The Other End of Sunset

Saturday, November 07, 2009

If it's dark outside or light

If you love me
won't you let me know?

I was driving up the 101 the other day, in the Silicon Valley, and I came upon (and passed) a large city bus. The bus was packed with people, each looking out the window, or reading a magazine, but, apparently, never looking at each other.

This is, of course, the rule -- on a bus, you can't peer around at your fellow travelers. Unless you are traveling with them.

Or if you are a creep.

But I digress.

I noticed this bus, grimy, with oil stains on the engine cover, and dirt marks on the sides of the bus from where the wheels threw road mess up.

I noticed this bus -- in passing, as I passed it -- because the bus destination sign was prescient.

The destination signs on buses -- out here, at least -- is an LED sign that spells out the line, sometimes the line number, and often other information.

This bus' destination sign reflected a sublime, Manichean truth.

The bus' destination was "NOT".

So true.

// Side note: I have to specify where I am on the 101 these days, since I could be on the traffic-clogged 101 through the San Fernando Valley in LA, or the almost-equally-clogged 101 through the Silicon Valley.

And I have to specify which "valley" as well, since the referent changes if you are in SoCal or NorCal. I'll try to remember that. //

Somewhere 'round
mile marker 112,
Papa started humming the funk
-- Marc Broussard

I have been spending a roughly typical amount of time on the road. Well, less than in my previous short, happy life, but a reasonable amount, nonetheless.

// Side note: Yes, that was a Hemingway reference. Yes, I thought about rewriting the sentence to have only 5 words, and none longer than two syllables. But then I wouldn't have been able to use the word "syllable", and what fun would that have been? //

I am, however, in a far better mental space than my not-so-recent travel travail. As a result, I'm noticing more of the irony that used to amuse me about being away from home.

Have you ever been on a Southwest flight? I spend a fair amount of time in the Silicon Valley (see story, above, for those of you skipping around). I live close to the Burbank airport, and it's a quick jaunt to San Jose from Burbank. And the jaunt is best done on Southwest.

Southwest has all kinds of funny policies, including the seat number thing that apparently nobody can figure out. It's like forgetting your raincoat at a Rocky Horror Picture Show screening -- immediately flags you as a flight-virgin. Folks, match number on ticket to number on pole. Not rocket science. But you have to figure that any system that seems incomprehensible to so many travelers is probably designed wrong.

But that's not my point. Actually, I want to talk about the people who pretend not to understand, but clearly do understand. They cluster around the front of the boarding line. When they first get there, they give a token look of "confusion" -- in case anyone is following their trek -- and then settle down to enter the plane first, before anyone else. On my last flight, one of these reverse-lemmings actually pushed one of the people getting on because they needed extra time.

I thought about punching him, but the flight attendant did a good job of freezing the idiot in his place.

You see other behaviors from the genus Tool. They do stuff like throw their coats onto seats from rows away to save the seat. Or put their bags in the overhead bin, lay their coat out flat, and then close the bin so nobody else can put stuff in there.

It's hilarious to watch. Totally jerkish behavior, on a flight that is going to be 40 minutes long.

What always surprises me is who makes up Genus Tool. It's always middle aged guys in khaki pants and shirts with some technology logo on the pocket. It's not the teenaged emo kids, nor even the so-cool-it-hurts twentysomethings with the soul patch and plaid shirts.

Nope, it's the great spread of middle age.

Sigh, and shortly, I join that segment of the populace.

Regardless, I wonder. Is it the khakis that make them Tools? Perhaps a bad belt? Or is it sampling bias -- the odds of running into some annoying computer support person on the LA to SJ flight is so high that you oversample men onto Tool?

Such things keep me up nights. How about you?

When I was down,
I was your clown.
--Elton John

I was sitting in a hotel in London a couple of weeks ago, having dinner in the hotel restaurant. Nothing special, but reasonably nice. I was the first one in -- I'm always eating with the blue-haired crowd, early, but apparently no blue-hairs in South Ken that night, so I was alone.

Until three men came in. Two were Asian, clearly business executives. The third was Italian, clearly a marketing type; was unclear how smart he was.

Which strikes a chord of remembrance. But whatever.

The three were talking about a particular financial transaction -- a collateralized debt sale, if you care. The Italian was trying to convince the Asians to invest in creating a fund to get the securities, so they could then resell tranches of the securities. Was quite interesting to hear how they planned to divide the tranches. Such deals should be quite secret -- you are talking about trading strategies, and the margins you think you can get.

If it were me, I'd be speaking in a low voice, paying attention to others nearby.

The Italian had no such compunction. He was practically screaming. At first it was funny, so I (obviously) took out my notepad, a pen, and started taking notes. I was overacting like Jon Gruden commenting on a football game.

The Asians noticed, and got a bit squirrelly, pointing me out to the Screamer. He looked at me, and gave a lovely sniff of disdain, and went back to his chattering.

I couldn't help it -- I started laughing. I understood his point -- I had dirty hair, a couple of days of beard, and was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt.

The lack of ability to see beneath the surface also struck a chord. But, again, never mind.

The best part? He got the math wrong. He was explaining how the returns would be great, but he got the math wrong. I managed not to go up to the table and correct him. But it was a challenge.

Again, a chord.

No amount of elan can overcome a machine gun.
--paraphrased from War Made New

I was on a flight back from New York last week. Jet Blue is awesome, and, again, flies into and out of Burbank. Great for me.

I was sitting there, in my aisle seat halfway back the plane, minding my own business, watching a little TV, reading my Kindle, making some notes, generally being boring and nondescript.

About an hour outside of Burbank I felt a tap on my shoulder, from across the aisle. A woman was looking at me, slightly flustered.

I took off my headset and said hi -- I expected her to say she'd dropped her pen and it had rolled under my seat, or that her cat had escaped its carry-on purse and was climbing my leg, or some such thing.

Instead, she said "You're Douglas Merrill, aren't you?"

My first reaction was to think "how bizarre, she read my boarding pass". My second reaction was to wonder why she would have done so. And to get creeped out.

But I try to be charming.

// Ok, that's enough laughing from you. I said I try. That's true. Now be quiet. //

She went on to tell me that she recognized me from the cover of some technology magazine I was on. I think the issue came out more than a year ago.

I barely remember the article, why did she?

Anyway, I told that, yes, that was me. And thanked her for reading the article. And went back to ostentatiously making notes on a deck. She seemed content with our brief chat.

Tell me, dear OtherEnders, how should I have felt?

// Side note: The ads on Pandora are amazingly annoying. And so totally untargetted that they can't possibly have any reasonable CPM. I can't even remember the subject of the last annoying ad that just played. Ads only work if people pay attention. And generally, ads work better if the people have some connection to the ad, in the moment. That's why search advertising works so well. Sigh. //

Back to Genus Tool. The Oakland airport -- or maybe it's San Jose, I can't remember -- has tables with plugs so you can charge your laptop or whatever. While waiting for my last flight home, I had a very dead laptop and phone, so I went looking for a plug.

There were plenty of plugs, but a card-carrying member of Genus Tool had spread his laptop and papers out, covering the entire table. As I walked up to find a spot to rest my laptop (I carry a Macbook Air, it's small). He actually hunched down and spread his arms out over his papers, like a gorilla defending its feeding ground.

I was tired, and had a headache. So I didn't laugh, which would have been the right answer.

No, I said something like "Really, Spanky? That's your best idea?" and proceeded to set my laptop on top of the most distal of his paper piles.

He didn't say anything to me until I left to board my plane.

Does that make me the silverback of this tribe? Or just a soon-to-be-card-carrying Tool myself?

And if the answer is no,
Can I change your mind?
--The Killers.

My book is done, and you can buy it on Amazon now. You can find it by doing a search for my name. The marketing materials are basically done, and we are figuring out publicity and the like now. The publicity will include interviews, articles, and, naturally, tweets and blogs.

I won't use this blog for it, but I'll let you know where I craft that prose.

The book is about organizing your life to reduce your stress. It's about psychology and technology and society. It talks about how you process information and why you aren't as good at it as you think.

I wrote it along with Jim Martin, a most excellent coauthor if there ever was one.

I'm really proud of it. I think it's useful. I think it's funny. According to my pal Q, I quoted too much Coldplay in my lyrics. That might be true, I don't recall.

Mostly I think it's a great survey of who we are, how we got here, and what today's tools can do to undo … well, to undo what those same tools have done to you.

I hope you will tell me what you think, let me know if it's helpful, and decide if I quoted Coldplay too often.

It hits the streets in March of next year. The publicity will start a bit before then, although SL hasn't told me exactly when it begins. I'm sure it's on my calendar, ironically enough.

The only freedom that man really wants
is the freedom to be comfortable
-- paraphrased from Sons of Anarchy

I rode my Saxon to Vegas a few weeks ago, with my friend Johnny. I might have written about that already. Can't remember.

The ride there was lovely. Sunny, mid-90s, not enough traffic to worry about, just wide open expanses of desert being eaten up minute by minute.

I was listening to my iPod while I rode. Yes, I know that's a bad idea, but riding with music is spectacular. The bike makes you feel free and untied from the cares of the normal, caged world. The music, as long as you pick it correctly, adds to the experience, amplifying it, if you will let me make a bad pun.

It's kind of like going to a laser light show at a planetarium -- remember, you like the PlaneTARium -- watching the blinky lights while listening to Pink Floyd. The whole is far more than the sum of its parts.

I built a play list for the ride -- I think there were something like 4 days of music on the list. Perhaps I went a bit overboard. I had the tunes on shuffle, listening to random song after random song.

But I noticed something, as I sang along.

Almost all the songs I paid attention to, in between the air, the wheels, and the road, were about death.

Do you think that's sampling bias, as well?

You know it's a fool
that plays it cool.

One of my friends, over dinner the other night, asked me what Jeanne was really like.

I was pulled up short. I think I've been talking about her death, and what I did well, and badly, while she was ill.

But there was so much more to her, and to us, than that.

Perhaps I should write about that. Write about her. Not her as sick patient, but her as crafty-but-unable-to-finish. Or her as "I can't remember that, write it on this napkin". Or her as "What should I do?", "say thank you." "oh."

I'm sorry, dear OtherEnders, if I have failed to do so.

Your mind tricked you
to feel the pain,
of someone else
leaving the game.

My beloved Dalmatian, Minnie, has a brain tumor. It's probably lymphoma, which is probably untreatable. We are trying various drugs to see if anything takes effect. Some have shown a little improvement.

But not very much. If you follow me on Twitter, you've seen loads of tweets about the diagnosis and treatment. I'm trying to maintain a sense of humor, or painful irony perhaps, about picking up medicines at Walgreen's for Minnie Merrill, because some of the drugs are really people drugs, not dog drugs, and making up a social security number since they require one before they'll give me the drug.

It's terribly sad to watch her. She doesn't understand, and she's scared, and I can't make it better.

Sometimes, when she's lying on her bed, not sleeping, but not able to get up and walk, she gets a look in her eye that I recognize.

It was the look Jeanne used to have when she had nothing to distract her from the pain, the humiliation, the fear, the sadness.

And I couldn't help Jeanne either.

I thought that second chances were possible. Maybe I'm wrong.