Tuesday, October 31 2000
There's been another shooting affecting people I know in greater Los Angeles. Bathtubgirl told me that her friend Onie, the erstwhile cameraman for Dr. Susan Block, was going out for a pack of smokes the other night in the East LA neighborhood where he lives. A pack of gangbangers came upon him and demanded from him the name of the gang he was "claiming." He didn't know what to say, since he's not part of any gang. So they shot him twice in the butt. Evidently they wanted to send some sort of non-fatal message. Anyway, Bathtubgirl visited Onie yesterday in the East LA hospital made famous in the intro sequence for the soap opera General Hospital. She said he's doing well.
Today me and my UK development team were given a little tour of the "new content management system" by its lead developer. Everything about it was super-slick, from the database model out to the front end. Clearly it's a project that's been fussed over for many months. But the thing that really stuck out to me was the whiz-bang cutting edge technology employed, particularly in interfaces between the architectural tiers. It was all XML. The stored procedures themselves delivered nothing but XML, which stayed XML until it bubbled up to the presentation layer. Evidently this XML-direct-from-SQL trick is a new feature of SQL 2000. The reason my company is using it is because a bunch of Microsoft consultants came down and set it up using their "latest technology." Seeing it for the first time, I felt a little like an Indian scout crossing a ridge and looking below to behold the Indians of the neighboring tribe playing around with phaser guns handed out by a recently-departed visiting alien spacecraft.
Throughout the day I thought about this matter and I gradually realized Microsoft's purpose in doing this to my company. Clearly their goal is an entirely selfish one. There just aren't all that many developers who are up to speed on this newly-developed Microsoft stuff, simply because it is so new. By setting up a company with a system that demands cutting-edge Microsoft talent, they secure a market for engineers with cutting-edge skills, trained by Microsoft at great developer expense. This keeps people buying the latest version of Microsoft products, perpetuating the endless cycle that distracts whole lineages of developers from the egalitarian universe of open source.
In the evening I went with my erstwhile boss Linda (whose last day is tomorrow) to a Halloween show at a bar in West Hollywood called The Gig. The featured band was Wrong Dimension Boy. Linda knows this particular band because her estranged Swedish husband plays bass in it. First, though, we were in the company of Julian the youthful Operations manager (and person with whom Linda displays public affection) and we all went back to Julian's apartment in Park La Brea for beer, tunes, video games, and other things that appeal to dissolute young adults in America today.
We were hanging out listening to a band called Ween, which Linda said reminded her a little of REO Speedwagon. That alone was enough to intrigue me, so I paid careful attention to the songs. And yes indeed, Ween does have a strong late-70s glam rock influence. Sometimes it sounds a little like ELO, other times it sort of resembles Queen or even Kiss. Little noises here and there that could either be samples (or instruments played to resemble samples) remind me of late Paul McCartney & Wings. Many of the songs are Country or even Carribean-influenced dance tunes, but nearly all of the rest are anthemic, and this led to a discussion between Julian and me as to what exactly an anthem is. We decided that it's a song that is undanceable, uplifting, and having rhythm appropriate for swaying a cigarette lighter. But back to the subject of Ween. It was, as Julian put it, "post-modern rock music," the measure of which might be "cultural references per minute." They came fast and furious in one song that I found especially clever. It was, dare I say, a subtler, more nuanced form of sampling than one hears in conventional DJ music. But despite all the references, there was a thin, darkly-tinted envelope in which it all arrived as a complete package: the style of Ween itself. This was manifested in the form of subtle atonalities between various layers in the music that gave it all a vaguely sad, decadent, slightly damaged feel. Sometimes this style carried over into other areas, particularly where the musicians would subtly subvert a rock and roll cliché with gratuitous repetition. I have to say I was most impressed. I'll be listening to more Ween in the future I'm sure.
We went out to pick up a pizza in nearby West Hollywood. We were parked in the red zone near a traffic light and other cars were whizzing past the driver's side door perilously closely. Linda almost threw her door out in front of one such car, but caught herself at the last moment. On the drive home I gave a protracted monologue about my vision of how our drive home would have been had a car hit that door. Cold air would be blowing in through the missing driver's side door, which would be a crumpled piece of steel in the backseat beneath the pizza. We'd be debating among ourselves how easy it would be to fix, wondering how much money it would cost. "Think how much money you saved tonight!" I concluded. "We have to narrowly avoid more accidents in the future," Julian agreed.
Another weird thing that occurred to me during this particular errand was the possibility that our arms and legs might have evolved from ancestral Siamese twins attached semi-functionally and perhaps somewhat autonomously to our most primitive of fish ancestors.
Back again at Julian's place, we all played each other in one-on-one games of the PlayStation game called Puzzlefighter. Once you learn the rules (and there are many, though most of them are like those of Tetris), it becomes this complete language of interacting with an opponent. Pieces fall in the exact same sequence for both contestants, but by playing fast and learning to use the rules to your advantage, you can turn your Tetris skills into trouble for whoever is playing the role of your enemy. Interestingly, as you're playing, each of your moves are translated into martial arts moves by two proxy fighters who battle in a window in the middle of the screen. As a fighter, it doesn't pay to actually watch the avatars, but for someone watching the game, it can be an amusing counterpoint to the technical details of the two respective Tetris screens. Towards the end of the game it becomes a frantic mental exercise, causing tension to engage every muscle of your body until you either win or lose, at which time you immediately relax and realize how tense you just were. I picked up the game fairly quickly and managed to defeat Linda several times. Julian, being considerably younger, has somewhat quicker reflexes and lots of experience. I only beat him once or twice. Happily, Linda and Julian alternated back and forth as my combatant, letting me play every game; it was exciting for them just to recruit me into the ranks of addicted Puzzlefighters. And addicted I was, putting off an essential urination until the last moment so I could play yet one more game.
Finally it came time to go to the show. Julian, being 19 years old, couldn't come because he no longer has a fake ID.
The Gig was your usual darkly-lit post-punk rock and roll stage, a little weirder than usual since it was Halloween night. People wore costumes and face paint, as you might expect (not me, not this year, and not Linda either). Amongst the costumed audience was at least one Jesus as well as a super-sexy devil girl; the two managed to start dancing not long into the show.
Wrong Dimension Boy started out his act in a space suit, singing his words into a radio-microphone inside his helmet. Overall the music had sort of a whimsical, jazzy Nick Cave feel about it, although when Wrong Dimension Boy took off his helmet and put on his red contact lenses, he managed to transcend his spacey jazz-tinged brooding and turn into something of a continuously raving beast. He had an impressive contingent of attractive young women willing to appear on the stage in matched pairs to dance provocatively as he sang.
I rather enjoyed it, although Linda seemed to be bored throughout. She was feeling alienated from her estranged husband and all of his friends. They're superficially nice to her, but she thinks they all secretly loathe her. This may actually be untrue; she seems to fear this about a lot of people.
I rather liked the dark yet friendly aura put out by this one girl to whom Linda introduced me. Her name, like the band we'd been listening to earlier, is Ween, and she's the singer for another alterna-LA band called Lumirova.
At the end of the evening Linda drove me all the way back to my house in West LA.
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