LA traffic notes


I am in LA for a few days for a little business and a little pleasure. The car is always at the center of LA life, and I have some notes about it from this trip:

1. Renting a car is ridiculously cheap here. I feel like I can never get one on the East Coast for less than 40 or 50 dollars a day, but here I am paying 7…yes, SEVEN.

2. Now having had time to compare Apple’s vs Google’s turn by turn map directions I can tell you that Google’s wins hands down. And not just because of the data being better and clearer (though it is), but also the f-ing annoying way Apple maps only gives you a half-second warning to make your turn where Google’s timing feels much more natural and helpful.

3. My eyesight at night has seemingly gotten worse, and I had a lot of trouble reading some of the street signs last night while driving. But then I also realized that much of the time, when we know a place, we don’t really need to make out the signs perfectly, just enough to jog our mind into filling in the rest. I am not sure that my eyesight was all that much better 7 years ago, it could have been that my brain was filling in the failings (hardware) with this spacial familiarity (software).

4. The dirty open secret of driving at night in LA is that way too many people drive drunk. They go out to bars and drink 3 or more cocktails, and hit the road because they feel they have no other option (like not drinking so much or calling a cab or taking public transport). I would love to know what the DUI stats are here, it is terrifying (a state level comparison shows 3 times the DUIs in CA compared to NY).

5. Many people have told me over the past few years that I seem to be a fairly calm and centered person to them, especially compared with myself years earlier. I realize after spending a couple of days in LA traffic that NOT driving in it has a strong calming effect on me. Paradoxically, living in New York City is much more of a tranquil experience for me than LA because of my freelance schedule (never really have to take subway at rush hour) and my ability to walk or subway or cab everywhere and not have to look for parking or zig or zag my vehicle, or get gas, or pay insurance or parking or speeding tickets, etc etc.

The car culture, in short, is at the center of all that is bad in LA, a city that has so much going for it in so many other ways.

Google raises my Grandma from the dead. Creepy.


I was perusing my picasaweb photos today, and I came across a sweet one from a couple of years ago. It depicted me, my brother, sister-in-law, and my parents on a trip to Lucca, Italy. I thought it would be sweet to share it, so I clicked on the share button and started typing in the names of a few family members to share it with. As I was adding them, google was auto-completing with suggestions as it does, and I noticed a strange thing. My grandmother Annette was showing up in the list and was in my “family” circle. This would not be odd I suppose were it not for the fact that my grandmother died in 2003. I never added her to my family circle on Google+. Google just inferred that from some set of data it has on me (and my other family members I’ll wager). They then either created a profile for her or made one for someone with the same name. Even stranger, when I went to that profile, there were only two other people listed as “following” her (besides me). One guy in Florida, and the other my friend Jason’s business (not even his real name).   Companies are so intent on gathering any data they can on people and “anticipating” their desires (usually in the consumer realm) and helpfully “suggesting” friends and associates and products. But they very often overstep their bounds into the creepy. Thanks Google, your overly exuberant profiling has just dropped my esteem for you a bit more. (And don’t think you are off scot-free, Facebook. You are just as terrible.)

Art / Shop


My friend Shaan is in town for a few days and staying with me. Last night he invited me to an opening for a new gallery that he was recently commissioned to do some work for (even though his work was not among those hanging for the opening). The gallery is called RH Contemporary, and it is apparently a new venture from the people behind Restoration Hardware, and as the name would imply run by some branch of their company and tied in with their branding. The opening was very “VIP”, and felt like an opulent NYC dance club opening with velvet rope and carpet, guest lists, pretty young women in cocktail dresses checking people in and pointing them to stairs and bathrooms and such. On entry, there were a row of model-handsome men standing erect and holding platters of frou-frou cocktails, and many cater-waiters carrying around blocky trays with upscale snacks on them. The gallery is five floors, each one reserved for a different artist, we took an elevator to the top and made our way down the stairs, floor by floor. I was impressed by how slick the event was but something was bugging me a bit about all this. The more I examined their concept, the more it made me question the value (and more importantly the purpose) of the art. For one thing, all of the work in the gallery is commissioned by them, with some rather strict rules about how many and what type of pieces they were looking for. They really seem to strive for an alike purity from each artist, and all their selections had a quality about them that would work very well in a certain type of home decor. The work was all rather minimalist, monotone or duotone, and devoid of any obvious political or social content or criticism. The website itself is perfectly designed to convey the gallery space, and is an e-commerce site where one can shop for a piece of art, add it to one’s basket, and check out as with any shopping site. The only difference is that instead of a gaudy “buy” button, one has a tasteful “acquire” link, and instead of “basket”, one has a “collection”. The other difference with a traditional shop is that these are all “one of a kind” items (and have price tags in the many thousands). The purpose for RH seems rather clear: define a new (and lucrative) market segment for decorative stuff. What it does to (the idea of) art and artists is a little less generous I think. And it points to the long (and sometimes tiresome) debate about art and commerce, and what the purpose of art is, and what can even claim the title of art. Depending on who you are and what you believe, art should or can offer a critique of the dominant culture, be a purely formal exploration, examine and reflect on the artist’s psyche, or it can serve a decorative purpose (as is very much the case here). Which of those categories one allows as “art” is up to the viewer and (in our very consumer society) purchaser.


Upstate weekend


I made it up to Poughkeepsie on the train without a hitch, it was really a lovely train ride just next to the river. Eric met me at the station and we went back to the cabin (my second time visiting) where I finally met his partner Danny (who I had been hearing about for a year but had never had the opportunity to meet). Since then we have been eating a lot and visiting with their friends and exploring some upstate areas I had never seen. We drove through the Hudson Valley and stopped at one of the many estates  (Montgomery), then headed over to a kind of epic and wacky artist’s project called Opus 40. Harvey Fite (the artist in question) had bought an abandoned quarry in 1938 and constructed this architecture/sculpture over the next 37 years until his death. In addition to the massive stone thingy, there are other sculptures scattered about the grounds, but the Opus itself is the most interesting thing about the place by far. After that we headed into nearby Saugerties, where Danny did a little antique shopping and Eric and I played a couple of games of chess at the bookstore coffee shop. Seeing that we had not much time to spare before the sunset, Eric took us on a mad dash to the Olana Historic Site for a pretty spectacular view over the river at sundown. We then joined a couple of Eric and Danny’s friends for a dinner of great company and good cheer (if not great food) before comping back to the cabin and collapsing in bed.

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Frustrating half-assed technology solutions


If you thought this post would be about the website, you were wrong. That went without a hitch for me (well, except comparing plans is super confusing, but that is not a technology problem). Rather, I am talking about the MTA’s Metro-North “WebTicket” system.

I am heading upstate this weekend for a couple of days with friends who have invited me to their lovely cabin in the woods (or the suburbs, not entirely sure how to classify the location in the Hudson Valley). I am supposed to take the Metro-North line to Poughkeepsie, where I will meet them at around 5pm this evening. So I thought I would look up information on the MTA website. Design issues aside, I was able to fairly easily locate my train information, and then was pleased as punch to notice a “WebTicket” option for purchasing my ticket online.  I went through the process to select my ticket and then just before the purchase step, there is a bold notice in large letters stating:

“Your tickets will be mailed to you at no additional charge. You will receive them in 2-3 business days. You cannot print out the tickets on your home computer. Do you wish to continue with your purchase?”

Are you F-ing kidding me?! What is the point of online purchase? What kind of MORON designed an online system where you couldn’t keep your tickets on your smart phone or at least have the ability to print them out? They have made a system which COULD have saved them millions in labor and infrastructure (people gathering the tickets to mail them, restocking machines with special paper, keeping a greater number of machines in the terminals) and would have been convenient for people purchasing them (and saved trees if people could have kept them electronically) and instead have made it a stupid mail order system for physical goods.