I have a new zine out

I have a new zine out.

It is called Mandatory Laxative #14. It is about lunchables and satanism.

It is 20 pages long. It is printed on an inkjet printer. It is as lo-fi as possible. I didn’t even spell-check it.

It contains the following “stories”:

  • Pain Is Only Temporary (Unless It Is Chronic)
  • A Scene Where A Guy Goes To A Colonics Clinic, Falls In Love With The Cashier, And Almost Ends Up Shooting A Fountain Of Coffee From His Ass
  • Sleep Letter Zero
  • Letter to Freddy
  • I Am A Satanist And I Like Toast Because It Is Cult And Evil
  • Someday This Could Be You
  • I Love Lunchables
  • Late At Night With Dwight Dingleson
  • Remember the Alamo, Motherfucker
  • Two Men Discuss Low Calorie Pizza Before A Ritual Satanism Killing
  • This Knife Means Fucking Business
  • Chili Sweats at Aerie #666
  • The Inevitability of an Accidental Saline Enema

It is listed on Goodreads here.

It is not available on Amazon. It is not available as an ebook or a PDF. It’s barely available at all. It is a limited edition of about 30 copies. If you really want a copy, and you are in the US, paypal me $4 and your postal address. jkonrath at rumored.com.

 

 

Dead Mall: Vallco Mall Cupertino

I had to go to Cupertino last week for a work bowling party thing. I followed the GPS to a Bowlmor, parked in a garage, and realized it was actually an anchor to a large mall. I had a few minutes to do a quick lap, and suddenly realized I’d chanced upon the most elusive dead mall situation: a huge mall that was in it’s final moment of end-stage death.

I’m fascinated by malls. It’s always bugged the hell out of friends that I travel a thousand miles to some new place and want to go to a mall and not buy anything, but it’s an unfortunate illness of mine, and I can’t escape it. I grew up going to malls, then I worked in one as a teenager, and spent all my time in a Montgomery Ward, or wandering the concourses during breaks. Even on days off, I’d go to work just to hang out. Or I’d drive to any of the other malls, to see the competition, and people-watch. It was the 80s, and malls were the biggest part of our cultural zeitgeist. Even in the 90s, I would find it almost meditative to go to College Mall in Bloomington or Northgate in Seattle and walk the loop, look at consumerism in action, and maybe get a pretzel or a book.

This all slowed down in the 00s. First, my default mall in New York was destroyed back in 2001, when a combined 220 stories of skyscraper fell on it. But aside from that, malls across the country crumbled. People shopped online; commerce went to big box stores; and the mighty anchor tenants all started to die. It became a quicksand situation where people stopped going to malls because there were fewer stores, and more stores closed because fewer people were going to malls. The massive indoor palaces were no longer updated, and when the seventies and eighties decor got too aged and the land underneath became too valuable, they were all “de-malled” and bulldozed under, usually to build a series of disconnected big-box stores or strip malls lacking the character or presence of a singular building with common areas.

I’d never been to Vallco Mall in Cupertino, but its history is similar to most. The mall was built in 1976, then expanded during the big boom in 1988. At its peak, it had about 200 stores, including five anchors: JC Penney, Macy’s, Sears, AMC, and Bowlmor. At one time, it also had an ice skating rink, and there are/were a variety of food options, hotels, and condos around the complex. I don’t have the full chronology, other than scattered news articles and a poorly-written Wikipedia article, but it appears it went through the standard lifecycle of a mall, including a long slide in the 00s, owner bankruptcy and buyout in the late 00s, more additions and seismic refitting, and various legal battles about expansion and condo-ing.

And now, the de-malling will begin. After much complicated legal wrangling, the plan is to destroy everything and build The Hills at Vallco, a two-billion dollar fake city square mixed-use monstrosity, with a huge green roof, expensive condos, an organic farmer’s market, upscale retailers, vegan yoga classes, green energy, and whatever catch phrase you can throw in to pull a more affluent demo. The interesting thing about all of this is that Vallco is in an incredibly prime location. It’s right next to the Apple corporate campus, in the heart of the 11th-wealthiest city in the country. In the past, Vallco was one of the only malls in the South Bay. Now, there are several, plus malls are a dying thing. I rag on the new plans, but the renderings do look nice, and it probably fits in better with the character of the town.

When I walked around last week though, the mall was absolutely heartbreaking. Of the 200-some stores, there were maybe a dozen still operational. It looked as if the mall was not renewing old leases, and letting them time out as they ended, so most of the residents were now gone, but there were a few stragglers remaining. Bowlmor was still alive, and the JC Penney was still fully operational, but both Macy’s and Sears had bugged out, and were completely stripped and boarded shut. There was a huge food court with maybe three dozen stalls, all empty except for a single taco place. A role-playing game place and a comic store were still fully operational, but completely devoid of customers. There was an indoor slot car racing place going, which is an oddity in 2016. But there wasn’t much else.

The mall had such an eerie, haunting feeling to it, though. The bones of the mall, the concourses and hallways and escalators, were all completely normal, running, clean, and decorated. But the style of the mall was very much 1993. Most malls got some injection of life around that time, expansion and facelifting, and it looks like they did this here, and it was frozen at time in the early Clinton years. Nobody was there when I visited at lunch time; I think I saw two geriatric mall walkers, and nobody else. It reminded me of being in a mall when I worked there, at 6AM before even the security guards were present, when everything was shut and locked and powered down. It very much gave me the feeling I wasn’t supposed to be there as a civilian, that I’d accidentally stumbled through a locked door and at any moment, a security guard would show up and usher me out. But everything was completely open for business, lights on, main doors unlocked.

The stores were another matter. Some were completely gone, the interiors torn out, bare to studs, the fronts taped shut, wrapped in plastic. Others were cleared out of all merchandise, but signage and racks still remained abandoned. And others looked like they closed for the evening a year ago, the night gates padlocked, but the store collecting dust, like something out of Chernobyl.

The whole thing was nostalgic and bittersweet and horrible. I’ve had a terrible problem with nostalgia recently, spending far too much time thinking about my own past in the 80s and 90s – not wanting to go back to that, but wanting to somehow explore it or write about it. It’s a terrible waste of time and bandwidth, and it’s honestly very emotionally painful. It’s a symptom of The Crisis, which I keep hinting at but haven’t been fully able to write about or wrap my head around. I almost mourn the feeling of having these communal things in my life, now that they are gone and we’re forever compartmentalized into our web browsers and tightly isolated social networking communities. I saw these monstrous commercial communities run from the inside out, and then they all suddenly vanished.

And it was so strange to stumble across one, trapped in amber like this. It wasn’t like when I go to a random midwestern mall that’s been beaten and fucked, all the prime retailers gone and the places left to cash-for-gold and dollar stores that bring in nothing, because the entire town has shifted in location and moved to far suburbs, leaving the mall to go to seed. Those have a feeling of desperation and real deer-in-headlights failure. This was much more surreal. I mean, this was a mall where a 16-screen AMC multiplex was just built in 2009 – like since I’ve arrived here – and it’s about to get torn down. It was like looking at a very late model car that had been totaled, like when you see pictures of a Lamborghini Aventador that has been flipped eight times. Parts of it were trapped in time at that high point of mall culture, and parts were already gone. It was a really hard thing to reconcile.

Anyway, more photos here. If you’re a local and want to check it out, do it immediately, because the place probably only has a few weeks left.

 

2015

I hate January 1.

It’s a double-barreled hate. First, I have an overwhelming urge to look at what happened in the last 365 days, and that sends me down a horrible nostalgia spiral. That makes me think of what I missed, who is gone, what I screwed up, what I didn’t do, and imposes a thick layer of shame and regret that’s difficult to escape.

But also, the whole “new year, new me” thing cripples me. I feel like I can’t do the same thing I did on December 31, because I need to reinvent myself, do great things, set lofty goals, become healthy. I need to learn new things, start new projects, and instantly become a better person. And just thinking about all of this overwhelms me.

2015 was a shit year, for a lot of reasons I can’t even list here. I seriously had about five years’ worth of bad things happen this year. Health stuff, relationships, work, writing – it all went south in a big way. I managed to almost get out of the deep hole I dug myself into, but in many ways, I feel like 2015 was a wasted year. There’s more pressure for me to not do this with 2016, and find some relief and balance.

I did publish a book. It wasn’t that well received, and my book sales as a whole have completely dried up. But it was a long struggle to get anything done this year, so I’m glad that came out of it. I had a lot of fun making stupid memes on facebook, which was probably my biggest source of joy this year. I walked almost a thousand miles this year. So some stuff happened.

But yeah. Fuck 2015. Looking forward to getting more done in the next year.

Killed by Death

Hard to believe the news I heard last night: Lemmy is dead. I knew it was coming, but I expected a long, slow decline, and not the sudden shutdown from a cancer just found a few days ago. I knew he had health problems, and I’d heard he was moving a bit slower, using a cane, not able to make some recent tour dates. He also didn’t sound great on Maron’s podcast recently. But shit, it’s easy to think of that medical decline as the same calculated swagger a rode-hard-put-away-wet aging rock start like Keith Richards also sports. It seemed like Lemmy would plow on forever.

Like many, my first memory of Motörhead is seeing them on the show The Young Ones, back when MTV showed the reruns late Sunday night. This must have been like my freshman year of high school, so it was years after the first era of the band, right before Lemmy moved to LA to start the second round. There were a lot of great bands on that show (The Damned were another standout for me) but “Ace of Spades” was the one that hooked me. My metal diet at the time consisted of a lot of Metallica and Iron Maiden, so it made sense that Motörhead would click with me.

I asked my buddy Ray about the band, since he was the only one of my friends into anything cool metal-wise at that point. He immediately loaned me his two-tape copy of No Remorse, and I dubbed them onto a C-90, which I memorized over the course of a few thousand listens. I admit I didn’t do much exploration of their back catalog (not that it would have been easy in that pre-internet era) but I did listen to both sides of that tape constantly. I remember many a time walking across the IU campus with that thing in my walkman, wearing my leather jacket, wishing I had a Harley (even though Lemmy didn’t really ride motorcycles.)

The one album that really burned in for me was 1916. I bought it when it came out in 1991, and listened to it constantly. It was a year I was commuting to the IUSB campus from Elkhart, and would fit in a complete listen each day, for months. I also hung out with Ray a lot in that spring semester, and it was permanently stuck in his tape player, too. I got my VW Rabbit that spring, and I think 1916 was the only tape I listened to for the first six months I had the car.

I was dating someone in Bloomington while I worked in Elkhart in the summer of 1991. Every other weekend or so, I’d finish my second-shift duties at midnight on Friday night, take a quick shower, then hit the road for the four-hour drive down the middle of the state, that tape blaring in the little VW. “Nightmare/The Dreamtime” is the eerie song that still reminds me of driving wide-open-throttle through the darkness on the way down there.

Another big memory of Motörhead was when internet commerce and my collection fetish really geared up in the late 90s. Right around then, Castle reissued all the old Motörhead albums on CD, all remastered with new bonus tracks and b-sides and whatnot. And of course, I immediately had to have all of them. I bought a lot at Silver Platter records in Seattle, but also used to shop online at I think CD Connection, or one of the other early online sites (which have all long since died.) But searching the used bins and scouring all the new CD stores in the greater Seattle area was a constant process I remember well.

I haven’t followed the band as much as of late. It’s no fault of theirs; just that I haven’t been following music as much as I drift into the great Midlife and become much less enthused about anything new coming out. It feels much better to put on No Remorse and think about tooling around in my beat-up Camaro back in high school than it does clicking the Buy button on iTunes and making the somehow unsatisfying purchase — actually “lease” — of some songs out in the cloud I will only listen to twice because, life. I think the last physical purchase I made of theirs was 2004’s Inferno, and I couldn’t name a single song on it. But, I could tell you exactly what points drop out of that original C-90 tape I played a million times in the last 30 years. Funny how that works.

I didn’t know much about Lemmy in the early days of no wikipedia and shitty J-cards with no text inside them in the old releases of tapes. I only knew him from his image, his swagger, and the way he talked in Decline of Western Civilization 2 (which he apparently hated). I found out more about him later, from the internet and his book White Line Fever. It always amazed me that Lemmy seemed like the ultimate persona someone would invent, especially in the era of guys like Alice Cooper or Gwar or King Diamond creating an outward appearance as a representation of their work. No offense to any of those acts, but no “act” could ever keep up the the act 24/7 for decades, especially as times changed over the years. Kiss dropped the makeup; the big hair bands lost the hair and turned to “unplugged” shows and ballads. But Lemmy was always Lemmy. When music was about punk and speed metal in the early 80s, he was Lemmy; it moved to heavy metal, and he was Lemmy. When grunge killed everything, he was still Lemmy. You could never group Lemmy into another category – he was always just Lemmy. A lot has been said in the last day about how much of a badass he was, how much he drank, how loud the music was, and all that is true. But the biggest takeaway for me was that he did what he wanted, even when that was something that the popular trend didn’t want, and he was what he did. That amazes me.

There was some Lemmy quote that I can’t find about not eulogizing the dead, so I won’t. I think he’ll always be alive as long as we still have his music, so that’s where I’ll leave it.

i did (various)

Never open a blog post with an apology.

  • I bought the new battery case for the iPhone. Even though I have a new iPhone, the battery life is shit, or at least it is when one abuses facebook as much as me. The case isn’t as bad as it looks online, and is well-designed as far as feel and function. The thing I like is the battery is integrated into the OS, so you have two battery gauges in Notifications, and the phone is smart enough to run off the external until it is dead, then switch to the internal, or charge the internal from the external. The bad is that the headphone jack won’t work with L-bracket headphones, and my car’s controls don’t work 50% of the time with the wired connection. (The bluetooth is fine, though.) I can now get about two heavy days of use from an overnight charge.


  • I wanted to write a big thing about the Thanksgiving trip to Hawaii but didn’t. Here are the pictures.


  • I saw the movie Spotlight on Saturday. It’s the story of the Boston Globe uncovering the Catholic molestation scandal in Boston. It has some decent performances in it, like Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Liev Schreiber. I didn’t love it – I felt like the structure was pretty flat, like it was a drama filmed by working through a New Yorker article line by line instead of a script. This seems to be a common theme in docudrama type films as of late, and it makes me wonder if people can only grok this type of thing when it’s so predigested, or if it’s a stylistic choice, and it will change after a certain point in time.


  • The subject matter of the movie – the Catholic church epidemic of sexual abuse and the coverups, of course pissed me off to no end. It’s an apples/oranges comparison, but it was timely to me because we’re in this era of anti-Muslim rhetoric by christians, and the Catholic church is horrible in its own way because of this. (Yes, christian != Catholic, not all Catholics are pedophiles, etc etc. But still.)


  • The one thing I did find interesting was the movie was set in 01, and there were a lot of near-past things that touched me, like seeing billboards for a then-monstrous AOL, and all the not-that-old-but-now-ancient technology, like giant CRT monitors. (And they all looked faked, like the glass tubes were taken out and replaced with fake screens or flat screens. Maybe they don’t film well on DV? Or are in scare supply?)


  • I’ve been infatuated with Terry Riley as of late, particularly In C. I also love The Harp of New Albion, but there’s something particularly interesting about the modular, improvisational way In C is put together that I really love. There’s a score floating around for free with his performance notes that’s worth checking out, or read the wikipedia article.


  • I haven’t been reading much or writing at all, and I’m very depressed about that and what to do next. The last book has pretty much stalled out and run its course, and I don’t know what to do about that other than move on. But it’s very depressing to put a year and a half into a book and then have it vanish from radar in a matter of weeks.


  • Big travel week next week (IL, IN, WI) that’s wall-to-wall family stuff. I hope it’s not 40 below zero and snowing the whole time, but you get what you get.

The Latest S

Another two years have passed. My iPhone wouldn’t hold a charge more than half a day anymore, and I got annoyed at carrying an external battery charger everywhere. So this week, it was off to the Apple Store to trade in the old 5s for the new 6s.

First things first: I do not understand what the hell is going on with upgrading phones. I’m on AT&T, and it used to be you had a contract, you did your two years of time, then you came in and got a $700 phone for $200 or $300 and the promise to re-up for another two years. I realize phones are not “free” and you pay for that $500 subsidy over time. I recently moved to a different plan and gave up my unlimited data plan so I could use tethering, which was probably a mistake, especially since everything is streaming or in the cloud now. But anyway, I was under the assumption this upgrade deal would continue, and the AT&T web site made it look like it would.

But once I got to the store, they said no. I was given three options: pay $750 for an unlocked phone, join AT&T Next and pay an extra $25 a month for the phone and be locked in for 30 months with an option to swap phones at 24 months, or use Apple’s financing to pay some amount (maybe like $25, I don’t know and I’m too lazy to look it up) and then trade up every year. There is allegedly some discount on the AT&T Next thing if you have a newer plan, probably with a lower data amount — I don’t even fucking know. All I know is my cell phone bill went up like 25% for no real reason, but I did end up not paying for the entire phone up front. So they have made it so you pay the same price for not getting the phone subsidy, or you can pay extra to get the subsidy, which is total bullshit. I have a feeling if I would have said “Yeah, I’m not upgrading at all today and keeping my old shit phone” they would have charged me another $25 a month to do that.

Anyway. I jumped from 5s to 6s. The biggest thing about the 6s is the phone itself – it moved from the 4” to the 4.7” size. I looked at the 6s+, and it seemed far too big for a phone. The 6s is honestly too big for me. It’s also very slippery and I’m almost sure I would drop it within the first day if I didn’t get a rubbery case for it. I haven’t dropped an iPhone ever, but I’m certain I won’t make it six months with this one without face-planting it, hopefully not on concrete. The move of the lock button to the right side is also awkward to me, and touching anything at the top of the screen is a chore when holding the phone in one hand. Maybe I should have gone to the larger size and just completely given up on ever using it with one hand. I like the small amount of extra screen real estate, but honestly, there are rumors of a 4” next-gen phone, and I’d almost consider that when the next upgrade cycle happens (and who knows when the hell that is now, with this stupid contract I signed.)

The 6s is faster. It’s much faster, but I’m sure I won’t notice it in a week or so, and it will be the new normal. But the touch ID is remarkably fast. Battery life is about the same. There is the new 3D Touch feature, which detects finger pressure and opens little pop-up windows for frequently-used functions. This feature is largely useless to me, and is the equivalent to when right-clicking was introduced in Windows 95. It meant that some but not all things had a weird right-click menu on it, and you never knew what you could do unless you experimented forever to find these “bonus” menus in odd places, and who has time for this shit.

The camera is a big upgrade, going from 8 to 12 MP on the rear, and 1 to 5 on the front, with better sensors (really the important part, not megapixels) and the video moving to 4K. I haven’t had a chance to do much with the camera yet, but I used my iPhone as camera for most of my vacation pictures over Thanksgiving, so I see myself doing that going forward.

Upgrade was smooth, going from a backup. I had a phone with no music and no stuff on it for the drive home, which was the same as last time. But this time, I also had a watch that was similarly dead (although it could still tell time and everything) because my watch was now paired to an old phone that had been wiped and traded in. The one snag I had moving forward was that Apple Music and the iTunes Cloud crap meant that no music was syncing on the device anymore, and I was streaming everything. I had to fuck around forever with making playlists available offline, and I’m still not sure they are. Apple really needs to figure that shit out.

There’s always been an odd emotional reaction when the old phone gets wiped, shut off, and shoved in an envelope to go off to the recycling plant. My phone never leaves me, has everything on it, and there’s always a close emotional bond to it, as stupid as that sounds. My phones end up going to many states and countries, held to my face for many long phone calls, and tapped away for literally years of online interaction.

This strange nostalgia seems to happen less and less now with each upgrade cycle; I remember it being horrible the first time I traded in my broken iPhone 3G for a new one, after only nine months of use. Now, it’s not as big of a thing. With the cloud stuff and upgrade process, it’s more like a digital soul is being pulled from one host and dumped into another, because the new phone had the same old layout and data and preferences, but in a shiny new case.

Makes me wish I could do that with my own body at some point. Isn’t Kurzweil done with that shit yet?

 

 

last night’s dream

i had a dream last night that i was taking an autocad class in the basement of a methodist church, taught by chef robert irvine and david lynch.

irvine had no syllabus and kept yelling at the dozen or so students asking what they wanted to learn, and nobody would say anything. he was like that urban legend professor that came in on the first say and asked “does anyone have any questions” and taught nothing else, until the people caught on that they needed to ask him what they wanted to learn, except he was much more mean.

i spoke up and said i thought it was neat that you could draw a two-dimensional spindle and then rotate it on one point and create a three-dimensional shape. i wasn’t sure if spindle was the correct term, or sprocket, but i drew a trapezoid on the ipad-like controller and spun it around to make a donut shape.

lynch was infatuated by this and kept saying “spindle, spindle, spindle” and talking about how film turned two-dimensional shapes into three-dimensional hallucinations using our mind. He drew an odd squiggly shape, rotated it, and it became a perfect pizza.

we went upstairs and crashed someone’s wedding and stole a bunch of cheese.

New (Old) Kindle

I bought a new Kindle, but an old Kindle. It’s actually a Kindle DX, the large-screen variety, which is long discontinued, but for some reason, Amazon occasionally has them in stock, through “Amazon Warehouse,” whatever that is.

I am not really a fan of ebooks. I gave it an honest go back in 2010 or so, bought a lot of my favorite published authors at crazy markup prices, like buying Vonnegut classics at ten bucks a pop. But I found reading fiction to be difficult on a Kindle. Because everything is the same font, and the device always has the same feel, the same heft in your hand, it removes the experience of reading the book, and I typically retain nothing I read on a Kindle. I went back to paper, and I’m fine with that, mostly. There are more titles available, it’s often cheaper in the long run, and there’s something about going to a physical book store that I miss when I’m simply e-hoarding books online.

But, there’s a big problem with space, and allergies. I’m finding that old books, ones infested with dust and mites, make me incredibly sick. I simply cannot buy a fifty-year-old paperback from a used book store, because the moment I open the browning pages, I have a horrible allergy attack. Yes, I take the medicine and I get the shots, but I’ve pretty much exhausted the medical possibilities. I just can’t read old books. And now, I’m finding my “new” books are all old. I pulled a Kerouac book of letters the other day, just for a quick skim, and it made me sick. And I “just” bought that book, but when I checked the receipt stashed inside, and it’s twenty years old. So I don’t know what to do about that.

It’s nice to not have the clutter involved with collections. I was religious about collecting CDs and DVDs, and they took up a good amount of my apartment when I was single. After I got married, and after the technology of MP3s and streaming video took off, I ripped everything, and junked or stored away all optical media. I don’t really miss it, and I’m glad I have the space. But books are more difficult for me.

I have issues with current e-readers, too. I love e-ink displays. The first few iterations of Kindle had less refined screens, a lower PPI count, the weird black-flashing issue with a slow refresh speed, and some slight ghosting of old images. There are new ones with higher PPI, better resolution, and backlighting. But they’re all the smaller screens. As my eyes go, I really want a big screen. Ideally, I would want an 8.5×11 screen. This also helps with PDFs, which you really want to not get downscaled or zoomed weird.

But, the big-screen e-ink readers just don’t exist. Sony has one in Japan, that’s insanely expensive, like $800 or something. And there are one or two cheapie made-in-China ones that are half-broke, hard to buy, and still pretty pricy. Every year, there are CES rumors of a big-screen reader, but these are always vaporware, and — huge pet peeve of mine — put out the idea that there are big-screen readers. But what you see at CES is never what you get, and they simply aren’t out there.

I don’t think the masses want a paperwhite e-ink display. They want a tablet, something like an iPad that can play games, show a video, and do things best left to a color screen that eats batteries. I have an iPad, and they’re great, but I can’t read on it. It causes too much eyestrain, and I’m also convinced that heavy use of a screen right before bed causes bad sleep hygiene. Almost all of my reading takes place in the hour or two before sleep, so I can’t deal with an iPad. That’s where paper has been great, and where a big e-ink display could be helpful.

So I hunted down the Kindle DX, and I found this one on Amazon. It was only $140, which was a steal, compared to the original $400-ish list price five years ago. This is the Kindle DX Graphite, which has the 3G connection, no WiFi, and the second-gen DX display, which is “50% improved.” It has roughly the same lineage as the third-gen Kindle Keyboard, but less RAM inside. No backlighting, no apps, no touchscreen.

Although the Amazon page made it sound like this was a used model or maybe a refurb, this was a new-in-sealed-box model, with plastic on it and everything. The only snags I found was that it did not come with an AC adaptor, just the USB cable. (Not a problem, I have 784 110V-to-USB adapters around here.) But it also would not register to the Whispernet network, and the wireless appeared dead. I gave them a call, they asked me for the serial number and a few other things (IMEI, something else) and then after a reboot, it connected wirelessly and all my stuff was ready to go.

My main use for this, at least initially, is to read PDFs. I have a giant archive of UFO docs and conspiracy theory stuff, FOIA requests and declassified government reports, and it will be nice to plop all those onto this thing. The screen is 5.5×8, so almost the size of a paperback book. It’s much easier to read than the original one I have. So I will give it another go.

It’s oddly nostalgic for me to look back at the documents that were waiting for me on the Kindle. I got my original Kindle in 2009, and toward the end of my Samsung tenure, spent a lot of my lunch time reading science fiction books on it. Also, when I started my allergy shot regimen in 2010, I would bring the Kindle and get a lot of reading done there. I had horrible writer’s block then, didn’t know what would be next for my writing, so I was reading a lot of Philip K. Dick books for inspiration, and also a lot of schlocky how-to-write books, which were useless. The Kindle font, and the general layout of the thing, the dark grey letters and the LCD-like background color, remind me so much of reading those books. But I can’t really remember much about them. So, we’ll see how this works out.

 

The Watch

I got an Apple Watch this week – it was an anniversary present from my wife. I’ve vaguely wanted one, but wasn’t sure. I’ve used it for a day now, and it’s interesting in the same way all new Apple products are interesting to me.

I’ve had two different experiences with new Apple products: either it is a complete game-changer, or it doesn’t seem to offer anything, and over time, it slowly becomes apparent why it is valuable. A clear example of the latter is the Apple TV. We had a Roku box, and replaced it with the Apple TV. And at first, all I thought was “okay, more of the same.” It didn’t run apps, didn’t do anything special, and was pretty much the same thing, with a different UI and slightly different lineup. But then its value became slowly more apparent as I realized I could stream anything from my Mac into the living room, and use AirPlay to mirror over video from an iOS device.

Other things hit it out of the park. Switching from a big tower PC with Linux to a little Mac Mini in 2005 was a complete game-changer. Moving from a MiniDisc player to an iPod with every piece of music I owned was a complete paradigm shift. The move from a crap Windows Mobile phone to an iPhone in 2009 was a huge thing. I think any time I replaced something with an Apple equivalent device, it was a major positive change, and usually added functionality that greatly helped my productivity. Or, in most cases, it removed distractions that gave me much more time to focus on other things.

The iPad was a weird example, though. It didn’t replace anything; it was an odd supplement. It did take over using an old laptop when I was sitting on the couch watching TV, and made the passive second-screen experience much more fluid. It also took over using my main laptop on planes or during travel. But it ping-ponged between being too big to be a phone and too small to be a laptop. I tried bringing only it on small trips, using it as a writing machine with an external keyboard, and it never really hacked it. I also used it as an ebook reading machine, before I largely gave up on reading ebooks, because they are horrible and you really should read everything on paper. I love the iPad, but it’s stuck in this chasm between what I need and what I want.

That brings us to the watch. First, like any other Apple product, it is immaculately designed and engineered. The display is incredibly crisp and radiant. The lines of the case are smooth and minimalist. The way it sits on the wrist is not overly “techie” looking like a Pebble watch or other smart watches. It’s very sleek and smaller than my last watch, a Timex Expedition.

I’ve always worn watches. I never don’t wear one, including at night and in the shower. Since high school, it has been a changing cast of plastic waterproof Timexes and Casios, ranging from the most basic drug-store cheapies to a few more expensive G-Shock and Ironman models. My only real requirement of a watch is that I don’t need to think about it, that it is ultimately waterproof, unobtrusive, and has a battery that lasts a long time. I don’t care about fashion or gold or leather or any of the fetishistic Rolex-esque collectible qualities. I dislike analog watches, and I don’t care for wind-up or mechanical watches. If I have to have features, I want a date function, maybe a multiple-timezone thing, a very readable display, and a light is key.

I’ve wandered into the world of smart watches only in the earliest ideas of it. I did have a solar-powered G-Shock with altimeter, barometer, and all that jazz. It was okay, but did not charge well indoors, and I never went outdoors. I did a few different iterations of the Timex DataLink, which was interesting, but ultimately flawed. I generally like the look and feel of Timex, but it always seems they don’t test the UX of their watches, or they generally have 80% of the features I want, and the other 20% is sheer stupidity. And then when they break a year later, you have no way to replace a weird-shaped proprietary band or get them repaired, so they are ultimately disposable.

There are obvious issues with my demands that an Apple Watch won’t meet. It needs to be charged daily. There are Apple apologists who say you can maybe get two days out of it if you turn everything off and don’t actually use it, but get real — you need to charge it every day, for about 45 minutes or so. You could do this at night, but I like to have a watch on at night so I can read the time when I wake up at 2:37, and I’m interested in tracking sleep. I also can’t really wear the Apple Watch in the shower. You can, but it’s “splash resistant” and not “water resistant 5M” or whatever. Washing hands with it on is fine. It’s probably best to keep your wrist clean and avoid irritation, too. So I will try to kill two birds here and put it on the charger in the morning while I am getting ready, and let it charge while I’m in the shower. That’s a change in workflow, and I’m super anal-retentive about getting ready in the morning and do everything in the same exact order like I’m on the spectrum or something, because if I don’t follow a Rainman-esque procedure, I end up putting on deodorant four times and then only shaving half my face. So I need to get used to the new procedure.

The interface to the watch is interesting. It’s a new paradigm. When the iPhone came out, it took a page from the Palm Pilot playbook and made itself a subset of the Mac from which it synced, so you took only your essential data and mirrored it to your phone, along with its own Apps. This is different than the way Windows Mobile and now some Android phones work, with a different methodology, in that the phone is a PC, and the data is partitioned or divided between the two in some hodge-podge manner just like if you had two completely different PCs in your house. My friends who believe in the phone-as-PC are dumbfounded by the phone-as-subset paradigm, and think it is an indicator that the iPhone is “stupid” or “cobbled” because it can’t do everything a PC could. I see it as the opposite; a phone masquerading as a PC usually can’t do everything as well. The input and output methods on a phone aren’t the same as a PC, so you need to tailor the UI of the phone differently, to expect a touchscreen and fat fingers and less viewing area. You also want to keep a phone lightweight, so it requires less CPU and uses less battery. (This is more apparent on the tablet-as-full-PC paradigm, like the Surface. When you transfer an entire PC to a tablet, you also bring over all the parasitic overhead of an OS that has to be backward-compatible 20 years, so you have a disaster of a registry system, DLL hell, the requirement of a thousand background processes and virus scanning and obsolete drivers for floppy drives and line printers polluting your OS, and random PC LOAD LETTER errors or whatever the hell else you don’t want popping up in a Win 3.11-esque UI on your tiny touchscreen.)

So the Watch is a subset of a subset. It pairs with your iPhone and gives a glimpse of its data through a bluetooth tether, with a certain amount of computing working through its own CPU, memory, and network connectivity in the form of WiFi. I don’t know what the division is; this is hidden from the user. It’s fairly seamless; you put on the watch, tell your phone to pair with it, and after scanning a weird QR-like code on the watch face with your iPhone camera, it’s done. It is odd to think of this Russian dolls method of nesting, but that’s how it works, and it works.

I was worried the watch UI would not work out for me with my rapidly diminishing nearsightedness, but it seems fine. The big change is the haptic interface it uses to send notifications. This is more than just a single-frequency buzzer; it uses some kind of variable motor that can make notifications feel like a “tap” of different frequency to send things to you. Depending on the app, this can be quite effective. The issue is how to standardize this on apps, or have an app come up with a good idea of how to notify you. For example, the Apple Maps app uses different tapping to indicate when you should take a turn, which is pretty genius. I think there is a good possibility for an app that uses taps to do things like tell you running pace or notify you of different types of communication via a morse code-like tapping system, to change the need to look at things. I don’t know what yet, but the idea of a haptic sensor in such a prominent place (as opposed to a phone in a pocket) could mean something significant in the form of direct communication beyond the sense of sight.

Apps right now are limited, and it depends on what you want to use the watch for. There is essentially no good input device for the watch, aside from Siri. If you use Siri a lot now, this is very useful. I use Siri at least ten times every time I cook (I can’t do measurement conversions at all — sorry for failing you, grade-school math teachers) and having it on my watch is wonderful. If you make a lot of quick phone calls, having a speaker phone on your wrist where you can yell “call home” is very useful if you drive a lot. Frequent texts, in the form of “send a message to Joe saying I’m going to be ten minutes late” is helpful.

Many of the apps — especially the mail app — are in their primitive, first-stab level of functionality. When I was sitting in bed, it was useful to open mail, and immediately delete half the messages, which I always do. But as I was doing this, it reminded me of 1999, when I had my first Sprint PCS phone, a flat rubberized slab of butt-dialing goodness that had a tiny calculator screen to show you texts and what it thought was “mobile web,” a rough and dumb approximation of browsing the internet in the form of showing you the first 18 characters of a stripped-down web site after about a minute of loading. Reading my mail messages on this little screen made me think back to those early days of reading mails on the tiny square screen of a Nokia, with no adornment or spacing or anything, just bare words in a little LCD box. It looks better and smoother on the Watch, but in my mind it is a representation or reminder of that feeling of “this is our first go at this, but in ten years, this is going to be phenomenal.”

Some apps are silly, or plain dumb. Apps are not separately synced; an iOS app may or may not have an associated Watch app. When your phone app has a watch app, you get it when you sync. As an example, the Walgreen’s phone app has a Watch app, and all it does is remind you when to take your pills. That’s it. I could have used a Watch app that showed me my rewards balance, but no. Some apps are decent. Like the Yelp app is pretty good at giving you condensed choices. The Weight Watchers app is buggy as hell and largely useless. The MLB At Bat app seems to be well thought-out, but won’t even launch for me. I think this will get better as the new native apps API get out there. The possibility for good apps exist. Maybe now that they’ve sold a few billion dollars’ worth of watches, they will start to happen.

Built-in apps are good. I like the idea of controlling iTunes with my watch. The messaging apps are decent. I rarely text or use the phone because I’m an introvert shut-in with no friends, but if you talk to friends a lot, there’s a lot of usefulness there.

One of the main reasons I wanted the watch is to keep track of fitness and quantify that. The sensors for this are excellent, as is the activity monitor. I normally use a Fitbit to count steps/floors, and the Watch seems to count slightly lower, which is normal for a wrist-mounted counting device, I think. The heartbeat sensor is pretty good. The integration with Apple Health is awesome. I first used the exercise monitor feature on yesterday’s walk, and it was great to capture my heart rate changes during the usual fast-walk with hills. I also used the Sleep++ app to track sleep last night, and that worked well.

All in all, it’s an interesting device — I’d like to see how it works out in the long term, and find more uses for it with regard to the usual writing/research/data collecting/tasks workflow.

the changing range of nostalgia

I got an observation/question in email from Larry about this (and I’m paraphrasing): back when we were in high school in the mid/late-80s, there were a couple of kids who had old cars, “classic” cars like the ’57 Chevy, and that was a big deal, because they were 30 years old and “antique.” Or back then, the twenty-year-old range put you into classic muscle cars, like the ’69 Z-28 or Mustang Mach 1.

Now, a thirty-year-old car lands you in the mid-80s. And he posits, are kids now impressed with a 1985 car with a bad tape deck the way we lusted after old Bel Airs and T-Birds?

Oddly enough, that’s true to some extent. I read a reddit for project cars (which makes total sense, because I don’t have a garage, or time, or money, or patience, so I waste tons of time looking at pictures of people restoring old cars.) And the year range of what I consider “classic” is now insanely out of reach. Every baby boomer who has cashed in and is in The Crisis is searching for that ’66 Stingray or ’69 GTO they couldn’t get back in high school, which has made the prices skyrocket. Even the completely fucked and destroyed shell of an old Camaro convertible is going to cost more than my 2014 Toyota did new.

So, the kids of now are looking back to “old” cars that I still mentally consider “new.” Like on that reddit, two of the most popular resto-mod projects are old Fox-era Mustangs (’79-’93) and first-gen Miatas (’89-’97.) When I was in high school with a falling-apart rust bucket of a 1976 car, I was given endless shit by kids whose parents bought them a new car, and the one in vogue was the ’88 or ’89 Mustang 5.0 GT. That to me is a “new” car, but now they’re almost 30 years old.

If you were looking for a cheap project, you can buy one of those mid-80s Mustangs for a grand or two, with a beat-apart four-banger engine. This was right before computerization and fuel injection took over the engine bay of modern vehicles, so it’s not hard to tear out that engine and rebuild a pick-and-pull 351 V-8 for a grand or so. You can get all the Edelbrock bolt-on stuff like an intake manifold or headers online, and head over to Tire Rack to get running gear UPSed to your door. But yeah, kids now see those as “old” cars, and are into the retro aspect as much as they are into vinyl records.

I’ve also noticed this in another k-hole I fall down, which is retro computing. I also browse through a reddit for vintage computers. When eBay first came out, I went through this thing where I had to buy an old Atari 2600, which I never had as a kid, and also re-buy a new Commodore 64 and relive the past glory of my first real computer. And people still do that, and there’s a big community of folks with old Amigas and ColecoVisions and all that. But now, I’m also seeing a lot of kids restoring “retro” machines like 386 and 486 PCs.

My first reaction to this, seeing someone fighting with a 486DX-33 and a Windows 3.1 install was “wait, what?” Because those aren’t vintage, they just came out… well… okay, twenty-some years ago. If you pull an old 486 out of the garbage and have no memory of these beasts, it’s going to seem radically different from your new PC. It will have floppy drives, a 40-Meg disk drive that’s IDE if you’re lucky, or maybe even an MFM or RLL interface. There won’t be a DVD or CD drive, USB, any sort of memory card reader, and it probably won’t have a network card. (It might have an old 10 Base T Ethernet card, if it was from an office.) It would hopefully have a VGA card, but good luck if it was Hercules or mono. And prepare for that gigantic space heater power supply used to spin up the massively loud hard drive to have bulged and leaking capacitors that need replacement.

It’s an odd thing, because in some senses, a computer from 1992 is going to be much harder to deal with than one from 1982. That pre-internet era is not as documented as it could be, and most parts and spares went into the garbage. It was also the wild west as far as standardization. Only one company made TI computers; there were dozens of Taiwanese shops knocking out PCs in the early 90s, all using only vaguely compatible pieces, and most of them are vanished and unknown. Now, every computer looks absolutely identical, but then, even the same manufacturer might have a dozen differently-cased computers, each with entirely incompatible parts. Try finding a replacement front bezel for a Leading Edge computer – your only real hope is finding another complete Model D to cannibalize.

And these “old” computers seem like they are five minutes in my past. When I started this site, I had just upgraded from a 486DX-33 to a 486-DX120. I had the same beige mini-tower case from 1992 to I think 2002, and incrementally updated bits and pieces of the system when I got a few bucks. I wrote my first two books on computers shoehorned into that box, and it doesn’t seem like it was that long ago. But 1992, that was 23 years go.

I should add the disclaimer here, so I’m not completely Andy Rooneying this, is that I don’t see anything “bad” about current computers, in a “they don’t build them like they used to” way. Same with cars – you can buy a $10,000 car and drive it for a hundred thousand miles easy, only changing the oil and maybe getting a set of tires or two. You don’t screw with distributor points and cam timing and cleaning spark plugs any more. I haven’t had to change jumpers on a computer in a long time, haven’t needed to run to the store for some random ribbon cable to get this to talk to that. They’re appliances now, and maybe something is gone in the tinkering, but I’ve got too much shit to do to mess with that now.

Still — christ, I’m getting old.