escape key anymore, so I had to use it. I shut off the other shit, because I constantly hit it while typing. And the typing is bad, too. In the quest to make it thinner and cooler, they put in this dud keyboard that felt like typing on an Atari 400, and even a piece of dust would break a key. There was also the lack of any ports other than TB3, which required a new set of dongles. The machine always felt creaky and weird, like I’d accidentally bend it at some point. I also had some random weirdness with macOS High Sierra, and never dared move up another version.

So anyway, swollen battery. I looked up how to replace it, and it’s a 58-step procedure that involves a heat gun and re-epoxying parts and brain surgery-level disassembly. Nope. Normally, this is where I’d cart it off to the Apple Store, since it’s still under warranty. Not an option during SIP. I called Apple, and my only option is to mail it in and wait a week or ten.

I didn’t want to upgrade. I was hoping to get at least three years out of this machine. But I needed a computer immediately. I ended up going to Best Buy’s web site and buying a new machine, then driving out to Pleasant Hill and doing the weird touchless curbside pickup. You reply to a text to tell them where you’re parked, and a gloved and masked worker comes to your car, looks at your ID, then puts the box in the trunk. Very weird.

The migration went predictably bad. The old and new machines couldn’t see each other on WiFi. Using the Thunderbolt cable to connect the two computers doesn’t work, because there are 167 different types of cable with the same exact connectors, and the “power” version of the cable isn’t data-ready or something. I thought I should just use the backup drive, but before I could do that, the system said it needed to download ten gigs of updates, and it futzed with that for an hour. I plugged in my CarbonCopyCloner bootable clone of the old drive, and it sat for six hours, then crapped out in the middle of the night because it was trying to copy the entire backup, including every file I’ve changed or deleted in the last three years. I restarted it, and six hours later, the files were more or less there.

Then began the real problems. First, I jumped forward to macOS Catalina, which means every 32-bit app on my machine is now broken. Then the barrage of “xyz wants to use your address book” and “abc wants to write to the hard drive” and “123 wants to see your location.” Some damn thing kept asking for my keychain password. It took seven tries to get iCloud to log in. I couldn’t get it to “trust” my iPhone. Adobe’s app manager got stuck in a login loop until I completely uninstalled everything Adobe and started over. The IR remote receiver I have didn’t work anymore. Etc etc etc. I think I’m about halfway stable now, but expect at least a week of fuckery until this calms down.

I seriously think this might end up being the last Mac I buy. We’re entering a dark period like the mid-90s, when Macs were twice as expensive, twice as slow, didn’t use any standard peripherals, and crashed constantly from a bloated OS. The current macOS keeps getting more and more stupid, as they try to unify with the mobile OS and push services more. Rumor is strong that Apple will dump Intel in the near future and move to their own ARM processor, which will be just like the PowerPC days, making Windows emulation impossible.

The problem is, what do I buy instead? I’m too tightly coupled to my other mobile devices. And Windows is horrible – I use it every day on my work machine, and it’s not an option for me. Going back to Linux seems unspeakable at this point. I almost feel like buying a typewriter at this point.

The new machine seems okay so far, now that it is stabilizing. The keyboard is improved somewhat, and feels closer to my 2014. The screen is slightly bigger. The build quality feels a bit better. Same drive size, same memory. More CPU, more cores, and I think the battery is better, but I haven’t gotten that far into it yet. I’ve got to figure out what to do with the old one, when the world is normal, or I give up and mail it in.

And usual reminder: BACK UP YOUR MACHINE. It saved my ass this time, yet again. CarbonCopyCloner, external drive. Anyway, let’s see if I can get more stuff done on the new machine.

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COVAD-99

Ever since the COVID stuff started, I’ve had the term COVAD stuck in my head. There’s a reason for that. Let me explain.

So back in 1999, I moved to New York to freelance and write fiction and do that whole lifestyle, and it lasted about six months and I ended up at a full-time job at Juno Online that fall. Juno was that free email company, where they gave you a clunky Windows program and you got a free email address but had to look at ads in a little sidebar thing. When I got there, they also got into giving away a limited number of hours of free web browsing, or you could pay a little per month to get “unlimited” use.

At that point in time, 99.99% of internet users connected through a dial-up modem. Some dorms and campuses had ethernet; some offices, too. You could also pay a ton of money to get an ISDN connection at a screaming 128Kbps. Like most people, I used a 56K modem, which wasn’t blazing fast, but my first modem ever was 300bps, and I spent a few years of college on a 2400bps, so it didn’t seem that horrible. The busy signals were, though.

One of the first things I worked on at Juno was a new product called Juno Express. This was a Juno unlimited connection, but also included a broadband connection. Juno experimented with every type of broadband technology coming out at the turn of the century. We did trials with cable modems, satellite, microwave, various radio technologies, and something that ran through power lines to the home. But the one that stuck was DSL. And our DSL partner was called Covad Communications.

Prior to the late 90s, the only real way into a person’s house from a communication standpoint was the voice line. Modems worked by connecting to the voice line and converting digital communication into an audio signal, that screeching sound you heard when you connected a modem to the internet, if you were old enough to remember using a modem. That worked, but only up to a certain point, because of the inefficiency of cramming a wide digital signal over a relatively narrow pipe.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 changed this. Among the other things they deregulated, they made it so that an Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier (ILEC) – the big phone companies like Bell Atlantic or Ameritech – had to allow any company the ability to share the local-loop access of the pieces of copper that tied a home to a telephone exchange. That meant a company like Covad could lease these lines and run their own digital internet service directly to your home.

Of course, the big phone companies didn’t make this easy. They dragged their feet and instituted byzantine processes for partners and did as much as possible to discourage this forced competition. Part of what made my documentation of Juno Express so messy was the complicated dance of getting the customer’s phone company and someone from Covad to both work with each other to get everything connected. Companies like Verizon weren’t going to just hand keys to Covad and say “knock yourself out.” Getting appointments was tedious, and sometimes they just wouldn’t show up, so you had to reschedule the following Covad appointment. It would take weeks and sometimes months to turn on a connection.

Once you got all of this sorted, you ended up with a DSL box in your house that had a 10 base T ethernet connection at about 768Kbps. But it was on 24 hours a day. No busy signals! And over ten times faster than a modem. Yes, my current connection is usually about 600Mbps, but just under 1Mbps was so insanely fast at that time. And not having to wait an hour to get past the busy signal at peak hours was a huge plus.

I seldom worked with anyone from Covad. But they had a sales rep who, when he was in New York, was always good for a high-end lunch. I remember getting a three-hour, all-expenses paid steak dinner for lunch at Sparks Steak House once. I think we spent thirty seconds discussing business, and it was “how’s business?/not bad/let’s get more drinks.” Other than that and the usual swag that showed up (I’m sure I had Covad mouse pads galore at the time, maybe a stress ball or some pens, too) I seldom had direct interaction with them, just deciphering their emails and adding to the docs.

When I moved into my own place in Astoria in 1999, I got DSL right after I got my keys, but I didn’t use Juno. Covad also got hooked up with Speakeasy, who I still had accounts with from my Seattle days. Speakeasy started as an internet cafe in Belltown, and I got a shell account there when I got to Seattle. For five bucks a month, I got an account on a SparcStation, the address jkonrath@speakeasy.org, and a few megs of web space. I kept that account for like ten years, but when I got to New York, they were doing dial-up access nationwide, which I used, until I got the DSL hookup. I later moved from the leased-line DSL, which used the second set of copper in my walls, to a shared-line setup, which ran on the same pair as my voice line, using DSL filters. I think that was maybe a 3Mbps connection.

I left Juno in the summer of 2001, right as they got bought by NetZero. I kept using Speakeasy/Covad until maybe 2005 when I moved in with Sarah. Oddly enough, Covad and Speakeasy were acquired and mashed together with MegaPath in a three-way merger in 2010. The Speakeasy cafe burned down in 2001. And now when you search on Covad, Google suggests Covid. So I’m not the only one confusing the two.

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Day 4

I’m not alone here in saying that things got weird fast here.

I’ve been debating writing about any of this. I’ve seen every hot take possible on COVID-19, and I’m seeing endless posts about being shut in, suddenly having to work from home, losing work, panicking about food and medical care, and so on. And in the current climate, I feel like putting anything out there opens me up to “oh, you think you have it bad?” attacks. I feel the same way about writing almost anything these days. We’ve fallen down this pit of stupidity that makes talking about almost anything pointless.

But, I need to keep writing every day. It’s more important than ever when the only other choice is to freak the fuck out about everything. And also, I know someday, I’m going to want to look back and see what I was thinking as World War C unfolded. If you look down at the sidebar here, it’s missing a few months of dates in the fall of 2001. This wasn’t a conscious decision; I was just working on finishing Rumored and was too busy to run this thing. And now I wish I could go back to read entries from September and October of that year, to see what I was thinking the last time the world was ending.

So first, the boat. The fucking boat. That Princess cruise ship docked at the Port of Oakland like a week ago. (I don’t even know when it was. The last week seems like a year and a half long.) The ship was about four thousand feet from my house, and if I was up on the parking garage connected to our building, it was plainly visible. (It’s not visible from our house, because they built another set of townhouses right in front of us, blocking our view. That’s another point of aggravation, but what can you do.)

Despite it being that close, it was a world away. No danger of infection, no view of the evacuation, just a giant symbol of how shit was about to go down, sitting on the horizon. The optics of it were bad — “well, we can park this thing in Oakland, because nobody lives there.” Thanks a lot, fuckheads. I understand the logistics of deep-water harbors and all that, but I’m sure if Atherton had a fifty-foot draft depth berth next to it, there’s no way the ship would have ended up there.

I also got the usual craziness from relatives who assumed I was ten seconds from death, like I do every time there’s a forest fire six hundred miles away or a 3.2 earthquake outside of LA. I had a real problem after 9/11 in that for a lot of people, I was their closest connection to the attacks. I did not like being in that position, being the face of the disaster, especially from people who generally had zero interaction with me, and suddenly they had a best friend who was in the towers when it collapsed, even though neither of those things were true.

The shelter-in-place happened quickly. At one point, they said seniors should think about staying home, and hours later, we all had to go on lockdown. Things changed fast, and in a world of clickbait media and dumb algorithms, it was difficult to get straight answers on anything. There were more questions than answers on Monday, and I didn’t wrap my head around the enormity of the situation as it was happening.

I did ease into this a bit since I got back the week before. I resupplied at Target on Friday afternoon, thinking everything would be wiped out by the weekend. I filled my prescriptions, bought toilet paper, got cat food, did all of my errands. I’m glad I did, because by all accounts, Monday’s midnight shelter order turned every store into a nightmare. You probably saw the pictures, a million times. Disaster porn is big these days.

The Saturday before, it was rainy and cold, and I drove out to Pleasanton to walk Stoneridge mall. I was slightly apprehensive about it, but I figured if I kept my space and didn’t touch anything, it would be no problem. The mall wasn’t empty, which surprised me. I think that was more scary than if the mall was completely empty on a Saturday. The quick walk made me super anxious and nervous, and I had to get the hell out of there.

That mall is now closed — all Simon malls are. The only malls that are open at this point are insane or stupid. A month ago, the whole concept of the mall in general had a shaky future at best. Now, malls are absolutely fucked. Some of the more prosperous large chains are withholding their earnings projections statements. Every anchor store imaginable is completely dead. None of the mom-and-pops will be able to survive. At least in the bay area, malls that were living day-by-day are going to be shuttered for months. At best, they’ll be temporarily reopened as virus hospitals. Most will probably end up in foreclosure, chained up, left to rot. Maybe in five or ten years when the market is back and REITs are thinking about redevelopment, they’ll get rebuilt into apartment complexes.

I wanted to get out of the mall nostalgia thing. Looks like that decision’s been made for me. Hang onto your photos, fellow mall-walkers. It’s all we’ll have left of the era of indoor shopping.

I’ve been working from home for almost ten years now, so this is business as usual for me.  I never leave the house anyway, and all of my meetings are always on Zoom. If anything, things are more chaotic for me because I simply have too much work to do. Not to get into details, but I have three really big things going on, plus an endless barrage of update meetings on what’s happening, how we’re responding, etc. Also, there’s a lot more chatter on Slack, in email, on Zoom. One of the reasons I love WFH is that the eight-hour office work day is really about two hours of solid work, and six hours of social interaction and distraction and annoyance and ritual. Remove that, and I can do three times as much work, plus still have time for cat herding and whatever else. But a lot of other people are getting stir crazy over this, and it’s ramped up the amount of online distraction. This is in addition to the bad news every two minutes on the rest of the internet.

The structure of my work day routine has not changed, for the most part. Work all day, try to take a walk at lunch (that’s still allowed), try to write (and don’t), then watch TV until bedtime. The weekend is going to be another story. I usually walk around my house during the week, and spend the weekends driving somewhere else to walk or hike or shop or whatever. Now, I can’t officially do that. Not sure what I should be doing to stay sane. And this will go on for weeks, or maybe more. I know, #humblebrag, I still have a job and a roof over my head and health insurance, and I’m worried about park access. I’m mentally ill, go fuck yourself, see the second paragraph above, and feel free to start your own blog.

I think the worst part of all of this is the resonation between this and 9/11. There’s that overwhelming feeling of panic saturated into everything. The economy is in free-fall, and not coming back. Major industries like the airlines, auto production, retail, restaurants may never recover. Many things we took for granted two weeks ago have completely vanished. A large swath of the public is completely fucked. And none of this is even including the tens of thousands of people who are going to die from this.

I don’t officially have PTSD from 9/11, at least from like a diagnostic standpoint. And if I did, I’d be too ashamed to admit it, knowing that people in my office died, and they had family and friends and spouses who were directly tied to it, while I was just an observer. But sirens can get me ramped up. The smell of burning electronics has the same scent as the powdered concrete and metal smoke that hung over lower Manhattan, which doesn’t exactly have a calming effect on me. I tend to get too amped up over natural disasters and emergency evacuations and mass-panic situations like that. And having a helicopter hover a thousand feet over your house 24/7 for a week so the channel 2 news can get a picture of a fucking cruise ship isn’t great for this predicament. All of this, all of the uncertainty and the plummeting economy and the thought about if the grocery store is going to be open in a week and if I’ll still have a job by then or if banks will still be open — there are strong parallels, ones I can’t entirely put on the back burner and ignore.

This situation makes me think way too much about the fall of 2001, the feeling that all of lower Manhattan was going to shutter, send everyone back to whatever square state they came from, leave behind a skeleton crew of locals and a few bodegas, boarding up everything else, turning into some burned-out dystopian nightmare like the 1977 shown in every Son of Sam or Ramones movie. When I walk outside with nobody around, almost no cars on the road, no planes overhead, it reminds me of that same feeling I had eighteen and a half years ago. It’s scary. It’s something I wish I could ignore. It’s something I can’t. I have to work on that.

Not much else. Working. Watching TV. Trying to not look at my 401K, which I think is gone now. Playing Out of the Park Baseball, and simulating a season per month, now that the 2020 one is probably dead. This week, my team is 61-60 and three games out of the wild card, with 40 games left. (It sims a game every thirty minutes.) The 1971 Dock Ellis is the ace in my rotation, and my outfield is a 1984 Tony Gwynn, 1976 Ron LeFlore, and 1934 Jo-Jo Moore. If you’re a fan of the national pastime, spend the twenty bucks and get a copy. Drop me a line when you do, and we can start a league or something.

I should be writing. I’m not. I should work on that. Hope everyone else is surviving out there.

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Ten Things

  • I had this recurring dream that I somehow inherited an old Corvette (mid-70s, the bad years) and was trying to rewire the stereo because it worked when the car was running, but not when it was shut off or in accessory mode. I seem to remember having to fix the same thing in my first car a million years ago. (Chilton’s guide is your friend.) This got me thinking about the whole culture of aftermarket car stereos in the 80s and 90s that is largely gone now. Every car had an identical hole for the radio (two knobs, unless you sawed that out and made a square hole for an Alpine) and every factory radio was a piece of shit, usually without a tape player. My first car had a mono AM radio stock, with a single paper speaker under the dash. I fell down long k-holes paging through the JC Whitney catalog, looking at no-name stereos with suspiciously high wattage and ending up with the cheapest amp available at the local Radio Shack.
  • I have been wasting a lot of time watching car restoration videos on YouTube, maybe because they are good background noise, and maybe because I wish I was restoring a car, even though I don’t have the time, space, money, or patience to do this. My favorite channel is a very well-done set of videos from a guy named Ronald Finger who is restoring an old Fiero. I’ve always been obsessed with the Fiero (see here) even though I’ve never even ridden in one, and stock, most of them drive and feel about like a vintage Pontiac Sunbird, although they do look better, and can be hot-rodded up to be a formidable performer. But that’s a formidable performer with no airbags, antilock brakes, navigation system, or any other new safety or creature comfort features, so maybe not.
  • I also recently watched the ZZ Top documentary on Netflix (too lazy to find a link.) It was pretty good, although it pretty much ended when they got to Eliminator, and didn’t go into any details on that album except how MTV blew them up with their videos. They didn’t touch the fact that the writing credits were slightly disputed, or that it’s essentially a self-produced Billy Gibbons solo album (with help from sound engineer Linden Hudson) and almost all of the drums and bass using drum machines and synth. There’s also a story of Hudson researching every popular song on the radio to determine their speed and deciding that the album should all be recorded at 120 bpm.
  • That said, I would say Eliminator is definitely in my top five all-time list, because the production and songwriting is so impeccable and a perfect mix of blues, pop, dance, and country music. I listened to the album a few times yesterday, and although people generally think of the big hits, the deep cuts on the album are amazing. Songs like “I Need You Tonight,” “Thug,” and even “TV Dinners” are so amazing, even though they usually aren’t discussed by the “hey remember the 80s” crowd.
  • Speaking of Houston… I was thinking the other night about how I used to see a disproportionate number of Astros games back when they were a National League team. The first MLB game I ever saw was Astros @ Brewers, and the first Rockies home game I saw was against Houston. It was also a strange coincidence, because in my horrible pee-wee league experience, I played for a team named after the Astros. Our uniforms were bright orange, like the tequila sunrise jersey Houston used to have. Prior to the throwback thing taking off, Houston in the 00s had boring red uniforms, so no joy there.
  • I have been thinking about New York a lot for some reason. The thing I think about most is how in the early 00s when I was single I had this dumb weekend routine that usually involved staying up late on Fridays and playing PlayStation 2 until three in the morning. Then I’d oversleep, walk to the subway, stop and get a bagel at this hole-in-the-wall place on 30th Ave where I was in love with the cashier and never talked to her other than asking for an everything with a smear and a can of Coke. Then I’d go into Manhattan and waste the afternoon walking between book stores and record stores and video places, buying various media that I’d then consume for the rest of the weekend while ordering delivery from one of the same three places. There was a diner where the guy on the phone knew who I was the second I called and asked me if I wanted the usual. And then Sunday was grocery store, laundry, and more nothing. Writing was always anticipated and never happened.
  • It’s now bugging me that I can’t remember what “the usual” was. I think it was a greek omelette. I also used to get a side of cereal, which is the laziest damn thing imaginable, paying three bucks for a little box of corn flakes and a coffee cup of milk. I remember one time misplacing the cup of milk in the fridge and wondering where it went, and then finding out a week later that it dumped into the little tray underneath the crispers and was now a biological warfare weapon.
  • I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I looked up that old Astoria apartment, and it has not been upgraded whatsoever, but costs more than twice as much to rent. I think I was paying around 800 back in the early 00s, and it’s now about two grand. And the neighborhood – the bones are still there, but it’s obviously had a lot of gentrification in the last 15 years. Lots of small family houses ripped out and replaced with 12-unit mini “luxury” apartment buildings. They have a Chipotle now. I don’t know if they have a grocery store that isn’t a disaster, but I guess you just order online?
  • I had a weird dream the other night that this guy Rob who lived by me in Astoria sent out a mass email saying he was retiring from his job, and quitting technology entirely, and that this was the last email he was ever going to send. I’ve probably watched too many Unabomber documentaries lately.
  • Falling down a huge ADX Florence k-hole. I’ll probably spend the rest of the day looking that stuff up, unless I fall sideways into some other wiki-hole, like I did the other day when I spent two hours reading about nuclear-powered rocket plans of the fifties and sixties.
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Vegas 2020

Got back from Las Vegas last night, so I’m still digging through things and looking at photos and trying to get reset for work on Monday. Oh, and trying not to catch the death plague everyone’s worried about. (I actually wash my hands, so I’m not as worried about it. But now that I’ve said that, I’m probably the first person you’ll know to die of it.)

Anyway, here’s the trip rundown:

  • Flew in Sunday night, out Friday night, so it feels like it was a slightly shorter trip than usual.
  • Stayed at Vdara, which is a new one for me. It’s part of City Center, just north of Aria, sort of just below Bellagio, but not on the strip. Vdara is all suites, and has no casino. The rooms have a nice view, but it does take a minute to get to the strip, and there’s no food, other than a small snack shop place, or room service. I had a smaller suite, with a token kitchen (tiny fridge, two-burner stove, no oven, no dishwasher) that came with no dishes. Bill had an upgrade, which had full-size appliances and a washer/dryer, which was a first.
  • There are room service robots. You can order a soda or some sundries, and they load it up into this oversized Roomba thing which then drives to your room, rings the doorbell, and unlocks the top so you can get your stuff. It sounds pretty neat, but I didn’t want to pay $20 for a Coke and a Snickers bar.
  • Bill and Marc also came in on Sunday, and left Tuesday afternoon. I spent the rest of the trip by myself.
  • The first night, we went to the first place that was close by that I could pull up a reservation on OpenTable with no notice: the Strip House at Planet Hollywood, a New York steakhouse. It was decent, although the salt and pepper char threw me a bit. I didn’t pay much attention, but the decor had various old cheesecake photos or something on the walls.
  • Went downtown to the Fremont Street experience and wandered a bit. We went to the Fremont and Marc and I played some blackjack for a few minutes. I was slightly ahead, then went to make a dumb sports bet, and put $20 on the Rockies winning the World Series, which would pay out $1600, although of course that won’t happen.
  • Ate that night at Roy Choi’s Best Friend Korean BBQ restaurant at the Park MGM. Choi is the proprietor of the Kogi taco truck in LA, and this place is sort of a LA/hipster/Korean/Mexican joint. Decor is weird, looking like a liquor store in Koreatown, with the waitstaff all wearing track suits. Food was great – we all just did fixed menu and an endless array of different stuff came out, all excellent.
  • We had lunch at The Peppermill, which is always okay.
  • Brought Bill to the Boulevard Mall, the weirdo all-dead-anchors old mall, which now has a Goodwill as an anchor. Did a quick lap there, and it looked about the same as last year, except the Sears is now fully dead and stripped of logos. They’re supposedly stripping that out to open some little open-air mall next to the existing one.
  • Spent an afternoon taking a long walk through all the malls on the strip, then ate at Cabo Wabo for no other reason than gaming OpenTable of points. (Well, I like the nachos too, I guess.)
  • Drove out to Rachel, NV to see the Little A’le’Inn and extraterrestrial highway and all that. Stuck a Konrath sticker on the flying saucer in front of the Inn. Drove around “downtown” Rachel, which is more like 50 people living in trailers in the desert. Lots of old cars and broken-down stuff. Also found the black mailbox and got a Konrath sticker on that. And stopped at the Alien research center to buy books. They had Andrea’s dad’s book there, which was awesome.
  • Went to Meadows Mall, which is doing okay. Their Sears is also dead, but a Round One took over one floor of it. They have this new store called Curacao’s, which is interesting. It looks like a nicer Best Buy, but with a big toy department, furniture, jewelry, and cosmetics. Honestly, it looks like an alternate timeline where Wards somehow survived and actually updated their stores.
  • Went to UNLV because they have a copy of Dealer Wins in a special collection of Vegas gaming history books. I don’t know why I wanted to see a copy of my own book, especially since I have a half-dozen here, but it was neat. They have a very modern library, but it still reminds me of IU for some reason, which makes me horribly nostalgic, and everyone there looks like they are about twelve, so very strong “you can never go back” vibes, and I had to get the hell out of there.
  • There was really nothing to do that week as far as shows or comedians or anything. Although I know nothing about hockey, I probably should have gone to the hockey game, because for whatever reason, people are nuts there for the new hockey team.
  • Went to The Writer’s Block, which is a great little book store downtown. Bought a couple of books, and if you’re there, you should too, because we need more of this sort of thing.
  • Weather was about perfect for the trip. A little cold at night, maybe the sixties but going into the seventies in the day. Ideal walking weather, clear skies, a lot of sunshine, but no triple-digit weather.
  • The old Harley BBQ restaurant is now the most ghetto weed store imaginable.
  • They are putting a Target on the strip.
  • They renamed the Monte Carlo to the Park MGM. There is still an MGM Grand, so this is confusing.
  • The Sahara, which was the SLS last year, is now the Sahara again.
  • It was slightly quiet with the COVID scare, but not as bad as when I visited in October 2001.
  • Fuck resort fees. And fuck parking fees. And Vdara doesn’t even have a self-park garage. You either pay $30 a day to valet, or you pay $18 to self-park at the Aria, although the lot is on the far side of the Aria, so it’s a major hike.

Anyway, good trip. Pictures here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jkonrath/albums/72157713401785407

 

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Born to Lose

I’m currently listening to what most consider the worst Black Sabbath album, 1987’s The Eternal Idol. Maybe this isn’t the worst of the worst — I haven’t listened to Forbidden or Tyr in a long time, don’t have copies, and they’re probably not streaming anywhere. Not sure why I’m listening to it. It sounds like when older heavy metal bands tried to make pop-rock albums in that era, like the Whitesnake one with Steve Vai on it. Ray Gillen originally sang on this album, but was replaced or fired or quit or whatever the hell, and Tony Martin re-recorded his vocal tracks, meaning Gillen’s Sabbath tenure only involved filling in at the end of the tour before this album, and I guess there are bootlegs of his recording sessions. I can’t write much more about this era of Black Sabbath without a copy of Visio to create the complicated flowchart I’d need to keep track of lineup changes. All I can say is this album probably rhymes “fire” and “desire” on it somewhere.

I need to get ready for Vegas — I leave a week from today — but I’ve been too busy to even think about it. Bill and Marc will be there for Sun-Tue, which will be cool. I can’t remember the last time I was there with them. 2011 I think? I’ve been looking for anything interesting to do, shows or comedy or whatnot, and a whole lot of nothing is going on. I guess I already wrote about this, but I’m getting even more bunchy about it, because aside from one dinner reservation, I’ve made zero plans, and I’m almost sure my next week will be far too busy to even think about it.

I’m still occasionally editing old posts, trying to get them tidied up and remove any obvious problems, etc. I occasionally find bits in there that are wonderful, long essays about New York that are fun, bits of trip reports I’ve forgotten. No, I’m not writing a book about any of this. I already wrote it; it’s here. Go read it. I wish I had a better way to drive traffic into those old entries. Maybe I should start posting the links on Facebook, not that the future of Facebook is that cheery.

Fell down a long k-hole reading about the Russian remake of Married… With Children. I’ll let you do your own homework on that one. There are a few episodes on YouTube, and a wikipedia article. See also my old article here Current Obsession: Pole Chudes on the Russian version of Wheel of Fortune.

Something I have no time to research or write about is that Concord Mall got sold recently. The new ownership group has a few dozen strip malls in the greater Chicagoland area, and some office buildings in Michiana. They’ve said they are looking to get some new tenants, and use some vacant space for offices. I’d imagine the former Carson store is going to get split up, like they did with the old Wards store. Not sure how they’re going to find takers for office space in Elkhart, but we’ll see. I’m probably going to be in Indiana in December, so maybe it will still be standing when I come back.

Had to punch out on this Sabbath album. It was sounding too much like a supergroup with the worst members of Mr. Big and Dokken in it.

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Desks, part two

A long time ago, I wrote a post here about my various desks over the years. (It’s at Desks, a viewport into the mind) I was digging around in some scans, and found a few more pictures to babble about. Why? As I said in part one, why not. I have an obsession with the workspaces of other writers, so I’m always taking a snapshot of mine.

Anyway, exhibit one is my desk from 1991-1993, sort of:

This is actually a view of my infamous 414 Mitchell apartment, as it was being torn down on the 4th of July weekend, 1993. So, the computer is gone. It’s hard to see, but to the left is a green card table. That was my computer table from probably when I was a teenager, up until that summer. I used to build model airplanes on it before that, so it was covered in Testor’s paint, in various camo colors. I don’t know what eventually happened to this table; I think it was still at my mom’s house shortly before she sold it.

The whole summer when Summer Rain took place, I had a DOS PC in a generic mid-tower case sitting on that table. Here’s it’s full of books and dishes, although I also see a copy of the Danzig 3 box set with the weird plastic HR Giger cover on there. Also check the genuine IBM PC 83-key keyboard against the wall, which is worth more than a few bucks on eBay these days. (No idea what I did with that – I think it was broken.) And of course, the horrible wood paneling. This apartment was $177 a month in the early 90s, and it shows.

Same year, next exhibit. Here’s the next iteration in 1993:

I worked at Montgomery Ward in the summer of 1993, and wanted to get a “real” computer desk for my next apartment. We sold these Sauder L-shaped desks which I thought were cool as hell at the time. This was before everyone had a PC in their house, so the computer hutch was still a somewhat new phenomenon. And this was before particle-board furniture got value-engineered to hell, so this was a pretty sturdy setup. I think it cost $150, minus my ten-percent employee discount.

This was in my room in my mom’s basement, shortly before returning to college that fall. More nice wood paneling, sporting a Type O Negative poster I got from my zine days. Other things I notice are the twelve-inch paperwhite VGA monitor I had for a few years, my Kenwood stereo and Panasonic speakers that followed me through college, and I see a bottle of Obsession cologne, from back when I actually thought that shit mattered.

This was my first real desk when I started writing later that year. I either sold it or gave it away when I left Bloomington in 1995.

Next up, here’s what Seattle looked like, circa 1998 or so:

The entire time I was in Seattle, I worked on my old kitchen table, which was too small in area and too high off the ground. I’d upgraded to this ViewSonic color monitor, which was far too deep for such a narrow table. (Remember when monitors were more than an inch thick?) Other interesting (or not) things include a self-inking stamp for Air in the Paragraph Line Zine outgoing mail, and I spy a box of Travan backup tapes, when I used to back up my Linux machine to tape for some damn reason. You can also see my emacs setup on the monitor, with eyestrain-relief pink colors. I used the emacs text editor to write everything up until 2011 or so.

Fast-forward a minute (see the older post for other desks in between these) and here’s my work desk in 2001 right before I set it up for the first time:

This was at my office at Bleecker and Broadway. We moved in there in August 2001, and I left in February 2007. I spent a lot of time at this damn desk in the early/mid-00s. The friend who just passed away was two cubes in front of this, so this pic is a little bittersweet. It was also taken a month before 9/11. Ugh.

When I went back to the company in 2010 and visited in December, the desk was vacant, so I got to set up and work there, which was bizarre. That filing cabinet was still there, and was locked. I still had the key. When I opened it, all of my files and printouts from the early 00s were still in there.

And to close, here’s a shot from last year, which is about current:

This is an Anthro cart I bought in 2010 when I started working from home. It’s not bad, although I wish I bought the one twice as wide, and maybe the matching filing cabinet. The only difference between this and 2020 is the Vanatoo speakers I just got. And the bass is usually in a stand. It’s also never this clean. This is both my work and home desk, so I spend far too much time here. It could use a bigger monitor. Maybe I should look into that next.

 

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ugh

Wasn’t sure if I wanted to write about this for a few reasons, mostly because I still can’t wrap my head about it. Anyway, an old friend and former boss passed away suddenly on the 4th. We worked together at my old New York gig for years, and then back in 2010, he pulled me back in to work remotely at my current job, and was my boss there for five years. He was a super genius with a PhD in laser physics, an awesome developer, and the best boss imaginable. Coincidentally, we both grew up in Michiana, and had all the various regional eccentricities down pat. He was also a Rush-head, and the last time I talked to him was a brief text exchange right after Neil Peart died. The whole thing was out of nowhere, and he was a somewhat private guy online so I won’t go into any details, but this one really shook me.

This is really off-brand, but I’ve been on a Taco Bell boycott for almost five years. I know I joke about it constantly, but the last time I ate there was when I was at UNLV in the summer of 2015. No real political reason or anything, it’s just I was eating there too much, and it had become A Problem, and I had to force myself to stop. (And I should do this with all fast food, but that’s another topic.) Anyway, one of the thoughts that popped into my head when I heard the news above is about the time me and J. found out there was a Taco Bell at West 4th in Manhattan. There were no others around for miles; I think you had to drive into deep Queens or way the hell out in Jersey to find one. When we found this out, I took orders, hopped the F train, and came back with a big bag of tacos and burritos, and we reminisced about growing up on garbage food in the midwest. Anyway, when I heard the news Wednesday morning, I had to leave work and get my head together, and I ended up at Taco Bell in Walnut Creek, ordering my usual Mexican Pizza and nachos and thinking fondly about that episode probably eighteen years ago. A dumb tribute, I guess, but whatever.

The one good thing that came out of this is I talked to a lot of people in the last week I hadn’t heard from in over a dozen years. The bad news is that I’m still working on a code base that he wrote a huge percentage of, and every time I dig into it, I find some hilarious comment of his buried in the code, or in a JIRA ticket. I’m the last person from the original crew still working on this product, so that makes the whole situation bizarre. Anyway, it was good to talk to old friends and remember dumb stories that happened almost twenty years ago.

Other news – not much. I am taking another trip to Vegas in the first week of March. Once again, I found out I had a window to take a vacation either in a month, or wait for like six months and then watch that window close, so I had to book something right away. I looked at a few options, and thought about going to Phoenix for spring training, but things got stupid expensive fast, so that didn’t happen. Also thought about going to Colorado, but no baseball and it would probably be too cold. Indiana is not an option; it’s always super expensive to fly out there for some dumb reason. It would have been cheaper to fly to Hawaii, and there’s no chance of a freak snowstorm on Maui in March. So, Vegas it is.

I’m staying at Vdara this time, the all-suite tower of the Aria, sort of next to and behind the Bellagio. I booked through Southwest, and things were really cheap that week. I know the resort fee scam, but even with that factored in, it was pretty damn inexpensive to get a room with a kitchen in it. A car was also cheap, so I’ll probably be driving in the desert and posting from half-dead malls that have air conditioning.

Actually, I have no idea what I’m doing, though. It’s an odd time to visit, with a lot of shows dark (no Penn and Teller) and no minor-league baseball that early. There’s hockey, but I don’t understand hockey at all. I went to an AHL game once in Milwaukee and was thoroughly confused and could not keep up. It’s like basketball, but at least I can see an orange ball getting thrown back and forth. Also, it feels like I just was in Vegas, and burned through all the stuff I would want to do. So I need to do some research, but I’ve been too busy to get into it.

I’d post about this on Facebook and ask about what to do, but I’m 100% sure I’d get a bunch of stupid fucking replies. Every time I post anything on Facebook, the reply section turns into a stupid open mic discussion group for people who don’t get the fucking joke in the first place. I’m absolutely certain that when I finally do get cancer and post about it, the post is going to get 137 fucking Family Guy memes posted on it or something. I really need to delete my Facebook account and get it over with, but it’s the only place I sell books. Not that I sell any books at this point.

I still have a book out. Just a reminder.

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Works in progress, works not in progress

I don’t usually talk about this stuff, mostly because I don’t want to jinx anything, but also because I absolutely cannot fucking deal with people telling me what I should be writing. I have a lot of half-started projects. Some are underway. Some I never finished because they were ultimately bad ideas. I don’t know what to do with those. Sometimes I think I should just release them all as-is to confuse people. But I guess you have to be a famous dead person to do that.

Anyway, here’s the current inventory of every car up on blocks in my front yard:

  1. Untitled rough sequel to Atmospheres. Currently 91,000 words. Maybe 75-80% to first draft.
  2. Untitled rough sequel to Rumored to Exist. Currently 89,000 words. Maybe 50-60% to first draft.
  3. Untitled short story collection. Currently 52,000 words. Maybe 40% done, could maybe be split out and submitted in pieces.
  4. Flash fiction morgue. ~450 pieces, 287,000 words. Unknown completion percentage.
  5. Short story morgue. ~200 pieces, 100,000 words. Unknown completing percentage.
  6. A morgue file up to 2012, which includes everything cut from Sleep Has No Master and Thunderbird. 120,000 words. Unknown completion percentage.
  7. Three different attempts from 2006-2011 at writing an adventure novel about a cross-country trip after a zombie apocalypse. ~140,000 words. Dead.
  8. The Device – a time-travel adventure novel that spun out of Rumored to Exist in maybe 1998. ~30,000 words. Dead.
  9. A completely meta sequel about Rumored to Exist, where a character reads the book and tries to hunt down everyone in it to find answers or something. Complete outline with notes, but almost no writing, ~3,000 words. (I actually like this idea and might do it after I finish 2.)
  10. Book of short stories about Bloomington during when I was there 1989-1995. 116,000 words. I can’t even look at this shit anymore.
  11. Heavy Metal Hell, fiction novel based on the summer between HS and college in 1989. 65,000 words. Plotted out, 21 of 45 chapters written. See above.
  12. A Raymond Federman-style meta-perfiction book about writing the above book. 18,000 words. A NanoWriMo project that stalled out fast, maybe 20% done. I like the idea, though.
  13. A sequel to Summer Rain that takes place 30 years later. Lots of notes and a few vague outlines, but there are various political reasons I can’t do this.
  14. An essay book about dead malls. I have a few thousand words of notes on this, but I need to stop it with the dead mall shit.
  15. Untitled book about two guys who move to Florida and start a UFO cult that becomes a mainstream new-age movement and is completely corrupted by a corporation. ~70,000 words. Largely dead because too much of the plot is like the TV show People of Earth, which came out five years after I started this.
  16. A collection of Air in the Paragraph Line #1-7. ~45,000 words. I have no real motivation to release this, because it’s all been released and the writing is so dated.
  17. A book of essays expanded from posts here. There’s millions of words on this blog, and have been various attempts to do this. I’m looking at one from 2014 that’s about 85,000 words. I did this with my 1997-1999 blog posts and sold like three copies, so I have little motivation to do this.
  18. Daily automatic writing archive 2009-2014. 440,000 words. Some has been published here or recycled into stories, but maybe 75% of it is just sitting there.

I’m working on 1 and 2. In the first week of December, I’ll panic and do another short placeholder book like Ranch: The Musical. Stay tuned.

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birthday, containers, books, cynic, etc

Birthday was okay last week. The superfloat went fine, but I couldn’t 100% lock into it for four hours. I think I’m about done with the whole sensory deprivation thing. I think the meditative part of it is good, and the isolation. But the process, especially with the salt water, is such a pain in the ass. Having to take a shower before and after, and then still having epsom salt stuck in your ears and elsewhere for the rest of the day is a hassle. And too many times, I end up in the tank and have an itch on my eyebrow or face, and I can’t scratch it, or I’ll instantly get salt-soaked water in my eye. I like the ritual I’ve done with it the last three birthdays, but as a general practice, I think it would be easier to just meditate in a dark room for a few hours. Also cheaper.

***

Still working on the stack of Christmas books, which now got hit with another round of birthday additions. I’ve been reading The Box by Marc Levinson, which is a history of the shipping container. Sounds like it would be boring, but it’s actually pretty fascinating, for some reason. Maybe part of the fascination is that I live within walking distance of the Port of Oakland, and always see the giant piles of metal boxes being loaded and unloaded with giant AT-AT-looking cranes. There’s also this timely connection between what’s talked about now with automation and the complete reinvention of the work economy, which is something that also happened in the fifties and sixties as Sea-Land and Matson completely disrupted the shipping industry.

I should be reading fiction, but I haven’t been. The only fiction I’ve read this year was Ben Lerner’s new one, and I was pretty meh on it. Most of the stack is nonfiction, but I imagine I’ll get back to it when I get back to it.

***

I did the usual free book giveaway on the day of my birthday, and gave away Help Me Find My Car Keys… for twenty-four hours. I think something’s gone on with KDP and Amazon is really throttling down these in their algorithm or something. I generally don’t agree with the way the giveaways work, and they’ve never really helped my rankings or sales or whatever. And the whole idea of gaming the algorithm and chasing numbers is part of the big race to the bottom that is destroying publishing. But I noticed a really large drop-off this time over last year, even though more people shared the giveaway. Yeah, my books suck and I’m horrible and I write unmarketable garbage, etc. But there’s something really up with it, and my conspiracy theory is that the numbers are being gamed because of Amazon’s paid placement ads, which I refuse to participate in. If they haven’t already, they are probably getting to the point where they will make more money on ads than on their cut of self-published books. Why mine for gold when you can get rich selling the shovels, right?

Another Kindle thing I did not know about, because I do not pay attention to this stuff at all: you used to be able to do a match thing where people who bought your paperback book got a free or discounted copy of the Kindle version. Looks like they took that away. I thought that was a great feature and I enabled it on all of my books, because I think charging people twice is sort of bullshit. But, no more. Sorry about that. Talk to Jeff.

Despite all of this, I quietly made the decision to stop publishing my books over on Smashwords. The ebook war is over and Amazon won. Having the books on Smashwords was a huge pain in the ass, produced a vastly inferior product, and almost nobody bought them there. I had a brief blip of Nook sales there a few years back, but not much else. If Amazon’s self-publishing completely implodes and they start charging a hundred bucks a book to publish to Kindle, I’ll ditch them and move to Smashwords, or whoever else. Or I’ll print out copies on my inkjet and staple them myself. Whatever.

***

Everyone’s talking about Kobe’s death today, but I’m still thinking about Sean Reinert, the drummer of Cynic, who died unexpectedly Friday. My memories of the band Cynic are how they were first a demo band in the late 80s and start of 90s, putting out these demo tapes that were absolutely brutal and technical and exact and powerful, probably better than most studio albums coming out, even at this apex area of the first wave of death metal and grindcore. They were signed by Roadrunner and recorded their fourth demo with them, and everyone was wildly awaiting their debut album.

There was a lot of delay after that, though. Reinert and guitarist Paul Masvidal played on the Death album Human, and were on tour with them when they ran into various financial/managerial/legal issues and ended up having their gear confiscated by a UK promoter for six months. The next year, the day they planned to go into the studio to record their debut, Hurricane Andrew hit Florida and destroyed their studio and equipment. They eventually recorded their first album Focus and released it in 1993, disbanding after that, with everyone going off to record 863 different solo/session projects after that.

The thing I remember most about Focus and Reinert’s work is that he really wasn’t a metal drummer. He obviously was the drummer in many metal bands, but his playing was very jazz/fusion-influenced, more prog-rock than the straightforward blast beat/double-bass stuff on almost every band that came out after Morbid Angel. I listened to that first Cynic album constantly in 1993, right on the tail end of my involvement in death metal, around the time I eventually decided to stop publishing my zine and go on to other stuff. But I always remember being mesmerized by that album, even as I was getting bored with mainstream metal.

Anyway, this is another one of those things where a guy who is actually younger than me dropped dead, with no cancers or medical problems, no drug use, no helicopter crash, and nothing else that would make one launch into the usual “better place” speech. Ugh.

***

Not much else going on. I still feel sick from the break, and can’t believe it hasn’t 100% gone away. It’s starting to almost get nice enough to walk outside now, so I’ll hopefully stop mall-walking soon. Writing’s writing. More on that later, maybe.

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