Friday, December 21, 2007

Stories of the Road, issue 28: Escape from LA

Thursday, 12/13, was my last day working in Beverly Hills, so to commemorate the occasion I wore my favorite suit. On our last night in town, our dinner was comprised of great Italian food and cupcakes. The only celebrity I spotted while I was there: Jon Voight, in the lobby of the Beverly Hilton.

LA was the most interesting and most glamorous location of all my work assignments - not my favorite but pretty high up on the list. While there, I could never shake the thought that somewhere, at that very moment, while I labored away in front of a computer reconciling my client's bank statement, people far better-looking than I and far richer than I'll ever be were doing things I can't afford to do with famous people who I'll never meet. Of course you can really say that at any time of day no matter where you are; the idea just seems a little closer, a little more omnipresent in LA. This is a terrible thought to carry around, I know. I blame Bret Easton Ellis.

I spent a lot of time out there thinking about why people (the American public in particular) are so interested in the lives of the rich & famous, about how psychological research has shown that attractive people are perceived as being more intelligent & successful & friendly, about whether or not I even give a damn about being rich or famous one day. It was an interesting experience and I think I came away from it with the right ideas. Spending an extended period of time exposed to that lifestyle can fuck with you, even the people who live there admitted that to me occasionally. LA has an energy and a magnetism that I don't fully understand, and from which I'm not entirely immune.

Thanks to everyone who came out last weekend to make our party such a success! Special thanks to the evening's performers: Oreo Dory, Blazed Doughnuts, Paul Parts, Secret Sceptre, and Daniel Knox. I've posted a gallery with about 20 of the best pictures of the evening. The gallery contains a Blazed Doughnuts video, which is also featured on YouTube - and has somehow collected 150 views before I even told anyone it was up. There's a video of Paul Parts' silhouette playing a song as well, but it's not as nice as any of Victor's videos from that evening.

I walked to the Arlington Park train stop after work on Tuesday and the race track has put up a Christmas light show. It costs $10 to drive through in your car or nothing to walk through if you come in through the back entrance.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Searching for John Horstman

I expect that almost everyone reading this has Googled their own name at one point. Three years ago, I held the 10th spot among the Google results for "john horstman" with a link to my senior design project web page, Audio Spatializer for Headphones (now replaced with an abbreviated description here - awarded Most Marketable project of Spring 2003 and totally the idea of my friend Jon Boley), and had another hit on the next page of results with a link to my Physics 398EMI project, "Modification and Assembly of a Fender Deluxe Reverb with Patchable Ring Modulator" (super-boring monster lab write-up here).

All of the top 9 other spots were held by John Horstman of Elgin, IL, who was arrested in 2001 for carrying a gun in his fanny pack while out for a bike ride in DuPage County. Evidently, someone had reported a man exposing himself on the bike trail, and when the police stopped John Horstman as a potential suspect they searched him and found a 9mm handgun and loaded magazines. (John Horstman was not the flasher and the handgun charges were later dropped.) There are a number of gun advocacy web pages that discuss this incident, one of which begins with: "John Horstman did not set out to be a hero on Tuesday, July 25th..." This John Horstman retains the coveted top search result to this very day - which means that anyone who Googles "john horstman" will see a web page that reads "Yet one day when John Horstman of Elgin, Illinois, decided to take his unloaded gun with him, concealed in a fanny pack..." as the first link. Imagine how reassuring this was when I was job hunting.

A few more John Horstmans have jumped into the mix and knocked me out of the first page of results. John Horstman result #2 is from Fulton, MO, and earned his search result standing by catching a record-breaking crappie.

According to Wikipedia, "Henry John Horstman Fenton (1854-1929) was a British chemical engineer who, in the 1890s invented Fenton's reagent, a solution of hydrogen peroxide and an iron catalyst that is used to oxidize contaminants or waste waters. Fenton's Reagent can be used to destroy organic compounds such as trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene (PCE)." Right on, Henry John Horstman Fenton!

John Horstman, 13, of South Middle School in Arlington Heights, collected and created 388 Health Kits for Church World Service. Wooo! John Horstman!

This John Horstman is one of the top results of Google Image Search for his position on the Maryland-Delaware-DC Moose Association Board of Directors (plus he is a sharp dresser):

The highest-ranked page that returns a result for yours truly comes in at a respectable #17, and it's my recently-revamped homepage, I'd like to get on the first results page someday, and maybe, God willing, all the way up to that #1 spot. At least I still own the top spot for "john karl horstman"... on the list of results for the University of Illinois student government elections as a write-in candidate for student trustee, student body president, chief of staff, and a number of other positions.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Stories of the Road, issue 27: Regarding business dinners

Wow, guys, you know what the only thing better than working an 11-hour day is? You might say "Nothing," but I have the answer: working an 11-hour day and then going out to a business dinner where you talk about work the whole time. Oh, but wait, stop, hold on, there's something still better than that: if you can immerse yourself in that situation but then also be conversationally marginalized the entire time, and then whenever you try to bring the topic off of work you're interrupted with non sequiturs the entire night, that's the only way the night could get even better. I swear, the older I get and the more time I spend in the professional world, the more I realize that people skills don't really have that much to do with getting ahead in the business world.

I can understand the desire to talk about work at a business dinner: everyone can relate to the topic, you get to dish all sorts of gossip, people are talking about their coworkers in a way that they would never do if they were sober, alright, that's great. Still, doesn't anyone appreciate the opportunity to really get to know the people they're working with? And do we really still have to kiss our superiors' asses outside of the office? Isn't that the time that we should be ignoring office politics more than ever in order to rebel against the onus imposed by the workplace where we spent the vast majority of our day?

Admittedly, I'm a very social person, so I'm probably just upset that everyone I work with doesn't interact with other people in the same way that I do. This whole rant makes me a bit of a hypocrite since I believe that people in general weigh communication skills too heavily when assessing someone else's intelligence and now I'm turning around and doing exactly that with my coworkers. I guess at the end of the day this blog could be viewed as a perspective on how people interact differently in social situations. Still, it's disappointing to spend three hours with a group of people that fuel the entire night's discussion with stories about themselves.

By the way, we ate a a restaurant called Koi tonight, which is a sushi place in West Hollywood that was featured in an episode of Entourage (so my coworkers tell me). The CEO of my client told me that he had been there once before for dinner with Michael Bolton and Nicolette Sheridan. There were a few paparazzi outside the restaurant tonight. The inside of the restaurant was filled with fake blonds, fake tans, fake tits, short skirts, long legs, and several older gentlemen escorting several more younger ladies.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Stories of the Road, issue 26: An in-flight bibliography

*NOTE: This is my first post to Blogger, but I have blogged on MySpace for quite a while. To dig through my MySpace blogging history, go here.

After a thoroughly enjoyable month of employment based in the Chicago suburbs, I'm back on the road this week, writing this blog on my 4-1/2 hour flight to LAX. Fortunately, I brought along some excellent reading material that's making me forget that I have felt my legs atrophy significantly over the course of the flight - looks like my traveler's fortitude has suffered from the respite. The nice thing about evening flights is that you can play the cloud shapes game with the patches of light from the towns below; I just passed a crop of lights that looked like a giant beetle.

Malcolm Gladwell has finally returned from a hiatus of several months with a great article on how the FBI's long-revered criminal profiling methodology is really just pseudo-scientific cold reading. He spent his hiatus working on his next book, and although I have no idea what it's about I'm getting antsy just thinking that more Gladwell goodness will soon be rolling off of a printing press somewhere, rife with counterintuitive wisdom backed by rock solid case studies. Try to stay with me here, but there's something similar about Malcolm Gladwell's work and the web services/products that Google provides. In both cases, the simplicity of their packaging makes the content more intuitive. It reminds me of the way the word "elegant" is used in the context of computer programming to describe a solution that implies a harmony of simplicity and robustness. Leonardo da Vinci said that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication, and I think that idea is manifest in output such as Gladwell's Blink and Google's RSS feed manager Google Reader.

But I digress.

I'm also slowly working my way through Naomi Klein's No Logo, which is an examination of the state of advertising, branding and marketing at the end of the 20th century. The big picture so far isn't too surprising - Guess what? Corporations are EVERYWHERE! - but the cited examples of out-of-control branding still strike your gut as foul, such as Fashion Licensing of America's line of Ernest Hemingway furniture ("designed to capture the 'brand personality' of the late writer"), or Nike internally coining the term "bro-ing" to describe its process of borrowing style, attitude and imagery from black urban youth. She just wrapped up a chapter on how the Seattle grunge scene didn't really stand for anything but an aesthetic, making it perfect for brands to swoop in and co-opt. That section is followed with some well-worded passages about how being interested in something ironically is a vapid cop-out, which I LOVED reading because I feel like I've never really understood the "so bad it's good" theory.

* * * * * * *

I'm now in the cab on the way to the Beverly Hills Hilton, where a room awaits me. Let's see if I can still remember my hotel room arrival routine: open suitcase on second bed, put toiletries by the sink, iron and hang shirts... yes, yes, it's all coming back to me.

Lucy & I had a fabulous time this weekend seeing They Might Be Giants at The Vic, eating at our favorite Wicker Park restaurants, and falling asleep during two consecutive attempts to watch Ratatouille. We also had some heavy-duty conversations; it was good to get away from the catch-up we play over the phone every week, and to interact deeply with someone so close to me. Those experiences don't happen every day.