2019 Summary

I just did a post yesterday about the summary of my decade, so I don’t really know what to say about my 2019, except it was pretty anticlimactic, and all metrics were low, and that’s all depressing, so maybe this is all stuff I need to work on next year.

Here’s the list:

  • I published Ranch: The Musical in December. It’s a short little collection, more of a placeholder than a big book, but it’s fun, and it’s cheap, so check that out.
  • I did not write a big book, despite struggling with it all year.
  • I did write just a hair under 200,000 words over the year. All but 20,000 of them are sitting in a giant document that is going nowhere. Maybe I will get some wise idea to use some of it in a book, but I have no idea at this point.
  • I posted 25 times here, for 19,663 words, which isn’t great and I need to work on that.
  • No stories published. No podcasts. No interviews.
  • I took 2546 photos, which is exactly 54 fewer than last year.
  • Walked 2,391,744 steps, 3453 floors, 1,128.14 miles. This is slightly lower than last year. My weight ended up being exactly 0.1 pound more. I did work out every day of the year. I also meditated every day of the year.
  • I finished my “one second every day” video project. More on that later.
  • I went to Las Vegas. Trip report: Vegas 2019
  • We remodeled our kitchen, which is great now that it’s done, but caused about two months of throwing off everything with my routine.
  • Looking back at my personal journals, the main theme was that my day job (which I’m not talking about here) was not great and caused an extreme amount of day-to-day stress.

So looking at all of this, it’s more of a list of what I need to fix in the immediate future, which is wonderful.

Another big thing last year is that 2019 is a big round number in the sense that it was exactly 30 years from a lot of eventful events, being the thirty-year anniversary of when I graduated high school and started college. There were also many thirty-year anniversaries of various events related to relationships, love, sex, and betrayal. I thought I would end up dwelling on this greatly, or writing about it. (I’ve tried and failed multiple times to write a book about the summer of 1989, because a lot happened. I still think about it, but I’m sure nobody would read it.) Anyway, I didn’t end up thinking much about this, because I had like 768 product releases last year and I couldn’t think at all. So I guess that’s good.

So pretty much the same resolutions as last year. Write more, write more here, write more on concrete projects. Exercise, eat right, don’t read the news, try to find a way to get and stay sane. You?

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The inevitable stupid end-of-the-decade summary

So we’re twenty years into the 21st century tomorrow, and I still call it the 20th century half the time. Luckily, I never have to write paper checks anymore and put the year on them, right?

OK, so regardless of my feelings that I need to stop looking back in a haze of stupid nostalgia, here’s a summary of my last decade, more or less.

Writing

At the start of 2010, I more or less was not writing. I call the oughts my “lost decade” because after I published Rumored to Exist in 2002 (after having mostly wrote it in the 90s), I basically didn’t do anything. I dicked around with the zine, published a couple of non-fiction books, but that Third Book I wanted to do never happened, and I lost all momentum I had at the end of the century. And then when I moved to Silicon Valley in 2008, I completely stopped writing fiction, because I was spending three or four hours a day in traffic, and another dozen in an office.

That changed when I was given the opportunity to go back to my old job, albeit with their new post-acquisition overlords, but instead of New York, I could work remotely. So I did that, with the intent of getting serious about writing. I’m still at that job (and I don’t talk about it here, so I won’t) and it has allowed me to get a lot of work done.

I didn’t publish anything in 2010, but I did manage to get eleven books out in 2011-2019. I also placed 30 articles elsewhere. (Most of them were collected into books later.) I also was interviewed in eight long-form print interviews, and appeared on or recorded maybe a dozen podcasts. (All of this is summarized here: My Books and Stories) My goal, more or less, was a book per year. I hit that, although I ultimately wish I would’ve done less with collections and put out more novels.

For what it’s worth, I think my favorite book of the decade was Atmospheres. The best-selling book I wrote this decade was The Earworm Inception (probably because it was the cheapest.) The best-selling book total though was the new reissue of Rumored that went on the Kindle.

Blogging

I have now been blogging here for something like 22 years. Oddly enough, I have added 666 entries since January 2010. This is 667, so I screwed it all up.

My blog doesn’t make money and nobody reads it, so there’s not much to say about trends in the blogosphere with regard to what’s hosted on Rumored dot com. I started before the term blog was invented, and plodded on as the “Web Journal” fad of the late 90s came and went. I went unnoticed when the blog fad came in the early oughts and everyone got a one-and-done book deal before fucking off and deleting their blog. And I’ve weathered on as net-generations have found, enjoyed, and abandoned every social media platform out there.

My own personal opinion (and this isn’t a research paper) is that there were a lot of solid and entertaining blogs at the start of the 2010s, which were bringing in decent ad revenue and good traffic, and by 2019, all of that fell apart. I used to have a rotation of blogs I would read every day. The Awl shuttered due to diminishing ad prices. BoingBoing got stupid with sponsored stories, often for products they themselves decried in their actual stories. Gawker got bankrupted by a Hulk Hogan lawsuit. And plenty of blogs got sold, merged into other media conglomerates, or otherwise watered down stuff to the point of uselessness.

One of the biggest trends of the 2010s was chasing ad revenue with click journalism. It was the decade of the listicle, the years of the hundred-picture slideshow that opened every image in a new page with ads between every other one. Titles became tricky questions. “8 Unbelievable Things You Never Knew About Enemas!” The days of long-form blogs ended, and sensationalized headlines were the norm.

Three big things changed the way I personally read blogs. First, I used to use Google Reader to subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds for every blog I read. In 2013, Google discontinued reader. There were substitutes, like Feedly, but when the Google behemoth went away, people seemed to stop caring about RSS-centric publication. Google told us all to switch to the iGoogle home page tool, and then they cancelled that too. This meant there was no real centralized way to read your favorite stories and blogs.

Well, except for Facebook. Just as we got to the point where FB became the de facto standard for sharing stories, Zucc started screwing with the algorithm, holding links ransom unless the publishers paid money for them. As the algorithm hemorrhaged traffic from small sites, all other forms of propagation died. Facebook is now the worst way to tell the world about your blog articles (or new books you’ve published), except that it’s now the only way.

Other annoyances that make me think the 2010s are the year the internet died:

  • News sources going paywalled to (maybe justifiably) keep running after ad revenue vanished.
  • The war between sites with tons of shitty ads versus ad blockers.
  • Sites that have weaponized the use of pop-ups, pop-overs, pop-unders, and full-page ads that play video at top volume or try to convince me my Windows PC is infected with a virus when I’m reading on my iPhone.
  • GDPR – which may be well-intentioned, but unleashed an era of giant pop-up “we use cookies!” banners, “we’ve updated the terms of service” emails from every fucking page you’ve ever visited in your life, and the outright destruction of some sites like Klout and Google+. (Looking forward to what CCPA does next year…)
  • Google changing their search algorithm to try and stop link farms and clickbait, but making it essentially useless as a search engine for creative content.

Publishing

Ebooks have been around in some form for decades, and Kindle Direct Publishing started in 2007, but the 2010s were the Kindle gold rush. And the gold rush was a race to the bottom.

Unpopular opinion: I don’t read ebooks. I know people find them convenient, but I feel an inherent value in the design of a book, and holding it in my hand. I got a kindle in 2009, and I tried using it semi-exclusively for maybe six months, but I found that every book sort of ran into each other in my head and I remembered nothing from them, because I was always holding the same device and reading the same fonts and the same spacing. I did not retain any of the words in my head.

I can tell that opinion is unpopular based on my book sales. I sold roughly twice as many kindle books as print in the last ten years. I don’t make much money from either, and I don’t sell many books in the first place, but it’s clear other people like them, so I still publish them.

That said, it’s become a horrible race to the bottom. Amazon became the de facto monopoly of ebooks, although others tried and failed to create their own devices or sales channels. Amazon then more or less pushed the price of self-published ebooks to either 99 cents or $2.99 and locked out other vendors with various programs like KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited. They didn’t directly force people to use those prices, but try selling a book, even a thousand-page book, for $4.99 and see what happens.

(What’s funny about this is that Apple was sued and lost a price-fixing lawsuit, saying they tried to create a monopoly, when they currently own a single-digit percent of the market, and Amazon owns like 90% and has essentially fixed the price of of self-published books, and no lawsuit there. I’m simplifying here, but shit.)

Amazon also bought CreateSpace (in 2005) which had previously pushed out any other print-on-demand publishers (which all had their own problems anyway) with low pricing and tight integration with Amazon. Then they forced everyone to move to KDP for print in 2018, and (my conspiracy theory, not citable) did something to fundamentally break the sale of print books. My books that were previously available to ship that day now take 2-3 days, and I don’t know if it’s the algorithm (or that I suck) but my print book sales almost completely stopped in 2019.

Anyway, the general desire for page-flippers and the same mentality behind clickbait articles have made it very profitable to churn out short sequels and made it difficult to spend time crafting a long book that doesn’t immediately catch the attention on the first page. This is a much longer rant and I’ll shut up, but I feel like something fundamentally broke with publishing in the last ten years. And at any moment, Amazon is (my unsubstantiated conspiracy) going to start charging fees to publish books and will completely fuck self-publishing. So that will be fun.

Travel

I don’t even know how many miles I’ve flown in the last ten years. Let me see if I can do this from memory:

  • 2010: Vegas, Denver, New York, Milwaukee
  • 2011: Vegas, LA, Indiana, Milwaukee
  • 2012: London, Nuremberg, Berlin, Milwaukee, New York, Reno, Milwaukee again
  • 2013: LA, New York, Maui, Reno, Milwaukee, Indiana
  • 2014: Nuremberg, Frankfurt, Reno, Milwaukee
  • 2015: Las Vegas, Indiana, Maui, Indiana again, Milwaukee
  • 2016: Milwaukee, London, Nashville/Memphis, Milwaukee
  • 2017: Mendocino, Maui, Milwaukee
  • 2018: Anchorage, Milwaukee, Indiana
  • 2019: Las Vegas, Milwaukee

Travel’s gotten a bit light in the last few years because of my crazy work schedule. I’m about due for a big trip that doesn’t involve family and/or a funeral.

Other Stuff

I walked like 14,000 miles in the last ten years. Gained and lost hundreds of pounds, probably. I started the decade at like 170, and I’m now a touch above 200. In 2011 and 2013, I got back down below goal weight, but haven’t been close since, which is a bummer. Working from home is awesome except for the food thing. Maybe I’ll fix that next year.

No big predictions otherwise. I just finished a book, and I’m in the heavy postpartum depression from that, trying to figure out what to do. I’m going to keep writing. I should probably find another hobby to keep me busy when I’m not writing, but I know I’ll keep writing.

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Milwaukee

I am on day nine of a ten-day stretch in Milwaukee. I don’t know how this happened, how I managed to schedule ten days here, but as a rule of thumb, ten days anywhere is too long. It’s also a problem here, because I always get sick, and the trip was long enough that I was able to catch a cold, get completely over it, and then catch another cold.

This trip, we’re staying at the Saint Kate hotel, which just opened this year. It is an “art hotel” and has various galleries and exhibits throughout the hotel. Very weird to be wandering down to find a cash machine and see a Damien Hirst print on the wall. So everything is new, the HVAC system is modern and didn’t give me an upper respiratory infection (like it did in Reno last month) and the WiFi works. Also the rates were absurdly cheap, either because they are new and underbooked, or they do mostly business travel and this is a dead week. Either way, it was half the price of the Iron Horse, our usual place, and much nicer.

This is the type of hotel that tries to be “hip” by putting a ukulele and a record player in every room. The uke was exactly what you’d expect if someone needed to buy 200 instruments just to say they had them, and I don’t think it had ever been tuned. We have one of those Crosley record players you get for fifty bucks at Target (or $100 for the same exact thing at Urban Outfitters) and it looks like they bought a giant battle-worn record collection at a garage sale and dumped a half-dozen albums in each room. I fired up an old Canned Heat record for kicks, and it was fun, but convinced me that vinyl is not an upcoming obsession.

Mostly did all the usual family stuff. Then yesterday I met up with John Sheppard for his birthday and went to the Brat Stop in Kenosha. We they drove to the Regency mall in Racine to walk around. I immediately got busted for taking pictures by an overzealous mall cop, but I posted my few pictures over at Instagram.

The mall is an interesting one: just under a million square feet, with former anchors of Sears, JC Penney, and the Boston Store, all of which are now dead. All but maybe two dozen of the stores inside have closed, so a recent “remodel” covered the cool-looking vaporwave tile floors with institutional carpet, and boarded over the vacant stores, with various “history of Racine” photos on the walls. I did a short dive on the place yesterday, and it looks like it’s getting redeveloped, probably leveled and replaced with a strip mall, although there’s already a Walmart and some semi-populated strip malls across the street, so who knows.

Also went to Mar’s Cheese Castle yesterday. Turns out they’ve nearly doubled the size of the roadside tourist stop. I originally went there in 2006 when it wasn’t much bigger than the average highway service station. They built a new building in 2011 when road construction forced a move, but made it look like an actual castle, with turrets and walls and everything. The place is now immense, almost overwhelming, with a giant restaurant, endless cases of beer, and of course a large stockpile of cheese and meats.

So I’ve been way off plan with diet, obviously. I do have a great gym here, and have been going every morning. Walking outside has been problematic, because it’s either freezing, raining, or both. At least it isn’t bone-cold freezing like it was a few years ago.

No writing at all lately. Deep in the post-partum depression of the last book, which of course you should buy (https://amzn.to/2svrSV4) but I don’t even want to talk about, and I have no idea what’s next.

No other mall visits, and honestly, I think 2020 is going to be a really bad year for retail in general and I should do all of my walking in the forest instead of following the depressing nostalgia trail and doing indoor laps.

One more day to kill, then I fly home and have a few more days to do all the dumb end-of-year summary posts.

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My new book Ranch: The Musical is out now

I have a new book out. It is called Ranch: The Musical.

The linkage:

This is a short collection, like Help Me Find My Car Keys And We Can Drive Out! from 2017. It’s more of a long zine in paperback format than a short book. About a hundred pages, a very lo-fi cover, and made to be as cheap as possible. It’s only 99 cents on the Kindle, and the print book is six bucks.

It isn’t about ranch, and it isn’t a musical. The main difference is that the pieces here are generally longer. Help had thirty pieces at the same length, but this has twenty. Also, a lot of Help was reprinted things from other zines and the blog and whatnot, whereas Ranch is all new material.

Anyway, check it out. Shares and Amazon reviews are always appreciated.

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flu, rom-com dreams, unix history, holiday mall-walking

I think I have a bit of the flu right now. It’s the weirdest one, because I don’t have a lot of symptoms (congestion, throat, fever, etc) but I have been horribly underwater, unable to think, achy, and all I want to do is sleep. And of course this happens immediately before our Q4 deadline, when I have half a hundred things that have to ship. Last night, I slept about eleven hours, and felt like it was maybe three. I think I’m on the back half of it, and maybe if I waste the weekend sleeping, I’ll be over it.

* * *

I had this amazing yet disturbing dream – I plotted out the entire outline of a chick-flick rom-com, and it was an absolutely bulletproof story for that genre. And I remembered all of it when I woke up, and wrote it all down. It’s not a bad story idea at all if I was into that sort of thing, but I’m 80% sure it’s actually the plot of something I subliminally watched on a plane fifteen years ago. I’d have to spend a few weeks watching the entire Emily Blunt filmography to research that I wasn’t plagiarizing Richard Curtis. And what’s worse is if the thing ended up being entirely successful by ten orders of magnitude more than anything else I’ve written.

* * *

I’ve been reading UNIX: A History and a Memoir by Brian Kernighan, which has been fun. I’ve had a copy of the K&R C book since forever – I actually had the first edition, sold it to buy groceries or whatever back in 1992 or so, and then bought the second edition when I was in Seattle. Kernighan is one of the Bell Labs folks who was around when unix first came to life in the late sixties/early seventies. He wasn’t the inventor of unix, but he arguably came up with the name, and he co-wrote that definitive C programming book. Anyway, the memoir is actually half about his personal time at Bell and half the beginnings of that operating system’s development.

It’s a fun read, because it makes me think of how quickly things changed in that period. They first started hacking together their system on a PDP-7, which had something like 32K of RAM. They had to write everything in assembly language, because there wasn’t a C language yet, and there weren’t portable libraries yet, which made later moving unix to the PDP-11 an overwhelming task. A dozen years later, my Commodore 64 had double that amount of memory. Six or seven years later, the computer I first used to learn assembly language had eight times that memory, and was considered largely obsolete at that point. (The C335 class had a cast-off lab of old Atari 520 ST machines, which were maybe five years old, but felt more like fifty, compared to the NeXT and SPARC workstations everywhere in Lindley Hall. It was nice learning assembly on the Motorola 68000 though. I don’t remember the details, but the 8086 seemed bizarre in comparison. The 68K had more registers, and they were all general purpose; the x86 had a bunch of specific registers, so like some were specific pointer registers you only used in addressing. Or something. Anyway, this was thirty years ago, and I never used assembly again.) Anyway, it’s fun to read about these guys writing an OS that’s now used everywhere, on a machine that’s slower than the alarm clock sitting on my desk.

The one weird thing about that book is that Kernighan has probably sold millions of programming books over the years, mostly through Prentice-Hall, but this book was self-published on KDP. It looks okay, but it’s definitely published on KDP. It makes me wonder why he didn’t get an agent to swing him a deal and maybe get more publicity on the thing. It does seem to be highly-ranked at the moment, and I hope he does well with it, but it is curious.

* * *

Not much else. Writing has been slow because of the flu. Mall walking has been increasing as the temperatures slowly drop. (Nowhere near as bad as the midwest, though.) It’s nice to see the holiday stuff slowly start to fill the stores. Macy’s is packed with new inventory; JC Penney seems to be well-stocked. Sears is Sears. The one in Concord has a sad display of trees in the basement, and not much stock on the floor. I still find it funny that I thought of Sears as The Enemy for years when I worked at Wards, but now I feel oddly emotional when I’m in the holiday department. It reminds me a lot of being in Four Seasons over thirty years ago, putting up the fake trees and telling people that no, we did not have any Nintendos in the back room.

I have a much bigger post in me about the Wards thing. But one interesting bit I found out is that one of the guys who worked full-time in the automotive department who I always liked working with managed to stay until they locked the doors on the last day. And then, oddly enough, he jumped to Sears, and went down with the ship when they closed almost twenty years later. So that’s interesting.

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Price reductions on some of my classic books on Kindle

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

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

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

The following books are now only 99 cents on Kindle:

Also, these books have always been 99 cents:

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

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

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stupid list #167

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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The Death of Blockbuster

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

Who Really Killed Blockbuster?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kitchen, Commodore, Spider-Man, Dead JCP

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

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

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