Haven’t Laptop Will Travel

Haven’t Laptop Will TravelI’ve only been on a plane once since my last trip to San Francisco eight years ago. Now it’s time to get on one: This Thursday I’m heading back to SF for my birthday. The city’s in my top five, and it’s full of Philadelphia ex-pats there to pursue lifestyles more alternative and technological than Philly can provide. Their decision is understandable; I’ve often (and recently) questioned my dogged attachment to the East Coast.

While being places is wonderful, it’s the getting to and from that keeps me from traveling more often than once every few years. I’m not afraid of flying–I just hate it. I hate airports: The waiting, the overpriced food, the empty-gesture security protocols that make me feel like a criminal, being treated like baggage. The idea and sensation of flying actually excites me, but the experience is miserable: Seats designed for hobbits, impolite passengers, the lung-scarring air, the pressure changes killing my sinuses, the 1 in 5 chance of getting sick. I hate this whole process enough to avoid places I love for years at a time.

I’ve been putting together a plan and some lists. One thing deliberately left off the packing list is a laptop. My hypothesis is that my Crackberry and iPod Touch cover the essentials. The latter is a good-enough platform for web browsing when wifi’s available, and the former does a tolerable job when it’s T-Mobile’s EDGE network or nothing. The Touch has all my media; I may even download that free TWIT/WebAlert/every-other-blog audio book from audible.com to eat up the score of hours hurdling across the country. The Crackberry gives me email and twitter and text messaging from anywhere. (I really couldn’t care less about the fact that it’s a phone.) This could really work! It would be a triumph of minimalism and would test if a totally handheld life is possible, even if only for five days. There are always kiosks and internet cafes if I get desperate, right?

At T minus 71 hours, I find my resolve wavering. This act right now, blogging, is so much easier to do with a real computer. That computer happens to contain my new software love, Coda. It’s not just about having a computer; it’s about having my computer with all my software and customizations. I’m not ready to go cold turkey after four months surrounded by my harem of machines and their harmonious interactions–harmonious except for the tower still running XP. Only time will tell if I break down or stay the course.

So let me know what you think about the handheld good-enough hypothesis. Have you tried something similar? How have the new regulations about carry-on luggage affected your utility belt decisions? What should I know about traveling with tech in times like these?

Sunday Morning

My “morning” began at 14:25 today thanks to a late night attempt to merge my blogs and shared Google Feed. The lesson here is don’t install multiple WordPress plug-ins that affect dozens of posts after five beers out on the town. Things were back to normal by 06:00. Ugh.

To start the day off right, I broke out my brand new two-burner griddle. Mmm, pancakes and bacon. There may still be an electric griddle in my future; you can never have enough griddle. It’s a beautiful, sunny day perfect for people-watching in Rittenhouse Square, so I’m off to humanize and get out the door.


Two Burner Griddle

Cloverfield “A Terrible Thing” (1/5)

We have an early winner for “worst movie of 2008”. Avoid Cloverfield at all cost. I refuse to even link to it. This is probably one of the best examples of death by concept, although there’s very little evidence this movie had any kind of solid cinematic foundation.

First and foremost, the concept of the handheld camera ruined this movie. I didn’t find it all that effective in “Blair Witch” (I refuse to link to it as well) but it’s at least understandable given BW’s shoestring budget. Where exactly did Abrams’s $25 million go? The story’s so wrapped up in this contrivance that every other element of the movie suffers for it. Rather than creating a sense of realism, it was distracting and annoying–even sickening to some. This is what happens when filmmakers fall in love with a concept and become blind to its negative effects on the entire project.

Second, I just couldn’t like or believe any of the flatly-drawn characters who are slasher-film-victim stupid. I wish they’d written a snarky, monster-movie-savvy group of characters, something like what Scream did for the horror genre. The shaky-cam concept doesn’t help here either–except to help me appreciate the craft of shooting a scene and the value of well-framed reaction shots. We may never know if these characters were poorly written, poorly acted, or just poorly shot.

Third, it had pacing problems. That was a very long 90 minutes compared to the breathtakingly short 140 minutes of Aliens. I can’t really say it was slow, but it was jarringly uneven. That can be even worse since you never settle into the film. Something more deliberately paced like “Pan’s Labyrinth” benefits from slower, more European pacing. Maybe this hackish editing/pacing is deliberate, another sacrifice of quality for that “authentic” shaky-cam feel. Bleh.

Fourth, what little we see of the monsters isn’t all that great. I don’t even mean how little of it we actually get to see in the clear. The average scifi video game is at least as creative, but again the shaky-cam format sabotages any attempt to build the commingled fear and curiosity than made Alien a really scary ride. The beastie never does anything particularly interesting or awe inspiring. It’s big, it lumbers around, it sheds parasite or nymphs or something. Some unexpected ability or “they cut the power” sign of intelligence would have made for a much better monster. The scene where they’re rescuing Beth in the Time Warner Building was a missed opportunity for a clear shot of the monster doing something interesting, perplexing, and perhaps even plot-driving.

Fifth, clumsy attempts to copy classic scifi/horror moments fail miserably here. In particular, there’s a scene in the 6 subway tunnel where the night vision function of the hand held camera (more death-by-concept) reveals a new menace. Let’s be nice and call this a very poorly done “homage” to the superb scene in Aliens where the survivors discover a welded-shut door isn’t very useful in a building with dropped ceilings. The whole build-up with the motion tracker, the perplexed “in the room” readings, and the oh-so-well-done “oh shit oh shit” moment when everybody looks up and realizes how screwed they are–perfection. Once again, a perfection unattainable when slaved to the shaky-cam concept since you don’t get that visual narrative and empathic connection with the characters.

Two final comments: I was a little concerned that some scenes would be too close to home after 9/11, but amazingly the overpowered audio detracted from my discomfort at an advancing wall of dust and (relatively mind) snowfall of paper. Also, inexplicably KB and I started laughing during the subway scene. Still have no idea why it was funny, but it was.

I’m going to have to pick a real winner to exorcise the bad aftertaste of this movie. Let’s hope this isn’t a sign that Abrams is going to murder “Star Trek” with some similar “concept”.

The Domestic Goddess Intervenes

The failed state of my renovations has tainted the time Between with anger and disappointment. It’s been hard to get domestic looking at faceless drawers, defective wiring, splatter marks. However, an intercession by the Domestic Goddess helped me turn the corner last Friday. Watching Nigella Express inspired me to order the book, go grocery shopping, and get back into my incomplete but fully functional kitchen. I even cleaned the bathroom today, really cleaned it. The horror, the horror…

This weekend I’m planning my first pilgrimage to the holy site known as The Container Store in Cherry Hill. I’ve been afraid to just go there and browse; the Chelsea store would hypnotize me for hours. All those pretty things containing other things is a major OCD trigger, but there’s a nook in the bathroom crying out for some Elfa shelving. I’m hoping a specific project will keep me focused enough to get in and out without somebody needing to call Missing Persons. If not, just bury me in a really big “Contain Yourself” bag and I’ll rest in peace.

Scene of Redemption:
My God, it’s full of Storage! And counter space! And even food!!!

Scene of Redemption

The ‘A’ Daily Show Shines

Tonight The ‘A’ Daily Show [16 January 2008] really outdid itself. First, Stewart mercilessly skewers the media frenzy around Clinton, Obama, and the race card. Then the Wisconsin Republican primary gets its due. Stewart prefaces the final segment, one of the best WTF interviews since Chris Matthews, because it’s six minutes edited down from eighteen. I hope they post the whole eighteen minutes on the website.

Frankly, I was getting tired of the produced segments that populate the middle act of a typical episode. I like how things are a bit rougher, less produced with the writers on strike. It has more of a live TV feel, like vlogs and podcasts that keep stealing my time away from television. Stewart’s ad-lib tonight about those “quiet…lonely…uncomfortable” moments is exactly what makes the episode great. It’s always been about “a bunch of people staring at you”, Mr. Stewart.

Another shining moment was last night’s interview with John Bolton. It’s the polar opposite of their first encounter back in March 2007. Both are classics, and don’t miss Stewart’s fact checking epilogue to the first interview. Bolton is more engaged, even likable in his second performance. Maybe he wrote Stewart off the first time as just another late night host, or maybe ten more months away from the Bush-Cheney-Rove bubble restored his sense of reality. Did he shore up his diplomatic facade and come prepared, or was this the real John Bolton?

Last but not least, kudos to the website team. Besides looking great, the site’s a pleasure to navigate. Content is well organized, tagged, segmented, and complete. It’s is embarrassingly friendly to linking and embedding from other sites. Somebody gets it. Now I may even catch up on all those lost [like tears in rain] Moments of Zen that TiVo cut off.

Reality Check

Perception Is Not Reality

How Perception and Reality Relate in the Optimistic Mind

Have you seen that Ford commercial that inexplicably asserts “Perception Is Reality” halfway through? I go crazy every time I see it. Is this an accidental or deliberate slap in the face by a condescending advertiser? Madison Avenue latched onto this psycho-babble slogan years ago because the kernel of truth here is that perception is more important than reality in marketing. The best product doesn’t necessarily sell the most, a lesson I learned all too well at Commodore.

What I really hate is when people who can’t do simple arithmetic blather on about how quantum physics “proves” their crackpot theories. The observer effect in no way supports the notion of “perception is reality”. There is no implication of consciousness by “observer”. The universe worked the same way before humans evolved and will continue doing so long after we’re gone. It’s easy to water down a complex scientific idea and concoct an oversimplified metaphor that sounds metaphysical. Go back and do the math before claiming that homeopathy works via spooky action at a distance.

However, there is a biological basis to that unfortunate kernel of truth I mentioned. A recent Scientific American story describes how Price Can Make Wine Taste Better, something Mindless Eating explores in great detail. Madison Avenue knows how to work it and routinely exploits our wetware to stunning effect. Unfortunately evolution is even slower than Microsoft at patching security flaws, and a do-it-yourself behavioral gene therapy might as easily assure total obedience via some sensory or chemical cue.

The good news is that we’re not entirely helpless. Become aware of how these exploits work and you’ll have a chance to interrupt the process. Combine some neuroscience, basic media literacy, and critical thinking to fight back. 101 Mind Hacks is a fun way to learn just how faulty your perception can be. It gave me a spooky art-imitates-life moment when I realized that we’re as hacked for performance as the databases and operating systems I deride regularly.

Madison Avenue and self-help scams like “The Forum” and “The Secret” are just the latest in a long tradition of using our wetware against us; nobody does it better than the world’s major religions. Evidence mounts for “religious experiences” being nothing more than hiccups and misfires of the mind: Pilots in centrifuges see tunnels of light [Where Am I?] and magnetic fields can conjure disembodied presences [Searching for God in the Brain]. The irony is how the faithful can look at these results and claim they prove God’s existence. I just can’t grasp such a total suspension of disbelief.

I wouldn’t care what other people believed, true or false, except the theofascists–Islamic and Christian–are intent on forcing their beliefs on me. Things are better here than Cameroon, Morocco, especially Iran, and even France. However, state sodomy laws were struck down less than a generation ago. Easy come, easy go. Things could go south fast with somebody like Huckleberry Homophobe in the White House. Der Fuhrer in the Vatican isn’t helping the worldwide situation much either.

Allow me a moment of optimism though: The de facto suspension of “Don’t ask, Don’t Tell” [More Evidence Military Policy Changing Towards Gays] is debunking the unit cohesion argument. Maybe a Clinton will yet topple the military’s national monument to discrimination. This election is energizing the youth vote which is strongly in favor of equal rights for gays–even if their parents are too politically timid to do the right thing. A few terms of saner minds may allow the generational shift to inoculate the country against necon fear mongering and fundamentalist hate speech.

Snow Day! (UPDATED)


First Snow Day of 2008!
The first snow 0f 2008 arrives, and I feel compelled to pull on my boots and wander around in it, camera in hand. Maybe more to come later…

UPDATE:  That was about it.  Thirty minutes later the flurries stopped; the city didn’t even have a mild case of dandruff.  Yet another reason global warming sucks.  I want some winter damn it!