Monday, October 29, 2007

Leg update

I went back to the doctor yesterday. For the last 3 weeks, he's had me taking large doses of ibuprofen and not working out my legs - no running (or pretty much any cardio), no squats, etc.

It has certainly made going to the gym tough, and I've barely gone.

It's only helped a little - while I haven't had any really bad nights or days, I have only had a few good ones. I've been keeping a little leg situation journal. Not so awesome.

So today I got some muscle relaxers to try when I sleep. I'm still reading about cramps on the Internet. It feels like it's a muscle problem more than anything else. But is it some sort of vitamin imbalance? A circulatory problem? Neurological?

2 weeks from now is the next step.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Radiohead and the music biz

[This was originally written when Radiohead's "In Rainbows" album was released, but it's just as relevant for their recent album "The King of Limbs".]

Radiohead have always been far more media/press-savvy than most people will give them credit for.

First of all, they're not really doing anything new - Canadian artist Jane Siberry launched a store containing her entire catalog with the same "name your own price" methodology, and that was about 3 years ago.

The main thing here is that the demographic Radiohead appeals to is a good fit for this strategy - they're critical/press darlings, and the digerati think they're friggin' awesome. It's also worth noting that these sorts of early adopters are some of the most connected people and simultaneously some of the last willing to pay anything for music. And they love open-source anything.

Radiohead also realizes the power of the physical good, hence the "deluxe package". They have a solid, rabid fanbase, and that core is going to buy the expensive physical good anyhow.

Radiohead also recognizes that their music is going to get distributed. Why give anyone else a cut when they can control it all? And if everyone takes it for free, that's still OK because they've gotten massive press and all their fans will buy the deluxe package anyhow. To me, it's very similar to Aphex Twin's "Analord" 12" series (vinyl-only, nice binder, etc.). Focus more on getting the most money out of your hardcore fans, since nobody else is going to pay anything anyhow.

And for all of this, Radiohead has 100% control and keep 100% of the profit (they also shoulder 100% of the risk).

So I think it's pretty smart.

That said, this won't work for everyone - Radiohead's fan base is connected, tech-friendly, and willing to pay. I don't know that, say, Garth Brooks' fan base is in a similar situation. Or Madonna's. Most people would rather go get the CD for $10 at Target or Wal-Mart or Best Buy. So I don't know that a ton of "big" artists will follow suit.

And almost every smaller artist I know is already doing what Radiohead is doing, but they don't do "deluxe packages" or run their own stores. And why should they? It's a lot of work and they're better off having the conferred legitimacy of being in iTunes or Rhapsody or whatever.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Virgin America

I flew Virgin America for the first time on my last trip to DC. Is it an incredible new experience?

Well, no. It's a budget airline. But they do things a little differently, wrapping their experience in some nice design:
  • Many of the airports I've flown in and out of on Virgin (SFO, JFK, Dulles) use the "International" terminal. These are usually nicer and less-crowded than the usual domestic or commuter terminals. That, coupled with Virgin's British legacy immediately "classes up" their image. The SFO International terminal is beautiful compared to the dumps the other ones have become.
  • The self-check machines are fancy touch screens on nice tables, with concealed printers. They put vases of fresh flowers on top. This has the advantage of making them very easy to find as well as immediately changing your perception of the airline. Airports are generally incredibly sterile industrial environments, all vaulted concrete and steel. Flowers immediately make you relax and feel different about things.
  • The ticket counter areas have some carpet mats, and friendly staff dressed in black. They smile a lot and politely ask if they can help. Some are even out from behind the shield wall of the counters.
  • The boarding passes are nice cards printed on substantial paper. A minimum of cryptic junk. Large, readable type. They fit in a back pocket without folding.
  • Boarding times are at least 10-15 minutes more optimistic than the actual boarding time, presumably to minimize the number of people boarding late. Smart.
  • The planes themselves are brand new. Black carpet on the floor, white walls, and violet blue mood lighting instead of the usual white industrial fluorescent gothic. It's probably just gels over the same ol' tubes, but it does look very nice.
  • Transparent violet dividers. Pleasant and "modern".
  • Seat backs are hard white shiny plastic. They remind me of Kubrick's "2001" space sets. They seem to get marked up and scratched easily, but when the mood lighting is on they pick up the purple nicely.
  • Seats are pretty close together, on par with any other old airline. Definitely not as nicely spaced as JetBlue or Alaska.
  • Seatbacks feature Virgin's special entertainment system, called "RED". Has TV channels, "premium" (i.e. you pay) TV, movies (you pay)...and some other fun stuff - built-in video games (which I've seen people of all ages play), seat-to-seat IM (this will never get used!), and a built-in live Google Map that shows where you are, how fast you're going, etc.
  • RED also features the food-and-drink ordering system. Touch what you want, swipe your credit card (cash is not accepted, only credit cards), and they bring it right to your seat. When you want. This is very nice.
  • Only problem is that RED is flaky. It worked great on this flight, but on later flights it was either not working at all or had particular failures and required several "resets" per seat.
  • Seats are (probably fake) leather. Black for coach, white for first class. First class looks very cushy.
  • Safety presentation is by video rather than attendant. It's reasonably entertaining, which is to say it is like Chapelle's Show compared to the normal presentations. A bit of humor, all done with animation.
  • Prices are quite affordable.

I'm in the future

I am in the future. 16 hours into the future - or at least 16 hours ahead of San Francisco.

I'm in (South) Korea, Seoul to be specific. And it really is like the future here. Brand new buildings springing up fast. Technology everywhere. It's hard to describe. So far, it's a bit like living inside an in-flight magazine, all shiny surfaces and nicely-lit rooms.

My flight in was about as pleasant as a 12-hour trans-continental/trans-Pacific flight could be. Korean Air was flying a nice new plane with large (if too hard) seats in coach, and decent seat-back entertainment systems (I got to watch "Sunshine" and "The Lookout").

The flight attendants are practically androids - they have heavy make-up and are immaculately dressed, with tied scarves and matching outfits. A far cry from the dumpy shorts and polos of Southwest. Rather nice, actually. They distributed satchels with sleep masks, toothbrushes, and special sleeping socks.

They also kept the plane cold. I actually had to request a blanket, and was still cold throughout the flight (note to self: I need a new jacket/coat).

My leg was pretty well-behaved as were all the kids on the flight. Only really got unbearable for the last hour or so.

Immigration and customs were a breeze.

The weather was beautiful. I found a cab driver and set off for the hotel. 90 minutes later, we arrived. Poor cab driver looked as though he was going to have a heart attack - he was so upset about the driving conditions (lots of traffic), he was constantly putting his head in his hands. I just sat back, listened to music, and watched the sun set.

My "hotel" is actually a "serviced residence", or corporate apartment, and it is swank. Seriously. It's about 1/3 the size of my entire house. 2 HD flat screens. Comfy furniture. Refrigerator. Clothes washer. Scale. 2 showers. 2 toilets that need owner's manuals. The whole thing looks as though it was built yesterday - immaculate, tasteful. Beautiful view, too.

I had a beer and some food sent up and flipped around on the TV until about 8:30 pm or so and went to bed, waking briefly at 4 before returning to sleep. Got up at 6 and hit the gym (naturally, several colleagues were there as well).

Off to a short day of meeting folks at our Korean office. Having a good time so far.

I like the future. It's nice.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Langley High School Reunion - Prom 2.0

Back in DC, back at Mom's. Small rental car. I'm dressing up. Should I be wearing a tie? Nah, too formal. I'm the wacko from San Francisco, right? I'm driving down Route 66, with my lovely wife as my date - she's all dressed up, too.

It's like we're going to the prom. All I need is a corsage or something. We're at the hotel and can't find parking. We're walking in. Outside a family is in the ending stages of a wedding. Beefy guys with near-shaved heads sport vests over white shirts, jackets slung over arms in the unseasonable heat.

Inside we're asking where the reunion is. We're looking for elevators. The distant thump of DJed music shakes the building. We walk up to the doors. Wrong high school - looks like James Madison is having a 10-year reunion next door. We walk over to the other ballroom. Here we go.

Pinning our name tags on. Opening doors as the music roars up. I look around. It is Prom 2.0, 20 years later. The same people, dressed up, sweating, nervous. Everyone talking about who came and who didn't; who brought whom, who's together. Who's broken up.

I swear the DJ is playing the exact same set we got nearly 20 years ago. And like that time, I've surprised a few people by bringing a mysterious hot woman no one has ever met before. This time, it's my wife. Yay me.

The main difference this time is the drinking is subsidized.

People are milling around, looking for faces they recognize. All of the ladies look fantastic. There's some sort of giant roast labelled "Steamship of Beef".

I'm seeing people I recognize but the music is too loud. Most of these people have stayed here on the East coast, many still in Virginia. Many with kids, and a few with a shocking number of them.

Everybody is smiling. I'm getting hoarse. It's not very comfortable in here. We look around. I scan the memorabilia table and set a pile of CDs down next to the framed list of the 8 classmates who've died since graduation. I knew 2 of them well. One died in a drunk driving accident weeks after graduation.

I am surprised again that anyone remembers me. Shocked to find some of them have even found and regularly read this blog (hi, Mike!). I'm having fun, but I'm also getting tired. There's only so much of this nostalgia I can take, and the prom flashbacks are starting to creep me out.

The sheer volume in the room coupled with the size of the space and lack of places to sit aren't creating a nice vibe. Again, it's like prom. Nobody dancing.

I look at my wife. Time to go? We exit the room and the tinnitus ring of excess sound crashes into the relative silence. We get back in the car and ride back to DC, chatting about the evening.

Unlike my last trip back for a reunion, there's no melancholy creep through the city streets or blurring of past and present. My life is here and now - my wife next to me, driving through what's become of McLean, back to DC where my mother lives with her new husband.

Soon I will get on a plane and return to San Francisco, where I live. Where life is. It was nice to see the old gang, albeit briefly. Would have been nicer to talk to some folks longer. Nicer still to have had something to talk about.

I'm OK. You're fine? Good. Glad to hear things didn't turn out awful for any of us. Hope the next 20 are good, and the 20 after that. Maybe even the 20 after that.

Take care. Save a dance for me. And maybe send me an e-mail.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The flesh fails

For a while now, I've been having problems with my left leg. Dull aching during the day which comes and goes. No amount of massaging seems to assuage it. A weird lump in the middle of my vastus lateralis when using a foam roller. Mysterious twitches at night keeping me up, contributing to sleeping problems. Tightness when fully extended.

Doctor gives me some giant ibuprofen and says "stop working out your legs for 2 weeks - no weights, no running. Take these. Then come back." It's been almost a week. I really miss cardio. But I'm not feeling a lot of improvement. Yeah, there's a bit less pain, but it's still not right. I am probably going to end up needing some sort of MRI to find out what the hell is going on in there.

I've gained a bit of weight over the last several months, so I'm basically back where I was before I started on a big exercise regime and diet. However, my blood pressure is lower and I'm sure I'm more fit. I am not really convinced that all the working out is the cause of my leg problems. Then again, I'm no doctor.

Still, it's just a drag. I'm too young for chronic pain. It's a drag.

I've also been doing way too much traveling - that's one reason for so little writing. Earlier this month I was in Las Vegas, before that Seattle (where I took that picture of the water from my hotel room). Last week, New York. Tomorrow I fly to DC. The weekend after, I'm off to Korea (happy Korean National Foundation Day, by the way - the consulate was closed so I couldn't get my visa sorted today).

I'm pretty much over it at this point. The combination of tiny cramped planes with my leg issues is just no fun at all.

Collectively, it's just put me in a down-ish mood for what feels like this entire year, though it's probably only been a few months. I try to find some little joys or pleasures in each trip and every day. Lately it's just been enough to sleep through the night without my leg freaking out on me. Enjoying my morning coffee and looking out the window, wherever I am.

I've been working on de-cluttering my life, finally getting rid of clothes I don't wear, stuff I'm not using. Somehow I've ended up with a lot of junk. I remember when I could fit everything that mattered to me in the back of my car. I guess that means I've gotten old. Or grown up. Or both.

I don't talk much about work here - the usual mass of confidential stuff. And inevitably I will rant about how frustrating things can be. But I have a very good gig, with a lot of cool people. Nothing really to complain about there at all. I love Rhapsody.

I actually bought a CD recently - the reissue of Wendy Carlos' Sonic Seasonings - something from my youth. Very nice, still mysterious, though now I hear it with more knowledgeable ears.

I am also greatly enjoying the two albums Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie recently released - After The Night Falls and Before The Day Breaks. Very much like their Mysterious Skin soundtrack collaboration.

Time to go take 800 mg of ibuprofen. I'll be happier when I know what's wrong with my leg, and what I have to do to get it back to "normal", assuming that's even possible.