Saturday, August 30, 2008

Piece of China Meets The Bull

I am not a big tech guy when it comes to cell phones. I recall the day I went to the T-Mobile store to inquire about a Blackberry Pearl. I waltzed up to the counter to chat with the "emo-ized" slacker twenty-something to get the big picture. He told me about what it did, how it worked, why I should have it, how you can send text messages and IM with your BFF and on and on. Glassy-eyed, I accepted his corporate style sales-pitch knowing full well that the sale of a Blackberry could help him out with a new exhaust or ridiculous tail fin for his Honda CRX (remember those?). He asked what I used now as if we were from some strange cellular brotherhood comparing notes. Me, being competitive no matter the situation, and perhaps a bit over-confident, pulled out my slider Samsung. It twinkled with a Pong-like pixel graphic that was the wallpaper as I gently placed it on the counter top. At the last moment I pulled a Clint Eastwood-like move and pushed the slider open like it was a scene in a spaghetti-western. I thought for sure emo kid would give a nod (a touché if you will) of approval, but instead he gave that smart-ass grin like "Oh I remember those." Sure enough his reply was "Oh I remember those." Touché indeed, reverse style! It was as if my phone was from the early cell days when you carried a battery pack over your shoulder and the receiver resembled the type you saw in Vietnam footage. In the end I passed on the Pearl and kept the slider.

Fast forward a year later and I decided to make the iPhone plunge. Not the 3G line but the second generation in a 16gb size. Look, let's get one thing straight, I like tech stuff. I have a couple of Mac computers at home and one at my office. In the past I was a PC guy until I was turned on to Mac. Far better, more stable, you get the idea. Needless to say, this marriage between me and the iPhone was bound to happen at some point. I knew it wouldn't be the first generation, I am just not a "Gen 1" type of person, but the odds were pretty good that I would jump at "Gen 2." So I did this past May and while the price was high, I was comfortable with it because it was, well, an iPhone. Take a cool company, make a cool product, make cool ads, have cool design, and we, err, I will eat it up.

Everything worked easily. The setup was a snap, the contract a breeze, the learning curve simple. What is the iPhone? We all know of course, but it turns out it's a wafer-like rectangle heavy on design and sleekness and extremely low on durability. The durability factor plays with your head. Here's a $400 phone with a piece of glass on the face, no ergonomics, slick, shiny, slippery. That plays into your mind when you handle it, especially if you don't wrap a case around it. For the first couple of weeks I handled the naked phone with care. Got used to it. Bonded with the shape. Practiced my hand hold, my grip, the way I dialed, and the way I deposited it back into my pocket. I was an iPhone Ninja moving swiftly from white belt to black with ease.

Soon the $6 rubber case went on and the Ninja continued to master his craft. However, the false sense of security of a rubber case caused Ninja to lax his grip. The deposit to the pocket was beginning to fumble. Things were not unraveling, but the black belt was a bit loose.

A couple weeks later Ninja got a heavy duty case from and immediately snapped it on, in and around the fragile china. Quickly the false sense of security went to volume 10. The Otterbox is an awesome case, and will withstand even the most aggressive of soccer moms. Bang it against the Escalade driver side door and MILF will likely break a nail before the iPhone gets hurt. The case made Ninja sloppy though. My handling became clumsy, I had occasional 6 inch drops on the counter top, and my pocket deposits were ridiculous. I became a lazy Ninja because of the Otterbox.

Otterbox, while bullet proof, is also big. The iPhone widened and became heavier and valuable pocket real estate was reduced significantly. Lint was screaming for more room. After a couple weeks of Otterbox, I free'd the iPhone to breathe and show its sexiness again. My phone came out of the closet! Things went well for 2 weeks until a couple days ago. My lazy Ninja attitude was still present though the tough case was tucked away in a dark corner of a real closet.

The scene goes like this: Ninja reaches in for the iPhone. Grabs it with hand. Pulls the phone out of pocket to show onlooker something slick. The shiny rectangle with a glass front slips out of Ninja's hand. It twirls the most beautiful twirls and twists Ninja has ever seen. Ninja is in shock. The scene is in slow motion. Ninja's reactions are slow, too slow. Before Ninja can blink, iPhone smacks face first on concrete driveway no more than 2 feet below Ninja's pocket (I was wearing cargo shorts for some reason. Very un-Ninja like). Ninja is frozen, iPhone is weeping. Ninja can dance on top of bamboo stalks but can't dive for base-jumping rectangle of glass and slickness.

Ninja's horrified by web-like shattered glass. Ninja thinks design is cool looking but not too cool in real world. Phone is working but Ninja has to read between lines of shattered glass. Ninja shocked that such a phone would burst into tears not far from ground. The sinking $400 feeling sets in and it turns out that to fix this "problem" that seems to occur quite often (search on that thing called the Web for 'broken iPhone glass') it may cost $250. Ninja ponders next move which is undoubtedly encountering another emo at the Apple Store.

- You may be able to drop your phone that isn't an iPhone and things will likely be ok, but if you drop a glass rectangle, things will go sideways. Guaranteed!
- Hey Apple. How about including a case of some sort in the package so Ninjas like me can have a slight sense of security.
- Use something other than glass for gosh sakes.

In the end, this sad Ninja should have had a burly, military like case wrapped around the glass phone. I will keep you posted as to how this all pans out when I visit the "Genius Bar" this Monday.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

An old door and a tween...

My son turns 10 on the 29th and while I grimace at the thought that he is closer to his teens than my youngest son who is 4, I admire his "ballsiness" (that's not a word of course). There are many cases when I just think to myself 'How the hell did he come up with that?' or 'Holy crap, he just didn't say that, did he?'. I can go back many years and think of things like telling people to 'chill' or most recently when I put an old indoor door out on the curb for free. It was out there 2 days with no takers, but this evening we had a taker. Me, the sarcastic pessimist, with a big helping or realist mixed in for good measure knew that things could go sideways when trying to give an old door away. I said to my wife as the guy pulled up in his van and began prying the cat door that was mounted into the door off: 'I bet that guy takes the door, prys off the cat door and the hard ware and brings the door back.' My wife, of course, is the optimist and said 'No way!' Sure enough back comes the slacker, opens up the back of his van, begins pulling out the old door with the intent of setting it against the tree. My wife says to me 'Go out and tell him he has to keep it!' Me, the 'all talk' wuss said 'Me, why me?' 'Because you're the man,' lovely wife says. No sooner did I wimp out that my 10-year-old son marches out the door with a home made sign in his hand that said 'No Givebacks!!!!!' Down the driveway he marched and met the man near his van. He held up the sign and the reply from the slacker was 'It doesn't fit.' My son had none of it and a stare down ensued with a 10-year-old intimidating a grown man. Off the slacker whimpered, back into the van with the old door shoved back inside and off he sped.

What is this message? That my son is 'ballsy'? Yep. That our youth hopefully gives the old 'f*!ks' some hell when this country needs to get turned around. I sure as hell hope so! That a young boy is tougher than his dad? Hell yes!

And so while I hate the fact that in a few years he will be a teen and full of gumption, and bull, and attitude, my sincerest hope is that he maintains his loyalty and sticks up for his brother and soon to come sister and doesn't stomp me in basketball. For now, he's a 'tween' and that rocks! I better brush up on my skyhook!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Flea Market Chronicle

Dateline Pasadena, CA: My wife and I haven't been to a flea market in a year or so. Today we decided to take the kids to the Pasadena City College (PCC) flea market to see if we could find a piece of art for over our couch. We aren't newbies to the "scene" so we always know what we are in for. The City College flea market is far different than the Rose Bowl swap in that it costs nothing to enter and it has "junk" rather than a mixture of "junk" and new gear like the Bowl version. It's also smaller and less crowded and the hipster index is low too.

We have bought plenty of things in the past from both the Bowl and PCC including a few pieces of furniture, clothing, art, and garden architecture. However our taste has changed significantly and no longer are we "shabby/bohemian" but instead we lean toward modern... Hey wait, we're hipsters! Damn it!

Flea markets are flea markets pretty much and what I enjoy best is when I have a single product or two in mind before I enter. Have a mission, a quest. Like a Dennis Gonzalez cd, a pair of Puma California's, or a piece of art. While I failed on the first two I succeeded on the art. It had to be long (about five feet) but not "tall". It's usually a tough task unless you like weird pictures of a wacked-out clown or a bad portrait of some unknown aunt painted by a beginning water color artist. At last though, I found a painting of an unknown city scape from the 60s-70s that
only borders on semi-bad art. It's one of those that may be bad but good. You get the idea. Either way, the colors are perfect as is the style.

My kids never have a goal in mind, which is why a flea market to them is like a candy store. My youngest brought $10 and spent it on a few old dump trucks and a Matchbox car; my oldest son brought $15 and bought six Hot Wheels/Matchbox cars and the hat you see above. Both kids have a passion for cars and hats with an emphasis on the Trucker variety. Back in the day Trucker hats weren't hipster cool, but instead just known as the basic Little League cap. I had a ton of them. They would probably sell today for about $10 each the Rose Bowl. Should have held on to them.

The best part of a flea market is the crazy stuff you can find: plenty of military stuff, crazy paintings, 70s furniture that the hipsters (aside from me) love for some reason, etc. My guess is that they get the ugly lamps home, set them up, live with them for a while and then conclude that they are indeed ugly. Same with the faux wood side table and pleather side chair. Cool at the time, but in the end just plain ugly. That's why most of the stuff from the late 60s and 70s (the whole decade) is for sale at a flea market. Knock-knock. Who's there? Ugly. Ugly who? Ugly stuff you bought.

Another fun thing to do is people watch, especially the folks who sell the stuff at the flea market. An idea I have is to bring my camera and take portrait shots of the wacky vendors, as well as shoot the people who buy the stuff, with their products in hand. Set up a white backdrop with some lights and get some intimate portraits of the hipster with his side table, or the woman with the "vintage" dress, or the old man with the giant sombrero, or the weathered, old, toothless woman selling old dolls. Plenty of material for a coffee table book. Hmm, maybe I should use the 35mm Ricoh camera I bought from the swap a couple years ago. I wonder if it works. Damn, I should have check before I bought it.

The Making of a Latté

It's funny but I never liked coffee when I was a teen or in my twenties or even early into my thirties. The same goes for onions and tomatoes. The reasons are simple really and engrained somewhere deep into my cranium. My mother was and still is a huge fan of the onion and she made it known with practice. Every meal she made incorporated onions. Most notably the meatloaf that had not small but large chunks of the yellow or red variety throughout. I would ask if there were onions in the meatloaf and she naturally would say "No honey." The same thing happened with tomatoes. The coffee thing just came out of the bad taste. Perhaps it was the Folgers, Yuban or Sanka that was in our cupboards as a teen. I quickly associated coffee with a stale taste.

Later on though I discovered that onions and tomatoes are good and that coffee doesn't have to be instant. I now grill my onions and eat raw tomatoes and dabble in different coffee (espresso mostly) from around the globe. While I used to frequent the local coffee joint I eventually began making my own, granted it's not the old-world manual press, but instead an old Krups my wife got as a wedding present years and years ago. Simple and industrial, the thing was a workhorse and eventually I was in a routine of making lattés and/or espresso shots every morning: one for my wife and one for me. It became ritual and still is to this day for the past two years. I retired the Krups in favor of a Starbucks Barrista. Before you give me a shakedown on Starbucks, it's actually Saeco and made in Italy. Oh snap!

This new chapter of a new, more modern machine is about a year old and I couldn't be happier. It steams wonderfully and makes a fine shot or two of espresso.
I love this current machine and made the wise choice. At the time I searched five different stores and none of them had the model because they were discontinuing it. Eventually I tracked one down and got it for 60% off! Though the Krups was older and less fancy, it clearly made a stronger shot for some reason.

Fast forward to now. This is where I get melodramatic. Yes I love the machine and what it does, but I am growing tired of the latté. I end up leaving about one-quarter of a cup in my mug and the taste has become too familiar. I have deduced that the reason I continue making lattés is because I like the process. I like the morning ritual: climb out of bed, go to the bathroom, get the milk and espresso out, turn on the machine, and on and on. I like steaming and presenting the mug to my wife and getting the praise she delivers after the first sip. I like the way it makes the house smell and how it signifies the opening of a new morning, a new day.

And so my "predicament" has caused me to be jaded in a way, but I have now figured that my next homemade latté may be a Yerba Maté Latté.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Zen and the Art of Flying Coach

I have come to despise, no hate, flying. Back in the day prior to 9/11 the task was easy. It was like you saw in the movies with friends and family pulling up to curb, parking it and hanging out, people moving freely through the airport and seeing you off at the jetway, bringing whatever the hell you wanted on board, and on and on...

Of course things have changed and the times have changed even more. Now my 4-year-old son gets patted down, and my flip-flops are examined. Because all American airports (especially LAX) were and still are not equipped to handle the stress, our airports and the grumpy security people who man the place, have become shit-holes. Compare any European airport to any of ours and the differences are extreme. The Euros know how to handle security because they've been doing it for years. We got cocky and cheap and as usual, without something tragic happening, we/American industry usually doesn't seek to progress. The most current examples are: the mortgage industry, and the sudden turn to "green" technology. Now all of the sudden the banking community has tightened down on loans, and American car companies are suddenly bypassing the praise of horsepower and have moved to highlighting fuel efficiency. I digress...

Airlines too have determined that screwing the customer is the best way to save money. Now or soon, you will pay for your checked bag(s), which means people will try and stuff as much into that one bag as possible. Be careful of course because the bag still has a weight limit and they have become more stringent on that. In the past they would "look the other way" if it was too heavy, but now the extra $25+ is golden. You want something to eat? Nope, it will cost you $7. My advice, bring your own food. We did on our way back from Hawai'i recently. It's better food and people around you tell you how smart you are. Perhaps there is a new industry arising: buy enough food to sell some on the plane. If someone will buy a hot-dog cooker from SkyMall while in the air, they'll surely be open to purchasing some hummus and crackers from you for $5.

With all of this uptight flying, the class difference has grown even wider. First Class folks don't feel the strain. If you are able to fly first class, you aren't bothered by the hike in price or the fact that the exit row has now become an "upgrade". You don't care. The cheese tastes the same, the silverware is just as shiny, and the legroom still borders on the size of a walk-in closet.

So I am stuck in Coach. I am fine with this. I am an excellent flyer and frankly would rather spend my money on finer things than use on an upgrade. My preference is the window because I can snooze without being bothered by seat mates. Though the aisle has its strengths including the freedom to roam, and for making a quick dash to the can before that grumpy old woman from Tulsa t-bones you, it puts you on call. On the aisle my snoozing becomes lighter, even one-eyed because I know the minute I doze, Cindy from DC will tap me on the shoulder so she can touch up her mask. Plus, the aisle offers no place to rest your head.

The middle seat is the worst and people who occupy the space have this sense that they own both arm rests. On my recent flight from Maui, a women sat, immediately bundled up with blanket and pillow and stretched out, spreading both arms on the rests and then proceeded to widen the elbow a couple more inches so that she was now 3 inches into "my" space. With an elbow in my gut, I had no choice but to apply pressure and back her off an inch or two. This pressure lasted four hours, and when I departed the plane, I made a vow that I will never sit on the aisle.

The window is where I am most at home. Plop the "pillow" that is still free against the window area, drape the blanket that is still "free" but for some reason are scarce, across my legs and nod off. I can go eight hours without moving, talking or going to the bathroom. I am what you call a "air travel survivalist". It's a crew that is becoming few and far between but we are out there and we don't need your $7 "meals" or snotty flight attendants. Give me a window, and a drink (they are still free) and leave me the hell alone.