Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Waydown #12.05.09

Well, I’ve often said that if I do something a second time then I’m probably in for the long haul.  And here’s my second blog-zine.  I’ll probably keep going with it.  I haven’t gotten any response at all, no idea if anyone even glanced at the first zine, but I’m doing this for me in the first place and I like posting stuff that’s potentially accessible to anyone.  I haven’t publicized this but once I start getting the word out then maybe these zines and this blog will get some traffic.  Maybe it’ll get some people to write and post their own stuff.  In whatever case, I have this compulsion to write and I think I can get it out to more readers if I post it here than on my own blog or whatever.  I started my own zine because I liked the sense of community and there’s no reason not to continue that here.  Even if that community hasn’t shown up.

I got a Kindle for my birthday.  Carla got a basic one for Christmas and she really liked it.  I’d never really thought about it -- there are always new technologies and I don’t bother with bothering with them until it seems that they would be a really great, positive change.  Besides, I already have lots of printed books that I have to read and I didn’t imagine getting a huge charge out of reading a book off of a computer screen, even one that is more convenient than a standard computer, for its own sake.  At the same time, everyone around me seemed to be getting gadgets for Christmas and I kinda wanted something like that.  Not that I need more junk, but some of that stuff seemed like it might be fun.  I didn’t think anything more of it, and Carla read one book on her Kindle, which I checked out but that was it.  Then, a few weeks after Christmas, she got me a Kindle Fire.  I was a bit taken aback -- it was a great gift but how could I fit that into my book-reading life (which is a significant part of me)?  Would I have to replace all the books I was planning to read or get new ones just to read them on this thing?  Carla had enjoyed her Kindle but she had said a few times that a more deluxe one would be so much better.  The Fire is in color and it’s touch-screen, more like a tablet computer.  Unfortunately, it’s not actually a tablet computer or else I would get a lot more use out of it.  I still use my phone for reading and such.  I haven’t really paid much attention to the iPad, mostly because I know there’s not much chance that I’ll get one, especially when I already have a laptop that works great and since they’re so expensive in the first place.  But I could see how one would be pretty great.  The Fire also operates like a Droid, which is a huge plus to me, since I try to avoid Apple products and since I just like Droids in the first place.  My phone is a Droid, so there’s some relation there but also some competition.  I admit that reading on the Fire is easier than on my phone, though I haven’t minded reading on my phone, especially considering the convenience of doing such.  Checking my e-mail on the Fire doesn’t really work since it doesn’t sync right and of course I have to have a wi-fi connection to use it for anything online, which is fine in our home but makes it a challenge to travel with (especially when you have to jump through so many hoops to use wi-fi in most public places).  I can play Words With Friends on it just fine, though.  But I have yet to download a book to it.  I still have those printed books to read (as well as audiobooks (see below)) and I just haven’t thought of a book I want enough that I feel the need to download and read it on the thing.  The biggest hurdle, though, is the fact that I’ve gotten almost all of the books on my bookshelf as gifts or very cheap or used or through books clubs -- I’ve never paid a lot for books, one of the things that makes them such attractive elements to me; downloading a book now seems to mean paying a lot more than I’m used to, usually not full price (since it’s Amazon, after all) but still.  It may be the case that I get new books on the Fire, though, so maybe I can justify the cost with the fact that I spend a goodly amount of time with a book (since I read slowly) that I get a pretty good ratio of time-to-cost value out of it.  But right now I’m mostly using it to read online articles I’ve gotten elsewhere.  And Carla uses it a lot, mostly as an easy computer substitute at home, so she can check her e-mail, Facebook, and Pinterest and look up recipes.  For her it’s perfect.  But she’s still reading books on her basic one.  I’d be even more inclined to read a book on the basic rather than the Fire -- it’s considerably lighter, thinner, and since the books are black & white originally, the lack of color doesn’t matter.  It’s possible we could end up trading.  Or that I’ll get a full tablet computer before too long (likely when my laptop gives up) though that might mean that Carla would more or less officially get the Kindle Fire... which might have been her plan all along.

In the above paragraph I did not explicitly admit that I am playing Words With Friends again. Even the part where I actually did.


Amazing Spider-Man #676 (Marvel).  I still go to the comics store every week, not always on Wednesdays but at least one point during the week so I can page through the new comics.  Rarely do I buy anything, though, it’s just to catch up with what’s going on in a broad way, mostly looking at the last page of the issue to see what happens.  (Once again: if a story needs the reveal on the last page for it to be a worthwhile story then it's probably not worthwhile.)  I usually go to House of Secrets but when I’m working I don’t often have time so I’ll hit a different store, usually Hi De Ho in Santa Monica, but that’s not my usual store so I'd feel like a heel to go in there and paw through their comics and not put down a purchase for the privilege.  But why do I do that there and not at House of Secrets?  So I started getting myself into the habit of buying at least one comic each week, and when I was working at a place that had no Internet access a few months ago, I’d have a new comic to bring back and read during render times.  The only problem was that I didn’t want to start or jump into a multi-part series, which most comics are these days.  I understand why comics continue from and to each other, and I love a series as much as any other fan, but just for picking up one comic, it was frustrating.  I’d be hard-pressed to find a whole lot of series that consistently have done-in-one stories.  I think the books for younger readers, like the Marvel Adventures line, do that, but I wanted something from the full-fledged line.  And a lot of indie comics do single stories as well but I’m not going to experiment with a new series -- I just want a decent comic on the table in front of me that I can read and enjoy and have everything I need in the story in one sitting.  And yeah, a superhero story because that’s what’s fun in my casual reading.  Warren Ellis’s run on Secret Avengers was a good book to pick up for this, as those were all single stories, and by fairly big-name artists as well, but there were only so many of those, and the shop sold out of most of the issues.  So I’d ask Paul, the House’s owner as well as a loyal, knowledgeable comics reader and a good friend of mine, what comic he would recommend; the shop also had its own display of picks of the week by each of the employees.  He recommended this issue of Amazing Spider-Man, which features a battle between villain teams, one led by Doc Ock, the other by M.O.D.O.K.  It’s played mostly for laughs and it doesn’t seem firmly mired in continuity since I at least knew enough of what was going on so I could read it, though the events therein lead to an event coming up in the series, apparently.  For one issue it was great.  Spider-Man isn’t even in it.  It’s the kind of comic that Marvel used to do more often, a one-off between bigger stories before and after, something a bit off-beat that doesn’t fit anywhere else because it doesn’t have to.  Now everything, especially Marvel’s flagship title, has to be collected later on and it doesn’t leave much room for stories like this that can fall between the cracks.  But every once in a while one can come out, apparently.  And it was a fun read in one sitting during a break, and I passed it on to my nephew -- what else would I do with it?  This one-comic-a-week thing could lead to casual collecting -- which really wouldn’t even be collecting at all -- at the same time as it’s casual reading.  Though I actually stopped this program when I started watching my money more closely and when I knew that I’d have to dig through the new stuff to find just one issue, then not needing a comic to read at work since I quit that job and I could just read my other comics, especially ones I’d already paid for, at home, when I wasn’t working.  Now at the current job I have Internet access so no need for printed material.  Though it’s a shame that I’m not buying comics -- I get 40% off at the House of Secrets, at a time when I’ve come to realize that I have boxes of comics that I’ve bought that I may never get around to reading.  But maybe one or two issues here and there doesn’t hurt.

Spook Country by William Gibson (audiobook).  In the past I never had the least bit of interest in audiobooks.  Of course I love to read but why would I want to listen to a book when I could read it, like I’ve always done?  And why would I want to listen to something else when I'm listening to music (as I do all day, every day)?  It just never appealed to me.  I’ve sent off some of my dad’s audiobooks on (mostly James Patterson books -- ug) and I even got the one adapted from the book by the Beatles’ engineers but sent it back, since I thought I was getting the printed book but somehow got the audiobook.  Around mid-March, I was lined up to do some mind-numbingly dull work at my job (even more mind-numbing than usual) and there was just no stimulation whatsoever.  (This was on the Tupac hologram job, in which there was a ton of work to do, it was just all really easy and dull.)  A co-worker friend was listening to the Game of Thrones books and something about the idea just appealed to me that day.  eMusic also offers audiobooks and I thought that I might one day eventually listen to one, just to try it out, though I didn’t think that day would be any time soon.  But I gave it a shot.  And it was pretty amazing.  Not that the book was any good (see below) but I really enjoyed the experience of the audiobook.  I went on eMusic and signed up for their most basic plan, something like one credit every three months, with each credit costing about $10 and most books being one credit.  They don’t have everything but they do have a pretty good selection, including the Hunger Games books (currently their top-sellers) and the Stephen King library -- more than enough books that a person could ever get around to, at least.  I was a bit rushed for time before work and couldn’t find a lot that appealed to me on the site without some digging (I might have gotten the Tina Fey book but Carla has it on her Kindle and I may or may not read it there) so I went with the Gibson book.  I already have the book, in print, probably a gift, and one that I could have seen putting off reading indefinitely.  But if I was planning on reading it (eventually) anyway, I might as well listen to it so I can get rid of the book and put something else on the bookshelf in its place.  It downloaded in about ten minutes, I dropped it onto the iPod, and I was set.  I listened to it at work, about an hour a day, totalling nine hours (originally nine CDs), kinda pacing myself and not wanting to concentrate on that to the exclusion of the music I wanted to get through (especially with Coachella coming up).  I got into the book a lot more than I thought I would (and more than it deserved).  I always enjoyed the times in elementary school when the teacher would read a book to us (and I could draw while listening) and I suppose there’s a part of me that has always missed that.  Listening to an audiobook works when I’m not distracted by something else -- if I’m not doing mind-numbing work or if I’m doing anything that requires the least bit of focus then I lose the listening part; with music I can get into a rhythm with it, which works when multi-tasking most activities, I can even miss parts of a song but still get it overall, but I have to be selective when I listen to an audiobook.  I might even have more retention with an audiobook, since I can just imagine what’s going on without having other visual stimulation, as well as the fact that I’m not going back and re-read what I’ve already gone over (my weakness as a reader) and not reading so closely that I catch grammar and spelling errors (another thing that makes me a slow reader).  So I got the book done in less than two weeks, a lot faster than it would have taken if I’d read it in print.  I then got On Writing by Stephen King from eMusic (going outside the plan but I didn’t have another option right away), another Gibson book, from Paperbackswap, and, again from eMusic, the Keith Richards autobiography but that's 23 hours long so it's going to take a while, even listening to it.  I even ordered that Beatles engineer audiobook again from Paperbackswap but I just got an e-mail that says it was lost in the mail.  Oh well.  I’ve signed up for a bunch of other audiobooks to get, mostly stuff that’s collecting dust on my shelf, even though that’s the stuff I really want to read, but I’m probably good with one at a time.  The first book I wanted to get has also been the most elusive: I’ve been on Snow Crash for almost a year now and I’m about halfway through it.  It’s brilliant and I’m enjoying it, though it’s so dense that it’s just a slog most days.  I think I could get my head around it a lot better if I could listen to it.  I tried to get it on a torrent site (a whole other story.  Suffice to say that I’m not going to mess with torrents again any time soon) then found it on CD and iTunes but it’s $30 either way.  I’m going to continue to try to find a more manageable version (especially since I can’t give time to reading it right now).  I can’t imagine that I’ll listen to a lot while I’m not working but it’s interesting that I can go through so many books when I’m at my busiest with work and everything else in my life.

The book itself is much like the rest of Gibson’s work post-Mona Lisa Overdrive: completely motiveless characters, scenarios that go nowhere, commentary that acts a lot more important than it really is.  The difference between this book and Gibson’s much more notable work in the sci-fi genre is that this one is set in modern times.  There’s not much difference beyond that except that he uses locations in the real world rather than ones he fabricated, which is actually a big strike against it, since the settings in his futuristic stories were often the most interesting things about them.  He’s made his New York City and Los Angeles just as dull as his characters.  They are only places for the characters to do close to nothing, except that Gibson calls out a few places just for location, never letting them add any color to the story.  Gibson also completely skips mention of any kinds of crowds in those places, some of the most populated locations in the world.  If the point of the story is to make some kind of commentary on the state of the world today, it does not go far beyond Gibson mentioning, quite pointedly, brand names and trendy technology, most of which was laughably dated probably before the book even came out.  I'm not impressed that the characters all have iPods that they use to transfer information, though Gibson writes it likes it's the most clever thing in the world that he came up with.  I've even seen it in most of the synopses about the book.  If Gibson is trying to make a point about how his work set in the modern-day and his cyberpunk stuff is actually pretty similar, it’s not a very heavy point, and it only goes to clearly show the blandness of his plotting and choice of story -- only the setting, in time, changes.  He is certainly not telling the story of these characters, since they have very little story in them, just wandering from place to place, never really getting into adventures, or at least anything that challenges them or threatens them in any way, so there is never any urgency or motivation.  There's not much that says that this is a particularly interesting time in the characters' lives.  As a matter of fact, most of their backstories reference events that seem like they were a lot more interesting than anything to happens to them here.  I don't know if Gibson is still regarded with any weight as an author, a sci-fi one or otherwise, but it's hard for me to get excited about any more of his books, which is a shame since I so loved his early work.  I'm probably only going to finish all the rest of what he's written and most likely new stuff after that then I'm done.

I’ve never listened to an audiobook before so I can’t really compare it to others, except to the ones I’ve listened to in the time since, but this one was good, as far as I could tell, as an audiobook.  I enjoyed the sound of it. The narrator, an actor I’ve never heard of, spoke clearly and enunciated calmly, never letting any kind of feeling come to, the plainness of it actually being a plus, and it was either his consistency or the editing that made it sound like he was narrating it all in one sitting.  The biggest strike against it was that he tried accents on the characters, in particular one with the main character, a female, which was a feminine voice only because he spoke more softly, then another lead character that was already annoying enough and the voice he gave him just made him irritating.  I’m not a fan of narrators giving voices or accents to characters speaking, and it seems to be the thing that annoys me the most with these things, but it’s probably a standard in an audiobook.  I’ll live.  The book is also about nine hours, nine tracks as downloaded from eMusic, and on my iPod it will pick up wherever on the track I left off.  (I don’t know if it does that with music.  It was a surprise when I went back to a track and it went to where I was.)  I got it done in under two weeks, but I was rather pacing myself, about an hour a day, since I didn’t know what book I was going to do next.  But it did the trick.  As a first audiobook it was enjoyable, if not for the story but for the experience of listening to a book, and knowing that there are other books I can ingest in this way.  Getting an actually good book to listen to would probably put me over the moon.

Top Albums of 2011:
10. Foster The People- Torches
9. The Black Keys- El Camino
8. Radiohead- King of Limbs
7. Wilco- The Whole Love
6. Washed Out- Within and Without
5. The Joy Formidable- The Big Roar
4. Yuck- Yuck
3. PJ Harvey- Let England Shake
2. Florence + the Machine- Ceremonials
1. Tune-Yards- Whokill

From an e-mail circle, if you’re not in it:  We’ve been listening to a lot of Pandora radio.  It’s so easy to just turn the TV on and there’s a radio station, with stuff you know you like, but with some choices to give it some variation.  I tried out Pandora years ago but I generally have my own stuff to listen to so I didn’t go back to it.  Now it’s on my TV and we turn it on in the evenings and just let it run. It’s kinda challenging, though: usually the station plays more of the related artists than it does the actual artists you chose.  The Pulp station plays a ton more Smiths and Morrissey, usually back-to-back, like it regards those as two separate artists, which it would play a lot of separately anyway.  (Pandora also got a lot of credit from me with the Pulp station when they played a super-rare track from a BBC session that I don’t already have.)  The Black Keys station plays a lot of White Stripes (and old blues).  The Garbage station plays a lot of Cardigans (and ‘90s).  I’ve turned on the Aretha station a few times now and have yet to hear an Aretha track (though I like the R&B, most of it recent).  The Radiohead station plays a lot of Muse, much more than for my taste (which is, like, any).  It actually plays a lot of Radiohead, but all the stations play a lot of Radiohead.  And there was a lot of Zepplin for a while (something that almost never comes up in my own personal listening) and now it seems every station wants to play the Strokes.  Also a lot of Arcade Fire and Pixies over the stations (but of course the stuff I pick usually comes from or to those.)  Though now, we’re starting to hear some repeats. I’m hearing more Strokes than I hear when I’m listening to their albums.  We switch between three or four stations, it might be time to add a few more.  I don’t want to skip over any music -- Muse -- since that will throw off the logarithm it has to come up with what to play.  So even if we keep hearing the same song, I stick with it.  But my biggest problem with it is that it doesn’t really get to why I use it in the first place: it doesn’t play a lot of new music.  I like finding new bands that have some relation to bands I like (I’ve discovered a ton of great bands just from learning that they sound like the Pixies (yeah, I know that includes a lot of bands)) so you would think that Pandora would be great for that but instead it plays a lot of the stuff I already have and know.  Yeah, I should be more adventurous in the bands I pick stations for but I also don’t want to get too out-there and have no idea what I’m listening to.  The Girls station that Carla set up has been great, as it plays a lot of garage band-type stuff, a lot of it pretty obscure (as well as a lot of obscure Girls stuff, especially from EPs).  I’m not a huge fan of the band but I like what Pandora says they’re connected to.  I tried to set up a Coachella station but apparently you can’t pick multiple bands to plug into one station.  So I’ll keep up with it, as it really is pretty wondrous, especially for free.  I’d recommend it to any fan of music, casual or hardcore.


String cheese.  People are surprised that I never had string cheese when I was growing up.  We just never snacked on cheese, and I’m not sure I even liked to eat cheese straight in the first place.  Now Carla is planning a lot of what we eat, and I'm cool with cheese in that plan, and she got string cheese snacks in bulk from Costco.  And it's good.  It’s not real filling but I’m just used to eating a lot of carbs to get through the day, which probably isn’t a great idea.  I've liked eating cheese outside of a meal.  And Carla told me I eat it the wrong way: apparently I’m supposed to peel it but I just bite into it, like a Slim Jim.  That would probably surprise people too.

HTML is irritating to a great degree.  I don't know why anyone tolerates it.  The Opera browser is also purposely difficult but it's a necessary evil to do this.  I hate having to accept a necessary evil.

It was while I was writing this that Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys passed away.  I found out that Friday morning, right before we left on a trip for the weekend.  It was hard to know what to think.  I didn’t take it too well, still kinda recovering.  The Beastie Boys' music has been a cornerstone in my life for the last 25 years.  I saw them in concert three times, including Coachella.  Yauch was always kinda my favorite.  They were never as prolific as I wished they were but I always thought they'd be putting out something new every few years for as long as I'd be around, at least.  Now nothing.  Well, this will give me the chance to really get into Hot Sauce Committee.  And it will give everyone else a chance to finally get and appreciate Paul’s Boutique, though if you haven't already then I don't know how we're friends.  Anyway, rest in peace, Adam.  Be true to yourself and you will never fall.