Category Archives: life

Against mediocrity

The one or two people who still check here, months later, to see if anything new has been posted might wonder why I’ve abandoned this site. I haven’t, not really, I just haven’t felt like I had much to say. Still don’t, but in the last couple of days I’ve at least seen some things other people have written that I want to link to, or paste somewhere, just so I can find them later or shove them under other people’s noses.

They’re all rants, as you might have guessed, so they contain bad language and passionate vitriol. Blog rants are like the garage rock of literature, when they’re bad you wonder how anyone can stand it and when they’re good they’re the best thing you’ve ever heard. I read these to be reminded not to settle into a comfortable little spot on my couch and never come out again. I read these to be inspired.

The first is from Merlin Mann, who isn’t exactly hard to find on the internet. I link to it here for the reasons above, and because it presents the best excuse reason yet for my laziness editorial restraint.

What makes you feel less bored soon makes you into an addict. What makes you feel less vulnerable can easily turn you into a dick. And the things that are meant to make you feel more connected today often turn out to be insubstantial time sinks — empty, programmatic encouragements to groom and refine your personality while sitting alone at a screen. Kung Fu Grippe – “Better”.

The second is a rant posted to the off-topic section of a band’s website today. I paste it here instead of linking because it’s really a collection of various posts that need to be seen together, because reposting allows me to edit grammar and capitalization a bit, and because there are parts of the internet I like to keep at arm’s length. If that makes me a bad internet citizen, so be it.

Posted September 05, 2008 02:55 AM
In answer to the question: Tell Me What You Think About U2

They are pretty good. Not great, not shit, but just pretty good. Not quite as good as REM, but alright. Few good songs, couple of genuinely affecting moments like ‘One’ or ‘Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses’ or ‘With Or Without You’.

But see, mediocrity will be the death of humanity. It is actually DANGEROUS to lower your standards enough to accept something that is pretty good but pretends to be great. Take Teenage Fanclub. They are mediocre and they know it and that makes them lovable and okay listen to. But U2 genuinely believe they are great. That, that’s actually THE BEST THEY CAN DO. They’re a bank manager’s idea of a great rock and roll band. Quite aside from the fact that they are fronted by a poisonous, self important little tosser who thinks he is a world figure, their music is personally damaging to the listener. We all know that ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’ isn’t a bad little tune at all, but its faux epic pretensions and two note riffery through a delay pedal are the beginning of a slippery, slippery slope which ends in utter pointlessness, middle age, bad haircuts, bad breath, tastefully furnished houses, and failure in the sack. If you listen to U2, ultimately, you deserve to die, as you are a danger to the human race. I’ve got no problem with listening to something rubbish…at least it is passionate and inspires a reaction. And I’ve got no problem listening to something brilliant, obviously. But please, please, don’t spend your special, fragile, precious life listening to something that is quite good. It’s a living death. It’s the sound a semi-erect penis would make if it could sing. Burn your U2 records and pray every night for their speedy yet painful death.
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Actually, in the minutes since i posted that, inspired by my maths and music thread, i have reconsidered my position. They are useful as a constant, a kind of cosmological constant of mediocrity. Put simply, if something is better than U2, it is good and worth listening to, and if it is not, then it is bad. There is no need to actually listen to them once you know what they sound like.
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I just proved my own point to myself. I listened to ‘Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses’. And then I fancied a bit of Embrace and quite enjoyed it. If I hadn’t caught myself in time and listened to The Clash as an antidote I would’ve been onto Coldplay, and from there it’s a short fall to the really hard stuff like David Gray, Keane, James Blunt and so forth. It’s like a slow, incremental suicide by auditory torture. It’s a DISEASE.
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We’ve been talking about U2 for an hour now. This is like one of those parties you find yourself going to with your increasingly successful middle class friends, where they talk about the fucking soft furnishings and the local education authority for an hour, and you think, “Am I the only one who would rather strip naked and play Russian Roulette? God, I’m alone in the universe.”

And finally, I can’t resist linking to my all-time favorite rant. I pull this one out a lot, although periodically I have to find it posted somewhere else on the internet since the original site probably only still exists on the Wayback Machine. Fortunately a quick search for “Eggers” and “Selling Out” will find it in no time, since I’m clearly not the only one who holds it close to their heart.

When you die, and it really could be this afternoon, under the same bus wheels I’ll stick my head if need be, you will not be happy about having said no. You will be kicking your ass about all the no’s you’ve said. No to that opportunity, or no to that trip to Nova Scotia or no to that night out, or no to that project or no to that person who wants to be naked with you but you worry about what your friends will say.

No is for wimps. No is for pussies. No is to live small and embittered, cherishing the opportunities you missed because they might have sent the wrong message. Dave Eggers on Selling Out

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Travel plans

I’ve been gearing up for my first big trip in a while, so I’ve been doing quite a bit of research on travel in the post-9/11 climate. Predictably, most of the headaches you might run into are caused by the US State Dept. In an effort to better control the borders (1951 miles to the south, 5522 miles to the north, not even counting both coasts) they’ve made it extra-specially difficult to get a passport and started requiring them even for travel to neighboring countries. It now takes about 12 weeks to get a passport through normal channels, so you can imagine my panic when I couldn’t find mine six weeks before my trip. In fact I didn’t find it until two weeks before, in a box that must have been one of the last ones packed before my last move based on the jumble of papers inside. Whew!

If you find yourself needing a passport in under six weeks, chances are you’ll need to go wait in line at a passport office to get it. If it’s a renewal you can pay someone to do this, but if you’ve lost yours you’ll have to go yourself. You aren’t allowed to get an “emergency” passport until two weeks before you need it, and you have to bring proof that you’re traveling within two weeks or have to submit your passport for a visa within that time. The following are the links I saved in case I needed to do this.

Violet Blue’s post about passport hell (in case you’re in doubt about how bad it is)

SF Chronicle article about how bad it is (good for scaring yourself into action ASAP)

State Dept’s passport page (keep in mind that the information is “best case scenario” and typically out-of-date)

National Passport Information Center (where to call when you need to find out if your passport will ever show up in time)

Passport Agencies (where to call for an appointment to go in person after you realize your passport will not show up in time)

Tips for Getting a Passport (Patricia Kushlis’ WhirledView blog is THE most reliable and up-to-date source of information on getting a US passport today, more excellent coverage and info here)

It’s also interesting to see what governments and transportation agencies have been doing to try to improve security and speed up processing. The US has visitors get their picture taken and fingerprints scanned through the US-VISIT program. The UK has a voluntary retinal scan program called IRIS for residents and frequent visitors who want to bypass long security lines. SFO has recently joined the Registered Traveler Program (also voluntary) which is a service provided by a private company. They do a background check and you pay a yearly fee to breeze through security as a “pre-screened” passenger. I have to say that I’m more comfortable with my government scanning my eyeball than I am with them taking a private company’s word that I’m not a threat, especially a private company with an interest in taking my money. It’ll be interesting to see which of these programs take off and which are abandoned over time.

Fun with forensics

My roommate gets some strange catalogs delivered to her work sometimes, but my favorite by far has been the Armor Forensics catalog. Check out the products list.

That’s right, you too can own a portable glue fuming kit, ballistics chamber, or umm…TranZport hood. Okay, that last one is just weird. But how often have you wished you had a odor perception inhibitor, or evidence bags for your officemate’s week-old turkey sandwich? The printed catalog is even better, with lab activities (for the kids!), electronics, photo documentation kits and more. If you’re a CSI junkie you should definitely go check this out.

Infectious

Okay, so that last post got off to a bit of a late start. I did just survive a bad bout of norovirus, so I think a little slack could be cut. In fact, there are a few things about being violently ill during your holiday break that I’d like to take this chance to celebrate:

Five Good Things About The Norovirus

1.  Getting an early start on that New Year’s diet

2. Kicking the caffeine habit

3. Being doted on like you were 5 years old

4.  Three solid days in bed

5. Feeling a great sense of accomplishment just by walking out the front door.

Number 3 of course is dependent on getting sick while visiting your mom’s house, preferably while she still doesn’t have any grandchildren.

This is why we write things down

My lack of a single central calendar is beginning to have real costs.

Last Saturday my friends Ian and Sheena had a combo birthday/housewarming party, which was great. When the invitation arrived (weeks ago) I had nothing else planned, so I accepted immediately. Immediately in this case means "without writing it down." Cut to a couple weeks later when I check the upcoming.org calendar and see BFD there for that same Saturday. Since I have nothing on my calendar for that day I grab a couple tickets. Net financial loss when conflict is realized and tickets hastily unloaded: $45

Last night I went to see the Walkmen, who were also great. So great in fact that they were scheduled for two nights in a row. Guess which night I had pre-ordered tickets for? Why, Monday of course! Tuesday was when I planned to see the Mountain Goats. Net financial loss: $60

Today at lunch time I bought a ticket to see Calexico this Friday. Two days ago I invited my friend Martha to see Big Lou's Polka Casserole on Friday since she knows Lou and has been singing her praises. Sigh.

I don't need social software, I need a social secretary.

Okay, yum

The barbeque last Sunday was awesome, thanks to everybody who came out. So much food we had to construct emergency tables out of sawhorses, futon parts and nightstands to hold it all, and it was gone by the end of the night. Jamie manned the strawberry margarita station like a pro, Tim sweated over the coals, and I did my best with my Muddlin' Stick (trademark pending) to keep up the supply of mojitos. It was a ton of fun, we'll have to do this again soon.

Speaking of summer dining, the LA Times' latest article about Thomas Keller has me thinking "road trip!" The article is here, but since it'll disappear behind a pay wall soon I'll sum it up: Keller will open a down-home American restaurant in an old barn in Yountville for six months, kind of an American version of his French bistro restaurant Bouchon. It'll be called Ad Hoc and will be open in six weeks, serving a set menu of dishes like beef stroganoff and fried chicken with salad, cheese and dessert for about $45. After six months it will metamorphosize into Burgers and Bottles, a hamburger and red wine joint.

Six weeks means mid-July, which coincides with the summer wine touring season and the usual hordes invading wine country on the weekends. I'll tough it out if anyone else wants to go…

Whooops, wrong link. Fixed now.

Welcome back!

Well, that was a nice break. In the past six weeks, I have:

– been to the first annual Maker Faire

– gone to the Coachella festival one last time before it leaves the state forever

– visited old friends in Tucson

– taken a permanent, full-time job

– gotten a fancy new summer 'do

– reconnected with old friends and isolated myself from new ones

That last part was an accident. I didn't take into account (stupidly, in retrospect) that the friends I've met through web-related events and kept in touch with through websites and dodgeball would disappear from my life when I took a summer holiday from internet connectivity. I miss them, and it's hard getting back into the swing of things after such a long break. On the bright side, I've spent lots of time with old friends offline and it's been great. Like any vacation, you miss home when you're there and there when you're home.

So to kick off the new social season (and enjoy the sunny weather while we still have the chance) we'll be throwing a BBQ at the house this Sunday. This is my chance to combine old and new friends in one big happy glob of friendliness and never find myself separated from either again. Send me an email if you need directions, we plan to start around 3 pm.