Summer Reading: High Fidelity

A book review! Trying something new with writing in the blog today.

An admission: I’ve only seen High Fidelity, the film, once and I did not believe it to be the tour de force that some friends had made it out to be. Perhaps I was too young for it then—even though, okay, it was only about a year and a half ago.

But now! I’ve been single for quite some time, recently hanging out with a group of friends whose median age is give or take one decade older than my own (although this is probably moot because, for better or worse, I’m very often mistaken for at least five years older than my actual age), and suddenly dealing with the mythos of “having a career” and “getting old(er)”—and maybe this is exactly the “mature” (is it possible to put emphasis on quotation marks?) perspective and angle that one should consume High Fidelity from. Or not, but at the very least picking it out in book form seems pretty well-timed for where I am in my life. (And run-on sentence, much? Yeah, deal with it.)

(I think I have a propensity for “accidentally” picking out books that are “well-timed for where I am in my life.” Ever try a solo, cross-country drive, going through the parts of Western Montana and the Inland Northwest while reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? Maybe my own philosophical tendencies blow that one out of proportion and maybe I just have a knack for picking out parts of stories that I most deeply relate to. But still.)

So the über generalized plot of “girlfriend breaks up with guy, guy goes off to figure himself out” isn’t that creative at all, alright. But there’s something about the execution of the novel—from the heaps and heaps of pop culture references, to the rambly internal monologue, to the snarky, self-deprecating sense of humor—that makes it stand solid as a contemporary rocky relationship story. I tried hard to avoid saying love story or romance because that’s so far from what the book is—and that characteristic is, I think, what makes it feel so real and modern. (Even moreso than the copious 90’s movie and music references.)

There’s a bit of deus ex machina that happens with a death, a funeral, and “oh, let’s get back together because I’m so tired of working so hard at being with someone else and making myself miserable for it.” But I let it slide because, hey, strange shit like that happens in real life sometimes; relationships do have that transient quality to them that lead them to go back and forth in strange times. And disaster, indeed has a way of making the unlikely happen. It might not seem perfect from a storytelling standpoint, but eh, I’m OK with that.

I don’t think I could have appreciated the overwhelming amount of snarky, self-deprecating humor a couple years ago. (But I'm all about it now, though I'm not that way myself. A lot of my favorite people have those qualities which some people misconstrue as abrasive but I find hilarious.) But in general, over the past decade our society’s shifted more and more to accepting (often offbeat) satire, parody, and snarkiness as the status quo in humor and entertainment. (Indeed, I had a conversation last night in which it was pretty much agreed on that the live action version of The Tick would have been more successful today than it was eight years ago.) I wasn’t very old in the 90’s so I can’t really say much about the relevance of the of sense of humor back then, but I think it’s as relevant now as it’s ever been. (Although it might be a British thing that’s only recently grown on us—the sense of humor, I mean. We imported Monty Python from there and that’s pretty much the classical bar for snarky, tongue-in-cheek TV, isn’t it? And the Hitchhiker’s Guide novels? And The Office?)

Oh, and the pop culture references?—“…looking like Susan Dey in L.A. Law” “…the Meg Ryan of Sleepless in Seattle” “…We’re like Tom Hanks in Big. Little boys and girls trapped in adult bodies…”—all had their place. It was more than just name dropping: every analogy painted a very specific—and modern!—picture of the given characters or situations, much more than a billion adjectives could have done.

Near the end I started to feel that, if a book like High Fidelity were to be written today, in 2009, it would undeniably have to reference “John Cusack in High Fidelity” in very much the same way. In fact, I’ve heard people use that exact same analogy to describe parts of their lives. Like every pop culture reference in the novel (though now some of them are becoming dated), it’s a kind of hip, yet subtle cultural touchstone that you can’t help but relate to and relate through (in using it as an analogy).

Weird how that works out.

Okay, okay. To everybody who absolutely adores that movie, I think I get it now. (Though, as is common these days, the book was better.) I may forget the story entirely by next week, but there’s a part that struck a chord with me that’ll probably stick with me just for that one time I end up saying “like the main character in High Fidelity,” when in conversation. And, to it’s credit, I thoroughly enjoyed it—few books make me chuckle out loud while reading. (Nor do they ever compel me to up and review ’em.)

It wasn’t a landmark, historic book for the ages, but—as if a breath of fresh air—it just felt damn good to read.

Google Chrome OS

I feel like this should have been expected.

The same day that Google Apps came out of beta—Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs and Google Talk—Google announced that oh yeah, they've been building an operating system.

Now, the premise of a Google OS is not new in the least. As recently as December, rumors of a Google OS abounded when a statistics tracking firm, Net Applications, detected a significant amount of traffic out of Google HQ—with OS information hidden. Similarly, rumors of a Google Browser were fierce for years until Chrome was released last September—and Google had apparently been using it internally ("dogfooding") as it grew and developed over the course of two years.

When Google officially announces the project tomorrow (Wednesday), I'll be wary of the hype—Google doesn't do it themselves, but everybody else seems to hype their products up quite a bit. And I'm sure that misconception/misrepresentation will be rampant on Twitter and around the Web.

I'd like to point out that it's called Google Chrome OS, implying it's an extension of the Web browser. It's going to use a Linux kernel, but operate Web-based in terms of software. (Think apps like Google Docs and Gmail, but for all of your standard computing.) They swear they're making it a full-fledged OS that'll run on things from netbooks up to full desktop computers—but I find it hard to not emphasize the thin client/netbook angle, as they admit they're targeting netbooks first. (Which, too, is unsurprising since netbooks are hot but the OS market for low-end hardware is severely lacking in quality and/or user-friendliness.)

I'm sure I'll use it (like I use the work-in-progress Chrome version for Mac as my main Mac browser), but I'm still not entirely sold on the fact that this thin client thing is that great, amazing Google OS that people have been wondering about for years. Maybe I'm throwing the "thin client" buzzword around too much and maybe Google will surprise me. I felt the same apprehension toward Chrome (though the V8 Javascript engine and the multiprocessing intrigued me), but have since been won over. (More on that some other time.)

Side note: (Taking off the "newsroom Web developer" hat, putting on "online news consumer" hat...) I like the fact that the New York Times article links to Google's blog post in the lede. I love seeing news sites externally link like that. I have a Wikipedia-induced habit of middle-clicking bunches of in-text links that I think are relevant or interesting; that's just being helpful to your reader.

Learning to crawl

To say I'm rusty at "blogging" may be an understatement. I can't say I haven't been trying, at least.

Daytum

What's that you say? These numbers? This screenshot? What's all this, then? That's Daytum, which I've been using lately—but that is entirely a story for another time.


Again, it hasn't been for lack of trying that I haven't updated lately. But I think I've narrowed down some other reasons for the sheer wall of writer's block that I've encountered.

  • I love to over think and turn every small argument into a multi-paragraph explanation. "Think before you speak?" Yeah, try speaking when your brain likes to stay in overdrive all the time.
  • "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all?" I don't believe in this so much in this day and age, but I grew up under that mindset and I often cannot shake that self-consciousness.
  • Yes, fine: I'm rusty. Sue me. Sometimes it's plain hard to let go once you're used to having so much restraint. (This, too, is an understatement when applied to my life.)

In all honesty, I wrote a lot (you've just seen the numbers, above) over the past week—most of it related to the deaths of Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson last Thursday and the circus that took place between the "old media" and "social media" (or "new media," nomenclature isn't that important). In a cliché sort of way it very much tested my resolve in choosing to work in this particular industry—for goodness' sake, I'm a Web developer (an enabler of "new media") working in a newsroom (which, I guess some would call the heart of "old media").

I wrote over 1,700 words, venting all sorts of frustrations: public spite and lack of trust of the media, new media douchebags, the crowdthink behind America's Twitter hipster support of Iran (but apparently not Honduras or any other recently rigged election)… But I couldn't bring myself to publishing it, thinking it more noise among the noise.


Today, the newsroom had a little get-together to say goodbye to a few folks. One of the radio folks (whose desk is near mine), had a mini speech regarding his departure. As a radio personality, he said, he never thought he'd get to work in a newspaper's newsroom—although growing up, his family always figured him for a reporter or columnist type. His time here was shorter than other jobs he'd held, but what will stick with him the most was that he was given the chance to do something he loved in a place he loved and never expected to work.

I couldn't help but think of the short-lived year I took on photojournalism at school and the divine providence that somehow brought my other interests and skills (technology, computers, Web programming) into that very journalism industry that I was enamored with.


That one little comment about "doing what you love, where you don't expect to" was the best thing to help me forget about that "Internet versus news media" shitshow. This post (spontaneously written and posted since I promised myself I'd post by week's end) is a lot less eloquent than what I'd written on that subject, but I'm quite happy that I didn't add any fuel to that fire. It's shaped up to be one of those hits that just needed to be taken and not dwelt upon.

Look. I love what I do, I love where I work, I love the things I'm responsible for doing. I work on things that I think are cool (and I am not often impressed by things online) and I get to work on a relatively well-trafficked news site. (Caveat: it really sucks when you break it.)

Sure, I'll probably find reason to be a critical asshole on the Internet when I lose my optimism in the above. (Which I hope never, ever happens.) I'm young, I'm naive, and frankly I don't believe I have the experience or the bravado to perform such iconoclasm (*ahem*) on the media industry.

And either way, arguing on the Internet is still, to this day, one of the less productive pursuits out there. (Cue generic messageboard meme image. You know the one I'm talking about.) It's silly and it brings to mind Vonnegut's quip that "electronic communities build nothing."

It is noise that makes me unhappy and I am much happier keeping my head down and working. Newspaper's spending good money hiring a programmer like me, so why don't I help them out a bit instead of biding my time with the online circlejerk?


Folks interested in some actual commentary on the Michael Jackson "old versus new media" circus should read this excellent blog post by Wendy Parker and this L.A. Times column by Tim Rutten. Chances are I'd have repeated everything they'd said.


I need to find something better to talk about for next time; may be Django and programming-related or a "recommended reading" of the blogs I read and my sheer resistance to using an RSS reader. (I middle-click that "blogs" folder several times per day.) Maybe. Who knows?