Recommendations, or not

Recent Readings

I’ve been actively trying to read more recently. All my life I’ve gone through cycles where I find something super fascinating and tear through it and then I finish and can’t force myself to start something else, or rather just can’t get into whatever I start next and end up abandoning it. So I read nonstop for months, and then it’s several more months before I read anything else. I’m trying to change that habit. I find that I sleep better if I read a bit before going to bed at night–it’s a nice way to wind down after a hectic day–and so I’ve been trying lots of different things and giving up right away if I don’t like something which has helped me get on to the next thing that I do like. I thought I’d share some of what I’ve been enjoying recently. I’ve realized, perhaps far too late in life, that I really enjoy non-fiction. It’s not that I don’t enjoy fiction, I do, but I often find myself second guessing it or just unable to get into the story, where as with non-fiction (assuming the topic is interesting) thinking “I can’t believe this!” makes me want to read more, not less. With that…

Esther The Wonder Pig
A couple who could never say no to adopting a new pet, ended up with a mini piglet that turned out to be a 600 lb commercial pig. Hilarity ensued.

Star.Ships
I’ve just started reading this but I’ve already run screaming to wikipedia thinking “What?? There is no way this is true otherwise I would have heard of it and oh.. there it is, wow…” which is really fascinating and there’s a lot of talk about how new evidence has a hard time getting coverage when people are invested in old theories. I’ve loving it.

Normal
The sole fictional work here and it’s by a friend, but it’s really great and it feels like it could be real because it’s very much about us, people like me and likely people like you, and how our lives and our worlds are driving us crazy.

The Voyeur’s Motel
Totally batshit story about this guy who ran a motel for 30 years that he’d installed a “viewing platform” above the rooms so he could watch his guests, and took very detailed notes of their sex lives and what they did in private. This was 60s, 70’s and 80’s and you (or at least I) balance between being unable to believe he wasn’t caught all that time, and fascinated by what his notes and commentary about people suggested.

Green Is The New Red
I read this a long time ago, and am rereading because everyday it seems like an even more important issue.

New York Is Hell
I just received my copy of this which was published by a friend, but I’ve very much enjoyed other works by the author Benjamin DeCasseres (1873-1945) and I’ve gotten little snipits of this over the last few years and it’s always left me wanting more. It’s described as “a collection of his writing solely focused on New York, but mostly about booze” which, given the tone of his other writing, sounds amazing.

Betrayed

I depend on my hardware when I travel, I set things up and I expect them to do what they are supposed to. It saves me endless stress and frustration, so long as it works. Which, because I’m an Apple user, it always does. I never have to think about it. Until recently when it’s all I think about because Apple thinks they know what I want my hardware to do better than I do.

Example 1: The kid has an iPad, I loaded it up with videos for him a while ago. Anytime we travel together I know that as soon as the plane takes off I can give him the go and and he can watch any of the videos on his iPad and kill a few hours of travel time. Except last week as soon as we hit the runway one of his videos won’t play, then another, then another and another. I look and find some new setting “show all movies” which is turned on, I turn it off and now it shows “only movies that have been downloaded to this iPad” which is about 5 of the 30 that used to be there. Some unauthorized autoupdate changed this and deleted files that I had on this hardware. I don’t have autoupdates turned on for this so everything about this was against my wishes. Who on earth at Apple thought this was a good idea?

Example 2: Same trip, my iPhone. Same problem. Half my music is gone. I don’t use icloud, I don’t use Apple Music, I don’t use any streaming shit. I have my own MP3 files and I chose which of those files, those songs, I wanted on my phone. Except now half of them are gone because again, some update that I didn’t consent to deleted files from my device.

I used to be able to trust that Apple products would just work. Now I can’t. I feel betrayed.

And that’s on top of the massive piece of shit that iTunes has become.

While I’ve been reassessing my digital interactions I now find myself reassessing what tools I use as well. Suddenly a dumb music player that reads 256GB MicroSD cards sounds like a more appealing travel companion than my iPhone. And that makes me reassess everything else.

I need a new laptop as my trusty 11″ MacBook air that I’ve dragged all over the world for the last 2 years is on it’s last legs. I’d been eyeballing the new MacBooks but that was when I was trusting Apple to be making the right steps forward. Suddenly, unexpectedly, the older MacBook Pro seems much more appealing even though it’s bigger and heavier – if only because it has ports I can trust and depend on. But reconsidering that is making me reconsider anything. I’ve loyally used Mac OS since the early 80’s but suddenly I’m wondering if something else isn’t a better choice.

I don’t want a company deciding how I want to want to use my stuff. I want to make that decision. I don’t know if Apple respects my choices anymore. But what else do I consider?

Comics

I was heavy into comic books as a kid, in fact it’s possible that comics are the patient zero for my collector tendencies as even at a very early age I remember learning about 1st printings and researching resale values and storage best practices. I saved up for quite a while to get a 1st printing of G.I.Joe #1 which was a prized possession until I lost my entire comic collection in a bad roommate/move situation in the mid-90’s. I hadn’t really been “keeping up” on comics and so losing a few boxes of things I’d just been storing for 10+ years wasn’t that much of a disappointment to me at the time and I looked at it as a bit of clean break. In 2014 I gave back into the pull because a few of my friends write comics and I was starting to feel bad about not having read their stuff (because I knew I’d like it) and I felt like I was missing out on some important cultural discussions. I’ve also always wanted to make a comic book myself and only recently realized that the person writing and drawing it didn’t have to be the same so my lack of artistic ability couldn’t stand in the way. That said, oddly, just wanting it to happen didn’t make it so, and I didn’t know where or how to begin, so thought reading them again was as good a place to start as any.

Turns out there’s some fantastic books on shelves right now and I thought I’d talk about a few that I’ve been really enjoying incase anyone was also curious and wanting to check things out but not knowing where to begin. I should note this is by no means comprehensive, it’s just what I’ve happened to stumble across and enjoyed. If you know of something I might like, given this list, please let me know.

Hawkeye – I blame my current comic problem entirely on Matt Fraction and his work on Hawkeye. I kept hearing people talking about this and decided to see what all the fuss was about and fell in love immediately with everything about this story and these characters. Anyone who knows me in person and has even mentioned a passing interest in comics has heard me rave about this. If you don’t already know this is largely the story of the least known member of The Avengers, the one without super powers, and what he does in his off hours – when he’s not being an Avenger. It’s brilliant.

Sex Criminals – I consider myself lucky that I got into Hawkeye just before Sex Criminals came out, so I was on the Fraction wagon and excited to see where it was headed. This is the story of two ordinary people who realize they can stop time when they have orgasms and decide to rob banks to raise money to save a used bookstore. But turns out that isn’t so simple.

Alex + Ada – This is a classic love story between two people who society can’t accept being together. Except one of them is a self aware robot. Near future and foreseeable, I look forward to new issues of this more than anything else.

Southern Bastards – I blame growing up in Florida on enjoying this, I feel like I know many of the characters personally and that’s not a good thing.

Trees – One of Warren’s new ones and one I’m very much enjoying. Aliens came to earth and didn’t give a crap about humanity existing at all, so this story is about the people who live in this post-indifferent-invasion world and how they cope with their insignificance.

Bitch Planet – This is brand new and the story is still being set, but basically it’s about an off-world correctional facility where women are sent for any number of reasons and (maybe?) the rebellion that takes place there. Excellent characters so far and super engaging.

Superior Foes of Spiderman – I’ve really enjoyed this series about the bad guys who didn’t quite cut it.

Zero, Satellite Sam, Supreme Blue Rose, The Wicked & The Devine are series’ that I know I’ll like as I’ve read a few issues of, but for one reason or another I just haven’t sat down to read through the stack of back issues I have piled up.

People have told me I’ll like Casanova, Saga, Captain Marvel, Phonogram & Suburban Glamour and I’ve picked up some single issues or collections of them but haven’t had a chance to really get into them yet. But I will soon, I promise.

Travel Kit

Professor Ellis requested an update to my current travel kit and I happen to have it all laying around since I just got back to town so that seemed like a worthwhile endeavor. It should be unsurprising to anyone reading this who didn’t get here by accident that I try really hard to maximize usage and minimalize parts so that I have a simple set up that works no matter what or where I’m going – though admittedly I’m always fine tuning it. Let’s start with bags.

I have 3 bags – I never take more than 2 of them.

  1. A no-brand thick canvas shoulder bag that is purposely too small to fit my laptop.
  2. A Mission Workshop Sanction backpack
  3. A Rimowa Cabin Tolley rollerboard suitcase.

If I’m going somewhere for under 48 hours then I take the backpack only, more than that I go with the shoulder bag and suitcase. In some situations I’ll shake that up – for instance if I know it’s raining where I’m heading or if I expect that I’ll be walking a lot and needing to bring stuff with me on those walk then the backpack comes and the shoulder bag might even be shoved inside it. The driving bit behind this is that I want the very least amount of stuff with me as possible in the seat on the plane, so the small shoulder bag is typically what I shove under the seat in front of me and everything else goes in the over head. Which might as well lead us to what I keep in that shoulder bag:

And that’s pretty much it. Again, in a specific situation I might add or swap something in there but that’s typically what I default to.

I have a few other things I keep in the suitcase and then pull out once I arrive places for on the go working and using. Almost all of these things are contained in one of these small zipper pouches and held together with these gear ties.

Various short cords – Nothing longer than 6 inches, preferably under 2 inches. There are several brands that make cords like this in all the usuals: USB, Lightning, Mini and Nano USB etc. I have several brands all mixed together and I’m fairly impartial to which. In some cases I couldn’t find a short cord so I busted out scissors and a soldering iron and cut a cord down to size and then put it back together. At home, at a desk, a cord with some length can be helpful – on the road it just gets in the way. I’m never connecting something that isn’t right next to it, so no need for any extra cabling.

My main computer is the newest 11″ MacBook Air. I have one of the cheaper chromebooks at home but everytime I attempt to use it I get frustrated and then it sits unused for a few months. In rare occasions I’ll take the laptop into a plane seat with me, but generally I leave it in my suitcase and rely on the iPad for in flight. Especially after leaving my laptop in the seatback pocket on a flight to Hawaii last year.

For travel coffee I still rely on my trusty Porlex JP-30 Stainless Steel Coffee Grinder. If you subscribe to my Quarterly box I just sent you one of these. Pair that with a plastic Hario 02 Coffee Dripper (I keep the ceramic version at home) and you have an awesome set up for in hotel room coffee.

Habit Metrics

I was sitting in the audience at TechCrunch50 in 2008 when FitBit was announced and ordered one immediately. If I had money to invest in things I would have been banging on their door – I got the concept right away and knew it would change everything. I’ve had every single model they’ve released and swear by it – just knowing how active (or not) you are, give you context that might otherwise be lost. And I saw that, one days when I’d start feeling sluggish and worn out I noticed I wasn’t moving around much. If I felt awesome and ready to take on the world, surprise surprise – I’d been moving around a lot. After doing this for a little while I could tell if I walked a certain amount each day my overall attitude and general feeling was way better. I wasn’t using it for fitness as many people do (quite successfully) but just as an extra data point of something that I knew improved things for me. My only complaint with FitBit is their charger dongles which I always lose or forget when traveling which wrecks my stats anytime it happens – otherwise I love it.

And of course, other companies and other devices followed tracking all kinds of different things to give people that kind of feedback. Above X you feel good, below X you feel bad – so here’s an easy way to know where you are so you can step things up if you need to. Hell, we even have one for our dog to know if we’ve walked her enough.

Recently, spawned by a conversation on my mailing list, several people told me they track other things in their lives as well. Not just the  physical stuff, but mental and emotional too. How much time each day or week were they spending with their family, were they spending alone, were they reading, having sex, meditating, traveling, etc.. whatever was important to them, and keeping track of it. To great success I might add. This seemed incredibly obvious to me and I didn’t know why I didn’t consider it earlier. If I know I feel better if I walk 10,000 steps in a day, and I have a device/system to remind me to do that, why couldn’t I think of other things that make me feel better and use a system to remind me of those? I’m not talking about “remember to floss!” kind of things -because while those are great for you (and me) they don’t really impact day to day mental well being.

Evil Dead 2013

Like anyone with any taste in film I love The Evil Dead. That series is as close to perfect as movie making can be so so many reasons, not the least of which is the obvious fact that the filmmakers (actors included) approach a completely absurd plot as if it’s completely absurd. It works because it’s campy. The horrific gore is kept in check by the humor laced all the way through it. I could watch those films over and over again, enjoy them every time, quote them repeatedly. They are fantastic.

Like anyone with any taste in film when I heard they were going to remake the original Evil Dead I wanted to die before it was released so I wouldn’t have to suffer through seeing yet another classic destroyed by soulless studio execs who have no understanding of what made the original so great and just want to capitalize on an existing brand and a built in fanbase.

And then I started hearing all the whispers. This was not being made by some soulless studio execs who have no understanding of what made the original so great and just want to capitalize on an existing brand and a built in fanbase, but rather the original producers. Both Sam and Bruce were on board with it. It would be faithful to the original. Hell, it might be one of those rare cases where the remake is better (or at least as good) as the original. Could that be true?

I didn’t want to be a jaded fuck and just write it off, even though the trailer was telling me to just write it off. I told myself that maybe that was just the marketing department cutting something together to try and sell it to a different audience who just wanted another boring torture porn flick and would have been just as happy going to see SAW 27 or whatever. I kept telling myself Sam and Bruce say it’s faithful to the original. I kept telling myself to ignore my gut and give it a chance.

So when I heard the other day that a specific screening of the new Evil Dead at Arclight (the best theater ever) would have a personal introduction by Fede Alvarez (director of the new version) I thought, if I’m going to see it this is the time to do that. See what Fede has to say. Keep an open mind. Allow myself to get won over. So I grabbed tickets and went.

I should have trusted by gut.

Fede’s introduction was useless. He could have been introducing 2 hours of static and been more passionate. He didn’t seem to care about the movie, other than saying he made it and that it was really scary. So, right away off to a bad start. It got worse from there.

OK, let’s keep something in mind here: Since Evil Dead came out 30+ years ago in 1981 there have been a lot of movies riffing on the “cabin in the woods” theme. Not the least of which is The Cabin In The Woods. Given how satirical the original is, you can’t remake this film without having some self awareness of how much of a joke the theme is to begin with. Or maybe you can, because that’s what was done here. The things that made the original so great are completely stripped out of this version. There’s nothing funny about the new one. There’s no humor. There’s no soul. It’s a completely run of the mill torture porn movie all the way down to a heavy handed dramatic storyline transparently devised to make you really care about the people, but falling short because it’s so poorly constructed. The “junkie/withdrawal” set up is tossed out the window as soon as they find the book, which makes that entire thing a waste of time.

Now all of this wouldn’t have been so terrible if they had just used the name, a few plot points, and then just made a totally new movie. But instead this is peppered with visual references so you can’t escape the fact they they are shitting all over the genius of the original. I am disappoint.

I don’t know why Sam and Bruce made such a big deal publicly about how “true” this version was, other than to assume they just wanted the paycheck. But that’s a small price to pay for their trust. I certainly won’t believe anything they say about movies again.

And truthfully, I don’t know much my take on this even matters. The theater was filled. People cheered at the gore and blood. They applauded the ever so crappy references to the original – although maybe they did that because they also desperately wanted this to be that, and would jump at any morsel handed to them. I guess time will tell, but I thought it was a piece of crap.

American Airlines just doesn’t get it

Seriously, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

So just for a quick recap, I’ve been an American Airlines AAdvantage member at Platinum status for years. Years. On my most recent flight there was some kind of confusion where I was getting different stories from different employees so I sent a note to their web customer service form asking to clear it up. I received a boilerplate reply answering a different question, which included a note saying you couldn’t reply to that letter. Rather that start over from scratch I called them and all hell broke loose, you can read the whole story here. In the midsts of my ranting, I said something on twitter and whoever writes the American Airlines twitter account responded saying they wanted to help. I sent them my AAdvantage number and said I’d filed a complaint, they responded saying someone from Customer Service would likely want to contact me. I replied telling them they had my account info and if someone wanted to contact me they had my e-mail.

Since I didn’t hear anything within the hour I assumed I wouldn’t, however I was wrong as I just received a note from them. A note that is so amazingly bad and such evidence that they totally miss the point at every step I had no choice but to post it here, with notations of course. Truly, this is a work of art.

from: American Airlines – AmericanAirlines.wecaare001 @aa.com
to: “SEANBONNER @GMAIL.COM”
date: Fri, Jun 4, 2010 at 11:07 PM
subject: R2010/06-04065-00293-001-00

I gotta jump in here for a second already as there are some gems not to be missed and we haven’t even gotten to the content of the letter yet. Check out the e-mail address this was sent from. “wecaare001.” With 2 A’s. So they care enough to be clever with the AA thing, but not enough to use a subject line is human readable and doesn’t look like some random string of crap spit out by a computer. Anyway…

Dear Mr. Bonner:

As an AAdvantage® elite member, you are among our most valued customers, so it is
particularly troubling to hear on our AAirways® Twitter Channel you were disappointed
by our service.

At first I thought this was a typo and when they typed “AAirways®” obviously they must have meant “@AAirways”, except that their account is “@AAirwaves”, but then I read the “Twitter Channel” part and realized it wasn’t a mistake at all, they just had no idea what they were talking about at all. I got this vivid image in my head of an old guy with a remote control that he probably calls a clicker shaking it at his TV screaming to a half deaf wife that the reception on his twitter channel needs adjusting, and that made me laugh, so at least I’m enjoying myself reading this.

If you would be kind enough to email me with the details, I would be happy to look
into the matter for you. Please send an email to my attention at
www.aa.com/customerrelations.

Whoah whoah whoah whoah!

Do you want me to send an e-mail or submit something via your contact form? Because I’ve already submitted something to the contact form and there is no way to direct it to anyone’s attention. So they care so much that they are e-mailing me and inviting me to use their public contact form to tell them about the problem that I already told them about via their public contact form? Brilliant. This also tells me they didn’t even look at my tweets or follow any links to my website.

Additionally, this doesn’t offer a solution, it says that he’ll look into it. So they want me to do more work with no promise of a resolution at all. I could spend 30 minutes writing up a new note for them only to have them respond telling me to stuff it, or maybe they’d send me another reply to something completely different again, further wasting my time. No thanks.

While space limitations are fairly standard in this
type of web format, please feel free to submit as many messages as you wish. Our
system automatically combines multiple messages from one customer. In other words,
we’ll be able to read all the important information and details that you have to share
with us.

Wow. So dear reader, do this math with me. They know that their contact form doesn’t provide enough space for someone to actually write something useful, but their system is smart enough to combine multiple messages from one customer as a workaround. Which for some reason makes more sense to them then simply taking off the text limit on their contact form? But also, it’s smart enough to combine those notes, but not smart enough to tell this customer service rep who is clearly looking at my account (to know that I have elite status and to get my e-mail so he could send me this note) that I already sent in something via that form just the other day? Or maybe it does, but for some reason this guy didn’t bother to look if I’ve submitted anything via their contact form. Or maybe the person who sent me the boiler plate answer to a question I didn’t ask marked my submission as ‘resolved’ and deleted it from their system. In any case, FAIL.

If you prefer, however, you can always send us a letter via U.S. mail or fax. Our fax
and mailing address information is:

Customer Relations
American Airlines
MD 2400, HDQ
PO Box ********
DFW Airport, TX 75261
Fax: 817-***-****

Maybe it’s just me, but I tend to think if someone is competent enough to use twitter and email, they probably aren’t rushing to use a Fax machine. It’s 2010 for crying out loud.

In addition, it might be helpful to know that when completing the Customer Relations
email form, much of your personal information can be “populated” for you if you
actually login to AA.com. From the home page, click the ‘Login’ button located on the
top of the navigation bar, then enter your AAdvantage® number and password. If you
don’t already have a password, after clicking ‘Login’ at the top of the home page,
select ‘Need a Password’ and then proceed.

Thank you for telling me something completely obvious, and for shedding more light on the fact that no one at AA can add 2 and 2 together. I’ve already submitted a note via the comment form, I purchase all my tickets online, I’ve redeemed miles online, and done all this while logged into my account. The same one tied to my e-mail and AAdvantage number that this guy had to look at before e-mailing me. Unbelievable.

Thank you for your cooperation and I look forward to assisting you.

Given the level of assistance I’ve received from AA in the last week, I highly doubt this will ever happen.

Sincerely,

Stephen ************
Customer Relations
American Airlines

Thanks Stephen, I’m sure you are just doing your job, but this e-mail is a nightmare. And now that we’ve had the closing line, we’re back into the boiler plate which is no less amusing.

For security purposes and to protect privacy, our process does not allow for
replies to this message. If we can assist you further, please let us know by
clicking http://www.aa.com/customerrelations.

There’s that bit about not replying. So there is no way to continue a thread, basically they are saying this is the final word and if for some reason you are thinking you have something to add, you have to go back to square one and submit a note on their public contact form which by this point you know if your time is at all valuable to you, isn’t worth it.

The information in this email is confidential and is intended solely for the
addressee(s); access to anyone else is unauthorized. If this message has been
sent to you in error, do not review, disseminate, distribute or copy it. If you
are not the intended recipient, please delete this email from your email system.

Oh man I love this one. Where do I even start? E-mail is never confidential, it’s accessed by 3rd parties every step of the way. This was sent to my gmail account which means Google even indexed it and is running contextual ads against it. Once confidential information has been shared with 3rd parties it’s no longer confidential, and American shared this with 3rd parties the moment they hit send. But also, this assumes they can enter into a contract with me without my agreeing to it. I’m not agreeing to any confidentiality here, yet they are telling me that by simply opening the e-mail from them we have an agreement. I wonder if I sent an e-mail to AmericanAirlines.wecaare001 @aa.com, or to their CEO, or their legal department that said “by reading this e-mail you agree that you now owe me $1,000,000” would I get paid? Likely not, because you can’t opt someone else into an agreement, both parties have to agree. I don’t agree.

They totally don’t get it.

But not being one to just bitch and point out problems without offering solutions, here is some free advice and what they should have done…

Step one – They should make sure the people responding to their contact form actually read the comments and understand them before responding to them.

Step two – There should never be a situation where a phone rep, a supervisor for the platinum status line no less, yells at, insults, and hangs up on a customer. Ever.

Step three – They should ditch the stupid @Aairwaves twitter user name, and get something that makes sense like @AmericanAirlines or @AAmerican. Then the person manning that account should be empowered to actually engage customers, not just say “someone will be in touch.” Twitter is a personal and conversational medium, if you want to use it for your business you need to play by it’s rules. Sticking a puppet mouthpiece there isn’t winning you any points.

Step four – The customer service rep should have pulled up my account, seen what I had written in the initial note I sent, looked at the stuff I wrote on twitter, followed the links I posted to my account of the full details of the events, and once he/she had a firm grasp on the situation, they should have e-mailed me an apology and offered a solution. And they should have done that from an account that is tied to a single person who I could reply back to directly.

See, as a customer I can interact with and relate to a real person who has some empathy for my situation, boilerplate filled e-mails sent from bucket accounts that you can’t reply to sent by “customer service” representatives who haven’t bothered to do the least bit of legwork to understand why they are even e-mailing me does not cut it, and in fact just illustrates my complaint that they don’t care and I should take my business to another airline who does.

The happy ending to this is I’ve spoken to people at United AND Continental who said they will happily and immediately bump me to their comparable frequent flyer status level and will be delighted to have me. In closing, please enjoy this video of a cat hicupping and farting at the same time.