|Bradenton, Florida. A shit-hole ghetto town about an hour south of Tampa. I think it was the summer of 1990. I remember it being really, really hot. I was in high school and my friend Chris suggested starting a band. He played guitar already and told me I should get a bass. I took that week’s paycheck from the grocery store I worked at and went to a local used music equipment shop and asked what that could get me, I bought whatever it was they suggested. In my memory it was a sunburst Fender but I honestly can’t remember. I didn’t know I needed an amplifier for it to work, and had trouble figuring out how to play it at home. The following week we got together in another friends garage for “band practice” which was a serious lesson in humility. I showed up without an amp, but luckily (or unluckily) someone there had a guitar amp I could plug into. This was the first time I’d ever heard what the bass even sounded like.|
Chris proposed that we start off playing “New Direction.” I didn’t know what he was talking about. Chris pointed out that I was wearing a Gorilla Biscuits t-shirt at the time, New Direction of course was the first song on their recently released album Start Today. I didn’t actually have the album yet, I had a dubbed cassette copy that my neighbor Max had made for me which I listened to all the time – so once Chris started playing it I knew what he was talking about, but Max hadn’t written the names of any of the songs so didn’t know what any of them were called. Max would later sell me his blue and white swirled vinyl copy of that album, which has remained one of my prized possessions even to this day. Anyway, I knew the song but I had no idea how to play it, given that I had no idea how to play bass. I stood there in the garage all afternoon while my friends jammed one song after another that I knew but I had no idea how to play. That was the only band practice I ever went to, and I wasn’t ever invited to be any of their bands ever again, rightly so.
I kept that bass and every once and a while I’d pick it up and hope I’d magically learned how to play something. I never did. When I’d fantasize about being in a band I always pictured myself singing, so just never got motivated enough to try and learn it. Besides, my favorite band in town at the time, Tired From Now On, already had a bass player and a singer and I wasn’t going to even try to start a Tired From Now On copycat band. I think I sold it to my friend from Canada Kyle for $50 when one of his bands was passing through Gainesville a few years later. At least I’d spray painted it black so it looked much cooler than that crappy sunburst. I wonder if he still has it?
A few years later when I was working at Victory Records my co-worker Chuck told me he wanted to start a band and asked if I’d be interested in singing. Of course I said yes, instantly. He said he was getting the rest of the band together and we’d have a proper rehearsal in a few weeks. At that time I was often the last person to leave the office, which was in a 3 story condo in an industrial part of Chicago. My office was on the 3rd floor, and when everyone else would leave I’d often turn up my stereo as loud as it would go and jump around screaming along like an idiot to the loudest, angriest thing I had. It was excellent therapy. I highly recommend everyone try it sometime. My private karaoke included many bands, but vocalist Tim Singer’s bands – No Escape, Deadguy and the recently released (at the time) Kiss It Goodbye were in heavy rotation. I guess I always kind of related to his “I tried, but everything is fucked anyway” lyrical narrative. In my mind, that’s how I’d sing in a band.
Eventually Chuck would rope in the rest of a band and we’d all get together one evening after work in the basement of Bulldog Records, Victory’s record store in Wicker Park where bands like Blood For Blood and Murphy’s Law had recently played some already legendary shows. Drums set up, amps plugged in and blasting. I knew enough lyrics to enough songs that I figured there wouldn’t be a repeat of the New Direction situation and I was ready to go with whatever song they pulled out of the hardcore repertoire. Except the songs they’d written themselves and had already been practicing that I’d never heard before. Chuck handed me the mic and said “let’s go!” and I just stood there. I didn’t know what to sing, or what to say. I’d never written lyrics before, and certainly hadn’t anticipated doing it on the spot. I’d been daydreaming about doing this for years, and now when given the chance I froze. I convinced myself that anything I’d come up with would be so stupid the band would stop playing and I’d be laughed out of the basement. Of course, just standing there like an idiot had a similar effect.
Decades later I of course recognize how letting my insecurity keep me from doing the thing I was dreaming of doing, when I directly had the opportunity to do it, was just about the stupidest thing I could have ever done. I’m not really big on regret, we all do things that if given another chance we might do differently or applying hindsight realize our errors, but pushing past that fear and doing actually band with my friends sometime in the 90’s when I had countless opportunities is something that I’d totally should have done. If life had do overs, that’s where I’d use mine.
I mention this because totally out of the blue this week there’s a new EP out by Tim’s new band Bitter Branches and it’s incredible. It’s the last thing I was expecting in 2020, and after listening to it on repeat essentially since buying it I can attest it’s exactly what I needed. If anything I’ve mentioned in this sounds familiar to you, maybe it’s what you need as well. If nothing else, it’s a good reminder to take the chances we have, when we have them. They won’t always be there and even trying and failing is way better than not trying at all.
In efforts to deal with old age forgetfulness and a lingering case of screen aversion I’ve been trying to get in the habit of using my physical notebook. I wrote about this a bit before on my mailing list, moving from a small pocket sized moleskine to a larger journal type thing and using a modified bullet journal method for daily planning and notes and general keeping on top of things. I also like that, even though it’s purely functional for me, I feel like I’m making something.
While I’ve been enjoying the pen and paper aspect of using a pen and paper I’ve also found myself wanting a little more of a creative visual experience but I’m not fetishistic enough about this journal thing to spend endless hours doodling and and drawing on the pages like a damn pinterest board. A little while ago Warren (I think) mentioned getting one of these little pocket printers that allowed him to quickly snap a photo of something interesting and print it out and then slap it in his notebook for future reference. This notion has kind of stuck with me and last week I decided to pull the trigger. Twice actually.
I ordered and received two different mini printers, that function a bit differently with different desired outcomes. This is what I got:
This is a super tiny thermal printer (which means it never needs ink), b&w only with questionable archival qualities (the basic paper is guaranteed to keep an image for a full year) but it’s fast and cheap and fun. While I got in with the intent to print little photos, the Paperang app also has a number of text and todo list templates and options that I can see myself playing with sometime in the not terribly distant future. I’ve been scotch taping a few quick prints with the default paper in to the notebook here and there and it’s added a very cool new layer to the look and feel of it. I also ordered some upgraded paper spools of sticker backed paper that is supposed to hold an image for 10 years so I won’t have to tape the prints in each time. Knowing that the image will eventually fade is interesting too because it keeps me from thinking anything is too precious, and also forces me to write a little something next to it explaining what it is.
It’s no secret I like instant photos and that I have a softspot for Instax. I’ve got a few Instax cameras in various formats (I especially like the Instax WIDE monochrome film, though the camera for it is huge) but this requires planning ahead and carrying the camera around, and the film is kind of expensive for quick memory jogging notes to self. That said, being able to take any photo that I have on my phone and make a Polaroid style print anytime I want is kind of appealing. Between my regular carry around every day camera (currently a Leica M10D) and my iPhone (currently an XSMax) I have some pretty nice digital photos. So I picked up the new SP-3 which uses the Instax SQUARE film as I like that format (though I wish they offered a monochrome version) and have used to make a few prints of things I shot with these other devices. This is nice if I want to give a photo to someone, or include something I know will more long lasting (and thus, more thoughtful and artistic I guess). This also allows me to play more with this format, I really liked the Instax MINI print series Clayton did a few years ago and being able to physically riff on ideas is kind of fun.
Both of these printers are small enough to carry around in a hip/shoulder bag without much trouble and then always be available, though the SHARE is a bit bigger and heavier than the Paperang so in actual practice I don’t know how often I’ll really carry both around. Likely one or the other. Guess we’ll see. In the meantime I’m happy with the ability to hold in my hands something that was only in my head previously.
I’ve been writing about personal uniforms for a long time now [2015, 2010] and adhering to them for even longer. While the major themes have remained the same over the years some of the specifics have gotten more specific and as I’m often asked for recommendations I find it useful to take stock once and a while so I have something for people to reference. The last time I did this I was living in Los Angeles, and traveling 100k+ miles a year, today I’m living in Tokyo and still traveling 100k+ miles a year. Tokyo gets colder than Los Angeles and has snow, but it also gets more humid. I previously tried to have things that worked in all weather, but I’m now more a fan of fabrics and cuts that are optimized for seasons.
Generally I still stick to all black or dark grey and avoid anything with logos or visible branding of any kind.
- Basic. 100% Cotton. I’m still a fan of American Apparel’s Fine Jersey which I find to be the perfect cut, thickness and softness. These were the only things I wore for years and I’d buy them a dozen at a time every 12-18 months though honestly they hold up much longer than that and at less than $10 on Amazon it’s effortless. This is my goto shirt for training at the dojo because I know it’s strong enough to hold up under abuse and I’m not worried about ruining them. Cotton rules for structure, but it’s less optimal for most other things.
- Hot weather: 100% Bamboo. The best ones I’ve found are made by Onno and are almost 3x the cost of the AA Cotton shirts at about $30. Bamboo is the perfect material for t-shirts, it wicks moisture away from you and is soft and anti-bacterial.
- Humid: 100% Ramie. A recent find for me, Ramie is a really interesting natural fiber and in Tokyo’s super humid summers this has become my goto option. Outlier’s Ramielust shirt is the best shirt for hot and humid weather. It’s $125, but it takes one day if walking around in 90% humidity to understand why. I found some cheaper Ramie blend shirts on amazon but they don’t feel the same. As a fabric it’s a bit stiffer than Cotton or Bamboo, but it’s also light and airy like nothing else.
- Cool: 100% Wool. This is going to be my most controversial recommendation ever but Outlier’s Gostwyck Single Origin Wool is really interesting. Wool is an amazing fabric, but it’s almost always ethically bad news, so a company working with a single farm with the specific intention of creating ethically produced wool is something I thought was worth supporting and looking further into. I know some people love wool and if they are going to buy it I’d prefer they put the money towards a more sustainable and ethical option like this. These shirts are also $125, but they might be the nicest shirts you’ve ever touched. A secret some people don’t know is that Wool shirts can be worn for several days in a row before they need washing, so you need fewer of them for a wardrobe and end up doing wash less often, so they have other environmental benefits to weigh out.
- Slacks. I find the materials that Outlier are using for their Slim Dungarees and Futureworks pants to be fantastic, versatile, lightweight and durable. I was initially hesitant to buy $200 pants, but I now have 3 pairs and easily wear them 300 days out of the year. Their shorts are equally fantastic.
- Jeans. I have an ongoing love/hate with denim that I continue to be unable to resolve. There was a point in the late 2000’s when I realized that not only did I not own a pair of jeans, I hadn’t owned a pair in over a decade, as I’d been wearing almost exclusively Dickies for most of that time. At the same time I had friends working with and lusting over “high end” denim and I wanted to understand it. I’ve since owned and worn many varieties of denim and from high end Japanese brands like Iron Heart & Sugar Cane. They’ve been great in some ways, and horrible in other ways and spending hundreds of dollars on pants that you know the crotch and pockets are going to blow out in, and require additional cost to keep repairing just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me these days. And while there are some minor details here and there, I don’t find them to justify the 5x or 10x cost over something like Shrink To Fit Levi’s 501s or something similar. In the end, I’m going to skip a recommendation on this one and just say individual preference is going to win out.
- Darn Tough. Seriously, regardless of what style you like Darn Tough socks will be the best you can get. In addition to being super comfortable and rock solid, they have a life time guarantee so if you somehow find a way to wear a hole in them they will replace them free of charge. Forever. I don’t know how they do it, but they do and do it well.
- Update: I used to religiously recommend ExOfficio Boxer Briefs for many reasons but no longer do, a few years ago the company changed manufacturing practices and both their fabric and build quality went downhill significantly, when I first found them they were upwards of $30 each but now seem to be sub $20 and I’m quite sure they are making more money on each one due to the corners they cut. Avoid.
- Warmer weather: Bamboo. $30 for a 4 pack of David Archy bamboo boxer briefs seemed too good to be true, but turns out it to be legit. Endorsed.
- Cooler weather: Wool. Specifically Smartwool who are also publicly committed to ethical and sustainable wool production. They also have a lifetime guarantee which given their $45 price tag, being able to return them once they get worn out for new ones is a bonus.
Shoes and Jackets are much more personal and I can’t imagine recommendations here being worth anything. So look for the styles and cuts that you like and run with them I guess. Though I will say a good hoodie and a good windbreaker are an awesome combo.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
- A no-brand thick canvas shoulder bag that is purposely too small to fit my laptop.
- A Mission Workshop Sanction backpack
- 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:
- iPad Mini Retina with privacy screen
- Kindle Paperwhite
- 8.5 x 5 notebook, currently this is a Moleskine Classic Notebook but I’ll probably be switching to the Livescribe 5.5 x 8.25 Lined Journal shortly.
- Eyeshade – nothing special here, the one I currently have I got free in a business class care package sometime last year.
- Pen – Currently a Karra’s Customs RETRAKT in copper, but likely switching to Livescribe 3 Smartpen in not too distant future.
- If it’s an exceptionally long flight I might also bring a plug and charger for the iPad. I standardized around Apple’s 12W USB charger because it charges much faster than the smaller 5W one that comes with iPhones.
- Bacitracin First aid Antibiotic Ointment, USP – 1/2 Oz
- Stanley 4-in-1 Pocket Screwdriver
- Streamlight LED Pen Flashlight
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.
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.