Categories
general

Sunday

Sundays. Not a fan. It seems like every Sunday afternoon, I have no idea what to do with my time from lunch to dinner, except I get this panic that I need to completely reinvent my life and I’ve only got two hours and seventeen minutes to do it, and then it’s back to work for another week. I generally spend this time vacillating between trying to start coding something (which is the same brain center as work, so why do that on my day off), write (but that’s done), or… I don’t know what else. Take pictures? Try to play music? I don’t know.

Sunday used to be the day I would catch up with people on the phone. My “phone book” was a sheet of printer paper folded three times and shoved in my wallet. Every semester or so, I’d start a new sheet fresh, copy the numbers that still mattered and still worked to the new page. The old page was generally falling apart at the seams, or the numbers had all changed, because everyone constantly moved. I thought it was somewhat a miracle I kept the same phone number (333-2254) from 1991-1995.

Anyway, I never do the phone catch-up thing. The more tools we have to keep in touch, the less I actually talk to people. It’s amazing that when it was ten cents a minute, I probably spent an hour a day on the phone. Now that it’s essentially free, other than family calls, I probably talk to one person every three months, if that. And my phone book is in my Mac, on my phone, “in the cloud.” It’s never updated now, because it’s forever there. I think the same core file has existed since I first got a Palm Pilot in 1999.

(Not to get all weird about it, but I never know what to do about dead people in my address book. There are maybe a half-dozen in there. I can’t delete them, but I hate when I start to type a letter in something, and someone who died years ago pops up.)

(Also the whole talking-to-people thing is one of the things I liked about having a podcast. Unfortunately there were like 163 other things that were a pain with podcasts, so that’s not something I’m revisiting any time soon.)

* * *

At least things are open on Sundays here, more or less. I remember being in Indiana and things were closed, and you couldn’t buy alcohol. For some reason, Tracks was the only record store I remember being open on Sundays, or maybe they were the only one open after five. That’s probably one of the reasons I could get people on the phone that night. Nothing to do but study, or avoid studying.

I have a very vivid memory for some reason that was in the summer of 1994. I had a car for the first time in two years, and I drove from Colonial Crest out to the mall, and the mall was closed. So I looped back to the aforementioned Tracks on Kirkwood. I only vaguely shopped at Tracks – there were better alternatives – but I had a soft spot for them because there was also a Tracks right off the Notre Dame campus. I was hipped to that place the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, and that was when I found out about import singles, more specifically ones from Pink Floyd, so I could pay ten dollars for two songs, one I already had on the album, the other being too sub-par to be on the album. But it was from England! I also got started working through the entire SST discography at Tracks, which was problematic when only making $3.35 an hour.

Anyway, the memory, I bought Brian Eno’s Ambient 4: On Land, and a sandwich at Dagwood’s. Corned beef, of course. Drove home, listened to that album like four times that night, loved it.

Tracks is still there, although they mostly sell IU sweatshirts and other logo junk. Dagwood’s is still there, although in a new building, and the old basement location is gone, and that was half the charm of the joint. Like I mentioned, Colonial Crest is getting torn down. I’d just heard they emptied the place out, squatters took over, and they lit the place on fire the other night. So, that’s a neat end to an era.

* * *

I have to travel in three weeks, and I’m a bit nervous about that. Not nervous, per se, but I’m not used to it, and I have no idea how to pack or prepare anymore. I keep fixating on what camera gear I will bring. Of course I want to use this as an excuse to buy a new mirrorless camera and lighten the load, but I need to not do that. I swore to myself last Thanksgiving that I would not buy another DSLR until I took another 10,000 pictures on my main camera body. Since then, I’ve shot 7,800, and it’s starting to get nice outside and I expect to rack up a lot more. To be honest, my current 2016 Canon Rebel T6i does about everything I need. I would like a full-frame sensor, a built-in GPS, and a viewfinder level. I’ll keep going with the T6i for a bit longer.

Depending on how the trip goes, I need to start thinking about more travel, but I have no idea what that means. At the start of 2020, when I had a week to take off but no idea on trips, I researched everything, trying to find something neat or new or inspirational or whatever. I flinched, didn’t find anything I was completely sold on, and went to Vegas. As I was there, the pandemic was picking up steam, and I got out just in time.

When I was trying to line up that trip, and I guess the one before, I had this complicated ten-axis criteria list that had to do with distance versus price versus temperature versus hassle versus newness versus six other things. And now I have to add to that the general safety factor of the place virus-wise, and the test requirements to cross an international border. So, no idea what the other travel will be this year.

* * *

A few people enjoyed the last thing about blogs, so maybe I need to write more about that. Or maybe I just need to write more in general.

One thing I’ll mention, as it’s been a decent waste of time, is that I started using https://raindrop.io to collect together and save bookmarks. I know, you can just save them in the browser, whatever. But there’s some intrinsic value to me to doing it this way, and del.icio.us has died (or has it?) and I don’t know of a better way. Anyway, I have a ton of saved bookmarks, from various browsers and del.icio.us and exported Safari reading lists and whatever else, and I dumped them all into this thing. A benefit of my memory being completely gone these days is I can go back and read stuff I bookmarked in 2014 and I occasionally find gems. I mean, 60% of it is dead, and about half of the remainder has to do with self-publishing garbage I don’t have to deal with anymore. But it’s fun to pick through this, and it’s even better when I can find a current blog that I enjoy reading.

And yeah, ironically, I worked at Frankov’s startup doing this exact thing in 1999, a bookmark manager. Maybe too ahead of its time, I guess.

* * *

OK, 11 minutes until dinner. I guess I’m not going to do this 47-hour Lightroom class this weekend.

Categories
blog

Every day I don’t delete this blog is a goddamn miracle

I can’t believe there was a time I used to write here daily. I really can’t believe there was a time I used to write here daily, write in a journal, write books, plus write a dozen hours a day at my actual job.

Now I write here… checks posts… five times in 2022.

Why? Why is this so hard?

* * *

I keep meaning to write a post about “why blogs are more important than ever” or “why you should blog” or something like that. I actually have a draft post where I paste in the occasional thought blast or loose link I find about this topic, and keep meaning to structure this stuff into a cohesive manifesto of sorts.

But… life. There are only so many hours in the day, and by the time I sit down after a day of work, I’m usually completely strung out and exhausted. I consume so much caffeine to keep running at combat power for ten or twelve hours every day, that by the afternoon, I’ve overdosed to the point where I’m about to black out. I cannot focus on this stuff at all.

But when I started this thing back in 1996, the point of it was to not focus. I wanted to write just to write, dump a few hundred words into the void and keep my chops up. It was like jogging, running laps around the neighborhood, not to go anywhere, but to just run for 45 minutes. There was something liberating about posting the day-to-day in an unstructured format, without needing a genre or a “container” or a specific format to put things in. It was. Nothing more.

This was before Facebook, Twitter, and everything else lowered the bar on posting inane personal updates for no reason. This was before the term blog was even invented. It was before LiveJournal or MySpace. To people born after the year 2000 who doesn’t have the attention span to watch an entire TikTok video, these updates were probably like reading Leo Tolstoy do an hour-long jazz set on watching his lawn grow. But having that “container” to do this, without comparison to other platforms – that gave me the freedom to sit down and do this without being blocked on exactly what to do.

* * *

When I sit down to write on Rumored dot com, this is the thought pattern when an idea pops into my head that typically makes me give up and go waste two hours doom-scrolling investment news:

  1. <XYZ> is boring.
  2. You already wrote about <XYZ> in 2011.
  3. Nobody cares about that memory of going to the Scottsdale Mall in South Bend, Indiana on the morning of Friday, August 24th, 1990, buying a new car battery for your 1984 Turismo at Target, and then spending two hours playing Tetris on the Gameboy display because your shift at the English computer lab at IUSB didn’t start until noon.
  4. You can’t write about <XYZ> in a public place because some family member will see it and get pissed off, or it will come up in a search result five years from now during a job interview.
  5. <XYZ> is some disparate thought, and what you really need is some SEO-friendly format, like only writing about pay phones or media trends or book reviews or… something, a format that will draw in people, one or two set things that I can focus on every time I write.

* * *

That last one is what kills me. I’ve complained about this a lot, especially during the “Golden Era” of blogs (which, christ, was 18 years ago now) when people suddenly decided blogs had to be “about something.” And that wasn’t because some grand arbiter of taste codified the online world and listed out what you could write about, and it wasn’t a tool limitation, like you had to choose one of five things when you created your account and you could only do those five things.

Like everything else, this was about money.

People suddenly realized that instead of blogging being like jogging on a treadmill but for writers, blogging became a stepping-stone in the world of publishing. Blogs with a cohesive vision became more trafficked, so once AdWords and affiliate links were a thing, the blogs with the most visitors rose to the top, and got more visitors, and became A Thing. Blogging wasn’t about writing about your feelings. Blogging was about producing some self-contained docudrama about your persona’s supposed life, and were hopefully a launching pad to a book or movie deal. Or they were basically a self-produced magazine, about politics or news or whatever, and the line between mass-media and blogging became blurred until they basically became the same thing.

(I cannot count the number of times I wrote a thousand-word essay here off the cuff, just to burn two hours between work and dinner, and some other writer or random civilian emailed me and said “wow you should submit that at XYZ and sell it.” This always launched me into a white-hot rage. If I was trying to write puff pieces for McSweeney’s, I’d write them. I write here to write here, god damn it. If I was thinking about what markets would take my writing, I wouldn’t be writing. I could not walk 10,000 steps a day for exercise if I spent every waking moment wondering what media outlet would pay me for walking 10,000 steps. I walk 10,000 steps. God DAMN it why is this so hard for anyone to understand?)

* * *

(Stay with me here. I know I’m rambling.)

* * *
I’m not going to go old-man-yells-at-sky about how these damn kids don’t have an attention span to read anymore. They do if they wan’t to; that’s not the problem. I think the dopamine-killing feedback loop of social media has fully been documented elsewhere, and people fail to factor in that people don’t have time and have too many other competing things to prevent them from sitting down and reading a series of 2000-word blog posts like we used to do during every office workday in 2003. I get it.

There’s a much more subtle thing that happened with this tool evolution, aside from the shortening of the media form. The “democratization” of tools like LiveJounal, then Facebook, then Twitter, then TikTok made it easier for anyone to journal their life in real-time. When I started this site, I had to write code by hand, telnet into a remote computer, and use unix commands on a terminal to publish each day’s page. Now, you get an app on your phone, press a button, and a video of your dance routine is live for the world to see, which is great. Anyone can do this.

But the issue is this has transformed the nature and value of the word “blogging.” It used to be that blogging was about constructing a text essay to post. Now the word is a generic verb used to chronicle something in any format online. Live-blogging used to be a CNBC journalist feverishly posting up-to-the-minute copy about the 1998 midterm elections. Now it’s someone taking pictures of their visit to the grocery store. Blogging has lost all meaning. There’s no way to give meaning to the term again.

* * *

I think the most frustrating thing with blogging is that if you search for the term “blog,” the first hundred results you find are people saying you need to create a “blog” to generate SEO for your dental practice or real estate venture. The Reddit group on blogging is filled with people “finding their niche,” which means drilling into a genre that can create a profitable drop-shipping business. People don’t blog to express anything. They use blogs to store marketing content to game search engines.

Because there’s no money in this, there are no successful blogging platforms anymore. They have all been overrun by people selling boner pills and work-from-home scams. Blog discovery is now impossible. Any mechanism to create a directory of blogs or link together similar blogs will quickly be exploited and gamed by vitamin tycoons and destroyed. And once any fun personal hangout where you can converse with authentic people gets overrun by sales bots peddling a revolutionary new mop, they leave. It happened to Blogger, to MySpace, to LiveJournal, and it’s currently happening to Facebook.

Case in point on the blog directory thing: I just searched for “blog directory” and clicked the first result, then clicked the first article shown, and it was “Great Ways To Increase Customer Engagement!” Stock photo of a bearded hipster guy at a Square point-of-sale in an all-white store, smiling at a smiling woman from a Gap ad. Exactly 600 words long. A listicle. Exactly four outgoing links. Textbook SEO. Garbage. This is where we are. This is the entire web. It’s all useless. Old man yells at sky.

* * *

There are like 17 other things in my list of reasons we got to this point. RSS died. Google Reader died. WordPress is horrible. PHPbb is horrible. Blogger got bought and then left in the yard to rust. Every Tumblr in existence got banned for being NSFW. Everyone switched to reading on their phone, which left many sites unreadable. Video. Walled gardens. Privacy concerns. Whatever. I can go on forever. I’ll stop.

The truth is, I have a Notes document that has a list of URLs on it, of every blog I still like to read. Maybe once a month, I find a new one and paste it in there. Maybe six of them still post regularly. I revisit the other ones, read old posts, wish I could find more blogs about nothing.

Blogs are still important. Someone needs to figure this out. I need to stop caring about someone figuring this out and keep writing here. I don’t care if nobody reads it. There are 1,381 posts here. That’s a good start, but I need to keep going.

Categories
general

Things change, pocket change

Day off today – I took a four-day weekend, no reason – so I headed to the mall in Pleasanton to buy a pair of pants. I have a wedding next month, and every pair of dress pants I own is comically large at this point. I got to the mall at about 10:37, and didn’t realize that it wasn’t officially open until 11:00. I went inside anyway, because the concourse was open, but half the stores were just booting up, the gates halfway open, lights off, employees setting up signs or counting down registers. It gave me an intense nostalgia flashback, of every time I’d opened at Wards thirty-something years ago, the usual crew of people I knew at every other store setting things up for the daily grind, walking to the First National at the main entrance to drop off last night’s take, stopping at the MCL Cafeteria for a cup of coffee before 10:00 came. The general vibe of a pre-opening mall really threw me back to the summer of 1988. I almost expected to go back into the parking lot and find my rusted Camaro waiting for me.

I got in my walk. I did not get the pants. Everything is now “stretch performance wool,” which is essentially spandex. Also, Macy’s is now JCPenney. JCPenney is now K-Mart. K-Mart is now largely gone. I don’t even know what Sears is.

* * *

Speaking of “Amazon is taking over,” in some contrary news, it looks like Amazon is closing all of their brick-and-mortar stores. I actually liked the feel of the stores, mostly because they looked like a rip-off of Borders, albeit much smaller. I’m all but certain these stores were a sophisticated data mining experiment and nothing more. Even the stock on the shelves was a data-driven algorithm, which was bizarre and somewhat maddening for a person who doesn’t read Oprah books. I’m sure they’re doing a lot more of that with their Whole Foods stores now.

A happy coincidence: so, B&N in Walnut Creek closed around the same time the Amazon store opened. Now, Barnes and Noble is actually opening a new store in Walnut Creek right as Amazon is closing. They didn’t get the old location back, and I’m sure it’s a smaller footprint, but that will be nice to see. As I’ve said before, I used to think B&N was The Enemy, and it’s hard for me to root for them now, but I really don’t want to see the one by my house in Emeryville shutter.

Another odd coincidence, Morgenstern’s books reopened in Bloomington. I’ve written about my memories of Morgenstern’s a  while ago. It’s not in the same place anymore (I think the old strip mall location is now a FedEx) and Keith mentioned from his first visit that it’s nowhere near what the old one is. But at least there’s something, especially since the Borders and Barnes and Noble that jumped into town and killed the old location in the late 90s are now both gone.

* * *

About the picture above: that’s from 1994, the day of Bill’s wedding. I’m standing in front of my old apartment at Colonial Crest, where I lived from 1993-1994. In another bit of dumb nostalgia, I just heard that Colonial Crest, which is now called The Arch, is being torn down and replaced with a new apartment complex, some 5-over-1 monstrosity with a dumb generic name and high rents for rich students.

I did some digging and what’s funny is that these apartments rent for only marginally more than I paid almost thirty years ago. I think we split a $500 rent on a 2br/1.5ba townhouse, and now they go for about $700. That’s saying a lot about the deferred maintenance issues of the place, because it was maybe about a C- in quality and value way back then. I’m sure the redevelopment is for the best, given the student population and need for housing and all that.

That said, I have a lot of strong memories of this place. Various pivotal relationship things happened here, and the start of my writing career happened here in apartment #144. I also didn’t have a car most of this year, and walked the two and a half mile route to school pretty much every day, rain sleet or snow. That long shot down Walnut or College is burned in my head, the zig-zag pattern I’d traverse to cross the northwest side of campus and get to Lindley Hall. All of this is different now. The computer science department has a new facility built where the old Brown/Greene dorms used to be. The long walk up to the UCS offices at 17th street where I worked used to be empty green fields; it’s now a giant dorm, built last year. The UCS office was completely redone into an alumni center. Everything has changed. Things change.

* * *

Another weird one: they are renaming everything named Jordan on campus. Turns out former university president David Starr Jordan was really into eugenics, segregation, and racial purity. Problem is, IU spent a century naming damn near everything after him: a biology building; a river; a main avenue cutting across campus; a northern extension to said avenue; a parking garage on that avenue; a bus route on that avenue; a shopping center. The street is now Eagleson Avenue, or David Baker Avenue for the northern part. (Named after the jazz great, not the architect who coincidentally designed my current home.) The river is Campus River; the Biology building is Biology Building. I think people expect everyone to take sides on the woke/anti-woke thing. I agree with the name change. It’s just interesting to me, given the number of times I reference Third and Jordan in my first book.

Things change. People change. Pocket change. It’s actually odd how I never have change in my pockets anymore. Anyway.

Categories
general

The Land (Epilogue)

So, I sold my Colorado land this week. I probably need to explain this. I used to have a page about it, but it went away two or three web redesigns ago. Here’s the whole story, in case you haven’t heard it.

Back in 2002, I bought forty acres of land in southern Colorado. I’d always had the idea to build a house in the middle of nowhere, probably going back to when I studied architecture in high school and watched too many episodes of This Old House. I don’t remember when or how I found the seller online, but I used to waste a lot of time at work falling down random google searches. (It may have been Alta Vista searches back then, actually.) I did various research on land in Montana, central Washington, and a few other places, but ended up with Colorado.

I think there were a few other things in my head when I bought the land. This was a few years into my New York experience, and I think the day-to-day of being crowded on the island with so many people put the zap on me. My thinking was that I’d stick around Manhattan for my prime earning years, then punch out and go into hiding to write. I was also going through a mild identity crisis around my 30th birthday, trying to figure out what to do with my life. And 9/11 multiplied all of this. I wasn’t a person who was going to wrap their house in duct tape because of domestic terrorism, but there was a real strong vibe in town that something was going to go down again. People seem to forget the Manhattan mass-exodus in 2001/2002, but it weighed heavily on my thought process at that time.

I bought the land right after my 31st birthday. Actually, I think I was exchanging emails with the seller while I was in an Elvis suite  at the Stardust in Vegas on a birthday trip with Bill, Lon, and Todd. The purchase sent me down a giant research k-hole of determining what to do. I bought every book I could find on alternative construction and Earthships and solar power and how to build your own house. I was constantly trying to figure out the best way to get started, maybe buy a geodesic dome kit or something, start planting trees and plowing under clover, whatever. I needed a well; I needed a tractor; I needed to learn how to grow my own food, and this was a time when every meal I ate was delivery food. There was a lot to learn.

Like any of my other hobbies, the land was something that would be white-hot for a week or two, and then quickly fade, get pushed to the back of the stove or off the stove. But I had to get out there, see the place, see the surrounding area. That summer, I booked another Vegas trip, then rented a car to drive out across Arizona and half of New Mexico, and take a left and get to the land.

About the area: this is maybe five miles north of the NM/CO border. Mesita is more or less a ghost town, a half-dozen houses and abandoned buildings are clustered around one intersection, and not much else is there. The nearest town is San Luis, about 15 minutes away. It’s the biggest town in the county, with just over 600 people, a Family Dollar, a gas station, and not much more. The next “big” town is Alamosa, which is an hour away, and is about 10,000 people. It reminds me of Goshen, Indiana back in the 80s, with a small college campus (Adams State) and the usual big box stores – Walmart, Safeway, a Chili’s, Big R, and so on. (There used to be a K-Mart, but you know how that went.)

The land was at about 7,800 feet, in the Sangre de Christo mountains. It’s a high mesa, basically a desert. It looks like it was maybe used for cattle ranching a century ago, and worn dead. The ground is loosely covered with scrub brush and wild pinion trees that are more like bushes. There’s a whole lot of nothing out by the land; every once in a while, you’ll see a farm, but it’s mostly completely abandoned land.

The first trip was somewhat disconcerting. First, that drive from Vegas was horrible. Then the stay in Alamosa was not entirely optimal. I booked a one-star motel that was right across from an AM radio station, and whenever I tried to use the phone, the entire wiring system rang with interference, so I would hear mariachi music in the background of every call. I drove out to the land, looked at it, walked around, and thought, “well, this was stupid.” I had some plans to go to K-Mart and buy a shovel, some water buckets, and a few sapling trees to transplant on a hail mary that they’d live. But this was a summer when there was a large wildfire hours west, and the sky made my eyes burn red the entire time. Plus I was woozy from altitude sickness. After about a day, I gave up and drove back to Vegas.

One ominous thing that stuck with me was that I was driving back to the motel on one of the hour-long loops down to the property, and I went past a graveyard. There was no green grass; just a bunch of tombstones stuck in an acre or two of dirt and brown crabgrass. I had this long thought about if this was where I’d end up someday, buried in a brown field hours away from civilization. This part of the trip made the budget room at the decades-old Tropicana I had back in Vegas a few days before feel absolutely regal.

I visited the land a couple more times after moving to Denver, but never got anything done. Mesita was maybe four hours away, but an incredibly long drive through the mountains and destitute plains. If I was super motivated, I would have spent my weekends hauling house parts bit-by-bit, building temporary shelter, setting up a cabin, whatever. But I never did. I’m lazy; I can barely keep my own house clean. I don’t have the gumption to build another one from scratch. And this whole project was the dream of a bachelor. After I got married, this compound/retreat thing wasn’t going to happen. If we want to spend time in a cabin, I’ll go to VRBO and search in Tahoe, and even then, we’d be sick of it after a few nights. Neither of us are the camping type, and the older I get, the more I think there’s no way I could ever dig a foundation or put a roof on my own house. I had to replace the plumbing under a sink the other day and it damn near killed me.

I get letters every few weeks about the land, blind offers made from investors who grab the tax records from the county and spam out form letters to everyone. They are usually ridiculously lowball offers, but they’ve slowly crept up in price. I finally decided to give up the ghost and see if I could line something up. I think it took a few months of paperwork and research on the buyer’s end, but I got a deal set up. I would lose money on it, but I no longer have to pay property tax on a land I will realistically never visit again. The only other two scenarios I could see here are that I stop paying taxes and the land eventually gets sold by the county at auction, or after I die, whoever handles my estate has to figure out how to sell the place. I’d rather have the cash in the bank now.

And I won’t go on and on about this (but am about to anyway), but everyone constantly hits me with “why don’t you…” scenarios that are impossible to do, which is annoying. The land has no water, no utilities, nothing on it. Drilling a well would easily cost $20,000 and not guarantee water. It only rains a foot a year. Despite nobody being around, the county has strict building codes that prevent any hippy-dippy alternative housing one might dream of: no rammed-earth; no yurts; no tire houses; no shipping containers; no tiny houses; septic field required; no composting toilets; no permanent RV parking. If you think “what about…” the answer is no, unless it’s a ranch house that meets every building code a house would need anywhere else. Winters are absolutely brutal up there, minus-40 temps and high winds; summers hit triple-digits and bone-dry, with that altitude making it even worse. There’s absolutely nothing around except live-free-or-die times hunkering down in makeshift trailer compounds, armed to the teeth and brimming with crazy ideologies that don’t mesh well with me (or anyone, really). It’s the poorest part of the state, absolutely abject property, pretty much half the population under the poverty line. If you built that expensive solar array and then left the house for a week, it would get stripped bare. There’s just no practical way to do anything there except struggle to live. It’s cheap for a reason: it’s like living on the surface of Mars.

Despite all of this, after I closed the deal and got the money, a profound sadness hit me. Having this land for twenty years was a big part of my identity, albeit one that has faded somewhat in recent years. I always joked about building a Hunter S. Thompson compound out there, or a writer’s retreat, or whatever. But the dream is dead. That really bothered me. I guess when I bought the place in 2002, there was some intense need to have that thing that defined me. I couldn’t work on a classic car in the city with no place to park it; I couldn’t afford to buy a boat; I couldn’t build a model railroad in the basement I didn’t have. I don’t know why I had (and have) such a strong desire to do something outside of my job and my bills, but I do. And that’s still going on, and I don’t have an answer to that issue yet. The depression over this mostly passed in a day or two, but I really need to figure out the big-picture void this leaves.

Anyway. More pictures, if you’re curious: https://flickr.com/photos/jkonrath/albums/72177720296890491

 

Categories
general

Death of the Tanforan Mall

So, another one bites the dust. Tanforan Mall (aka “The Shops at Tanforan”) in San Bruno got bought for $328M recently, and will be razed to build a mixed-use biotech research campus and housing.

Tanforan has a weird history. It was a horse racing track at the start of the 20th century, and Seabiscuit used to race there. It was also occasionally used as an airfield. Then in 1941, they used it as an internment camp, housing Japanese Americans in the old horse stalls as an assembly center until they moved everyone to more permanent relocation centers in 1942. Then it became an Army camp, then a Navy base, then a racetrack that burned down, and then in 1971, it became a mall. It underwent a major reconfiguration and reconstruction in 2005, and they added a large movie theater in 2008.

I moved to South San Francisco in the fall of 2008, and for the year I lived there, this was my default mall. I drove past it every day on the way to work; I shopped at the attached Target pretty much weekly. The giant Barnes and Noble was the place for skimming computer books, and I bought my first iPhone there in 2009. My dentist was (and is) there, and the Petco was the usual place to grab cat food and litter on a regular basis. I also remember watching a ton of movies at the theater there.

It’s weird because the building itself is physically in great shape without the usual deferred maintenance problems you’d see in a shuttering mall. They basically rebuilt everything from the ground up except the anchors in 2005, and the structure, especially around the food court atrium, looks incredibly modern and new. But it’s not that physically big – the main concourse is maybe eight or ten shops long. And it’s had all the usual exits from national chain bankruptcy and degradation: Forever 21, Toys R Us, Old Navy, and most notably the death of their Sears, which was probably 30% of the total square footage of the place.

All of this area around South San Francisco is exploding with biotech campuses and identical-looking housing complexes. This mall is right on a BART train stop and very close to the confluence of multiple highways, so it’s super valuable land. This project won’t be one of the usual ho-hum de-mall jobs where they slap down a strip mall or a fake “town center” and then 95% of the stores sit vacant forever. I’m pretty sure that in a year, it will be crammed with science fiction buildings that sprouted up instantly, like the long stretch of glass towers of science lining the 101 now.

I was just in the old neighborhood last month, and it’s amazing how the bones are still there, but wide swaths of old sprawl have been instantly replaced with 5-over-one buildings with goofy names and slogans. (“Cadence apartments – where life, style, work, and play come full circle!”) We vaguely looked at buying a townhouse or condo in that area in 2009, and I can’t imagine what it would be like living there now.

It’s dumb and typical that a mall where I spent so little time has such a nostalgia hold on my brain. I’ll be sad to see this one go. Also, I need to find a new dentist now.

 

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general

New/old keycaps for Kinesis Advantage

So, yesterday I did this:

I was bored and wanted to make this keyboard look a bit retro. I forget what kind of ancient terminal I was looking at when I decided the colors. I think it was an old Raytheon terminal. I honestly wanted something a bit more orange for the modifier keys, like a glossy bright orange, and then a chocolate brown Commodore 64-style for the letters. But this is close.

I’ve written about the Kinesis before. I wasn’t 100% happy with the new version I got last year, so I’ve been on the hunt for new keycaps, but the Advantage has some oddball keys, especially in the thumb clusters. The folks at pimpmykeyboard.com have the hookup, though. In their DSA Standard keyset, there is an option for the 28 modifier keys, with either text or icons. Then a 50-key standard alpha set makes up the meat of the keys.

The Advantage comes with ABS keys, and these ones are PBT plastic, which feels slightly more textured and not glossy. They feel better and are supposed to be more durable, and won’t get greasy over time, which is a plus for me, given how much I eat at my computer. The PBT keycaps sound slightly different, maybe a bit sharper than ABS. They’re also all the same height, which is weird in a few places. The thumb keys were slightly higher in the stock set.

Also, there is a Panic button on the § button in the lower left. The only time I ever hit that key is accidentally, and I usually do panic then.

The color codes on these are GQN for the gray and OAX for the orange. The orange is slightly too orange for me, I think, but I’m getting used to it. They gray reminds me a bit of the later-model DEC keyboard for the VT-420 terminal. When I was at IU, the labs of terminals (like SPEA or the HPER) had old VT-240s with the more dark beige color scheme. But I remember the registrar’s office getting a fleet of brand new VT-420s when they digitized class signup, and those were a much more white keycaps.

DEC (and HP, and IBM) had the symbols more in the upper left corner of each key, instead of centrally like these. These ones remind me more of old old terminals, like the TeleVideo terminals we had at IUSB, which never worked right with emacs or any OS written in the 70s or beyond. (Just a reminder: if you ever worked on PRIMOS, you’re probably eligible to make 401K catch-up contributions now.) Same with the Commodore 64, although they went with the upper corner starting with the Plus 4.

I couldn’t find the little function key caps, so they stay stock. I also just realized that the stupid keypad layer thing won’t work for me, because the symbols aren’t on the front of the keys. I almost never use that, except when I have to insert a trademark symbol, and my new company trademarks almost nothing, so I’m safe for now, I guess.

* * *

Semi-related: this keyboard completely died about a week ago. I would press a character and it would type in Klingon. I tried a different dongle, a different computer, rebooted computers, rebooted the keyboard, nothing. Emailed Kinesis and then realized I bought this from a third-party vendor on Amazon and would likely be hosed on the warranty. I took it apart, reseated the cables, but expected the little motherboard on it to be toast. So I got out my old Advantage, took it all apart, and cleaned everything with rubbing alcohol, because it had ten years of food and cat hair inside it. I have pictures, and you don’t want to see them. Got it all running, and then the next day, I plugged in the new/broke keyboard to see if I could get a diagnostic report for support. Everything worked 100% fine. No problem. Of course.

Kinesis has a new Advantage out now, which is a full split, and has no function keys, just a layer where you press some other key and the number keys to get a function key. I think they moved the Esc key to where Caps Lock normally is. I have Esc in the left thumb cluster, along with an extra Ctrl key, because having just a right-side Ctrl is a problem. So I probably won’t upgrade for a while. I’d like to think this one would last another ten years and that I’ll be retired by then, but who knows. Maybe I’ll have to keep modifying the same one to keep it going for the rest of my career. Or maybe I’ll switch to something completely different? We’ll see how this one goes.

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general

51

I am fifty-one today.

I’m not sure what to say about this oddball number. After 21, only the big round numbers matter. This is the first post-50 birthday, so I’m now into my quinquagenarian years. I can contribute an extra $6,500 to my 401K. Car insurance is easier to get. Life insurance isn’t. 50 was a giant wall in my mind, but I got to like the age. It’s easy to say “I’m fifty” than it is to say “I’m fifty-one.” I mean, I will probably be saying I’m fifty for the next six months, just like I’m writing 2021 on everything. (Cognitive function is another discussion.)

51 in binary is 110011, which looks neat. It’s a pentagonal number, a Motzkin number, a Perrin number, and a Størmer number, none of which mean anything to me. Other than itself and one, its only divisors are 3 and 17. I don’t believe in numerology, so I don’t know what to say about that. I’ve always favored even-numbered ages and disliked odd ones, for whatever reason. 32 was cool. 44 was cool. 37 seemed dumb. So did 47. So 51 is 51.

* * *

The first thing about 51 that pops in my head is Area 51. This is now a touchy subject for me. First, I am completely done with conspiracy theories. The current events of the last five years have made it completely impossible to enjoy reading about UFOs or whatever else. Conspiracy theories have been completely weaponized, and everyone who uses them as currency is A Problem. I have to walk away from that stuff entirely. I’m also trying to reevaluate my relationship with military planes, which is the other big part of Area 51. I’ve had an obsession with them ever since I started putting together plastic models as a kid. But there’s also a plague within the community that makes it difficult to deal with. I like airplanes and drones and technology and stuff, and I can easily fall down a k-hole on stealth bombers or whatever. But the rah-rah stuff is too much for me now. I hate to get political about it, and I don’t know what should replace it, but that’s how I feel.

There was a baseball team called the Las Vegas 51s, but they changed their name to the Aviators when they moved to a new park. I also have zero interest in baseball now. The Rockies’ inept ownership finally broke me, and I could not convert to another new team. The shortened season, new dumb rule changes, and lockout also tarnished things for me. And see also the fan community and politics situation I described above. Without going into it, with the social justice issues of the last few years and the general alignment of the fan base of the sport, I’m not entirely in agreement with things. I still peek in at what’s going on, and if the Oakland A’s manage to build a new stadium near my house (they won’t; they’re moving to Vegas), maybe I’d go to some games. But that’s another thing I’m moving past.

* * *

All the usual post-50 thoughts are still in full effect. I need to save as much as possible. I need to pay off this house. I need to look after my health. I’ve lost a ton of weight this year, and I need to keep that off. I also need to think about my brain and what else I want to do. I’ve been taking photography classes. Taking a ton of pictures. This would be a great time to do more travel, except it totally isn’t. So I need to work on all of that.

Most googling on the age of 51 is stuff about how that is the average age of menopause in American woman. No problems there. I am losing the war of male-pattern baldness, but haven’t fully committed to buzzing everything away. I’m not running out to get hair plugs either. I guess a side benefit of not leaving the house for two years is I haven’t had to make a decision on that one.

* * *

I’ve now survived longer than many notable people: Rod Serling, Raymond Carver, Steve McQueen, Michael Jackson, Bernie Mac, Dee Dee Ramone. I guess the very good news is I didn’t have a gripper up until now. But the other edge of that blade is I haven’t exactly reinvented the American short story or the anthology television series in my years on this planet. I sometimes think too much about what I have and haven’t done, and I can’t waste any time on that today.

* * *

The only weird thing that 51 made pop into my head is that I’m exactly three times older than I was when I was 17, and that nostalgia problem I described last year makes me think too much about when I was a teenager, in my junior year of high school, in 1988. That’s another rabbit hole I want to avoid, but it’s on my mind.

* * *

I have not updated in forever, and there’s lots to update about, but I should do that outside the context of this little birthday post, which I’m mostly doing it so I can find it later with the rest of my other birthday updates.

Anyway, day off. Time to go walk a mall, maybe take some pictures.

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general

New camera: Canon EOS 620

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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general

Photo book, film, rain

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

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

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general

Film, memoirs, rollovers

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

* * *

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