Pocket Problems

I generally like Pocket (formerly Read It Later). As someone who has a cell phone without a data plan, it is incredibly useful to me. I can save a bunch of articles to Pocket from my browser, download them to my phone via wi-fi, and then leave the house, secure in the knowledge that I’ll have reading material for the rest of the day, should I require it. I can read the Internet without actually being connected, at that moment, to the Internet, hurray!

Unless I save a webpage that has an embedded video in it. Then everything gets fucked. When attempting to read an article which, in spite of being mostly comprised of written words had the gall to also include an embedded video, the Pocket app will insistently complain about its inability to load the video. “HEY!” it screams, “THERE’S A VIDEO IN THIS ARTICLE, BUT I CAN’T LOAD IT! STOP READING! LOOK AT THIS BIG, FULLSCREEN ERROR MESSAGE!”

It’s annoying. But that’s not what’s bothering me. No, what really bugs me is that once this error comes up, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Just look:


Note that the only available button says “RELOAD” — which of course does nothing if you have no data connection. Note the complete lack of an, “Okay, thank you, I don’t want to watch the video anyway, so you can stop trying to load it — I want to read the 1,500 or so words that you are currently obscuring, if you would be so kind.”

But no. If you can’t load the video, then you can’t read the words. To hell with the words, I guess.

Who designs an un-dismissable error message? Someone to whom it did not occur that it might be possible to have a smartphone that doesn’t have a data plan. Or, perhaps it’s someone who also forgot that you can install Pocket on things like iPods and iPads, many of which do not have wireless data plans. Or, maybe it’s somebody who just doesn’t realize that many websites often have articles where the bulk of the content is comprised of readable words, that are merely embellished with video content, rather than completely useless without it.

I don’t know.

I guess there’s always Readability, but maybe that sucks, too.

How (Not) to Invest a Single Dollar

The Morning News recently posted an article that asked several people for their advice on how to invest a single dollar. Here, we summarize and rate that advice.

Investor: Dev Aujla, Founder, DreamNow, New York City
Recommendation: Buy an abandoned theater, fix it up
Rating: Disqualified. Even if you do as suggested and “raise money” it’s likely that you will at some point need to spend more than the dollar you were given in order to make this happen.

Investor: Rev. Winnie Varghese, Rector at St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery, New York City
Recommendation: Invest in a local credit union
Rating: Credit unions are non-for-profit entities, and generally are not publicly traded, so I’m not sure what this person means here. Perhaps we’re talking about opening an account and placing a single dollar in it. However, there is much variation in how different credit unions operate, so one must be careful that the account one opens does not have a minimum balance requirement with regard to avoiding fees (which will eliminate your dollar). However, if one engages the services of a teller to open the account, and if that process takes them about fifteen minutes, one may get some return: Assuming the teller makes the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour, you will effectively be obtaining $1.81 of service from that person. One star.
ROI: + 81¢

Investor: Xanthea O’Connor, Street Performer, Perth, Australia
Recommendation: None given
Rating: DQ

Investor: Chris Maddox, Creator of The Wild Woman Project, West Stockbridge, Mass.
Recommendation: Stare at the dollar, and maybe think of something
Rating: Difficult to nail down. You may be inspired to come up with a brilliant money-making idea, but unless that idea requires no investment larger than a single dollar, anything you dream of will necessarily be disqualified, per the rules of this exercise. But it is possible, we suppose. Half a star.
ROI: $0 to $∞

Investor: Serena Keith, Director of Product at Lovely, San Francisco, Calif.
Recommendation: Buy a cup of coffee for someone you admire, on the condition that they let you sit and talk with them while they drink it
Rating: The average price for a cup of coffee in the United States is a little over two dollars. You may of course be able to find a cheaper cup, but you may therefore have to travel to get it — which is not a problem if your guest is willing to cover the cost of transpiration. Also, unless you spend more than the allowed amount for investment, you’ll have nothing to drink yourself, so you’ll just be staring at the person while they sip their low-quality brew and (hopefully) drop pearls of wisdom on you. May I suggest finding a hotel that serves free coffee in its lobby? There are usually chairs there, too. However, getting to the hotel will cost you more than a dollar unless you walk. Also, unless your guest gives you an idea to make money without spending any, you’ll break the one dollar rule if you act on their advice. One star
ROI: $0 to $∞ ($0 more likely

Investor: Daisy Freund, Senior Manager of the Farm Animal Welfare Dept., ASPCA, Brooklyn, NY
Recommendation: Buy and plant an edible perennial vegetable
Rating: While many perennial seeds do indeed sell for less than a dollar, one must have at least a small patch of land to grow them in. If you’ve got that, then there’s nothing stopping you — unless your soil might contain toxins. You may need to have it tested (a test for lead appears to be around $20). Not necessarily a disqualifier though, if you’re willing to risk your health — or anyone else’s, should you decide to sell your harvest. Half a star.
ROI: Potentially poisonous vegetables

Investor: Jessie King, Social Worker, Boston
Recommendation: Donate it
Rating: Barely qualifies as an investment. The only possible returns you may receive are either a sense of well-being emanating from your perception of yourself as a good and altruistic person, or a highly hypothetical, extremely attenuated benefit of the “what comes around goes around” type. You are generally improving the world, but not very much. You could probably get the same return by smiling at a stranger or something. I throw a star out to the universe, I’m sorry, you’re all going to have to split it.
ROI: Very, very little

Investor: Phillip Stockton, Filmmaker, New York City
Recommendation: Bury it, draw a map to it
Rating: DQ. You’ll need map drawing supplies, which puts you over the one dollar limit.
ROI: Aside from the satisfaction you feel regarding your own cleverness, nothing.

Investor: Mike Merrill, “World’s First Publicly Traded Person,” Portland, Ore.
Recommendation: Burn it
Rating: While many investments result in losing your capital, this should not be confused with intentionally destroying capital. At least when you lose money on a financial instrument, you can comfort yourself with the thought that its not really gone — only stolen. Anyway, this barely qualifies, since the potential return on investment here is that your friends will reject your melodramatic, “am I blowing your mind?” pretentiousness, meaning that you’ll wind up alone a lot. When your repeated attempts to re-establish contact result in a brick being thrown through your window, you may at least sell the brick. I would give this entry a star, but I torched it.
ROI: Free brick, ashes

Investor: Hal Ross, Retired Hedge Fund Manager, Palm Beach, Fla.
Recommendation: 1. Don’t invest it. 2. Hire someone smart to invest it
Rating: Option one is disqualified by default. Option two… well, one suspects that anyone who is good with money is not willing to work for free. If you only have a dollar to invest, how will you pay them?
ROI: The hearty laughter of a financial professional

Investor: Patrick Martinez, Admissions Manager at Columbia University’s School of General Studies, New York City
Recommendation: Unclear: Either you should start a small business first, then earn a dollar, then frame and display that dollar so that it can inspire people, or find a business that just now opened, and give that dollar to them so that they can frame and etc, etc.
Rating: DQ’ed. Twice
ROI: Confusion, mostly

Investor: Erin Markey, Musician/Writer/Performer, New York City
Recommendation: Tip a barista
Rating: The idea is that the more you tip, the more likely you are to get free things. Since the rules are you’ve only got a dollar, one suspects that you won’t get much for free in return. On the other hand, if you don’t buy any coffee at all, you will save yourself around two bucks (see above). No stars. The give-a-star/take-a-star tray was empty.
ROI: Vague hopes

Investor: Rena Singer, Communications Director at Landesa, Seattle
Recommendation: Donate it to The Girls Project
Rating: While this is certainly a fine use of a dollar, the rules of this exercise permit us the use of only one dollar. Thus, if we donate this buck to this cause, that’s it. That’s all we can donate. Instead, we suggest you donate a different dollar that you might have, along with several of its friends. As for your original, strings-attached dollar? We have no idea.

Investor: Emily Bryngelson, Fashion Designer, Brooklyn, NY
Recommendation: Buy something at Goodwill, then design a product “inspired” by it
Rating: If you haven’t been there in awhile, you may be surprised to learn that $1 doesn’t get you very much from the Goodwill anymore, but if you’re not picky you may find… something. Letting it inspire you to design a different, salable product though will inevitably take you beyond the one dollar limit, however. Incidentally, it can apparently cost $5,000 a year for schooling toward a degree in fashion design, so we’ve got to take that into account. One star, but it’s bespoke, so it’s really really nice.
ROI: One item from Goodwill, which probably smells pretty bad

Investor: Ben Harrison, US Marine, San Diego, Calif.
Recommendation: Give it to somebody working on clean-water issues
Rating: We’ve been lenient towards the donation suggestions — which aren’t technically investments and, when capped to a single dollar, are nearly useless anyway — but enough’s enough. Disqualified.
ROI: Feel good, and so on and so forth

Investor: Rob Friedman, Risk Associate, New York City
Recommendation: Buy a (creditable) newspaper, and then…?
Rating: The intention here is obviously that you should learn something from the information that the paper carries, but if information is all you’re after, why not read the free copy at the library? On the other hand, a physical newspaper has lots of uses, most of which require that you actually own the copy you’re stuffing into your hat or whatever. Though it’s not what the investor intended, this one actually turns out to be pretty good advice. Four stars!
ROI: See the above link about the uses of newspaper

Investor: Robin Sloan, Author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore, Berkeley, Calif.
Recommendation: Play a classic video game
Rating: Um, okay. But surely this is merely spending rather than investing. Unless you spend one quarter to play the game, and gamble the rest on how you’ll do, maybe. Four one-quarter stars.
ROI: If some sucker gives you even money, you stand to make 75¢

Investor: rAndom International, Design Studio, London
Recommendation: None given
Rating: Disqualified

Investor: Tom Henske, Partner at Lenox Advisors, New York City
Recommendation: “I can’t say how to invest one dollar for any given person.”
Rating: Oh, there’s more, but nothing that actually fits the rules. DQ’ed.

Investor: Laura Lee, “Scotland’s Premier Escort,” Glasgow, UK
Recommendation: Draw a poster, make photocopies, post those copies
Rating: Getting out your message is a good thing. Probably not the worst way to spend a dollar, but the return on investment is terrible, since it’s going to take a great deal more than that to change the world. Three stars for good intentions, minus two for not making anyone any money.
ROI: Hard to say, really

Investor: Filip Marinovich, Poet/Occupy Wall Street Participant, New York City
Recommendation: Give it to somebody, but only if they’re on the subway and they ask for it
Rating: We’re of two minds on this. On the one hand, this is another donate-rather-than-invest type of suggestion. On the other hand, you never know if someone on the subway who asks you for money will snap if you don’t give it to them. So you could be investing in not being verbally assaulted at the very least. Ladies and gentlemen, I am not a drug addict… if any of you could spare some stars today, I would really appreciate it.

Getting Ready for the Day

If left to my own devices, I will generally go to bed around three in the morning, and wake up at ten. There are no ordinary job schedules that fit this profile. For example, my current routine has me waking up at five in the morning, which sets my bedtime at around ten at night — though I can rarely get to sleep before midnight. It’s grueling, but without a legitimate (i.e. recognized by an insurance company) medical condition, I can’t even dream of asking for any sort of accommodation from my employer.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy to have a job, and I certainly hope to keep this one for the rest of my life.

But I’ve had to look for work a number of times in my life, and none of the shifts offered by most employers suite my peculiar circadian rhythms. The closet fit would be a swing shift, I suppose. It should be possible to wake up at ten, get to work by three PM, get off at midnight, and be tucked away in bed by three AM, right?

In practice, at least for me, it turned out to be quite difficult to manage. The four hours of free time between waking up and leaving for work were awful because, well, there was a hard cut-off. If you get caught up in a book or a movie or something before bedtime, it’s no big deal — you lose a little sleep. If it’s before work, you’re done — you’ve got a job to get to.

That wasn’t my problem though; I was not constantly interrupting the good times in order to get to work because, generally, there were no good times to be had. The immense amount of time between waking up and clocking in allowed a certain kind of dread to take over. Forget enjoying myself, I could barely run errands. “Do I have clean clothes? Do I have time to do laundry if I don’t? Do I have fixings for dinner? Should I go to the store? Do I have enough cash in case of an emergency? Should I stop by the bank? Should I go to the post office? Do I need to put gas in the car? Do I have enough time to do all this shit and still get to work at least 30 minutes early?” When all that stuff is piled up at the end of the day, it can be a pain in the ass too, of course. But contrast the sound of your own whiny inner voice saying “I want to go home!” as your pulling into the Arco, versus the sound of your boss saying, “I don’t care what your excuse is, I expect you to be here and ready to work at the time that you’ve been scheduled. Come see me on your lunch break, there are some forms you’ll need to sign.” Sigh.

Pre-work dread is easier to manage if you’ve only got a couple of hours between wake-up and clock-in. You can trudge through it in a dissociated haze, only allowing the misery to tackle your conscious mind well after it’s too late for you to call in sick. (Or a least, it’s easier for me that way.)

Also, I never managed the trick of flopping right into bed after eight to ten hours of massive, massive stress.

Still and all, even knowing the drawbacks, I’d still rather do a swing shift than a day shift. Not that any of my skills translate to a swing position. Not that any of them pay especially well.

Any mad scientists out there got an experimental treatment that eliminates the need for sleep? No?

Oh well, guess I’ll just stick with coffee then.

Toy Joy

Regardless of the fact that today The Simpsons represents a bucket of corporately-digest doo-doo, served ice cold to the inscrutably receptive masses of people that none of us seems to know personally, it was actually a pretty funny show, once upon a time.

To that end, please enjoy this unique, publicity-seeking, nostalgia-baiting, chunk of corporate synergy that is “The Homer.” In spite of it all, I think it’s quite cool, because I am a sucker for new things that remind me of old things that I like.

Best Bottom (End)

A couple of weeks ago there was a discussion on Reddit about who a budding bass player should listen to for inspiration. All the usual suspects turned up: Geddy Lee, Les Claypool, Cliff Burton, that one guy from Muse… and yeah, I guess they’re all pretty great. Mostly though, I think most of the commenters were simply reciting a list of their favorite bass players, which may not actually be an answer to the question.

If you’re just starting out on an instrument, it’s not a bad idea to look to the lofty heights for inspiration. It’s nice to know what lies at the edge of possibility. On the other hand, if you’re just starting out, getting to that edge might seem like a really long, demoralizing journey,. Maybe it would be helpful to know just how much you can do with a relatively limited skillset? If so, I think you should listen to Graham Maby.

I’m not saying that Maby isn’t incredibly talented. I just think that he exemplifies an accessible bass style. His work is invaluable, but not flashy. Let’s face it, most bass players appear as side-men on stage, even if their true musical function is to push the whole band forward from behind. It’s not an easy thing to do. It’s important and nobody knows it.

Take this song for example. Maby’s bass picks up the song and carries it on its back, from start to finish. Without it there is no song. If I were a beginning player, I would want to hear this.

(No disrespect meant to Mark Sandman by the way, who will always be my favorite bassist. But that might be a little too wild and advanced for those just starting out. Learn to play conventionally a little, before you go ripping half the strings off your instrument.)

Unliked Books

I’ve spent an awfully large amount of time reading the comments on this Toast article about books people hate. It’s fun! But also, I have no idea what to read now!

I find it difficult to hate a given book, personally. It’s not that I don’t think there are bad ones out there, but usually if I’m not enjoying a book, I blame myself. Except for Citizen of the Galaxy. The protagonist spends the whole book moving for one social milieu to another, getting along well each time until, at the end, he discovers that he is the heir to enormous fortune — and he hates it. But instead of going back to where he was happiest, he reluctantly decides that the management of a vast fortune is more important to the universe and so he sighs, and sticks around to count his money and, presumably, mope a lot.

Okay, I didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t really a good time.