July 30, 2006
Incident at the ArclightBeing late for a movie is a big deal to me. As far as I'm concerned (I'm pretty sure Woody Allen is this way too), you've missed the whole movie if you've missed the fade-to-black right after the "and now, our feature presentation" message, and right before the first frames of the feature film -- usually the hollywood studio company's logo and fanfare. I hate even missing that.
And so when I saw what the traffic was looking like to cut across town from our hotel in Beverly Hills to the Arclight Cinema in Hollywood to see a 730pm screening of MIAMI VICE last night, I knew we there was no way we were gonna make it. Wheels rolling from the hotel at 705pm.
We had a few close calls as we zig zagged on side streets so as to avoid Sunset Boulevard, but eventually we made it to the theatre, turned right on Ivar, left into the parking garage, up five levels behind a shiny 1969 GTO belching out vintage sixties exhaust. We found a spot about as far from the theatre as possible, ran to the elevator, waited forever for the elevator, got on, noticed people were getting on at each floor as we slowly went down, so we got off and ran down the stairs instead, beating the elevator. Racing through the crowded plaza and into an even more crowded Arclight lobby.
We found what looked like an employee and asked, where do we go if we've already bought this, at which point I handed her a printout of Arclight tickets purchased online. She said "that's your ticket, let me scan it" and with that we flew down the stairs, not knowing which auditorium was showing MIAMI VICE (it would be, of course, the furthest one down the hall). We run in, and we hear dialog. Movie dialog. The movie's already started.
The Arclight has ushers. Supposedly. There were no ushers.
We noticed a distant and dim flashlight way up in the far back on the other side of the theatre. The usher. We waited and waited. Movie's rolling by, we are missing huge gobs of introductory scenes.
Like Quentin Tarantino, we go to the movies to watch the movies, not to see an audience watching a movie. So, like Quentin Tarantino or any movie nut, we like to sit right up front. At the Arclight, even the first rows are comfortable and there's no neck-straining. The ideal movie nut establishment.
Unfortunately, the theatre was PACKED, jam-packed, every seat taken.
Fortunately, we had reserved seats.
Unfortunately, they were in the dead center of row B, the second row.
Fortunately, a squint of the eye revealed the seats were still empty!
Unfortunately, there was no center aisle in row B. Row B consisted of some 100 seats shaped in a semicircle. The only way to get into the middle of all that humanity was to start at the extreme end of the semicircle and climb over 50 annoyed people while repeating hushed excuse me's and pardon me's past every other person.
But just before we reached our seats, I noticed the backpack. And the bearded man holding the backpack between his feet.
Now, I don't know what it is, but in all my moviegoing experiences, and there have been an awful lot of them, I have never had a good movie experience when sitting in the same row with someone with a backpack. I don't know what it is. They start pulling out McDonalds food. They pop open a can of Budweiser. They go to sleep and start to snore. They start mumbling or fidgeting uncontrollably. Something about moviegoers with knapsacks, duffel bags, backpacks, suitcases, big shopping bags.
I sat down next to him so my wife wouldn't have to.
We begin to watch the movie. We don't know how it started or how much we missed.
The movie runs over two hours.
At about the hour and a half point, the bearded man with the backpack starts scratching his beard. Loudly. Or, his beard was so crunchy that when he scratched it it gave off a loud scratching noise. Out of the corner of my eye I took a look at him. Baseball cap. Long scraggly beard. He's wearing a coat. Two coats. He's slowly sipping from venti Starbucks cup. I am skeptical that it's coffee in the cup. The way he takes slow, meaningful sips from it. As if it were some fine fine Night Train or Wild Turkey. I notice the smell. A whiff of alcohol. But worse, deep, deep body odor. The kind of smell one encounters with someone who has not washed in, oh, a month or more. The kind of smell one gets when one has slept outdoors on sidewalks or on park benches for longer than is recommended.
I go back to watching the movie.
Soon he's scratching his beard again. And then his face. And then his head. And then he reaches down his neck. Suddenly he's scratching everywhere, not unlike, indeed, exactly like, the openening scene of A SCANNER DARKLY. This guy has the bugs. And they are crawling all over him. And my elbow is touching his. And no doubt it's only a matter of moments before the bugs spread to me. He keeps fidgeting, scratching wildly. Lice? Ants? It's as if he's being nibbled away by ants. He mumbles and stops.
I go back to watching the movie.
As the action scenes heat up, I hear a strange sound to my right.
And then again.
It's the man. He's sputtering. It's like he's stifling a cough, or just spitting air out of his almost closed mouth. "Pfffft."
There seems to be a correlation between the intensity of the scenes on screen and the frequency and loudness of the man's puffy outbursts.
I turn and look directly at him. His eyes are glued to the screen. He makes another sound. "Pffft." Louder this time. I am sure he knows I am looking at him. I see his beard move as he makes his puffing sound.
Two people in row A directly ahead of the man next to me turn around, wondering what the sound is from behind them.
"Pfffft. Pfffft. Pffft."
Bad guys are getting killed with high-caliber weapons on screen, and the booms and crashes of the sound system rattle the theatre.
I do not notice these things.
I notice the "Pfffft."
I feel the puffs of the man's air on my right arm. I feel spittle land on the hairs of my forearm. I grow more uncomfortable, leaning over to my wife while trying to concentrate on the movie.
"Pfffff." "Pfffft." "Pffffft.."
I cannot concentrate on the movie. I am now thinking about tuberculosis. Cholera. Thyphus. Consumption. Scabies. Rickets. Scurvy. I am sitting next to a pirate straight from the brig of the Flying Dutchman, I just know it.
Big shootout scene onscreen. Tense drama. Gripping suspense.
It matters not to me.
"Pffftt." "Pffffft." "Pffffft."
He's really puffing away now, louder than ever, with more spittle.
I recall the movie theatre scene in the film OUTBREAK. I think about all the particles of malignancy floating in the air as my neighbor sputters away.
My wife is wondering what's going on. I turn to her and soundlessly mouth the word "homeless". She acknowledges while the man continues his Pffffts.
I turn to look at him again, wondering if he is going to get sick. It's really disturbing having someone sputter and spit and mumble and sratch and occasionally take another swig from whatever is in that coffee cup.
His eyes are transfixed on the screen.
I turn back to watch the movie.
Suddenly the man speaks. Very determinedly. Very nastily.
He says, "if you look at me one more time I am going to bash your fucking face in."
He never moves his head. His eyes are still fixed on the screen. He is speaking to me.
Meanwhile, a huge spectular gunfight is going on onscreen. But I can't even think about that as this homeless man with his backpack containing who knows what has just threatened me with physical harm.
I notice he's stopped his puffing.
But I've stopped caring about the movie.
Suddenly, get stands up.
Tries to, anyway. He can't quite get his balance. He reaches down and gets his backpack. He reaches down again and grabs a duffel bag. He reaches down again and pulls out a rolled up sleeping bag. How he managed to squish all that under his seat I don't know.
I wonder what he is going to do. Is he going to bash my face in? Is he going to produce a weapon? I am contemplating self-defense. I am contemplating how my wife and I should climb over the backs of our own chairs and escape.
Now he's standing above me. With all these bundles in his hands and hanging from his shoulders. Mumbling. He leans to the left, as if he is going to try go exit the B row by crossing in front of me. He cusses and mumbles some more, then, reconsidering, turns and starts climbing over the people to the right, cussing and mumbling and talking louder as he gets further away. Eventually he makes it to the end of the row, and to the far wall. Now he's doing the full mumble grumble nonsense with a few "fuck" and "fucking"s thrown in. He walks out of the theatre.
Other moviegoers around me notice he's gone and are talking to themselves about the incident.
The movie goes on for another fifteen minutes.
It was a pretty good flick.
Might see it again.
Somewhere other than LA.
July 26, 2006
Not the stock photo I expectedYou've seen them. They're everywhere. Happy, smiling people images. Generic stock photo people. The kinds of people you see in the sample photo inserts when you buy a photo frame at the store. The kinds of people you see on corporate website home pages: perky, happy, generic people.
I love the Scottsdale Public Library's website's use of these generic stock photo people images. Each time you reload the home page, you see a different pair of people exlaiming, "It's MY library!"
Then there's the guy on the left here:
I'm imagining walking in to the Scottsdale Public Library and a sea of mohawk hairdos everywhere...
When it absolutely positively has to blow up upon deliverySo there we were working away in the office when there was a huge BAMMMM explosion sound very, very close - clearly right in or right outside our own building. We ran out of our office entrance and there right at the main doorway to the building was what was left of an APC unlimited power supply -- pieces scattered everywhere, the main bulk of it still in its cardboard box sitting on the FedEx dolly. The FedEx guy says he was thrown backward when the explosion pushed the dolly into him (good thing he wasn't carrying the thing!).
911 was called. Ambulance, fire, hazmat, news 'copters, everyone shows up. The building gets evacuated.
Here's the Union-Tribune story. Not surprisingly, they get it wrong. Quote:
A bunch of us spoke to the deliveryman within 10 seconds of the explosion, as it happened right outside our office. He was nowhere near the truck, he was at the entrance to the building, and he was going thru the glass doors with the box on the dolly. He told us the explosion pushed the dolly into him and then he was thrust backwards. He never mentioned he dropped anything when he spoke to us.
I wouldn't be surprised if the local TV news media tonight say that an unknown group that goes by the initials "A.P.C." claimed responsibility.... :-)
UPDATE - 14:46
July 21, 2006
I Forgot to JumpSigh... and I said I was going...
Zuner or LaterMicrosoft Zune. The news is out.
So are the domains:
MTV News on EventfulCool! There's a story on Eventful over at MTV Online this morning.
July 20, 2006
Ilando Gima OngeOne of the greatest, if not the greatest, screen entrances in motion picture history is the introduction of Omar Sharif's character in Lawrence of Arabia. Not unlike the proverbial riding off into the sunset at the end of movies, in this case, Sharif rides in from the horizon across the desert. From a mere speck, to an armed figure on a camel, to the sudden loss of Lawrence's desert guide for drinking from a forbidden well.
Great music offers great, dramatic entrances as well, not of actors, perhaps, but of melodies. Then again, melodies are the characters in the story that is the song. One song I've been listening to and thinking about a lot is "Ilando Gima Onge" by Extra Golden. I raved about Extra Golden's new album the other day elsewhere in this blog.
But before you've had a chance to absorb the "Yesssss", the song changes suddenly with the introduction of another guitar, this one with a fuzzy, electronic edge that's laser-sharp. If you listen to the song loud through speakers, you'll know what I'm talking about. And then the man laughs, as if amused by the introduction of this laser-guitar, slicing what began as a simple rhythm into something more menacing.
The very first time I heard this, I thought, sounds like a mash-up of latter-day King Crimson with an African band. Indeed, that laser-guitar sounds like something Robert Fripp would enjoy playing.
And so the song continues. Now we have the basics of the song underway. Multiple guitars plucking their way through minor chords, a bass guitar quietly delivering its own inventive lines, and a drum beat dominated by masterful hi-hat touches and what sounds more like a plastic bucket than a snare drum. I can visualize the multiple lines and rhythms as if they were knitting, with that laser fuzz guitar like dangerous fancy embroidery.
And we're only 20 seconds into the song.
It goes on like this for about 40 more seconds, until the drummer signals the band to slow down like a horseman pulling back the reins. At the 1:00 point, the laser-fuzz guitar wraps up its riff with a screeching sign-off.
And suddenly, everything changes.
One guitar begins a new set of chords, with a faster rhythm. The drums kick in, the bass kicks in, more rhythm guitar kicks in, and suddenly we're in a deep African benga groove.
This song needs to be played LOUD. And if these rhythms don't make you want to dance, then nothing can.
The lead guitar begins its storytelling on top of this great new sound. Sixteen bars consume the first paragraph of the introduction, at which point the lead takes on an alternate perspective for another sixteen bars. As if that weren't enough, it then changes again for sixteen bars of sublime syncopation that I could listen to all day and night, while the rest of the band continues its polyrhythmic pulse. I love the dance between the bass and the lead during these sixteen bars.
Just like clockwork, the band wraps up its introduction at the 2:00 mark, and then we go into the vocals. There is a great African-style call-and-response going on. Often in African music it's between the lead singer and a chorus of backup singers, but in this song it's between the singer, Otieno Jagwasi, and his guitar. It's mesmerizing. And complex. And powerful. And sad -- this is not happy-go-lucky music. Here's a snippet from a review by BBC's The World:
And it goes on for another nine minutes.
It's one of the best pieces of music I've heard in a long time.
Play it LOUD.
July 15, 2006
Vader SessionsVery funny video from AKJAK. Also on YouTube until it isn't.
July 13, 2006
Web 2.0?I thought O'Reilly trademarked "Web 2.0" for conference use? Perhaps this group didn't get the memo.
July 12, 2006
Who Killed the Electric CarSaw a free sneak preview of Who Killed the Electric Car, a new documentary that is in some ways a better film than An Inconvenient Truth.
I recommend seeing both -- AIT first, then WKTEC.
To think that all the technology exists to make automobiles that are faster, cheaper, many times safer than anything the big automakers make. And yet WHERE ARE THE STARTUPS?
Why is it that Buffett is gonna give away $30B to Bill Gates's foundation but none to fund an alternative to the big auto makers and the oil companies?
At a conference recently I asked Al Gore and Vinod Khosla the same question: where are the Steve Jobses and Bill Gateses of the personal automotive revolution? When are we going to see the equivalent of what happened when PC manufacturers took on mainframe vendors, and brought about major change? Why can't the same happen for transportation?
I was dismayed that they both had basically the same answer, that boiled down to something like: the car companies and the oil companies are too powerful; they own the government, and any auto startup that threatens car companies or oil companies will be squashed.
Sounds too wimpy to me. I'd still love to see some IMSAIs, Commodores, and Apples emerge to take on the GMs and ExxonMobils of the world.
July 09, 2006
Music DiscoveryBob Lefsetz often complains that it's so hard to discover new music anymore, and that it certainly cannot be done on the radio. And usually within the same breath, he's back to recalling how great the golden seventies were, and how they just don't make music like they used to.
It's out there. And you can still find great music on the radio. You just have to look a little harder.
Whenever I travel to the San Francisco Bay Area, which is so often these days it feels like a commute, I tune in to two stations, KFJC-FM and KZSU-FM. That is, as soon as I turn the rental car on, I tune the radio to those stations and set the radio preset buttons so they're within easy reach. Well, I also pre-set KQED 88.5, but it's KFJC and KZSU that I seek out.
Now, you never know what you're going to get with those stations. They're college stations, with student DJs for the most part. Sometimes -- often, in fact -- the material being broadcast is downright weird. Which is why it's great to have two stations to toggle between. While one's in one of its deeply strange programs playing deeply strange experimental music, the other might, just might, have something to offer. (That said, I should add that many a time that something deeply strange and experimental has been playing on one of these stations, it's turned out to be very interesting and worth a listen. Even the Pirate show on KFJC -- avast! arrrr! -- can be a hoot.)
I found myself landing in San Jose just as the fireworks were beginning to go off on the evening of July 4th. It is odd to be flying at that time -- looking down from the window, one is likely to see many flashes of light that look like small gunfire skirmishes across the landscape.
I got into my Enterprise Rent-a-Car, did the usual tuning (wouldn't it be cool if Enterprise remembered your radio preferences and had them ready for you when you arrived?), and hit the road. It was late, but I hadn't had dinner, and I figured I'd stop along the way to the hotel and grab some junk food.
While driving along El Camino Real I was listening to KZSU and they started playing an interesting song that reminded me of the Talking Timbuktu album by Ali Farka Toure and Ry Cooder. This also had the feel of blues, jazz, and a wonderful dose of African rhythm and vocals. As I kept driving down a near-empty El Camino Real, the music seemed like a soundtrack to the opening scenes of some movie. All that was missing was for credit titles to appear within the glass of the windshield..
This music was mesmerizing. I got my food, and the music was still playing. I pulled over to ilsten to it and be sure to write down the name of the artist and the album so I could go buy it. It's not often I do such things, but this was music I defnitely wanted to savor more.
Then it occurred to me, the DJ might not come on, the song title and artist and album name might not be mentioned, and I might not find out who was behind this fantastic music.
So I picked up the cell phone and dialed 411.
"City and state, please," the recorded voice said.
"Stanford, Califonia," I stated.
"Yes can I help you?" an operator asked.
"The number for the radio station KZSU-FM, the Stanford University radio station. Perhaps there's a number for the studio line?"
"One moment. I have a KZSU Stanford University radio in Menlo Park, CA."
A moment later the DJ answered the phone. I just knew it was the DJ.
"Hi," I said excitedly. "I just got off the phone at San Jose airport, got my rental car, tuned into KZSU like I always do, and here I am listening to this amazing music you're playing! What IS that song you're doing right now?"
The DJ laughed. "It IS awesome isn't it!?!?"
"It's frickin' AWESOME!" I told him. "I wanted to be sure I found out who it was so I could grab the CD some time."
"It's a band called Extra Golden," he told me. "It's two guys from America jamming with two African musicians. It's on ThrillJockey Records. Just go to ThrillJockey.com and you can order it."
"Fantastic! Thanks so much!"
Radio can still be a delight.
The song I loved? It's called "Ilando Gima Onge", and you can hear the whole 11-minute-long recording for free on ThrillJockey's website. The page to find is this one.
Look to the right-hand column for the clickable track list. But be sure to buy the album (the links for CD, LP, and DOWNLOAD are on the left-hand column). And be sure to read the bio of the band on that page. It's very sad.
Here is an NPR profile from May 2006 regarding Extra Golden.
Here's what AllAboutJazz has to say about Extra Golden.
More fascinating background can be had in this article from the Washington City Paper. To think this whole album was recorded on a laptop!
Finally, I needn't have called KZSU. Turns out the KZSU website is a great and rich resource, including detailed historical playlists. For instance, here's the playlist from 9pm to midnight on July 4th when I first made my discovery.
Comments Worse than BrokenI've gotten numerous emails regarding the comments situation. Basically, MT-Blacklist has gone berserk and blocks almost any comment that contains the letters "was" among other things.
I need to either upgrade this blog to the latest MT version, or move to WordPress. In my copious spare time I will endeavor to do one or the other...
July 06, 2006
eBaySo my theory, and it's just a theory, with little to go on but a hunch, is that what's happening to eBay (for instance, JJ's departure combined with Google's PayPal threat that's spooking eBay investors) is prelude to the big news - Meg Whitman's announcement that she's moving on (to be CEO of something even bigger than eBay, or running for President in 2008? who knows), and that a successor has been chosen, and it ain't JJ, and that JJ's time has come to move on if he wants to move up.
That is simply my theory. I figure we will have to wait six months to find out.
July 05, 2006
A Satisfied Customer of Enterprise Rent-a-CarThe only thing I've been disappointed about lately with my frequent rentals of Enterprise Rent-a-Car automobiles is that I discovered the company is privately owned. Otherwise I would've seriously considered investing in it.
Because they try harder than pretty much everyone else. Even Avis. Especially Hertz.
For instance. They have the tiniest, farthest counterspace at San Jose Airport. They're way, way, way over at the far end of the building. But they have the BEST service of anything I've experienced at that airport (or in La Jolla, for that matter).
Recently, a colleague was telling me a story he had about Enterprise at SJC. He was returning the rental car to the SJC facility, and when he pulled in he told the two other folks in the car, "Ok, you are about experience a fine customer service moment." They were like, yeah, right. But then they pull up in the return car lane, and three Enterprise employees scramble and descend upon the car to greet their customers with smiles and delights -- and an offer to stay in the car, skip the blue SJC Rental Car bus, and one of the Enterprise staff would drive the three right over to their terminal right now -- let's go! The colleagues couldn't believe it. They were converts.
On another more recent trip to SJC involving an Enterprise rental, me and a colleague show up, wondering what kind of customer service surprise was in store this time, and sure enough, they have a cooler full of ice cold bottled water, free for the taking. It was a super-hot day, and the water was a welcome treat. We hop in our rental car, and the Enterprise lady, who was bouncing around with genuine enthusiasm, made sure we understood everything about the vehicle, wanted to make sure we knew our way out of the airport, and oh by the way! she pointed out at the last minute that the gas cap for our vehicle was on the left side of the car.
"Gas cap on left side of the car? Who cares," you might ask. But it's little things like that that make me enjoy renting from Enterprise. Many, many a time i've pulled into a gas station -- when I really had no time, racing back to the airport before heading home but remembering at the last miinute that I needed to fill up the tank again as per the rental agreement -- and I'd rush into the station, hop out of the car, only to realize this weird Chevy or whatever it was had the gas cap somewhere I didn't expect. When the rental agency points out where the cap is (who remembers to check before you take off with the car upon renting it?) it can be a nice handy timesaver when every second counts and you're in a hurry to get back to the airport.
Sure enough, upon returning the car during that trip (just last week), the Enterprise folks gladly offered to drive us right over to Terminal A, in the same car we just returned. It might not seem like much but the blue rental buses (which I'm a longtime regular of) can be really slow sometimes and that slowness can count if you care about your slot in the "A" line at a Southwest Airlines gate.
Another nicety of Enterprise -- they're generous in giving out free upgrades. And I've rented from them for so long from La Jolla that they know my name when I walk in to their storefront, and I get great service. In fact they always ask at the return of the vehicle whether their service was 5-star or not, and if it wasn't, they become genuinely concerned and try to correct any problems.
This all may sound like a paid testimonial but it isn't. Enterprise just works for me. They may not be the cheapest (they're way way cheaper than Hertz!) but they offer the best service, and the surprises are only good ones -- and that's the only kind of surprise you want to have when you're renting a car. :)
July 04, 2006
ArringtonMichael Arrington is concerned that I am comparing him to a Nazi, in my first rambling post about Gnomedex the other day, that mentioned him and TechCrunch.
In that post I stated that the whole TechCrunch phenomenon reminded me of the first fifteen minutes of Schindler's List. Now, upon reflection, and checking Wikipedia, and thinking about Godwin's Law, that was inflammatory and extreme. I wasn't thinking at all about the dark aspects of that film or that era, but rather just the opportunistic business aspects of Oskar Schindler that were recounted in the film's first 15 mins or so.
I apologize to Mr. Arrington for writing something that might have been construed, but certainly was not intended, to draw any comparisons between him and Nazis.
I hope he enjoys the rest of his 4th of July.
Thoughts on this July 4thBesides urging people to go see the film An Inconvenient Truth, encouraging people to read how you can take action to do your part to prevent the climate catastrophe, and recommending that people more openly question the motivations of el jefe and the junta in the White House, the only other thing I could think of saying this July 4th, a day in which this great and greatly troubled nation celebrates its independence, is to quote some of the most exquisite language ever written in English:
Amendments 1-10 of the Constitution
The Conventions of a number of the States having, at the time of adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added, and as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government will best insure the beneficent ends of its institution;
Resolved, by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, two-thirds of both Houses concurring, that the following articles be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States, as amendments to the Constitution of the United States; all or any of which articles, when ratified by three-fourths of the said Legislatures, to be valid to all intents and purposes as part of the said Constitution, namely:
July 02, 2006
Gnomeplex, Part 3Last night was the closing party for Gnomedex 6.0, at the Experience Music Project, a Frank Ghery-designed building in the shadow of the Seattle Space Needle.
I can deal with Gehry's Bilbao building, but the EMP really doesn't do it for me. I keep thinking it's being tented for termites as I approach it looking for a parking space. But then I discover, no, it really is that way, that color (or colors). You know when you're making a bed, and you take the sheets or the bedspread and you toss it up into the air to stretch it out over the bed? Imagine if Gehry took a snapshot while the bedspread was in midair, coming down on the bed. That pretty much sums up his architecture.
I loved the documentary on Gehry, by the way, but the EMP is just ugly.
There is also something very odd about the museum, oddly depressing. The whole place feels like big money spent on a party site: Paul Allen and Jody Patton created a facility that is about as rock and roll as a gift shop past the security checkpoint at the airport. Lots of merchandise, lots of corporate advertising, music piped in from speakers in the ceiling. A Compaq-branded computer "lab" with filthy, old mice and keyboards with enough germs and grime to contaminate a small nation. A massive online multimedia timeline/archive is available on these Compaq computers, but the whole thing feels so distant, so quaint. It's like we're in the far future, safely detached from the grunge, the smells, the danger, the vitality of a live music experience. Instead, we get to see tiny multimedia clips of SubPop Records artists.
It's weird to think, but imagine in a hundred years, the U2 Museum, with multimedia holograms of Bono and the rest of the band, talking about their music, performing in 3D, but it's all a recording (which you can be sure you'll be able to purchase to run in some extreme DRM-compliant chip built into your eyephones).
I went into one of the theatres showing a Jimi Hendrix and his band playing "Wild Thing" at the Montery Pop Festival in 1967. It all seemed so dated, so distant. It wasn't even loud. I felt like I was 300 years in the future, on a spaceship in orbit around Fhloston Paradise, sitting in an empty auditorium showing a retrospecitive of the 1960's rock music. What could they have been thinking? Who was this strange Jimi Hendrix character? Those humans were so strange....
July 01, 2006
Gnomeplex, Part 2This is Part 2 of a multipart article on the Gnomedex 6.0 conference. Part 1 is available here and is the best place to start if you haven't started there.
Day Two of Gnomedex began with Chris Pirillo bubbling into the auditorium ("this is my moment to shine here, this is my moment, of all the days of the year, this is mine") with news that "we made the front page of the P.I.!", the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. It didn't take long for Chris to fetch the daily page-one PDF on the PI's website, and display it on the big screen above the stage. "John Edwards courts tech crowd in Seattle," the headline begins, with an enthusiastic John Edwards speaking from the podium, and that caricature, the Lockergnome one, looming in the background like some geekified Big Brother in an alternate universe.
There are little things about Gnomedex which are cool and good and worthy of comment. One is that there is none of the Hollywood-style exclusiveness, with doors closed until 5 minutes before the sessions begin in the morning. In those kinds of conferences, which are most tech conferences, including WSJ's D, PC Forum, and ETech, they employ guards to keep the doors closed until the appointed time, at which point there's a mad rush for the choice seats. Luckily everyone has a different definition of "choice." Funny how nature works that way. Unfortunately, my choice usually leads to the discovery that my desired seat is taken. Sometimes the entire row I want to sit in is already taken -- reserved for folks who often don't show. I tend to sit in the front row. I figure if I'm gonna pay thousands of dollars for a conference, might as well sit up close to I can see and hear it all from up close.
At Gnomedex, there are no guards at the door. You stumble out of bed, wash up, and stagger back over to the Bell Harbor Conference Center, walk in, up the elevator, through the lobby area, into the auditorium, down the steps of the aisle to the front, and presto, you've got your spot. No Hollywood b.s.
For that Gnomedex gets a kudo.
I recently saw An Inconvenient Truth and, since I live near the ocean, the message about sea levels rising by 20 feet, displacing hundreds of millions of people worldwide, really hit home. As I looked out my hotel window out to the Puget Sound, I tried to imagine what twenty more feet of water would look like.
For one thing, it'd completely engulf the Edgewater's restaurant downstairs. Which has its upside: no more polka-Carpenters wedding bands playing until midnight.
Except, then I think about twenty feet of water as I'm walking along the waterfront on the way to the conference, walking past an incomprehensibly huge Norwegian Cruise Lines cruise ship and the masses of people, luggage, taxis, cops, and buses. If the water were twenty feet higher, it would probably be lapping up against the sidewalk. It might be higher than the sidewalk.
I look out to Bainbridge Island across the water, and think about all those waterfront homes. Under water. I think about Mercer Island sitting in Lake Washington. All of its waterfront homes under water. I wonder about the Interstate-90 concrete bridge span that connects Seattle and Mercer Island. If Lake Washington were 20 feet higher, what would happen to the bridge?
Actually, could Lake Washington get higher? It's connected to the Puget Sound via a canal waterway and a series of locks. What happens if the Puget Sound is 20 feet higher?
Locks make me think of Seven Locks, in Maryland, along the Potomac River. If the Atlantic rose 20 feet, and made the Chesapeake rise 20 feet, that'd make the Potomac rise 20 feet, right? Which would pretty much wipe out a lot of the open space around the Jefferson Memorial and Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.
A twenty-foot sea level increase would wipe away Pacific Beach and Mission Beach in San Diego. Hell, it would wipe out the whole Mission Bay area. And the La Jolla Shores area as well. I wonder: would twenty more feet of water cover the runway for Lindbergh Field, San Diego's international airport?
At the opening night reception on Thursday night, I'd spotted a famous blogger who I'd not spoken to in probably a year. Went over to say hello. He was speaking with someone. I waited a few moments and then decided to move on and perhaps come back later. "Hold on," the famous blogger said. "I just want to finish this conversation." So I waited. He finished the conversation and then I said hello and shook his hand.
"I hear people talk about you."
"Oh?" I ask. Pause. "Most of it good, I hope."
"Most of it," the famous blogger says.
Someone with a microphone appears. He's looking to do a podcast with the famous blogger. Who has very very strong breath - onions, garlic, something.
"I don't want to do a podcast," he says.
The microphone guy presses on.
"No, really, I don't want to be interviewed."
The podcast guy is not giving up.
"Look, I'm not a politician, so I don't know how to put this, okay?"
The podcast guy goes away.
Gnomeplex, Part 1I'm on the top of the world lookin' down on creation
and the only explanation that I can find
Is the love that I've found ever since you've been around
Your love's put me at the top of the world
It's midnight and the window in my Edgewater hotel is open to the Puget Sound view, and the sounds downstairs of a wedding party, with the hired band's female vocalist trying to make it through the Carpenters' Top of the World, her singing sounding like she's trying to follow how the Carpenters recorded the song, while unfortunately the band is trying to play it like a polka.
When I checked in to the hotel the other day, the lady at the registration desk told me they were giving me a free upgrade. Not just a water view room, but a premium water view room. At no charge. Why, what an honor. Next time I hear "free upgrade" and "premium water view", I'll know what the phrases actually mean: "congratulations, we have chosen YOU to have the room right above the hotel's restaurant, where we have wedding parties playing bad polka-style Carpenters cover music for entertainment until midnight!"
I don't understand Gnomedex. It seems like I'm supposed to know what the name means, since this is the second year of attending the conference and therefore I am cooler and more knowledgeable than the newbie attendees. But I don't. They ask me, I think because they're probably really asking, why do you come to this conference, it seems kind of lame. I don't have an answer for them . And I don't know what "Lockergnome" means either, which is apparently related to the "Gnome" in "Gnomedex."
As for Chris Pirillo, the guy who runs the conference, I don't know who he is either, though he seems like a nice enough person and seems to fit the pattern of tech conference impresario. What is the pattern of a tech conference impresario? Well, there are two requirements at the very least. Number 1. Start a conference. Number 2. Bring your relatives to it.
PC Forum is this way (mom, pop, brother, sister(s)). O'Reilly's ETech and FooCamp are this way (wife, daughter). I noticed earlier this month that Supernova, a conference I'd never attended before, is this way (mom, pop). And now at Gnomedex I discover Gnomedex is this way too. Gnomedex even has the active participation of the Mom Pirillo and Dad Pirillo, as microphone holders and strict session-segment timekeepers.
Last year, I tried to speak with Chris during the schmooze fest at the spectacular Seattle Library building, with its dizzying angular architecture. But he kept blowing me off and I never had a chance to have a conversation. This year, I noticed he's a lot more accessible, going from table to table, attendee to attendee thanking them, simply thanking each one, with a "thank you" and moving on. Not quite sure what the "thank you" is for, but he seems sincere about it.
On the wall behind the podium on the conference stage is a huge poster showing a caricature of Chris Pirillo. There are for me two notable things about the caricature, other than the fact that it is a caricature and always reminds me at least a little bit of Woody Allen. The first is that if you were to study Chris Pirillo during the conference, at the beginning of sessions and at the end of sessions, as he approaches the podium, as he departs the podium, as he paces the aisle along a far wall, is that he has a particular pained grimace, a Woody Allen-style "eeek" as if his whole world is about to collapse in some embarrassing moment, and to think Mom and Pop are here to witness it. A true caricature would have caught that look rather than the slightly bug-eyed smirk the picture depicts.
The other notable thing about the caricature is what accompanies the caricature. A big encircled "R" at the bottom right of the illustration. If it weren't for that, it'd be ordinary, just some weird caricature you might find at some comedy show or something. But the "R" means it's a registered trademark, which means this mark is used in trade, which means this is about business, which means this is about making money.
I looked it up. It really is registered. You have to know what to look for. I mean, an artistic rendering, be it a logo or a caricature, has to have some word or phrase associated with it so you can do a search. I guessed Gnomedex. Nope. Nothing. Then I thought, maybe lockergnome.
The design search codes are interesting. "02.01.01 - Busts of men; Heads of men; Men, heads, portraiture, busts". Then there's "02.01.31 - Men, stylized, including men depicted in caricature form." Well, that helps. I'm not sure section "16.03.07" does though: "Contact lenses; Eyeglasses; Frames, eyeglass; Glasses, eye; Glasses, safety; Goggles; Lenses, optical, and spectacle; Monocles; Safety goggles; Spectacles; Sunglasses."
First used in commerce nearly ten years ago, the trademark application says. That's interesting. I guess he's been blogging a long time.
I still don't know what "Lockergnome" means. I'm imagining it being a nickname Pirillo earned in high school. Perhaps the football team achieved momentary mirth by stuffing the diminuitive Pirillo in his locker and closing the door, I don't really know. I suspect by blogging this I will find out soon enough.
Today was the first full day of Gnomedex 6.0, held in Seattle at the Bell Harbor Conference Center, right along the spectacular Seattle waterfront. Seattle really is a special place in summer. Little to no rain, warm cozy days, peopled with happy souls who you can tell just by glancing at them are delighting in every moment of life, appreciating the brief respite from the gray chilly drizzle and darkening gloom of the rest of the year.
The conference got off to a bumpy, uncertain start. Dave Winer, who lives up to his name, was asking anyone within earshot for the words to the Lord's Prayer. Why, I couldn't figure out. "How does the Lord's Prayer start?" he asked, desperately. He went up on stage with Pirillo when the festivities began, beginning to recite the Lord's Prayer for no explainable reason. As if the Lord swooped down and planted a big "don't go there" in Winer's brain, he suddenly stopped, and moved on to his next antic, which was to read a proclamation by the governor of the state of Washington, or somesuch, about Gnomedex.
Then Pirillo ran a video the quality of which was about what one might find on YouTube: of him seated in a commercial airline, listening to the safety instructions while offering a Chaplinesaque mime that occasionally generated a chuckle here or there in the audience. Pirillo then offered some introductory remarks (describing the audience as having enough energy to power a small town) and then pretty quickly he ran out of things to say a half hour before the first session was supposed to begin. Nobody in the audience seemed to want to engage him in a discussion, and so Pirillo declared a break until the first session began.
The first session eventually began, and it was weird. Michael Arrington of TechCrunch was the first speaker. Oh that's right, no speakers at Gnomedex 6.0. He was the first "discussion leader". So he went up on stage (after Pirillo praised him with, "I eat my TechCrunches every morning!") and began with "what I wanted to talk about" which sounded to me like awfully like what one would hear when a speaker gets up on a stage at a conference and starts giving a talk and I'm thinking, yep, speaker. But then before I could get into a decent daydream about conferences versus unconferences he was asking the audience to participate, and so they did, asking questions and having some sort of dialogue that probably could have gone better if the coffee'd been stronger. "The head of M&A of Fox Interactive is here," he announced at one point. I know something you don't, seemed to be the message. Quips like that make it really hard for me to not think that for these guys, this is all about build-to-flip.
I don't get Arrington. He reminds me of Schindler, from Schindler's List. Remember the opening fifteen minutes? Schindler comes into town, throws a big party, and wins the attention, affection, and most importantly, business, of all the movers and shakers in the town. I don't know him from Adam, I know nothing about his background (other than a bit about his stint at creepy Pool.com) but I keep imagining Arrington having done the same in Silicon Valley. Breezing into town, setting up shop in posh Atherton, holding parties, attracting all the startup wannabees, and then blogging about them (hopefully favorably). And within a year, creating so much fuss as to, so I hear, make $80k a month (that's what I read somewhere, but I might be off by some huge number and I'm too tired to go track it down) from advertising and sponsorships at what has become the "must-read" blog on the tech biz. I don't read TechCrunch every day, just occasionally. And I'm not sure I trust Arrington. I don't yet know what his angle is. He's not a journalist, and doesn't seem to approach the publication as a journalist might. It seems to be an opinion column on new web projects. He wants you to want him, for sure. He wants you to create some cool technology that he becomes impressed with. And it seems Silicon Valley startups have become enthralled with making it in TechCrunch, as if a positive review there is worth its weight in 1999-era VC gold.
When I meet Arrington at conferences, he's cool and detached, at least with me. I don't know what's act and what's real. He was there at Supernova recently. He came up to me and simply said, "We gotta talk," in an urgent tone, as if, it seemed to me, to convey a sense of guilt that as the editor of a widely-read technology blog that purports to be "dedicated to obsessively profiling and reviewing new web 2.0 products and companies" (and, as if that weren't good enough, "In addition to new companies, we will profile existing companies that are making an impact (commercial and/or cultural) on the web 2.0 space") but has inexplicably neglected, in its first full year of publication, to cover a notable player in the "web 2.0 space."
If there were ever a "web 2.0" company or product that ought to be covered by TechCrunch, it's my company and product, EVDB and Eventful.com. But for some weird reason, Arrington has yet to budge. He's covered the competition, and rendered positive judgment on them (as if to say, this is the horse he's betting on). He always seems right at the verge of budging, of writing a big story on Eventful. But he never does. I used to think I'd write a big blog post with made-up lyrics mimicking "On The Cover of the Rolling Stone," rewritten as "On the Cover of Tech Crunch Dot Com." I actually wrote them and was amused for about fourteen minutes and then stored the document away. Lo these many months later, I actually revel in the lack of TechCrunch coverage, as if, going this far without coverage is actually cooler than some little 100-word blurb would ever be.
"We gotta talk." About what, I wonder?
At Supernova I asked him if he knew about Eventful Demand. He gave me a blank look and said "no." I think I then said, "we gotta talk."
But we never did.
A day or so before Gnomedex I emailed the Arrington. "At Supernova, you told me 'we gotta talk'. How about we do that at Gnomedex," I'd asked. He'd written back saying absolutely.
Day One of Gnomedex was almost over, and I'd not spoken to him all day. I saw him finally tonight at the Museum of Flight conference reception. He was chatting with Sam Rubel, a PR flack for Fortune 500 companies. Rubel had been another "discussion leader" on stage today. At one point, Rubel had said something to the effect that advertising is broken. I grabbed a microphone and told him PR is broken. From the stage, he said he agreed.
Rubel: "I read TechCrunch first thing in the morning every day."
Arrington: "I read five blogs per day, and yours is one of them."
I motioned to Arrington. Um, you said you wanted to talk. "I want to write about Eventful before it goes out of business," he said.
I looked at him and wondered if he was being serious, or was just being an asshole. "What? Huh?" is all I could utter.
"Before it IPOs," he offered, as consolation.
Arrington reminds me of that joke about BMWs. What's the difference between a BMW and a porcupine? With BMWs, the pricks are on the inside.
Last year the WiFi at the conference was notoriously bad. This year, given last year, I expected it to be fabulously plentiful. It was not. I had a lot of trouble connecting. At one point one of the Bell Harbor A/V guys came over to me and said that maybe I had been "blacklisted."
"Blacklisted? What do you mean?"
"For using too much bandwidth, or for some sort of unacceptable activity."
"But I haven't even gotten online yet today, why would you blacklist me?"
Anyway, the connectivity slowly improved over the rest of the day, but for the morning there was little to no signal to be had, which meant I had to pay attention to the speakers, er, discussion leaders, instead of find something to noodle online with while feigning interest in the goings-on onstage.
It is now 1:36am and Day Two of the conference starts in less than eight hours. That's enough for tonight. I'll try to post more tomorrow.
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