December 31, 2008

The Year of Staring at Screens and Typing Furiously

Yeah, because I wrote and blogged in 2008 way, way more than any other year. For better or worse, maybe, but there it is. Or rather here it is:

DV Politics/Gonzo: Cross-posted
The Last Binge of SupaDupaPhat Tuesday 2.4.08
Ripping Fiction from the Facts 4.10.08
Beware the Terror of Campaign Bloat 5.16.08
When the Banshee Screamed for Thatcher 2.0 6.4.08
I Will Speak Ill of the Dead 6.14.08
Five Vulgar Pictures 6.26.08
Sneers and Gloating at the FISA Hearings 7.9.08
Yeah, What Winston Wolfe Said 7.24.08
Dinnae eht Mehke Ye Proud tae be Scottish? 8.6.08
Brand America Goes for Broke...Sort Of 8.28.08
John McCain is Doomed, and it's Bono's Fault 9.8.08
How Many Barricades Have You Stormed Today? 9.21.08
Happily Chugging the Toxic Stew of Dumb 10.2.08
The Crippling Nostalgia of Naranjastan 10.9.08
Desperately Seeking the Holy Grail of Epic Fail 10.26.08
More Meaningless Presidential-Baseball Voodoo 10.28.08
In Which Al Franken Steals My Act, Yo 10.28.08
Everything Was Fine Until I Looked Down 11.4.08
Projection Now, Projection Tomorrow, Projection Forever 11.13.08
Ringing the Mighty Cowbell of Rageohol 12.19.08

DV Series: Shameless Revisionism
UCSB Daily Nexus Artsweek #1 (1997) 6.14.08
UCSB Daily Nexus Artsweek #2 (1997/98) 6.20.08
Santa Barbara Independent (2001-2003) 6.29.08
@U2 Essays (2002-2005) 7.5.08
Genre-Bending Dubious Ventures (2002-2005) 7.12.08
My Band Rocks: The Mojo Wire (1997-2001) 7.19.08
My Band Rocks: Honey White (2002-2007) 7.23.08
Soapblox Rants #1 (2007) 8.1.08
Soapblox Rants #2 (2008) 8.9.08
Unfinished Fiction #1 (2002-2003) 8.15.08
Unfinished Fiction #2 (2003-2007) 8.23.08
Election Rants, 2004 Edition 11.26.08
Soapblox Rants #3 (2008) 11.29.08

Fiction: The Weapon of Young Gods
The Disagreeable Ones 1.27.08
The Precipice 1.27.08
Immobilized At Dawn 1.28.08
Vanishing Points 1.29.08
Scrambled Shame 1.29.08
Last Train Leaving The Abyss 2.9.08
Crippling Nostalgia 2.9.08
Your Time Is Not Your Own 2.10.08
Jeopardy On Crack 2.11.08
It's Quiet Up Here 2.16.08
The Morbid Frieze 2.18.08
Tourniquets 2.19.08
Fending Off Implosion 2.21.08
Concussions 2.29.08
Circle Of Envy 3.1.08
Treating The Symptoms 3.29.08
Sounds Like Screaming Mimes 4.4.08
Gauchoholica Uber Alles! 4.7.08
Narcoleptic Blues 4.16.08
Fragile Equilibrium 4.27.08
Backwards Fear 4.29.08
Accidental Recon 5.5.08
Salvage Some Dignity 5.17.08
Ruinous Smackdown Fallout 5.26.08
Electric Hubris 5.28.08
Shatter The Surrounding Splendor 6.10.08
Starting Fires 6.13.08
Immortals On the Loose 6.23.08
The Vortex of Angst 7.18.08
The Bait and The Switch 8.2.08
Artificial Archaeology 8.3.08
Perverse Psychic Penance 8.7.08
Echoes of the Womb 8.8.08
Thrashing Even Harder 8.19.08
Fitful Mind Games 9.2.08
Leave the Rest in Ruins 10.1.08
Frantic Improv 10.3.08
Crushing Heads 11.11.08
Frayed Strands 11.17.08
This Won't Hurt a Bit 12.27.08
Open-Heart Surgery 12.31.08

DV Gonzo: When Web Geeks Invaded the Commonwealth
I’d Still Rather Shiver Than Fry 12.7.08
Skittish Creatives Desperate for Respect 12.8.08
The Snide Lashings of Aesthetic Deconstruction 12.9.08
Pondering Potentially Damaging Trade-Offs 12.10.08

DV Series: Requiem for a Music Geek
It Began with a Book, and Died with a Film 9.20.08
The Decline and Fall of Juvenile Idolatry 11.12.08
Slouching Toward Sonic Domesticity 11.24.08

DV Gonzo: DV-Exclusive
Fanning the Flames of Terminal Narcissism 7.15.08
Death to East Coast Baseball Snobbery 9.22.08
Mighty Radical Awesome Power in the Sandbox 9.28.08
Working on a Cocktail Named “Damn, You’re Old” 11.2.08
When Living in Paradise Totally Blows 11.18.08
Remember that Wisdom about Land Wars in Asia? 12.25.08

MBR Series: Audio Archives
Low Tide Edition 1.16.08
Bryn Goes Solo Edition 1.23.08
Best Seven Grand We Ever Spent #1 9.19.08
Best Seven Grand We Ever Spent #2 9.27.08
Quick and Dirty Edition, Pt. 2 10.5.08
And Then We Became a Jam Band 10.19.08
The Biggest Balls in Keir's Canon 11.1.08
Rude and Crude Edition 11.11.08
Alone and Bored Edition 12.29.08

MBR Series: Unrepetant Fanboys
Bryn's Favorite Songs 8.1.08
Brian's Favorite Songs 8.5.08
Billy's Favorite Songs #1 9.3.08
Billy's Favorite Songs #2 9.10.08
Billy's Favorite Songs #3 9.14.08
Keir's Favorite Songs 9.15.08

DV: Photo Posts
You Know You're a Grown-Up When... 4.24.08
Fiction Location Shots #1 6.3.08
Fiction Location Shots #2 6.6.08
OC Location Shots #3 6.12.08
East Ventura by Bicycle 7.19.08
Fourteen Years of Creeping Nostalgia 7.3.08
South Ventura by Bicycle 7.20.08
Summer of Baseball 2008 7.29.08
Random Ventura by Car 9.23.08
Creeping Nostalgia: High School Edition 10.21.08

That's not necessarily "everything," but that's most of it. We'll see how 2009 stacks up, but hopefully I'll be staring at screens much, much less.

December 19, 2008

Ringing the Mighty Cowbell of Rageohol

Good goddamn, these new-presidency-birth-pangs sure are pretty fucking loud, aren't they? I don't know about the rest of you, but I thought I was finished for the year—it's way, way, way past my politically-psychic bedtime—and I've been looking for a nice quiet place to lie down ever since Election Day, but no, the infant Obama administration and its erstwhile supporters on the "far left" have both robbed me of my sweet repose. Everyone seems to be swilling the sour grapes of Rageohol this winter, but as the whole world collapses around us all yet again, we still can't seem to admit that Teh Rage is our precious cause of and solution to All of Life's Problems.

Yes, I should have expected this. I was far too green in the winter of 1992/93 to know or care who Bill Clinton threw into the vicious maw of confirmation—but I remember Lani Guiner, Zoe Baird, and Kimba Wood all getting mauled by rabid congress-critters eager to take a bite out of anything Big Bill ever valued. In the frosty post-election winter of 2000/2001, I was graduating college and likewise too self-absorbed to really give a shit who George Bush would appoint as his own vile henchmen (and women), but I do recall the many bricks shat over Ashcroft.

And now? Well, now of course we, the blogging masses, have Insta-Outrage, and we have become highly dependent on its vicious whims and horrible demands. We've had it coursing through our veins since we all tasted blood two years ago—when Harry met Nancy and they both conspired to Not Do Jack Shit About Anything (or at least that's what I think I remember). And that insta-outrage has been building up for weeks now, man. Of course, it was interrupted there for a brief minute by the backslapping, rip-roaring mania of WINNING, BITCHES!—except out here in California, where the death-shrieks continued and the Cold War With Utah began.

Everywhere else, though, has been tagging along behind the Forced March of Consolidation that our President-Elect has been leading ever since he snatched The Prize away from Grandpa Simpson. It has been a gloriously dull slog, hasn't it? Lieberman, Rahm, Hillary, Gates, Vilsack, Salazar, that simpering geek Duncan, that other guy who withdrew, blah blah blah. Oh, but there's Hilda! Hilda is Here, motherfuckers! Who gives a shit about Corruption in Chicago, Part MCCXXVII—or even Depravity and Decadence in Detroit?

Yes, it's been horrible, hasn't it? You know how I know? I heard that slimy bastard Juan Williams sneering at the "far left" today on NPR, and I knew that the warnings about the Heathers were true. Ho ho, that's some honeymoon, Barry. And not only that, but our very own orange vortex of angst has wrenched open its pit of despair, and the accompanying soundtrack has been such a sustained back-and-forth of hyperbolic projection and snide condescension that I believe I'll never be able to get to sleep again. Woe is fucking me.

Indeed, and by the time I latch onto something it's usually over, or at the very least over-staying its welcome—but that doesn't seem to be the case here. No, I will not be yet another voice of white straight male entitlement to join in the cynical chorus of "Be Angry at the Sun," snidely shouting down all the angry Kirks raging at Khan throughout the President-Elect's transition. But neither will I continue to shriek like a naked banshee over Warren the Hutt, Ruler of Saddleback, because I am too tainted by the same things that led him down the tunnel of filth where he now makes his home.

No, not because we're both white, straight, male Orange Countians. I ditched that Bircher preserve many years ago, thanks very much—though I do occasionally perform heroic sorties to bring sanity to my relatives still behind the Curtain—but I have never been able to shake off its foul stench of Suburbia. I've said all this before, of course, and flagellated righteously many times—and I thought that I was done with all that back in the heady days of November, but of course it was not to be.

Not with the spiritual successor of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" howling through the land. Not with the Beast of Bipartisanship terrorizing innocent party hacks whenever they dare to step outside. Not with the threat of socio-economic collapse continually fucking up our chosen commercial winter papering-over-previously-pagan holidays. And of course that goes double for all of us who waste our lives staring at websites. No meta can save you now, people—not even when some asshole points out that some other assholes have been secretly colluding their assholery for months now—no, no soap opera will divert the Great Eye from its laser-like focus on our new Temporary Capital of Chicago, D.C.

You might laugh, but it's True. When a sitting President of the United States gets the Random Task treatment from Iraqi gonzo journalists, and when his annoited Successor can't shake a toupĂ©ed leech like Blagojevich off his stylish pant legs, when these symptoms of a crumbling civilization simply won't go away no matter how much we hope they will, it's time to change the channel. It's time to go out and get fucking blitzed, dude. Maybe in 20 years our queer friends will get to join us, and—oh Christ, who gives a shit. The Padres traded Khalil Greene to St. Louis and the NFL playoffs suck balls.

Well, damn. Throw up my hands. Welcome to the majors, Mr. Hobbs. Don't let 'em give you any shit about your ponytail, and if they do, give me a call. We'll kidnap their children and ship them to Provo. No one will ever know. The time for civility has passed—there's still a war on, after all.

Cross-posted: dkos, dd, fsz, mlw

December 11, 2008

Pondering Potentially Damaging Trade-Offs

The jets floated like silent wraiths through the fog outside the airport window, while I sat inside, marooned in heated comfort. Yes folks, I was at Logan for quite a few languid hours yesterday morning, pondering the potentially damaging trade-off between ugly gray rain outside and disgustingly festive holiday music piped in over cable radio. A poor choice of brunch was already oozing maniacally through my guts, but I had to ignore it for the moment and lash together a Meaningful Finale for this Frigid Trip to the East.

Not only that, but I felt I needed to justify the considerable expense to the Company this whole trip would incur. Was the Web Design World convention worth it? Had I learned anything? Had I grown, personally and professionally? I'd tried, while packing the night before, to explain the whole thing to Emily over the phone, but she was in the middle of packing too—for an emergency flight to Oregon the day after I returned—so her demeanor was understandably distracted.

I'd also attempted to condense it all into friendly small-talk during the cab ride to Logan, when the Ugandan driver asked me the usual stuff about coming-or-going, business-or-pleasure. He was far more interested, however, in my tangentially tenuous association with his homeland—via the two degrees of separation granted by my celebrated Africa-traversing buddy Sean Blaschke—so while happy to talk about that, I still found myself hamstrung when attempting to explain What It All Meant.

I had, for good or ill, befriended two of my fellow creative professionals at the opulent convention. They might not really agree with that in toto (especially if they ever read this blog), but they were Good People, and it Worked at the Time, so forget all that silliness about Tyler Durden and his single-serving friends. I had also soaked up more techno-geekery than I'd planned to, thanks in no small part to the admittedly expert testimony of the phalanx of presenters. The panels and seminars and professional discussions and stuff were all Informative, sure, but I felt a bit like I did after the San Francisco convention last year. Well, except I didn't have a five-hour drive ahead—I had a cross-country flight ahead.

But whatever. There was too much mental detritus to sift through that early in the morning—yeah, I was still on California time after four straight days in Boston—to slap a Coda on my ugly dispatches from the Commonwealth. Especially when the terminal began filling up with cute, but noisy, children, and CNN's reporting about the disgraced Democratic Governor of Illinois gradually drowned out the wretched Christmas music. I figured it would only get more intense from there, and then of course I'd have to repeat the whole process again in Denver. It was going to be a long, long day before I'd have the cognitive skills to prepare a True Report of the convention and all its proceedings, so—with a wary eye on my Mac's dwindling battery power, I gave it all up for lost.

Indeed. No one should have to worry about Professionalism when there are other ugly, preposterous things to look forward to in 2009: a new U2 album, a San Diego Padres team destroyed without Jake Peavy (and definitely without Trevor Hoffman or Khalil Greene), and the lazy-ass media whirring to life as it attempts to hound President-Elect Obama out of the White House before he's even sworn in. Good goddamn, how can a man pay attention to ridiculous shit like Web Standards and CSS/XML Best Practices when the world is still going to shit? Ye Gods, not after a soul-crushing nonstop Boston-to-Denver run with turbulence bumpier than Edward James Olmos' face. Not after a mad dash from Denver Gate B17 to Gate B88. Not after a cramped pencil-plane trip from Denver to Burbank, seated next to a Random Corporate Man-Whore from Indianapolis. Endure that, and maybe you'd understand why I might've been ripe for all manner of insane stupidity once I landed.

Which almost happened, actually—when I got a "put this fire out tomorrow" voicemail from The Boss, and was reminded that I'd need to be awake at 5 am the next day (by now, earlier this morning) to take Em to the SB Airport. It was a short trip from there to complete mental crack-ups, which thankfully my lovely wife endured with all appropriate aplomb, and that's all you'll ever need to know about that, sports fans. So that's all for now. Stay tuned for more ruminations on the future of Mr. Greene, as well as many more music-geeky requiems. Thanks for enduring it all.

December 09, 2008

The Snide Lashings of Aesthetic Deconstruction

The Mass Pike on-ramp sign up ahead hung like a demented beacon over St. James Avenue, and I shivered nervously while making my way to the Westin Copley among the huddled commuting pedestrians of Boston. The sign's huge blue-and-red, Interstate-90 designation of "West: New York" seemed to taunt me as a blunt reminder of how far East I'd dragged myself, all for the self-satisfied sake of those twin demons known as Art and Commerce. By the time I staggered into the Westin for Day Two of the Nerd Convention, breakfast was being served, and the assembled attendees were getting themselves psyched up for a full day of marketing strategies and programming solutions. I quickly caffeinated myself to catch up with the frantic semi-professional discussions already taking place in the foyer, but soon settled into my chair in the main hall. It didn't take long, however, for the collective momentum to shudder and stop.

It was the day's first speaker who began that screeching halt; a nervous Russian elf-man rambling about data clouds tried valiantly to earn his keep, but his heavily-accented English was soon surreptitiously heckled by two socially leprous geeks to my left. Their insidiously snide vibe slowly permeated the entire audience—so much so that when the poor speaker finished up with a Q&A segment, only one half-hearted conventioneer was able to throw him a token softball. He quietly slunk offstage, bequeathing it to the second speaker, a professionally enthusiastic programmer named Joe who spoke about operating system compatibility at approximately eight thousand words per second. Everyone was instantly jolted back into consciousness, and order would have been restored were it not for one straggler: Me.

It happened like this: Joe the programmer had been cheerily speeding through his presentation when, abruptly, his empathy switch flipped on and he asked if anyone had questions. "I don't want to confuse you guys, okay?" he said, "so if anyone has a better way to describe the awesome advantages of cross-platform compatibility, please, let's hear it!"

I raised my hand. "Um, how about 'give me convenience or give me death?'" A few people around me chuckled politely, including a girl who I recognized from the night before as the giggly one from North Carolina. "Yes! That's perfect!" said the programmer, raising his fist in exultant agreement. "Give this man a prize. I know who I want to have drinks with later!"

North Carolina Girl looked impressed, and another guy to her left reached out to shake my hand. 'Ho ho,' I thought to myself, while basking in the glow of professional goodwill. 'Who rolls with the big boys now?' Unfortunately, my self-gratifying reverie blocked out the rest of the compatibility presentation, so I missed the programmer when he ended his gig and bounded out of the room for his next workshop.

Which was fine, because the third speaker was well into his own presentation when I came back to myself. This new guy, Lance, was a marketing guru, and held us rapt with attention via a zen-like charm and a somewhat covert appeal to all our nascent, smug inner-designer selves. His "ROI & Best Practices" forum wasn't much different from what I saw back in March 2007 (when I'd previously caught this convention in San Francisco), a how-to for shopping carts, e-mail forms, and general site appearance—so I wasn't missing much by taking time to re-introduce myself to Handshake Man (Rich, who worked for a local biotech firm) and NC Girl (Laura, who came from a marketing agency).

The session ended and we went to lunch in a room next door, piling our plates high like freshman in a dorm cafeteria. "I think I took too much," fretted Laura as we sat down. "I couldn't drag anyone out to the city for dinner last night, and had to order a pizza and eat it all by myself." I smirked knowingly, having done exactly the same thing the night before. "That won't happen tonight, though," she continued. "I want to go find some real food! I've never been to Boston before. Who's with me? Let's all get dinner later!" I looked at Rich for help. "Well, you're a local. Where should we go for...for some good Italian, say?"

"Probably the North End," he replied. The rest of our lunch hour was spent decrying the bizarre irregularity of Boston's street layout, its illogical naming conventions (i.e. the North End was still south of much of the city), and other idiotic yokel griping, which Rich endured stoically—a credit to his city and state. We did find time to drop in on a "lunchtime session" web design seminar, presented by a guy whose business card read "Senior Evangelist" (which obviously outed him as another Corporate Sponsor), but I don't remember anything about that one at all.

Anyway, Rich and Laura were getting comfortable for the next regular session, but I had to get my shit together for another go-round with Joe the Programmer. They looked puzzled, but when I explained that I was overdue for some XML refreshers, they merely grimaced in sympathetic amusement. "Bummer for you, sucker," they both laughed. "Guess we'll see you in a few hours, then."

"You'll thank me one day, goddamnit," I said, shaking my fist at them. "I'll not soon forget this cruel display of your faithlessness." The XML session itself was just as gloriously interesting as I'd feared, and despite Joe's trademark manic enthusiasm, I was barely able to hang onto his ankles in desperate comprehension. By the end, though, I felt less stupid than I had at the end of the same session the year before. "Hey thanks, Joe," I said. "I really appreciate you taking the time to wait for those of us too incompetent to keep up. I might forgive you if you buy me those drinks you mentioned."

"What drinks?" He looked puzzled, but I shook my head and waved him off as I turned to go. "Never mind," I grumbled, retreating to a third room to endure a second go-round with Accessibility Requirements, presented by the same woman from the W3C who'd shamed us all so effectively yesterday. She once again listed a myriad of ADA-compliance standards, begged us to "please, please, pleeeease follow these," but for some reason people weren't as receptive as before, and several walked out or began to whisper amongst themselves. It was a disgusting, callous display, and I left to find my new friends to gripe all about it.

I never got the chance, though—the next session sucked up all our remaining energy, and left Laura a trembling mess of anxiety. The premise was "Deconstruction" of a cross-section of submitted attendee websites, but it ended up a weird hybrid of snide comic roasting and brutal American Idol insider-snobbery. I'd had an inkling this might happen, back in October when registering for the conference, and wisely ignored the invitation to include my company's website among the pool of choices. Poor Laura wasn't so lucky, though—her rising vibes of silent fear were all too contagious, and when we asked her what was up, she almost went to pieces right then and there.

"They're going to pick my company's site, I just know it," she squeaked. "I have this weird sense of intuition, and it's never wrong." We tried our best to distract her, but even my ultimate fail-safe method of freehand-map doodling couldn't help the poor woman when, just as she feared, her agency's home page came up as the final contestant in this vicious game. "Oh God!" she whispered, "there it is! I'm doomed!"

The panel—comprised of several lecturers from the convention—was not kind. Indeed, while we'd been attempting to staunch the flow of Laura's worry, the whole session had passed in a frenzy of snickering at the various design and programming faux-pas that infested the submitted websites. The witty, agreeable presenters who'd only hours ago regaled us with their combined brilliance had suddenly turned on us, their benefactors, with a smug vengeance that only creative professionals could muster. Laura's company site was eviscerated, just as the others had been, and Rich and I watched helplessly as she collapsed before us in a frenzy of shame.

"This is terrible!" she moaned. "I'll never be able to show my face in Raleigh again! Everyone will know I'm a failure!"

"Don't be silly," I said. "Did you design that site yourself?"

", no."

"Well, there you go, then."

"Exactly," said Rich. "None of this is your fault. It's not like they mentioned your name or anything, either. You're home-free."

She sniffed softly and nodded, but wasn't fully consoled. "I still need to get out of here. I've had enough of these jerky bastards for a lifetime, and there's still one more day of this stuff. I need a drink, damnit!"

"Forget about all that," said Rich, a consoling hand in the air. "Come on, I'll take you both out on the town. We'll go see the bar that they based Cheers on—it's right down the street."

"Not me," I replied. "You both go have a ball. I've only signed up for the two-day convention, and I've got a plane to catch tomorrow—something I can't do hungover. I have to go home and pack."

"Suit yourself," they said, smiling as they walked out of my life to join a gaggle of other young, beautiful, and talented people—all ready to paint the town with their own vibrant red plasma.

I shrugged, accepting my fate, and went to the coat-rack to dig out my heavy-weather gear for the rainy trek back to the hotel. It had been a momentous gathering—I knew that much—but I worried that I'd have to gin up some serious fiction to pad my Professional Report that The Company demanded. It would be a dirty job, for sure, but a dirty job for another day, and nothing that a judicious helping of Room Service wouldn't cure.

Next: Pondering Potentially Damaging Trade-Offs

December 08, 2008

Skittish Creatives Desperate for Respect

It shouldn't really be a surprise that Day One of the Nerd Convention opened just as dark and cold as yesterday, but I didn't actually see yesterday morning what with the jet lag and various other travel-induced deliriums, so a violently brisk Boston morning was certainly news to me. Oh sure, the first three minutes of the approximately eight-minute walk were almost pleasant, but it didn't take long for my trek from the Park Plaza to the Westin Copley to become a stoic and grim affair. Like a good spoiled suburbanite, however, I was soon rescued from Oblivion by the life-giving ambrosia that is cardboard-coffee, and settled in well enough once I followed the other nerds up to the Westin's third floor.

The tone was set right away: a criminally chirpy emcee welcomed everyone with a jolt of enthusiasm right out of high school student government, but that was tempered soon enough by the day's keynote speaker. A grizzled veteran of the early '90s web biz, he regaled us with horror story after horror story, gradually creeping toward the obvious thesis of "Web Designers Ain't Got No Props, Yo." Which is true these days, more or less—now that giddy, venture-capitalistic investors aren't throwing money around like they were a decade ago. It was a twelve-step keynote speech of Doom and Danger, leavened by a single slide with the word "Trust," accompanied by the Elvis Costello album cover of the same name, and somewhere, Bret Easton Ellis shuddered with adolescent embarrassment.

The somnambulant masses were then treated to what was surely the sweetest punch of shame ever thrown at such a gathering, when the second speaker used her friendliest Midwestern charm to genially berate us all for ignoring the coagulating standards of web accessibility. "Deaf and blind people want to pay for internet porn too," she shrieked, fiercely gripping the podium, "so all of you better make damn sure your .jpg images carry the proper alt tags!" That was definitely a cause I could get behind. Hell yes, madam, whatever you say. Equality, justice, and the pursuit of happiness for all. This is still America, right?

Precisely, and I ruminated on that very concept all the way through the next lecture—about "innovative web standards"—but for the life of me I cannot remember a single thing about the speaker or his chosen topic. That mattered little, though, once the free lunch was rolled out, and we were all encouraged to flock to marked tables labeled with certain interests, so as to "facilitate discussion" in a presumably Athenian-Academy kinda way. It did, sort of—I naturally chose the "blogging and social publishing" table, and was deep in a discussion with a Florida grandma and MIT administrator about the endless vagaries of Drupal, Joomla, and other fiendish Content Management Systems, when the same chirpy emcee strode into our midst with two aging beauty queens on his arm, yapping away about the NFL and how terribly the Packers had failed this weekend.

"Excuse me," said Mrs. MIT, "but do you have anything to say at all on the chosen topic?" The emcee smirked and her and, without missing a beat, shot back "I do indeed—I could tell you all about my favorite Steelers blog, but you're not that into football, are you?" His arm candy tittered in vapid acknowledgment, and I took that as my cue to leave. I wasn't away long, though—the home office in Ventura was running just fine without me, thanks very much—and so came back to the table to find all antagonistic parties had gone in favor of a social publishing guru, who held court among several Twittering acolytes.

"It's all in my new book," I heard him say, and he looked up as I approached, dodging the nimble Westin wait staff. "Here man," he smiled, tossing me a flimsy paperback, "have a copy. I've got, like, eighteen of them to give away. Vanity presses are weird like that, you know?"

"Oh, tell me about it, dude," I gushed, thankful for the opportunity to spew forth about my own recent forays into the world of Self-Publishing. Turned out that this guy's lecture was next up, so I slipped in to absorb some reheated wisdom about Moveable Type, Facebook, Digg, Delicious, and all that other wide-net-casting awesomeness that the kids these days are so into. It was a nice change of pace from the insistent doom and gloom until the guy asked about how our companies were doing in the current Bush Recession. We exploded into myriad tales of woe—going on and on about personnel cuts and mountainous expenditures and ditches of debt—but he just stretched into a knowing smile.

"Relax, you lightweights," he said. "This is nothing like 2001. I mean, it was so bad back then that I had to quit everything and work for UPS! As a driver!" He backed it all up with a quote about "being unique and interesting" from Morphine's Mark Sandman, and we "mm-hmmed" in sympathy, but the session timed out at that point, and everyone herded back into the main conference hall for a double-bill of Style Sheets and User Interfaces. It was a bleak, marathon session, presided over by a designer-turned-programmer with a background in stand-up comedy.

"This is some awfully dull shit," he said, grudgingly admitting that CSS might not be everyone's cup of tea. "Seriously, folks—most of you will probably be bored to fucking tears, okay? I dare you to stay awake!"

"I'll take that bet," I hollered from the left-hand corner. "I'm not afraid of your piddly style sheets!" He gave me a sidelong glance, but kept his cool. "I'll take guff now and again from random peanut galleries," he sneered, "but there is some shit I will not eat. I know your kind, dude—I'll bet you're an inline CSS user!"

The audience gasped in fright, and I hung my head in shame. "You got me," I said. "What can I say—it was a low-budget job and we were desperate for the work."

"Never mind that," he replied, waving away my worries. "It takes a big man to admit when he has fucked up, and your strength will not go unrewarded." I then got several personal insights about the labyrinthine secrets of Photoshop, much to the envious ire of my fellow conventioneers.

Two hours later, we slouched out of the main hall famished—but the conference was feeding us dinner, and no one was about to pass that one up. My two drink tickets were gone within minutes, however, and I soon found myself slightly drunk and standing around the bar with Social Publishing Guy, two nursing home IT people from Maine, and a giggling marketing girl from North Carolina. They all ranted and raved about how awesome the next conference would be—at SXSW in Austin—and considering those variables, I had no choice but to agree. Austin would be a great place to talk shop and then go party.

After throwing in a few choice, relevant anecdotes about the dangerous social hazards of my past life in Isla Vista, though, it was time to brave the elements and trudge back to the hotel. There would be plenty of time on Day Two for more technologically enhanced, hyperbolic enthusiasm.

Next: The Snide Lashings of Aesthetic Deconstruction

December 07, 2008

I'd Still Rather Shiver Than Fry

Well, here it is almost 2pm Eastern, and I have yet to step outside my swanky room at the Park Plaza Hotel and experience the Balls-Ass Frozen Tundra that is Boston in December. Yeah, because for me, it's still 11am Pacific, and I am in the merciless grip of Jet Lag. None of this is unusual, mind you—as the Christians among us have learned from Cain, traveling East is always Perilous and Shameful—because I'm a bitchy traveler at the best of times, and I'm sure that if I weren't going solo on this one, erstwhile touring companions would be righteously frustrated by my temperature-induced Sloth. All the same, if I'm going to Do My Best and Represent The Company at the Nerd Convention tomorrow, I'd better get my shit together. Hopefully I won't cripple this trip to Beantown the same way I did last time, when Em and I swooped in here during October 2005 to hassle Lis as she attempted to study hard at BU.

It'll take some effort, though, and I'm glad I have today to recover from the twelve-hour Air Travel Cycle Of Doom that I had been enduring all day yesterday. "Relax," said Emily as she left me in the Burbank terminal at 9am. "You'll be a Man On The Town all week. It'll be fun." I grimaced and meekly submitted to the vagaries of the local TSA before jumping on a pencil-plane flight from Burbank to Denver. Now, I've heard nasty stories about flying into Denver. Everyone from my brother to Ted Leitner (the Scourge of San Diego) has told tales of the frightening air approach to the Mile-High City—but it didn't happen. Short of listening to some idiot a few rows back enjoy the sound of his own voice, it was an easy flight. I even got some work done proofing the Dubious Ventures book.

Ah, but then there was the Denver Airport in all its glory. I'd likewise been hearing ugly stories about this place, but was disinclined to believe them since they came from a heartless girl who dumped me without a second thought, way back in the Twentieth Century. So when the wait time at Gate B46 was easier to deal with than the rubbery food available, I was pleasantly surprised. The Denver to Boston run itself—in a big-ass 757—was only 3 hours, but I was robbed of one of my favorite air-travel games: guessing where the hell we were just by looking out the window. Takeoff had been at sunset Denver time, and flying East into the dark winter night rarely allowed glimpses of the Purple Mountains and Amber Waves below. When city lights poked through the constant cloud cover, it was hard to make out discerning features—is that formless clump of glowing humanity Kansas City? St. Louis? Indianapolis? Chicago and Detroit had been easy to see last time, but the ground below became black and blank within an hour.

Landing at Logan had also been a piece of piss—especially when I had the soothing sounds of Loud Rock Music in my ears and the distraction of more Dubious Ventures proofing. I also got to explain my reason for traveling to the woman next to me: a grandma with a slight Massachusetts accent who had apparently been a local elected official some years back. Explaining web design—and conventions dedicated to business-tripping web designers—to people over a certain age is always fun, because even at this late date there are still some who are a bit confused as to how it works and what you can do, so fiction can always gloss over the bits about which you're not so professionally educated. She was an enthusiastic listener, though, so I didn't fudge much.

Then, after a quiet $30 cab ride through the bowels of Boston (Yeah, I'll take the T on the way back, thanks), I ended up at the Park Plaza, still dazed from the plane's recycled air combined with the icy sting of the East. The fastidious hotel desk attendant, a sharp-dressed young black man, did get slightly confused by my multiple exotic French names, but it was soon sorted out—hell yes, the Gentleman has a Major Credit Card; don't you know who you're talking to?—and within minutes I was ensconced up on the ninth floor, scarfing through the trappings of room service and peering out onto the frigid streets below. It was loud and boisterous outside—Boston is a City of Youth, with approximately 236 colleges in or around town—but I was in no mood to mingle with the spoiled children of Cambridge or Back Bay, even as they cavorted like wild dingos in heat. I am, after all, a Professional—not, as my lovely wife described me, "a man about town."

Even so, it's probably about time to get out there and stomp on the frozen streets with Authority. Pay no attention to the Wailing Police Sirens Of Fear you hear, dude. Them's just the sounds of Sunday Afternoon In The City. Indeed—it may be bitterly cold outside, but it could be so much worse, especially at the opposite end of the spectrum that is Phoenix in summer. I'd still rather shiver than fry.

UPDATE (2 hours later): Jesus creeping shit, it is really that cold outside. I found this out after a few laps around Copley Square, while stray snowflakes wafted into my face and pedestrians dashed across every intersection at top speed to keep the blood pumping.

I ducked into the Copley Place mega-mall just to get warm again, but could only take about twenty minutes of walking around in there; a distinct Last-Days-Of-Rome whiff always comes off a shopping mall in December, but I must have stumbled into one of the Major Hubs of such phenomena. Beautiful Rich Young People abounded, whether native or otherwise, and though as an OC child I'm well aware of how they behave, I still had to beat a retreat posthaste.

And yes, I'd seen it before—my sister took Em and I through Copley three years ago, but that was in October, when the huddled masses were not yet Seeking Warmth at all hours of the day. We shall see how crowded the Westin is on the convention's first day tomorrow. Stay tuned...

Next: Skittish Creatives Desperate for Respect

December 03, 2008

Blood & Chocolate + Wires & Waves

You know your wife loves you when she brings home a Filter mag starring these two people.

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