The Other Northgate

Had the day off yesterday, and I’m still trying to keep this walking thing going, but the weather’s a bit off here. (Not as bad as it is in the Midwest, but still.) I’m getting bored of the usual malls, so I decided to head to a new one out in Marin, which is oddly named Northgate.

Why “oddly?” Well, Seattle’s big mall is named Northgate. It’s one of the oldest indoor malls in the country. Now owned by Simon, it has had several major expansions and remodels, plus the area surrounding it has grown considerably. I spent a lot of time there during my Seattle years, and it was more or less my default mall.

The Northgate mall in San Rafael is a little different. It’s actually pretty close to my place, maybe a thirty-minute burn across the bridge in Richmond, and on into Marin. It’s nestled in the hills about a dozen miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, an area filled with trees, very quiet and secluded.

The mall itself is not huge: a single floor, about 700,000 square feet, a lot of that being in the three anchors. It’s a corridor mall, a single straight shot, with a few dozen stores. It’s clear this used to be two rows of stores, with a hasty roof thrown over the middle to enclose the center. The interior still feels a bit exterior, with concrete floors, monstrously high ceilings, and an “open” climate to it. It’s not exactly comforting, and the concourse is not that big. It’s got two cavernous food court/common areas on the east side, each the size of an aircraft hanger, both largely empty. The interior food court is maybe four booths, and very sedate.

The anchors include a Kohl’s in a neighboring building (which I didn’t see; Kohl’s is Kohl’s), a Sears, and a Macy’s. The Sears is interesting on the outside; it looks like it was built with the original mall in 1965, and has that early Sixties light brick look, plus old-school old Sears logos in red. The interior of the two-story looked very run down, like it hadn’t been touched since 1987. It reminded me of the downtown Oakland Sears that was shuttered, gutted, and turned into office space for Uber (who have since flipped it, and it hasn’t opened, but that’s another story.) The Macy’s was okay. The rest of the stores inside were pretty uneventful.

The mall was gutted and redone in 2008, which is probably when it was given its current livery. It looks like they tried to make it look upscale, like a ski lodge, to attract high-end luxury tenants. If you read the Yelp reviews, people are nostalgic for the 90s look and population of the mall, when it had a book store, an arcade, and better fast food. The only pictures I could find of the old version of the mall look very Peak Mall, like it had been designed in 1993 or so.

One odd feature of this mall is the Century Movies theater. It is plopped down in the middle of the concourse, right before Sears. It’s almost as if they took an existing movie theater, split it in half, and kit-bashed the two pieces on either side of the hall. I was walking down the bare concrete and abandoned stores, then was suddenly on the red carpet of a movie theater, with the smell of popcorn in the air, posters for the new Star Wars all around me. Then, twenty feet later, back to concrete.

There’s also a bunch of food of the 2008 era of mall-building, perched on the west side, facing outwards. There’s all the usual suspects: Panera, Chipotle, BJ’s, Applebee’s, etc. These all seem to be doing well.

The mall was a bit of a bust for walking, although the weather was nice and sunny, so I walked outside, and that worked fine. The mall doesn’t feel like a dead mall per se, like one filled with brown tile from 1974 and a non-functional brick fountain in the middle. But it has a strange, vacant, surreal feeling to it. And who knows what will happen to it, once the Sears shutters. It’s not on the latest list, but it doesn’t look great.

Anyway. The trip was interesting, but it made me think too much about the other Northgate, which was a bit of a bummer. I haven’t been back to Seattle since 1999, and keep thinking I should visit, but I’m a bit scared to see what I will find.

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New Book:  Help Me Find My Car Keys And We Can Drive Out!

I have a new book out. It got released in the last few hours of 2017, which I now realize is the worst possible time to launch a book.

TL;DR: out now on print or kindle.

The book is titled Help Me Find My Car Keys And We Can Drive Out! If you read my zine Mandatory Laxative, this book is similar in style and structure, only it’s five times as long (and doesn’t have any artwork inside, unfortunately.) It’s a hundred pages, thirty things that range from micro-short pieces to flash to lists to almost short story length. Same absurdism as ever, and I can’t really describe it other than to say it is Konrathian.

This book was a last-second idea, because I’ve been struggling for all of 2017 to get a much larger book done, that’s sort of a sequel to Atmospheres. I wrote something like 350,000 words last year, and could not get it to click, could not get it done by December. I was really beating myself up last month, because I’ve put out at least a book a year for the last six years, and I really wanted to get something done in 2017. On the plane ride home from Milwaukee, I got the idea that I should just do another zine, but slightly longer. I throw aside super-short bits that might work for a zine, so I dug around and put together thirty pieces, and here you go. 350,000 words edited down to something like 16,000.

The odds were really against me finishing this in time. I was editing the first draft of the completed ms, and my new computer 100% died. I luckily had a backup in Crashplan, and was able to keep working on my old machine while I got the new one running again.

The cover sucks, and is supposed to suck. The editing is rough, but you get what you pay for. I’ve made this as cheap as possible, so enjoy.

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End of 2017

Just got back from Milwaukee on Thursday. This seemed like a quick trip — we were gone from Saturday to Thursday, but the whole process seemed much shorter this year, with Christmas on a Monday. Stayed at the Iron Horse hotel again, and not much to say except it was brutally cold all week, weather hovering right around the zero mark. Most of the trip was going from freezing weather to blazing and dry indoor weather. I, miraculously, did not get sick this year, maybe a first. Sarah got very sick, though. And I did not sleep all week. It was the opposite of Hawaii, where I could easily sleep twelve hours. It’s the humidity. Just got a humidifier, we’ll see how that goes.

John Sheppard did come up the day before I left, and we got to hang out for the afternoon. We went to Miller Park and ate at the TGI Friday there, ironically. The concourse was *freezing* but the restaurant itself was 90 degrees. The field was tarped off, and looked sort of like they were going to freeze it down for ice skating, but maybe it was some landscaping trick to keep the sod alive. We hit a few small book stores, and walked around Southridge Mall, which is a thriving Simon mall, albeit with a Sears that died recently. I really wish I could see the inside of Northridge, which is a similar-sized mall that went downhill and has been hermetically sealed for fifteen years. It’s supposedly getting turned into light industrial now, after a failed attempt at redevelopment by Chinese investors. Anyway.

One of the things about Milwaukee is that, like Indiana, when I’m there, it’s always freezing, and I’m on a heavy schedule of family stuff, which always involves being inside and overheated and eating. Milwaukee’s probably an interesting city, but I’ve never really seen much of it. I think I’ve been there twice when it wasn’t frozen, and once was my wedding, which was the definition of overbooked obligations. Not complaining, but I wouldn’t mind spending some time there off-schedule when it’s nice out. I did that for the first time in a long time in South Bend a few years ago, and it reminded me how much different it is than obligatory Christmas visits.

On that new MacBook Pro: had it on the road, wrote all week, no problems. The day after I got home, it shut down overnight, and when I went to restart it, it was 100% bricked. No battery, no power, tried multiple adaptors, reset the SMC, nothing, nothing, nothing. Completely dead. I had, thankfully, backed it up to a bootable clone when we got home, and the two files I’d been using for writing were on Crashplan, so no data loss. Apple swapped me out with another brand new machine, and three hours of copying later, I’m back up and running.

So, hate to sound like a broken record: BACK UP YOUR MACHINE.

Anyway, end of 2017. Didn’t blog enough. Didn’t finish that big book. I did manage to exercise every day, and I’m proud of that. 4512 floors and 1,266.79 miles this year. I also tried to log everything I ate, and did that until Thanksgiving, then had some technical issues and decided to take the rest of the year off. No real weight loss this year, but no weight gain either, and I think it helped me to stay a little bit sane.

My only real resolutions this year are to pay less attention to the news, blog more, and write more.

No plans tonight. Something is slipping in just under the radar, so stay tuned. (Some of you know what I’m talking about.)

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Ode to a 2014 Retina MacBook Pro

Well, it was time. The Retina MacBook Pro I bought in 2014 reached its retirement, and I got a new one. This one did not have a spectacular death or great failure, but it was getting up there, so I decided to swap it out now, while I could afford it.

Two computers ago, the mid-2010 model I had lasted four and a half years, but had some major problems along the way. It was from the first batch of the dual-GPU machines, and had the NVIDIA curse, which meant two mainboard replacements (within warranty.) There were also two battery replacements, one in warranty, and a later one on my own. A fan crapped out at one point, and I lost one of the rubber feet, and molded a functional but ugly replacement from Sugru. To be fair, I thrashed the hell out of that machine, put some serious miles on it. I still have it, and it still runs, but it’s at the point where the OS doesn’t get updates anymore, and there’s no good browser for it.

The 2014 was a step down in some ways: it was a 13-inch, as opposed to the 15-inch one. It had an i5 as opposed to an i7, and integrated graphics only. But, it was light as hell, very easy for travel. The retina screen was great. And I had no maintenance issues, no repairs, no service, nothing. My only complaints were that the battery is slowly going, maybe 85% of engineered capacity, but losing maybe a percent a week. Its half-terabyte drive was getting pretty crammed. And I was scared to update to High Sierra and break everything, so it stayed at El Capitan. So, no real complaints, but time to move forward.

The bad timing here: my work computer went sideways about a week ago, requiring two trips to Palo Alto to get it wiped, and re-wiped, and re-re-wiped. It got hung up on a Windows 10 update bug, where it would download six gigs of data, spend half a day updating, fail, restore itself, then immediately start the process again. I ended up getting a newer machine, which also had to be wiped/updated, but the whole thing was a giant reminder that I do not like dealing with Windows 10 machines, not that I have any option to migrate all my crap to a machine that doesn’t run any of the programs I use.

I fretted about which machine to get as a replacement. I really wanted a 13-inch machine again, but I really wanted a 1TB drive. By the time you option up a 13-inch machine to get the big drive, it’s almost the same price as the 15-inch. So, that’s what I did. I ended up with a 2017 15-inch, with the 3.1 GHz i7, 16 GB of memory (double what I had), a 1 TB drive (also double), and the Radeon 560 4GB GPU, along with the down-switching to the integrated graphics. Space Gray, which I was 50/50 on, but looks nice.

Probably the biggest pain in the ass is the port issue. The machine now has two Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports on each side, and a headphone jack on the right (wrong) side. My home setup involves Ethernet, DVI video, and a USB hub with two USB connectors for keyboard/mouse, another for an IR receiver, and then whatever phone or external drive I need to periodically plug in. So, the dongle situation: a TB3 to ethernet; the “AV connector” which has USB/power in/HDMI; an HDMI to DVI; and the existing USB3 hub. I also got a USB-C-to-USB connector for whatever odd thing I need to plug in. And I’m using a USB audio DAC into my monitors. So, two plugs. I thought about a Thunderbolt dock, but they all seem a bit half-baked.

I think the usual screed here is how horrible it is that all ports are going away, Apple is a bunch of fucking evil communists, I can buy a $500 plastic Asus machine at Best Buy that has tons of ports, etc. My general thought is that TB3 is the way to go – much higher throughput, daisy-chainable, and one universal connector. The problem is all the shit that doesn’t use it. But I’ve got that figured out, so, done.

The machine feels a bit heavier, but bigger. We’ll see how it travels, since I am gone next week. Also not sure on battery life, but they tend to get better with each iteration. The keyboard is different. It has Touch ID, which is a little weird, and not that consistent between apps and stuff, but it does work well. Siri is fairly useless on the Mac. I run the machine clamshelled most of the time, so the new touch bar thing is not even on my radar.

I started setting up the machine by hand, copying over files and reinstalling everything, then realized I was going to screw everything up, break my mail or iTunes or whatever. So I gave up, blanked out the machine, and fired up Migration Assistant. I wired the two machines directly with Ethernet, and about two hours later, it finished, and was about 95% set up. Lost a day of writing, but I lost almost two weeks on that Windows 10 machine, so, yeah.

And once again, important PSA: BACK UP YOUR MACHINE. Get an external drive, clone your entire machine on it, and keep doing it regularly. Or use CrashPlan or BackBlaze. Or do both. I didn’t run into any backup issues this time, but seriously, if you have a computer, you need to back it up.

Anyway, happy firestorm or whatever you celebrate.

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Maui

I spent last week in Maui, as a combination tenth-anniversary trip and Thanksgiving. Sorted through the photos, vaguely, but I’ve been too busy to get any words down on it.

Looking back, I guess I haven’t written about my previous visits there, but we went in 2013 and 2015. Pictures of the previous visits are on Flickr, but I’ve all but given up on these stupid travel updates.

The vitals: we stayed in Kapalua instead of Wailea this time, at the Ritz-Carlton. It’s a bit more isolated, which is nice, but it also meant we had to drive like an hour to get anywhere. We had a kitchen, which meant I could avoid the 5000-calorie buffet every morning and make my own breakfast.

I went zip-lining, which was a first and a lot of fun. Six zips across Pu’u Kukui and the West Maui Forest Preserve took a few hours, with a bus ride on a muddy dirt road, then an uphill ATV ride up an even muddier road. The rain held out until the last zip, and then it felt like I was being pelted with rock salt. Still, awesome stuff. If you’re ever out there, Kapalua Ziplines are the folks to use.

Went to the Maui aquarium again, but it was a bit more crowded with school-holiday traffic. Ate a lot at a few different places. Didn’t go to Target. Coincidentally ended up at a dead mall connected to a Safeway, which was a truly surreal experience. I didn’t do any swimming or try to kill myself paddle-boarding like last time. Lots and lots of walking and hiking, although no volcano this time.

Anyway, pictures posted on Flickr for you to ignore: https://flic.kr/s/aHsm9FoH6E. Dragged along the DSLR and a bunch of lenses, and ended up taking twice as many pictures with my phone. Go figure.

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KONCAST Episode 10: Ryan Werner

http://koncast.libsyn.com/episode-10-ryan-werner

In this episode, I talk to writer, publisher, musician, and lunch lady Ryan Werner. He is the author of Shake Away These Constant Days, Murmuration, If There’s Any Truth In a Northbound Train, and Soft. He plays guitar in Young Indian and numerous other bands. He also runs Passenger Side books.

Links from this episode:

http://www.ryanwernerwritesstuff.com

https://ryanwerner.bandcamp.com

http://koncast.libsyn.com/episode-10-ryan-werner

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Dü You Remember?

Quick link to a podcast about Hüsker Dü, called Dü You Remember:

https://www.thecurrent.org/collection/husker-du/

(It’s also on iTunes, etc. I just searched for it in the Podcast app, but I’m still on iOS 10, before Apple completely fucked it, so your mileage may vary.)

This was a great five-part audio documentary on the band, from Minneapolis public radio’s The Current. It’s mostly interviews with the band and others (both Rollins and Biafra drop in) and covers the rise and fall of the Hüskers.

I was very late on the scene with these guys, being stuck in heavy metal land and all. I heard a few songs on those SST compilations, which I didn’t discover until right around the time they broke up. By the time I got to college and was surrounded by “college rock,” and later “alternative,” the conversation was more about “have you heard Sugar?” and I had to go backward and hunt down all the old albums.

The whole podcast was apparently conceived before Grant Hart’s passing this year, so there’s a lot of footage of him. Definitely worth checking out.

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WordPerfect for Mac

A stupid memory… I was thinking about how I used to love WordPerfect on the Classic Mac OS. It wasn’t a port of DOS WP 5.1; a different dev team wrote their own program, and the company called it WordPerfect, so it worked much faster. I always found it better than Word on the old Sys6/7 Mac.

Anyway, found this page: http://www.columbia.edu/~em36/wpdos/mac-intel.html – Someone has set up the SheepSaver PowerPC emulator to run MacOS 8.6, along with a few versions of WordPerfect. So you can download one image file, and with almost no fuss (aside from the big download) you can then run WordPerfect on a modern Intel Mac.

I was messing with this and realized I have a Stuffit archive of the Mac machine I had at my first job, 22 years ago. I’ve never been able to un-stuff it, because of the weirdness of Mac resource forks or whatever. I brought it into this emulated machine, and it instantly opened it. So I had the same set of files I had back on my Centris 660 AV in Seattle in 1996.

There wasn’t much there: the 1984 commercial in QuickTime; a bunch of QuickHelp source for the Spry Mosaic browser; some other assorted utilities, like DropPS and GraphicConverter. The fun find was I had a Sounds folder, which had a few hundred short clips of audio from Beavis and Butthead and Pulp Fiction. They were all sampled at like 10kHz; the whole folder is like 38 MB.

It reminds me of a time when Windows audio was almost nonexistent, unless you paid hundreds of bucks for a SoundBlaster, but every Mac had pretty decent audio, standard. There was a big culture of hoarding these little ten-second samples of Star Wars and RoboCop movie quotes. Like I remember hanging out with my Calculus teacher at IUSB – this must have been in late 1990. There were almost no Macs at the South Bend campus, but for some reason, he had a brand new SE/30. I went to check it out one time, and he spent half an hour playing me every sound file he had downloaded from the internet, these little clips from science fiction films, all hooked in so it would play Darth Vader when he started up or shut down his machine.

I don’t even know how to play these audio files outside of the emulator, but it works in the program. I guess now I can just go to YouTube and play the entire TV show if I want, but it’s interesting to see a snapshot of how it used to work back then. Also, the old Mac interface looks so blocky and weird now, which is hilarious.

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pre-digital observations

A bunch of thoughts, no particular order:

Try going in your kitchen or bathroom and finding a product with a printed package that doesn’t have a URL on it. Pick up food boxes, condiments, pet food, candy bars, canned drinks, toothpaste… anything. Everything has a web address on it. It’s like an address having a ZIP code now, or a two-letter state abbreviation. If you find some old-timey sign for ethyl gasoline from the 1930s, it might say “Oakland, Calif.” instead of “Oakland, CA 94607.” Now it seems like the URL is the way to date if a package is from the mid-90s or earlier.

I remember about the time when Coke cans started putting their URL on the cans. I started a Coca-Cola fan web site in 1994, and was getting more traffic than their site for a brief period. It really pissed me off when they started a site, started putting it on every can or bottle. Pissed me off more that it was “Netscape enhanced” and didn’t work for shit on a text browser. It wasn’t a site for information; it was for pretty pictures and layout that took forever to load on a slow modem. Now, cocacola dot com redirects to coca-cola dot com, and that is a site picker with a big world map and all the regional sites. All the information there is either for shareholders, or trying to convince you that you can be healthy and drink 6000 calories a day.

My site was something at bronze.ucs.indiana.edu/~jkonrath I think. It’s long gone. Bronze was a VAX machine. The machine is long gone; VAX machines themselves are long gone, for the most part, unless you work at some insane bank that could not transition away from them. Hell, UCS is gone now, part of some crazy merger/renaming thing twenty years ago.

I don’t think a civilian could register a hostname back then. I don’t remember how it was done before the late nineties, but I registered rumored with Network Solutions on 11/16/98. I remember it not being cheap, something like a hundred bucks a year. This was when they pretty much had a monopoly on it. There’s no way I could have paid that back in college.

Speaking of putting hostnames on things, I knew a guy who had his email address on the back of his car. This was in like 1990, way before that made any sense. I worked with him, and he was this funny Malaysian grad student who I’ll call K for plausible deniability. He drove some old beast of a seventies car, like a Monte Carlo or something, and had “k___@copper.ucs.indiana.edu” across the back of his trunk, in stick-on letters, the kind you would use to put your name on a mailbox. I have no idea why. He wasn’t running a business, in a band, anything like that. He just thought it looked cool, I guess.

I had to get checks printed in 1992 or 1993 – this was back when people still used paper checks, and to get new ones printed, you looked through a Parade magazine in a Saturday newspaper, and there would be an ad for a place that would print your checks on a design with an American flag or some kittens or Peanuts characters or whatever else. I picked this design that was a bunch of colorful geometric shapes – do a google image search of “90s graphics” and that’s basically what I got printed.

Anyway, I remember I called the 800 number to place the order over the phone. (No internet order form, no web site.) My name and address were three lines, the phone number was the fourth, but the check had five lines, so you could put a business name or something on it. I told the lady on the phone I wanted my email address. She had no idea what that meant. I then told her, my email address was jkonrath@bronze.ucs.indiana.edu, and I wanted that on my check. It was like I was speaking Klingon. I had to slowly spell out  jkonrath@bronze.ucs.indiana.edu over and over, jkonrath@bronze.ucs.indiana.edu, jkonrath@bronze.ucs.indiana.edu, jkonrath  at symbol bronze period ucs period indiana period edu. The whole transaction took twenty, thirty minutes.

I got the checks a month later, and the printer completely butchered it. Like I think they left out the @ and put two spaces after each period, so it was just a jumble of incoherent words with no meaning. And only 4% of the population knew what an email address was. I should have thrown the checks in the garbage and ordered new ones, but that would have taken another month, and more importantly, another twenty dollars. So I used the checks, until I moved to Seattle and got new accounts. And every time I wrote a check, which was often back then, the cashier would ask “what the hell is that?”

Also, I think those new checks I got in 1995? Had the bank’s URL on them.

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Latest reading

I’ve given up on Goodreads, and I haven’t been tracking my reading as of late, and maybe I should be doing that. Here’s a few things I’ve finished recently, in no particular order.

Tim O’Brien – July, July

Probably twenty years ago, I had to read The Things They Carried for an undergrad writing class, and it made me dig into the rest of his catalog. For some reason, I dropped the thread on his writing, and then he popped up in the Ken Burns Vietnam thing on PBS, so I looked him up again. This one is about a 30-year college reunion of a 1969 class of a small university outside of Chicago, and it’s an interesting but slightly problematic character study. It follows a slightly too large cast of characters, showing where their adult lives started and how they got to where they were in 2000. That part can be one-dimensional, and it’s hard to keep track of the various marriages, divorces, lost loves, cancers, heart conditions, careers, and failed careers. There are glances of things that have a lot of depth, like a Vietnam vet who was injured in the war, or another guy who ran from the draft in Winnipeg. It was a fun read and an interesting concept, a good way of just writing about the then-and-now of people. But a lot of reviewers didn’t agree, and it’s not like his other work, so there’s that.

Denis Johnson – Tree of Smoke

Also related to the Ken Burns thing. I read this when it first came out ten years ago, and ever since Johnson passed earlier this year, I’ve been meaning to get back to it. I think the book held up, and was possibly better the second time. It essentially follows the story of Skip Sands, a CIA operative whose uncle Francis is a retired Colonel and who also works for the agency. I think the first time I read it, I’d recently read Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, and my brain was still stuck in that version of Vietnam; this time, my mind was within the footage from the Burns documentary, which worked better. It’s amazing to me how the guy who delivered such compact and highly-efficient writing in the 150-some pages of Jesus’ Son was able to belt out 600+ pages with the same line-by-line potency, but of heavily historical and accurate information. It’s like a flyweight boxer who clocks in at 112 pounds gaining a hundred pounds of pure muscle to qualify as a heavyweight, but still fights with the same game as he did half a body ago, but he’s doing that times four. Amazing stuff.

Nick Bonner – Made in North Korea: Graphics From Everyday Life in the DPRK

A full-size flexicover book with color reproductions of the graphic design from within North Korea, as collected by a Beijing travel expert who visits regularly. It’s a strange collection, with all the “store brand” products put out by the government, designed by pen-and-ink pre-digital artists, often cribbing old Soviet designs, and of course working in various patriotic angles and images of Dear Leader. Some of the anti-American comics are a hoot. Plenty of small essays describing Bonner’s travels are nice, but the artwork is the real treat here.

Skylab Reference, Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) Press Kit and Flight Plan

This is the kind of crap I read when I’m sick or otherwise can’t pay attention. I fell down a space station k-hole right around the time I came down with a cold, so I got lost in this for a few nights. (The reason for the k-hole: astronaut Paul Weitz from Skylab 2 passed away a few weeks ago.) It’s a three-ring binder with copies of the press kit for the original launch of the Skylab station, with a bonus press kit from the Apollo-Soyuz rendezvous mission. Lots of dry government tech writer copy on space toilets and food stowage and time schedules and communication frequencies. Plenty of old pre-computer illustrations of what storage lockers and tools are mounted to what bulkheads, although some of the drawings didn’t reproduce that well. Still, fun stuff.

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