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reading, watching, listening

"Journalism has long been enamoured of the idea of the interview, beneath which lies a fantasy about access: a remote figure, beyond the reach of the ordinary public and otherwise occupied with running the world, opens up and reveals his innermost self to a correspondent. With admission set at the price of a newspaper, the audience is invited to forget their station in life and accompany the interviewer into the palace or the executive suite. The guards lay down their weapons, the secretaries wave the visitors through. Now we are in the inner sanctum. While waiting, we have a look around. We learn that the president likes to keep a bowl of peppermints on his desk, or that the leading actress has been reading Dickens."

Alain de Botton, A Week at the Airport

How Losing My Hard Drive Made Me Love My iPhoneFeb 14, 2011

My Macbook Pro hard drive died on a flight to Seattle last Wednesday, a shocking failure after just 18 months. The Genius Bar could do little more than confirm its passing, and suddenly I was faced with needing to run my life from my iPhone for an unknown period of time.

I've never been one of those people who was over the moon about the iPhone. I got it in July, after a string of terrible phones, and sure, I was happy, but more because I could finally carry my entire music library again than because of anything else the iPhone was designed to do. I don't play games; I didn't harbor any particular desire to download a bunch of apps, and the actual phone aspect ... Well, living in San Francisco, I wasn't expecting much from that.

Losing my hard drive, though, has made me love my iPhone. I use it and see its functions in an entirely new way now. And I think my journey over the past few days has a lot to say to mobile developers, both for the iPhone and otherwise. Some of the biggest changes:

-- I use apps now. When my phone was an on-the-go stopgap, I'd use Safari to do whatever I needed to do, or I'd wait till I was on a real computer. When it became my "real computer," I discovered how much easier a well-designed app could make my tasks. Banking is easier from an app. Reading documents is easier from an app. And when I couldn't save interesting things I want to read in the normal way I do (starring them or emailing them to myself and opening them in a zillion browser tabs), I finally understood why everyone raved about instapaper. I didn't buy a ton of new apps (less than $10 worth in five days); I just used the ones I already had. I counted 8 apps I'd owned but never even opened before Wednesday.

-- I appreciate the heck out of this camera. Without any desktop to which to upload photos, I've been taking a lot more photos on the phone, simply because emailing them, posting them to flickr, or any other method of getting them into the cloud seemed better than borrowing a USB cable and someone else's computer to get photos off my real camera. Now I'm not sure I'll go back to the real camera full-time. The iPhone camera has its problems, but a few closeups I took today in natural light look better than anything I ever took on my Canon Powershot.

-- I love multitasking. I *adore* copy-paste. Without those two things, using my phone as my main computer would be impossible. With them, it's almost easy.

-- I'm a grad student, and I assumed losing my hard drive would make my school life impossible. In fact, between accessing school websites on mobile Safari, visiting class blogs with Wordpress mobile, and saving PDFs to iBooks, it hasn't even been that different.

-- How much this has made me love the cloud should be its own post, but a major lifesaver has been Dropbox on my phone. It's let me grab files from another computer and have them with me almost instantly. A huge relief.

There are some things I can't do (like type fast, which for me is like taking away one of my superpowers). But for the most part, making my life fully mobile has been a surprisingly positive experiment -- not one I'd do by choice, not one I'm likely to repeat when I get my MacBook back, but not nearly the terrible few days I'd been bracing for.

A New Magazine StrategyJan 22, 2011

I'd been thinking for a while that I had to do something about my magazine problem, but it was only after reading Conrad's post on staying less up-to-date that I finally dug in.

The problem, in a nutshell, was this:

But, like, five of those stacks, growing in every conceivable corner of my apartment. When one was about to topple, I just started another. The worst part was that the result of keeping all these magazines? Was never reading magazines. It was impossible to tell what I had or figure out what I wanted to read, so I just didn't.

The new plan started with something I'd already been doing, a quick three-way sort of magazines into:
(1) It's new — it arrived here within the previous month — and I'd like to get to it sooner rather than later
(2) It's definitely not new, and by now, I only want to read a story or two
(3) It's definitely not new, but it seems like it has some staying power, so I'll keep the whole issue around

(The fourth category: "It's definitely not new, and I don't really want to read anything in it, so why is it still sitting here?" Those went straight to recycling.)

For the first, I cleared a few spots in the front of my magazine rack and declared it my inbox. Things can stay there for a month, but that's it; after that, they've got to move.

To where? Well, the second category — the one-story wonders — now fill up the rest of the tabletop rack. I turned them directly to the page of the story I wanted to save, and that makes for easy plucking off the pile when I have time for just one quick read.

The ancient full issues, the ones where I still think I might appreciate every story even though they were all written in 2007, have a spot under the side table in the living room. When the magazines reach the underside of the table, it's time to re-evaluate. I still wish I had a better way to deal with those (I tend to forget they're even there), but this is far better than what I had before.

Now I just need a bunch of people who are as excited as I am to talk about Malcolm Gladwell's 2007 Enron story. .... Anybody? Yeah.

What 2010 Looked Like on Television Dec 31, 2010

It's tremendously sad to me that my overall TV top 10 hasn't changed much from last year; I'd take out Glee and swap in The Big C, but other than that: That's what I watch and what I like, once again. Some of this is a failure of imagination on my part; some is a failure of time; some is a general statement on the crappy fall 2010 TV season.

But there was TV I loved this year; oh, there was. The Big C came rushing into my life and somehow became the most devastating show I could imagine, bleaker than its partner show Weeds (which, for the record, I love again), bleaker even than Breaking Bad sometimes, and I'd thought that was as bleak as it could get. The thing is, even on Breaking Bad, there's some intrigue and even some lightness, sometimes, in figuring out how Walt will get out of this latest spot; on The Big C, "comedy" though it may be, there's no way out but death.

It was a kick in the stomach every week, and so Friday Night Lights has been — both in its fourth season and in what I've seen so far of this glorious fifth, the season I never dared dream would happen, this gem of a show getting to finish telling its own story on its own terms. The smoothness with which they've turned over nearly the whole cast continues to boggle me, and week after week there are Coach and Tami at the center, and I cry every time because I know I'm one hour closer to the end of this most unlikely survivor.

Breaking Bad continued to prove my gut instinct to stop watching after three episodes was terribly wrong, and this year, it sometimes seemed to turn all of television on its head. I have never felt more in suspense or felt more richly rewarded by a payoff than I did during some episodes in the middle stretch of this season. Things cannot end well on this show, they just can't, but I'm so far beyond rooting for a happy ending.

I've watched every episode of Mad Men religiously, and I never doubted that I would eventually come to love it, but it took till this season to click for me. I think it's the richness of the supporting cast now; Peggy and Joan have always been strong, but now they feel like the soul and the center.

My popcorn shows remain just that, and I love them for it. I went out of my way to watch So You Think You Can Dance in Portland, begging friends for TV time and watching in hotels when I traveled and tracking it down online if I had to. And Make It or Break It — well, I was being generous to myself when I put it at No. 10 last year; it was clearly higher. It's silly and it's sappy and totally unrealistic and manufactured and OH WHATEVER, if I'm being at all honest with myself and accounting for what I most enjoy and crave watching, it's top five.

And one that's a true comeback: Grey's Anatomy. It's been a punching bag, sure, but last season's finale and nearly every episode this season have been stellar. It reminds me why I loved that show so much for so long.

I can't think of another year when I've picked up exactly zero new fall shows; I would have been all-in with Lone Star — I still have the only two episodes on my DVR — but that obviously mattered little. Maybe that's OK, though. I've got my hands full as it is.

What 2010 Sounded LikeDec 30, 2010

1. "Little Lion Man, " Mumford & Sons — I heard this once on the radio (the radio! my great love of 2010!) in Portland and couldn't get it out of my head; soon I was hearing it everywhere and getting it stuck in my head while swimming and taking extra laps around parking lots so I wouldn't have to leave before it ended.

2. "Footshooter," Frightened Rabbit — I don't think I listened to any single band this year more than Frightened Rabbit; I listen to them when I write, and when I drive, and when I'm on a long walk, and and and.

3. "England," The National — Hearing this song live pummeled me.

4. "Dog Days are Over," Florence and the Machine — A late addition, as I'm the one person in the world who didn't like "Kiss with a Fist" and therefore avoided Florence and the Machine well into last week, but ... damn.

5. "We Used to Wait," Arcade Fire — It's not just about the video, but it's also kind of about the video.

6. "Independence is No Solution," Owen Pallett's cover — Heard it live, tracked down an mp3, and played it more than I played Heartland, which is a lot.

7. "Bulletproof," La Roux — Cheesy synth-pop dessert, best played while rock-climbing.

8. "Slip Away," Kathryn Calder — The song that made me regret thinking Kathryn Calder was my least favorite New Pornographer. Just sweet and beautiful.

9. "Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk," The New Pornographers — speaking of which. Together didn't really grab me until I heard this song, at which point I literally ran to my computer in another room to see which track it was so I would remember to play it again.

10. "Lisztomania," Phoenix — ha, this was a runner-up in '09, but it makes the 2010 list by virtue of randomly playing on the radio nearly every time I was ready to car-dance, like 5 p.m. on a Friday or the start of a road trip.

And So We Begin AgainAug 25, 2010

Look: I'm not going to dwell on the past. I'm not going to obsess over how I took a huge box of books to Portland and read two of them. I'm not going to be sad that, while I came home with only about half the magazines I took with me, that still leaves a lot of unread magazines in this house.

I'm just going to move on.

Despite my growing stack of reading for school (which doesn't officially start till tomorrow, which is why I'm blithely ignoring it), I've been obsessed with Kathryn Schulz's Being Wrong ever since I read her first post on Slate's The Wrong Stuff earlier this summer. I have a ... complicated, let's say ... relationship with being wrong, and though I'm still in the early chapters, Schulz has such an easy way of unpacking (and challenging) why rightness is so highly prized in our society while wrongness is associated with madness, unworthiness, and/or a complete lack of capacity for valuable thought. It's rare to come across a book that I feel is truly important for me, the right thing at the right time, but this is one of them.

It's a relief, actually, because it follows several false starts — aborted attempts at Housekeeping and The Yiddish Policemen's Union, a less-than-revelatory experience with Heat — that left me wondering if I'd forgotten how to read for pleasure. In general (and before Being Wrong finally entered my life) I've found magazines more satisfying and even enlightening than books recently, and while I clearly love magazines, that's still been a bit disturbing. It's nice to once again be taking solace in a big, hefty book that I'm longing to pull out of my bag with every spare minute.

Also by my bed right now: The Medici Effect (for school) and Medium Raw and Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, an old New Yorker, and Prep (a reread, but apparently a much-needed one — that book came out in 2005?).

Here we go again ...

Magazine Report: Esquire, March 2010Feb 16, 2010

On the Cover: Leonardo DiCaprio telling life lessons in his own words (or at least plausibly most of his own words) made me like Leonardo DiCaprio again, a little. My favorite's the one about Jack Nicholson terrorizing him in The Departed.

But If I'd Only Read One Thing, It Would Have Been: This amazing, heartbreaking, uplifting profile of Roger Ebert, showing us all that even if the life you have isn't the life you thought you'd get — or, in his case, the life he used to have — it's still very much a grand adventure worth taking. And yes, it made me feel weepy, but only because I kept thinking about "we're at dinner right now."

Kind of Fascinating, Kind of Terrifying: Esquire's survey of Republican views.

Best Quick Take: In retrospect, these renamed Olympic sports aren't actually all that funny, but I still give props for "ice capsule."

Best Reason to Buy the Actual Magazine: "The Essentials" series that gives this issue its theme is pretty great, but as a reason to shell out the cover price, I preferred the group of mini-essays in which writers (and friends-of-Esquire such as Mary-Louise Parker) give up something they love for a month. Couldn't find it online, so if you want to know how Esquire managed to reference "koala ass," you'll need to get a paper copy.

Magazine Report: New York, 2.8.10Feb 11, 2010

On the Cover: Jennifer Senior's story about kindergarten admissions tests and the myth of the genius 4-year-old made me never, ever, ever want to have children. Or at least children that I raise in a schooling environment so competitive that kids have to score in the 98th percentile of a standardized test before they know how to read.

But I'm Really Glad I Read...: The profile of Ethan Hawke, if only because Sternbergh takes the career of Ethan Hawke as seriously as I do.

Hysterical Trend Piece: The Urban Woodsman primer. Oh my lordy lord, I could have read that all day. I especially enjoyed the beard classification.

Link I'll Be Saving: Sternbergh — on fire this week! — on the persistence of mass culture, to which February's been particularly good so far. Very interesting and insightful point about speculation and pre-analysis becoming bigger than events themselves, possibly primarily because they have an endpoint.

My 2010 Agenda: Having followed shamefully little Sundance news this year, I was particularly thankful for the breakout stars feature, which informed me that new movies from Lisa Cholodenko and Nicole Holofcener will soon be on their way.

It's Like They Made It for MeFeb 08, 2010

Pete just handed me this week's issue of the New York Times Magazine, and I couldn't imagine anything more perfect for tomorrow's commute. A whole issue about the Vancouver Olympics? It's like they read my mind!

Most people I know loved the Olympics when they were kids, but that was a phase, something they grew out of eventually. Me, I turn on the Olympics like I turn on the lights. It's just what I do. One of my earliest memories is of watching the opening ceremonies of the Calgary Olympics in '88; I threw one of my first serious parties in '94 for the ladies' figure skating final; and the pains of adjusting to adult life were eased considerably back in August '04 just by knowing I could go home and watch six hours of swimming if I didn't feel like socializing.

There's very little I don't love about the Olympics, actually. I watch for the spectacle, the scenery, the feats of grace, the stunning defeats, the Costas. (I'll even watch Matt Lauer during the Olympics, and I really don't like Matt Lauer.) I become an expert on sports I didn't know existed, and I learn enough about other countries' flags and national anthems that for a few weeks after, I'm a better asset at bar trivia.

So, tomorrow morning, it's me and the Times Magazine, dreaming of Vancouver. (Douglas Coupland even makes an appearance. Seriously, it's like they made it for me.)

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