Price reductions on some of my classic books on Kindle

Just a heads up that I’ve reduced the price of a few of my older books on Kindle. My books are already priced cheap — probably too cheap, but it’s a race to the bottom on Kindle pricing, and that’s another discussion.

Does anyone remember when record labels used to do “The Nice Price” on CDs and tapes? Like a CD would cost $15.99, but you’d find a Molly Hatchet “Nice Price” album for like $12.99. They were all reissues, and they almost always never had a proper CD booklet, just the cover art on a single panel of paper and maybe a list of songs on the back.

Anyway, these books are the same as they were, not reissues, no changes. Just a price drop because I feel bad about charging three bucks for a ten-year-old book, and they’ve sort of run their course, but at a buck, they might be a good read for you. (I’ve always thought about re-releasing these with new introductions and bonus stories and new covers and all that jazz. Maybe in ten more years, if self-publishing is still a thing.)

The following books are now only 99 cents on Kindle:

Also, these books have always been 99 cents:

And none of my books are above three bucks on kindle. I wish I could make the paperbacks cheaper, especially since Amazon has torpedoed their algorithm and I never, ever sell paperbacks anymore. I usually set my paperback pricing to the nearest dollar above the production cost, which is ludicrous from a sales perspective, but it makes them as cheap as possible for you.

Do me a favor and repost this if you can. I wouldn’t mind a few new people finding these books, now that they won’t find them on Facebook or Amazon unless I pay a billionaire five dollars to advertise a book I make 35 cents on.


stupid list #167

  • I just paid my annual hosting bill for this site. It’s a bit depressing, because when I calculate how many posts I make per year, it averages out to like ten bucks per post, unless I make a whole bunch of entries in the next two months.
  • The Apple Airpod Pro release made me think I should make a lengthy post about every pair of headphones I’ve bought in the last few years, and why they ultimately didn’t work out. I have a bit of a problem when it comes to headphones, and can never find something that works perfectly. Then I spend an inordinate amount of time shopping for something that maybe would.
  • I’m 100% sure if I did buy Airpods, they would fall right out of my ear and I’d lose them, anyway.
  • I am not near the fires, and I haven’t lost power, so let’s not get into that.
  • Fitbit got bought by Google, which really pisses me off and depresses me. I have used a Fitbit since I think 2012, and now also have one of their scales. I have a lot of data in my Fitbit account, and it basically got sold to a company who is 100% going to kill it. Or every time I want to check my steps, I will have to watch an ad.
  • Caviar got bought by DoorDash. This also pisses me off, because DoorDash is a horrible company and Caviar has been great. I realize food delivery is lazy, but I am lazy.
  • There is this outdoor mall thing about a mile from my house. (Bay Street in Emeryville). Anyway, they at one time had like a dozen restaurants, and now they have one. In the last couple of weeks, Buckhorn and Fuddrucker’s closed, and Rubio’s closed a bit before that. Now there’s an upper level where every single store is closed except California Pizza Kitchen. I eat at CPK way too much, but when that closes, I’m done.
  • There’s also a Barnes and Noble in that mall, and I used to hate B&N and see them as this company that killed indie book stores (I talked about this before, sorry) and anyway, it’s only a matter of time before they shutter that place, too.
  • This outdoor mall was literally built on an Indian burial ground. I used to go to Weight Watchers with a retired Archaeology professor who was hired by the builders to dig around and identify graves and whatnot. Maybe that’s why they can’t keep any restaurants going there.
  • I think they discontinued the deodorant I have used since like 1993, and I have to switch to another. That kind of thing really pisses me off.
  • I hate to sound like an old person when I talk about this stuff closing, but it’s depressing, and makes me think a lot about how everything dies, including all of us, and I can’t process that. When I hit 50 soon, look for this worry train to go completely thermonuclear.
  • Speaking of DoorDash, I just placed a Caviar order at a place that’s usually pretty quick to fill deliveries, and got a text now saying the order will be late. The last time I ordered from DoorDash, they did this like three times and then completely no-showed. And so it begins.

John’s new book, imaginary PCs, shaking hands is disgusting, nostalgia garbage (as usual)

John Sheppard has a new book out called Needs Work. It’s a fun one, set in a bizarre, dystopian version of Cleveland, and is about a wounded soldier returning to his hometown after a bad divorce to live with his crazy dad. Lots of callbacks to his other stuff, and full disclosure, my old cough medicine brand makes a quick appearance, but this is a great standalone book in a new weird universe. Go check it out here. (It’s on kindle and print, but of course Amazon’s fucked up linking the two. Maybe it will be fixed by the time I post this.)

* * *

Been sick most of the week, so nothing creative is going on. It’s weird, but every time I start thinking I need to delete this entire blog, unlist all of my books, and go back to stamp collecting, within 48 hours I’m sniffling and hacking. I keep thinking I need to build a gaming PC and an Oculus Rift, but I have no time for that, and I can’t justify paying two grand for something that will take away writing time. But I still keep going back to PCPartsPicker and looking up builds. I don’t even know where the hell I’d put another computer, or how I’d hook it into my monitor and whatnot*. But when I get sick, I go into this stupid comparison shopping mode, and I haven’t been playing bass or taking pictures, so it’s not musical or photo gear at the moment.

(* OK, so I have a monitor on my desk. I have one keyboard, one mouse. I have a Mac for home. I have a PC for work. So I run all of this crap into a KVM switch. For whatever reason, KVMs are barely supported anymore. I think the assumption is that you’re only supposed to use laptops on your lap, or anytime you get a second computer, you’re supposed to get another room in your house, a second desk, a second monitor, etc. The KVM is the greatest space-saving thing ever, and 100% of them on the market are garbage. They are slow, unreliable, and good luck getting one that supports two monitors. There are some, but they are insanely expensive, and require you to take a month off of work to research the entire history of digital video to get it to work, and chances are it won’t. Last week, I just went through some stupid exercise of changing a dongle on my Mac so it would properly pass through power, and Apple silently changed the dongle, so it supports 4K video, but doesn’t support my KVM. And the worst part of it is, when I went to return the dongle, the Apple Genius insisted on shaking my hand before and after the two-second return. Why the fuck does anyone shake hands in the twenty-first century, especially during cold season? You wipe your ass with that hand. Jesus fucking christ I hate everything sometimes, and think about how the Unabomber probably never had to return anything at an Apple store. He probably hasn’t had a respiratory infection in decades. Anyway.)

Also, I feel very guilty wasting time playing games. I know, people say games are the new movies and it’s not wasting time blah blah blah. But last week, I played through Smash TV in an emulator, which took like 90 minutes, and I felt guilty later that I lost 90 minutes of writing time, even though I played the game because I couldn’t write.

* * *

I just checked and I’ve never written about Smash TV. Maybe I’ll do that next time. I keep thinking I need to document all these random nostalgia call-backs because I’m losing my memory and need everything cataloged. Half the time, I go back and search this site, and realize I did a complete dump on the topic in 2002. More evidence of the brain thing, I guess.

I should probably repost these URLs on Facebook as I think of them. There’s a plug-in that you can use to do this, but of course it costs money, something insane like $75 a month, and all WordPress plug-ins are just virus vectors and direct backdoors for Ukrainian hackers. I don’t even want to be running WordPress anymore, and my install is too slow from the plug-ins I do endure. You can always go to to see the ones I’ve remembered to mark as favorites. But that depends on me remembering to mark them, so caveat emptor. I should go back through the archives and tag more posts correctly. I should stop building imaginary PCs. I should eat dinner, actually.

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The Death of Blockbuster

Here’s an interesting long read over at Retail Dive on the death of Blockbuster Video:

Who Really Killed Blockbuster?

A couple of interesting (to me) takeaways. First, I like that this article gives all the details other than just saying “Netflix, duh” because that’s not what happened. The thing that annoys the hell out of me in death-of-malls or death-of-<store dying this week> is that they always say it’s Amazon, and it almost never is just Amazon. (I.e. venture cap choke-out run by a fervent Ayn Rand acolyte; tax scam by REIT not paying off anymore; etc.)

Like one of the factors the article mentions that most people forget: VHS tapes were damn expensive, and that was partially hidden to the consumer. Yes, you could buy a priced-to-own copy of Wayne’s World for twenty bucks during a certain limited sales cycle. But if you’ve had the good fortune of losing a copy of Apocalypse Now from a rental place, it probably cost you eighty bucks to replace it. They ran this two-tier pricing scheme for decades, and then when DVDs came out, the studios decided to go with low daily prices across the board, plus they flooded the channel at Wal-Mart and Target with cheap five-buck releases and multi-packs of their back catalog. That’s only one of the nails in the coffin, but that’s an interesting one.

The other thing, and this came up in discussion when I posted this article on FB, is that Blockbuster wasn’t that great of a place for customers anyway. There are a lot of folks nostalgic for the Nineties who were born in like 1998 and don’t remember how crappy some of it was, and Blockbuster was a good example. Like they were borderline predatory about their late fees, and good luck if you got sent to their collections department. They drove a lot of mom-and-pop rental places out of business. And their prices weren’t always great, compared to the non-chain places.

One of the things that always bugged me about Blockbuster was their family-friendly video selection. They were big on promoting mediocre big-budget movies and avoiding cult or obscure cinema. And they were incredibly vocal on not carrying anything beyond an R rating, or controversial movies. I went on a semi-boycott of Blockbuster for years because they refused to carry The Last Temptation of Christ. If you wanted obscure, it’s Not at The Block. If you need a copy of Day For Night, forget it. But they’d have plenty of copies of that new Will Smith movie.

Blockbuster was occasionally a necessary evil when I was in a small town. I really loved local rental stores that had obscure stuff, and of course you had to go to one of those places for the best horror movies. The clerks were always cool, the prices were lower, they didn’t give you as much of a hassle about membership, and sometimes you’d find weird stuff. Like there was a video place in downtown Bloomington — I wish I could remember the name. They never recycled out their old stock. Me and Larry used to go every week and find the most bizarre stuff, faded boxes that were completely forgotten. Like I remember never ever being able to find a copy of Johnny Got His Gun (probably because Metallica bought the rights to it and sat on them) and of course they had it. And I remember renting Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile, the (bad) Canadian horror movie loosely based on Ed Gein, and it also had the short documentary Ed Gein: American Maniac slapped on the end of the VHS. It was a weird homemade doc consisting of blurry found footage, narrated by some dude in a basement recording on a Bell and Howell mono tape recorder stolen from an elementary school or something. It was awesome. (And it’s on YouTube!) You’d never, ever find that at Blockbuster.

That puts Blockbuster nostalgia in a weird place for me, much like Barnes and Noble. I’m a bit sad B&N is on the verge of shuttering, but back in the day, they were the chain to hate, because they pushed mom-and-pop stores out of business. (And deep analysis that I’m too lazy to do might show a story that independent booksellers were pushed out by someone else in the 80s/90s, like the rise of Ingram or the changes in book printing after NAFTA, or some damn thing.)

I visited one of the last Blockbusters in Anchorage a year and a half ago. (Yes it was the one with the Gladiator jockstrap. No, it wasn’t there yet when I visited.) It gave me a strange and sad feeling, not specifically because it was Blockbuster, but because it was a video store, period. It was all DVD, but wandering the aisles reminded me of the weekly exercise of going from A to Z on a Friday night to find what I’d watch.

That entire era is gone, replaced with a button on my TV remote that lets me scroll through thousands of titles. But something’s missing, with the lack of the Tarantino-esque clerk telling me what I really need to watch, and the tactile experience of pacing the aisles. We now have great convenience and instant access, but it is at a cost that’s hard to quantify, and it’s definitely felt by those who do remember.


Kitchen, Commodore, Spider-Man, Dead JCP

Kitchen is done. Four weeks took seven, but it looks good, and everything works. I posted an album over on Flickr if you’re really interested. I’m just glad to not have the plastic walls anymore, although if we ever make it out of second summer, it might be nice to have my office twenty degrees warmer than the rest of the house.

* * *

In a fit of dumb nostalgia, I bought a C-64 Mini. It’s a cute idea, although it seemed a bit silly at the original price point of ~$100. But now they’re going for $40, so I bit. It is a tiny machine about half the size of an old-school Commodore 64, containing an ARM processor system-on-a-chip that runs the VICE emulator. There’s HDMI video output, two USB ports for joysticks, keyboards, and memory sticks, and a USB power in. No legacy ports, no cartridge slot, not sure if anyone’s found a way to hack that stuff on. Also, the keyboard is a dummy non-functional thing, although you can use a modern USB keyboard .

I like the idea of these modern all-in-one game machines, in theory. One of the shortcomings of the various Atari/Genesis/Nintendo ones is you get what you get, and the packaged game assortment can be hit-or-miss. And the C-64 mini comes with fifty games, but maybe only a dozen I’ve played, and only half of that are games I’d really want to play again. (For example, Winter Games is cool, but I’ve already got RSI, thanks.) But, the cool thing about the mini is if you update to the newest firmware, you can fill a USB stick with .D64 files downloaded from the internet, and play nearly anything out there. So I loaded up a stick with a dozen or two games I fondly remembered, and tried it out.

The biggest shortcoming of C-64 gaming is that the controls were all over the place. So when I first plugged in a joystick and no keyboard, I suddenly found games wanted me to press F1 or Return or Space or type my name or whatever. And there are two USB ports, and I’ve got a joystick in one, a USB stick in another… time to get a hub. Also, the Commodore keyboard had all those weird keys like Run-Stop and Restore and the C= key and whatnot, so I wasted a lot of time trying to remember how that’s mapped. Also, the joystick that came with the unit is really sub-par, and there’s a limited number of USB joysticks that work with it, and my Logitech is not one of them. So, I’d have to go buy some other gamepads that would probably cost as much as I spent.

…Or, I could just run an emulator on my real computer. Or I could dig my real C-64 out of storage. So, I’m bored of this already.

* * *

I was driving on 580 to Pleasanton today, and this junker truck pulled up next to me from an on-ramp. I looked over, and the driver was wearing a Spider-Man costume, including the mask. And it didn’t look like an official Marvel-licensed costume, like the eyes were off, too big or something. It looked like the costume you’d see in one of those weird Mexican Spider-Man knock-off movies on YouTube. Not sure what was going on there.

* * *

There is this weird strip mall next to Stoneridge mall that is called Stoneridge Annex or Stoneridge South or whatever. It’s an outdoor strip that looks all Sixties with poured concrete painted brown and stuff. I always like walking there because it’s half-abandoned, and had a big Chinese seafood restaurant with the fish tanks in the dining room that looked like it would never close, and an old karate school, and a bunch of other half-baked dying businesses that dropped out one-by-one. Like there was a Taco Bell that looked like 2004 that died and I got some pictures of the labelscar and abandoned interior before they turned it into another random taco place which has since failed also.

The big anchor of this strip was a JC Penney home store. It always fascinated me, because it was two stories tall, and sold pretty much everything they do not sell in malls anymore: appliances, draperies, rugs, linens, and so on. Walking through it always reminded me of walking through a Lazarus or LS Ayres store in like 1993. Plus the place had funky tile floors and stairs and looked totally Nineties. It was in stark contrast to the main Stoneridge mall, which is pretty normal and somewhat boring modern Simon mall blandness.

Anyway, I walked there today, and of course it is closed. Almost everything in the strip is closed, except for a hearing aid store and a Cost Plus that never has anyone in it. So that’s a bit sad, but expected. I really should stop mall walking, because it’s so depressing. But, there’s always parking, and they have restrooms.

* * *

Not much else. Still in food jail. My cats are not fans of the Blue Angels. I’ve been reading all of Don DeLillo’s books, but paused to read a Ronnie James Dio biography. That’s about it.

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kitchen, 30 years, mall dreams, algorithms

I’m in the middle of a kitchen remodel, allegedly halfway through with two weeks down, two to go, but you know how these things are. I don’t want to get into details, because this isn’t HGTV, but aside from not having a kitchen, having a house full of dust that has horribly triggered my respiratory problems, and the occasional pounding and sawing, we have the house sealed up into three zones with airtight plastic walls so they can keep the kitchen in negative pressure via a fan and hose going outside. That’s good, except my office is sealed off from the outside, so it’s twenty degrees hotter than usual. And the weather has been in the eighties for the last few weeks. So despite the traffic, I’ve been going in to Palo Alto a bit more recently for work.

I’ve also been eating a lot more out of the house, which means a lot more fast food, which isn’t good. I’ve miraculously lost weight somehow, although a negligible amount. I can’t imagine the time back in New York when I would eat fast food for every meal, like either fast food burgers or delivery food fourteen times a week (and no breakfast). And I’m not sure if it’s from taking ten years off, but the quality of fast food now seems really, really bad. I’m not saying they were four-star back in the 00s, but things seem more rubbery, knuckly, poorly made, hastily assembled, and “value engineered.” A downward spiral. It’s similar to how Macy’s is now basically Sears; Sears is basically K-Mart; and of course K-Mart is basically dead. (They just announced the last four K-Marts in Indiana are shuttering, which isn’t surprising, but is somewhat sad.) Anyway, when I get my kitchen back, I think I will become a raw food vegan to get all this shit out of my system.

* * *

I ran across a picture in FB memories which reminded me that it’s been exactly thirty years since I left for college in my freshman year. There’s a lot to unpack there, but mostly, it’s shocking to me that this was thirty years ago, because it seems like it was a few months ago, and in many ways, I don’t feel that much different. I mean, I am — I weigh like 80 pounds more, and I’m losing hair, and my resting heart rate is twice as much, and all that good stuff. (See also previous paragraph about fast food, but it amazes me that I was trying to gain weight back then, and I could eat half of a Little Caesar’s pizza right before bed and end up losing weight.)

I guess there’s this expectation that I would reach a certain point along my timeline where a switch would be flipped and I would suddenly be “old” and I don’t know when that is. Maybe it’s because I never had kids, but I never reached that “OK, I’m an adult” moment. I mean, there were various milestones: I could buy alcohol; I had a college degree; I finished paying for that degree; I was completely out of debt. But there was never a magical “that’s done, this has started” moment. And I have gradually changed a great deal, so it’s weird to look back at these pictures and think back to those times.

* * *

Weird fact I just realized: I left Indiana when I was 24, and I’m now 48. The obvious math there is that I’ve lived outside Indiana as long as I lived there. But I lived in North Dakota and Michigan before I moved to Indiana when I was seven, so I actually crossed that threshold in like 2012.

* * *

I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I keep having this dumb idea for a book where I (or a “character based on me”) goes back to Indiana after thirty years, antics ensue. Or maybe I go back thirty years after the events of Summer Rain. This is an enticing idea for that nostalgia itch in my brain that I can’t seem to scratch. And it sets itself up well in the sense that almost everyone in the book ended up on a radically different path than they were back in 1992, most of them tragic.

But there are a lot of issues with me writing this. One, I don’t have a story. If this was an Eighties feel-good movie starring Tom Hanks, it would be easy: guy from the big city goes to backwards-land, shocked and dismayed, meets some woman that convinces him that it’s a better place, and in act three, all is resolved and he stays with her, happily ever after. I definitely don’t want to write that book. Also I also don’t want to spend four hundred pages shitting on the post-apocalyptic landscape and the various people who are left behind, especially because it would offend them. Also the book would be about as funny and entertaining as reading a phone book. So, maybe not

* * *

I’ve been having a lot of crazy mall dreams. They almost always involve being in some bizarro version of a mall, not a real one, but an amalgam of several other malls that feels real and when I wake up, I wonder where it really was, like if it was some forgotten shopping center in Southwest Washington that I went to twice on the drive from Seattle to Portland and can’t fully remember. Or I frequently have a dream that a new venture cap company has bought Montgomery Ward and I’m back at my old store, and they’ve torn out the Hobby Lobby and ABC Warehouse that currently occupy that building, and they have opened a new/old Wards there. And the other night, I had a semi-lucid dream where I was at the Concord Mall, and I thought to myself, “this isn’t just a dream about a mall that half-looks like the Concord Mall; I am in the Concord Mall.” And it wasn’t; it was a fully-populated place that looked like if Concord had received an early/mid-00s expansion/reno and had thrived, instead of the opposite.

I’ve largely been avoiding malls, and I am 100% not following any dead mall groups, because they have all become insufferably stupid. Everything has become insufferably stupid. I can’t read news anymore; my condo’s Facebook page is an idiocy chamber; most of Facebook itself is falling apart. I don’t have a new book coming out any time soon, but I am very fearful about the next one, because it seems like every algorithm is working in tandem with the general uselessness of the internet, and I won’t sell shit.

(Also, semi-related, but since CreateSpace merged into KDP, I have sold no print books. Zero. I realize, my books are horrible and I’m a shitty writer, I don’t do promotion right, etc, but I am talking zero books. Also, my books are no longer available for immediate sale. Most of them say “Available to ship in 1-2 days.” I said a long time ago that Amazon is going to become a self-pub monopoly, and then they’re going to tweak things and completely kill self-publishing just like they killed the mid-list, and here we are. Maybe I’m the only one seeing this, and your horror and murder mysteries are doing better, but don’t quit your day job, because Bezos is yanking Jenga pieces out of the bottom of the pile and nobody’s saying anything about it.)

* * *

OK, time to go for a walk. It’s theoretically a four-day weekend, but it sure seems shorter when it’s a hundred degrees in your office.

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The Death of Northgate

Bon Marche at Northgate, 1950 (Credit: Seattle Municipal Archives from Seattle, WA [CC BY 2.0 (])

Looks like Northgate mall in Seattle is quickly winding down. The JC Penney already closed, and the Macy’s and Nordstrom are in the process of shutting their doors. The plan is to demolish the main stretch of the mall, leave some of the external “village” buildings that were tacked onto the front in the mid-00s, and then build an NHL practice facility and some housing. I hate being nostalgic about this place or any mall in general, and I have mixed feelings for a few reasons.

When I lived in Seattle from 1995 to 1999, Northgate was sort of my default mall. It wasn’t my favorite mall, and it wasn’t the best one in the area, but it was the closest to my house, and I ended up there at least once a week. When I first moved to Seattle, I stayed at my friend Bill’s place in Mountlake Terrace for a month, and took the bus down I-5 every day for work. And every day, we’d pass this sprawling shopping center, just off the highway. One thing I remember clearly is it had a giant two-screen movie theater on the north side, with a changing-letter marquee where the words were taller than me, advertising the movies Clueless and Apollo 13. So when I got a car and had some time on a weekend, it’s the first mall in Seattle I visited.

After I moved to First Hill, this mall was a straight shot up the highway for me. Hop on I-5, drive a hundred blocks, exit, done. Even though I worked next to the much smaller Factoria mall across the lake, I ended up driving to Northgate pretty much constantly. Between the Denny’s and a smaller local pancake place, I always had a default diner there too, so every Saturday was spent at this mall, more or less.

Northgate is arguably the first mall in America. There are like a half-dozen different malls that claim this, and I’m too lazy to research which one is right. But they built two strips of stores in 1950, then covered it with a “sky shield” and eventually sealed off the whole thing in the early 70s, making it an enclosed mall. They later built one of the first Nordstrom stores, the big two-screen theater, and the other anchors. Later additions while I was there in the late Nineties included a Toys R Us, a food court, and a general remodel. In the 00s, Simon did their usual “lifestyle addition” thing with a Potemkin village of outward-facing smaller anchors on the west side of the mall (one of them always being an Ulta Beauty), and removal of the theater (and the giant totem pole that was in front of it.) A Target and Best Buy went in across the street, and the surrounding landscape of the area has completely changed five times since I left. There were also various anchor and store flips in the last twenty years. I wasn’t there, you can look it up.

I honestly found the architecture and layout of Northgate to be a bit boring, and deceiving. It looks small, but it’s gigantic. When I lived there, they had four anchors, all of them softlines, which bored me. (JCP, Nordstrom, Lamonts, Bon Marche.) And the entire mall was a single hallway, a straight 1,500-foot shot with stores on either side. It didn’t have a winding floor plan, so it seemed smaller, but if you walked from anchor to anchor twice, that’s over a mile. It had no vintage charm, just high ceilings and faded white everywhere, like an airport concourse. It also had few stores where I really shopped. But I still ended up there a lot, and spent an insane amount of time walking up and down that long hallway, looking for… I don’t know what. The drab non-decor was replaced during the 97-98 remodel with fake-ass timber accents on the high ceilings that made it look like a ski lodge, which was all the vogue in the time in the PNW.

What attracted me, other than the proximity to my house, was that Simon malls all had this universal emotional antiseptic feeling to me. Wandering that place felt very similar to walking through College Mall in Bloomington, or University Park Mall in South Bend, even if they layout and the stores were different. Especially in my first year there, I was extraordinarily depressed, missed Bloomington a lot, knew almost nobody, didn’t know where anything was, didn’t have a TV, and was always broke. I later found other malls further out, and other stores to buy music and books and food. But it became a default place to mope around, walk a few laps, and then go home and try to write.

I didn’t buy stuff in that mall much. I only went to that movie theater a few times (I remember seeing Event Horizon there) and I used to pop in the B. Dalton every time I visited. Bon Marche had a Vans shoes section, and I’d buy a pair each year like clockwork. A Wizards of the Coast store was always worth a browse, even though I didn’t play D&D or Magic at the time. An office supply/craft store provided me with a lot of fancy pens I’d later lose. The mall had an attached drug store where I’d frequently load up on cold medicine, and a QFC grocery was good for a frozen dinner or two. After Toys R Us arrived, I’d pop in there for Nintendo 64 games. But more of my shopping was around the area, like the Silver Platter records just south of there.

Aside from the strange nostalgia for the place, and the fact that it will all be gone soon, is the fact that the coverage around the remodel sort of pisses me off. People in Seattle have always hated malls, it seems. They’ve always talked about how horrible Northgate was, even when it was a top-grossing mall. Now, the YIMBY crowd is super excited about the death of the mall, mostly because we’re all supposed to ride bicycles and something with a parking lot somehow triggers them. I don’t follow Seattle redevelopment news much, but we have our own vocal YIMBY contingent here, so I imagine the more-housing-at-any-cost crowd is celebrating the mall’s death enthusiastically. Seattle has 100% changed since I left, and I get it — cities change. Since I left, Amazon has hired more people than my home town has, period. So, housing crunch, people hate malls, yada yada, you already know the rest.

It’s been over twenty years since I saw that place, or any of Seattle. I still miss it, because it was such a key time in my life, my first four years out of college, which felt more like a decade. But it’s an extreme case of “you can never go back,” because so much of the city has changed.

Wish I had some old pictures of the place, but that was in the film era. I do have some pictures of my VW in the parking lot, and you can almost sort of see the east entrance of the mall in the background of one shot. I used one of the pictures for the third edition cover of Summer Rain, but you can’t see anything but the pavement in the zoomed-in shot. (And fun fact: the license plate in the pic is a photoshop job. And Indiana didn’t had front license plates in 1992, so that’s wrong, too.) Anyway…


iPhone grenade; Sundays; the life and death of long reads, etc

This week’s excitement was that my iPhone 8 blew up after about a year and a half of service. I’d noticed a bit ago that the 3D touch feature wasn’t consistently working, especially on the left side of the screen, but chalked it off to the fact that iOS has far too many tricky gestures and oddities where if you don’t click exactly at the right thing in the right direction for the right fraction of a millisecond, instead of fast-opening two apps, you delete one, or open the camera, or start playing music, or whatever. And the battery did slowly lose its mojo, but that’s every product with a battery these days, and I have a battery case, so it didn’t bother me.

Well, suddenly the other night, the phone doubled in thickness, like a double-stuff oreo, and the screen split from the rest of the case. The phone still worked, but my immediate fear was that it would catch fire or grenade. I was out when it happened, so I powered down, drove home, carefully fired it up, and then backed it up to my machine. I went to the Apple store (with a paperback book to kill time) and within an hour, they replaced it with an identical model. The swap and restore seems to get less and less painful each time I upgrade, and the only pain was copying over 120 gigs of music, which took a few hours, along with other sync and backup activity.

A few takeaways: before I drove to the mall, it was impossible to get ahold of anyone at the store on the phone. You have to go through a ridiculous phone tree for support; you can’t make an appointment online, at least within fifty clicks. I put the phone on speaker, and after saying “manager” a dozen times, the phone rang for five minutes straight. Once a human answered, mentioning the battery situation got me in fast, though.

The other takeaway is that it seems that as Apple products are in this war to get as thin as molecularly possible, they have developed some serious reliability issues. It’s all anecdotal, and I’m sure Apple’s annual reports to investors show that 99.9% of people have no problems. But I had a brand spanking new MacBook Pro fail, and my iPhone 6s had a slow battery death, and now this. This is timely with the departure of Jony Ive, who was apparently the one responsibility for this thinness race. I honestly wouldn’t mind a phone or laptop a few millimeters thicker, if it meant it would not bend in half under minor use.

(And yeah, “BUY A REAL COMPUTER SHEEPLE.” Whatever, grow up, etc.)

* * *

It’s Sunday, which is always depressing. I’m not sure why half of my weekend is always spent in a dour mood over why I’ve wasted half of my weekend. I also get into this bad cycle of thinking I need to majorly course-correct everything, usually on Sunday night. I need to get off my ass and devote my life to learning (guitar | some programming thing | a writer’s works | obscure history of film | electronics | how to fly a jumbo jet | whatever). I wish instead of Sunday, I could have two Saturdays. There must be some mindfulness technique to fix this. Maybe lobotomy. (Do they still do those? Great, I’m going to fall down a k-hole researching this.)

I was thinking about this, because my Sunday routine used to be much different when I was in college, or just after. I used to make a lot of phone calls on Sunday nights after dinner, usually because that was when people were around the most. And I used to love the phone, to a fault. My long distance bill, back in the pre-cell days when that was still a thing, would end up being a colossal amount, catching up with people across the country.

I also have this strange little gap between maybe three and five, when I’ve already written in the morning and finished my errands in the early afternoon, and I feel some overwhelming need to do something in that time period, but I’m never motivated to do anything. The answer is that I should write more then, but I never can. And doing anything else — taking a nap, playing video games — makes me feel completely unproductive and horrible. I’m not sure if it’s my anxiety of the upcoming work week, or the fact that I never use the phone any more and my only human interaction is clicking a screen that causes my current dread routine. Or maybe I need to eat probiotics. Whatever.

* * *

Not much else here. I fell down a Chuck Klosterman rabbit hole in anticipation of his next book, and ended up re-reading almost all of his output. It sort of amazes me how it feels like Grandland was around forever, but it only lived between 2011 and 2015. Much shorter than The Awl‘s almost-ten year run, but same thing — they came out of nowhere, got huge, and died. Meanwhile, I’ve been plugging away here for decades, with no ideas, no traction, etc. Anyway, I read like four or five of the Klosterman books, which led me to reading music critic Robert Christgau’s memoir, which is… interesting. I guess he sums it up himself at the start of the book by saying most biographies are about astounding people or people who have some trick to sell or some story of overcoming adversity, and he doesn’t, but here you go, let’s get into 200 pages of his unremarkable childhood. It’s still interesting to me, but holy shit, people on Amazon hated it. Anyway, we’ll see if I can finish this one up without coming up with the stupid idea that I need to start writing record reviews again.


Various Long Reads 7/19

Been a few months since I did one of these, so let’s empty out the backlog:

  • The Story Behind The Song: Slow Ride by Foghat – (Fun fact: Foghat’s first two albums were both self-titled. This was long before Peter Gabriel pulled that shit for three albums, so I think it’s unrelated.)
  • Chicago’s World Fair 1934 – A great short (half of it in color) which is neat if you like Art Deco architecture. I’m curious if any of this remains, or where exactly it took place on a modern map. Dubai is having a world expo in 2020 – maybe I’ll save my pennies and check that out.
  • Why ‘ambient computing’ is just a marketing buzzword (for now) – I haven’t heard the term “ambient computing” (nothing to do with Brian Eno) but it’s a possible direction I’ve already thought about, so it’s interesting to see someone sum it up like this.
  • Out of the Dungeon: In Conversation with Mortiis – The whole dungeon synth thing is polarizing among extreme metal fans, but every five years or so, I fall down a k-hole of Havard Ellefsen’s weird releases. Here’s a good video interview of him without the mask and ears and rest of his persona.
  • The Gorbachev Anti-Alcohol Campaign and Russia’s Mortality Crisis – I never realized the Soviet Union had a large anti-alcohol campaign in the late Eighties. (We only learned about them being an evil empire in school.) Interesting theory that the moral crisis and increased death rate post-USSR may have less to do with evil capitalism and more to do with post-prohibition ‘catch-up’ blackout drinking.
  • How the SuperPET came to be – The Commodore PET was before my time, and I don’t think I ever saw one in the wild; my history starts with the C-64/Vic-20. Here’s a history of a rare variant with two CPUs developed with the University of Waterloo to run mainframe programming languages. Here’s another link.
  • Robert Christgau, ‘dean of rock critics,’ still obsesses over music – Every few years, I waste about three days reading every review he’s written of every album I’ve ever bought, and we disagree on about 90% of them but he’s still somewhat genius.
  • First Blood Filming Locations – I don’t even know how I got on this tangent, except maybe I thought it was shot somewhere in Southwest Washington, because it sure looks it, but of course it was shot in Canada.
  • Tales of a BeOS Refugee – This is more about early OS X, but any time I see something related to Be, I bookmark it, because good luck doing a google search on it. Fun fact: I remember applying for a job at Be in 1996 when I thought it was the coolest thing in the universe. Glad I didn’t relocate for that one.
  • The Real Story Behind Danzig’s Mother Video – I like listening to the first three Danzig albums just as much as I like making fun of Danzig, which is a lot, so I’m a bit conflicted here. I like the bit about the model later insisting it was an actual Satanic ritual and Glenn had cursed her. (Her name is Jill Kethel if you want to look up her workout videos on youtube.)
  • The End of the Waffle House – If you went to Bloomington back when I did and you ever needed caffeine and grease at three in the morning, you probably remember this place, which unfortunately closed in 2013 and is probably now a bunch of condos.
  • Halcyon Days – A series of interviews from 20-some years ago with many classic game programmers. I got pulled into this because of an interview with Ed Averett, who wrote the bulk of the Odyssey 2 games for Magnavox, a system which most people have completely forgotten.
  • Star Raiders reverse engineering – I first read about this in POC | GTFO and I don’t know what’s more amazing: all the weird hacks the original programmers used to fit this game into 8K, or how someone meticulously reverse-engineered the source code.

As always, here’s another plug for you to go get my latest book if you haven’t already.


Tornado, even-number nostalgia, Commodore, etc.

That tornado last week hit the south side of South Bend. I think it was an F-2, and touched down right across the street from Ray’s old apartment at Irish Hills, which is just a touch east of where Scottsdale Mall used to be. It hit a daycare center dead-on, completely destroyed it. Luckily it was a Sunday, and nobody was there. No other real damage, except a few people with uprooted trees and broken lawn furniture and whatnot. Lots of idiots recording the funnel clouds from a hundred yards away for Facebook likes.

It’s weird because I very specifically remember that exact location. I used to drive from IUSB to Scottsdale mall every payday (I’ve told this story a million times) and that drive involves going straight down Ironwood from the school, then hanging a right on Ireland, and driving about a mile to the mall. Said tornado was just to the left of that Ironwood/Ireland intersection. The entire route of that drive is crystal clear in my head — not just the landmarks and the scenery of the drive, but how it felt to make that drive on a Friday morning. I remember very specifically listening to a Helloween live album one morning, and I have no idea why that specific trip stuck in my mind. But when I made the same trip last December, I instantly remembered that morning, for some damn reason.

I’m starting to have a lot of stupid even-number nostalgia lately. Luckily, I have no concept of time and can’t remember at any given point if it’s April or June or May or what. I passed my 30th anniversary of graduating high school. I don’t remember the specific day; I could look it up, but whatever. It was in May, I guess. So there’s a bunch of 30-year marks that hit in the next few months, none of them worth celebrating, but all of them being an annoying little itch in the back of my brain I can’t really scratch.

(I don’t know if my class had a reunion or not. I would not have been able to attend, but I wonder if I’ve moved enough times that I’ve fallen off their list, or they’ve all banned me on Facebook, or everyone’s too busy with their grandkids or posting speculation on a new Chick-fil-A location in Elkhart.)

There’s also a lot of 20-year things coming up, because that’s when I left Seattle and took my big extended trip across the country. I wrote a book (more or less) about this trip, and I often think that it needs to be unfucked and put into context and heavily edited. I just re-read the Chuck Klosterman book Killing Yourself to Live, which is ostensibly about visiting the death sites of rock stars, but is 80% about his own shit knocking around his head during the deep introspection that happens when you take weeks stuck in a car alone to drive across the country. This made me go back and read my trip book (which used to be online, but I pulled it down long ago) and it’s so wooden and horrible and so far off-brand there’s no fucking way I could publish it without a complete rewrite.

Someone is supposedly coming out with a new Commodore 64 for Christmas. This company had a mini-64 which looked cute and played all the games on a modern TV set, but the keyboard was fake, and you had to plug in a USB one. And although I did play a lot of C-64 games, I think the main reason I would want one is to screw around with programming it. The thing is, I can run an emulator on my computer, and this re-release is nothing more than some system-on-a-chip Linux computer that’s running the same emulator, most likely. It will be neat and cool, for like fifteen minutes, and then I’ll get bored of it. And not only do I have that emulator on my computer, and a Raspberry Pi that has that emulator, but I have a real C-64 in storage.

I think one of the reasons that doesn’t interest me as much anymore is the time constraint issue. When I think back to 1985 when I first got a Commodore, I must have spent hundreds of hours a month fucking around on it, playing the same four games over and over, typing in programs from Compute’s Gazette, and trying to write my own games in BASIC. Now, it takes me a major scheduling coup to get more than an hour to waste time on something. That’s why I tell anyone I know under the age of 18 the same thing: either get a $100 guitar and practice scales and modes until your fingers bleed, or memorize every programming book you can find, while you still can remember things. Burn that shit in, because there’s no goddamn way you’re going to memorize anything once you hit 40.

I took the next week off, because the last two months have severely burned me out. No plans or trips, just trying to write and not work. We’ll see how that goes.

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