Friday, March 14, 2008

Friday Night Music

I know, I know, I've barely posted this week. I'm distracted by other projects. But there will be more reasonably humorous ranting and videos in which I make an ass out of myself soon. (Perhaps a bit too soon).

Anyway, here's a video of a guy named Reggie Watts:

Reggie Watts: Out Of Control from Jakob Lodwick on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Too Amazing To Be Real

Anyone need a movie?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

My Day in a Single Image

There are a lot of Mahalo pages about L'Affair Spitz. Check them out.

[Image found on August's site]

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Obligatory Post-Vegas Wrap-Up

So I decided not to drive to Vegas after all, but to take a relatively inexpensive Southwest flight leaving Friday afternoon.

LAX Security has become, at this point, a cruel and degrading experience. People are constantly barking orders at you which make little to no practical sense. "Empty your pockets! Don't touch the sides! Show me your boarding pass!" Everyone's shuffling around holding out their shoes and ID's. The interior contents of people's luggage are displayed prominently in 3D on oversized color monitors. It's like Terry Gilliam designed an airport.

Once you're through Security, though, it's alright, cause there's plenty of magazines, Cinnabon and overpriced fruity tequila drinks for everybody. I was there maybe 2.75 hours ahead of time because I'm an idiot and I thought there'd be traffic on the 405. So I drained 3/4 of my iPod battery listening to the Michael Ian Black and Paul F. Tompkins comedy albums.

(Quick reviews: I saw MIB do most of these jokes in person not long ago, and I think they work a lot better in person. His material's only so-so, and it's largely about the performance and semi-interaction with the crowd. Much of the first track is taken up with Black chanting "Yay!" I actually attended a show at the Largo that's used on the Paul F. Tompkins album. I thought at the time that it was one of the best sets of comedy I had ever seen, and I found it just as hilarious hearing it again recorded. Tompkins is a genius. The highlight: his extended deconstruction of the "snakes in a can of peanut brittle" novelty item. This must be heard to be believed. I was cackling in the middle of LAX.)

Okay, so the flight's completely uneventful, I land in Vegas and meet up with my friend Dave at the airport purely by coincidence. We wait in a 12-hour Disneyland-esque queue for a taxi to the Strip.

My friend Matt, you see, is a chef, and he used to work for a guy who's now the executive chef at David Burke, a very nice restaurant inside the Venetian. (Don't actually go to the David Burke site, because it automatically starts playing really loud, tinny, irritating rock and roll. It's hard for me to believe that such a classy establishment would have such a garish Web presence.) So we decided to stay there, albeit packing more dudes into a single $200/night suite than it was initially meant to hold. It turns out, by the way, that one of these five men, who I'd like to stress was not me, decided to sleep in the nude, which hardly strikes me as appropriate.

All together, there must have been a dozen old college friends meeting up for this weekend in Vegas. I was amazed that we were able to organize such a significant gathering of people so easily, which is kind of depressing when you think about it. It's not all that hard to arrange meetings with old friends or to do fun things you've always wanted to do; we're just usually too lazy to bother. It was really great to see everyone; some of these guys, I haven't seen in years.

So we all met up and went to the Imperial Palace to gamble. I can't gamble at the Venetian. They want you to play $50 minimum bet blackjack. Are you insane? Don't you people read TechCrunch? I work for Jacob Marley in a blazer. I got $50 to blow on a hand of blackjack like I got Elon Musk's home number.

So we go to the Imperial Palace, which is more expensive than I remember it being, but still reasonable enough to satisfy my gaming needs. I end up in a game of Texas Hold 'Em, 1-2-no -limit. I had started by playing 2-4-limit, but it's almost impossible to play that way, because you can't really scare anyone off. The most they stand to lose is, like, $12, so people stay in with total shit and then suck out on you all the time. It's lame.

In the no-limit game, you stand to lose all your chips on a single hand, but it's much more like real poker in that you're actually trying to fake out your opponent, not just take as many chips as the rules will allow. I was playing incredibly conservatively, as I always do in Vegas and usually do in Los Angeles. It's a psychological thing with me in Las Vegas - even though I never bring more money than I can afford to lose, I'm always paranoid about going bankrupt. I think it's the fact that you're always being hustled in that city - by advertising, by aggressive guys on the street with fliers, by cab drivers, by massive 50-ft pictures of Rita Rudner. I overcompensate by being excessively on-my-guard.

So I'm barely betting unless I have, like, one of Phil Helmuth's 10 hands worth actually keeping. I actually got a straight flush at one point, if you can believe it, and managed to take a pretty reasonably-sized pot. (As I'd been playing conservatively all night, everyone but one guy was on to me from the beginning, but he stayed in right until the end.) My brother told me today that most casinos have payouts if you get four of a kind or a straight flush, but I didn't see any additional action on that. Maybe the dealers just noticed that I didn't expect anything and saved their corporate masters the expense. It was still kind of exciting.

The next day, I didn't really do much. We watched the UCLA game in the Sports Book, where a lot of people were excited that the Bruins won and a lot of other people were dumbfounded the Bruins won. A few of us went to Caeser's Palace and ate at the Stage Deli. We couldn't help but notice that everywhere around the Strip, you see posters for this guy named Danny Gans, who performs at the Mirage. "Entertainer of the Year!" the signs advertise. "The Best Show in Vegas!"

But it's just some guy no one has ever heard of named Danny Gans. Based on the ads they run on a loop on the Mirage sign, it looks like he does impressions of celebrities from the '70s and '80s. There's George Burns and Michael Jackson...this is the greatest show in Vegas? I mean, I'm not the biggest Blue Man Group fan either, and I find it hard to believe Louie Anderson is still alive let alone headlining at casinos, but Danny Gans is the best entertainer these guys can come up with? All that money sunk into decorating these can't convince Don Rickles to haul his ancient ass up on a stage to insult the people?

The Sahara's got goddamn Roseanne Barr headlining on their mainstage! Roseanne! You know what would be more entertaining than that? Spending an evening in the actual fucking Sahara. Say, Bedouins, you're not going to go on any extended rants about how Barack Obama's in league with the UFO's to make us forget our past lives, right? Just checking...

(More on the sad state of affairs at the Sahara later!)

While the rest of the gang then watched the UNC-Duke game, I wandered up the Strip and played some single-deck blackjack at the Casino Royale. At one table, my dealer was a rather intense Serbian guy named, I believe, Hladen. He would get very upset whenever anyone would pick up their face-down cards with both hands, which happened pretty often. I'm not sure I've ever seen a dealer just yell at players like this...Some of these guys are surly; it's part of the atmosphere. But this was just blatant hostility. "No! You do not pick up the cards! This is cheating! I show you one more time!" It was pretty awesome.

Saturday night, a bunch of the crew split off to go to Fremont Street in Downtown Vegas in search of more discount gambling. Matt, Dave and I stayed behind to grab dinner with Matt's chef friend, Todd. We met up at David Burke, a very interesting restaurant decorated with rock salt shaped to look like brick walls. Todd bought himself time to finish up in the kitchen by preparing us a two-course "snack": first, we had a scallop topped with foie gras, my first-ever taste of the stuff. It's pretty amazing...sorry you can't have any, people who live in Chicago! Nyah, nyah. We followed that up with some lamb.

I could pretty much have stopped right there and been satisfied, but we then ventured to Cut, the Wolfgang Puck-owned high-end steakhouse that just opened in the Palazzo, the new hotel/casino that's attached to the Venetian. What followed might be the most ludicrous, amazing orgy of food I have ever experienced. Finding out that one of our party was a chef at another Venetian restaurant was all these guys needed to hear; they began sending out wave after wave of delicious, intensely rich meats.

Seriously, little mini hamburger sliders followed by steak and tuna tartare followed by pork belly and veal tongue followed by a perfectly-cooked steak the size of pudgy housecat. "Excuse me, I believe I ordered the Rib-Eye, not the Entire-Back-End-Of-The-Steer-Eye." Chef Todd tried to talk me into trying bone marrow...but I'm sorry, that just sounds wrong to me. Oh, yeah, and then warm date cake. The one thing I ate that night that never had a soul.

Matt and Todd treated to the orgy meal, and for that I am eternally grateful. And also still somewhat bloated.

Sunday in Vegas is not really much of a day at all. Everyone's all panicked about getting out of town and avoiding the surging crowds, you're most likely hungover and broke, etc. But I'm pretty sure my Vegas Sunday was worse than most other people's.

We checked out of the Venetian at 11. Lots of people had made early flight arrangements, so we said some goodbyes. I was left essentially on my own at the Venetian by noon, about four hours before my flight and two hours before I needed to get to the airport. I decided to walk to the Sahara, which is where Nathan and Chris were staying, to get some lunch before I caught my plane. It's not a particularly long walk (I'd guess maybe 1.5 miles) from the Venetian to the Sahara, but it was hot and I was carrying a duffel bag, so I was pretty tired.

On the way, I stopped by this big mall on the Strip and bought a book for the airport/flight back. I had brought the book I've been working on, Umberto Eco's "Foucault's Pendulum," but to be honest, I think I'm giving up on it. I can't get through it. There are too many digressions and arcane Medieval references...The cover sells it as a sort of "Indiana Jones for Smart People," or "Da Vinci Code for Non-Morons" if you prefer, but I don't remember Indy doing quite this much contemplating and using this many Old English phrases. And if Dan Brown even considered writing something like this, they'd run him out of the publishing business so fast, it'd make James Frey's career look like Tom fucking Clancy's.

I'm so lost with this book, Dave Eggers should hold a fundraiser for me. It's just not enjoyable any more. And because I don't have to take a test on it, I think I'll skip the next 400 pages. This is my first attempt at Eco...maybe it's just not my thing.

So I bought this book called "Absurdistan," which I had read a review for a while back, and it's hilarious and awesome. It's about a morbidly obese, spoiled Russian Jew who wants to return to America but can't because of his gangster father. I can't remember the last novel I read that was this entertaining...perhaps "Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates"?

At the Sahara, the three of us decided to just grab a quick bite at the coffee shop. So I'm drinking my coffee and waiting for my omelette when Chris sees a big cockroach skitter underneath our booth. We're, understandably, disgusted. We get up from the booth and another customer brushes a roach off his face. Then we see an ENORMOUS cockroach on one of the other tables. They were everywhere. It was revolting. I can't believe I even drank a half-cup of their coffee. NEVER EAT AT THE SAHARA COFFEE SHOP. Or pretty much anywhere in the Sahara.

I was off food pretty much the rest of the day.

Then, flight back to LA, cab ride home, sleep. The end.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

You Build 16 Stubs, What Do You Get?

Ironically, while I was enjoying a lovely three-day weekend in Vegas, the Internet got angry with my boss for working me too hard.

Now, don't me wrong. I work hard for the money. So much so, in fact, that people occasionally treat me right.

It all started when Jason, the CEO of Mahalo, wrote this post discussing some of the principles he has employed in running the company. I would say this post very accurately reflects the culture at Mahalo.

Buy second monitors for everyone, they will save at least 30 minutes a day, which is 100 hours a year... which is at least $2,000 a year.... which is $6,000 over three years. A second monitor cost $300-500 depending on which one you get. That means you're getting 10-20x return on your investment... and you've got a happy team member.

I have three monitors at work. It's like starring in my own Michael Bay film. "Abort! Abort! Get 'em outta there!"

Buy cheap tables and expensive chairs. Tables are a complete rip off. We buy stainless steel restaurant tables that are $100 and $600 Areon chairs.

We do have excellent chairs.

Here's the segment that got controversial:

Fire people who are not workaholics. don't love their work... come on folks, this is startup life, it's not a game. don't work at a startup if you're not into it--go work at the post office or stabucks if you're not into it you want balance in your life. For realz.

The strikethroughs are in the original. Jason changed the language after the strong Internet reaction. I'm really not clear as to why "it's not a game" is crossed out, though. Mahalo is no game - we're all busting our ass around there. There's no playtime on this guy's watch.

As for the stuff about "balance" in one's life, I have two responses:

(1) It's entirely possible to work at Mahalo and still have some kind of balance in your life. Many Mahalo guides and developers have strong passions outside of work - there are numerous authors, screenwriters, musicians, athletes, bloggers, podcasters, actors, even feature film directors. Numerous guides and developers are married; some have children. Sounds like balance to me. Oh, but they work hard for a guy with high expectations, so that doesn't count as having a life. Now, going to tech industry conferences every weekend...THAT'S LIVING! WOOOOO-EEEEEEE!

(2) Jason was right the first time. Balance is overrated. Obsessiveness is not rewarded nearly enough in this world. The only way to get truly amazingly good at something is to obsess over it. There are things in this world that rely heavily on natural ability and can't be achieved through extensive experience, practice or investigation...but not too many.

When I worked at Laser Blazer, I would estimate that I watched, on average, 1 movie I had never seen before each day. Some days, I would watch movies at work, then come home and watch 2 or 3 more movies. That's obsessive behavior. But I bet I know more about movies than you, unless you have also kept up a regimen like this for an extended period of time.

Not everyone's personality works this way. Some people need to focus for 6-8 hours and then get the hell away and focus elsewhere. I get that. They should just find a job that fits this lifestyle and rhythm. Mahalo is so not that job. If I didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't be able to work there. If my post-production job had required this level of dedication, I would have quit inside a week. (Wisely, they worked me just hard enough to dampen my spirits and keep me quiet for 3 years, but not so hard that I'd actually come to my senses and quit. My revenge was not really giving a shit and sometimes getting drunk at lunch.)

But these days, I care about what I'm doing and I enjoy my job, so I get obsessive about it, because that's just how I am. It's not really about the salary.

Some of the responses to Jason's post were, in my mind, ludicrously naive. Most ludicrous? This one from 37signals titled "Fire the Workaholics." Good luck with all that...

People who are workaholics are likely to attempt to fix problems by throwing sheer hours at the problem. If you’re dealing with people working with anything creatively that’s a deadbeat way to get great work done.

Time and concentrated effort won't necessarily solve every problem alone...but you've got to admit that it really helps, right? Perhaps this is why, immediately after a homicide has happened, they start scouring the crime scene and questioning witnesses rather than, say, catching up on last week's "House." Building a company from scratch takes a lot of work, and that means a lot of hours. If you have someone who's passionate enough about the job to work long hours for you solving're gonna tell me that's a bad thing, because they're not being creative enough?

If all you do is work, your value judgements [sic] are unlikely to be sound. Making good calls on “is it worth it?” is absolutely critical to great work. Missing out on life in general to put more hours in at the office screams “misguided values”.

I fail to see how working hard and utilizing good judgment are mutually exclusive.

But still, just for the sake of argument, let's consider a scenario: Two employees both come up with the same idea and the boss hates it. "That's a terrible idea!" the hypothetical boss who is absolutely not based on any real boss says. So one employee goes, "Crap, he didn't like my idea, what a big meanie" and goes home while the other hangs out for 4 hours trying to improve his or her idea. You're telling me the latter employee has "misguided values"? Isn't this usually called "trying"? Or "giving a shit"?

Working with interesting people is more interesting than just working. If all you got going for your life is work, work, work, the good team-gelling lunches are going to be some pretty boring straight shop talk. Yawn. I’d much rather hear more about your whittling project, your last trek, how your garden is doing, or when you’ll get your flight certificate.

You'd rather your employees talk about goddamn whittling than the vital task at hand? REALLY? I mean, there's no need to be a Nazi, and I think it's fine to allow people to be people and to gab occasionally during the day (and Mahalo, like all workplaces, has its share of socializing, and more of its fair share of Rick Rolling). But it's not a bad thing if a lot of people who work on a big project want to talk about the project. We can talk about what books we're enjoying on GoodReads and go see monster movies on opening night, but that's hardly the top priority.

I mean, regardless of what you personally think of Mahalo, the fact is that the people who work on it believe in what we're doing. So once you start from that assumption, not wanting to take 2 hour coffee breaks to discuss whittling makes more sense. (Not that it doesn't sound riveting.)