#ABGT 100

2004 seems longer ago than any other year to me, which I understand makes no sense. How can it seem longer ago than 1999, or 1991, or even 1989 – all years I remember, at least in bits and chunks? Maybe because 2004 felt like a bridge, some convergence of the analog past and the digital future. It was the year I graduated high school and started college. It was the year Facebook was invented, the peak of Windows dominance, the calm before the Apple-Google-let-me-check-my-phone storm. It was a time when there was still hope that George W. Bush wouldn’t be reelected. It was a moment at which I could feel the changes on horizon while being able to look into the past and realize how far away it would soon feel.

It was also the year that Above & Beyond launched their massively successful radio show/podcast Trance Around the World. The show ran for 450 episodes until 2012, when it was rebranded as Group Therapy, after their sophomore album. In 2004, A&B was on fire with songs like “No One On Earth” and “Satellite” (by OceanLab, the combination of A&B + Justine Suissa) that mixed drama and unshakable melodies with EDM churn. 10 years later, they’re more popular than ever – the 100th episode of Group Therapy (and the 550th episode of the radio show overall) was a live set in a sold out Madison Square Garden.

I’ve been fascinated with issues of EDM criticism and have even compiled my own list of A&B’s best singles. ABGT 100 didn’t seem like a time for critical reflection, but in the relatively quiet spot I found at the back of the floor, there was time to think. I appreciated how strands of Cygnus X were woven into Mat Zo, how Andrew Bayer unfurled one vocal masterpiece after another, and A&B’s integration of “These Shoulders,” perhaps Julie Thompson’s finest moment on Anjunabeats. I also got this great photo which looks kinda like Deadmau5 lost in a crowd of ABGT partygoers:

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It was all so harsh, yet so gentle. All new, yet so old.

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Observations 3 weeks after switching from Android to iOS

Much of this blog was originally about Android. I wrote numerous guides, longform articles, and lists about how to use Google’s mobile OS. Traffic grew exponentially after I began delving into how to use tools such as UCCW and Dashclock Widget on Nexus devices. After 1.5 years of my Android blogging, though, I tired out – I had plateaued with a Nexus 5 running mostly stock Google apps and a few cross-platform mainstays such as Pocket. I didn’t know what else to write without going into rooting etc., which didn’t interest me.

Earlier this month, I switched to an iPhone 6 Plus after 3+ years on Android. I got my first smartphone in 2011 – an HTC Inspire from AT&T – and then moved on to the Nexus 4 and the Nexus 5. The iPhone 5S, with its stunning camera and Touch ID, tempted me to jump the Android ship, but I held out, thinking that Apple would eventually make something bigger. They did, and I switched, realizing that the only thing that had prevented me from going to the iPhone had been screen size.

After three weeks with iOS, here are my three main reactions to switching:

Gaming performance
When I was an Android user, I regarded phones and tablets as secondary gaming devices – good for the occasional time-waster on the subway, but not for the “serious” experiences like the ones I got from my 3DS. The big screen iPhones have changed my outlook, not so much because of their GPUs and the Metal API (though both help), but because of battery life. The iPhone 6 Plus easily lasts the whole day even between podcasts, music, Pinterest and sessions of Plants vs. Zombies 2 and Plunder Pirates (and iOS exclusive for now – it went Metal before it went Android). On my Nexus 5, the battery would drop precipitously after just a few minutes of gaming. I couldn’t relax or give into the experience, but now I can. Skullduggery!, Mr. Crab, PvZ2: The app gap between iOS and Android is most pronounced in both the gaming selection and how each platform handles common games.

A world without the Web (browser)
Chrome was a mainstay of the Android experience, but Safari doesn’t hold the same centrality for me on iOS. I usually only end up there if something else sent its way. Native apps are better, and Spotlight Search, linked into DuckDuckGo, has all but eliminated my Googling. FeedWrangler takes care of RSS for the websites I usually check, anyway. The only thing I regularly use Safari for is the mobile Facebook site, since I don’t like how the Facebook iOS app affects battery life. Part of iOS’s strength here is in high-end immersive apps like Tweetbot, Vesper, and various games, which between them run the gamut of content consumption and creation.

The small stuff
Neither the Nexus 4 nor 5 shipped with bundled headphones or a podcast app. Both charged with microUSB, so the cable wasn’t reversible. I had to draw a pattern or enter a code to unlock, without the option to reliably use my fingerprint. These all sound like minor quibbles, but considering how many times a smartphone is looked at each day, they add up.

Writing my second short story: What I learned and what I would do differently now

This week I completed my second short story, a 7,000 word piece called “The Lightning” that I posted to Tumblr, along with some original artwork and photography that loosely correspond to the narrative. It’s the second story I’ve published to the site – I prefer Tumblr for its relative anonymity  and informality, as well as its artistic community – and I plan to add at least 3 more over the next several months. Once I get to 5, I’ll think about self-publishing an actual book of them.

The story itself is a reporter’s chronicle of his investigation of a local tall tale, about a man who is repeatedly struck by lightning. I didn’t go into the story with much of a plan – only an idea of “lightning in a bottle” that was cycling through my head like a cliche during a walk back in September.

Stylistically, I drew upon three major sources:

  1. Will Self’s Umbrella – a multi-consciousness, stream-of-consciousness novel that seamlessly moves between World War 1 and later eras, all the way to 2010.
  2. The Serial podcast, a massive hit series narrating a reporter’s revisiting of a 1999 crime
  3. The Counting Crows album “Across a Wire,” which reimagines the band’s early songs with lyrical snippets from other songs, b both their own and others’.

I’m still very much a novice short story writer. My first one was written back in the summer, called “The Loop.” I’m still getting a feel for narrative and characterization – in this one I took the first-person perspective, despite Jonathan Franzen’s recommendations against it, to try and get inside the investigator’s head. I also presented different layers of narrative. The parts in quotes are meant to be newsy/reporter-y, while the unquoted parts are more free-form, going between poetry and free association.  The piece started as a someone walking around in the woods thinking about the Union Jack (I began right before the Scottish independence referendum) and ended up with that as just a passing detail.

There are some details about my hometown in here. The Lebanon Enterprise is a real newspaper, just as Proctor Knott Avenue is a real street. The whiskey distilleries, lakes, and forests are all real characteristics of the area in and around Lebanon.

I published it once and then took it down to do some rewrites. With this story, I rediscovered what I had once learned but forgotten (perhaps since I did so with a different medium, the academic paper): trying to substantially revise an old work that you haven’t gone back to in a while is painful. I probably let 1.5 weeks slip between the first draft and doing substantial edits, which ended being harder than facing down a blank page had been. I’m not going to put off the edit cycle again.

I used iA Writer for Mac to write the whole thing in Markdown. I took the photos with an iPhone 6 Plus. The artwork was done with acrylic paint on a sketchpad.

For the next short story, I’m going to read something more straightforward – maybe some Stephen King and Hemingway – and then tailor my style accordingly. I’ve already got a title: “The Chancellor.”

Ignurnt: A wonderfully expressive word

During a phone call with my mom the other day, I used a word that I used to hear all the time in middle and high school but very rarely since. That word is “ignurnt.”

No, it’s not “ignorant,” tho etymologically – in a loose sense – that’s where it comes from. Technically, it’s just a Kentucky accented version of “ignorant,” but the meaning is different.

“We haveta to take off our jackets when we come into school? That’s ignurnt.”

“This homework assignment is ignurnt.”

Ignurnt almost means the opposite of ignorant. It is an epithet for work or other actions that are probably well thought-out and for everyone’s benefit but are perceived by the speaker as an exorbitant burden. At the same time, the word is synonymous with “stupid,” yet conveys so much more disdain – the target is construed as both idiotic and often from a different class or world entirely. Republican hatred of Obamacare or the faux outrage of “#gamergate” are well served by liberal usage of “ignurnt.”

The word ignorant is not usually applied to actions – instead it is thrown around when talking about people or ideas, usually. “Ignurnt” is more earthy and immediate. It isn’t abstract and is in fact concrete and immediate, a densely packed retort to something that touches a nerve out of nowhere. It is unguarded, off the cuff and brutal, yet full of complex power and expressiveness. I’m looking forward to building a character’s voice around the logic of the word and the types of folks who use it. Maybe it can be an English downhome counterpart to Sehnsucht

A clear writing mindset: Quitting sugar and Google

Late last month, I felt like I was in a rut, trying to finish a short story for a collection. I’m still not done, but I feel like the end is in sight after a period in which it couldn’t have seemed further off. A few changes helped me get back in the right mindset.

The Internet is often portrayed as an enormous distraction for writers. Writers like Jonathan Franzen have even made a big deal about disabling their networks in order to get some work done. I can understand the impulse. But I don’t think such severe blanket action is needed.

Instead, I believe that many writers (and everyone else, too) would be amazed at what life is like if you just give up on Google’s services. No Gmail, no YouTube, and no Search. Giving them up wasn’t too bad for me since I’m not a big YouTube watcher and find Search too filtered and customized, so I understand how this technique may not be that extensible.

Still, avoiding Google’s endless abyss of answers is liberating. If I wanted to know something, I would consult a book or use DuckDuckGo if I had to – both of which require much more effort. Not having it there to lean on was amazing – I could just write or think instead of trying to sate my curiosity about an inconsequential question.

Around the same time that I went off Google, I went off sugar. Not completely, but pretty close. I don’t even put sweetener of any kind in my coffee now. After I felt terrible for days (sugar really is a drug, and withdrawal is palpable), I eventually felt much calmer and happier. It felt good to just write and not feel the background urge to eat something really sweet, which would take away time and then set me up for a crash after the high wore off.

Being a writer doesn’t entail being puritanical like this (quite the opposite, in fact). I might relapse eventually – low-stakes, since we’re talking about Google and sugar, not something more serious – but it’s refreshing to know that it’s not that hard to upend your entire experience of the world with a few simple actions.

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