Archive for the ‘Autobiography’ Category

“I thought it less like a lake and more like a moat”

I realized today that Death Cab for Cutie’s Transatlanticism album came out almost 10 years ago, having been released on Oct. 7, 2013. This realization has me feeling rather nostalgic for my undergrad years, seeing as that record soundtracked much of my sophomore year at Gonzaga.

I strongly recommend that you do yourself the same favor I have this evening: pour yourself a drink, put on some headphones, and listen to the title track in a dark, quiet room:

Overheard at the Shooting Range

Range Officer 1: “There’s a guy bleeding over in the rifle bay. He doesn’t look too concerned, but you might want to check it out.”
RO2: “Okay, I can go take a look. What lane is he in?”
RO1: “I don’t recall.”
RO2: “Okay, can you give me a description?”
RO1: “Yeah, he’s got a ball cap on, about 6 foot. Plus, you know, he’s the only person in there dripping blood at the moment.”

Bumbershoot 2013, cont.

Being a long overdue recap of the end of my Weekend of Festivals.

The last day of Bumbershoot was awesome, and much more diverse than the first. I started the day by seeing Alt-J on the mainstage. Not to damn with faint praise, but the line to get into Key Arena wasn’t nearly has horrible as I’d expected. I was in line for about 45 minutes, which wasn’t so bad, considering that the line literally went all the way across Seattle Center. Alt-J put on a good show. The mixing wasn’t great (though I imagine it’s hard to properly mix intentionally-muddy vocals in a sports stadium), but the energy was good, and the lighting was a remarkably effective addition to the show.

One thing that struck me is that the band seemed very self-serious. Which, given the art house vibe of their record, I probably should have expected. But they kept the onstage banter to minimum, played their songs straight ahead and well, and didn’t honestly seem to be enjoying themselves. They gave the impression of a group of earnest young men trying to pack a capital-M-Message into music that was as different from the Top 40 as they could manage.

This was in stark contrast to the next band I caught, California punk-rockers Redd Kross. It was refreshing to see a group of middle-aged hair rockers bouncing around the stage, making guitarface, and clearly having an awesome time. They played like they loved every second of it. The result was a stage presence that was equal parts electrifying and self-effacing. It was an unbelievably good live show. Even the songs I didn’t like still managed to entertain me.

Next up was Mark Pickerel and His Praying Hands, who were incredible. Pickerel himself is an excellent showman and an amazing songwriter, and he’s put together a band of seriously talented musicians. They played a good mix of tunes off their two released records as well as several tunes off their forthcoming record Tess, out September 17th on Candy Cross Records. One of his guitarists had the piercing eyes and thousand yard stare of a great war Hun, and the guitar chops of a lesser Neil Young. The other looked liked a leather handbag and played guitar like it … His cellist was enchanting; his drummer was solid. The set was one of the best hours of live music I’ve seen in ages. I hate the genre label “Roots Rock”, so I’ll instead say that if you love American Gothic, definitely squirrel away a few bucks for his new album.

I finished up Bumbershoot 2013 by catching Superchunk at the fountain stage. I don’t believe in Heaven, but were it to exist, a major feature would be sitting on a warm summer evening by massive fountain, listening to one of the greatest rock bands of all time. I say again to any unbelievers in the audience, but Jon Wurster is the hardest working drummer in music, and also one of the best. If you can see him “singing” along to his own drums (seriously, watch his mouth while he plays, as well as his hands) and not be instantly charmed, then I posit that you have no soul. Mac McCaughan was the quintessence of a rock frontman, and the rest of the band played their parts with skill and charm.

I have to confess, having gone through a weekend in which I saw 10 bands (and innumerable demos, speeches, pitches, and presentations) in 4 days, I think by the end I was finally getting a little burned out. Superchunk’s set sits in my memory as a warm and contented blur, with the setting sun on my face, International Fountain behind me, and a solid wall of Rock music in front of me. And honestly, I’m not sure detail would have improved the memory one whit.

Thanks, Seattle. See you same time next year.

Festival Weekend, Interim Report

This weekend, I have the excellent problem of having passes to both Penny Arcade Expo (PAX), and Bumbershoot. Both have, thus far, been incredible. At PAX, I got to see the Protomen (who are also playing this Monday night at El Corazon) performing Friday night, along with rapper Megaran, with whom I was previously unfamiliar. The Protomen gave an incredible show, equal parts musical drama and rock concert. The parts were perfectly cast, but I was especially impressed the Dr. Wily character, a handsome, dapper fellow who played his part with effortless charm, reminiscent of the devil in “Young Goodman Brown”.

The band were energetic and talented, with unbelievable stage presence. The multifaceted Kilroy character managed to rile the crowd and elicit script-perfect responses from them by barely saying a word. The vocal talent in the band was nothing short of incredible and the raw energy was positively electrifying. If you have a chance to see the Protomen in person, I highly recommend that you do.

As a side note, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a rock show that was simultaneously so polite and so raucous. When a roadie offered a set list to the crowd, someone fairly far back in the pit shot up their hand and said “ooh, me!”. The roadie handed the list into the crowd, who immediately and without fuss passed the list along to the young woman who’d been the first to claim it.

That may not sound like much, but I’ve been to shows where dumping a set list into the audience would have resulted in actual murder.

Saturday wandering around PAX proper was a little overwhelming. I was in full nerd culture saturation, between the incredible cosplay, the myriad vendor booths, and hordes of like-minded geeks roving around. Everyone was friendly and positive, and I don’t know that I’ve seen a more life-affirming crowd in recent years. There’s something about the earnest passion of nerddom that makes it almost impossible to have a bad time.

I got a chance to play a few new / unreleased games.

Ryse: Son of Rome, despite the enraging typo in the title, seems like a well-made, gritty fighting game. Assuming the campaign itself is compelling, I can see it being an awesome title. The co-op mode that I played pitted myself and another player (random dude I met in line named Jared; hey Jared!) against barbarians in a massive Colosseum. The game made self-conscious light of the setting by constantly reminding us of how entertained the crowd was, and by having an announcer (whose almost-comical British accent struck me as unnecessarily anachronistic) give gruesome color commentary. At one point a shield bashed an axe-wielding barbarian into a wall and then, in sports-replay-style slow motion, stabbed him in the stomach and throat. The announcer exuberantly declared “He was made to end lives!”

If gladius-related murders spike in the months after Ryse: Son of Rome‘s release, we’ll have a definitive answer to the linkage between violent video games and crime.

I also got a chance to play Divekick. As promised, when I lost at Divekick, I was immediately arrested for losing at Divekick. Fortunately bail was reasonable.

The other festival going on this weekend is, of course, Bumbershoot. I didn’t actually go to any of the Saturday shows, my time being wholly consumed by PAX. The highlight of Sunday for me was Bob Mould’s set. He played a great mix of songs, including tunes from his time with Husker Du and Sugar. The energy of the set was amazing, driven by Mould’s impressive lyrical force and by the drumming of Jon Wurster who is, for my money, one of the best drummers in rock today.

One downside of the festival this year is that they’ve moved the Main Stage indoors, greatly limiting capacity. In previous years, they’ve utilized the football field, which provided ample room for remarkably large crowds. Trying to pack the same volume of people into Key Arena doesn’t seem workable, and I saw several instances throughout the day when they had a sign up indicating the main stage was at capacity. To be fair, the quarter-mile-long line queued up for headliners that night dissuaded me from trying my luck (I’ve already seen Ra Ra Riot and Death Cab for Cutie many times over), but I imagine that there are a lot of people who got turned away from seeing some killer bands because of the switch to an indoor venue.

On a final note, I saw Allie Brosh’s (of Hyperbole and a Half) presentation. She was “in conversation with” Ellen Forney, a writer and cartoonist. They both had some very interesting things to say about their work, but it was an odd choice by the presenters to put the two of them together. The “in conversation with” (really a pretentious way of trying to avoid a capital-I-Interview) format only works if the two people know each other well or at least have talked before, but the two had (my Ellen Forney’s own on-stage admission) never met before. Conversation is a personal art and throwing two random people together (even two smart, talented people like Brosh and Forney) is unlikely to result in scintillating conversation. The results in this case were a little stilted and awkward, by no fault of either presenter.

But I was still very impressed with Brosh’s insight. I was particularly interested in her comparison of her work to stand up comedy. She described her use of images as a stand in for the physicality, timing, and affect of a stage comedian, which makes a great deal of sense to me. This point was especially clear during the reading with which she opened her presentation. She read her piece “The God of Cake”, with the images projected behind her. Her pacing of the slides definitely added to the humor, in much the same way that Dylan Moran or Jimmy Carr’s pregnant pauses do.

So with one day left in the long weekend, this has already been a series of red letter days. I’ll be capping it off tomorrow by seeing Alt-J, MGMT, Mark Pickerel, and Bassnectar.

One hell of a weekend in one of the greatest cities on earth. Thanks, Seattle!

Amazon Silk: Now with Enhanced Shininess

If you wonder where your humble host has been these past few weeks, I submit for your consideration the shiny new look and feel of Amazon Silk. Thanks to all of my colleagues on the Amazon Silk team. The new version is a huge step forward and I know for a fact that everyone busted their asses to get it done.

I’m on the team that owns the UI look-and-feel and a lot of the user-facing features, so this is a pretty big release for us. I’m damned proud of the browser we delivered and I hope our customers enjoy the new hotness.

And now, a word from the tech press:

“The latest version of Silk has made several improvements, starting with a new tutorial that gives users a better look at the features when launching the browser for the first time. Once the tutorial is completed, you’ll now be greeted by a new start page with a listing of most-visited pages and an empty address bar so you can quickly get to browsing.

Other improvements include a better tab layout to make navigation easier, a new slide-in panel navigation bar as well as an improved “Readability view” that strips out the excess parts of a page to make it easier to get through long articles on web pages. As a whole, the Silk browser seems to have received a much-needed facelift that should impress Kindle Fire users.” – Andrew Martonik, Android Central

Along with the update, we’ve also put out a Developer’s Guide for any web devs curious about Silk and some of its unique features.

The Tragedy of Holiday Weekend Festivals

Scheduling festivals for holiday weekends makes a lot of sense in the individual case. If you’re the organizer for a multiday festival like Bumbershoot, scheduling for a long weekend allows you to pack in more acts (and sell up to 50% more tickets) without worrying that you’ll lose a lot of your attendees to work on the final day of the festival. Considered in isolation, scheduling for a holiday weekend, is a no-brainer.

The problem is that this leads to a prisoner’s dilemma. If all festival organizers follow this same logic, then they end up competing for attendees, many of which might want to go to several of the festivals.

Case in point: Labor Day 2013. There are three festivals (that I know of) that I would love to attend: Penny Arcade Expo, Bumbershoot, and Libertopia. I actually ended up with tickets to both PAX and Bumbershoot and might try to split my time between them, since they’re both right here in Seattle. But the vast majority of people will only pick one, thus potentially reducing the turnout at the other two. If all three were scheduled for separate weekends, they might actually all profit, even though two of them (at least) gave up the coveted Labor Day Weekend.

Note that this effect is irrespective of festival topic. The three I mentioned cover video game/nerd culture, music, and libertarianism respectively. But there are many people who have at least two of those interests for whom attending any of the festivals contains the implicit opportunity cost of not being able to attend the others.

One possible solution to this is a hypothetical agreement of festival organizers to just all schedule for different weekends, potentially with the caveat that no one gets the coveted three-day holiday weekends. But, as with all such agreements, this only works until one party defects, schedules for a three-day weekend, and enjoys the benefits both of having the long weekend and of having no competition for festival-goers’ time and dollars. I strongly suspect that there isn’t a Nash Equilibrium for the problem of festival scheduling, and so organizers are stuck taking the possibly sub-optimal route of always scheduling for the long weekend, even when that might reduce their take through competition with one another.

All of this is a long, boring way of saying: I’m going to Bumbershoot this year, but I really wish I could go to PAX and Libertopia as well.

Aaron.home = new Apartment();

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a new apartment or something.” – Jane Austen, probably

My new digs are treating me well so far. Other than having some car prowling barbarian scumbag break into my car last Sunday, the move actually went pretty smoothly. My choice to hire movers to haul my stuff to the new place proved to be a solid one. I went with Budget Moving, who were awesome. Mike, who I coordinated with, was responsive and professional, and even handled a fairly last-minute reschedule with aplomb. Also: he does business over email and text message, which I greatly approve of. The two guys he sent (Oscar and, I believe, Ken) were quick, efficient, and affable. They got everything moved an hour under estimate with no damage to any of my stuff or either building. If there’s any way they could have done a better job, I’m at a loss for what it might be.

My new building, Via 6, is excellent. The units have great amenities, fetching decor, and impeccable fit and finish. The building itself is perfectly located. I’m within walking distance of some of the best music venues in the world, an easy walk to downtown or Belltown, and close to major transit lines for anything further afield. Pike Place market is about 8 blocks away. My office is 4. Other than the occasional trip to QFC or the range, I think it basically makes my car unnecessary.

Suffice it to say, I’m pretty pleased with my move. Especially now that I finally have reliable Internet in my new place. (Another advantage of the move: finally ditched Comcast. I moved to Condo Internet, which was price-competitive, faster, and so far has had MUCH better customer service. Win-win-win.)

All this is to say: apologies for the prolonged service disruption, (ir)regularly scheduled blogging will henceforth resume.

“I appear missing”

Sorry for the radio silence. I just moved apartments and re-establishing Internet connectivity took longer than expected. I switched my provider from Comcast to Condo Internet and so far I’m thrilled with the decision. Better service, faster connections, and roughly same monthly price. Win-win-win.

I’ll have more about the move later, but for now, entertain yourself with the new Queens of the Stone Age singles, “I Appear Missing”, off of their forthcoming album …Like Clockwork, coming June 4th on Matador Records:

“And if you want girl I’ll hook you up”

Just home from an awesome long weekend in DC hanging out with my friend Heather. More bloggage soon. Now, though, it’s unpacking, sleep, and unapologetic New Wave-y goodness:

Sylver Tongue, “Hook You Up”



“They charge by the coil, so I just had them do one coil per word.”

“It’ll still be legible, right?”

“Yeah, I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

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Magic Blue Smoke

House Rules:

1.) Carry out your own dead.
2.) No opium smoking in the elevators.
3.) In Competitions, during gunfire or while bombs are falling, players may take cover without penalty for ceasing play.
4.) A player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb may play another ball from the same place.
4a.) Penalty one stroke.
5.) Pilsner should be in Roman type, and begin with a capital.
6.) Keep Calm and Kill It with Fire.
7.) Spammers will be fed to the Crabipede.