Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Quiet the Monkey 

“Welcome to the wild, wanking, poo-flinging primate that is my mind.”

My mind is a laughing wild monkey, or some kind of monkey that is laughing wildly and throwing shit everywhere… and probably masturbating while watching ants or something really messed up like that.

Why? Well, “work”, partly. It’s just all out of control and whatnot. Deadlines. Lines of Death. Deathly lines, stalking me.

That and I’m moving into a new house which is still being painted and having the floors refinished, but I haven’t started packing due to a box shortage and I haven’t booked a mover due to a brain cell shortage.

Oh and I’m trying to convince people to give me a whole boatload of money to Kick Cancer’s Ass* while simultaneously trying to get fit enough to complete the charity ride I'm raising the money for.

To recap: work is a waking nightmare, getting a house ready to move in to, trying to pack up my woefully tatty belongings, struggling to become physically fit in a little more than a fortnight and finally attempting to raise enough money to meet my fundraising goals.

Welcome to the wild, wanking, poo-flinging primate that is my mind.

How to quiet this beast? Booze is not helping as it puts a kink in the getting fit thing. Drugs? Haven’t found anything helpful (see: Booze). Meditation? I’ve never really found the time… I wish “spanking the monkey” would quiet the monkey; only seems to get him riled up.

The one thing that was appeasing me was the cartoon “Adventure Time”. Ostensibly about a boy, Finn and his best friend and magical dog Jake, going on super fun mini-quests because they are heroes after all. Then I read this article that cast a pall over the whole proceedings. The review claimed, probably correctly, that Finn is in fact the last human in a post-apocalyptic world where all the strange magic and demons are after effects of some unknown but devastating war. After reading this, I’m just finding the whole thing a very sad affair. The joy has been tainted by the bitterness. My other favourite monkey-quietening show, “The Regular Show”, about the misadventures of two slacker friends, Rigby a raccoon and Mordecai a blue jay, is, to be frank, just weird enough to make my monkey-mind even less quiet.

I might also add, writing blog posts after midnight about how loud and crazy my monkey brain has been lately also does not quiet the monkey.

Now I've turned to two things that have helped me so much in the past. To Do lists and dirty dishes. I find it much easier to not worry about things so much if I just write down exactly what it is I'm so worried about. This is manifested in the common To Do list. If it's on the list, it isn't in my head. Then there's dirty dishes. I don't like going to bed with dishes in the sink. My thoughts coalesce on those dishes like so much congealed fat. I hate doing dishes, but while I'm washing the assorted plates and pots I'll listen to music. Last week, in the fugue state of wiping and rinsing, I was listening to a mournful Nick Drake track and I thought to myself, “This is a nice break…” as though I was having a mini-vacation from myself. There I stood, wiping inconsequential bits of china and flatware, mindlessly lost in the music. That bit of unthinking was such a little gift. The monkey was finally distracted and dozing in a sunbeam.

I could at last check that off my list:
-Quiet the Monkey: Check.

Tomorrow, I’ll wake up and he’ll be awake too, making all his incessant monkey noises. Luckily there will be dirty dishes.

*My words, official the Ride to Conquer Cancer aims to “Conquer Cancer in Our Lifetime” - You can donate here


Friday, May 02, 2014

You Will Be Amazed 

I am not a salesman. I am not an entrepreneur. I am not a closer or a finisher. I am however a conversationalist. Give me a chance and I'll talk your ear off. I'm a good wingman. I'll be your Yves Tanguay. I'll set you up and never take the shot for myself. In fact, I'm so averse to taking the shot I don't even recognize when it's mine to take. Unfortunately, I'm spending three days surrounded by shooters and it feels a little like being a seal who has just cut himself shaving while swimming in shark infested waters. Uncomfortable.

I'm not sure why I lack that killer instinct. I just get queasy about it. Even as I do these demos for an application I helped create I still want to make self deprecating jokes or if the questions veer away from the script I don't know how to get back into the demo except for an awkward non sequitur (“…so anyway…”). I'm not naturally obsequious. At least I hope I'm not. Maybe that's part of the problem. Not only am I not that guy, I don't even want to pretend to be that guy. Not even for a bit.

Thus I take it as a minor victory to get through the last three days and long periods of standing and waiting only to be interupted by bursts of launching into a pitch about something that will “amaze and astound you!” For the most part these on-the-floor demos have worked out well, with the occasional glitches you might expect for some demo software running 7-8 hours at a time and being put through its paces dozens of times.

The worst of it is just the standing around on your guard waiting to be approached. There were plenty of questions I couldn’t answer but I’d have to say really only one or two people who were distracted or disinterested and only one who just “didn’t get it”. The eloquent seven minute presentation that told the fairy book story of our path of discovery was often just cut to a three minute elevator pitch. I’m definitely not like these people who look like they have never worn anything other than a suit and tie. Their large wristwatches are paired with firm handshakes and jocular winks. What surprised me most of all was how so many of these guys looked and acted more like car salesmen. I don’t think any of the technology or design mattered at all. They’d sell water to fish if they had the chance. I suppose I thought technology was a little different in at least some aspects but that bubble has burst and that ship sailed. Which is what aggravates me most of all. Is this the reason why you see the products you see in stores or offered online? Because one goof in a suit sold some crap to another puffed up self-important goof in a suit? These aren’t “product-oriented” people. They are sales oriented.

In many ways, I am their absolute opposite. It’s hard to get interested in what a cable company might want. They want to squelch Net Neutrality. They want to rent you a piece of hardware for $10 a month that’s not worth a fraction of that compared to the high end device you make phone calls or send text messages on. They want to bundle lousy content with the best content to move product off the shelves. On the other hand, I’m an advocate for the user. I want to make your life easier, not more convoluted or full of obstacles. I’m here to help – you would be amazed how hard that is to sell.

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Thursday, May 01, 2014

The Wrongness of Ridley Scott

Years ago, Ridley Scott made a film set in a future Los Angeles where the city was cloaked in near constant darkness and rain caused by perpetual clouds of pollution or some kind of nuclear winter. That film, Blade Runner, is one of my favourites but he couldn't have been more wrong. 

Present day L.A. does have a pollution problem and is beset by a symptom of climate change but it isn't the continual acid rain Scott imagined but the solid blue skies and unrelenting sunshine of a multi-year drought. As you can imagine, no one seems to mind - other than those who depend on a little rain now and then.

LAX was uneventful and the airport itself is surprisingly unremarkable and notably lacking glamour. Getting in a hybrid cab which had completely lost any luster of newness, was a different story. Los Angeles does feel a little like a failed future — a failed future as imagined by Le Corbusier et al that is. My hotel, once used as a set of an Arnold Schwarzenegger film, is a weirdly connected series of concrete towers with bridges adjoining different levels of streets or expressway canyons. Streets are either on ramps or off ramps with little sense that anyone would ever walk anywhere. There's a reason some streets don't have sidewalks; they're highways. The downtown area (if you can call it "downtown") where I'm staying feels like a very dense suburban business park. In between the faceless glass facades you can see the poverty sulking in the shadows, pushing carts of rags, boxes and gee-gaws. In front of the glow of a LA Philharmonic street sign sat a decrepit looking gent asleep in a wheelchair, limply holding an even more decrepit coffee cup hoping for a spare coin or two.

Yet for all of that, there is a unique quality of light here and a surreal feeling that everything is going to be just fine. It's another sunny day that will end in another stunning sunset. Last night I took an elevator to the fifth floor, walked up to the sixth to access a pedestrian bridge to street level — yes, that is the Escher-esque structure of this town — and found my way to Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall. The location of this building seemed odd to me until I realized it was part of a strip that included the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, a music center and the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels. This church and nearby theatre are such creatures of LA that their best views seem to be from a passing highway that runs like a river valley beneath their stone and steel foundations.

The Gehry building is another pure moment of California. Anything I could say has already been said but the building is pretty magical especially in the magic hour. They certainly have lit the building so it both emerges from its place on the block and blends into the early evening sky. The metallic sheathing is polished in some instances and satin in other, always coloured by that drought blue sky LA provides. As the evening grew darker, the lights of the surrounding courtyards and gardens sparkled even more. A garden courtyard on the Western edge of the concert hall was full of large leaf trees and exotic blossoming plants that looked more at home on an extraterrestrial set of the original Star Trek. By the time the sky turned a pulsating orange the garden became a dark and lush hideaway of concert goers enjoying the view with their interstitial cocktails.

I decided to head back to the hotel before I completely lost my bearings but I was too late; LA had completely knocked me on my ass.


I've Gone Hollywood

This week I'm at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association convention and trade show in Los Angeles (aka NCTA, aka The Cable Show). It's where networks and cable providers and companies that supply services and hardware to cable providers (like who I work for) meet to wrangle and discuss possible business and partnerships or just to see what the other guy is hawking. 

In retrospect I can't believe I volunteered for this. I guess the question was asked and I said longingly "L.A. sounds nice." Basically, I agreed to this when it was still minus-infinity wind chill in Toronto. I would've said yes to suckling Satan's teat if it guaranteed above zero temperatures. Now breast feeding from Beelzebub sounds like a holiday. What a maroon. I'm the newbie, the rookie, the hill-billy Canadian who doesn't mind being polite no matter how low my blood sugar and my bungling inexperience feels noticeable. 

Actually, it would almost be fun, if only for the novelty of it, if timing was different. How was the timing bad? Undone expenses undid me and Amex froze my travel card for unpaid debts so I was traveling on my own card (situation now corrected). I already had one crushing deadline at work when another fell in my lap. Then there is the new house which needs to have the walls painted and the pine floors refinished (what the hell was I thinking buying this place?! I wear cycling clippless shoes in the house all the time - well I used to). I still have to arrange for a mover and book the elevator and time is running out. On the bright side, stress is a real fat burner plus you don't gain weight when you can't keep food down right?

Or maybe being locked in a conference hall with no access to the outside world is a Godsend. I'm schilling for the greater good of the company which excuses me from other duties. A colleague back in TO has to deal with an irate customer request, not me. There's nothing I can do about contractors tromping around in my new house while I'm thousands I miles away. And I can't plan a date on the move until the floor refinished gives me a date and a price. Any other deadlines like a charity ride in June feels like a lifetime away. 

So why not hide out in this blur of handshakes, smiles, introductions and elevator pitches? I can think of better ways to spend four days in California. Then again, I can also think of worse. I'll just hide here in my cheap suit and uncomfortable shoes and creaking back until it's over like a mini-corporate hibernation.