Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Haight-Ashbury

The week before Christmas I went to a family reunion in the Bay Area of California. As we were staying in the middle of nowhere, I wasn't really expecting to be getting out of the house and away from my relatives to do any sight seeing.

Luckily, a friend of mine from Berkley was happy to show my brother and I around San Francisco for a day to escape the insanity of thirty people under one roof.

I was expecting nothing more exciting than a few hours at a coffee shop and maybe some shopping. Because of that and also the fact that I am anti-purse, but pro-girl jeans, I chose not to bring my camera. What a mistake that was (see poorly exposed iPhone photo below).

My friend immediately suggested we visit The Haight. As my friend and brother are both much cooler than I am, I had to control my massive counterculture fangirling and pretend to be all chill like, "oh yeah, I guess that would be tight." Meanwhile, on the inside, my heart was doing back flips because the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood has been on my list of places to someday visit ever since I first started researching the Beats and reading accounts by Tom Wolfe at way too premature of an age (seriously, reading about LSD trips is really scarring to a twelve year old).

We didn't do too much at The Haight (though if I had brought my camera I totally would have made my friend and brother put up with my fanatic photographing of every small detail) except for browse Amoeba Music and sip some coffee at People's Cafe, but the feeling of laid-back revolution was still there --- despite the American Apparrel and Ben & Jerry's stores.

There was so much to look at and think about (and take pictures of! hmph) that I could definitely take a whole week to really experience it all. I want to find all of the historical locations like the sites of some of The Diggers' free stores, some venues where the Grateful Dead played their first shows and, of course, I'd venture to the nextdoor neighborhood to see the site of Harvey Milk's Castro Camera.

Having only been to Los Angeles and San Diego in my memory, I haven't had a very favorable opinion of California in the past. Sorry Andy Warhol, the plasticity of LA does nothing for me. San Francisco, however, I can dig. It completely changed my opinion of the state. For once, I saw more than California stereotypes. I saw real people and real history --- even if it is a history that became bloated by youth runaways and irresponsible drug use.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Free Soy Milk? Zomg!

Those of us with ecclectic and often difficult to understand interests tend to be difficult to buy for. So, Starbucks gift cards tend to be our most-received gift. It's sort of like the ultimate back up gift. When people can't think of anything else, they get you a Starbucks gift card. I really wish there was some sort of generic independent coffeehouse gift card -- valid for all non-corporate and inherently delicious coffeehouses.

Well, until that glorious innovation, I've discovered something that makes the onus of twelve Starbucks gift cards a little better. It's nothing new to most people, but new to me and wholly awesome.

I won a Starbucks gift card a few weeks back and, when I went to use it, the cashier told me I needed to register it. I kind of freaked at first because I thought that meant I couldn't use it to pay for my latte until I had registered it. Thankfully, that wasn't the case and my grande soy latte was safe in my frantic finals week hands.

I did, however, take a moment to ask the cashier what registering your gift card meant and today, stocked up with five Starbucks gift cards, I sat down to do just that.


Probably the most efficient reason to register your gift card is because it gives you the ability to combine all of your unnecessary gift cards onto one. This must not be something a lot of people know about because I have at least two people a day at work ask me to combine their gift cards (I work at a place that looks very much like a Starbucks, but is indeed not a Starbucks. Hence, why I didn't know about this promotion before now).

Starbucks advertises registering your gift card as security. I guess if you register it, you can't lose the money that's on it even if you lose the physical card. But honestly, who cares THAT much about a gift card?

What I think is the coolest is that, when you use your registered card, you can get FREE SOY MILK. Any milk or syrup flavorings that usually cost extra are free. So for you vegan and/or lactose intolerant espresso-lovers, extra charges are now a thing of the past.

Since becoming unable to drink milk, I've stuck with the simple latte at Starbucks. The soy milk charge makes any other drink too expensive. I cannot wait to drink my first iced grande caramel machiatto since developing lactose intolerance.

Another cool thing about registering your card is that it gives you two hours of free wifi per day. If your university or house, like mine, often suffers from server outages, this is golden. When I'm in unfamiliar territory, Starbucks is the only place that I'm POSITIVE has wifi, even though I know I have to pay for it. No more!

With the card, you can also get free brewed coffee refills. Meh.

Personally, I don't like to spend enough time at a Starbucks for a refill. I prefer a softer, slower paced ambiance for working or chillaxing. But if you do like to spend hours at Starbucks, it's a pretty awesome deal. Do keep in mind though, brewed coffee means like House Blend or Pike Place. Not lattes or cappucinos or Frappucinos. It's astounding how many people don't know the difference between coffee and espresso drinks. I think that's how Starbucks can trick people a lot. They offer a free brewed coffee with some purchase and people buy it thinking they'll get a free vanilla bean Frappucino. Sorry guys.

Bottom line: if you're an independent coffehouse loving person (y'know, the kinds of places where soy milk is free) burdened with presents of Starbucks gift cards, register one of your cards and make them worth it.

Images via .Delight, GreenLightOffice

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Little Steampunker In Me Is Bursting With Excitement

So, PC knows that it is losing to Mac. It also knows that its desktops are losing to its laptops. Solution? Make the PC desktop look like a combination 1950s television set and typewriter so that all of those fashion-crazed Apple hipsters will jump on the PC bandwagon (for at least one of their computers, that is).

The computer doesn't exist yet, but it should. It has hipster and artist written all over it.




Gorgeous, no? So sleek and nonpareil. The keyboard even kind of looks like the older iMac keyboards from a distance, but up close, it is even better.



It's so hot. A keyboard that looks like a typewriter? Yes please! I would shell out a good deal of money for this alone.

The remaining details mesh 1950s kitsch with steampunk class.


(via Yanko)

Seriously, if this concept comes to fruition, I will be buying one. No clue about the specs or its comparable performance, but I can't bring myself to care. It is the hottest technology I've seen since the Magic Mouse.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rules for Surviving Finals

I was going to make a Jabberwocky and Finch video about this, but don't have the time or resources. So now it's a blog.

The reason I have no time? Finals.

This is my first semester to truly feel the brunt of finals. In the past, I've had a handful of final papers and some brief language exams that mostly fell during Hell Week (the week before exams has a very telling name, doesn't it?). This semester, I had a research paper due during finals as well as three exams each at 8:30 in the morning.

My roommate (who this semester has been dying a long, drawn out death called Organic Chemistry) and I began studying Friday evening. Since then we have stayed up until at least three every night studying, woken up at 8 to begin studying again and quite honestly done nothing else.

We've been studying so much that I even strained my eye. I thought it was pink eye, but the nurse assured me it is just a reaction to the nonstop reading I've been doing. My eye itches and hurts so badly that I can't wear eye make up. So those purple circles under my eyes? Way more noticeable. The only way my eye doesn't hate me is if I wear my reading glasses. I hadn't been wearing them all week (probably why I strained my eye in the first place) and when I put them on this morning, it was like I was seeing the world clearly for the first time ever.
 

It was during one of those droning hours of studying, squinting my eyes to see the dull print, that it occurred to me that finals are a lot like zombies.

They haunt your mind all semester as a vague impending specter. While you're trying to fight them (sometimes referred to as studying), the act of survival consumes you. Nothing else in the world matters except to survive finals. You stay up all day and night trying to stave them off. When they finally catch you, they eat your brains. You're left with a vacant skull and maybe a few pieces of mush about verb conjugation and linear regression.

At this point, you have become a zombie. The whites of your glazed eyeballs are circled in purple, your brain is gone, your limbs are stiff and you crave nothing more than human blood.

Oh wait, maybe not that last part. I think my metaphor got carried away. Maybe some people crave human blood when they're done with finals. I don't. Just to be clear.

I am not yet a zombie. As you may have noticed from my sentience. Being one of the few non-infected students left on campus, I thought it may be beneficial to share how I came to survive for this long. My survival is thanks to Columbus' list of rules in Zombieland.

1. Cardio
Combative studying requires staying up at all hours of the night and day. Being active is a part of being intelligent. Coffee, sodas and adderall will only last you so long. In order to retain optimum levels of energy, you have to work out, which brings me to my second rule:

2. Limber Up
Good stretching can give you hours of extra energy, but it is also important to do before sitting down in order to avoid stiffness or cramping while in the midst of a brawl with a zombie, by which I mean a study session.

3. No Attachments
You'll lose friends during finals. Better to not make them at all.

4. The Buddy System
In punitive contrast to Rule #4, you need a buddy. A partner in your guerrilla studying has got your back if you get overwhelmed or distracted. This rule only works if you keep in line with Rule #4 (otherwise, you may end up making a friend). To avoid wanting to have fun, don't even learn each others names. Refer to each other by major.

5. Double Tap
Just like zombies might not be dead on the first shot, you probably have not studied enough for an exam on the first go. One more shot will go a long way to ensuring your survival.

6. Don't Kill Bill Murray
This wasn't on Columbus' list, but definitely should have been. It Columbus' fatal flaw. Had he remembered this rule, things may have been easier for him. Don't kill Bill Murray and you should be able to survival finals.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Tell Tale Heart

Yesterday, I went to the Edgar Allan Poe exhibit at the Harry Ransom Center at UT (which will continue through the end of year and is completely free). This year would have been the author's 200th birthday and cities all over the nation have been holding festivals, exhibitions and parties throughout this year to celebrate.

While this exhibit was nothing compared to some of the macabre graveyard parties I had hear rumors about in Baltimore, it was still cool to say that I did something to participate in what I consider an iconic year for literary hipsters.

I found out that Poe wrote a lot more than I realized. Certainly the giant tome of his complete works I saw one of my friends toting around in eighth grade led me to believe he wrote quite a bit, but I was unaware that he wrote a novel or so many poems (and even a few sonnets). It also became obvious by the many paintings, sketches, letters and reviews created by Frenchmen, that the French must have been crazier about Poe than modern-day hipsters.

Eventually, I figured out that after Poe's demeaning death (brought on by Rufus Griswold's slanderous obituary), Charles Baudelaire essentially fell in love with Poe's works. And, like you do when you're in love with something, fought tirelessly to give Poe the reputation he deserved. Cue the explosion of Poe translations, artwork and man love in mid-nineteenth century France.

For one, I found this exciting for the opportunity to read Baudelaire and Poe at the same time. However, the cooler thing about this connection is what it means for those of us who are on a passionate, albeit halfhearted, adventure to uncover the hidden meaning to Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Most older readers (or those who grew old while the series progressed) can easily identify the man in charge of the Baudelaire childrens' affairs, Mr. Poe, as named after Edgar Allan Poe and Mr. Poe's eternal coughing as a throwback to one of the many ailments that led to Poe's death. Until now, I've always thought his namesake was simply due to Lemony Snicket's own gothic interests and style. However, I have finally made the connection!....and desperately wish there was someone I could tell other than my partner in literary pursuits who would care. Alas, no one at the exhibit yesterday was particularly intrigued by my discovery.

As I slowly glided through the display boxes and many portraits of Poe, it was difficult to remember that this was the man who had once written such genial poems as "Annabel Lee" and "The Bells." Reading on through the disturbing artifacts of his life, I could only recall his terrifying stories such as "The Fall of the House of Usher" and "The Cask of Amontillado."

I was in a dark room set aside from the main exhibit viewing the more grotesque images that have been created of his stories when I noticed you could hear the loud bass of music coming from next door. This is something I've been wondering about Austin recently. A lot of the venues where full-blown concerts happen are directly adjacent to other buildings and apartments. Surely there's got to a pretty expensive noise license to get for that. But what venue was next to the Ransom center? Weren't we in the middle of campus? And no red light lasts that long. It couldn't simply be coming from a car.

I mentioned the sound to my friend who was viewing the paintings with me. He paused to listen. I continued studying Arthur Rackham's watercolor of "The Pit and the Pendulum."

I was staring into the empty eyes of the demons in the background when my friend commented that the bass  was too inconsistent to be coming from music. I listened, not taking my eyes off the watercolor painting. The sound was a bit odd. Not something you would hear in music and, come to think of it, I couldn't hear any background noise that would be the music to go with the bass. It was a very clean beating sound, almost like a...

Seriously?

Had the museum done that on purpose? In the creepiest, most poorly lit portion of the exhibit did they have a recording of a heartbeat playing all day?


Or were we going crazy? Usually if two people can hear something, you can be assurred you're not going mad....but wasn't the sound of the heart beating supposed to be a sign of a guilty conscience? If that was the case, than anyone who had done something wrong could hear the heart. Or perhaps Poe is a distressed spirit, upset with the way the nation is putting his most personal items, failures and humiliations out on display, and anywhere people go to see celebrations of his birthday this year, you will hear his own heart beating. A sad, unfinished heart beating.