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general

New camera: Canon EOS 620

Because apparently I don’t have enough film cameras in the house, I got another one recently: the Canon EOS 620.

Film isn’t cheap right now, and some cameras are getting ridiculous. The Canonet QL17 rangefinder I bought in 2014, probably one of my best film cameras, costs roughly three times as much on the open market now. An Olympus XA2 you couldn’t give away for $20 back in the early 00s when digital hit could easily fetch $150 or more on the bay. Don’t even think about a used Leica.

But there’s a weird bubble at the end of the film era, where nobody wants those cameras. And that’s really interesting to me. I never had an SLR in college. Always wanted one, but wasn’t serious enough to drop the equivalent of a semester of tuition on a full kit. I could barely afford the hundred-dollar point-and-shoot Vivitar I bought in 1993. Now, these end-of-film-era cameras are going for cheap prices, maybe because they’re so similar to their digital counterparts.

Canon came out with the EOS 650 in 1987. (The EOS 620 came out a few months later, and added a faster shutter and some other minor improvements, despite the smaller model number.) The EOS was essentially a blank-slate start to an SLR, turning its back on the manual FD lens platform, and doing everything right the first time. Nikon was the choice of pros back then, and couldn’t turn their back on professionals who had massive investments in their existing lens system. Canon rolled the dice on this, and it was a good call.

The EOS 650 is built around the EF lens. EF stands for “Electro-Focus” and it’s an autofocus lens with no central mechanics in the camera itself. On previous systems, little gears levers or mechanical plungers were used between lenses and the body, so motors and other guts were kept in the camera itself. With an EF lens, there are seven little electrical contacts, and it’s all fly-by-wire. The lens contains any motors or electronics it needs to work. This was science fiction in 1987.

(Fun trivia: the very first image ever posted to the World Wide Web was taken with an EOS 650 and then scanned to a file. I’m not going to link to a Gizmodo story, but look it up.)

The EOS 650 (and 620) is also noteworthy because every EOS camera after it is based on the same essential design. I have the 620 and an EOS 750D sitting next to each other on my desk. The 620 is almost 30 years older, and the latter is a 24-megapixel digital camera that shoots video and has a fold-out screen. But there’s something in the basic design language that’s incredibly familiar with the two. Buttons are in the same place; the right grip feels similar; they both have a display on the upper right. The view through the viewfinder, the green aperture/shutter speed display below the image, looks almost identical. Obviously, one’s got no fold-out LCD screen and a little window that shows if the film is loaded, but they are very much from the same lineage.

The big attraction there is that the EOS 620 uses any EF lens from 1987 to present, and so do my DSLRs. I have a “nifty fifty” 50mm prime lens that I use a lot, and I slapped it on the 620, no problem. I’ve also got a nice 28-135 lens, and it works great on either.

(Minor nit: EF-S lenses made for crop-sensor APS-C digital cameras won’t work, and I’ve unfortunately got a lot of great EF-S lenses. Good news is EF lenses work great on APS-C cameras.)

(A less than minor nit: now that everyone’s going mirrorless, Canon’s introduced a new lens type called the RF. Mirrorless cameras with the RF mount can buy an optional adaptor and use their EF and EF-S lenses, but you can’t do the opposite. And there aren’t that many RF lenses yet. Also, this is the second time Canon’s tried this stunt. I have their older EOS-M, which used EF-M lenses, or an EF/EF-S adaptor. I’m not about to buy into this new system and have them change their mind a third time.)

Anyway, the EOS 620 is a strange shooting experience, because in many ways, it’s a normal shooting experience. It’s got a decent fast autofocus; a nice light meter; similar shooting modes and metering and exposure modes and all the usual stuff. Set it to P and shoot just like you would with a Canon Rebel. Swap to Tv or Av, same deal. Or shut off everything and go full manual. The one difference you’ll notice is the satisfying ca-chunk when you hit the shutter. It feels like a “real” camera.

There are some other advanced features I’d never expected in a film camera. The film loading is auto-everything, completely motorized. I guess my Vivitar point-shoot does this, but you drop in a cartridge, close the back, and it sucks in the film and tells you the frame number on the top. It’s fully motorized and fast (for the time), so you can set it on auto, hold down the shutter, and burn through three frames a second, much faster than simply lighting twenty-dollar bills on fire. And I never realized there were film cameras that did exposure bracketing, but if you want to shoot over/at/under a given exposure, set it to AEB and eat film three times as fast.

I think one thing that’s missing is there’s not any mystique or difference in the shooting experience versus using a modern DSLR. With a quirky camera like my Olympus Trip 35 or some vintage Polaroid, it’s so different from the typical experience, it’s like going from a Toyota Corolla to a Model T Ford with no roof. The 620 is like going from a 2015 Corolla to a 1995 Corolla. But try hand-cranking a Model T a few times, and you’ll see why a Corolla has its advantages. This won’t have any vintage vignetting or lens distortion like my toy cameras, but it will be nice to have something full-auto with no film loading drama involved.

Anyway, ran through a roll already, but let me do a few more and then get them off to the lab and see how it goes.

Related news: Kodak’s upping their film price by 25% in 2022. I’ve already started hoarding; I think I picked up 20 rolls since I heard that news.

 

Categories
general

Photo book, film, rain

I have a new photo book out. It is prohibitively expensive, but was fun to do. I enjoy making photo books on Blurb, but I don’t expect to sell any of them. It’s great to do if you want a few copies to have around the house, but like I said, Blurb’s prices are a bit insane, and just got worse. If you’re really interested, it’s available here, but I won’t be offended if it sells zero copies, so no pressure.

The book started as a dumb collection of my old Hipstamatic images, taken starting in about 2010, when that app was still A Thing. Then Instagram got bought by Facebook, and it all ended for them. But there was that brief era when it was fun to take pictures that looked like ancient film snapshots. And it was at the same time that I always had an iPhone with me, and photography went from something I only did on vacations or specific photo safari missions to an activity I did any time I was wandering from point A to point B and saw something interesting. Anyway, the book started as just a dumping ground of images, but the story of Hipstamatic and my memories of it gave it a through line, and I wrote a few hundred words about it in there. Maybe I will post the text here later. I definitely am not doing an eBook version, because Blurb would probably set the minimum price at ten dollars for a 24-page PDF.

* * *

I have been doing a lot more photography lately. I’m at the point where I’m hoarding film and trying to sort and order and edit and post things here and there on Instagram. (Yes, I now use them, even though they killed off Hipstagram.)

I don’t consider myself a great or even a good photographer. I think the best pictures I’ve taken were accidents. I mostly try to capture memories as best I can. I feel like I need to do more of it to get better, so that’s where I am with it.

And it’s a distraction. I need more distractions. I have been trying to practice bass, and take pictures. I’ve been scaling back on everything else. More on that later, maybe.

* * *

It is pouring rain outside. We got more rain today than we did from March to October. So, this is winter for us. Dark, windy, and time to dig out the full-spectrum light. The concrete walls in the garage are weeping, and it looks like some biblical miracle where people flock to a remote corner of France to see a “crying stone” or whatever. So that’s going on.

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general

Film, memoirs, rollovers

I just got back from another walk around NAS Alameda with two of my film cameras, the Vivitar point-and-shoot and the Canon QL-17. Nice weather for a walk, although there was some event going on and the west side of the island was far too busy for me. I should probably get used to that, because at some point, they’ll tear down the old barracks and put in live/work condos and it will always be this busy.

Shooting with that Vivitar is always weird, because sometimes I forget it isn’t the same one that I bought in 1993 and had back in the 90s. When I’m walking around the Bay Area with it, it’s a strong memory hole back to my first trip to California in 1996.  Looking at grainy, faded analog pictures (like the one above) reminds me so much of that trip, and the late 90s San Francisco, and it makes me wonder what it will be like in 2045, looking at 20-megapixel DSLR images on whatever crazy 3-D 200K screens we’ll be staring at by then. (Provided I still have vision in 25 years. And will still be alive.)

I made a vow to not buy any more film until I shot everything I have on hand, and I did that today, minus the 20-some shots of black-and-white still in the Canon. I’m expecting some crazy supply-chain stuff that’s going to completely throw that off, though. I haven’t bought any film since 2018, and I’m sure things have changed. I’ve got a dozen rolls waiting to be processed, so maybe when I drop those off at Mike’s Camera next weekend, I’ll see what they have in stock. Or, it’s off to eBay.

* * *

Writing is still going nowhere. This week, I was revisiting a book I started writing in 2012. I’ve tried a few times writing a book that is basically a Summer Rain prequel, that takes place in the summer of 1989, between high school and college. I’ve had at least two false starts totaling maybe 100,000 words between them, and they always die about halfway through. I started a very Raymond Federman-esque book in ’12 that was about the attempts to write this book, and the problems therein. It came from reading Double or Nothing too many times.

I thought I’d revisit it, thinking about how I look back at that era as a 50-year-old, and all of the problems I have now with nostalgia. And maybe a meditation on the need to write a memoir, and why it’s a bad idea, or has been distorted or changed in recent years. I think when I was living in that era, and a bunch of stuff happened that summer, I always thought, “this would make a great book,” because it all lined up so exactly with the traditional novel plot curve, and the events were so extraordinary or traumatic or whatever. That was before I considered myself a writer, and back then, writing a book was a giant, insurmountable goal, like climbing a mountain or running a marathon. The idea of “getting published” was such a high bar, a lofty thing, and I always thought maybe someday I would.

Now, I’ve published so many books I can never remember how many and have to look it up any time someone asks. (It’s seventeen, more or less.) Anyone can publish their own book in five minutes. And the national zeitgeist isn’t about publishing a book, because nobody even reads books anymore. It’s about going viral, making a fifteen-second video that catches on, or whatever. Old man shakes fist at air, I know.

The other main reason I need to put this down is I know I have some deep, unsettled trauma about those years. It’s not like Trauma trauma, like I watched my parents get killed after going out to a movie and had to become a crime fighter dressed as a Chiroptera. But there’s some heavy unresolved something there, something that’s best left alone. Nothing specific, just generalized. I don’t want to spend my time going back anymore. But it’s a problem that when I’m faced with a blank page and no ideas, that’s where I go.

* * *

Nothing else. I wasted about half of today trying to figure out how to roll over an IRA from Schwab to E*Trade. That place I worked in Denver got bought by McAfee a long time ago, and I had like a month of 401K stuck there, which got moved to an IRA, and they mailed everything to my old address and it got lost. After much phone tag, I found it sitting in an account at Schwab, then promptly forgot all about it. I just remembered, and 25% of it is gone because of fees. I thought transferring it would involve actually finding a fax machine in 2021, but it appears they take a PDF by email. Fingers crossed.

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general

videos, writing, programming, pocket computer

I am sort of done with the Random Life project. There are 100 videos there now. It was fun digging through some old stuff, but I got almost zero reaction from anyone out of it, and maybe it was a dumb idea. Oh well. Maybe in two or three years, I’ll look at it again and it will be interesting.

Been insanely busy with a big work release, and that’s finally done, but I haven’t been back on the horse with anything writing since then. It’s the time of year where I start to panic about not getting a book published this year, since the last year I had nothing published was 2010. But I’m in a weird place right now, where I am having a lot of trouble writing anything cohesive. I am just repeating myself at this point, and I really don’t like what I’ve been doing the last few books. And a lot of people agree, based on my sales numbers. So who knows what I will do. Maybe I will pull something together in the next 96 days. Or maybe I will pick up this writing thing after I retire. I really don’t know.

* * *
For whatever reason, I started programming again. One of the three projects I always take up when I think I’m going to learn programming is writing a Zork-like game, a text-based RPG. Yes, I could just use Twine or some other game engine to do this. I mean, I could just play Zork. This is mostly just a dumb hobby for me to do because I can’t write, I don’t want to spend two thousand dollars on a gaming PC, and I am not about to start playing golf.

So I started writing this game in straight vanilla C, with nothing but the standard library. I still know a remarkable amount of C, given that I think I learned it thirty years ago. What I didn’t remember is that C is such a pain in the ass to work with. Every data structure that isn’t an integer requires you to either write or steal a library to do it. Dynamic arrays? DIY. Binary trees? You’re on your own. It all involves pointers and malloc’ing memory, and every time I would write ten lines of code, I’d think, “well, that’s going to break in actual use” or “that’s completely insecure.” I got a few hundred lines into the thing before I decided to switch to using Ruby.

I guess Ruby is now an inherently uncool language. All the cool kids use Rust, or JavaScript, or maybe Python. I first started messing with Ruby in the context of Rails development in 2006 or 2007, and spent a couple of years doing a ton of it, on a brief  sabbatical from tech writing. Haven’t done much since then, but I thought maybe I’d do this game in Ruby, no Rails, no ActiveRecord, no crazy gem dependencies. I think it took me about 25 minutes to redo the couple of days of work I did in C.

It was easy to get lost in this, but I also ran into a few issues. The first is the constant though of “nobody uses Ruby anymore.” The other is thinking that some bit of code is a very un-Ruby way to do things. I started reading more about Ruby, and it sort of drove me nuts because the Ruby way to do stuff is usually inherently unreadable. It’s neat and cool, but in my mind, doing a “if this thing is nil, do something else” is more readable than “do something else unless this thing is nil.” I realize I’m probably losing all of you non-programmers here, and I’m being pedantic, but I have some basic fear of writing this thing, publishing it on GitHub, and then having a seasoned veteran look at it like I’d look at a Reddit DIY post about some idiot who proudly enlarged their living room by removing every load-bearing interior wall in their house.

Also I get to the “why are you even doing this?” point. And the fact that I’m relaxing after a dozen of hours of hacking away at unreadable garbage in the Atom editor and pushing it to GitHub by spending a few hours hacking away at unreadable garbage in the Atom editor and pushing it to GitHub. So, yeah. How much does golf cost?

* * *

I bought this “Pocket Computer” – a Sharp PC-E500S. It came out in 1995, and has 32KB of memory. It’s roughly half the size of an iPad lengthwise, about 9×4 inches, maybe 3/4-inch thick. It has a 4×40-character display, LCD, and more or less a full QWERTY keyboard, except plastic little keys like a calculator. You can write BASIC programs in it, but it also has a bunch of crazy engineering software in it, so you can do integral calculus or pull up a periodic table of elements. It runs forever on four AAA batteries.

I don’t really know what I’ll do with it. I won it on a lark – made a hail mary offer on it on eBay, and the seller accepted. It has a serial port that uses a connector I’ve never seen, and a cartridge port for proprietary memory cards that are impossible to find. It is slightly more useful and interesting than the Casio FX-7000GA I have from 1990, which currently spends its time in a storage container in my closet. I need to keep in mind that buying things doesn’t really give me the joy I think it will.

* * *

The helicopter picture above is apropos of nothing. It’s from my Alaska trip in 2006. I think I’m at the point where I want to go back to Alaska, and I’m currently stuck with a bunch of Alaska Air credits I can’t use, but who knows when it will be safe to get back up there. I sometimes think it would be cool to go further north, head up to Fairbanks, but I don’t know the logistics of it. Maybe at some point.

Categories
general

Random Life, Data Hoarding, Pictures

The Random Life project is running out of steam, which is fine. I have posted 100 videos, and I’m about out of footage. They’re scheduled to come out one a day for the next month. 81 are live as of this second. I might get bored and post all of them in one big deluge. I’ve pretty much scoured all of my old tapes and what’s come out of my digital cameras. Maybe a second pass through the old Hi8 would reveal more, but I think doing more on this involves me leaving the house, which won’t happen any time soon.

I had some vague idea that I’d take all of the footage — I’m not sure how long it is, maybe an hour? — and glue it all together and make one long “movie” out of it. There are a few problems with that, most notably that that aspect ratios of things differ. The other is that iDVD was the perfect software for making a nice version of this, and it died a few years ago. Also, I thought it would be neat to list it using CreateSpace, and I could order DVDs on demand, but they stopped doing that a while ago. And I don’t know how I would even play a DVD anymore, without digging out an old external drive. The other issue is that with no plot or linear story, people wouldn’t “get it,” which is probably why the project has mostly gone nowhere. But I’m sure in a year or two when this is completely out of my head, this will seem interesting again.

* * *

So, I’ve had FreeNAS installed on my data hoarding server since maybe 2014, and never updated it. The machine itself is a Lenovo TS-140, which is great because it’s low-power but also supports server-type stuff like ECC memory. I threw FreeNAS on it and set up a ZFS pool with three drives in it, which gave me something like three or four terabytes of redundant storage. I run Plex on it and it can transcode videos on-the-fly, which is good because every time I have an AVI or something and I need to watch it on a real TV, I don’t want to have to google the entire history of video compression to figure out how to view it. The server is also a black hole of large PDFs I will never read. There’s about a half-terabyte of government PDFs about UFOs, and I now have zero interest in that, but I can’t just delete them.

Anyway, I had a drive fail in that pool in 2019? or so, and it was an easy and fun process to replace it. No data loss, because of the redundancy. I bought a larger drive, swapped it out, and it “resilvered” it with the stripes of redundant data from the other ones and magically healed itself. The pool size is calculated based on the smallest drive in the pool, and that thing had two 3TB drives and I replaced the dead one with a 4TB, but didn’t have the cash or will to buy three new drives. I replaced the 3TB with a 6TB, and that expanded the pool to 5TB. If I was smart, I’d do the math and come up with some schedule where I rotated out the oldest drive with the biggest I could afford at some regular interval, but I’m too lazy to figure this out.

Felt a need to upgrade this thing, because I’m sure it’s full of security holes, and my TV started complaining it needed a newer version of Plex, and the NAS wouldn’t upgrade it anymore until I upgraded the OS. I thought maybe I’d do incremental upgrades, like go from 9.0 to 9.1 to 10.0, etc etc. I did the first minor upgrade and it bricked the machine. So I needed a different plan.

I’d heard the new versions of TrueNAS (they changed the name from FreeNAS for some damn reason, probably money-related) kill USB thumb drives, which I was using to boot for the last 7 years. I’m surprised that one lasted as long as it did. So I bought a small SSD drive (120GB) for thirty bucks, and installed that in the box as a boot drive. Then I got the latest TrueNAS installer, booted from that, and did a fresh install. Imported the old pool, installed a fresh Plex install, added an AFP share so my Macs see it, and done. I ran into zero kinks in the install, and the web dashboard looks all shiny and new.

I just realized nobody will care about the last few paragraphs. I run into that a lot. Why do I even do this anymore? I think someone famous said “I write things down so I won’t forget them.” Or maybe that was the marketing slogan for a hipster notebook. I didn’t write it down, so I forgot.

* * *

Oh yeah, Shuttle photos from the trip are on Flickr: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmWub6uW

Also, I have a ton of pictures of NAS Alameda that need to be sorted and labelled and organized, but here’s a raw dump of all of them: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmWwqwem

I don’t know who still uses Flickr, if anyone. I noticed my last photo dump was my Vegas trip right before the pandemic started. I’m not sure if that’s because of the lack of travel, or my general apathy about sorting and organizing photos.

* * *

I have to drive to the dentist in a minute. I’ve already covered this earlier, but I still go to the dentist I had in 2008 when I lived in South San Francisco. The drive stinks, but he’s a good dentist, and he’s open Saturdays. His practice is attached to a rapidly dying mall, and there are all of the usual ghosts from living there way back when. Oh, and he’s got to drill up two teeth, and I have to pay for it.

Categories
general

Every mall I’ve ever visited (list)

Here is a list of every mall I have ever visited, that I can remember.

A few disclaimers:

  • I only listed enclosed malls (or ones that were enclosed at the time)
  • Some of the names have changed. I’m not going to go through every mall bought by Westfield and change stuff like Fox Hills to Westfield Culver City or whatever.
  • Some city names don’t match actual postal addresses. Like is Mayfair legally in Wauwatosa or Milwaukee? Whatever.
  • I’ve obviously forgotten exact names of places from childhood. I know I’ve been to some malls in St. Louis and Chicago that I’ve forgotten.
  • These are in no real order.
  • This isn’t an encyclopedia or a published peer-reviewed dissertation. It’s a list of memories. Don’t even think about giving me corrections.
  • § = dead or demalled

The list:

  1. Concord Mall, Elkhart, IN
  2. Pierre Moran Mall, Elkhart, IN §
  3. Scottsdale Mall, South Bend, IN §
  4. University Park Mall, Mishawaka, IN
  5. Glenbrook Square, Ft Wayne, IN
  6. College Mall, Bloomington, IN
  7. Southlake Mall, Merrilville, IN
  8. Markland Mall, Kokomo, IN
  9. Lafayette Square Mall, Indianapolis, IN
  10. Oak Ridge Mall, Oak Ridge, TN §
  11. Woodfield Mall Chicago, IL
  12. Northgate Mall, Seattle, WA §
  13. Factoria Mall, Factoria, WA
  14. Southcenter Mall, Seattle, WA
  15. Alderwood Mall, Lynwood, WA
  16. Totem Lake Mall, Kirkland, WA §
  17. Bellevue Square, Bellevue, WA
  18. Columbus City Center, Columbus, OH §
  19. Three Rivers Mall, Kelso, WA
  20. Triangle Mall, Longview, WA §
  21. Lloyd Center Mall, Portland, WA
  22. Manhattan Mall, New York, NY
  23. Newport Center, Jersey City, NJ
  24. Staten Island Mall, Staten Island, NY
  25. The Mall at the World Trade Center, New York, NY §
  26. Queens Center, Queens, NY
  27. Short Hills Mall, Short Hills, NJ
  28. Hudson Valley Mall, Kingston, NY
  29. Pyramid Mall, Ithaca, NY
  30. Roosevelt Field Mall, Long Island, NY
  31. Eaton Centre, Toronto, Ontario
  32. Ala Moana Mall, Honolulu, HI
  33. Lahaina Cannery Mall, Lahaina, HI
  34. Cherry Creek Mall, Denver, CO
  35. Park Meadows Mall, Denver, CO
  36. Fox Hills Mall, Culver City, CA
  37. Beverly Center, Los Angeles, CA
  38. Tanforan Mall, San Bruno, CA
  39. Serramonte Mall, Daly City, CA
  40. Westfield San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
  41. University Mall, Davis, CA
  42. Hilltop Mall, Richmond, CA §
  43. Northgate Mall, San Rafael, CA
  44. Stoneridge Mall, Pleasanton, CA
  45. Vallco Mall, Cupertino, CA §
  46. Sun Valley Mall, Concord, CA
  47. Bayfair Mall, San Leandro CA
  48. Southland Mall, Hayward, CA
  49. Newpark Mall, Newark, CA
  50. Eastridge Mall, San Jose, CA
  51. Great Mall, Milpitas, CA
  52. Sears Mall, Anchorage, AK
  53. Fifth ave mall, Anchorage, AK
  54. Meadowood mall, Reno, NV
  55. Reno town mall, Reno, NV
  56. Fashion show Las Vegas, NV
  57. Boulevard mall Las Vegas, NV
  58. Meadows mall Las Vegas, NV
  59. Galleria at sunset, Henderson, NV
  60. Grand Canal Shops at the Venetian, Las Vegas, NV
  61. Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas, NV
  62. Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas, NV
  63. The Shops at Crystals, Las Vegas, NV
  64. Mayfair mall, Milwaukee, WI
  65. Bayshore, Milwaukee, WI
  66. Southridge, Milwaukee, WI
  67. Grand Avenue, Milwaukee, WI §
  68. Galleria at Redondo Beach, Redondo Beach, CA
  69. Galleria at Sherman Oaks, Sherman Oaks, CA §
  70. Tyrone Square, St Petersburg, FL
  71. Tampa Bay Center, Tampa, FL
  72. Regency Mall, Racine, WI
  73. MyZeil mall, Frankfurt, Germany
Categories
general

Back to Earth

I guess I’ve been back from LA for almost a week, but haven’t done the full stupid trip report, as usual. Not a lot to report; I tried to get out and do a few things, but I wanted to avoid three particular activities: eating ten times the normal amount; doing tourist trap stuff; and catching the plague. I gained a pound and a half, but tested negative on Friday, so partial success, I guess.

Let me try to reconstruct a bulleted list of stuff:

  • I forgot to mention, but the new gear for the Random Life project is a DJI Osmo Action camera, which is essentially a GoPro competitor. It’s about 2×3 inches, an inch thick, with screens on the front and back, waterproof (allegedly), and takes both still or a variety of video formats, up to 4K. It is extremely tiny. In practice, I found that it’s great for dash cam footage or tripod use, and would be good if I did any sport more extreme than walking. When I’m just randomly walking, I found that I would never hold the thing perfectly straight, which is problematic. Wind noise can be an issue too, I guess. Anyway, I brought that, the Canon EOS M mirrorless, and my DSLR, which never left the case. The mirrorless was great for quick shots, but horrible for video. Oh, I had an analog point-and-shoot, the Vivitar, but only shot maybe a roll of film.
  • Went walking at Dockweiler beach one morning. I used to live just east of here, and would walk to the beach a lot during the day. It was pretty empty but a lot more people than I expected. I got there just as the marine layer was not yet clear, and there was a slight haze over the air. It’s so peaceful on that beach, and I wish I still lived nearby so I could walk it every day in the morning.
  • Went to Santa Monica and saw the Space Shuttle Endeavour. There’s some other great stuff to see at the science center, like they have a Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsule, and the only surviving F-20 prototype. But I hustled past everything to get to the Shuttle. It did not disappoint. I was such a huge space nerd as a kid, and the Shuttles were such a big part of my childhood, it honestly made me emotional just to be standing right next to one. It’s also amazing to look at one up close, because from a distance, they look like an airplane with a solid metal body painted white and black, but when you’re a few feet away, you see that it’s made of 21,000 tiles, which look like a reptile’s skin. I took many laps and many pictures around the thing, and the museum was almost dead on a Monday morning, which made it even more awesome.
  • I mentioned the malls in the last post, and didn’t go to any others. Fox Hills (aka Westfield Culver City) was too new and bland with the latest refresh; Galleria Redondo Beach had some good bones to it, but looked like it was in the slow slide;  Galleria Sherman Oaks is now an office building (no more Fast Times); FIGat7th is not a mall at all, just a semicircle of stores downtown, with insane parking fees.
  • Always fun to go back to Ralph’s, and even more weird when it’s the one I used to shop at every week. I forgot that I still have a Ralph’s fob on my keychain. Also forgot that their parent company is one of our biggest customers at the day job.
  • If you were looking to buy houses in LA in 2008 and still remember the prices, do not go window-shopping on Zillow. Just don’t do it.
  • The Promenade in Santa Monica was somewhat depressing to me. I think I’m used to going on a Saturday afternoon in the summer when it’s busy and there isn’t a pandemic going on, so going on a Wednesday morning was a drag.
  • I’ve never been to the Getty, so I drove up there and checked it out. I was more interested in the buildings and grounds, even more than the art. You park at the bottom of a giant hill and take this tram that snakes upward for a mile, but you can also hoof it, which was a nice break. Lots of great architecture, and amazing views of the city from up there.
  • Went to an air museum in Torrance, at Zamperini Field. I primarily went because they have two rare prototype planes there: Northrop’s YF-17 and YF-23, which are the planes that lost out to the F-16 and F-22 in bake-off competitions. Unfortunately, both are locked down in a part of the field you can’t get to right now. But they had a lot of other great stuff on display, and were very nice and helpful there.
  • I ate a lot, ate too much junk. Went to Shake Shack twice. In-N-Out once. Went to Carl’s Jr. once to try their chicken sandwich and only got halfway through it before I had to pitch it, because it tasted like it had a cup of mayo on it. I went to Veggie Grill I think three times, because it was a 30-minute walk each way, and I needed the walk. I walked 30 miles over the course of the week.
  • Didn’t get a lot of writing done. Got some video editing finished. Some reading. I realized how hard it is for me to relax in general. But at least I didn’t check work email.
  • Trip back was pretty easy, and ran into no traffic on the way out of LA. Two traffic jams in the middle of the state, so there’s that.
  • No pictures posted, maybe I’ll get to it. Videos have been showing up or are scheduled on Random Life, so like, share, subscribe, etc.
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The Second

So, change of plans on the Seattle thing. I am not ready to fly. And I’m not ready to see people, or see any of the various ghosts of Seattle that would bother me. And then there’s Delta. So, about two days before leaving, I canceled everything, backed out, and then needed to correct course. I wanted a place to hide out for a week, somewhere that wasn’t in the bay area, wasn’t Las Vegas, and was somewhat within driving distance.

So, I’ve been in Los Angeles since Saturday. More specifically, I’m staying in a residency suite in El Segundo, which is about five miles from my 2008 apartment. I figured the weather was nicer here, it was all easy to drive, and maybe I’d see some malls and get some writing done. And of course that hasn’t happened.

* * *

First, the drive down took about six hours and change, a pretty much straight shot through the middle of the state on I-5. The longest trip I’ve taken in this car was maybe two hours. I did the SF-LA round trip a couple of times in 08 with the Yaris, but it’s been a while. And it’s been a while since I’ve done any long-distance driving. (I have had four-hour drives home from work, but that was about 38 miles.)

The middle of the state is a strange world, and reminds me of what’s left on the surface of the planet in those Asimov robot books where everyone lives underground. It’s factory farms in every direction, broken up by stretches of nothingness. It would be the perfect long run to zone out on some true crime podcast, except it’s two lanes each way, and a constant war between people going way too fast in the left lane and way too slow in the right. There was also this strange haze in the air for the entire trip. At first I thought it was just morning fog, but after I got further south, I could tell it was some combination of agricultural dust and the debris from the fires up north, getting sucked into the wind tunnel of the central valley.

I stopped about two or three hours in for lunch, at this weird little non-town that was nothing but four mega-stations on each corner of an intersection, each with a fast food place grafted onto it. A bit further out, an older set of fast food joints lay abandoned, either arsoned or destroyed by the elements and vandals, probably stripped of any metal. I got out of my car at the gas station and realized the temperature had risen maybe forty degrees since I left the house. There was no sun overhead, just an amber-brown haze of dust.Too bad John Steinbeck’s not around to write a sequel.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. I had to stop maybe 50 miles out from the hotel for a tank of gas. Not only had I forgotten to turn on Eco mode, which cut my range maybe thirty miles, but I didn’t remember that the last bit was a rough uphill climb through the pass, going from sea level to about 4400 feet and back down. I went to a station right by Magic Mountain, which reminds me of my very first trip to LA in 1997. No restroom there, so I went to a McDonald’s, After using the facilities there, I ordered a drink and some fries that I probably should not have eaten anyway. After ten or fifteen minutes of waiting for a simple order, I said fuck it and left, $3.14 off into the universe.

Once I got back on the highway, it was pretty much bumper-to-bumper for the next fifty miles. Welcome to Los Angeles.

* * *

Somewhere on the 405, Google Maps started complaining about the traffic and routing me onto various parallel surface roads, which I usually ignore, but this time I went for it and dumped off on Sawtelle, maybe around West Los Angeles. And then it became rows of tall palm trees and tournefortia, rows of rancher houses and stucco cottages. And the first reaction was that I really, really missed LA.

And then it was weird, because I’d shut off the GPS, and was just driving, and I realized that Sawtelle runs into Culver, and Culver runs out almost to the ocean, and hits Pershing, and Pershing goes straight to my old apartment. And keep going past LAX, and hang a left on Imperial Highway, then a right on Sepulveda, and you’re at the strip of stores like my old Walgreen’s and my old Ralph’s. And hang a left a block from that, and there’s my hotel. The entire week has been half-remembered connections like that, strange deja-vu moments of remembering driving on a road a dozen years ago, and that it connects with another road and goes to another neighborhood I dimly remember.

* * *

I had almost zero plans coming down here, except that I brought all of my photo gear, thinking I’d take pictures, and of course I haven’t. I thought about going to every mall I could find, and made a list of maybe a dozen of them. But every mall has been bought by Westfield and looks identical. I went to what was Fox Hills Mall, and it feels like it was 100% changed from when I was last there in 2008. Went to the Galleria in Redondo Beach, and it has the bones of a great mall — three stories, giant domed ceilings, plenty of walkways — but it’s largely abandoned. When your Nordstrom leaves and the anchor becomes a dinosaur museum that doesn’t have actual dinosaurs in it, good luck. Today I drove out to Sherman Oaks to look at the galleria that was in Fast Times and Valley Girl, and I should have read the wikipedia before I left, because it was redeveloped into office space.

That’s been the depressing theme here. Everything has been redeveloped. I only lived here for about six months of 2008, so my set of reference points is very small. But it seems like every place I ate or shopped or hung out has been completely nuked. Any strip mall with a large parking lot has been blown up and replaced by a 500-unit apartment building with a Trader Joe’s on the ground floor. I was in the middle of a weight loss thing when I was in LA, and only ate at two places: Koo Koo Roo chicken and Souplantation. Both of those chains are bankrupt. The tiki-themed Fry’s Electronics down in Manhattan Beach went bankrupt. The Panera in Marina del Rey is now a physical therapy place. It’s understandable that chains flip and new things come in, but there’s an insane amount of redevelopment. I guess that’s better than closing stuff down and letting it sit vacant for tax purposes, though.

* * *

Anyway. There’s probably more to write about here, but I have to get stuff done. I have been mostly hiding out in this hotel room, because it has a kitchen and an office, and I can get from the room to my car without passing through a common area. There’s a staircase downstairs, and nobody here uses stairs. Other than that, it’s mostly been driving around randomly. It’s weird to have my own car, And LA is driveable, but not parkable. I went to the new “mall” at Figueroa, which turned out to not be a mall, but three anchors butted together with a piss-poor food court. I turned around and left, and that was $21 in parking. Went to the beach Sunday morning for an early morning walk: $13. An hour at the science center: $20. And the hotel is charging me $15 a day to park, too.

I’ll be here until Saturday. I should probably hit the book stores tomorrow, since I don’t have a weight restriction on my return luggage.

Oh, the title. El Segundo is Spanish for “The Second.” It’s where Chevron’s second refinery is.

Also, still working on this: Random Life. Check it.

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New Project: Random Life

I’m starting a new video project. It is called Random Life.

TL;DR: Random Life

The long story:

I have always been a fan of Structural films, or minimalist filmmaking. This started with Richard Linklater’s movie Slacker, which I always liked because it captured the zeitgeist of a college campus at the end of the 80s/start of the 90s. I think a lot of people like the funny characters and weirdos of the movie, and I appreciate that, and the non-linear-but-really-linear structure, which was a big influence for my second book. But what really got me was how it captured the atmosphere of being on a campus in the summer. It trapped in amber that feeling, the sparseness and the undertone of it, the wide shots of off-campus housing and dive bars and Texas landscape.

Go backwards a step and you get to his earlier self-produced film, It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books. This is a largely non-narrative movie he shot on his own, about 90 minutes of Super-8 footage of him taking a trip on Amtrak to Montana to hang out with some friends. This is like Slacker minus the plot gimmick, and most people would think this is like watching paint dry, but I’ve probably watched it a hundred times. I sometimes leave it on a loop while I’m writing. It documents that exact time in history perfectly, the way it looked in 1987 or so, living in the dregs of student/dropout life.

The commentary of that movie led me to Structural films, like Michael Snow or George Landow, and then thanks to Linklater, I fell down a deep wormhole on minimalist James Benning. There’s a lot to be covered there, and it gets a little too art-school, especially in how it’s framed and explained for galleries. But at least there’s a formal name for it, and it’s a thing.

Another thing: I love “slow YouTube.” This started with Astronaut.io, which I’ve covered before, but is a great way to watch short clips from an endless list of random, no-traffic videos. Then I got into long videos, things I could run in the background. A couple of my favorites were a guy in the middle of nowhere in Sweden, building a log cabin by hand and a seven-hour train ride from Bergen to Oslo, Norway. These have a specific audience, and probably aren’t great for folks who expect a Pixar-perfect plot line in everything they watch, or if you have zero attention span. But I love this stuff.

I also love videos that are documentation. The classic example is Heavy Metal Parking Lot, but there are so many other gems out there, like this video of a 7-11 at 2:30 in the morning in 1987. Or Lyle Hiroshi Saxon has a YouTube channel that has videos going back 30 years of him wandering around Japan for hours, capturing nothing in particular but everything. And my absolute favorite of this genre is Nelson Sullivan. He dragged a full-size VHS camera and shoulder-luggable deck through Manhattan in the 80s, capturing tons and tons of footage of the club, arts, and drag scene back then. It’s awesome that he captured and documented a large amount of musical performances and shows, but the stuff I love is when he’s randomly taking a beat-up subway to Coney Island in the 80s.

Vlogging is common now. But today’s influencers are chasing viral attention and endorsements. Their short action-driven bits about product placement are meant to draw people in quick. Everything is overproduced and a two minute video will have three minutes of ads. I have no use for that. I want raw footage that goes nowhere.

* * *

So, the project.

I bought a camcorder in 1996. I don’t know why, maybe I thought I would Kevin Smith a film, or maybe a bonus check burning a hole in my pocket. I shot some random stuff with it, and used it a lot on my 1999 trip across the country. It was a huge pain in the ass to lug around, and I didn’t vacation much. But I shot maybe a dozen and a half tapes in the 90s. I never did anything with them because they had no narrative, and they also didn’t look great: grainy, blown-out colors, too much vignetting in  the lenses. Of course, now people download apps to specifically get that nineties look, so that liability is maybe an asset.

There was a gap there, but then in the late 00s, my point-and-shoot camera could suddenly take videos. And then my iPhone could, and starting in 2014, my DSLRs could shoot movie-grade video. Anyway, I have a ton of old footage I’ve never used, never cut, probably never even watched. And I need to do something with it.

That’s where Random Life comes in. I’m starting to dig through this, and post regularly to that channel. I’ve already started uploading and scheduling daily video drops, and will hopefully keep things good and random. I’ll also start shooting more now. What I shoot now won’t be important, but in ten years, it will be.

The focus: I’m just trying to document. No narrative, no voiceovers, no music, no jokes, no storytelling. I don’t want to appear in the videos, and I don’t want to film characters. No voiceovers. Just footage. AND NO ADS. I’ll probably keep each video short. The goal is to have a full playlist you can put on random and flip through each of these minute-long videos aimlessly. That’s what I want, anyway.

I might quit this in a week, but we’ll see. I have no idea about branding and marketing this thing, and don’t care, but subscribe if you want and let me know what you think.

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The Death of the Good Internet

I’ve been meaning to write a post about this forever, but someone else at The Ringer did such a great job of it. Check it:

The Day the Good Internet Died

The one thing I find interesting about this article is the thought that maybe it wasn’t that the death of Google Reader killed off blogging, but that the death of blogging killed off Google Reader. It’s true that we all devolved into social media doom-scrolling instead of actually reading, but another factor is that Google was pushing people into Google Plus, and the asinine assumption that people would rather find what they wanted to read by scrolling through eleventy million messages rather than going to a list of exactly what they wanted to read. (What Google actually meant was that they wanted you to scroll through eleventy billion messages, with every fourth message being an ad someone paid them to run.)

I’m old enough to remember the first wave of blogs and interesting/time-wasting web sites, because I spent a lot of the late 90s and early 00s paging through them while I was at work or sitting at home without cable TV. But in that pre-Reader era, I did it by having folders of bookmarks. I’d go to my “daily” folder and sequentially click through each bookmark, trying to remember where I left off the day before. This was a great way to waste time, but not user-friendly, and it required me to remember where I left off. (I still had a memory then, which did help.)

Compared to this, Google Reader was amazing. I could keep track of everything in one place, and read the things in order, with counts of unread articles, and indications of what I already did see. All of this was possible because of RSS, which was a perfect example of the interoperable web. The closely-related iGoogle also had the ability to make a widget based on a web page’s RSS feed, and RSS was very integral to the advent of the podcast. It was so mind-blowing and vital at the time, that I hacked together a script that would output RSS for the pre-WordPress version of this blog, which was hacked together with a bunch of homebrew shell scripts, emacs extensions, PHP, and gaffer’s tape.

After the death of GR, I went on to Feedly, but every blog I read either died a high-profile death, or stagnated with no new posts. I keep hearing about these revival of blogging things and people saying Medium or or Longreads or Substack or whatever the hell else is the next big thing. And no matter what it is, it devolves into people selling Tony Robbins-esque bullshit classes on how to get rich in real estate. There are still a ton of people blogging, but “blogs” are now the things hanging off the side of dentists’ web sites and posting daily listicles about proper gum care to increase their SEO.

I used to bitch about how the money people and con men would fuck up the web long before the web even existed. I started throwing letters into this void (ala usenet) before AOL’s Eternal September started. In 1995, at my first real job. I was writing docs for one of the first web browsers that added SSL, while a marketing drone stood in front of my desk barking about how they needed to ship this immediately so they could sell fifty-dollar t-shirts on the web for the first time ever, and I thought this is not going to end well. And it didn’t.

And now, every time Google drops a vital service or Facebook decides they want me to look at stuff in a new inconvenient way, I always have a first thought: maybe I’m just too old for this stuff, and when I lose my shit because I’m forced to watch a TikTok video to figure out how to change my refrigerator’s water filter, I’m doing the same thing my parents did in 1987 when they had an aneurysm and started screaming about the Japanese taking over because channel 16 suddenly moved to channel 34. But then I always remember: follow the money. Google Reader got killed so we could be forced to watch more ads. The Facebook algorithm is set up to force us to watch more ads. Amazon stopped putting the names of products in their receipts because Google was using them to sell more ads. Everything is because of money. I was right. The money people ruin everything.

Baker’s article brings up an old Alex Balk article, which says the following:

Here I will impart to you Balk’s Third Law: “If you think The Internet is terrible now, just wait a while.” The moment you were just in was as good as it got. The stuff you shake your head about now will seem like fucking Shakespeare in 2016.

This is so fucking true it hurts. I blogged almost every day in 2010-2011, frequently wishing blogging was as good as it was in 2004, which is when I was bitching about how much better personal journals (the predecessor to blogs) were back when I started this stupid site in 1996. Now I wish things were as good as 2011.

I always wonder if there will be another era of Good Internet, or if we’re in the middle of it and I don’t realize it. All I know is blogging is still important to me, because I know as long as I keep paying my bills, I can still keep my stuff here, even if nobody can find it anymore.