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Paranoia in Astoria

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I’m walking down a dimly lit hallway. The carpet looks like bad art viewed through a kaleidoscope in a 1970s color scheme of various dark oranges accented by black. There is also a vague hint of flowers–orchids perhaps–that interrupt the orange swirls passing beneath my feet. The choice of carpeting, although repulsive, was likely born out of a desire to eschew any appearance of trying to match current interior decoration trends; like a New Yorker wearing jeans and a black t-shirt, but a far more violent and auspicious sample. The entire building is shrouded in similar fabric which, in not matching, actually creates a cohesive palette. Uniformity in contrived chaos. This makes sense, as the hallway down which I am walking is in a hotel, and at any moment any piece of furniture or upholstery could be damaged beyond repair, requiring sudden replacement. Rather than hunting down a perfect match, a suitable replacement is likely at hand in any nearby furniture store, and will be for the life of the hotel.

There is a deep and invasive BUZZ which permeates the air of the hallway. Although the parking lot is nearly full, I get the sense that the dozens of identical doors which are stretched before me are cold to the touch, bearing no life behind them; the three floors below me the same, empty yet filled with a palpable BUZZ, which now seems to be increasing in volume faster even than I am walking, ruling out the Doppler effect. It possesses enough insidious threat that I begin to imagine myself the unwitting protagonist in the beginning of a horror movie–the one who doesn’t understand the magnitude of evil which will fill the following 85 minutes of film – the first to die. The BUZZ being merely representative of the unseen threat, an aural clue added for the benefit of the audience to communicate that something, something, is coming. It accelerates to the point that I feel as if sleepy faces should start poking their heads out of the doors, wondering what is going on while rubbing their eyes.

POP! Click. Vroooom–the elevator engages and terminates the BUZZ, the relief of which is suddenly overshadowed by the imminent threat of the other, the thing represented by the BUZZ. I feel a slight hesitation in my step when suddenly I realize that I am making my way towards the vending machines in a Holiday Inn Expresshotel in Astoria, Oregon, and there is not going to be a murder here tonight. I arrive at the machines, filled to half-capacity, emitting their own, lower frequency HUM which is soothing after my near-death episode inspired by the accelerating BUZZ and its sudden stop. I am jolted from thought again as the elevator door opens one floor below. Perhaps I tricked it, I think, referring to the unseen threat which turned my midnight craving for potato chips into a Stephen King novel.

I return to my room, snack in hand, victorious yet humbled, as the simple errand served to emasculate me to the point of jumping at the sound of an elevator door. I think about my hotel, a Holiday Inn Express. Upon arrival I noted that it sits snugly beneath the Astoria-Megler bridge, one of the most iconic landmarks of the small city. How long has this been here? Were the residents upset about its construction? Do they have reason to be?

I fancy myself a student of the French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, who touted authenticity as a highly desirable goal or state of being. I see Astoria as an authentic city. It is comfortable with itself, bears a unique identity in the world, and is just plain charming. Not in the way a barbecue restaurant tries to be by hanging cowboy hats on the walls, but in a “the stores never seem to be open” kind of way. Their mysterious closing time isn’t an inconvenience either, since all they sell is home-made crafty knick-knacks, and I don’t need a candle holder made from part of bicycle frame. So wouldn’t this Holiday Inn Express, a national chain hotel, be a blemish on the city? Sure, every town has a McDonald’s restaurant, but they usually aren’t parked directly underneath the city’s most recognizable landmark.

I ponder this for a moment. Perhaps the suits (business casuals?) who run Holiday Inn should have considered more subtle branding than a fluorescent green sign bearing a revamped version of the familiar brand name. Or maybe they should have even adopted a pseudonym to be used locally, to pacify the rage which was surely bubbling in the hearts of long-time city folk. But wait, would not that be even less authentic than the hotel chain simply erecting yet another iteration of their well-known brand? It may be boring but it would be what it is. Standing across from the plush but crusty Victorian houses leftover from the boom years is this monolithic box of undecipherable architectural vomit, proudly sprawling its parking lot outward, advertising its nearness to the quaint shops and stores which choke in its shadow. Or do they?

The hotel seems busy enough. Cars filled the parking lot. Are the recently restored boutique hotels bearing historical plaques and protection sitting empty? Or were they insufficient before big Holiday moved in to pick up the slack? Perhaps the knick-knack stores are experiencing increased foot traffic and higher sales of their useless shit? This would please me as I like looking but feel guilty as I never buy anything. Yes, I am part of the problem, as I mentioned before I am a paying patron of this behemoth chain hotel, as poor planning led me to stumble in without a reservation after discovering that I had not ticked my personal to-do reading “Get hotel–Astoria” before arriving in the city in darkness. I didn’t have time to peruse the web for the poorly designed websites of local historic hotels, as my companion was dozing off in one of the lobby chairs.

A search would have been fruitful as Astoria has many such establishments, and nearly all of them sound delightful. A cafe in the lobby, original moldings – these all can be found here if one puts in a small amount of effort. I pondered this while sitting in my room on the upper floo,floor; looking out over the knick-knack shops I was either killing or supporting. I was experiencing some regret until I read that the hotel I had my eye on had “European-style” rooms that share two toilets and showers at the end of the hall. I have been to Europe and don’t remember experiencing this kind of inconvenience, so I imagine by “European” they meant “Dickensian” as I don’t think even Oliver Twist had to put up with sharing a shower with a stranger on vacation while paying $120 a night.

My charming fantasy was killed, and I was left sitting in my chain-hotel eating my greasy potato chips and listening to the new BUZZ which began emitting from my heater unit. This paired well with the pops from the back of the mini-fridge, which sounded like a tiny bongo drummer trapped inside. I am just as bad as any other patron of this hotel, I thought; flocking toward the brand-name like the many moths at the lamp outside my window.

My pseudo-ideals in tatters, I resigned myself to bed, where I listened to the loud sound of large trucks passing on the bridge overhead, which to me seemed to represent an unseen threat, an aural clue added for the benefit of the audience to communicate that something, something, is coming.

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Big Band Theory: Part II

A couple of months ago I wrote a post about what happens when a band becomes popular. You can read the full post here, but what I basically said in a long diatribe was that their music suffers when more money becomes involved. I didn’t necessarily blame artists for accepting their ticket to cash city, but I did try to distinguish that ceasing to like a band once they hit the big-time can be initiated for reasons other than trying to be cool. I would like to drive the point home with something I observed recently.

I was browsing Vimeo today and came across a video which I would like to share.

Owl City “To The Sky” from Endeavor Media Group on Vimeo.

At this link you can find Adam Young, or Owl City, singing a song about flight, wings, and adventure while clips from a movie about owls, flight, wings and adventure play. This song is on the soundtrack for said movie. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what happened behind the scenes, though I am going to spell it out. First, I would like to present a small snippet from my last post:
“Yes, they are still the same band–in a way. When a band gets signed to a big label, they are required to do things that even they may object to. For instance, they may be required to allow their song to be featured on a blockbuster movie, or even write a song specifically for it (see Jack’s Mannequin, Dashboard Confessional, Taking Back Sunday). Such a song will usually include lame lyrics contrived to somehow vaguely mention the plot or theme of the movie. When you hear the voice of your memories advertising the latest blockbuster, you can’t help but feel like the memories you created while listening to that music are cheapened a little.”

Sound familiar? Owl City was mentioned in my last post for changing his stage show to make it more marketable and exciting, holding a guitar instead of working a synth. The reason for this post is that I could not help but point out fulfillment of my prophecy as his market presence has grown.
Here is how I imagine the scenario played out; I have written it to be performed on stage:

(Three men sit at a large table in dark suits. A faint skyline is visible behind them out a large ornate window, illustrating their wealth)
Man #1: Well who can we get for the soundtrack? No-one will buy the actual music used in the movie. We need pop and we need it now! (Slams fist on table, takes a large gulp from a whisky glass)
Man #2: How about Owl City? His non-offensive synth-backed crooning is perfect for our target audience, plus the name has ‘owl’ in it. It’s perfect!
(The lights fade stage left, and stage right is illuminated where Adam Young sits, hunched over a table reading a large paper. A man in a suit stands behind him)
Suit: Buzz from last summer’s album is fading, and you need a hit! The fans on your tour with John Mayer weren’t as impressed with ‘Fireflies’ as they used to be!
Adam Young: But do I really have to make it so obvious I wrote the song for the movie? Aren’t all my other songs upbeat enough to include in the soundtrack?
(The lights fade as Owl City song ‘Record Contract Woes’ is played by the orchestra made up of 15 musicians all on Moog synthesizers set to ‘strings’.)

I don’t think that Adam Young is to blame. He has to make a buck just like everyone else. He also has to stay in the public eye because who knows how long his shelf life will be. I will say, however that his new song is not art, meaning not created for the sake of creation and expression. It is not the same as the songs he released before. I do not appreciate his new song. I’m sure he doesn’t mind. However, if he alienates his entire fan base by ceasing to write songs for self-expression, I bet he would start to mind when they stop buying his music.
I use the term ‘art’ loosely here. I bet some would argue that it isn’t real art anyways, so who cares. To these people I reply that it may not be fine or high art, but still fundamentally differentiated from his previous works in quality level. This is sufficient cause for someone to be justified in claiming that they don’t like his new song, while still enjoying previous songs. In addition, future songs may now be compromised, as it has been seen that the songs are now viewed by him as a commodity to be sold. Yes, songs have always sold, but there has always been a difference between those written to that end, and those created as art.

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The Payoff is a Lie

Maceration of Money

Creative Commons George Eastman House Photography Collection

Lately I have been thinking about why people do the things they do. Why do they sweep off the porch (or why not)? Why do they make sure that both shoelaces are the same length? Why do they go to college? I would guess that most people don’t really have answers to these questions. Sure, most could provide a quick answer, but would it stand up against questioning?

Let’s take the college question for example. Many students would say “To get a good job.” This is fair enough, but the word “good” requires definition. It is often used synonymously with “lucrative” or “well-paying.” Now we’re getting somewhere. Do these students like to acquire stuff like wave-runners and big houses with pretty furniture? Or do they want to make sure that their own Tiny Tim always gets the surgery instead of crutches? Is that why they need a good job? Never mind the fact that ideally college would be attended to stamp out personal ignorance like a flaming lunch bag left on a door step. It just seems like something one should do. If their goal is to acquire the wave-runners and house, it is likely they are on the right track. If they are seeking personal well-being, however, they may be kidding themselves.

I would like to declare one thing; there is no payoff. There is no reckoning in the sense that one day someone will come up and shake their hands and say “Congratulations, you passed life! Enjoy the rest of your stay here on Earth.” Most everything in the world is subjective. I learned this in Alaska. I would judge people who lived in a small self-built cabin, living off caught fish and personally cutting wood for warmth as poor or unsuccessful. Many of these people were unlearned in the academic sense, but once again, who decided that recognizing a reference to Kafka was essential to a well-lived life?

It may be the opposite, in fact. The quest for personal success can be detrimental to search for well-being. If someone earns a lot of money, it is likely that their children will ask for that much more compared to other children. Their spouse will not thank them for their tireless work, but ask why they’re never home. And the last of the terrible news: people with college degrees are not any happier than those without.

Anyone could fly a float plane for a living, spending all their days in the crisp Alaskan air soaring over grizzly bears catching fish in the rivers below. Would it matter to them that jobs are being outsourced and they don’t have their TPS reports done? No. They just fly their shiny yellow plane. They see Alaska. They are happy. No one could tell them that they are a failure because the concept of success is completely subjective. Those who some call genius business tycoons, others call money-grubbing crooks.

Many people spout-off the old maxim “Money doesn’t buy happiness.” I have always only half-agreed with this. It is true in a sense, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t help one focus on the things that do bring happiness. The trick is balancing the ratio between things that work against you in your quest for happiness, and the things that help. Money is just one of the factors which could be a trial, depending what side the dice of your life falls on.

I don’t care how much society values hard work ethic, etc; I will never be convinced that a life lived in a cubicle is well spent. No one really cares what anyone does with their life. Many think they do, and they may pretend to, but they really don’t. Not everyone can be rockstars and astronauts, but I believe that everyone has an equal chance at happiness.

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Why Ye Need Not Wait

“The time for living is now” -Someone, I’m sure.

This post is aimed at the 2nd generation buyer. Oh ye of little faith, ye do not buy the first revolution of any product for fear of better things. Today I was at work answering questions about Apple junk (as always) when one kid said to his friend smugly, “I’m gonna get next year’s iPad, it will be way better.”

Being rude and belligerent, I interrupted, “Actually you should wait for the one that is coming out in 2013. My money is on it being thinner and faster. But why stop there? If you wait 5 years I’m sure you could get this one for $25, you might as well wait till then.”

What does this illustrate? The bad logic that is prevalent within consumer-culture. While it is true that something better is likely around the corner–something better is ALWAYS around the corner. Due to the scourge of trendy flow charts being all around the web these days, I have compiled this small chart for anyone not understanding my logic. For better use of charts, go here.

This does not only happen with electronics. I used to work at BMW of Murray selling Mini Coopers. Last summer, the government was dishing out cash to anyone who bought a new car while trading in a piece of crap. What a deal right? I had people coming in, ready to buy a new car and take advantage of the beautiful deal. Quite a few asked about the rumors of a 4-wheel drive Mini. I said that while likely, nothing had been formally announced. Here we are almost a year later and guess what? We are still about a year away from the launch of that vehicle. Those people could have enjoyed a Mini for 2 years and then upgraded to the new one when it came out. Instead, they were so afraid of something better, they didn’t do anything at all. Do you know where they are now? Dead. Hit by a bus. Every one of them. They should have taken their last chance to do what they wanted.

Although this post may be primarily gadget themed, I would like to add that this can apply to most anything in life. I’m not going to get all mushy talking about living life to its fullest etc, because I am mainly just talking about stuff. The kind you can hold in your hand. Though you can apply it however you want. After all, the author is dead. This isn’t supposed to be about how you should seize the day (though you should click this link) or any new-age bologna. I am continuing my quest against bad logic because it drives me crazy.

This isn’t to say that one shouldn’t buy smart, oh no. It is when people try to be extra smart that gets on my nerves–acting like they know something others don’t. There is a legitimate value of usage time. In other words. the fact that your product (X) does (Y) and mine doesn’t does not matter, as I have been using mine for (TIME) while you have been using (NOTHING).

I am not encouraging blind consumerism either. Let me refer you back to my handy chart. We all need less than we want. So spend wisely. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. But if you are going to buy it eventually, and you have the money now, just do it. Don’t tell us how smart you are because you are going to wait.

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Flying Cars and a Great Conundrum

As we begin a new decade, there has been much talk of how far we’ve come in the past 10 years, as well as where we would like to be, technology-wise. Being a somewhat immature 20-something my first thought is that we are 5 years away from the time which Doc Brown and his time-travelling DeLorean are going to land in Hill Valley, CA and cause a little bit of trouble in the space-time continuum. This leads me to the question: “Where are our flying cars?”

This oft-asked question deserves a closer look. Yes, looking at old videos from the 50’s about what we thought today would be like is quite entertaining, but what about the reality of having such a technology? This may sound funny, but I am going to look at some downsides to having flying cars. Yes, downsides.

There is nothing quite like a peaceful drive up a windy road which leads to the top of a great peak, or to some other seldom seen viewpoint which, because of obscure geographical positioning or rough terrain is out of the public eye. This would be completely obliterated with the invention of vehicles which can scale peaks in a matter of seconds, touch down in any clearing, and lift off moments later, leaving empty fast-food bags behind. This brings me to my next issue:

Litter. Has a soda can ever landed on your head? One just might someday. If you think people will exercise any more restraint with their garbage once cars travel omnidirectionally, you are mistaken. Our freeways and roads are littered with candy wrappers, fast food containers and bottles. At least right now they aren’t traveling at their terminal velocity when encountered.

You may be tempted to think that flying will lead to quicker travel, cutting commutes and leading to less stress. This is not true. If your threshold for commute time is 1/2 an hour now, it will be when we have flying cars. People will simply begin commuting from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas for work, and doing their grocery shopping closer to where the food is actually grown. As people, we fill holes created by technology as quick as they are opened. Do you think that people lived 20 miles from their workplaces before the car was invented? You will still see your loved ones just much, and after the same amount of travel. Rather than your sister going to the local college to stay close to home, she will go to one “only 2 states over.”

This is only the beginning. Has your car ever broken down while you were on the freeway? How about while traveling at 300 miles an hour 3,000 feet in the air? You think some people can’t drive now, how about when they can travel up and down as well as right/left, forward/back? If the cars are autonomous, who will be to blame when they fail (as they inevitably will), the car makers or those who write the software that failed?

I hope you have enjoyed this romp in speculative technology and the effect it will have on our society. Despite all of these potential problems, I still say “BRING ON THE FLYING CARS!”

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The Apple Tablet: Why No One Will Be Happy

You may have heard something about an upcoming Apple tablet computer. CNN, The New York Times and every other news outlet have posted a story about it. The problem is, that it doesn’t exist. Oh, Apple is probably working on something similar to a giant iPod Touch with a couple new features, along with 20 other prototypes, most of which will never see the light of day outside their Cupertino CA campus, but nothing has been formally announced by the company.

The problem is that everyone is developing some sort of idea of what this device will be/do. This is all well and good, except that people hold Apple to a different standard. When they make a business decision that means they will make more money people recoil like their own mother has given them a bus stop wedgie on the first day of school. They expect their products to catapult them into a catatonic state of perpetual bliss. But guess what…

IT WILL PROBABLY JUST BE A BIG OL’ IPOD TOUCH.

Locked down, expensive, and will come in every color as long as its scratch-able polished metal. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. Who am I to tell a company which has over 20 billion dollars in the bank how to run their business, and I think there is a very good argument for why they do some of the things they do. But don’t get your hopes up.

No matter what it is or what it does it will disappoint millions of people. We have been here before. For years prior to the iPhone release people anticipated what it would look like. Google “Apple phone concept” and about 50 flip phones with click wheels will come up. The iPhone has matured into a very respectable platform, but when it came out people were very angry about the lack up installable apps and many other things. Apple would release new software a year later that would alleviate this particular concern, but in the meantime they kept it secret from their competitors so they could have time to develop it.

The moral of this story is to keep your expectations low. There is a 99% chance that what they come out with will be nothing like what you have in your head.

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I Don’t Get It

nissangtrNote: This post was written prior to the visit to the track yesterday, where we saw one. Although a coincidence, seeing one didn’t inspire this post.

I have a problem. I don’t get it. I have tried to understand it, but I can’t bring myself to like the Nissan GT-R.

Don’t get me wrong. It is fast, with a twin-turbocharged, 3.8-liter V6 pushing 480 hp, it definitely has guts. Some carbon fiber here, Brembo brakes there, it has all the makings of a car that I would like. But for some reason, I don’t. I saw it at a car show last year. While Britton and Blake were ogling it I believe I might have been admiring the gloss of the pedestal on which it rested that hoisted the car above the common folk. What is the big deal?

The problems I have with it are mainly aesthetic, I will admit. But supercars are much more than speed. If I wanted to go fast only, I could drop $9,000 on a low end Ducati and blow most supercars away off the line. The idea is to culminate speed and performance into an attractive package that looks as uniquely obscene as the figure on the check you signed for it.

The Nose

Someone call Mitsubishi, there has been a break-in. The GT-R’s snout looks like someone left an EVO’s bonnet in the sun too long, the lights getting the worst of it.

The FrontLook at Ferrari, Aston Martin, Lotus, Porsche, BMW- they all have unique designs that are instantly recognizable. There is no shortage of ‘looks’ but it seems that it was too hard for Nissan to come up with a new design, so they took cues from various other cars.

The Back

If you were going to plagiarize a speech, would you copy the Gettysburg address or King’s “I have a dream”? Probably not. Nissan is going for the gusto by taking an American icon and giving it a firm middle finger.

The backThis is in addition to the other cars that already possess this lighting setup. There are near endless potential designs, but they have settled on… wait, it looks like they put a clear bezel in the middle of the red, its all okay now. Nevermind. It is completely different.

The spoiler looks as if it was acquired through a yard sale following the last Fast and the Furious movie, from the reject pile. Sadly, it was sat on by a fairly large boom mic operator, and so was available for less than a decent spoiler. Personally I prefer no spoiler at all, but that is a different story (and a better looking car).

It may not have looks, but it does have speed. Of course, cheating on your test laps helps too.

I realize this is completely subjective. This is something that cannot be argued rationally. If you would spend $80,000 on a Nissan, that is your own issue to deal with.

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