Just got back from two weeks in India. This was a last-minute work trip to Bangalore, so not really a tourism junket or an eat-pray-love thing. I didn’t bring any camera gear except a Sony a6400 and a single 16-50 lens, and only got out once to snap a few pics. It was otherwise a lot of meetings for work, and as always, I don’t get into work here.

This was my longest trip ever, and my first time in Asia. It involved three new countries (India, Qatar, and the UAE) and at 12.5 hours behind my home time zone, was the biggest jetlag hit ever. And there’s no easy way to shift a half-day. Sometimes I try shifting an hour a day before a trip, but that’s impossible here. Don’t sleep the first day, try to get some exercise in sunlight, and hit the melatonin hard. I left on a Monday night, didn’t sleep on the plane, and went straight to work on Wednesday after landing. Not a great idea. It took me a couple of days to get back to normal.

India was way out of my comfort zone. What really got me was the sheer size of the place. By population, Bangalore is bigger than all of New York City. India has four cities bigger than New York. The second-biggest city in the US is Los Angeles. India has eight cities bigger than LA. Chicago is in third place in the US; India’s ten biggest cities are all bigger. Yet there is little vertical development in Bangalore. Walking around reminded me of being in parts of Queens, where most everything is three stories and crammed together.

The noise and the traffic is what got me. I’m not used to it anymore, and it reminded me of when I’d go back to New York in the early 10s and hear the constant car horns and see the waves and waves of people on the sidewalks and wonder how I ever got used to it back in the 00s when I lived there. I mostly walked and caught an Uber or two a day, and it absolutely amazed me how frenetic traffic was there. Sometimes, you couldn’t even tell what side of the road they really drove in, because there would be two, three, five lanes of traffic crammed on a road, with motorcycles crammed in between. That said, every driver was expert-level and I didn’t see a single accident the whole time I was there.

The weather was pretty mild, and I didn’t catch much rain. There were a few epic thunderstorms, and when I went outside, the atmosphere reminded me of Bloomington nights back in 1992. It was also a neat callback to IU to see a Buffalo Wild Wings in Indirianagar. I didn’t go in, although I wondered if the conversion rate would mean ten-cent wings again.

Food was slightly problematic. I was trying to be extra careful to not get sick, so I was paranoid about drinks with ice and tap water and lettuce and really spicy food. I ate at a lot of American fast food places, and it was weird to go to a McDonald’s with no hamburgers and a half-dozen different veggie burgers. It was a Pizza Hut that eventually did me in, so that was unavoidable, but fortunately not too horrible.

I spent the first half of the trip in a particularly bad hotel, then got moved after a week to a Hilton where they were having our conference. This was in the EGL business park, which was opened in 2004. I took a long walk through the area one day, and it was amazing how it looked almost identical to any other IT park opened after the bubble. It was the same exact three-story Silicon Valley buildings, with brushed aluminum trim and mirrored green or blue glass. It reminded me almost exactly of taking a stroll around Palo Alto or Naperville or the Denver Tech Center. The Hilton was also a Hilton. It was funny to be working on my school paper one day after work, remembering last year in Denver in an almost identical hotel room in an almost identical tech park, also working on an almost-identical paper for b-school. Heavy deja vu there.

I did spend the weekend walking around various touristy places, going to Bangalore Palace and then the Museum of Art and Photography, then realizing there was no way to catch an Uber in under a day and walking five miles home. There were so many bizarre and surreal images from the long walk: two guys and a live goat on a moped; endless clusters of ham stores right next to places rebuilding motorycles or selling bulk vegetables. Pop-up stands popped up everywhere, random people with a sterno ring and a wok, whipping up curry to people eating it on the street with their hands. There were so many people, so much to see, and endless streets in every direction, a complete and constant cortisol dump into my fight-or-flight, telling me that I should be at 10/10 anxiety because I was in a random city 8,600 miles from home and didn’t speak the language and didn’t know where anything was, and the closest 7-Eleven was probably a few hours away by plane. The whole thing was so overwhelming and stressful and wonderful at the same time. I was so beyond lost and had no way to trust anything and just went with the flow of it and hoped for the best, and hours later I felt like my anxiety had gone away completely.

On Friday after work, I flew to Dubai and spent the night in the airport. That was a truly surreal experience. It reminded me of when a mall is open until some absurd hour for a holiday. I remember walking by a Rolex store with a line of people out the door, all patiently waiting to drop ten grand on a duty-free watch. I went to a cosmetics store and bought Sarah some skin care products she wanted that aren’t available in the US, and had no idea how much any of it cost because it was all in UAE Dirham. I took a shower in a lounge spa, ate three meals overnight, and worked on a school paper for a while. (I’ve now worked on my two degrees at WGU in seven different countries.)

Oh yeah, India was not as cashless as my Iceland experience. When I arrived at the airport in Bangalore at three in the morning, I grabbed about 25,000 rupees so I could get a cab and some breakfast/dinner/whatever. Sounds impressive, but that was like 300 bucks. I could not grok the conversion rate at all, and just gave out bills and hoped for the best. I remember eating a giant brunch at some place, paying them whatever, then getting home and realizing the whole meal was like $6.42.

The flight home was absolutely inhumane. 8300 miles, flying over Iran and Russia, then crossing the North Pole. That was an absolutely eerie experience. The WiFi cut out because there isn’t satellite coverage up there, and I spent a few hours looking through the camera at the view of the glaciers at 40,000 feet. I felt completely disconnected from the rest of the world, like an astronaut on the far side of the moon.

Anyway, I’m back. I did not get a lot of pictures, but at some point, I’ll post a few more maybe. Now I get a couple of days off before I get back to work.




OK, so my big trip I wouldn’t talk about last time: Reykjavik, Iceland. I flew out on the 15th and got back a week-ish later after an overnight in London. Iceland was… an experience. Interesting. Not the best place to go if you have seasonal affective disorder or love sunny weather, especially in April. But it was an experience.

The bulleted list:

  • This was, as always, a last-second trip with very little planning. I actually booked the trip three weeks before leaving, and then did very little aside from buying the Rick Steeves book and checking Duolingo and finding out they don’t even have a course on Icelandic. I did obsess over camera gear and bags a bit, and I started throwing a few things on a google map, but even the day before I left, I felt like I was completely unprepared.
  • So, SFO, hauled out my big suitcase, an REI backpack with all the camera gear in it, and my regular laptop bag. The camera gear consisted of my DSLR, an SLR, about five lenses, that Olympus pocket camera, and a dozen rolls of 35mm in a lead-lined bag.
  • First flight was to JFK, five and a half hours, leaving at noon. I had no desire or ability to sleep. I vaguely worked on a paper for school, but this was a flight too short for sleep or settling in, and just long enough to be annoying.
  • Spent an hour and a half on the tarmac in thunderstorms, and got worried I’d miss my flight, but looked it up, and we were taking the same 757 I was on, so no big deal. The main problem was the Delta terminal has almost no food, and it all closed about ten minutes after we landed. I got the very last burger and last fries off the grill at Shake Shack, and that was not advisable. I threw out the inedible hockey puck after eating half of it anyway, and hoped I could fill up on power bars and Sonata tablets on the way out.
  • The flight out was delayed a half hour every half hour, and instead of 23:00 we left at about 02:00. It was another five and a half hours flight time. The plane was half empty, and most people tried to sleep, but I never can. I nodded out for a half hour, then watched the sun rise over Greenland.
  • Keflavik International looks like a Star Wars rebel base built on a moon. The inside looks like a minimalist furniture maker from Germany designed a ski lodge for Ikea. I sprinted past the old people, and got through customs in two seconds. Went to the restroom, brushed my teeth and changed clothes, and when I got out, there was my suitcase.
  • Had some confusion on the car rental and had to get a new one at Avis. They told me 19 times not to let go of my car door when I opened it, because the wind would rip it off. I thought that was cute… until I got outside. It felt and looked like I was on another planet. Insane wind, and the temp wasn’t that cold, but it was just… weird. It looked like it was much colder than it was. Maybe it was something about the sky.
  • They gave me a little Mazda 2. I drove out and realized this was the first time I ever drove a car in a foreign country, except for Vancouver, and that doesn’t count, because they filmed X-Files there. I didn’t understand any of the street signs. Nothing was in English. Everything was in metric. The speed limits were insanely low. The highest speed limit in the country on the highways way out of town is 55mph. In cities, it’s like parking lot speed. There are cameras everywhere enforcing this with absurdly expensive tickets.
  • Went to a little cafe in Keflavik. I quickly realized everyone could speak English, but nothing was in English, and nobody would converse with me, a lot like Sweden last year. When they said “viltu langan blað með ýmsu skrifað á” to me at a million miles an hour and I said “what?” they would say “receipt?” but that’s about it. Anyway, got a great donut and a grilled ham and cheese in this little strip mall bakery, and realized I was about to be awake for some insane amount of time, like 36 hours.
  • I stopped off the highway before the bakery, got out to take pictures. I know I keep saying this, but it seriously looked like they terraformed Mars in some Ray Bradbury novel and I had a Mazda hatchback there.
  • I still had all this time to kill before I could get to my hotel, so I went to Kringlan mall. It looked like a Westfield mall, 180 stores, lots of wood, high ceilings, and packed on a Sunday. There wasn’t a single vacant store. Lots of tan tiles, no 00s-era all-white blanding like a Simon mall in America. It had a grocery store and a Hagkaup, which is a hypermart that is like if Ikea competed directly with Target. There were a lot of hardlines stores, which was odd. They had a Sbarro pizza. It was all incredibly confusing on no sleep.
  • The hotel was this weird no-staff thing where they email you a code. It had the tiniest bed I have ever seen in my life, like when my father-in-law bought my nephews “big boy beds” when they were four. It was seriously only about thirty inches wide. Nice Euro shower. It was in a neighborhood near a hospital and some commercial property, like past the suburbs. Close to the car dealerships. At least there was a Hagkaup a block away.
  • Abolutely no food around, so I stumbled into a Lebanese falafel place. I don’t speak Arabic or Icelandic, and the one guy working didn’t speak English, so there was lots of pointing. Awesome falafel, though.
  • Absolutely nobody takes or expects tips or gratuity in Iceland. They think it’s insulting. Everything is cashless, too. I never got any money, and used a card for everything.
  • I blacked out on the first night at like 19:00. I woke up refreshed and ready to start the day, then opened the shade and realized I’d been asleep for maybe three hours and the sun was just setting.
  • After a night of pseudo-sleep, I sat looking out the window, and realized that at least in my neighborhood, it resembled Anchorage, except remove everything American and redneck about it and replace it with culture from Denmark. The weather reminded me of Seattle in December: constantly clouds and rain, but only like 0.01mm of precipitation a day.
  • Monday: drove to Reynisfjara beach, about two and a half hours away. I found one of the problems was that there is no place to pull over on Iceland highways: two lanes, no rest areas, no parks, maybe an attraction every hundred kilometers. I saw a lot of beautiful desolation, but couldn’t really take pictures of it.
  • Reynisfjara is a black beach on the Atlantic. It was absolutely stunning but completely surreal. Black sand, black shores, black rocks, black mountains, gray waves that looked gigantic, coming straight from Antarctica across the world and hitting shore, creating this cold mist and fog everywhere. It did not look real, at all.
  • Second mall on the way back was Smáralind, a double-decker corridor mall, with a partial third floor of restaurants and a movie theater. It was the same exact layout as the old Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, if Scottsdale had been redone in the year 2300 by aliens. It also had a lot of durable goods, including an H&M home store, which I’d never seen. I asked someone about this, and of course the answer is there’s no Amazon in Iceland, and you have to go to the mall to buy cookware or a duvet. So it was basically like a mall in 1988, and you can guess how I felt about that.
  • Tuesday: went on this food tour where they bring you to five different restaruants. It was the guide, a couple from New Jersey, and a guy from Saudi Arabia. It was good to talk to people, but why did I fly 4500 miles to talk to someone about baseball stadiums we’d visited in the states? Anyway, the guide said there would be no freaky Icelandic food, and that was true until the very end. Lots of great lamb and fish stuff, a farmer’s breakfast, lobster tacos, ice cream, awesome, until…
  • Fermented shark. Hákarl. He brought this stuff out, little cubes on toothpicks in a glass jar. This was the stuff that Anthony Bourdain said was the single worst food he’d ever eaten in his life. He was correct. I had to eat it. It tasted like the worst piece of gristle you’ve ever spit out because you couldn’t chew it, soaked in cat urine for six months. Every attempt to chew it made it worse. I swallowed it mostly whole like a bad pill. I could not get the taste out of my mouth, and within a few hours, I was sweating what smelled like shark piss. Would not advise.
  • Stumbled to a KFC that night, which looked like someone looked at old videos a thousand years after the destruction of the world and decided to clone an authentic American eatery and got it entirely wrong. The chicken tasted like a Banquet TV dinner from 1989. People were putting ketchup on fried chicken. I only ate half of mine and left.
  • Wednesday: a three-hour 1:1 photo tour, which was largely in 47-degree wind and rain. Lots of shots and explanations about how almost all the big civic projects of the fifties were designed by one guy who invented Icelandic architecture.
  • Gave up and went to a Taco Bell for lunch. It tasted identical to one in the states. The Crunchwrap Supreme is available with bacon. The volcano burrito is still on the menu. I also – sorry, ugly American – went back to the mall and ate at a TGI Friday’s. Largely identical, very weird.
  • Thursday – drove south and went to Krýsuvíkurkirkja, which is this black church in the middle of nowhere that looks like something out of a bizarre horror film. Also drove to Fagradalsfjall, the big volcano that just blew like a year or two ago, but there’s nothing to see unless you hike miles, and it was like 35 and pouring rain, so nope.
  • I drove back into town and stopped to get more Coke Zero and found an actual dead mall. It was more of an atrium with stores around it, adjacent to a grocery, but it looked completely abandoned, and had pink and white tiles and plants growing randomly everywhere.
  • Went to the Lemmy bar in town. I don’t know that Lemmy’s estate actually was in on this; it’s just a metal bar downtown that has really good waffles and bands that play on the weekends.
  • Last day: drove about two and a half hours to Snæfellsjökull, a giant glacier to the northwest.
  • Stopped at Bjarnarfoss, a big waterfall. It was cold and muddy, and you have to go up a trail and then basically climb on loose rocks and mud to get to the base of the waterfall, which was a huge pain, especially with two cameras. Beautiful view up there. And then on the way down, I slipped and fell. Didn’t go too far, but bashed up my knee pretty seriously.
  • Drove to Arnarstapa, this fishing town on the water, and found this little place that looked like a roadhouse that hadn’t been painted since 1950 that just said “ICELANDIC FOOD” stenciled on the wall. Went inside and it was all wood and picnic tables. I got possibly the best stew I’d ever eaten in my life, and this rustic bread that was just insane.
  • Did a bit of off-roading on the f-roads with the Mazda to see the glacier. They were open enough for me to get up there, although I did have one place where I got stuck and had to rock the car back out.
  • Dinner: ate at Dill, a Michelin star restaurant. It was like ten courses and incredible, but that lamb stew was just about as good.
  • Three-hour flight to London. I was stuck overnight, so I went to a Hilton connected to Heathrow, and slept six hours in a normal-sized bed. Then I had a brutal eleven-hour flight back after every possible inconvenience at the airport.

The trip – like the Sweden trip, I hit a wall a few days in and wondered why the hell I did this instead of just going to a resort in Arizona or something and relaxing. The whole trip was very gray and rainy and I was alone and nobody spoke English and the food was bizarre, and that was on top of whatever base depression I already had going on before I left. But I think by the final day, it all clicked. And after dinner, I was walking downtown in the golden hour, maybe fifty degrees out, a crisp cold, and it all just hit me, how much I liked it and how I’d miss it after going back home. It was an odd realization. I could never live there, and I honestly don’t know that I’d come back. But it was a perfect end to the trip.

(I need to get the photos sorted. It’s a bit of a mess, and I have a lot of film at the lab. I’ll get it figured out at some point.)


Easter, new camera, trip, school

Forgot it was easter today, until I was on a long walk and wondering why everything was closed. I can’t really remember the last time I celebrated the holiday, except for maybe ordering Chinese food because that’s all that was open. Someone was talking about the Paaz egg dye kits the other day, and I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I used one. Maybe when I was ten? No idea.

Weird Easter memory, apropos of nothing: 1999, I woke up sick in a Best Western in Plainview, Texas. I was up on the second floor, had taken a heroic amount of NyQuil to knock out a horrible head cold that had been chasing me the entire trip across the country. The hotel’s alarm clock didn’t go off, and I lost another hour because of the daylight savings switch. I thought for sure I’d get an earful about easter as I tried to load up on continental breakfast and hit the road, but I managed to get out fast and not talk to anyone, until about an hour later when I got pulled over for going two over the speed limit with out-of-state-plates. Welcome to Texas.

That hotel reminds me a lot of the hotel we stayed at in Denver in 2007 when we came out to do the buy-a-car/find-an-apartment dance right before we moved. It was the Stapleton Super 8, another double-decker motel where we got stuck upstairs. I didn’t really notice the altitude in Denver… until I ran up the stairs once, and was completely wiped out.

* * *

I picked up another film camera, an Olympus XA-2. It’s a fun little camera, nice 35mm glass and no zoom, manual advance, no settings other than film ISO and a zone focus three-way switch. It’s about the size of a deck of cards, with a clamshell that opens up and you’re ready to shoot. It also has a flash that screws on the side and uses a single AA, which is neat, but I’ll never use it outside. It’s a great mostly-manual camera. Many of the compact cameras of the 80s are more automated, and wind film or have a clunky motorized zoom that’s probably about to die, like the Vivitar I have. Earlier rangefinders are big on mercury batteries you can’t get anymore. Cheaper compact cameras are all plastic toys and don’t feel as nice as the Olympus. Only real problem I had with this one is everyone wants one, so they’re not cheap. I’ve run a few rolls through it and it takes great pictures. Looking forward to doing more with it in the future.

* * *

I have a big trip coming up this week, and I have been slightly cagey about saying where, so no spoilers. I’m working on packing stuff now, and have fallen down the rabbit hole of feeling I really need a different camera bag. I picked up a Peak Design packing cube that is basically the guts of a camera backpack, so I can throw that into a 40L backpack and check that in, but then I can take it out of the backpack and use it as, like, a backpack when I am there. I am bringing my main DSLR, the main film SLR, and that Olympus, along with five lenses (I think). I have a lead-lined back I’ll use to bring a dozen rolls of film with me. Picked up some Ektachrome E100 slide film, which will be fun.

* * *

Something else I have not mentioned yet: I went back to school, again. The place where I did my MBA has an MS of Management and Leadership that is mostly all the complimentary people-skill stuff that wasn’t in the MBA, with an overlap of three classes. So I decided maybe those courses would be useful, and I like writing papers more than I like cramming for tests, and this is mostly papers. School started on April 1, and I have completed the first class, plus the overlapping ones, so I am 39% done. Much like last year’s trip to Sweden, I will be studying on a long plane ride and writing papers in a foreign country.

Not much else. It’s actually really nice out, and feels like winter is over. So of course I’m going to fly 15 hours to go back to freezing temperatures for a week. Should be fun though.


The Failure Cascade, revisited

So, much like I recently did with Book of Dreams, I recently re-read my 2020 book The Failure Cascade, and made the decision to republish it.

TL;DR – here:

My description of this book from a long-deleted post:

This is […] a bit of a departure because although it contains a few super-short flash pieces, there are also four much longer stories. I felt a need to stretch out some stories a bit, and spend more time in them, so instead of a bunch of sub-thousand word things, there are some that go beyond the 3000-4000 word mark.

This isn’t like a major departure from what I’ve done in the last few books, but it is starting to move away from it. For almost ten years now, I’ve tried this absurdist/gonzo thing, and I feel like I’ve painted myself in a corner a bit. I’ve burned a lot of cycles creating a persona I now can’t stand. I’m not exactly ready to go off and write murder mysteries or tales of martians or anything, but I feel like the part of my personality I’ve mined for stories in all of my books in the 2010s has been stripped away, and I need to start doing something else. I write about this a bit in the title story of the book.

This was a difficult book to pull together. I mean, the problem was this year, 2020, and everything shitty that happened to all of us. I took a little break after Ranch, and when I went off to Vegas in the first week of March, my goal was to hole up in a suite and spend seven days starting to build out this work-in-progress which was to become Atmospheres 2. And just as I got into that, the whole world ended and we got locked down and… well, you know the rest of that story, and it’s still ongoing. As the pandemic built, I worked on the book, and got it above 100,000 words. (The original was 60,000.) But the more I got into it, the more it didn’t make sense. And the idea of writing a manic book of post-apocalyptic non-linear madness wasn’t that appetizing, especially since I was spending most of my day doom-scrolling through a reality that was that but worse. So I set that book aside a couple of months ago, and started collecting together the core bits for this book.

Of course, I never finished Atmospheres 2. After about nine months of beating my head against the wall, I gave up writing entirely. But now, it looks like I’m back.

While I like Book of Dreams like 95%, I like Failure Cascade maybe 75%. It’s too “Konrath” and some of the structure isn’t as good as I’d like it. Not a ringing endorsement, but it’s going in the right direction. When I read through the book, I found maybe a dozen typos, and corrected those in the new version. If you already have this book, you don’t need to buy it again. I didn’t want to do anything more than fix the obvious typos, so I didn’t. Chances are, you didn’t buy this book, because almost nobody did. The Amazon algorithm does not work for me. Oh well.

I love the cover of this book. I took the picture in Mendocino, California, from a 2017 trip up there. It’s at Point Mendocino, looking out at Portugese Beach and Mendocino Bay. There was a really good taco place behind another restaurant there, and I can’t find it on the map anymore. I’ll have to go back at some point. I think probably three of my favorite twenty pictures I ever took are from that trip.

Anyway, it’s live now, so check it out. Now I’ve got to figure out what’s next.


Book of Dreams revisited, writing un-retirement

So, in 2021, I unpublished all of my books and stopped writing. There were a few reasons for this. Maybe there’s a post in that. Bottom line though is that I’ve been trying to get back out of that and write again. And as I do that and try to figure out what to write, I’m trying to figure out what to do with the 17 books I’ve published since 2000. I have 1073852 words and 3649 pages in purgatory right now, and probably the same amount in never-published projects.

I’m slowly trying to work through this. In reading a few of my old books and thinking about it, one bit of low-hanging fruit is 2018’s Book of Dreams. When I gave it a quick read, it was 99.9% solid for me. I didn’t find it particularly problematic for me, especially when it comes to persona and general flow or structure of the book. I love the cover, done by Casey Babb. And when I read through the whole thing, I found maybe a dozen bone-headed typos or little nits that could be fixed in three keystrokes, but no major issues.

I mentioned this in my original announcement for the book:

I think this book is slightly less “Konrath” than my last few books. It’s not as manic or as fast-paced. NyQuil and Mariah Carey are not mentioned. It still has the same kind of humor; it just doesn’t lean on the persona as much, if that makes any sense.

I think that’s the key. And the fact that it’s all dreams is a big point for me. I write down my dreams a lot, whenever I can remember them, and I always find great stuff in them. I’ve snuck dream journals into a lot of zines and small collection books, and I use them as parts of ideas for stories.

Anyway, the book is live here. It’s in print and kindle. If you already have the 2018 version, there is no need to get this. The only thing that has changed are a few stealth edits, and a “, 2023” on the copyright page. Same ISBN, same page length. The price is slightly higher for print. $9.99 is not the end of the world. I’m done trying to competitively price my books at 7 cents more than the print cost. Publishing is dead and I don’t care if it sells. That’s not why I do this.

I need to go through the rest of the books. I really wanted to do some special edition of Rumored because I love that book, and then I was reading through it last October on vacation and thought, “oh shit, that’s getting me cancelled” about 19 times in the first 20 pages. I don’t know what to do about that. (I’m not asking for advice. I’m never asking for advice.)  Dealer Wins is out because it’s 100% obsolete, and was largely filler in the first place.   The Necrokonicon (aka “the glossary book”) is more of the same. Memory Hunter – nobody got the joke, and I wrote my most structured book ever and people bitched about the lack of structure, so that one is dead.

I have a sequel to Summer Rain in my head that would probably mean a quick edit to the original and both of them going out at once, but that sequel has been languishing for years. I also have a sequel to Atmospheres in its fourth draft, which is roughly twice as long. I would love to fix the cover of the first one, do a new layout, add some bonus material, and release it at the same time. That’s a plan, but an uphill battle. The sequel needs maybe a year of full-time work, and I’m not working on it right now.

I reread He and thought it was horrible. It has incredibly inconsistent and cringey writing, and nobody got the concept (which came from a Hubert Selby book.) All the “little” collection books (Ranch, Help…Thunderbird, etc.) have good and bad stuff. Maybe a bunch of that could be rolled into one omnibus. Maybe not. Maybe I should be writing new material instead.

Failure Cascade is probably the next-closest to being republishable. I like the cover, and I gave it a re-read and it was decent. I think almost nobody read this book, and it died right out of the gate. I’ll need to read it again with a thing of sticky flags and see what it will take to get it in shape.

I’m reluctant to write about exactly why I quit writing, but maybe I need to get that off my chest soon.



For the first time since September 13, 2010, I am no longer a remote-first employee. Wednesday was the first day back in the office. Well, it was the first day ever in the office for my job I started two years ago. So things are a bit interesting right now.

As per policy, I can’t talk about my employer, and none of what I say is their policy at all. I speak for myself, etc. I will need to dance around a few things here, so bear with me. I should also go back and explain a bit about why I’ve been doing this for roughly a decade longer than the rest of you.

OK, so when we got here in 2008, I was a commuter. I was actually a long-haul commuter, because I’m in the most northwest part of Oakland, and I used to work in San Jose. This was just under 40 miles, but you would be damn lucky to do it in under an hour. From fall of 2008 until spring of 2010, I did this every day. This was at Samsung, and we technically could not leave the building with our machines, use any sort of USB media, or connect to a company network from outside the building. Work from home was not a concept in the company whatsoever. I think I drove about 50,000 miles in that time period. The good news was podcasts and Audible were first becoming a big thing. The bad news was traffic got progressively worse as the internet boomed.

In 2010, my old boss Joel asked if I wanted to come back and work for him again. I said no, because I couldn’t move back to New York; I’d just bought a house. He said don’t worry about that. Work from home. Name your price. Fly out to New York once a year to eat on the company’s dime and see everyone, but otherwise he trusted me, and when could I start. Ironically, my last day was September 10th, and my first was the 13th. I installed FrameMaker in a VM, cloned the old repo I last touched in 2007, and I was fully remote for the next decade.

* * *

At my old job, it was easy to be remote. Even when we were in the same cube farm, we were largely remote, because we never talked to each other face-to-face. Joel wasn’t into meetings, and most of us sat on an internal IRC server, chatting back and forth on our day-to-day there. We were also way ahead of the curve on using Jira and wikis and all that. When half the team relocated to Boston, we barely noticed. Other than time-shifting three hours earlier to match their hours, I had no problem locking in right away. These were people I’d known for a decade, and we’d practically gone to war together. This was easy.

Well, it was until the company went sideways and everyone left. They decided to do a big “pivot to cloud” thing and I started managing and I was in this weird lurch where people wanted me to drive to Palo Alto all the time, but I’d get there and none of my team was there. I’d waste three hours fighting traffic and get to this corporate campus where everyone had an office and their doors were always shut. The ship was already sinking there, and I won’t go off on a tangent on that one.

So I jumped to the new place two years ago. Once again, I will skim over the details there, but it was fully remote. They FedEx’ed me a laptop and did everything on Zoom and Slack, and I kept powering away just as I did before, even at the same desk with the same monitor and keyboard, which was a bit weird.

* * *

Anyway. While I was gone in Vegas, an email went out, and the company went from a remote-first joint to a mandatory report-to-the-office two days a week, going up to three. There are two sides to this, and obviously as a manager I have to say this is great, and face-to-face collaboration is awesome, and something something synergy. There’s obviously some feelings about having to take time to commute to an office where none of my direct reports work and, like, talk to people. And my schedule was pretty much set up so I would start work at six in the morning, and then quit at maybe three and get a few hours of fiction writing in. It’s been a few years since that’s happened, but now it means a shift to the schedule again. I’ll shut up about this.

Wednesday was my first day back. I took the BART to Embarcadero, went to our new office, and worked all day. And I hate to sound like a return-to-office apologist, but it wasn’t bad. My commute is not horrible. The office is nice. They had lunch. But there were a few specific things that I enjoyed.

First, I have never worked in San Francisco. Honestly, in the 15 years I have lived here, I have probably only been in the city maybe two or three dozen times. I usually have maybe one or two runs into the city per year to go to a museum with an out-of-town guest or whatever. I honestly have almost no geographical knowledge of the city whatsoever. But taking the train there, getting out of the station, seeing all the tall buildings… it gave me a certain rush to feel that I was here. It reminded me of when I was a kid and would go to Chicago and have that sudden feeling that I was in a real city, that there were hundreds of thousands of people around and that things were happening.

Also, as much as I was being a contrarian about how face-to-face collaboration worked, I probably ended up straightening out more stuff before lunch than I’ve fixed in the last two years. But more than that, I need to get out of my head and get around people again. I have had this horrible interpersonal drama I can’t entirely get into, and I think a lot of it is from just ruminating around my condo, not being around people. I think a change of scenery will be good to me. I’m sure I will get sick of this once the trains start to fill up and break down. And I have no idea what to do about the writing thing. Write in the morning? Write during lunch? I don’t know. I’m not writing now, so…

* * *

The bike. So, I bought a bike. I have a choice of commuting to SF or Berkeley. The Berkeley office is closer to my house mile-wise, but it takes like an hour to get there on a bus that stops at every block. The train is ten minutes door-to-door plus the time it takes me to cover the mile or so to the station on my end. But I can bike to Berkeley in maybe a half hour, so that could be a nice way to break things up in the summer. I also got $600 of credit on exercise equipment from work, and that includes buying a bike.

I ended up buying a Cannondale Topstone 4 alloy from REI. I wanted a more commuter-oriented bike, but this gravel bike is honestly a better fit for me, and I like it a lot. Of course, I get it and the temps drop and it rains for two weeks straight. I’ve only had it out a few times, but it’s a great ride and a good way to get exercise and out of my own head a bit. Once the weather is not horrible, I’ll look at maybe going to the office once a week with it, and maybe taking it to the train station if I don’t want to take the bus.

* * *

Seems like there’s more to talk about, but those are the big parts. Sarah’s in Ireland right now, and then Spain, doing family stuff. I am solo for another week. Lots of guitar, lots of writing, I hope.


Vegas 2023

It’s been three years, but I managed to get to Las Vegas for my birthday. It was a good trip overall, so here’s the stupid bulleted list trip report.

  • Flew in Thursday afternoon, out Monday afternoon, with the actual birthday being on Friday, so the timing was great. The trip was slightly front-loaded with activities and we spent the back half of the trip in “well, what now?” mode, but the pace was pretty decent.
  • This was a trip with a full crew. Bill shares the same birthday as me, and Marc’s often on these trips. We also had Lon, who I haven’t seen in a while, and my old roommate Andrew, who I think I last saw on one of these trips maybe ten years ago. And there was Todd, who I literally had not seen since he was on the 2002 birthday jaunt, when I stayed in the Elvis suite of the long-gone Stardust.
  • Because I’ve had to fly business select on so many last-second Southwest flights, this was a free trip, airfare-wise. The trip itself was flawless; very easy in and out. I brought no luggage, just a computer bag and a duffel.
  • No camera gear would fit in my duffel, except my Canon EOS M1, which is a bit garbage, and my iPhone took better pictures all trip.
  • We stayed at the Mirage. This may be the last time we stay at the Mirage, because it was recently purchased by Hard Rock and will probably be gutted and turned into something else soon. (Or not, given the economy.) I am not sure I’ve ever stayed there, although I’ve wandered through a lot. Rooms were decent, and the view of the strip was nice. The food and the casino were eh.
  • Went to Penn and Teller on Thursday. The show was decent. I think it was solid, but not outstanding. Some of the tricks were new, and this was one of the first shows of the year, so I think they’re still working stuff out. Great crowd, though.
  • Dinner at the Rio, a bit eh. We went to some diner and I got a thing of nachos about as big as a bus tub. The Rio is such a mixed bag and I’m a bit surprised it’s still rolling.
  • Birthday brunch at Bouchon was over the top. I had a chicken and waffles, and there were far too many pastries and breads. Amazing stuff, but I needed insulin after that one.
  • Got a Swedish massage at the Mirage spa for my birthday, and my shoulders hurt for days. But, like, in a good way.
  • For dinner we went to The Palm, which was also way over the top. Really loud in there on a Friday night. The food was great, and wagyu steak is always good.
  • I’ve always had really good luck gambling on my birthday. That streak continues, but for accounting purposes, I won’t say how well I did.
  • Had a good lunch the next day at the Grand Luxe in the Venetian. There are actually two of them, which is confusing. This was no Bouchon, but bacon was involved.
  • We went to Resorts World, which is the first time I’ve been to a brand new casino probably since the Wynn was built? Or maybe City Center, I guess. Anyway, it’s a weird looking place. It’s absolutely cavernous, and looks more like an airport than a casino. We went to some bar to get drinks and then a few minutes later, they told us football was starting and we had to pay fifty bucks each to keep sitting there, so nope.
  • Saw this show called OPM at the Cosmopolitan, which was really fun. It was themed like a futuristic starship’s variety show, and the interior was all cyberpunk/neon looking. There was an “android” hostess/MC who was funny, and then they had various acrobatic or musical things, all of which were impressive. The one I liked best was Billy and Emily England, who did a roller skating/acrobatic routine that was absolutely insane, especially in the close quarters of the very small stage.
  • Went to the Trop for a Sunday comedy show that had Mike Binder opening for Rich Hall. Binder was garbage. He started off with the “I’m old and I don’t understand pronouns” and went from there. Rich Hall was amazingly good. He played songs and did a ton of crowd work. Very quick, sharp, and it was hilarious to see him pivot a song on a dime to start singing about the concrete world trade show. I didn’t know what to expect from him since the last thing I knew him for was the Sniglets thing thirty years ago. Absolutely didn’t do that, and it was great. The Tropicana, not so much.
  • Weather was the coldest I’d ever seen. I think it was down to the mid-30s some nights, sitting in the mid/high-40s most days.
  • I walked an extreme amount every day, usually between 12 and 15 miles. That almost counterbalanced my meal schedule going completely sideways and eating like 100 Weight Watchers points per day.
  • The best part of this trip: I have not spent any time with guy friends in a long time, probably since three years ago. And the last time I was with a group this size was maybe 10? 15? years ago. I really needed this trip, and being able to just bullshit for hours with other tech geeks was absolutely awesome.

Good birthday. Good trip. I need to do this more than once a year, though.



I am fifty-two today.

I’m trying to think of what the number 52 conjures in my head. A deck of cards, obviously. Games of “52 pickup” which we “played” with my little sister. The B-52 bomber, which my dad worked on when I was born on a desolate Air Force base in the middle of nowhere. The number of weeks in a year. The number of hostages Iran freed on my 10th birthday. Denver is at 5200 feet. (Well, 5280.) It is the fifth Bell Number and the third untouchable number. There are 52 white keys on a piano.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I like even-numbered ages. I liked 50, and did not like 51. 52 sits better with me, but it’s also solidly in my 50s. And 52 sounds way older than 50 for some reason. I do like the even number. And I dislike odd-numbered years. Unfortunately, there’s only 19 days where both my age and the year are even. Age is just a number and time is an abstract concept, but I do like a good even number for some reason.

* * *

I am getting old. 52 is old. I mean, we all are getting old, but this year, I look in the mirror and… yeah. I’m no longer young. When I was in my 40s I could sort of pass for 30s, but now I’m definitely in my 50s. I had to get my driver’s license renewed, and I don’t recognize the guy looking back at me. I look seventy. Not having hair anymore really does it. Things are happening to the skin on my neck that no face cream will fix. The eyes are not the eyes of a thirty-something. I shouldn’t care about any of this. I do.

* * *

I am going to Las Vegas for my birthday this year. I’m writing this before I leave, so it’s autoposting while I’m already there. This is the first big trip to Vegas in a while on the actual day of my birthday with Bill, Marc, and a few others. I think the last one like this was 2011. I don’t know what Las Vegas will be like post-pandemic (or during pandemic? I don’t know what their cases look like these days).

I’m staying at the Mirage this time, and maybe the last time, because it was bought by Hard Rock and it’s rumored that it will be completely gutted this year or next. I can’t remember if I’ve stayed at the Mirage before. I’ve been there a lot, and I know I stayed at Bellagio before. (2006?) It’s amazing that at one point, I knew enough about this to write a book, and now it’s a bit of a blur. And I generally don’t stay in hotels with casinos anymore. The last few times I was in town, I decided I needed a kitchen. So this time, I’m back to the regular grind of being on the strip.

A few plans this year: Penn and Teller, Bouchon. There will be steak. I’m not sure what else, but it will be good to get out of town for a few days and see friends.

* * *

A lot of amazing people left in their fifty-second year. Zappa. Houdini. Christopher Reeve. Chris Cornell. Luke Perry. Bob Ross. Grace Kelly. I’ve now outlived Shakespeare, Napoleon, Proust, James Gandolfini, Roger Maris. I’ve outlasted Alois Alzheimer and don’t have his namesake disease (yet). I’ve lived longer than Walter Reed and haven’t stayed at his hospital or caught yellow fever (yet).

Whenever I make these lists, I’m grateful I’m not on them, but it also makes me think about how these people are old, and I don’t even feel like an adult half the time, let alone an old, fully-formed person. I have a healthy dose of imposter syndrome when I think about this, and it’s deeper than thinking I haven’t accomplished enough. It’s this uncanny feeling: I am not an adult, am I?

* * *

Any time I make one of these posts, there’s always some forward-thinking statement about what I want to do in the next year of my life. I do a bit of that in my end-of-year summaries, and the two are almost back-to-back posts, so there’s a lot of redundancy there. (Also, I’ve already broken the no-Taco Bell goal.)

Year 51 was grim and not entirely happy. And I obviously want better than that in year 52. Otherwise the goals are the usual: write more, read more, do more, be more. So I will do that.


The death of an uncle

I know I’m always writing these “the death of” posts left and right about malls and stores and whatnot, but I really hate when I have to write one about a person, especially a person who I’ve known my entire life. And I’m not a fan about writing about family, because people get weird when a fact in your brain doesn’t match the narrative in theirs, which is why I’ve largely given up on autobiographical fiction or whatever it’s called this week. But this post isn’t about any of that; it’s about my uncle Jim, who died on the 27th.

My uncle Jim was my dad’s oldest brother, the oldest of the seven kids. His real first name was Ambrose, which I didn’t even know for years, because he was always Jim, or Jimmy. (My grandfather and my great-grandfather were also Ambrose. Prior to that, the names were significantly more Austrian: Paulus, Johann, Georg.) My grandfather died in a car accident when my father was six. Shortly after, my uncle joined the Navy and spent the next twenty-some years all over the world, working on planes, living on aircraft carriers. I vaguely remember him returning when I was maybe four or five. My memory was that he flew home and gave me the pack of peanuts from the plane. Nobody in my family ever traveled, so this was amazing to me at the time.

We lived in my dad’s home town from when I was an infant until I was seven. This was Edwardsburg, Michigan. It’s immediately north of Elkhart, and it’s a small village that had maybe a thousand people back then. My grandmother lived there, and was retired. My uncle retired from the Navy when he was 40 or so, and moved back in with her around 1975, to take care of her until she passed in 1993.

My uncle never married. I’m not sure he ever dated. He didn’t smoke or drink; he never swore. I can’t remember him even raising his voice. What I do remember is him always being around, always helping, coming over to do things around the house. My parents had this rundown cinderblock house, and they were always continuously adding onto it, sealing off the front porch into a room, covering the bricks with wood planks, adding in new windows, painting new trim. He was always around doing yard work or playing with us. And we spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s house, which was maybe a mile away, near the lake. That place was a central hub of activity for all seven kids, their kids, the neighbors, and many others. Almost my entire memory of Catholicism was going to the service, getting donuts, then going to my grandmother’s to play with my uncle and my cousins.

I have a lot of memories of specific things we did, things he taught me: playing golf, collecting cans for the deposits (ten cents in Michigan), playing card games, reading books. He and my grandmother were garage sale fiends, and any time he found a trove of Encyclopedia Brown books for sale, they were mine.

I also think a lot of his selflessness, and how he took care of my grandmother. He always drove her everywhere: to appointments in Elkhart; to see family in South Haven; to Florida in the winter when her health was poor. I remember him coming back from one trip and telling me all about watching an early Space Shuttle launch. I think he was a father figure to all of us cousins, and later the second cousins. (There were I think 13 cousins, and I don’t even know how many second cousins.)

After my grandmother died in 1993, he continued to live at the same house, and it was still our central hub for the family. I would go there any time I was home. Unfortunately, his health deteriorated over time. He managed to live alone until maybe four years ago, when he fell and went to a rehab center. He managed to hang on until he was 88, which is phenomenal. It’s sad for him to have gone, but he lived an amazing life. There was much tragedy in his lifetime, the loss of both parents and four siblings (one to suicide, three to cancer, all too young). But there was such great humility and service and selflessness in his whole life.

My uncle used to take us to McDonald’s when we were little. There wasn’t one in Edwardsburg; you had to go to one in Elkhart. This was pre-McNuggets, pre-Happy Meal, everything fried in beef lard, everything inside a shade of brown. I know it’s stupid, but when I got the news Tuesday morning, I went to McDonald’s for lunch and ordered two cheeseburgers and thought of that. A dumb tribute, but a strong memory to a long time ago. He will be greatly missed.



I guess I have not done one of these year in review things in a while. Well, I haven’t done much of anything here in a while. New Year/New Me, so here’s a summary:

  • Various health and psychology things, which I won’t go into here, because this is public. Spent a lot of time on various self-improvement schemes, some of which were useful. I also managed to not catch COVID.
  • Finally gave up on the battle versus male pattern baldness and having hair. I know, ha ha, middle aged balding guy wants hair plugs, much laughter. Giving up and shaving my head was a difficult decision, and it impacted me more than I could know. And yeah, everyone says “just own it,” but that advice only works if you are psychologically self-confident, and maybe don’t live in a society where hair = power.
  • 2,200,380 steps; 1,038.01 miles; Workout streak: 2,522 days. 2021 was 1,872,548 steps 883.23 miles, so good improvement there.
  • Weight was… not good. I lost 35 pounds in the last nine months of 2021, and I gained back about 25 of that in 2022. So, guess what my resolution is? (Please, no stupid advice on fad diets. I know what I have to do; I just didn’t do it.)
  • I don’t like to talk about work stuff here, so I won’t, but I did get promoted to director, finished hiring my team, and worked on big stuff.
  • I sold my land in Colorado. End of an era there.
  • Went to Chicago for my sister’s wedding in April. This was my first time on a plane since the beginning of 2020. It was a quick long weekend, and I saw a lot of relatives I haven’t seen in decades. I didn’t catch COVID, although many people there did. I also got to hang out with John Sheppard for an afternoon and do some mall-walking with him.
  • Visited Denver for a week in June. I haven’t been back in a dozen years, I think. (2010?) I spent a day photographing the city with my friend Tarasa, and met one of my coworkers (only the third person I have physically met at the company). Lots of walking, took a side trip to Pueblo, and many photos were taken.
  • Visited Stockholm for a week in August. This was my first time leaving the country since 2016, and a good test of if I can deal with long plane rides in my fifties. (I can’t.)
  • Visited Maui for a week in October/November. Stayed upcountry this time, and that made all the difference.
  • I was supposed to visit Indiana for Christmas, but hell froze over, and I decided to cancel.
  • Completed a two-year MBA program in five months. Wrote 184 pages, memorized thousands of terms, and I’ve probably forgotten most of it by now, but I have that line on my LinkedIn forever. And I can get into arguments with people about the Federal Reserve, although I now know that anybody who is talking about the Federal Reserve who hasn’t taken a finance class is 100% wrong and most likely financially illiterate, so don’t bother.
  • I quit writing in 2021. Towards the end of 2022, I “un-quit” and went back to identifying as a writer, and wrote about 50,000 words, mostly about how I couldn’t write and trying to figure out what I should be writing. I am not in a daily writing practice, but guess what my second resolution is?
  • Blogged 17 times here. I need to work on that.
  • I took exactly 12,600 photos. This is by far the most photos I have taken in a year. The highest was 3898 in 2011, and 2021 was 3779, with half of that in December. I had the idea that I’d take way more photos, and tried to hit 100 a day for a while, but there were some pretty dead months, and I did not take nearly as many as I wanted on vacations. I’m not sure how much I will do in 2023.
  • I had a huge interpersonal drama situation that probably burned up six months of my life. I cannot get into that, and this is just a reminder to myself in ten years that you really need to cut the shit there.
  • I don’t know how much I read, but it wasn’t much, except for finance and accounting books, and I really need to not do that.

So my goals are to keep writing, stop eating at Taco Bell, and keep writing. And all things related to writing need to change or get back on track: read more, take more notes, find new things, and write. And write. And write.