Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Seven Deadly Dwarves

This morning, The Wife observed that the Republican candidates are each embodiments of a different cardinal sin. We discussed it over the Sunday Times and here's the result:

Lust: Rudy Giuliani
The wives, the affairs...I'm surprised Rudy never tried to be a rock star. But clearly he's driven by a strong desire to get laid.

On the plus side, if elected he will inevitably provide more fodder for proof of Republican hypocrisy on the issues of marital fidelity and their favorite bogeyman, Bill Clinton.

Gluttony: Mike Huckabee
This guy ate himself up to 300 pounds by age 40 and more or less gave himself diabetes. Wrote a book about losing weight. (This may be a cheap shot, but it is what kicked off our whole discussion.)

Greed: Mike Huckabee
Unfortunately, we have to list Huckabee here again, as the man has a documented history of lining his own pockets. Of course, these are the Republicans we're talking about, and really, any and all of them could be listed under here as well.

Sloth: Fred Thompson
If Fred were any lazier, he'd be sending his PA out to do his whistle-stops and stump speeches. Given his recent performances, this might actually be a better campaign strategy: Build the Myth. His campaign has seriously tried to pitch him as viable because he "looks and smells Presidential".

He entered the race late and even his own campaign team has to remind him he needs to actually try to get elected.

Wrath: Tom Tancredo
His extraordinarily harsh stance on illegal immigration places him squarely in the "wrath" category, pushing out Alan Keyes. He actually gets even angrier that other Republicans get anywhere near his fury about illegal immigration, and accuses them of trying to "out-Tancredo Tancredo".

McCain was a contender here, but his wrath is all the "sound and fury, signifying nothing" type. He talks tough, but watching him hug George W. Bush and endorse him after all the campaigning and having the Bush campaign label him as mentally unstable...well, it's all an act. McCain is as truly wrathful as Grandpa Simpson. Dana Carvey's "Grumpy Old Man" is has more honest wrath than McCain. Also more entertaining.

Tancredo, on the other hand, got in a screaming match with Karl Rove.

Envy: Alan Keyes
Keyes ran for President in 1996 and 2000. Obviously didn't win.
He also ran for Senate in 1988, 1992, and 2004. Didn't win.

He was detained briefly during the 1996 campaign when he tried to force his way into a debate to which he hadn't been invited.

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. I hate to break it to you Alan, but you're not going to win this time, either.

Pride: Mitt Romney
Romney's feeling that he is "one of the chosen" comes through in every picture, speech, and public appearance. He is convinced that he is better than all of us and will not rest until he is literally ruler of the entire world. A recent New York Times article documented his annoying compulsion to "top" any statement anyone else made, even if he had to lie to do it.

The irony is delicious. Seven Deadly Dwarves. Does that make Hillary Clinton the Snow White in our increasingly tortured analogy?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Living in design

Today I got up at 6 am to fly to New York for work. I have air travel down to a science - at this point I just have it totally dialed in. I know how long it takes to drive, park, check in, stand in line, etc. I can cut it close now.

I have my "travel clothes". My pre-packed bags ready to grab and go. I know exactly how much metal I can wear through the detector. I can take my shoes off, doff my coat, and whip my laptop out of my bag faster than most people can pick up one of those gray bins. It's like ballet.

Walking through that space with my headphones in, I am basically the embodiment of every ad in Wired or Fast Company. "Living the dream", flying from SFO to JFK on a hot new airline with a Timbuk2 bag full of the latest in digital music technology so I can go talk to people at MTV.

It's ridiculous and marvelous. I wonder how I got here, living in this entirely designed experience?

I flew Virgin America today. They leave out of SFO's International terminal, which is a beautiful place. Almost a totally different airport - marble floors, clean walls, lots of light and space. Not too crowded. Beautiful minerals exhibit outside security.

I took a gypsy cab into the city. Must be the medication I'm on - I would never normally do that and only wondered if I'd end up dead in a ditch once!

So I'm at the W. Another heavily "designed" experience. Dark hallways. Mood lighting. Downtempo music. Modern room furniture.

Like Target, these experiences constitute a layer of design pasted over what is essentially a "budget" experience. Take away Virgin's fancy lighting and techno music and you have, well, JetBlue. Or Southwest.

Visiting the "W", one starts to think it's so damn dark because it hides the stains on the carpet and the poorly-finished room corners and bathroom fixtures. Turn up the lights, turn off the looping downtempo CD playing when you enter the room and you're basically in a Marriott Business Jail with "modern" furniture instead of traditional American Hotel Awful. And in Times Square, that "budget" experience is still north of $600.

Even if living in design is basically the same as living without, it's more fun.


One of my close friends has an inoperable brain tumor.
Another family member had a brain tumor discovered and removed in the last 30 days and is in recovery.
One of Iran's classmates, a young woman, has breast cancer. Surgery, chemo, the works.
One of my co-workers died several weeks ago after a lifelong battle with cancer.
One of my team members' significant other is being treated for Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Today I found out that the mother of some dear friends has breast cancer and is going into surgery in 2 weeks.

My Famous Friend Jeff Macke

In college I was a DJ on Dartmouth's NBC-affiliate radio stations. My first show I paired up with another Freshman - Jeff Macke. We did a crazy/awful thing called "The Party Show" and broke all kinds of rules and go in all kinds of trouble. Back in those days, this drove me crazy.

I'm in New York, at the W. It's about 25 degrees outside and snowing. So I'm doing cardio on the elliptical machine. At the W they all have these little TVs-on-a-stick in front of them. Mine is off. But the one next to me had this MSNBC show on called "Fast Money". I glanced over at it and nearly fell off my treadmill.

Jeff Macke is now a TV star. He does financial commentary. Jeff also used to run a successful hedge fund, which he eventually shut down because he realized hedge funds are bad deals for the customer.

Jeff was always a very kind and thoughtful guy. Glad to see he's doing so well.

I knew Jake Tapper, too. He used to draw cartoons for the school newspaper.

Friday, November 23, 2007


My doctor returned to prescribing me Requip. The following are direct excerpts from the "patient information" insert.
REQUIP (ropinirole hydrochloride) tablets
If you have Parkinson's disease, read this side
If you have Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), read this side
What is REQUIP?
REQUIP is a prescription medicine to treat moderate-to-severe primary Restless Legs Syndrome. It is sometimes used to treat Parkinson's disease. Having one of these conditions does not mean you have or will develop the other.
... What are the possible side effects of REQUIP?
  • Most people who take REQUIP tolerate it well. The most commonlyreported side effects in people taking REQUIP for RLS are nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and drowsiness or sleepiness. You should be careful until you know if REQUIP affects your ability to remain alert while doing normal daily activities, and you should watch for the development of significant daytime sleepiness or episodes of falling asleep. It is possible that you could fall asleep while doing normal activities such as driving a car, doing physical tasks, or using hazardous machinery while taking REQUIP. Your chances of falling asleep while doing normal activities while taking REQUIP are greater if you are taking other medications that cause drowsiness.
  • When you start taking REQUIP or when you increase your dose, you may feel dizzy, nauseated, sweaty, or faint, when first standing up from sitting or lying down. Therefore, do not stand up quickly after sitting or lying down, particularly if you have been sitting or lying down for a long period of time. Take a minute sitting on the edge of the bed or chair before you get up.
  • Hallucinations (unreal sounds, visions, or sensations) have been reported in patients taking REQUIP. These were uncommon in patients taking REQUIP for RLS. The risk is greater in patients with Parkinson's disease who are elderly, taking REQUIP with L-dopa, or taking higher doses of REQUIP than recommended for RLS.
This is not a complete list of side effects and should not take the place of discussions with your healthcare providers. Your doctor or pharmacist can give you a more complete list of possible side effects. Talk to your doctor about any side effects or problems you may have.

Other information about REQUIP
Studies of people with Parkinson's disease show that they may be at an increased risk of developing melanoma, a form of skin cancer...

A small number of patients taking medicines to treat Parkinson's disease, including REQUIP, have developed a problem with gambling. It is not known if this problem is directly related to the medicines or is due to other reasons. If you or your family members notices that you have an unusual urge to gamble, talk to your doctor.
A little research also uncovers that some patients have "increased sexual desire". Check!
Also on the nausea and dizziness. And headaches.

I've been on it for about 2 weeks now. Ramped up to the full dose. The best part? My leg still hurts a little.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The haze of Flexeril

Back to the doctor again. Big surprise - "take 2 aspirin and call me in the morning" didn't work so well. So in response to my complaints of cramping, he signed me up for 2 different kinds of muscle relaxers. Both based on Flexeril.

One is the traditional formulation. The other is a new "extended release" formulation. My doctor loves trying new pills on me apparently.

"Extended release" sounds like something Duran Duran did to "Union of the Snake" in 1984.

Expensive pills, and because they're new, hard to find.

I took them for a week. Yeah, they kept my leg from cramping. They also kept me from thinking and getting out of bed. It was like, well, being on drugs for a week. Serious drugs. No problems sleeping, no pain. Also a complete inability to think clearly or carry on a conversation without concentrating my ass off.

And one night I went to bed and my left leg twiched. Then my right leg. Then my chest. Next day, I asked my friend the Internet about side effects. Guess what? "Muscle twitches" is a common one. OK, this is clearly not working...

Off to see the doctor again. What's next?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Leg update

I went back to the doctor yesterday. For the last 3 weeks, he's had me taking large doses of ibuprofen and not working out my legs - no running (or pretty much any cardio), no squats, etc.

It has certainly made going to the gym tough, and I've barely gone.

It's only helped a little - while I haven't had any really bad nights or days, I have only had a few good ones. I've been keeping a little leg situation journal. Not so awesome.

So today I got some muscle relaxers to try when I sleep. I'm still reading about cramps on the Internet. It feels like it's a muscle problem more than anything else. But is it some sort of vitamin imbalance? A circulatory problem? Neurological?

2 weeks from now is the next step.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Radiohead and the music biz

[This was originally written when Radiohead's "In Rainbows" album was released, but it's just as relevant for their recent album "The King of Limbs".]

Radiohead have always been far more media/press-savvy than most people will give them credit for.

First of all, they're not really doing anything new - Canadian artist Jane Siberry launched a store containing her entire catalog with the same "name your own price" methodology, and that was about 3 years ago.

The main thing here is that the demographic Radiohead appeals to is a good fit for this strategy - they're critical/press darlings, and the digerati think they're friggin' awesome. It's also worth noting that these sorts of early adopters are some of the most connected people and simultaneously some of the last willing to pay anything for music. And they love open-source anything.

Radiohead also realizes the power of the physical good, hence the "deluxe package". They have a solid, rabid fanbase, and that core is going to buy the expensive physical good anyhow.

Radiohead also recognizes that their music is going to get distributed. Why give anyone else a cut when they can control it all? And if everyone takes it for free, that's still OK because they've gotten massive press and all their fans will buy the deluxe package anyhow. To me, it's very similar to Aphex Twin's "Analord" 12" series (vinyl-only, nice binder, etc.). Focus more on getting the most money out of your hardcore fans, since nobody else is going to pay anything anyhow.

And for all of this, Radiohead has 100% control and keep 100% of the profit (they also shoulder 100% of the risk).

So I think it's pretty smart.

That said, this won't work for everyone - Radiohead's fan base is connected, tech-friendly, and willing to pay. I don't know that, say, Garth Brooks' fan base is in a similar situation. Or Madonna's. Most people would rather go get the CD for $10 at Target or Wal-Mart or Best Buy. So I don't know that a ton of "big" artists will follow suit.

And almost every smaller artist I know is already doing what Radiohead is doing, but they don't do "deluxe packages" or run their own stores. And why should they? It's a lot of work and they're better off having the conferred legitimacy of being in iTunes or Rhapsody or whatever.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Virgin America

I flew Virgin America for the first time on my last trip to DC. Is it an incredible new experience?

Well, no. It's a budget airline. But they do things a little differently, wrapping their experience in some nice design:
  • Many of the airports I've flown in and out of on Virgin (SFO, JFK, Dulles) use the "International" terminal. These are usually nicer and less-crowded than the usual domestic or commuter terminals. That, coupled with Virgin's British legacy immediately "classes up" their image. The SFO International terminal is beautiful compared to the dumps the other ones have become.
  • The self-check machines are fancy touch screens on nice tables, with concealed printers. They put vases of fresh flowers on top. This has the advantage of making them very easy to find as well as immediately changing your perception of the airline. Airports are generally incredibly sterile industrial environments, all vaulted concrete and steel. Flowers immediately make you relax and feel different about things.
  • The ticket counter areas have some carpet mats, and friendly staff dressed in black. They smile a lot and politely ask if they can help. Some are even out from behind the shield wall of the counters.
  • The boarding passes are nice cards printed on substantial paper. A minimum of cryptic junk. Large, readable type. They fit in a back pocket without folding.
  • Boarding times are at least 10-15 minutes more optimistic than the actual boarding time, presumably to minimize the number of people boarding late. Smart.
  • The planes themselves are brand new. Black carpet on the floor, white walls, and violet blue mood lighting instead of the usual white industrial fluorescent gothic. It's probably just gels over the same ol' tubes, but it does look very nice.
  • Transparent violet dividers. Pleasant and "modern".
  • Seat backs are hard white shiny plastic. They remind me of Kubrick's "2001" space sets. They seem to get marked up and scratched easily, but when the mood lighting is on they pick up the purple nicely.
  • Seats are pretty close together, on par with any other old airline. Definitely not as nicely spaced as JetBlue or Alaska.
  • Seatbacks feature Virgin's special entertainment system, called "RED". Has TV channels, "premium" (i.e. you pay) TV, movies (you pay)...and some other fun stuff - built-in video games (which I've seen people of all ages play), seat-to-seat IM (this will never get used!), and a built-in live Google Map that shows where you are, how fast you're going, etc.
  • RED also features the food-and-drink ordering system. Touch what you want, swipe your credit card (cash is not accepted, only credit cards), and they bring it right to your seat. When you want. This is very nice.
  • Only problem is that RED is flaky. It worked great on this flight, but on later flights it was either not working at all or had particular failures and required several "resets" per seat.
  • Seats are (probably fake) leather. Black for coach, white for first class. First class looks very cushy.
  • Safety presentation is by video rather than attendant. It's reasonably entertaining, which is to say it is like Chapelle's Show compared to the normal presentations. A bit of humor, all done with animation.
  • Prices are quite affordable.

I'm in the future

I am in the future. 16 hours into the future - or at least 16 hours ahead of San Francisco.

I'm in (South) Korea, Seoul to be specific. And it really is like the future here. Brand new buildings springing up fast. Technology everywhere. It's hard to describe. So far, it's a bit like living inside an in-flight magazine, all shiny surfaces and nicely-lit rooms.

My flight in was about as pleasant as a 12-hour trans-continental/trans-Pacific flight could be. Korean Air was flying a nice new plane with large (if too hard) seats in coach, and decent seat-back entertainment systems (I got to watch "Sunshine" and "The Lookout").

The flight attendants are practically androids - they have heavy make-up and are immaculately dressed, with tied scarves and matching outfits. A far cry from the dumpy shorts and polos of Southwest. Rather nice, actually. They distributed satchels with sleep masks, toothbrushes, and special sleeping socks.

They also kept the plane cold. I actually had to request a blanket, and was still cold throughout the flight (note to self: I need a new jacket/coat).

My leg was pretty well-behaved as were all the kids on the flight. Only really got unbearable for the last hour or so.

Immigration and customs were a breeze.

The weather was beautiful. I found a cab driver and set off for the hotel. 90 minutes later, we arrived. Poor cab driver looked as though he was going to have a heart attack - he was so upset about the driving conditions (lots of traffic), he was constantly putting his head in his hands. I just sat back, listened to music, and watched the sun set.

My "hotel" is actually a "serviced residence", or corporate apartment, and it is swank. Seriously. It's about 1/3 the size of my entire house. 2 HD flat screens. Comfy furniture. Refrigerator. Clothes washer. Scale. 2 showers. 2 toilets that need owner's manuals. The whole thing looks as though it was built yesterday - immaculate, tasteful. Beautiful view, too.

I had a beer and some food sent up and flipped around on the TV until about 8:30 pm or so and went to bed, waking briefly at 4 before returning to sleep. Got up at 6 and hit the gym (naturally, several colleagues were there as well).

Off to a short day of meeting folks at our Korean office. Having a good time so far.

I like the future. It's nice.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Langley High School Reunion - Prom 2.0

Back in DC, back at Mom's. Small rental car. I'm dressing up. Should I be wearing a tie? Nah, too formal. I'm the wacko from San Francisco, right? I'm driving down Route 66, with my lovely wife as my date - she's all dressed up, too.

It's like we're going to the prom. All I need is a corsage or something. We're at the hotel and can't find parking. We're walking in. Outside a family is in the ending stages of a wedding. Beefy guys with near-shaved heads sport vests over white shirts, jackets slung over arms in the unseasonable heat.

Inside we're asking where the reunion is. We're looking for elevators. The distant thump of DJed music shakes the building. We walk up to the doors. Wrong high school - looks like James Madison is having a 10-year reunion next door. We walk over to the other ballroom. Here we go.

Pinning our name tags on. Opening doors as the music roars up. I look around. It is Prom 2.0, 20 years later. The same people, dressed up, sweating, nervous. Everyone talking about who came and who didn't; who brought whom, who's together. Who's broken up.

I swear the DJ is playing the exact same set we got nearly 20 years ago. And like that time, I've surprised a few people by bringing a mysterious hot woman no one has ever met before. This time, it's my wife. Yay me.

The main difference this time is the drinking is subsidized.

People are milling around, looking for faces they recognize. All of the ladies look fantastic. There's some sort of giant roast labelled "Steamship of Beef".

I'm seeing people I recognize but the music is too loud. Most of these people have stayed here on the East coast, many still in Virginia. Many with kids, and a few with a shocking number of them.

Everybody is smiling. I'm getting hoarse. It's not very comfortable in here. We look around. I scan the memorabilia table and set a pile of CDs down next to the framed list of the 8 classmates who've died since graduation. I knew 2 of them well. One died in a drunk driving accident weeks after graduation.

I am surprised again that anyone remembers me. Shocked to find some of them have even found and regularly read this blog (hi, Mike!). I'm having fun, but I'm also getting tired. There's only so much of this nostalgia I can take, and the prom flashbacks are starting to creep me out.

The sheer volume in the room coupled with the size of the space and lack of places to sit aren't creating a nice vibe. Again, it's like prom. Nobody dancing.

I look at my wife. Time to go? We exit the room and the tinnitus ring of excess sound crashes into the relative silence. We get back in the car and ride back to DC, chatting about the evening.

Unlike my last trip back for a reunion, there's no melancholy creep through the city streets or blurring of past and present. My life is here and now - my wife next to me, driving through what's become of McLean, back to DC where my mother lives with her new husband.

Soon I will get on a plane and return to San Francisco, where I live. Where life is. It was nice to see the old gang, albeit briefly. Would have been nicer to talk to some folks longer. Nicer still to have had something to talk about.

I'm OK. You're fine? Good. Glad to hear things didn't turn out awful for any of us. Hope the next 20 are good, and the 20 after that. Maybe even the 20 after that.

Take care. Save a dance for me. And maybe send me an e-mail.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The flesh fails

For a while now, I've been having problems with my left leg. Dull aching during the day which comes and goes. No amount of massaging seems to assuage it. A weird lump in the middle of my vastus lateralis when using a foam roller. Mysterious twitches at night keeping me up, contributing to sleeping problems. Tightness when fully extended.

Doctor gives me some giant ibuprofen and says "stop working out your legs for 2 weeks - no weights, no running. Take these. Then come back." It's been almost a week. I really miss cardio. But I'm not feeling a lot of improvement. Yeah, there's a bit less pain, but it's still not right. I am probably going to end up needing some sort of MRI to find out what the hell is going on in there.

I've gained a bit of weight over the last several months, so I'm basically back where I was before I started on a big exercise regime and diet. However, my blood pressure is lower and I'm sure I'm more fit. I am not really convinced that all the working out is the cause of my leg problems. Then again, I'm no doctor.

Still, it's just a drag. I'm too young for chronic pain. It's a drag.

I've also been doing way too much traveling - that's one reason for so little writing. Earlier this month I was in Las Vegas, before that Seattle (where I took that picture of the water from my hotel room). Last week, New York. Tomorrow I fly to DC. The weekend after, I'm off to Korea (happy Korean National Foundation Day, by the way - the consulate was closed so I couldn't get my visa sorted today).

I'm pretty much over it at this point. The combination of tiny cramped planes with my leg issues is just no fun at all.

Collectively, it's just put me in a down-ish mood for what feels like this entire year, though it's probably only been a few months. I try to find some little joys or pleasures in each trip and every day. Lately it's just been enough to sleep through the night without my leg freaking out on me. Enjoying my morning coffee and looking out the window, wherever I am.

I've been working on de-cluttering my life, finally getting rid of clothes I don't wear, stuff I'm not using. Somehow I've ended up with a lot of junk. I remember when I could fit everything that mattered to me in the back of my car. I guess that means I've gotten old. Or grown up. Or both.

I don't talk much about work here - the usual mass of confidential stuff. And inevitably I will rant about how frustrating things can be. But I have a very good gig, with a lot of cool people. Nothing really to complain about there at all. I love Rhapsody.

I actually bought a CD recently - the reissue of Wendy Carlos' Sonic Seasonings - something from my youth. Very nice, still mysterious, though now I hear it with more knowledgeable ears.

I am also greatly enjoying the two albums Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie recently released - After The Night Falls and Before The Day Breaks. Very much like their Mysterious Skin soundtrack collaboration.

Time to go take 800 mg of ibuprofen. I'll be happier when I know what's wrong with my leg, and what I have to do to get it back to "normal", assuming that's even possible.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

New York, New York

It's hot in New York. 85 degrees. Unseasonably warm as I walk up the jetway. Flight in was not bad, though totally full. My bag comes off the carousel before I finish letting my wife know I'm here. Into the soupy air and the taxi line.

I marvel at the gentleman in front of me. He's dressed in black, head to toe. Black leather blazer, black cowboy hat. Smoking, while he's on his mobile phone, while he's simultaneously trying to roll his two bags up to the taxi line. And then he asks me if I want to share a cab.

I don't. I've been on a plane for hours. My leg hurts. The last thing I want to do is sit in a cab with a creepy smoking stranger at 1 am and ride into Manhattan. The young woman behind me notices my plight. I overhear she's heading for Times Square as well.

30 minutes later I roll into the W. I've never stayed here before. It's not cheap - about $600 a night - but it sure is pretty. "Designed" is probably the word. At the check-in counter, I see...the young woman behind me from the taxi line! She notices me and starts laughing, "we could have shared a cab!". We share an elevator up to the 35th floor instead.

Living in California, you forget that the rest of the world has really tall buildings.

The elevators and corridors of the W are very dimly lit. Pitch-black, almost. It's pleasant, but a little disturbing. My room smells weird and the bed is a bit damp. But it looks gorgeous...

Times Square throbs and writhes 35 floors below me. I verify that room service delivers 24 hours and start changing for the gym. A little work out will stretch me out and tire me out and...holy crap it's after 1 am. What am I thinking? I have to eat. But if I work out and then eat, I'll be up until 3 at least and I have to be up at 8 or 9 tomorrow...I order food and flip on the TV.

A few hours later I'm looking at a beautiful New York morning. It will be hot today, but I only have to walk about 3 blocks to MTV headquarters for my day-long meetings. Out my window I see why people want to live here.

The meetings are reasonably productive. The MTV folks are great. We disband for the day and I return to the hotel. I get in a good workout before heading off to meet some of the Rhapsody folks at a local upscale steakhouse.

The place is a few blocks away. It's nice to walk everywhere, and the warm weather is pleasant. New York is alive, buildings going up and coming down, people coming and going. I find the restaurant and walk in. It's all power suits and loud conversation.

I notice they have Booker's, a rare bourbon treat for me. I order one and as the bartender is preparing it, I get a $20 out of my pocket. I don't want to deal with my credit card, I just want to pay for my one drink. He sets it down in front of me and I hand him the $20.

He comes back a few seconds later. "Sir," he says, "...that will be $20.86". He needs another dollar. My single drink costs $21 goddamn dollars in New York. For. One. Bourbon.

I leave my bartender to enjoy his 14-cent tip. I look around at the restaurant. I realize there are other things you miss in California. This place, on the ground floor, has a 3-story-high ceiling, and giant floor-to-ceiling glass windows around it. It's breathtaking, and almost shocking. Huge wooden buttresses give it an almost Gothic feel.

And as I drink my expensive bourbon and await my colleagues, I realize something else about New York: There are tons of hot ladies here, and they all dress up. Hooray for New York!

The rest of the gang arrives and we enjoy a decent steak meal. I have broccoli with mine. As I previously noted, these upscale steak places are always a bit disappointing. Yeah, yeah, the meat is great and they bring it out sizzling all perfect on its little plate.

But I'm eating a steak and broccoli. I have this at home almost every week and it tastes about as good. It's steak and broccoli. There's only so much you're going to do with that as a chef. The last time I was in New York, Ronda found an incredible crazy restaurant with foams and gels and a dessert that I swear exploded in my mouth. A real food adventure. Though if I recall properly, we did almost get killed in the cab 3 or 4 times on the way there (I closed my eyes part-way through the ride, I just couldn't take it anymore).

Dinner ends. The guys are going out drinking. Not me. My leg hurts after sitting down for so long. I walk back to the hotel, stretching it out and looking forward to a good night's sleep.

The next day I grab a coffee at the Starbucks across the street and sip it as I walk back to Viacom. After more meetings, we'll end up out at dinner with the MTV folks at a tapas place. Super-tasty. This is followed by more drinks and great conversation at the Paramount's hotel bar. Back to bed.

The last day is a brief recap of the previous ones, and then back home. This flight sucks. Delayed an hour. Sits on the runway for an hour. Back row of the plane. Jammed in the window. Totally full flight. My leg is positively killing me by the time we land.

I get home and my leg twitches all night. I have to travel less. And figure out what's up with my leg.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The 2007 MTV Video Music Awards in Las Vegas

I've been in Las Vegas for about 24 hours. It's 4:00 pm. Outside it is 105 Fahrenheit. I put my hand to the giant window in my room. I can feel the desert seething, as if it resents Las Vegas itself - a phoenix of sin continually consuming itself in fiery explosions only to be reborn even more grand.

I've just returned from a late brunch with my father. I saw him yesterday. We had dinner about this time, before I went off to another dinner (I just enjoyed the fancy wine) followed by a trip over to the House of Blues for a Rhapsody+MTV party where Maroon 5 and Robin Thicke played. I marveled at how much I didn't care for the groups while silently wishing all the smokers would fall down dead. Living in California, one forgets that smoking is actually tolerated elsewhere. I got home about 2:30 am, bourbon coursing through my veins.

I'm tired. I've been traveling a lot. The next day or two is going to be a long slog through meetings, parties, and dinners. I'm not even entirely sure why I'm here. Something about relationship building and perks.

I look out the window. There's a massive storm front moving in.

I don't have tickets for any of the actual VMA awards. After the show itself, there's a "post" party at the hotel pool. Then Rhapsody + MTV are having their own "after after" party at Beauty Bar Las Vegas. I should probably go to that, but it doesn't even start until midnight.

What I'd really like to do is sit in my luxurious, quiet hotel room, in the big comfy chair, and watch that storm front roll across the sky. Maybe order up some dinner. Read the New York Times. And go to sleep.

I sit down.

My phone buzzes. It's Jessica. "I have a ticket for you, but you have to get over here right now. Throw some clothes on and get moving."

How can I refuse? I throw on a nice new shirt and silk blazer and I'm out the door. Minutes later I'm in a cab.

And then things start to go bad. MTV and the cops have the streets blocked off a half-mile in every direction. My driver drops me off and then pulls the "I don't have change" routine so I'm forced to over-tip him. The hotel is surrounded by a crowd. Somehow I find a way in. The entire place is like a Japanese subway car at rush hour.

I call my contact on the phone. Nobody can hear me on the other end. I am frantically text-messaging while trying to fight my way to the other side of the hotel.

I can't get there. There's a cordon bisecting the hotel. If I can't get to the other side, I can't get the passes that get me to the other side. I'm sweating. This sucks.

30 minutes later my contact locates me and hands me the badges I need. I am reborn. Now I have "All Access". I'm behind the velvet rope, moving through the crowds, passing with the celebrities. Mere minutes later, I'm up in the skybox over the clubs, examining Linkin Park's gear and waiting for the show to start. Only 2 hours to go.

Tyler and I are cracking wise about the absurdity of this event. I round up some more of our co-workers and they go off to look for drinks.

My phone rings. One of the editors (who deserves to be where I am much more than I do) is arranging a fancy dinner for those without access. He gives me the details. He doesn't know I have a ticket.

Another hour passes. Tyler says "This is bullshit. I don't even want to see this shitty band, why I am I standing here?" And he's gone.

Why am I standing here?

It's loud, but no one's talking to me. I have earplugs in and am rubbing my aching leg. At this point I suppose I should stay to see how a "real band" like Linkin Park delivers the goods. Maybe my friend Sid Luscious can learn something. But I'm looking at my phone. If I leave soon, I can catch dinner.

They're showing the MTV Video Music Awards on the TV screens in the club, but they're not patching the sound through, instead letting the crappy techno echo through the space. There's something very Brett Easton Ellis about the whole thing. Britney silently and vacantly gyrates on a dozen screens.

Another hour passes.

I stand up as Linkin Park starts to file in. The crowd is going nuts. Timbaland is below me, miming on a keyboard. Nobody notices it's not plugged in. Linkin Park starts playing. The sound is horrible, the band...adequate. I get through one verse and one chorus before I'm out out out.

Moving through the crowd. Excuse me. Coming through.

I manage to meet up with the gang for dinner. Look, there's Suge Knight. Was that Paris Hilton? We sit down at the steak house. The smallest meat they offer is 16 ounces and costs $50. The largest is 5 times that. Who actually eats that? We dine and laugh. It's hard to do good meat bad, but it's also hard to do it great. This isn't bad. It isn't great.

And now it's time for the first after party. I've had a bourbon. I don't care, it's going to be a long night and I'm in for the long haul at this point. We're outside. The dry air shrink-wraps my contacts to my eyes, which are themselves turning into the ocular equivalent of raisins. It must be 85 degrees out here.

We walk around the pool looking for something. Look, there's Sarah Silverman. The blonde guy from "House". The Foo Fighters. A couple dry-humping on a chair on a peninsula extending into the pool. Classy. Bad music continues its shuffley beat.

We see a lot of boob. Most of it fake. A lot of guys with pumped arms, oiled hair, headbands. It's like this site in real life. The uniform for guys is tattered $200 jeans, an embroidered shirt open 2 buttons, and some sort of hip loafers. Can we go yet? Nope, another hour.

Finally it's 11:30. We need to find a cab, get off the strip, get to our after-after-party at the Beauty Bar. The cab line is way on the other side of the hotel, the front being reserved for Kanye West and the crews loading out gear.

The cab line is about a half-mile long. I look at my friends. "We need a limo." They say "no, we can't, we can't!" They head for the cab line. We run into my boss and some other co-workers.

I love my boss. He is a master strategist. He also knows how to enjoy life. "Boss," I say, "we need a limo." He looks around, counts our party, evaluates the situation.

10 minutes later we're in a white stretch limo cruising to our party.

We arrive and there's already a line around the block to get in. These people look like SF hipsters - all the guys look like they're wearing girlpants. We hop out of our white stretch limo with our laminated "All Access" badges and walk to the front of the line and into the Beauty Bar Las Vegas.

This club is small. The main room is not much bigger than my living room. It's packed. And the music is so unbelievably loud. My teeth are rattling. I lean my head against the wall and nearly get a concussion from the bass vibrations. I believe the air is actually shimmering from the sound.

Outside it's actually a tiny bit cooler, but you have to deal with smokers. At least it's relatively quiet. We wait for the band, er, DJ and kill time talking shop.

The DJs start up. Is that Ashlee Simpson? Isn't that a VJ? The fancy DJ CD players conk out. This act we hired is apparently the Eddie Van Halen of pushing "play" on a Discman or something. I don't get it. What I do hear I recognize as "Musique Non-Stop" by Kraftwerk, but these guys have added some junk on top of it. Or they did before their CD players broke.

They stop the show and tell us they'll resume soon once they get replacements. It's 1 am...where the hell are they getting replacements? But somehow, they arrive and it's back to "play".

An hour later, I am done. It's going to take a while to get back to the hotel. My boss and I and the ex-rock star start walking, looking to flag down a cab. I'm exhausted. My leg hurts. I'm not even drunk, just so tired I am not sure I'll even be able to sleep.

I wonder what happened to the storm front this afternoon. I don't remember it raining. I think Vegas just defeated it, forcing nature to evaporate and dissipate in the face of all that cash.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Reminder: "News" = Entertainment

I'm guessing that the news has been primarily entertainment as long as anyone has been making money at it. Some may argue the turning point was color television, or perhaps Rupert Murdoch.

Whenever it happened doesn't really matter. I just want to remind everyone: It's just more entertainment.

For some folks, that means the cinema vérité of hardcore indie outlets. For others, the McNews provided by USA Today, better known as the fresh doormat provided at business hotels worldwide.

Today's evidence: This great article that says "It doesn't pay to be smart". This is a classic bit of hackery: Find a goofy study, write a screaming headline. This story focuses on something from Intelligence. In this amazing bit of research and journalism, you'll learn that:
  • "It is still not well understood why some people are rich and others are poor,"
  • "Being more intelligent does not confer any advantage along two of the three key dimensions of financial success (income, net worth and financial distress),"
...and much more, right after this message from our sponsors!
I hear he's writing a big follow-up - "EXTRA! Being smart may not lead to happiness!"

Also, I heard FOX is working on a scoop: The sky is blue and the sun is probably coming up tomorrow!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Modernism at The Corcoran

Sunday. I have a few hours free. I need to return some shirts I bought at Filene’s Basement. Apparently any shirts that fit my neck and arms are ridiculously large in the chest, billowing like sails. I need “modern” or “athletic” fit. That’s good, right?

I grab an umbrella and head out into the Washington summer. I don’t have a lot of time, so I walk fast. A light breeze sweeps the heavy air across the streets. I get my refund and head on to the Corcoran, to catch the closing hours of their Modernism exhibit.

The walk is wonderful – the skies darken, the temperature drops, and the wind blows. The heavens making a long, protracted sigh before the inevitable summer rain.

The exhibit is $14, but worth it. A well-arranged collection of artifacts, assembled by themes and chronology. I’ve seen much of this before, but it provides a new perspective and is quite inspiring. But there’s plenty I haven’t seen – the costumes, the architectural models. There are many chairs. A complete kitchen from Bauhaus plans and designs. A car.

The coat check man who insisted I check my umbrella can’t find it – but I can. And it’s a good thing, because now it’s raining. Curbs are overflowing and washing out.

I love it.

I take a long, leisurely stroll the many blocks back to the Leinberger place, listening to rain on my umbrella and music on my headphones.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Fairfax High School 20-year reunion - Class of 1987

I’m there at 8. I drop off some of my CDs at the sign-in table, affix the printer label with my name I’m handed to my lapel, and walk in to the ballroom.

The next few hours are a blur – a couple of bourbons, 6 glasses of water, a few bites of some extremely dry turkey.

It seems like every woman I know has gone into education – two are special education teachers. Many are working in the Fairfax school system. 

Most of the guys are married with 2-5 kids. They all look the same, instantly recognizable. One guy is a federal agent. A lawyer. A consultant. Everyone seems happy.

I talk to everyone I recognize and remember. It’s really nice to see some of these people. I wish I had more time to spend with them in a less-crowded environment. It’s a lot to take in all at once.

I pass out some business cards and a few “try Rhapsody free” cards I have leftover from my last business trip. I hope it’s not too miserable an experience for those who do try it.

I watch one fellow stagger drunkenly around before finally slumping outside in a chair with his beer. People are smoking, eyes avoiding each other.

It’s late now, and the volume drops a bit. The DJ has gone home. Something changes and the secrets come bubbling up. The nostalgia gives way to a bit of regret in people’s eyes as they look around and wonder how it all ended up like this. If this is it.

“Jack and Diane” plays in the background, and John Cougar sings “life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone”.

I’m done. I walk out into the humid night, pausing briefly to admire a vanity license plate in the parking lot.
I get in my rental car and instead of reversing directions and heading straight back to DC, I take Route 50 back into Fairfax.

Things have changed so much – the streets are all incredibly wide and look like they were paved yesterday. Intersections have become convoluted and multi-arrowed signs proliferate like trees, sprouting the nine-armed symbol of chaos.

There are far fewer actual trees, but the ones that remain are huge and ripe, filtering the streetlamps through the evening haze into tall, spiky towers of light.

I marvel at the number of giant new office buildings, plunked down on sites that were once arcades, tiny shopping centers, or nothing.

I pass the old library, still surrounded by trees – looks like it’s being renovated. Courthouse Plaza hasn’t changed, including its horrible signs. I glide through the enormous parking lot looking at the stores.

I float silently down the road, passing an old elementary school, long since converted to a police station. Another elementary school has been re-branded and remodeled. I’ve been down this road dozens of times in my youth and probably as many in my dreams.

It feels like I’m dreaming now as I roll through flashing yellow stoplights, alone.

Fairfax High School fades into view on my left. It looks like they’re adding a second story, as pyramids of glass appear to be bursting through its top. The back entrance is taped off and locked, but the main parking lot is open. I attract the attention of a security guard car briefly as I loop through the parking lot.

Great Oaks is still there. The sign is the same. The houses look the same. Fancier cars in the neighborhood. I’m sure these are very expensive places now. The wood retaining walls have all been rebuilt and the trees are enormous. My old house looks no different from the others. I’m back on the main street.

The bowling alley is still a bowling alley. The woods behind it are now McMansions. The 7-11 is still there. I turn right and head up the hill. Former stands of trees are now partitions between giant subdivisions with names like “Pickett’s Rest” and “Woodhaven”.

The Fairfax Ice Arena is still there, and still proudly open year-round. It’s now surrounded by brick industrial buildings – the kind that house gyms, offices, and other mysterious firms behind rolling metal doors.

Fair City Mall remains as odd as ever – an enormous gym occupying what looks to be a whole wing. The other mall in front of it looks about the same, too – the stores change, but not much. The sprawling intersection is being resurfaced. I still can’t believe 3 giant shopping areas can continue to survive in the same place.

Down 236 I go. Lots of churches. More houses. Pine Ridge Elementary is long closed.

I sigh. It’s getting late and this trip down Memory Lane is bringing me down. I'm tired, so tired it all seems a bit unreal. Am I dreaming all of this right now? Even now, as I write this, it's so hard to keep straight. I've been back here before in my dreams. Were things this different already?

I head back to Route 50, weaving through the sort of road that used to be everywhere here – hard to find, curvy. Dense with trees, houses all but hidden from the road. Half of the homes are now massive re-builds.

The intersection of 50 and 495 is enormous and sprawling, dropping down 20 feet below street level before a glorious, graceful orbital curve throwing me back north into the night.

All the exits on 495 have been renumbered, but I can still practically drive this by feel. I count the giant office towers as I head for the George Washington Parkway.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised – if people can age and change, make foolish decisions and have great success, why can’t places?

I whirr through the woods on the parkway. My headlights catch a fox in the median. He watches me drive by and scampers off into the woods.

Not Business Jail

If my previous New Jersey hotel was business jail, the place I stay this time is the exact opposite. Doesn't really matter. It's still New Jersey, it's still a business trip, and it's still hard to enjoy.

It's hard to eat healthy. It's hard to do anything other than go from office to hotel and back. And the airports really get you down after a while. These days "the dignity and elegance of travel by air" tends to mean watching people endure the stress test of pointless security and marveling at the absurdity of it all.

The official government signs that misspell "Amended". The people who "forget" they have liquids in their bags. The filthy airport carpets we're all walking in our socks (or barefoot).

I generally block out 90 minutes from airport arrival to board time. You never know how bad the lines will be. It usually doesn't matter, because these days, you're apt to get stuck waiting on the plane. On this trip, I got to the airport and found that my flight was delayed due to bad weather. In New Jersey. Where I was. So I took this photo, which pretty much sums it up. Note that it may be hard to see because the sun is shining so brightly.

Monday, July 16, 2007


I am 38 years old today.

Other famous people born on July 16?
  • Stewart Copeland
  • Ian Curtis
  • Barbara Stanwyck
  • Ginger Rogers
  • Desmond Dekker
  • Mickey Rourke
  • Will Ferrell
I woke up this morning with blood pressure of 120/80. In good health. Looking forward to a mellow day - no presents or anything, and all the restaurants are closed, so probably dinner at home.

I'd enjoy some sort of birthday party, but who has time to plan and deal with the hassle?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Business Jail

I'm on a business trip in New Jersey. Some folks say "ooh, business trip! That's fun!". These people have never been on a business trip before.

I am staying at the Courtyard Marriott (as requested by those responsible for the meeting and trip). It is Business Jail.

I arrived last night at about 8:30 pm local time. I immediately hit the gym and ran 4 miles - in a hurry because I wanted to get some food before room service closed. This place is in the middle of an office park near the freeway, so there is nothing walkable. And I have no idea where to go on a Sunday night here if I cabbed it.

I get back from the gym and call. Turns out the restaurant downstairs is closed Friday through Sunday! But they'll happily give me the number for Domino's Pizza, which is the only place that is open and delivers. Ugh. 45 minutes later (what happened to "30 or it's free?") my pizza arrives. After I tip the guy and he runs off I realize they didn't even include the drink I ordered.

I walk through the silent halls, past the other cell doors to mine. I sit in the damp summer air and eat pizza while watching TV.

I suppose I'm just spoiled. Unlike hotels I regularly stay at and enjoy, this place offers no lotion and the soap/water combination feels like it's leaving some sort of film on my skin.

Breakfast rations are "the buffet" and "coffee". I sit with my back to the window, facing the door so I can see any up-and-comers who might try to shiv me for my USA Today.

Later today I hope to hit the weights, maybe walk the yard. Supposedly all our meetings are being held here, and they're basically 9-5:30 Monday and Tuesday, then a morning flight back to SFO.

A 4-day sentence in business jail. I have a feeling this isn't all that different from low-security prison!

I had to get up early on Sunday morning and drive to SFO. I could do an entire post about the disaster that is airport security (on my last trip, I watched the security guards forcing people to leave bottled water behind, but had no problem letting a guy put an aerosol can of Lysol through the X-ray machine and then back in his bag), but that's probably unnecessary.

I ended up in the last row of the plane. At least Continental Airlines has moved those forward from the bulkhead so they actually recline. I generally prefer the aisle seats, but this resulted in my shoulder getting bumped every time anyone walked by. Given that I was sitting next to the restrooms (a wondrous olfactory experience in itself), I got bumped a lot.

I did have one small bonus - the middle seat of my row was empty, and it was the only empty seat on the plane. A nice treat.

6-hour flight. The movie? Firehouse Dog. I couldn't have watched it if I wanted to, as the sound system wasn't working, so the staff shut the movie down after 15 minutes.

I don't mind the flying so much. I catch up on reading, do a little work, and listen to music. It's a bit like prison as well, but in a good way - some serious, uninterrupted solitude. Time for thinking, reflecting, napping. I write a lot of lyrics on planes.

One more thing - On my last trip, I should note that the person behind me in the security line was none other than Eartha Kitt! Having lived in L.A. for so long, I'm a little jaded. But this is Catwoman, people! She should have her own security line, because a) she's awesome and b) who knows what eeevil devices she may be sporting?

Anyhow, she is much shorter than you'd expect. And radiates star power. I don't know where she was going (probably some secret lair), but I guarantee it isn't any business jail.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Music today sucks; or "Daydream Nation" is the root of all indie rock evol

Music today sucks!

What I mean by that is we're halfway into 2007 and I've heard very little this year that's made me excited.

In general, my enthusiasm for "albums" is waning - most new records feel like they were made to be shuffled or dumped in with a bunch of other music on a hard drive, rather than enjoyed like a 5-course meal.

I have also come to realize that it's all Sonic Youth's fault. Thanks to "Daydream Nation". This album was recently reissued and Pitchfork Media gave it a perfect score. Of course they did, it epitomizes everything they think is cool.

There's just one problem. It's not a very good record. It commits what I consider to be the musical cardinal sin: It's boring.

Yeah, it's got "Teenage Riot". Great song. "Silver Rocket" is good. They're the first two tracks. But the rest of it? Eh. It quickly degenerates into a soggy, indistinguishable blob of chiming guitar strumming (is that a Roland Jazz Chorus amp?) and Thurston doing his sprechstimme even more tunelessly than normal.

I defy you to listen to it all the way through and not reach for the skip button. "Kissability" is one of the weakest tracks Kim Gordon's ever done - formulaic in composition and "message". "Providence" is the sort of art experiment you'd expect college students to put on their debut ("ooh, let's make a fake phone message about a stoned guy and put it on top of our amps humming!"). Tracks like "The Sprawl" and "Eric's Trip" just seem to go on and on and on...Many of the songs are 7 minutes long or longer and you will feel every second of it.

And there's a "Trilogy". I'm assuming it's an "ironic" Trilogy, but why can't they do it in 3 minutes? Brevity is the soul of wit, kids.

I loved "Evol" and "Sister". I thought they were both better-sounding records and had more interesting songs. I have liked much of Sonic Youth's numerous other albums. But "Daydream Nation" broke my heart. I listened to it over and over, trying to understand why everyone was going so crazy for it. I still don't "get it".

And yet this is what much of modern indie rock music chooses as its template. Maybe I'm just getting old.

Bah. I'll post soon about some records I've liked.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Doing Better

As you can see from the survey above, I'm doing much better (today, so far!). I got a foam roller which has been helping with my leg issues.

Work is still nuts. Isn't it always?

Music also going fine - my friend Sid Luscious had a song used in a movie trailer. I treated myself to an early birthday present (gear!) and will post about that shortly.

Special thanks to Liz and Peter for their kind messages. I really appreciated it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Politics: Democrats

Court jesters Something Awful recently covered the Democratic Party "debate". Hilarious as always. A particularly noteworthy line about Hillary Clinton:
It's great to see diversity and all, but she's more of an old rich white man than most of us will ever be. When her jackbooted thugs smash your door down and uninstall Grant Theft Auto from your PC Personal Computer, don't say I didn't warn you.
This nicely encapsulates a number of issues for me:
  • All the candidates on both sides are basically "more of the same".
  • Hillary is an old rich white man, for all intents and purposes.
  • Aside from the usual fascists, hypocrites, and liars, the Republicans are fielding a guy who is basically the 21st-Century version of "Gopher" from The Love Boat and a "family values" candidate with no real qualifications aside from having his city attacked. Watching them enthusiastically endorse torture is truly sickening.
  • The Democrats aren't much better. These days they would be more accurately represented by a jellyfish (spineless and toothless) than a jackass. They are responsible for the PMRC and music labeling, most of the videogame ridiculousness, and worst of all, the DMCA and the continuing extension of copyright.
  • Their candidates aren't proving to be any better than their Republican counterparts. Apparently the Democratic plan is something like "if we don't take any positions or stand up for anything, we can't lose!"
  • Our political process and the media prevent us from getting anything substantial out of any of the candidates during the campaign process. We get endless empty promises.
The entire election gets reduced to the equivalent of a web forum poll or American Idol. Given the minimal level of thought we, the people demand from these jokers (and the clowns who talk to us about them), it's probably no more than we deserve.

Candidates, here's my deal. Promise me you will deliver on any of the following and I will give you my vote and work hard to deliver the votes of anyone I know:
  • Out of Iraq within 18 months of taking office
  • "Manhattan Project" for green energy
  • Revise CAFE laws to mandate dramatically better fuel efficiency (or replace CAFE with laws that make sense and work)
  • Raise taxes (Yeah, I said it. I will gladly pay some money to help maintain our country.)
I don't care what party you're in. Do something. Make a difference.