About what changed


imageFive years ago, I apparently wrote text for an about page and promptly about it. What’s the only thing that matters less this year than a blog?

In that text, I linked to my name site because I had it, and I thought it might make sense to put a portfolio there or a business card-plus-other stuff. What’s in a name? These days I get up and clear out sp*m from whoever creates fake emails for the express purpose of scamming bank accounts, rewards points programs and looks-like-a-mailing-list no-way-to-opt-out clickbait. These are the perils of a common name, and privileges of having had that name for a little while.

In that text, I called myself a journalist. These days, I say reporter. What’s shorter than that? Writer? Hack? 📰📲?
I know it’s about five years old because my job title was different then, and because the masthead went away two weeks ago. I’d express sororities that the company name hasn’t changed, but why tempt those who handle these things?

In that text, I made sure to link to the Wayback Machine’s version of my site which was a good idea then and is still good now. Then I followed that with a list of interests: “culture, technology, race and ethnicity, cities, journalism, media, power and aesthetics.” But they’re just words and they don’t reveal how I feel about these things, where I think they’re going, who and what matters to me. I think I figured I could fill in the blanks with tag clouds and folksonomy stuff, but now there are algorithms for that.

In that text, I wrote around the choir I was in, the one that everybody slowly turned out the lights on. Nowadays, when I sing other people’s songs in public, it’s a nice blend of gigs, busking, rehearsals and karaoke, with the occasional themed DJ night.

In that text, I said I was a fan. Now there are now more useful tools and spaces and things happen faster, and the words have improved, if not the people.

In that text, there was an email widget and a spelled-out version of my address and the likelihood that If be on Twitter or some other network/platform. I guess one out of three isn’t that bad.

The recombinant city


All starts are false, just as all identities are mistaken. Writing this post means re-writing the “Hello world!” default post in a fresh WordPress one-click install on my host (still Dreamhost after all these years). Choosing to write it at all, in the spring of 2016, is silly. Just the same, here I am.

I thought, sitting in the living room and finishing the evening’s second can of beer, that If get up and look for my paperback copy of Brian Eno’s “A Year With Swollen Appendices” for some hint or suggestion about how best to spell out the basics: most online bios still have me calling myself, among a few other roles, a blogger; most of the people I used to read who called themselves that have moved on to other titles or responsibilities or platforms; most of what might matter to me is less wieldy and share-friendly than it used to be. Things done changed, yo.

Instead of Eno, Samuel Delany’s “Dhalgren” caught my eye and, remembering William Gibson’s 1993 foreword “The Recombinant City,” I picked it up off the nearest of our groaning bookshelves and ran my eyes over it. I’ve never finished it and I have a few things to finish reading this month already (including Cixin Liu’s latest couple of books, so I can talk about them with A. at least), but I might have new motives, what with the ongoing/upcoming/oncoming Bellona Times-ization of the local masthead, and the company that distributes it.

Oakland is not an autumnal city (not even in April), but it is wounded. No amount of happy talk from elected figures or corporate communiquĂ©s can conceal it. Band-Aids don’t fix bullet holes, T.S. elegantly said, and she’s still right. Living here, then, means figuring out what works: keeping up with flows of information and filtering for utility, amusement, and for others’ benefit, not just one’s own. It means experimenting. I should try that here as well, whether or not I decide to import all the posts I wrote and the un(der)written drafts, or decide to rely on my just-renewed Flickr Pro membership when its parent company may sell it down the river before midyear, or decide to upgrade my still functional phone for something slightly faster and perhaps more easily secured (or compromised).

The other thing the foreword reminded me of, of course, was the difference between Gibson’s descriptions of the city and America, and how the city he knew, just as the one I used to blog in and about not longer exists, but instead blended together in some eerie and uncanny biological process. Well, it me. So let’s see.

Five years later

I'm sitting in a conference room on the first floor of a building near downtown Oakland. Afternoon sunlight slants down from clear blue sky onto sidewalks and streets and windows. Buses groan and cars sigh around corners after waiting impatiently at signals.

A new co-worker was at my desk when I arrived. She didn't look anything like me, so I was worried about crossing paths with my doppelganger (or worse).

Another co-worker's recommendation of a social search engine brought me here. This LJ account was among the first page of my own results, so I figured I'd better log in and change my password and blow the dust off things.

Two towers, ten years

Toward Oakland City Center

There was a post-apocalypse theme party in honor of one Oakland Soft Rock Choir member moving out of a building and another member moving in. The party started yesterday evening and ran into the wee hours. Attendees were invited to dress up (“Tank Girl,” zombies, steampunk) but the only costume that made sense to me was to dress down, don all black, carry a Good Book (the King James version of the Original African Heritage Study Bible that my mother gifted me with for Christmas in 1993), walk up on people and ask if they’d accepted Jesus Christ as their one true Lord and savior — not that there aren’t people doing that sort of street-preaching now, just that it seems like a post-apocalyptic growth market. After about ten choir members performed a brief set, some of us wound up on the roof quietly talking. I couldn’t help noticing the Elihu M. Harris federal building sitting just blocks away from us.

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Fleet Foxes

The Walkmen at the Greek Theatre

The other stroke of luck in the last two days came from a rarely used Twitter account and a contest thrown at regular intervals by a certain transit agency. I had no ideas those tickets were going to be waiting for me at will-call, honest! But there they were, and there I was, after I’d somehow parked all the way in the rear of some lot above the Greek Theatre downhill from a Hearst Avenue-intersecting driveway and then rambled downhill in the noisy dark past clumps of young adults in blankets and warm clothing taking in the genteely sublime stylings of opening band The Walkmen. “I need a ticket to hear these guys?” I thought. “Doesn’t look like it!”

Fleet Foxes at the Greek Theatre

The only annoyance? The guy squeezing in between me and his date who leaned over when he saw me and asked if I was a Fleet Foxes fan. “Yeah,” I replied. “Are you?” Ask me again if I’m a fan again, superchill beer-sipping indie-rock bro. Ask me again, I dare you, I double-dare you. Ask my Last.fm queue, why don’t you? sigh

Google SF

Badge me!

I didn’t plan on visiting another office so soon after last month’s visit to Mountain View. But when one notices a Google Places tweet and responds as directed, any manner of strangeness may result. So it was that I found myself exiting the Embarcadero BART station and walking down to Google San Francisco.



I had a good time meeting other lunch invitees (the developer who likes to hack on the side; the DJ with ideas about music storage; the Spanish-language journalist and organizer), filling my plate and taking a walk around the place and pinching myself a little. I never forget that this stuff doesn’t spring into existence out of the ether.


I remember how it felt back in late July, finding myself seat-belted into a Southwest flight rolling along the runway at Oakland International Airport, my phone camera aimed out the window, my stomach gathered up under my ribcage, my inner ears bouncing like orchestra tympani, and then the juddering bounce that comes when leaping up off the ground, wings outside doing their Bernoulli thing, thick slabs of noise coming from outside and inside, and then banking slightly so that everyone on my side could look out below at the city slipping away below us, receding as we climbed up and began drifting eastward toward Colorado.

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Brand new day

MediaNews Group officers and executive management

MediaNews Group officers and executive management

I don’t know what to think. I woke up this morning, and there was a note from Amy Gahran with news I never thought I’d see, on a scale and with a potential to upend or at least slightly bend a bunch of things I’d assumed were unalterable in their trajectory.

I don’t know if John Paton’s a knight in shining armor. I don’t know what the price of his arrival is. After all, becoming CEO doesn’t mean you’re a superhero.

I need to see what’s coming. I need to how it can work. After all, Paton’s thing so far has been small and midsize papers. I don’t know how that will work here in our environment, with the on-rushing push toward regional and away from local coverage.

I need to know if his idea of “digital first” is something individual, atomized, lightweight or faceless, branded and conversation-shy. I need to know if “digital first” is more iPad apps, or a rebirth of blogging. Is it doubling down on Facebook and the Apple Store and other “safe” walled-garden platforms?

I don’t think this makes online safer here or in Denver. There will probably be more shakeouts. It likely just means a brighter spotlight shining on everyone’s efforts, more scrutiny on footwork. There is no safety. I work with people who have yearned for direction from the company for the longest time and, just as Paton arrives and gets settled in, are now on the brink of being swept out of their careers. The promised land isn’t promised to everybody.
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The price of gas

Pump'd, 7/31

Here’s the 10th picture I ever posted to Flickr on July 31, 2004. I took it with my first cameraphone, a Samsung flip-phone model on Verizon Wireless whose name I can’t remember — only that it had a camera lens built into its hinge. I think this was a gas station somewhere in Oakland, maybe the Shell at the corner of International Boulevard and 5th Avenue. I figured I’d look back at gas prices back in the day after a conversation with my mom back in D.C. I’ve been semi-diligent about tagging tank and receipt pictures in Flickr over the years.

Chevron off I-5 near Bakersfield


Up top is the view from a Bakersfield station during a San Diego-and-back road trip in March. I think that may have been a personal highest-ever-paid price. Below that image is one of today’s prices at the station just up Park Boulevard from our place.

Some city summers never end

Up on the roof

I should be sick of making everything look like this. Not everything looks like this when it is happening. It is just a setting on an app, a way to make things look washed out and slightly degraded and marginally more interesting than they were when they were happening.

[…] One side-effect of the digital turn in music culture has been our relationship to the objects that populate it. We’re more and more becoming nostalgic not for specific things from our youth, or even for our own memories, but for the surfaces and shapes of old-seeming objects, and for generalized types of memories. […]

West toward Karl the Fog

I ought to look through my Flickr archive, or my map. I wonder just how many pictures I’ve taken in San Francisco vs. Oakland. I spent a little time but I’ve never lived there. With a little diligence, I could figure it out, make a map of more moments and resonances: rooftop cookouts, birthday parties in public parks, regularly pilgrimaged hillside vistas, streetscape snapshots.

San Francisco skyline

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