Monthly Archives: September 2010

when i count to three, you will wake up refreshed

9/12/10

There are very few good rallying cries in English – the St. Crispin’s Day speech in Henry V is awesome, but takes a minute or so to say; “Remember the Alamo!” is probably the best, revenge-filled, guttural payback phrase we’ve got. It was the Texan battle cry of San Jacinto (on April 21, 1836) in response to the Battle of the Alamo (March 6, 1836) – so, really, they only had to “remember the Alamo” for about two weeks.

Americans are always talking about the short attention span of modern culture, but there’s one happening that seems to be stuck on constant “repeat”: September 11, 2001. God knows I’ve done it on these pages, so I recognize my own hypocrisy, but we are entering our tenth year of being held hostage to that day, and it is beginning to look less like a phase of America’s history, and more like our actual character.

Ever since the midterm elections of 2002 convinced the Republicans that the 9/11 horse was never too dead to flog, we’ve endured constant references, comparisons and evocations of a day many of us would like to put to bed. Cable news channels, always 23 hours short of 24 hours of content, constantly find themselves drawn back to the floppy teat of collapsing buildings as well. Only in the last few years has showing the actual planes hit the towers been considered bad taste.

I’ll be honest: I slept through both airplanes hitting the WTC, even as the first one zoomed a few hundred feet above us downtown. Tessa had been having problems with her Palm phone for weeks, and was talking to Customer Service when the lady told her the system was down that morning, possibly because of incidents at the World Trade Center.

“What incidents?” she said, and turned on the television. We were in a large one-room apartment at the time, and she spoke to me loudly as she watched.

“Honey! A plane – or two – just ran into the World Trade Center.”

I half-heard it in the morning delirium of a dream’s end, and assumed she was kidding. About a minute later, I sensed the television being on, which never happens in the daytime with Tessa, so I jumped out of bed. We watched the first tower fall a few seconds later, and had a momentary collapse into each others’ arms, before rallying and getting outside.

The stream of people from a few blocks south had just started. Gray humans covered with ash, only black streaks down their cheeks from tears, walked resolutely up Hudson Avenue. One construction worker passed me – he was ambling erratically, tool belt dangling, wailing like a newborn, his hands straight up in the air.

Then hordes of all colors came, women who had abandoned their shoes a while ago, in nice business dresses with bloody feet in black stockings. We began to help the refugees who lived across the streets from the WTC, all of their belongings hastily crammed into rolling suitcases – many of which had lost a wheel, making them nearly impossible to drag.

Then the kids streamed up from Stuyvesant High School, all trying to contact their parents, but having no way of getting through. Not a single cell phone worked, and the payphones (the few that still existed) had lines 10-12 deep. Tessa had two landlines for her home office and a fax line at the time, and brought down an armful of wireless receivers for all the kids to use.

Some lived fifty blocks away, and just wanted to get home as soon as possible; they gave us their parents’ phone numbers and we called them as they continued their journey north. The sound of their mothers and fathers, the childlike crack of their voices as they heard the news and felt a relief that was almost unbearable… it’s something I can only truly understand now.

And we threw ourselves into this, helping families reunite on concrete streets, carrying luggage for elderly couples with terrible suitcases – I didn’t even see the second tower fall, just smelled it, that horrible, sweet, disgusting smell of an electrical fire combined with powdered glass.

The nights came, the storms came, Tessa and my sister Michelle went to the still-glowing WTC hole in the ground and basically created the only health services center the emergency workers had. It all spawned a series of emails that I can’t read without being right back there – including Michelle’s now-famous “ice cream” email picked up by Salon, Sean’s experience at the Armory, and Tessa’s account of being on Ground Zero when the rain sealed the site’s fate once and for all.

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Michelle and I hand out Wendy’s salads at Bellevue, 9/12/01

I was okay for a few weeks, powered by adrenaline, until the bottom fell out of my brain. It was gradual, but my thoughts were soon overtaken by nuclear apocalypse, abandonment, weeklong panic attacks, sleepless anxiety, and overall death. I wrote sensible-in-that-crazy-pathological-way emails to Sean and Michelle begging them to move away from Manhattan, as I had already planned. Nothing worked; I stopped eating, lost ten pounds, and finally had to go to the psych unit at NYU.

The rest of the story plays out on this blog over the last nine years, but I’ll fast-forward to the sexy bits: I got better. Yes, I engaged in hours of talk therapy and got on the right dose of medication, but the thing that provided the most relief was the curiously powerful tincture of time. Time itself was the necessary element along with the psychotherapy and the drugs, so when Lucy came along, I was the kind of person who could be a father.

Time is the one thing that could cure this country of its 9/11 sickness, and yet the same players – conservatives, news organizations and those with a dog in the fight against Muslims – keep re-puncturing the wound. Some argue eloquently that 9/11-based rage is worse now than it was in the years after the attack. It has to stop. It has to fucking STOP.

Not to assume far too much, but I’ve got a pretty good perspective on the day. I did not lose any loved ones in the attacks, and do not possess the overwhelming emotions of unfathomable loss. On the other hand, I was not living hundreds or thousands of miles away, only synthesizing the event on screen and paper, getting to decide how I felt based on predilection. I am somewhere between those two.

So I feel qualified to put this out there: let’s all stop thinking about September 11, 2001. Absolutely let it go. Yes, we will continue to fight religious extremists who mean us harm. And I don’t mean to dismiss those who died, I mean treating them like the fallen soldiers of WWII: commemorating them as our heroes who died in war, without constantly hammering on the “war” itself.

Stop invoking 9/11 to further your agenda. Stop airing anniversary specials. Stop using it to shame people into your terrible ideas. Give people their birthday back. Give kids an ordinary late summer day back. I will recognize my culpability and stop as well. I’m in the “Lone Star” state of mind: Forget the Alamo.

lorax shrugged

9/9/10

Not to tell tales outta school or anything, but Tessa and I had a little tête-à-tête this evening about an innocuous PSA that aired on cable. We were watching our favorite environmental porn channel Planet Green, and they had a famous surfer dude talking about a petition you can sign, telling President Obama to stop offshore drilling.

Apparently, Obama is ending the moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as Virginia, and even in the Arctic Circle off the coast of Alaska, despite campaigning on the opposite. And Planet Green wants you to sign Oceana’s petition registering your displeasure. And seeing this, I happened to say “if you think something like that will effect any change whatsoever, you’re fucking crazy.”

Which was probably not the right way to begin a discussion, but it does highlight a part of me that, in Tessa’s words, is heartbroken. Or really, just plain old broken. I no longer worry about the environment, because I’ve come around to my brother Steve’s way of thinking on the issue: humans will only change their behavior when faced with some sort of holocaust. I don’t take that logic as far as Steve might, but two things are clear to me:

1) The government is going to do whatever their business interests want them to do.

2) The number of Americans who believe global warming is happening has actually declined over the past two years.

We had a Democrat in the White House, and we controlled both the Senate and the House of Representatives. And we were either too chickenshit or stupid to pass even a bad bill to fight climate change. This fall we’ll lose at least one of those chambers, and any kind of environmental legislation will be finished.

Yes, I will continue to keep my side of the street clean and teach Lucy how to conserve. We still drive our Prius and have no incandescent light bulbs, and the farm is solar-powered… you know, the usual laundry list that makes me sound like a smug white prick. But fuck if I’m going to sign a petition. The mere mention of it kinda makes me furious, because your time would be better spent calling your mom and asking how she’s doing.

In a way, it’s been liberating. I take all the plane flights I want, rather than stewing in liberal guilt or buying carbon offsets in a shrill falsetto. I try not to eat unsustainable food, but could give a shit if everyone else wants to force McRib Deluxes down their intestines. We can all basically relax… until we see the environmental holocaust, and then we can ooze in a self-satisfied “told ya so” glibness until the dark wave comes.

But hey, maybe that won’t happen. Maybe the world won’t end with a bang nor a whimper, but just get gradually more shitty, uncomfortable and sickly until someone accidentally invents The Thing That Changes Everything and we’re all saved in the 11th hour. But I gotta tell you, that thing better get invented before Lucy gets wind of the politics of the last ten years. Sure, I may be broken, but she and her friends will be looking for asses to kick.

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your father was an extraordinary man

9/7/10

I’m always psyched when theoretical numbers get specific – last night I found out that the entrance to black holes are typically 20 miles wide. Not 45 miles, or 3 inches, but 20 miles – approximately the distance from the Old Well in Chapel Hill to RDU airport, for those of you who’ve broken every law of thermodynamics en route to catching a plane.

The basic “knowability” of such a thing makes it easier to swallow, and such is the case today, when a study came out showing $75,000/year is the perfect salary for happiness. To be more specific, it’s the salary past which there are no noticeable upticks in average happiness. Obviously, you’d have to add 20% or so for NYC/San Fran and deduct the same amount for Pierre, SD and Turpin, Oklahoma, but you get the idea.

I have to say – I thought that number would be quite a bit higher, not because I’m a chuckleheaded spendfarthing, but because our culture fetishizes MORE MORE MORE above even basic kindness. Plus, there’s all the accoutrements from the list of stuff rich families had when we were kids proffered by caveman and yours truly, and it seems like very few of them (swimming pool, etc.) are in the $75K domain. And you can forget about the yacht, the country club, the vacation home and the IN-HOUSE INTERCOM SYSTEM.

Just after college, some of us in the Purple House figured there was a hierarchy of wealth, and it went something like this (according to yearly salary):

$0-$17K… fucked-up double-wide

$17-$45K… “always fighting with the wife” money

$45-$90K… comfortably middle-class

$90-$125K… “your car always starts” money

$125-$200K… Marcona almonds money

$200-$400K… douchebaggy

$400K-$1M… “pays for you to join him on vacation” money

$1M-$10M… Many Homes money

$10-$60M… Yacht Money

$60M-$100M… Jet Money

Above $100M… crazy fucker with germ fetish

Which was pretty funny, because at the time (and for years afterward), we were hard pressed to bring home more than $10,000/year to our leaky hovels. Of course, Jim Beam is cheap.

I’ve often been in conversations where people toss around their eschatological “doomsday” numbers, the amount you would need to have if all the markets went to shit and you had to survive on your liquidity. This conversation is depressing, and if you find yourself getting into it, I’d recommend leaving the party.

A much more sanguine discussion is the “when is enough truly enough” number, a dollar amount you could achieve that would allow you to stop working and be reasonably sure your family (or kids) would continue to get along fine. Whether it was enough money to earn dividends in perpetuity, or simply enough to say “fuck this” to whatever pickle you found yourself in, it’s always fascinating to see where people peg the number.

So I ask you one of two questions… where would put your dollar amount on the questions above? Or, if that isn’t your cup of tea, quite simply, are you happy with what you make?

ignore opinions from this user

9/6/10

On our way to see “Scott Pilgrim” at the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica this weekend, we went to the new food-courty upscale outdoor mall addition recently unveiled at one end. Called Santa Monica Place, they’re definitely going for the high-end mall dollar, what with the Tiffany’s and the expensive sushi, but what floored me… what always floors me these days… is this:

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Look, you know me. I’m nothing if not a technophile. I’m up to speed on social media, I gots smart friends in the biz, and totally get why businesses need an interactive web presence. That said, why the fuck would anyone FACEBOOK “LIKE” the new outdoor mall stuck at the end of the 3rd Street Promenade?

This isn’t for a specific business, like Tutti Frutti (the frozen yogurt place on the 3rd floor), it’s for a section of an existing shopping experience. It’s a rough assemblage of existing stores that vaguely share a parking structure, and is also part of another pedestrian mall! And yet, more than 6,000 people have already “liked” it, and the message board is replete with the usual corporate plants, but also guys asking “hai WHEN IS THE NU FATBUGER GONNA OPEN”

Nobody did a better eviscerating of the internet’s uselessness than Carolina and Van-Gogh-Goghs alum Jason Torchinsky, who did a stand-up routine in 1996 about the Arrid Extra Dry antiperspirant website that was so amazingly funny that it should be required watching for every media consultant. These days, we expect every product to have a website no matter how inane, but then – as now – there’s still so much USELESS CRAP with the potential to reach so many people.

So let’s say you decide to “Like” Santa Monica Place. That makes you one of 6,100 people who also have it on their Facebook profile. You don’t get any deals, you don’t get any information not available on their actual website, and you don’t have to Like it to see albums of unfathomably dreary pictures. The whole thing is an act of Sisyphean perversion. It’s like forcing yourself into a used book store, wandering into the basement, and making yourself read page 637 of a novel you’ve never heard of.

It only adds to the worthlessness of the Facebook experience, a website once coveted so much by my niece at Smith College that she asked me “who let you in here?” Now it is the place where event invitations go to die.

Something about it goes against my DNA, a primal urge to “be of some use”. I feel like an integral part of being on this planet is paying for the experience with some kind of currency. In nature, there are no plants or animals that didn’t arise out of some adherence to the plan; the krill may drift aimlessly, but they are eaten by the salmon, who swim upstream to be eaten by bears, who carry them into the woods to nourish the trees, which in turn make the atmosphere.

Even machinery and computers all had purpose – nobody but the Dadaists worked so hard for no discernable reason. But the sheer vastness of the Web and the tyranny of several sites has brought us to this: things like “Liking Santa Monica Place on Facebook” exist merely to exist. It’s almost cosmological, and like the cosmos, it’s a cold, empty place. Philosophers and cosmologists debate the true essence of reality, invoking trees that fall in the forest with nobody to hear them – but the infinite chasm of the Internet is already upon us, and the falling sound of all those unheard trees is deafening.

and i hunted bison afterwards

9/2/10

Okay, it’s Labor Day weekend, and none of you will be reading this, and to make matters worse, I’m about to post MY MOST BORING, NICHE, TECHIE POST EVER. Oh, I’ll try to make it interesting, I really will, but you will doze off in about three sentences. Your eyelids are already getting heavy. Don’t fight it. Just give in.

Because of a tiny, offhand comment yesterday about SSDs (solid state drives), I’ve gotten a surprising amount of interest in how I replaced the hard drive in my Macbook Pro with a SSD, and the incipit benefits. Lemme say this: best Mac computer mod in my career. And that includes going as Heatmiser for Halloween at Carolina in 1988.

What is an SSD? Glad you asked. You know those little USB “thumb drives” people have, the kind with lots of memory but no moving parts? Those have gotten big enough to run your whole computer, and they can do it so much faster than a regular hard drive. Fast enough that even casual users ought to be interested. Fast enough that you’ll actually get more things done, and I don’t say that lightly.

Problem is, SSDs are still too fucking expensive. The 500GB ones (as of today) will run you $1599 when you can get the same size storage in a regular hard drive for $45. That’s crazy. But sometimes you can get a deal, and I saw a 128GB SSD for $199 (that price has now changed slightly).

(Note to the future: yes, I know this all looks silly, paying all this money for what YOU consider a tiny amount of storage. We’re all stuck with our current circumstances, you included, asshole.)

But that’s not enough storage. True enough. I currently have over 300GB of stuff on my laptop, including all the Madeline in Paris TV shows I downloaded for Lucy. But there’s a sneaky way to get away with it, which I first discovered from the fine folks at Lifehacker.

Unless you’re still getting your Netflix DVDs mailed to you, and you’re watching all your movies on your laptop, you probably never use your CD/DVD (optical) drive except for occasionally installing big programs. MCE Technologies has this great thing called the Optibay, which allows you to remove the optical drive and put in a regular hard drive instead. They also include an “enclosure” for your optical drive, so you can still hook it up to a USB port if you need it.

Wait, so your laptop has TWO hard drives now? Yes. One of them is the 128GB SSD in the main bay, which has Mac OS X system on it, as well as all my applications. The other, bigger drive, has all the files (documents, music, movies, etc.) and they work together. Not only does it make your computer go a billion miles an hour, but this way you have 628GB at your disposal.

Fine. Do you need a degree in spine surgery from John’s Hopkins to perform this task? No, in fact, figuratively, all you need is balls. You have to be cool with opening your computer and keeping track of some tiny screws. I happen to love that sort of thing, but it may not be your cup of tea. But remember, nobody on their deathbed ever said “I’m sure glad I never saw the inside of my computer.”

That sounds vaguely awesome. Let me ruminate on that awhile. You do that. And have a great Labor Day weekend. You’re done reading this entry.

*shuffle shuffle shuffle, hubbub hubbub hubbub*

MacbookProInsides.jpg

Um… a couple of us are still here and want to know how to do this for reals. What are the steps?

• okay, first read the thread over at MacObserver.com for a specific overview. They’re talking about a 48GB SSD “memory stick” but the exact same rules apply.

• First off, if you just want to swap out your hard drive for an SSD, just buy a SSD that has enough memory (and will fit in your computer), clone your current drive onto it with Carbon Copy Cloner, and shove it in there by watching any of the many videos out there. Just make sure the video is concerning your specific laptop.

• If you want to do what I did, then get two things: an SSD big enough to hold your system folder and applications (80GB should be plenty) and the Optibay.

• Back everything up before you start. Seriously. De-authorize your computer from iTunes, Audible, Photoshop, and whatever else you’ve got, so you can authorize it back in a few hours. Adobe has a “suspend activation” button that works nicely.

• Open up your laptop and remove your optical drive. Then take out your old hard drive as well, put it into the Optibay, and install it where the optical drive was.

• Install the new SSD where your old hard drive was. Close up your computer and restart – the computer should find your old hard drive, so nothing looks amiss. Using Disk Utility, erase/format your new SSD (the default setting should be “GUID Partition Table”). Then put your old optical drive into MCE’s enclosure, pop in the Mac OS X install disc, and do a fresh install of the system onto the SSD. NOT ONTO YOUR OLD HARD DRIVE. THAT WOULD BE BAD.

• Now restart. It should use the SSD since it’s in the primary bay. And it should be so fast that you’ll be stunned. Run Software Update at least twice.

• Here’s the nutty part. You need to change the location of your “home” folder so that documents get saved on your old hard drive. Go to System Prefs -> Accounts -> (click lock to make changes) -> control-click on your account at left to bring up “Advanced Options” -> change the location of your “home directory” to your user folder on the old hard drive – click OK.

• Now re-install all your applications onto the SSD – some of them can be dragged over from your old hard drive, but try not to do that if you can help it.

• Once you’re convinced you’ve got all the applications you want to keep, take the plunge and delete everything on your old hard drive EXCEPT for the “Users” folder. Now your old hard drive will no longer have a System on it, it’ll just be a shelf for your files. You’re done. Do a shot of Jaegermeister.

all of the nuns above

9/1/10

Been going through a major computer upheaval (oh do let me bore with you the details of SSD drives!) so must content ourselves with a traditional CODE WORD question again today:

Concerning the fall 2010 elections, would you say the Democrats are facing…

A) a major frickin’ disaster that will swing power back to the people that made the last decade so enjoyable, leading most progressives to wonder why the fuck we gave so much away in the name of bipartisanship when all it did was make us look weak, pathetic, and neutered

B) a minor disaster guaranteeing both houses enough pieces of the pie to ensure no piece of legislation ever gets passed, even as millions suffer

C) a weird stalemate that turns some seats Republican but not the groundswell Our Media Elite® predicted, making many pundits blame the Tea Party for cramming their kookoo kandidates into the ballot

D) a blistering comeback by the Democrats that proved Obama’s cool, sanguine, bizarrely-detached legislating style was ultimately a stealth weapon all along?