Saturday, October 30, 2010


For about 4 weeks now, I've had off-and-on chest pain. At first it was nothing major. It could have been many things...I have allergies that cause me to have asthmatic-like symptoms, I have reflux that has been known to present itself as chest pain, and on and on. After a week or so of it I scheduled an appointment with my doctor. The night before my appointment, I went to lay down for the night and suddenly experienced excruciating pain, far worse than I'd been dealing with previously. I sat up, but it kept getting worse, and then my left arm started to ache and got weak.

I freaked out and had my wife take me to the hospital. I'm young for a heart attack, but I'm also fat and in poor health anyway. At the hospital, there were no patients in the E.R. and I got in right away. They went into full "red alert" mode, hooking me up to an EKG, checking my vitals, drawing blood, and everything else they do for a heart attack patient.

The EKG apparently looked normal, so they did not think it was a heart attack. They figured it was my reflux, and gave me 2 different acid blockers (on top of the one I'd taken myself before bed) intravenously. I started to fell better, and the blood work came back normal, not showing any signs of a heart attack. They sent me home and told me to talk to my doctor about it, and go get a stress test done anyway to make sure it wasn't my heart.

My doctor agreed that it probably wasn't my heart, since my EKG and blood work were normal, and put me on a stronger acid blocker. He did refer me to a cardiologist to have a stress test done, just to make sure.

It was a week before I got my referral and made an appointment. I thought the pain I was feeling was probably reflux, or maybe I'd gotten an esophageal ulcer, as I'd been told I might due to my long-standing problem with reflux. The cardiologist didn't have an appointment open for over a month, so I took it, and they told me they'd put me on his cancellation list.

A few days later, the cardiologist's office called; they had a cancellation the next day. I jumped at the chance, figuring that getting my heart checked would give me piece of mind and we could move onto the next logic step, a gastroenterologist.

I went for the stress test. I talked to the cardiologist about my uncle's heart problem, which is apparently genetic and which my uncle says my grandfather and my father both had. The cardiologist said if there wasn't direct evidence that my father had this condition, then it probably wouldn't affect me.

They hooked me up to an EKG again, and then put me on a treadmill. It didn't take long before I was hurting and having trouble breathing. I kept the doctor apprised of what I was feeling, and he asked a couple of times if I could keep going, until I told him I couldn't do anymore. He slowed the treadmill to a stop.

He turned to his assistant and said, "Get him some nitro."

"This can't be good," I replied.

They had me lay down and gave me a nitroglycerin tablet to put under my tongue and dissolve. The pain went away within a few minutes. The doctor explained that the EKG was abnormal and he suspects I have a blocked artery that feeds the back of my heart. Within a week, I'd need to go to the hospital to have a catheter inserted through an artery in my groin (yay!) through which they would run some x-ray dye to find the blockage, and then probably go in with a balloon to open up the artery and then put in a stent (basically a tiny wire mesh cylinder that will keep the artery open). He wrote a prescription for nitroglycerin tablets and gave me the instructions for their use - which includes, "If you take three and the pain hasn't gone away, call 911, because you're having a heart attack."

He did say that to have this problem at my age, it probably is genetic. But I'm pretty sure being a fat bastard and eating the way I do hasn't helped things.

In six days, I go in for the angiogram (the "inserting huge needle and tube into my groin" thing) and probably angioplasty (the balloon and stent part). I'm grateful that this technology exists now, even if they do have to puncture my groin. Did I mention they are going to puncture my groin? I'm not overly happy about that part, but in the bad old days, this kind of thing meant open heart surgery and a much greater risk of death.

Obviously, after this I am going to have to make some major life changes, and they're changes I'm not looking forward to. I'm going to have to exercise regularly (which I really don't mind), change my diet radically and completely quit drinking alcohol (things I do mind).

I am very fortunate that I have the best health insurance around, and some of the best medical treatment in the world at my disposal. This is why some kind of national, public healthcare is necessary - were I not lucky enough to have awesome health insurance, I would be bankrupt after next week.

After the surgery, and completely changing my life, I should be OK and survive to see my son grow up. For that, I am increasingly grateful.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Exclusivity through Secrecy

I was interviewed once for an ad of sorts for a "secret film festival" that would be running in Seattle as part of the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF). I don't know if I made the cut of the ad, as I never actually attended said secret film festival - I was just picked randomly for the interview out of people at a very cool Seattle coffee shop. During the interview, I was asked why I might like to attend the secret film festival. My response was something along the lines of, "If there's something secret, something other people don't know about, I want to know about it first."

This is a common sentiment. When I said that in the interview, I was thinking of one of Will Smith's lines in Men in Black: "All right, I'm in. 'Cause there's some next level shit going on and I'm OK with that."

The theme comes up in pop culture frequently. The movie Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (which I heartily recommend, it's a very entertaining film) centers around an indie band called "Where's Fluffy?" whose appearances are kept secret until the day of the show, when clues are left around the city pointing the fans to where they will be playing that night. The book I'm reading right now, Zero History by William Gibson (my favorite author), includes an exclusive members-only hotel that doesn't look like a hotel from the outside (called simply Cabinet), and a clothing line (called Gabriel Hounds) that is only sold secretly at random places and never in a store.

When it comes to selling things, many factors create demand. Marketing, name recognition, quality, and price all have their place. One factor in creating demand is exclusivity - that nebulous factor that makes something a "status symbol". Rolls Royce, Gucci, Prada, and many other brands built a foundation on quality, but maintain their demand through exclusivity. Generally the factors to manipulate to obtain exclusivity are rarity and price.

"Where's Fluffy?" and Gabriel Hounds, while fictional, show another way to obtain the exclusivity factor: secrecy.

We all want to be "in on it," whatever it is. We want to be in the know, in the club, on the inside. This is where phrases like "Knowledge is power" and "Information is currency" come from.

Technology has lent itself to this kind of marketing. Viral marketing is part of it. "Social media" like Twitter and Facebook are ideal for this sort of thing. Yet they also limit the length of the secrecy, and thereby the lifespan of the exclusivity and demand. Any brand that uses secrecy to generate exclusivity is going to have an expiration date. Contrary to normal marketing, when your "secret brand" gets name recognition, it will be dead. If you're going to start along those lines, while you're building your secret brand you better be starting the idea for your next one, so you can kill off the first one when it loses its cache, and just move along to the next thing. Marketing as evolution.

I'm not creating any new ideas here, just pointing out the trends and ideas I see. The real marketing wogs on the cutting edge have already thought of this, are already ahead of the curve. If they hadn't, it wouldn't be appearing in books and movies.

And it wouldn't have been published in Business Week 5 years ago. That article doesn't deal with a "secret brand" in the same sense as Gabriel Hounds, but it is in the same ballpark. Perhaps the brands in that article are the progenitors of the "secret brand" as it is coming to exist today...5 years is a long time for evolution in the online world.

But for now, it works and it's still relatively new. The question is: who is creative enough to take advantage of it? And how?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What is this Burning Man thing?

Two weeks from now I will be enjoying my first night at Burning Man 2010.

Over the years, I've been asked by many friends and acquaintances, "What is this Burning Man thing?"
It's a hard question to answer. My usual reply is, "It's hard to explain." Then I tackle any more specific questions they have about it.

Sometimes I give the short answer, "It's an art festival in the Nevada desert."
Which is true. It's a festival, people do come and make, build, perform, and otherwise create art. But that doesn't even begin to cover it.

It transcends attempts to explain. "Is it like Woodstock?" No, people tell you that because they heard there are a bunch of naked hippies there. Which is true - there are naked hippies, but there are also ravers, pyros, bikers, goths, steampunks, yuppies, frat boys, rednecks, nerds, and every other subculture you can think of; all in various states of dress or undress - although, on the whole, the steampunks tend to wear more clothes.

And there is music. But it isn't big-name bands taking a central stage (or stages, like Lolapalooza or Coachella). There is no single organized event to take your attention on any given day. Burners (as those who are wont to go to Burning Man usually call themselves) come, and many organize themselves into "theme camps" that create an interactive experience of some sort for their fellow Burners. I've been in a camp that built a lighthouse and played techno music for people to dance to. Friends organized a camp that served high tea every day. One camp paired you up with a "soul mate" in order to force people to meet strangers and make new friends. The variations are endless, and there are literally thousands of theme camps offering many different experiences.

You have to buy a ticket, but all that does is get you in the gate and pay for the port-o-potties you use. The experience is all designed and provided by you and your fellow Burners. The organization just sets up the infrastructure of the event (no mean feat) and puts on the one central event - the burning of the Man (a 40 ft. tall statue) at the end of the week.

"Is it some kind of survivalist thing?" I hear some people ask. No, you hear this because some people refer to it as "survival camping." The environment is harsh, and you must bring everything you need to survive a week in the desert - shelter, food, water, everything. But it's not a bunch of crazy end-of-the-worlders or anything like that. And guns aren't allowed - but they used to be.

So what is it? It's a life-changing experience. It's a big party. It's camping. It's art. It's music. It's whatever you want it to be.

When I first heard about it, it sounded like some crazed drugged-out thing that I had no interest in. But as my life changed, I decided that a crazed week in the desert was exactly what I needed, and I was right.

What I found there was a community. People who were genuinely nice (for the most part - there are still assholes around, no matter where you go) and just wanted to have a good time, and wanted everyone else to have a good time. It defied all the explanations I had been given. It was everything I had heard, and much more that couldn't be in put into words. That's why it's so hard to define - there are a million aspects to it, and if you go you see so much more than you were ever told about it. Even if you've been around somebody like me who's been many times and talks about it incessantly.

I also found a new family. People I call my brothers and sisters, and whom I love and care about very much. And every new Burn added new members to the family. And every one of those people changed my life in some way.

I've been to Burning Man 9 times now. 1997-2004, and then again in 2008. And I'll be at my 10th in just two weeks. And probably anyone who knows me has heard more about it than they ever would have cared to. Except my fellow dedicated Burners, since they talk about it as much as I do.

Before I went to Burning Man for the first time, my friend Gromit (who had been to Burning Man in 1996) told me, "When Burning Man '96 ended, there were people whose whole lives became about Burning Man '97."
I could not fathom a "festival" that would consume my life like that. I thought it was extreme.

When Burning Man '97 ended, my whole life became about Burning Man '98.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Schrodinger's co-worker

For the past week and a half, I've been going into the office on a daily basis. I haven't been doing that since I started working from home back in December. Many things are the same after 8 months of me rarely being there, but a few things have changed.

Naturally, there are people in the office I haven't met or seen before. There's one guy in particular who I only ever see in the break room when I go to get coffee. He seems to enjoy lounging around the break room, whereas I am in and out like a Delta Force team whose sole mission is to extract a cup of coffee.

As I say, I only see him in the break room. I've never walked past a cube or office and seen him. And it seems like he's there every time I'm in the break room.

One can't help but wonder: is he always in the break room? Does he just spend his whole workday there?

Surely not. But it's Schrodinger's cat, I only know this guy is at work when I look in the break room. Does he exist when I'm not in the break room?

This led to a more disturbing thought...for him, I'm the guy he only sees when I come in to get a cup of coffee. In his observable reality, I only exist when I'm standing in front of that huge silver Starbuck's machine.

The thought is dizzying and alters my perception of reality. If I dwell on it too much, my nose starts bleeding and I wake up on the floor 42 minutes later.

Usually with no pants on, which I can't figure out either.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Shooting on location

I love watching TV shows and movies set in Seattle. Not because I love Seattle so much (although I do love it), but because of the inconsistencies that always crop up. For instance, the view of the Space Needle that Fraisier had from his apartment was impossible. I'm sure this kind of thing happens in every show set any place it's not actually filmed, but Seattle is the one I know and where I can spot the errors.

This weekend, I was watching some recent episodes of In Plain Sight, partly because it features a number of cast members of my favorite show ever, West Wing (Mary McCormack, how I love thee).

In Plain Sight is set in Albuquerque. The episode that made me think about all this, however, started in Seattle.

In the opening scene, a homeless man (who turns out to be a genius and homeless by choice, as are all our homeless in Seattle, I'm sure) wakes up in a basement room where he's been crashing and walks out of the basement of a low stucco building (something you'll never see in Seattle anyway), and then walks past a sign that says "Pioneer Square Library" which made me laugh heartily. For those of you not from Seattle, Pioneer Square is a neighborhood made up almost completely of bars and restaurants. There's no library. The most educational thing in Pioneer Square is the Underground Tour, which I recommend to tourists and locals alike.

The homeless genius then walks what appears to be about a block to some small urban park, where he discovers a bomb while looking through some trash. He runs to a pay phone (almost non-existent downtown) and calls 911, reporting a bomb in "Westlake Plaza". I start laughing harder. Whoever wrote this episode has clearly never been to Seattle and just pulled a couple of place names off of Google or Wikipedia. Westlake (again, for those not local) is a shopping mall downtown. There's no park, and if there is a "Plaza" it's concrete.

Then, there's a wide shot of Seattle, showing (as every show set in Seattle must) the Space Needle - with the Kingdome in the background.  The Kingdome. Which was demolished a decade ago.

What about things shot on location? Surely they would contain fewer errors, right? Ha. I saw or drove past the filming of at least three of the scenes in the movie Assassins, back in the day. When we went to see it, I got a good laugh out of their creative editing. The opening scene, taking place in a graveyard, was shot in the suburb of Everett, about 30 miles from Seattle. In the scene, they pull onto the freeway and a minute later are suddenly in downtown Seattle. I wish my drive to and from Everett went that fast! Later, the heroes are in an alley that I know was just off Union Street, and when they pull out they are on Olive Street 3 blocks away. But the one in Assassins that made me laugh the most was when Sly Stallone jumps from the monorail onto the roof of a building on Fifth Avenue, and climbs down from the roof of the Hurricane Cafe a few blocks away. And for some reason there are some vicious guard dogs out back of the cafe. Awesome.

Whether it's filmed on a set or on-location, remember: the locals are always going to laugh at you.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Rat City Rollergirls

Ever since my wife saw Whip It (which is a great movie and you should watch it too), she's been obsessed with rollerderby. So for our anniversary this year (19 years together, and 4 years of marriage), I bought tickets to the Rat City Rollergirls derby this past Saturday.

I have to say, it was pretty awesome. It helped more than a little that one of my Seattle Steamrat friends held seats for us, and boy were they great seats. We were close down to the floor and had a great view. Even ignoring that, rollerderby, it turns out, is just a hell of a lot of fun.

There were two "bouts" (matches). We missed most of the first one due to a) our son having soccer practice that ended exactly when rollerderby started, and b) spending half an hour in line at Key Arena to get some drinks and munchies.

This really was OK, as the first bout was a total run away...the winning team had somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 points over the losing team. (To understand the scoring if you've never been to a rollerderby bout, you can click here, or the better option is to watch the aforementioned movie Whip It). The second bout, on the other hand, was incredibly close and came down to one point scored at literally the last minute.

However, I have now created a monster. The missus is already talking "season tickets" for Rat City's next season, and/or practicing her rollerskating and getting into rollerderby herself.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Monday, March 15, 2010

Papa likey

This is the Iconoclast by Ecosse Moto Works, makers of insanely expensive motorcycles. I could never afford this bike, and even if I could I don't think I'd ride one - 0-60 in 2.8 seconds just sounds like a rocketsled to the morgue for me - but it is incredibly beautiful. I do admire it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

March birthday overload

March. For me, a month full of birthdays, and one anniversary.

March 10 is my brother-in-law's birthday, and my niece's (well, niece-in-law, I guess, as she's married to my nephew).

March 11, my son's birthday.

March 13, my wife's birthday, and that of our friend Eric.

March 15, our friend Frank.

March 16, our anniversary.

March 22, my friends' daughter, who I count as a niece, basically. And apparently also my son's new best friend.

March 25, another friend Erik.

And I'm pretty sure there are a few more I've forgotten.

So, in the span of 6 days, I was at 4 birthday parties. 3 in one weekend.

I need a weekend to recover from my weekend.

I took this picture to embarrass my niece (not the one whose birthday was on the 10th):

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

...and I know that I'm right, cause I hear it in the night...

In the sidebar, under "Blogs - People I haven't actually met", you'll see there's a new one called "Sleep Talkin' Man". This is one I found via Boing Boing today, where a woman records and transcribes the crazy-ass things her husband says in his sleep. Give it a read, it's hilarious. "Badgertastic" is my new favorite word, even though I can't imagine in what context I would use it.

I can relate a little bit to her being woken up by the sleep-talk. When we were much younger, my wife would sometimes talk in her sleep. Back then I was a light sleeper, so it would always wake me up and I would get to tell her in the morning what she said in her sleep.

I haven't heard her talk in her sleep in years, but that could be either because she doesn't do it anymore, or because I sleep like the dead and could probably snooze through a full-scale battle.

My wife's sleep-talking wasn't nearly as funny as this British fellow's, though. She always - always - talked about work in her sleep. This was particularly annoying when we worked together in a bakery. She would wake me up twelve hours after our work day was done, saying something like "I forgot to put salt in the focaccia dough!" (seriously, who says "focaccia" in their sleep?) to which I (thinking she was awake) would say "Well, it's a little late now, isn't it?" which would only be met by snoring. I would then realize that I had been woken out of a dead sleep to attempt a conversation with a completely asleep and half-crazy baker. I would eventually get back to sleep, but usually not before she'd say something like, "The ciabatta's too dense!"

Anyway, give Sleep Talkin' Man a read. You'll like it.

- Mattbear out.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

It's a dirty job

...but somebody's got to do it.

It's 3:30am, and I'm awake thanks to another coughing fit, a problem I'll be seeing the doctor about (again) in roughly 12 hours. While I wait for the most recent dose of cough medicine to kick in, I thought I'd knock out this post that's been kicking around my brain.

My son has recently become obsessed with the Discovery Channel show Dirty Jobs. This really started even before he'd ever seen the show, because he thought it was hilarious when the host, Mike Rowe, would say "I can smell it now" on the commercials. Dirty Jobs hasn't transplanted Mythbusters as his favorite show, but he has insisted that I record it on the DVR and that he get to watch it as much as possible. I have to say, it's grown on me too.

I've done my fair share of dirty jobs. I worked fast food (my first job, cooking at KFC, was particularly nasty), worked in the "clean and paint" shop of an airplane repair station, been a janitor at a kid's play gym, and plenty more.

When I watch Dirty Jobs, I inevitably ask myself, "How do they stand to do that?"
Really, I know the answer. They slap on some gloves and tell themselves, "There's work to be done." It's that simple. When you do a job that's physical and dirty, day in and day out, it's just life. You just do it, and you earn a few bucks cleaning up messes that would make more gentrified folks sick.

With my current gig, the dirtiest thing I have to do is maybe clean out my keyboard (although I really ought to have a hazmat team for that, too). When I watch that show, I have to think back to days when I had to clean stagnant chicken blood out of a 15 foot trough, slog through a muddy construction site in the rain toting heavy steel doors, or cram myself into the underfloor of a 727 with a bucket of cancer-causing methyl-ethyl keytone to clean up the grime. (An aside for the ladies: ever go to buy nail polisher remover and grab the "non-acetone" stuff thinking it's healthier? It's not. It just substitutes MEK for the acetone, and MEK will give you liver cancer. You're better off to skip painting your nails. And trust me, modern men really don't care whether you paint your nails or not.)

There are some benefits to doing physical labor, as long as you do it right and don't have a job that will outright break or kill you. Before the Evil Empire gave me a desk job, I was a delivery driver for a meat company. My job involved slinging around 80 pound boxes of meat all day and jumping in and out of the back of my truck. I got myself down to 200 pounds then. While no means svelte, it was the best condition I've been in since high school. Once I turned into a keyboard cowboy, I put on 50 pounds in 6 months. It's gotten worse since.

Sometimes I think I'd like to go back to doing an honest, physical job. I'd like to have something tangible to point to at the end of the day to say "I accomplished something today." I'd like to be able to explain my job in a simple sentence ("I'm a welder") instead of the verbal dance I have to do now ("So, when you call in for tech support, before you talk to the guy who will actually help you, you have to talk to a CSR who gets all your information and charges you money and then transfers you somewhere - I write the stuff that tells that CSR how to do his job"). But then I realize that if I had "real" work to do, I'd have to actually get dressed every day, and wouldn't be able to play Halo or sit in my hottub on my lunch break. And I wouldn't get paid as well as I do for being a Corporate Whore (tm). So for some reason, I just keep doing what I'm doing.

A couple of times while watching Dirty Jobs, I've caught myself telling my son something like, "That's what you end up doing if you don't get an education." I try not to, and I feel guilty when I do. I remember my parents (who didn't go to college) telling me similar things, and I remember what little impact it had on me. And those people don't deserve to be put down for what they do. Their jobs make life easier for everyone else, and there's nothing wrong with a day's honest labor. If you know how to live within your means, how much you earn isn't nearly as critical. I worried less about money when I was a delivery driver for a bakery and earning less than one-third what I do now, than I do now with all my debts and bills and such.

I want to strike a balance between instilling in my son the need for a good education (which I do think is important) and teaching him a good work ethic, which has to include room for physical - even dirty - labor. It's a balance that's hard to strike, and became even more complicated for me recently after seeing this great TED talk given by Mike Rowe, which I suggest you watch now: