You want more of me

Admit it. So to give the people what they want — rambling, seems-insightful-at-first-glance-until-you-think-about-it blog posts — and as part of my ongoing quest to be more like Rain, I’ve started writing a weekly column for SFist, a blog about San Francisco.

My first post is up today, and they should follow every Friday. The general idea is that I’ll be writing about technology and internet news as it relates to the SF Bay Area. And I’ll get to cover a robot convention! So y’all can help out by forwarding any links to relevant news items you happen to come across. You’ll be glad you did.

That Guy

Animal Kingdom Lodge LobbySo after dealing with all the nonsense at the airport, I drove angrily to Disney World, without getting all excited when I passed through the main gate, or looking around for all the signs and the attractions you can see over the tree-line. I just parked the car at the hotel and stomped into the lobby and as corny as it sounds, all that anger and frustration just vanished. The hotel itself is impressive; I put some pictures up on flickr, mostly for Skip but for anyone who wants to take a look. But better than that was how friendly everyone was — the bellhops, the people at the front desk, the people working at the restaurant. And it wasn’t a case of special treatment for employees, since there was nothing identifying me as an employee. And it wasn’t really anything particularly above-and-beyond, just a general level of friendliness and genuinely trying to make things easier for guests. The cynical-minded could point out that you pay a lot for that kind of treatment, but I just say that it’s nice that it even exists.

The big attraction of the lodge is the ability to see animals in the savannas all around the hotel. I didn’t see all that many — a few giraffes and a couple of zebras — but there were still plenty of neat touches. At night, near the pool, they have a cast member who gives you night-vision goggles to check out the animals. During the day they have cast members in the lobby with smaller displays of insects and other creatures for kids to check out. In the area between the two restaurants, the hosts and hostesses play African drums and invite guests to play along while they’re waiting for a table. And there are various displays about ecology and African culture and history all throughout. It’s exactly what a Disney hotel should be.

One of the worst things about losing my luggage — apart from having to wear the same pair of underwear for three days straight — was being on the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and realizing that I’d become That Guy. You know, That Guy. Mid 30’s to early 40’s. Alone at an amusement park. In the single rider line. Pale, glasses, kinda chubby. Wearing a shirt from that park or a different one, bonus points for a theme park in a different country. Likely wearing a goatee and/or a ponytail and/or a single earring. Waits for the front row, gets off the ride quietly. Walks past the photo booth at the end, glancing at the picture but without stopping. The male equivalent of the crazy cat lady.

And even though I fit all kinds of qualifications (I hadn’t noticed I’ve gotten fat again until I had to buy new clothes), I wasn’t put off by it until I found myself in the front row of the coaster sitting next to another That Guy, except I was the only one in the Animal Kingdom Lodge T-shirt. And then it all came crashing down. The ride was still cool, though.

I wasn’t able to actually get to a park until 7pm, and the parks closed around 8 and 9. So all I saw of Disney-MGM was the Rock’n’Roller coaster once, and the Tower of Terror twice. That was as cool as ever — seriously, it’s so much better than the California version, because they understood that the drop is only the climax of the ride, not the whole ride. After that I took a boat over to the Swan & Dolphin hotel, walked past the Boardwalk over to Epcot, and went in to get some fish and chips and watch the fireworks. Four of my favorite Disney World things back-to-back, not bad for two hours.

The rest of the trip was taken up either by work or by dealing with the airline. Still, nice work if you can get it. And driving around “backstage” was really, really cool. At Disneyland, it was just kind of off-putting, like seeing Space Mountain with the lights turned on. But at Disney World, the parks are so big that the backstage areas are impressive in and of themselves. I’ve been going there for years, and I’d thought I understood just how big and complicated the whole place was. I had no idea — it’s really a big city. With really expensive food.

And the last bit (I hope) about my experiences with American Airlines: I’d gotten a voice message last night, while I was still on the plane, saying that they had my bag and would be sending it to my San Francisco address. I got another call this morning, telling me that the bag was at SFO and they’d be delivering it to my San Francisco address, which was correct, and telling me that they’d be in the area between 8 and 12 and would I prefer them to call me on my cell phone when they were in the area, or just leave it on the doorstep. I got yet another call this afternoon, telling me that they had the bag, but they needed my address. I pointed out that they had already called me twice with the correct address, but they needed it again. Then tonight at around 11pm, a guy showed up at the door holding the bag, said just “hello,” had me sign a piece of paper, and then walked off saying “thank you.”

At this point, now that I’ve got underwear and toothpaste and clean socks, it’s just comical instead of annoying.


It’s 2 AM Pacific and I’ve been up for about 23 hours. The only things still keeping me awake are frustration and the cryogenic conditions of my bedroom. I’ve had about eight different American Airlines representatives thank me for my patience about eleven times, but what they don’t seem to realize is that the last of my patience got used up about eight hours ago, when they told me the carry-on bag that I haven’t seen since Monday was going to be finally arriving in Orlando on Wednesday night at 7:53, 54 minutes after my flight back home was scheduled to leave. Which explains why I was standing outside SFO in Walt Disney World shorts and an Animal Kingdom Lodge T-shirt at 1:30 AM in 50-degree San Francisco September weather, writing blog entries in my head to prevent the onset of hypothermia.
Continue reading “AAssholes”

Eastbound and Down

Tower of TerrorTomorrow morning I’m taking a flight down to Orlando to spend three days at Walt Disney World. I’d be a lot more excited, but it is a business trip, even if we are going to get two nights free. And being at Disneyland alone is weird but tolerable, while Disney World is more like being alone in a city. I’ll have the co-workers around during the day and likely at night, but still… it’s a business trip. There’s a weird disjoint there that I’m still wrapping my head around. It’ll be interesting to see it on an “adult” trip; my family and I have been taking basically the same vacation for the past decade and a half, so we’ve got our routine down (go on a ride, complain about how hot it is, repeat until it’s time to go home).

But it’s a business trip on which I’ll get to ride the Tower of Terror as many times as possible, so that’s not a bad thing. Plus, I’ll probably get a chance to see some of the backstage areas (but not the tunnels, because we’re not going to the Magic Kingdom). It was weird going into Disneyland through the back — walking around a bunch of warehouses and alleyways and turning the corner and all of a sudden being in Toontown. Kind of makes the place seem smaller and cuts a notch off the “magic.” It’s still neat to see, though.

And they’re putting us up at the Animal Kingdom lodge, which I’ve never been to but have heard great things about. The downside is that there’s no internet access, so I’ll be blogless for the next few days. We apologize for any inconvenience.

That Cheese Aspect

Well, dang. I finished watching the rest of “Firefly.” I can see how the early adopters, and the cast and crew, were upset at its cancellation. But if I were looking to be quoted in trade papers, I would call it “a flawed gem.” A lot of it is just brilliant, and a good bit of it has potential but was badly handled. And there’s this layer of smarm underneath that bugs me.
Continue reading “That Cheese Aspect”

Rooter Bong

Call Rooter Bong, that’s the name, and away go troubles down the… uh… what do you call that… thing? where it’s like the water just… goes away… like… whoa.

The people next door are getting some kind of plumbing work done. Hourly rates are the lowest in the city, but they take a long time. Funny, though, it doesn’t seem that long afterwards.

The difference in hourly rates is made up for by the expenses. Because beef jerky, chips, cookies, and pizza ain’t cheap.

And is it just me, or does “Rooter Bong” sound like the name of a chirpy sidekick character in an Indian animated kids series?


I was looking for something to fill the Sydney Bristow-shaped hole in my heart, and I found Serenity. Err, “Firefly.”

Mac got me the DVDs a while ago, and we’d planned to watch them together but either forgot or got distracted by “NewsRadio” and World of Warcraft. I’m surprised at how much I’m enjoying the series. I’d seen the show before, of course — I’m realizing that of the seven I’ve seen on the DVDs so far, there’s only one that I hadn’t seen when it was originally aired. They just didn’t stick with me, for various reasons.

One is that it’s full-to-bursting with Whedonisms, and a little of that goes a long way. When high-school-to-college-aged characters use little catch-phrases and wry self-aware commentary, it’s endearing because that’s how nerdy outcast high-school-to-college-aged people talk. When gruff-but-lovable outlaws do it, it just comes across as fey. That tone of “look at me! look at how clever I am!” was just a little overwhelming when I first saw it.

And that carried over into everything, which was reason two. Having no sound in space bugged me because it was accurate, but too self-aware accurate. It’s a very minor thing, but it just came across as “yes we’re making an adventure sci-fi show but we’re defying convention because we know that there’s no sound in space because we’re so smart.” Yes, the silence seemed smug. That’s probably more a sign that I was burned out on “Buffy” and “Angel,” but there it is. What was more troubling was how they kept doing the shaky-zoom-cam thing with digital shots, which was a gimmicky effect that was the equivalent of lens flare for the late-90’s-early-00’s. (Attack of the Clones used it too, and I hated it.)

And the last is Fox’s fault, apparently, because of the way they presented it. The first episode aired is definitely not the strongest and doesn’t give as good a first impression. And it’s only by seeing the episodes in the order in which they were intended to be seen that the whole thing comes together. The characters really become characters, and their conversations seem less like overly self-conscious attempts to be clever and more like the way these people would actually talk to each other. The attempts at intrigue were deftly inserted, and weren’t as ham-handed as they’d seemed watching bits and pieces out of order with commercial breaks. The characters do stop being one-note, and the relationships do develop realistically.

And there’s continuity! They pick up a herd of cattle at the end of one episode, and they drop them off at the beginning of the next!

So the fans can wail and gnash that the show got cancelled, but I’m looking forward to two more discs and the episodes that I haven’t seen yet because they were never aired. Maybe things will change dramatically once I see it develop more, but at the moment I’m not all that upset that it got cancelled. It just feels more like a story arc than an ongoing series; I don’t particularly care how this world develops, I just want to know what happens to the characters. I want a story with a beginning, middle, and end — the kind of story you’d find not in a series, but, say, a movie.

And I don’t care what Joss Whedon says; the show is such a rip-off of “Cowboy Bebop.” Even if they didn’t intend it to be. Seeing as how “Cowboy Bebop” is one of my favorite television series of all time, that’s high praise, not a criticism.

Up Before Noon

I’d always heard about the “Seattle Depression,” but I never understood it until I moved to San Francisco.

Anyone who’s known me for any length of time knows that I’m nocturnal by default, and left to my own I’ll gradually switch to up all night (when I’m convinced I get “my best ideas”) and asleep through the day (when there’s nothing good on television anyway). I’m left wondering why I, who’s known me longer than anyone else, would decide to take a job working from home, but that’s a whole separate post if not its own weblog.

So I’ve been getting to sleep later and later and waking up later and later, and getting stressed out on all fronts, and getting more frustrated with work that has become a big impenetrable wall, and always waking up to a big gray fog covering everything. Not even waking up to darkness, which is depressing but kind of exciting. Just the fog that makes everything colorless and faded and seeming like the world just doesn’t exist past my block.

But yesterday I had to get up to go to the wedding of one of Mac’s friends, which meant I was exhausted by 10 pm, which meant I got home and fell asleep around midnight. And today I got up at 10 (and 10 hours of sleep doesn’t seem so slothful when you consider that I got about 4 the night before) and the sun was out! It really comes out in the morning; it was no myth! I felt like Noah getting the olive branch for the first time after several attempts resulting in nothing more than wet, hungry doves.

Sure, it’s obvious to anyone else, but still it’s remarkable to me how much a difference it makes. All the stress I’ve been going through seems manageable. I finally took out the trash and made a more solid resolution to take care of the dishes in the sink. Behind in my work? No problem; I got four good ideas just while sitting here. My jack-ass neighbor planting his fat ass on the steps next door to stare at people? Doesn’t bug me. Reading some right-wing asshole on a weblog saying that Hurricane Katrina and the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center were God’s retribution against the moral decay of New Orleans and Manhattan, and that Arnold Schwarzeneggar saved California from a disaster by voting against the gay marriage bill? Well, he’s welcome to his opinion!

I love the song “What a Wonderful World” and no matter how many times I listen to it, it still gives me the chills for being so earnest and uplifting. Used to be it was the line, “I see friends walk by saying ‘How do you do?’, What they’re really saying is ‘I love you.'” Today, it’s just the line, “I see trees of green and skies of blue.” A whole lot better than the monochromatic chill and listening to “Like the Weather” by 10,000 Maniacs — I was getting afraid I’d have to start listening to Morrissey or something.

And it’s going to be a long winter.

Field Trip

Konnichi-wa!Because, apparently, I’m a moron, I decided to start watching Battle Royale at around 1 AM tonight. So tonight I can’t blame the insomnia on anybody else. Baka!

I’d been hearing about this movie for years, and I was actually afraid to watch it. The premise — Lord of the Flies meets “Survivor,” where a class of junior high kids are sent to a deserted island to participate in a government-mandated “game” where they all kill each other — could either be brutal satire or an exploitative hyper-violent action thriller. Either way, it was likely to be gruesome. And everyone who mentioned the movie prefaced it by going on about how violent it is.
Continue reading “Field Trip”


Normally when you’re as ignorant of politics as I am, you keep your mouth shut unless absolutely necessary. But lately I can’t turn around (virtually speaking) without reading something that makes me want to put my fist through a wall. I can’t read all the news stories of people trying to capitalize on a national tragedy for political gain, without being reminded of looters trashing a flooded department store. And I can’t read all the blog blathering of people tossing blame around, without feeling as if I’m wading in feces- and corpse-filled, disease laden water.

So here’s my ignorant take on:

  • Kanye West’s “Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People”
    Dude, where the hell have you been? Bush doesn’t care about people. Why you have to single out the rest of us he doesn’t care about but who aren’t black?
  • The Bush Administration was quick to respond to 9/11, but slow to respond to Katrina…
    First off, screw all of you for having me to defend the Bush Administration! But back up a step: terrorists flying planes into buildings in Manhattan is thankfully still a unique occurance. People hear that and immediately realize, “Whoa, this is a big deal.” Hurricanes striking the Gulf Coast happens every year. Yes, there were predictions that this was a severe storm. But it’s reasonable to assume that people at every level thought all the bureaucracy and systems in place would be sufficient.
  • …and that’s because they hate black people
    The immediate response? No. It’s more easily explained by just general incompetence and underestimation of just how severe the situation was. Setting up the conditions for the disaster, by cutting the budget for the Army Corps of Engineers? Yes, that happened, and that’s what people should be calling attention to. But it’s still not anti-black; it’s anti-poor.
    So this horrible disaster has taught us that Republicans don’t have the best interests of the poor at heart. Well, thank God we learned something from it that we couldn’t have learned from, oh I dunno, the entire history of the Republican party.

Call me a Polyanna, but my philosophy is that people suck. We’re lazy and selfish and we look for the path of least resistance. Never assume a conspiracy when simple incompetence will do. Don’t assume racism when simple laziness will explain it.

These people aren’t looking for answers, they’re looking for angles. To discredit their political opponents. While these people look at New Orleans and say, “Black people are being neglected,” anyone with a soul looks at it says, “People need help.” Just when I think that we really are gradually pulling ourselves out of the muck and advancing as a species, I see how quick everyone is to just ignore all that and forget everything we’ve learned about racism in the past 200 years.

James Van Der Beek and them sisters from “Sister, Sister”

The title is from Mike Doughty’s song “Busting Up a Starbucks”. If I’m interpreting it correctly, the song’s about impotent outrage at “corporate culture,” pop culture in particular. So at least for the rest of this post, that’s exactly what it’s about.

And what a coincidence, because that’s what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Granted, the whole “high art vs. low art” debate is nothing new, but either I haven’t been paying attention, or within the last decade or so it’s taken a really nasty political turn.

Used to be it was just about intelligence and coolness. So the small nugget inside me which remains in denial and full of hope that I might one day be Cool, forces me to treat everything I like as a guilty pleasure. And I play Diablo while making fun of Dungeons and Dragons. Or I obsess over “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” while mocking both the ones who write fan-fics as “losers” and the ones who write academic books in defense of the show as trying too hard to justify their obsessions. Or I get teary-eyed at the Main Street Electrical Parade while complaining about empty spectacle and meaningless entertainment. I’m not sure exactly why those of us in the nerd and geek communities are so desperate to simultaneously knock down and defend the things we love, but it probably is due to this fantasy we all have of taking off our glasses and showing up for the Big Dance as the coolest kids in the whole school.

But now, to maintain my status as a Well-Mannered, Responsible Liberal, I have to rail against all of it because it’s all the work of the Huge Soul-Crushing Media Companies. Two of which have been my employers, making it even more difficult. Has there always been this gross, simplistic, nasty political tone to it all, or is that a recent partisan development? I mean, I’ve heard simple-minded people shout “television is the opiate of the masses!” and “corporate rock sucks!” and various complaints about media conglomerates and how “indie” automatically equals “better.” And of course I’ve heard plenty of people talk about Disney as if there’s a cabal of Eisner-led liches in Burbank strangling kittens and southeast Asian factory-worker children and using their blood to make pentagrams. (Which of course there isn’t, and I haven’t seen it.)

But now the accusation is that enjoying pop culture means you’re complicit in evil — EEEEEVIL! — for giving money to these horrible companies that you’re just too stupid to see through. We’ve been so indoctrinated with the philosophy that Big Corporations are Bad that it’s gotten mixed in with the high art/low art debate and become yet another way to polarize everyone. Every company larger than 200 employees is now Standard Oil, and there’s no such thing as a good corporation. Our only recourse is to boycott the media, buy organic, and if we must watch films, they should have Parker Posey in them or be directed by Europeans or Canadians. To do otherwise is no longer just stupid, it’s wrong.

Either people are getting more stupid and simple-minded, or the stupid people are getting more vocal, or I’m getting more moderate in my advancing years. I remember back around the time of the Exxon Valdez disaster, and how self-satisfied I was for boycotting the company; it made me feel as if I were really doing something. And it pains me to realize now that in spite of all the comic books and videogames, I grew up, and realized that it’s not about me and my petty grabs at being important for making meaningful choices against a cruel world. That instead, it’s a huge number of people all trying to make meaningful choices, and frequently making mistakes.

It’s comforting to be able to pick out the villains like Kenneth Lay and put a face to the huge, nebulous injustice, but I suspect that the reality is even more depressing. I believe the reality is that there are indeed many outright self-serving bastards trying to screw everyone else, but they’re outnumbered by the people who are really trying to make a difference (in the case of entertainment, to be creative) but impeded by the sheer size of the machine and its layers of bureaucracy. And all of them are far outnumbered by the people who just really don’t give a damn, but are only trying not to get fired.

As for the song: even if I’m completely off about my interpretation, it’s still a catchy song and a great turn of phrase. You can listen to it on his official site if you’re into that sort of thing.

And while I’m writing, my favorite line from the album is “You snooze you lose, well I snost and lost.”

By the way, Doughty’s in San Francisco September 30th and October 1st, playing at The Independent which is stumbling distance from my apartment. Who wants to go with me?