I’m writing this at 30,000 feet, heading home from Williamstown, an hour car drive to Albany, a short hop to Philadelphia, a long flight to San Francisco, and then a BART ride home. All in all, a 12-hour ordeal, and that’s assuming I don’t end up hovering over San Francisco. On the way to Williamstown, I had the pleasure of a 70-minute holding pattern over Philadelphia. It wasn't an anomaly. The Wired magazine I carried aboard happens to have a handy chart of airport delays. 32.4% of arrivals into Philadelphia are delayed. 30% of departures are also delayed at Philly, but I did get out in time heading home to San Francisco (where 26.8% of arrivals are delayed).
Too bad I’m not flying into Oakland, which has the best on-time record of the major US airports. "Only" 18.5 of departures are delayed, and 18.6 of arrivals. The worst? Newark.
But the delays aren’t all bad, since I have no shortage of work to get done. As of this past Tuesday, I’m officially late turning my book’s manuscript in to my editor. And since he needs at least two weeks for an effective line edit, that means that there’s no way in hell we meet my publisher’s deadline. I already asked Penguin for an extension, to March 15. They laughed at me. I knew they would. I shot high as a negotiating ploy. I’m actually hoping for the end of February. I suspect I’ll be done before then – I'm really motivated to get this thing off my back. Writing a book is the most painful thing I’ve ever dealt with. I can’t believe I decided to do it again after Crashing the Gate, but I suspect there’s a sadomasochist side of my that enjoys it. I’ve got two more books I want to write after this one.
No more promises of "never again".
As much stress as this puts on me, my blogging, and (most importantly) my family, there is something gratifying about a medium with the permanence of a book. It’s the anti-blog. And while I am singularly designed as a human being to be a blogger (good thing I wasn’t born in 1544, or any year before 1971), and while there’s no doubt that my talents are best suited for this medium, it’s supremely gratifying to meet the challenge of writing a book. As I’m now fond of saying, writing a book is harder than it looks, and it looked hard to begin with.
I’m struck that I’ve never mentioned what I’m writing about. The book still has no name, but it offers rules for modern-day activism. It’s sort of a Rules for Radicals for the digital age. It’s no secret that I have little love for the old-school street protest model of activism – not because I’m opposed to street theater, but because it’s simply not effective in today’s world. So how do you change the world in today’s world, with its fragmented media landscape, with democratizing technologies, with dramatic changes in how we interact with each other, and with a culture evolving at neck-breaking speeds? That’s what I’m trying to decipher. I won’t declare success until I finish the book and can get early feedback, but it’s proving a greater challenge than I expected when I took on the project. It’s a longer book than CTG, and I’ve got no co-author to shoulder the load. As much as Jerome and I hated each other (good-naturedly, of course) after finishing that book, I’m suddenly appreciating him a lot more. But don’t tell him.
So this long trip has been a great time to lay down some serious wordage without the distractions of daily life – the blogging, emails, family and whatnot that have conspired to make a mockery of my initial deadline. It almost makes me glad that the airlines are still dragging their feet on airplane wi-fi service (a service, by the way, I’d pay up to $30 in a cross-country flight to have).
So here I am, pondering technology, and I'm suddenly left thinking of my own personal technology journey. For someone who is now firmly embedded in the digital world, I did come from a household that still had black and white televisions into my youth. And since I'm doing my best to procrastinate a little before I get back to my book, let me see if I remember all the computers I owned.
My first computer, a Texas Instrucments TI-99/4A and a shitty one at that. It hooked up to my crappy television, and offered crappy games and a crappy proprietary programming language that I actually had a lot of fun playing with.
I joined the Army, and three months later I was in Germany. I promptly plunked down $1,999 for a 386 PC with Windows 3.0 (which would be $3,343 in 2007 inflation-adjusted dollars). It was my first real computer, and given that I earned about $600/month after taxes, I had to get a loan at the bank on base. After fees and interest and whanot, the thing cost me almost four months of salary, and it was worth every penny. Out of my entire unit of about 180 soldiers, I was the only one with a computer. I was a trailblazer.
But not for long. 486s came and went. Then 586s (or, as Intel’s brand gurus called them, the Pentium). And I still persisted with my dinky 386 with a woefully outdated operating system. I lugged that already-obsolete computer from Germany to DeKalb, Illinois. I was a college student. I had no other options. And even then, there were still surprisingly few students with their own computers. I was styling with my own computer and dot-matrix printer.
I headed out to Boston for law school, sans 386. It was time to update, and I had enough in student loans to budget for a computer. I looked at Windows PCs, but my artist brother insisted I check out Macs. Macs? They were dying! There was no software! They were pieces of crap! They were too expensive! But my brother persisted. And since these were Apple’s most desperate days, they had actually licensed the Mac OS and several clones were offering machines at more competitive prices. I won’t give my brother the satisfaction of giving him credit for turning me into a Mac fanatic, but he did.
Not to mention that I’m a Democrat and a Cubs fan. I’m used to rooting for the underdog.
I bought a PowerComputing Mac clone. Ahh, I was cutting edge again! Except that Steve Jobs came back to Apple a few months later and ended the clone licensing. PowerComputing promptly went out of business, and I prayed daily that my computer wouldn’t quit on me. But it didn’t.
I needed a laptop to take notes in class, so I went on a message board and tried to buy a Powerbook 3400. It was a scam. I ended up losing $300. That sucked. I didn’t have any money. This was pre-EBay. The dark ages. Truly. Wanting to buy an engagement ring for my wife and being broke, I ended up selling about $10,000 in treasured music equipment I had accumulated over the years (keyboards, synthesizers, effects racks, amplifiers, a mixer, guitars) to a local music store for about $1,500. If EBay had existed, I would’ve easily gotten twice that, if not three times as much. I spent all that money on the ring. To this day, my wife has refused my occasional offer to "upgrade" her rinky dink wedding band.
In any case, I ended up going to the local campus computer reseller and got a more modest Powerbook 1400. It sucked, but it sucked much less than my fellow students’ PC laptops. This was pre-internet-in-the-classroom, so I had to figure out other ways to entertain myself when I was bored in class. So I began a site called the Hispanic Latino News Service, which was a blog before there were blogs. In the morning I would go online to find news stories to feature, then in class I would literally craft every page by writing the full HTML. So I would have to create a new page for that day’s updates, and then move the previous day’s stuff to the archives, which meant manually creating new pages, then manually updating the indexes. It sucked, sure, but it was better than paying attention in class.
Had blogging tools existed back then, perhaps I would’ve remained in my Latino niche. But alas, I graduated in 1999 and that was the last of the HLNS. Last I checked, the domain had expired and some seedy porn outfit had stolen the URL. As for that laptop, I don’t remember what happened to it. It didn’t make the trip to California.
That PowerComputing Mac clone was truly on its last legs. And I had to head out to California about three months earlier than my fiancée – stuck in Boston with an internship – would be able to. She needed a new computer, and I would need one soon. Short on cash, we decided on an iMac. I wanted the orange version, but my fiancé vetoed it. We got a blue one. This would become our main machine at home, and was the computer on which Daily Kos was started. It was donated to the Ecology Center when we replaced it with one of the sunflower iMacs – still perhaps my favorite computer ever. I’m a slouchy computer user, so the adjustable monitor was always perfectly aligned, no matter how terrible my posture.
In 2003, I served my one-year sentence in consulting hell, and always on a plane, decided that I had to move to the world of laptop computing. I got a first-generation PowerBook G4 Aluminum. It was wallpapered with stickers (Brian Lamb famously had me hold it up on Q&A, where the one that said "Fuck Republicans" was most clearly visible). After 10 months on the road, including trips to the Democratic and Republican national conventions in 2004, I had tripped on the chord and brought it crashing to the ground one time too many. It lasted about 10 months.
I got another PowerBook G4, this one lasted 8 months. I live with my laptops attached to my hip, never far from reach from sun-up to whenever I fall asleep in the wee hours of the morning. They get abused.
This one last ten months again, trashed but still working, I retired it early for a new MacBook Pro. I passed on this Aluminum G4 to my brother, but the traumas it had been subjected to were too much. It lasted just one month before finally checking out of this world. Probably the worst gift my brother ever got.
I finally had a computer built for ME! The MacBook Pro was Apple’s first Intel-based machine. More importantly, the power cable was attached with a magnet. If the chord was yanked, the magnet would release, leaving the laptop safe and secure. No more destroying laptops by tripping over the power cable. And I had this computer for 20 months, proudly sporting a "Tester for Senate" sticker, and it was still going strong until that fateful day when I spilled delicious hot tortilla soup on it.
I never mourned a computer like I did this one. But, like I said at the time, "Still, if you must go, drowning in delicious tortilla soup isn't the worst fate." It was replaced with another MacBook Pro, which is now going strong.
In any case, this has been pointless enough, but happily, the rum and coke have done their job. Relaxed and chill, it’s time I get back to my book. Did I mention it won’t hit bookshelves until September? Did I mention book-writing was the anti-blog?
And so it goes.
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