I Hate LA

Man, does LA ever suck. This isn’t the usual Bay Area-resident-bitches-about-LA routine, either — I’m talking about a deep-seated rage. I hate the heat; it’s not like the clean oven-baked heat of the desert, or the muggy womb-like pressure-cooker warmth of the southeast, but an oppressive sinus-clogging misery like being in a stinky convenience store hot dog rotisserie that hasn’t been cleaned in months. A big, black cancerous palm-tree-covered tumor lodged in between me and Disneyland.

So as bad as I thought it was going to be driving to E3 on 3 hours of sleep, turns out it’s even worse driving 6 hours and going to E3 on no sleep at all. Around 6:30 AM it occurred to me it’d be better to get a plane ticket and rent a car so I could sleep on the plane and/or take a nap first, but I figured that’d be too expensive. Luckily, the friendly LA highway patrol saw to it that I could enjoy the long drive and added expense by pulling me over right as I got through the Grapevine. For speeding. Because my 4-cylinder Volkswagen takes all those hills in the Grapevine blazing fast, almost as fast, even, as the 10 million people who kept passing me.

The CHP guy said I “stood out” not because of the broken headlight or broken windshield which I have yet to replace, but because I “threw cigarette ash out the window.” Not a cigarette butt; I’d been careful to use my ashtray for once so as not to get pulled over for littering. Pulled over because of ashing out the window. Which of course is understandable, because you don’t get that pristine, clean-room environment that is the LA freeway system by throwing small bits of white dust around randomly. Worst was how he tried to act like he was doing me a favor: “I decided to save you some money by only putting down 78, but you were really going over 80.” My ass. I drove on and of course immediately lit another cigarette, out of pure spite. No more flicking, though — I just held the thing up to the window and let the breeze from all the cars zipping past me take care of the ash.

Then it was a good 45-minute drive from Glendale to the convention center in LA traffic, $20 for parking, and then The Videogame Industry and all its gory excess. It only took 10 minutes to get a splitting headache, and by 4:30 the soul-crushing despair had won out. I started to doze off on the 45-minute-for-15-miles drive to the hotel, don’t even remember checking in or lying down, and just woke up at 9:30 PM, missing the chance to meet up with Mac or do anything. So it’s a dinner of cookies and peanuts from the vending machine while watching Cartoon Network in the hotel room. Truly I am a High Roller.

Also, the hotel only serves Pepsi. God, I hate LA.

Electronic Entertainment Expo

Speaking of weird obsessions, I’m driving down to LA for the big E3 show tomorrow-which-is-actually-today. If I had any sense, I’d be leaving in just a couple of hours, but I ain’t been to bed yet. Turns out that sitting around surfing the web all day isn’t as tiring when you don’t have to commute down to San Mateo to do it on Corporate Entertainment’s dime. So I’m still wide awake.

But when I sleep, I’ll dream dreams of driving six hours on three hours’ worth of sleep to go into a convention center packed to the sweaty and unshaven gills with gaming nerds, smarmy frat-guy producer types, and near-nekkid women with giant fake guns and even more fake grimace smiles held in place only by the thought of the cash they’re making and how that somehow makes it worth having hordes of blue-balled game developers ogling them with perverse thoughts so pathetic they can’t even fantasize about having sex with them without an internal monologue of stuttering, flaccid analogies to force feedback joysticks.

I can’t wait!

Obsession

Somehow this turned out to be one of those “theme” days, where everything all ended up tying loosely together. Today’s theme was passion and obsession. Not the creepy stalker variety, but The Orchid Thief-style passion over seemingly mundane things, and how we define ourselves.

I had breakfast this morning with Rachael, where we talked a little bit about job satisfaction and how to make a job a creative outlet instead of just a job. Later I had three separate AIM conversations with people talking about what they want to do as a career, hobbies or projects they’re passionate about, and trying to find a way to make it work. And over the course of the whole day I’ve been following web links digging deeper and deeper into the scary world of the “blogosphere” and web designers.

Now these are people who know a thing or two about obsessive-compulsive behavior. Lengthy criticisms and analyses of webpage layouts. Opinion pieces about the proper use of XHTML tags. Favorite fonts and ones to avoid. Intellectual theft squabbles over page layout techniques. Dismissive comments about Javascript and browser-specific markup and, of all things, gradients. And the same link passed from blog to blog to blog, all of them connected and cross-linked and referencing each other as the Elite of this community.

Several hours of digging through all this stuff left me with a very odd feeling. Not so much that I’d wasted the entire day, but that I was seeing a flavor of passion and obsession I hadn’t seen before — I’m used to this kind of thing with the geek fandom crowds and the “hardcore” videogame types, and always assumed it was limited to them. It’s the kind of lengthy talk about a subject that only comes from a combination of ego (essential to any blog) and pedantry. It was odd at first seeing people go on about typography, the BODY element vs. the HTML element, the same way I’ve seen people argue about a Star Destroyer vs. a Federation starship or Python vs C# — art geeks instead of computer geeks. (Of course, there’s a lot of overlap what with this being the internet and all, but these are mainly graphic design types.)

But then I realized that it’s all the same thing, and I’ve heard the same types of obsessive commentary on bands, clothes, sports teams, and movies as much as I have about operating systems and television series. And I realized that I’m not quite on the outside looking in, since I do have to admit to having a favorite font (Futura) and browser (currently Safari). So maybe all that’s required is the ego and the pedantry, in which case I’m all set.

Highlight of the whole trip was finding Airbag, which is easily the best-designed weblog I’ve ever seen.

CSS is the instrument of Satan

I’ve been reading all this evangelism about Cascading Style Sheets online, and seeing examples of how interesting things can be done with it, and tutorials and utilities to make it easier. And based on all this, I can only come to one of two conclusions: 1) I’m stupid, or 2) it’s all a pack of filthy, dirty lies.

Since the first is obviously crazy talk, I’ve got to wonder why all these people are lying to me so bad? They keep going on about how tables are evil and it’s possible to do anything you want with CSS, but every attempt I make fails miserably. Even when I copy and paste the code directly from a working page. It’s starting to give me an inferiority complex.

So I’m going back to using tables. It’s easier, and it’s a lot more calming than my ranting about how “float” doesn’t, and “position: absolute” makes things explode, to people who just have to nod and wonder why the hell I’m getting so upset about a mark-up language.

I still say, though, that it’s the most insidiously sadistic thing ever created by man. You can tell that CSS was designed by and for anal-retentive, compulsive people. People with the mindset that every pixel and every color has to be absolutely perfect, even if it means writing pages of mark-up to get it perfect. And what better way to drive people with that mindset insane? By taking the standard and implementing it differently, in subtle but important and sometimes unpredictable ways, in every single browser. It’s ingenious, really.

Grand Canyon and The Primeval World

Well, there’s another thing to check off the list of things I do before I die. I’ve always wanted to take a road trip through all that John Ford country, seeing the Painted Desert and all that Panoramic Beauty of the American Southwest stuff, ending up at the Grand Canyon. My attention span is too short for a road trip through desert, though; my mind tends to wander about halfway through the Grand Canyon diorama at Disneyland. So on Sunday of the Vegas weekend, I took one of those plane tours. It’s a little pricey, but a good way to see everything without taking up the whole day.

The group consisted mostly of Japanese tourists visiting Las Vegas, so all the tour narration was done in English and Japanese. It was kind of neat, although it was a little disconcerting that those of us who don’t speak Japanese were missing out on all the good material — the group kept laughing at punchlines that we just didn’t get. On the other hand, I did feel a little bit vindicated that I could understand the times we were supposed to get back on the bus (“ichiji gofun == 1:05”), so all those language courses weren’t completely useless.

The planes are small and have high wings “to insure everyone gets a window seat.” My window was right next to the propeller, so that messed up a lot of the arial photos, but that’s a minor complaint. The real views are from within the national park itself. And you have to admit, it is spectacular, and it really is something everyone needs to see in person. I’m happy with the photos I took, but I’ve seen pictures of the canyon before and never really got how impressive it is.

We only got to spend about an hour at each view point, which doesn’t leave much time for thoughtful introspection or coming up with poetic descriptions of it. Just pictures and the occasional “hey I can see the river!” Still, the tour is a good, painless way to get a glimpse of it and decide if you want to go back. I do still want to do the whole road trip thing and spend some real time there. I’m hoping that next time, I get to see the dinosaurs.

What happens in Vegas, stays on this weblog

In all the excitement of being unemployed and doing nothing, I forgot to mention the weekend in Las Vegas for Jessica and Jeff’s wedding. It was the awesomest. The service was at the Flamingo’s wedding chapel, with very cool comic book-style programs by Jeff. Reception and dinner afterwards: made cool by the combination of good food, Tiki mug party favors, an open bar, heartfelt and not at all drunken and embarrassing toasts from the best man and maid of honor, and being able to hear faint pounding of Kool and the Gang music from a neighboring wedding party, which reminded us how lucky we were to be among The Chosen People listening to cooler music. I was really impressed with how much they were able to make the whole thing their own ceremony and let their personality come through. I know it took a lot of work and a lot of stress, but it paid off.

And then after that was karaoke night at Fat Daddy’s, which as far as I’m concerned is what Vegas is all about: sitting inside a smoke-filled casino, drinking and watching people embarrass themselves. There was the perfect mix of semi-drunk wedding party guests goofing off (myself included), frat guy types singing Jimmy Buffet and (inexplicably) Elton John songs, Vegas “lifers” who probably spent the entire week waiting for their opportunity to get on stage and show their stuff, and atonal, wannabe lounge lizards (myself included). The good part of this trip was that I didn’t spend the entire time drinking and gambling, so I could for the most part tell what was going on at any given moment; the bad part is that it meant I was just drunk enough to get up and sing, but not enough to keep from feeling super self-conscious about it. I swear to God the DJ deliberately chose an off version of “All of Me” to mess me up and make fun of me; in the car, I can nail that song. Doesn’t matter, of course, because Jessica knocked “Words of Love” and an all-girl revue of “Like a Virgin” out of the park. The other highlight would have been the man who made his attempt to recreate the Failed Aging Lounge Singer experience, telling jokes like “The definition of marriage is: it’s one thing on top of the other” in between Frank Sinatra songs, and dedicating “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” to “all the preganant women in the audience.”

I say “would have been” because of Monty. He delivered a life-changing rendition of “Memories are Made of This” that didn’t evoke Dean Martin as much as Boris Karloff. It was amazing.

I also did the whole tourist thing in Vegas, with the roller coaster at the New York New York casino (lame), and the Star Trek Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton (friggin’ awesome). They’ve got a museum with all kinds of Trek memorabilia, which just made me wish I were more of a fan of Star Trek. The show itself is either the original motion simulator ride, or a new “Borg Experience 4D.” The new bit is all right for the Haunted House aspects of the pre-show, what with real live Borg wandering out of hallways and grabbing the ride attendants, but they try too hard to be genuinely cool. The original show is the bomb; the perfect combination of Vegas and Star Trek. The premise is ludicrous, the effects are competent, all the actors are completely 100% earnest, and it ends with your spaceship flying down The Strip and getting in a big shoot-out over the Las Vegas Hilton. Priceless. I almost didn’t want to leave, but I’d already been to the ST-themed restaurant and eaten my Cheeseborger, and bought my novelty T-shirts, and I knew going in that the Star Trek Experience couldn’t last forever.

And yet, it does. Deep inside my heart.

Good with Computers

Okay, so after two days of being a virtual shut-in, I finally got the website up and looking like ass. Why all this CSS stuff gotta be so hard? There’s still plenty that looks crappy and some stuff that just plain doesn’t work, so this’ll probably still be a work-in-progress for a while. But I’ve got to go outside and see the sunlight, and then get back to writing my anti-technology manifesto.

Being unemployed is a hoot.

New Blog Format

Well, I’ve finally given up. Instead of working with my homegrown attempt at a blogging system (which would’ve been awesome if I’d just kept working at it), I’ve decided to go with WordPress to do the website. It’s a really impressive set-up — incredibly simple to install, more full-featured than any of the commercial packages I’ve seen, it’s free, and it looks to be extremely customizable.

Plus, it lets people add comments! I’ll see if I can set-up convenient macros for “quit yer bitchin'” and “geez, you like to hear yourself talk.”

Of course, it bugs me that I can’t write a half-assed version of what is already written and better than I would’ve been able to do. Just the principle of it; what kind of programmer am I, anyway? But maybe it’ll give me the time to do any one of the ten thousand other projects I had planned to finish if I only had the time.

BOOOOM! Slideshow! KA-POW! Pictures of my Cat!

Here’s another neat Mac OS X app. It’s called ComicLife, a page-layout and editing program to make digital comics. The ingenious bit is that it integrates with your iPhoto library, making it a natural for presenting travelogues and home pictures in a more interesting way than just a slideshow. And like the best Mac applications, it’s a fairly simple idea done extremely well.

Of course, with great power comes great potential for abuse. And that’s already evident from some of the abominations people have made from baby and pet pictures. But I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Some users are doing cool stuff with it; check out his travelogues from Korea. I can see myself shamelessly stealing his idea and going the Harvey Pekar route with some of the pictures I keep meaning to put up on the internet, which means some day soon the links from my home page might actually work!

For starters, check out this incredibly dull collection of pictures I’ve taken around San Francisco.

You Can’t Fire Me; I QUIT! Eventually. If that’s okay.

I put in my official resignation letter today, after telling my boss on Friday. He was really cool about it, saying all the stuff you’re supposed to say when an employee’s about to go, asking what they could do to have me stay on, offering to help get me on another project if it meant I stayed at the company, etc. It was appreciated, but of course nothing he could’ve offered to make me stay was more powerful than the inertia that’s kept me from quitting that place already in the past two years, so once that broke down there was nothing left to keep me.

I realize that four weeks’ notice is a bit on the extreme side, but I wanted to make sure they knew ASAP so they could schedule around it, instead of my leaving in the middle of the crunch towards E3. Also, I suck at keeping secrets, so once I’d made up my mind I just wanted it out and done with. Four weeks of lame duckitude is probably worth it just to know that freedom (and unemployment) await on May 6th. It turns out that that’s also content lock for the game, meaning it’s actually somewhat good timing through no fault of my own. If all goes well, I’ll get a month off between gigs, the longest time I’ve gone unemployed since college. I can’t wait.

I’m potentially missing out on some bonus money in there, by leaving before the end of May. I’m having a hard time regretting that, though. Even if I didn’t enjoy being able to pat myself on the back for saying that I have INTEGRITY for choosing to leave on my own terms instead of waiting for a cash payout. There’s still the issue of my soul gradually getting squeezed out of my body.

That’s not a case of yet another disgruntled EA employee leaving and running home to talk about it on his weblog — a year ago, I would’ve been all “Fuck you, EA!” but now I see that they’re just a bunch of people running a business. Frequently, they screw up, and when they screw up it messes with hundreds if not thousands of people. But it’s not the dark cabal some would make it out to be. They’re pretty clear with what their priority is: a full set of product ready every E3 and Christmas; product comes first and foremost. It’s not as if it’s a secret. That’s what keeps the money coming in and the stock price relatively stable.

Hell, it’s taken me three and a half years to leave, and I like to think that I’m a little better at “Detect Evil” than that. It’s a very comfortable environment, because it’s stable, they pay pretty well and give all the benefits. It’s just not an environment that I can do well in. I just haven’t really been happy since I went there — I haven’t been unhappy, just not as happy as I used to be. And every few weeks or so, I just start crying for no good reason. Nothing more than a sense of “This isn’t how my life was supposed to be, and I don’t know how to fix it.” Leaving the job isn’t going to fix everything — I’m probably still just an oversensitive, delicate flower, or else I’m mental and don’t realize it yet — but it’s probably a step in the right direction.