Monday, May 28, 2007

All Rights, in Perpuity

Did you hear?! Everyone is on that BBS Web Ring Classmates Friendster LinkdIn Myspace Facebook! Finally you can find all those great social connections that life tossed aside like so much poorly preserved cole slaw. You can find that guy in shop class who seemed to have a lock the next Hulkamania winner, or that one guy you never really liked but who had an SNES.

It -- like that overly sharp but really useful potato peeler -- has a dark side. All this interconnected and faux intimacy comes at price, and a hefty price at that.

The internet, for all it's touted New Economy doublespeak and lauds of it's Transformative Power on Society, is, to a multi-billion dollar industry, just a simplier way to collect marketing information. Now, through some magical programming hackery, corporations can send targeted advertising email, and be reasonably sure that you will in fact enjoy the latest invention from StarFrit, or the latest breakthrough in late '70's Chevy Nova wheelwell cleaning solutions. The information is floating out there, just to be grabbed and utilized for nefarious commerce purposes.

The marketers hit a bit of a bottleneck in, say, the mid-90's. Folks got wise to the whole idea of privacy. Information, identity, the Truth About You. They realized it was a commodity to be protected. Not just from greasy haired ne'er do wells who have an ardent affection for particular OSes, but from massive corporations, who have an insatiable appetite for it. What do you like? How old are you? What's your education level? Your income level? How do you feel about small yet shockingly rabid chinchillas?

Information is money.

And yet the poor multinationals were befuddled by the lack of truthiness in the information they were getting. Surely there weren't 200 million Joe Smith's in the world? Why are so many people live on 123 Mainstreet? Clearly the gig was up.

But, ah, then came along the Social Networks. Friendster, LinkdIn et al. They came and saw, and they held your attention for all of a few months. But still, there was no way to know if :)CoolManJojo99(: was his real name or if RealSecksehKitty was in fact, a feline in heat. And then came Facebook.

Initially available for students from schools (they had a nifty verification system where you had to have a valid email address from said schools), Facebook slowly opened up their network. And now everyone from Aunt Fanny to Grandpa Ernst can join and see that you belong to a group called BeerForWorldPeace!!!LOL!

What's more insidious is how Facebook hooks into your real email (your non-spam one, you know the one) and then uses your address book to find other users real emails. It's slick, and yet terribly effective. And now Facebook has a network a zillions of connections and relationships. Real data on real people. And they can now sell that. Marketers have undprecedented amount of information not just on you, but who you are connected to and why.

If that's not enough piss in your cornflakes, consider how Facebook not only treats you personal information, but everything you post to it (i.e. pictures)

"By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant ... to the Company, an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof." (via 24 Hours)

You've basically given Facebook your really cute picture of yourself as a baby playing rocketship with your mom's 'massage device', which Facebook can then turn around sell to some photo site, or even sell the rights to sell those pictures. You can end up finding that really fetching picture of you at graduation acting as a placeholder to a slightly garish frame at Sears.

But these are all doomsday predictions. Who wants to hear about all this when you can reonnect with that one guy from that wicked kegger 7 years ago who totally got your jokes.

Monday, May 21, 2007


Packing, not in the urban LA sense, where I might have a 'gat' or be walking around 'strapped', but real-life, non-ebonics laden packing: kinda sucks. Packing makes one aware of just how much needless crap one totes around from one place to the other. Crap that's been stuffed into a cubby hole and largely forgotten until it's unearthed for packing, and which brings one of two thoughts to mind:

1) Holy crap!? Where has this been! I've really been missing my insulin!
2) I have no idea what this is, but since I haven't thrown this away since 1993 when I was really into Pearl Jam, it must be really important.

What never runs through your mind is the really important option :

3) If I haven't been missing this: half empty bottle of Wild Turkey / bobblehead of Tony Danza/novelty key chain for a Porsche which I used in a sad attempt to lure girls while dancing pathetically to Flock of Seagulls / syringe / back issues of The Spoon Advocate (activists pushing to legally verify ornamental spoons to their supposed location) / a novella you wrote in 9th grade about a boy and a girl who find happiness and awesomness with laser swords and a really fast wizard hat / a forgotten campaign donation to Goldwater. And since I haven't missed this, I should probably just throw it away.

And since that third option is always ignored, that piece of crap must invariably stuffed into a nondescript box for Depends (or Smirnoff's latest delightful foray into fizzy ciders aimed at tweens) and labelled: "Stuff". Or, if you are feeling really descriptive : "Miscellaneous". Which ensure this crap will follow you until that one fateful day in an old folks home when your heart medication is switched with a triple speedball and at least you've died with a smile on your face and who cared about that crap anyways?

Yes, in the larger outlook in life, hauling miscellaneous stuff indefinitely isn't that bad. I mean, who knows when you might need that Rita McNeil "Best of Hannukah Hits"? But it sure makes packing suck.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Lifting Subjects

So we've dropped the hammer, as it were. Committed to a smallish wooden box deemed habitable by the government, all the various building organizations that be, and some guy named Ted.

The box we bought is attached to a few other boxes, and is deemed higher up in the real estate hierarchy than the ubiquitous condo. It's the house on training wheels, the too large to be put in a skyscraper dwelling, it's the townhouse.

Lifting subjects is probably the toughest part of buying a place. There is no more hemming and hawing, weighing, considering, and contemplating. No more sitting on the fence. No matter how pretty and comfortable a fence it may be, you can't live there.

And when you lift subjects, there comes a definite amount of (misplaced and delusional) certainty. All the nagging doubts you've had are pushed to the back. Like that piece of chicken you just had for lunch which had been left on the counter maybe a little bit too long, now's not the time to reconsider. I mean, that freshly set afire car nearby is, in actuality, quite charming; and who doesn't like to hear a good argument between a woman name Mary-Lou-Geraldine-Ginny and a man-child with an awful case of acne and the smatterings of facial hair called Bud; and really, what playground in this urban environment doesn't have one or three improperly disposed of needles? Now's not the time to slowly churn these (well-founded but now ignored) doubts.

Now's the time to focus on the positives. Such as, uhm, the latest drive by shootings were, by all accounts, pretty accurate. That cryptic black patterning in the bedroom was most certainly the works of some urban youth testing his spraypainting skills and not, as your nose tells you, deadly, deadly mold. And what open liberal-minded fellow nowadays wouldn't like to hear his neighbour's 'phat beats' about 'playin' da game' and being a 'gold-plated pimp-star fo' life'?

Hindsight is not a luxury afforded for those who have taken the plunge. There is only the looking forward, imagining your new life in your new place. Which is exciting, to be sure. Almost exciting as the rush of shoving all suspicious inklings and considerations to the back of your mind, and taking a nice deep breath, and signing on the dotted line.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Very Real Estate

Real estate is a genuinely tortuous experiment in testing man's flexibility to change. I'm puzzled by which Great Thinker thought up the idea, I can only imagine it was some disgraced member of the Inquisition who was deemed "too hardcore" and "too effective at his job". Maybe they polled the opinion of every curmudgeon on every street in North America and drew up the plans. You know the curmudgeon, usually with a name that starts with "Old Man..", like "Old Man Petersen". And he has one too many cats/lizards/dogs/miniature hyenas. Never throws anything out, and any frisbee that goes over his fence is lost for sure. And then when he dies, one finds out that he was really a kind hearted soul who painted impressionist artwork for the local dog shelter. Well, if it was a Disney show. In reality, the old man always has an entirely illegal cache of weapons and a taste in media that could politely be described as Miscellaneous And Confusing Pornography.

But I digress. Real estate! It really is just the buying and selling of not only a large (sometimes not so large) often moldy, persistently unattractive wooden box (jammed with bits of rock and insulation and copper wire *); but also selling a good whacking portion of your income.

In BC it's hit an all-time ridiculous high of 52% of gross income committed to mortgage payments. Recommended ratio in a sane economy not rife with speculators and zero down mortgages? 32%. That's a tiiiny bit off kilter. And yet we are all in the roller coaster together. So we just nod and smile to each other, grit our teeth, and say goodbye to those luxuries called 'disposable income' and 'money for food'.

But this isn't just another rant about real estate and the likely bubble we are suffering through in BC. No no, this has to do with real estate overall. I mean, here we are, running about, looking for an appropriate wooden box (or concrete cubicle, in a large tower of other concrete cubicles) and have to decide in less time it takes me to put on socks (an not decidedly nice socks either), if we want to make an offer on it. I think that the process would be a bit slower if the real estate agent spelled out exactly what that meant. Such as, "have you decided on the area, the lifestyle, the commute, where you'll get your groceries, walk the dog, go for a walk, and generally spend your non-working life, and ready to commit the largest portion of your income and therefore make an offer on this box?". I think, if put in admittedly verbose, yet accurate terms, real estate would move just a bit slower. But no, it's not. The question pops up within minutes of seeing a place, "would you like to make an offer?" Like asking if you would like to offer the guests another round of that dreadful punch and lime soda concoction your Aunt Mildred makes that tastes not unlike fizzy dishsoap.

I'm a man of indecision and unfocussed meanderings. Making a focussed decision, deciding for sure to live somewhere, for a good many years, after taking a peek into someone's house? It's absurd. It's not even a good look, usually. Just enough to get a feel of the place. There are no numbers to really consult, find out if you will be happy or miserable in this new box, if it will fulfill all your dreams and needs. If it will jive with that nebulous concept, your "lifestyle".

I honestly think they should just drop 'style' from that term, lifestyle. Because that's exactly what it is, your life. An hour and a bit commute and the ability to stretch your legs in your own place? Or less of your lifetime devoted to avoiding eye contact with familiar strangers but having to live in a squalid, shameful tiny pidgeon hole of a place where you can often hear your neighbors softly clear their throats? It's a tough decision.

So you whinge and you wheedle each other, you think and consider, weigh out options with a miniscule amount of data, and at the end of the day, you might even make an offer on a place. Sorry, decide where the majority of your income is going and where your life is going to be spent. You decide, you make an offer, there's tit for tat, there's back and forth. Maybe the deal goes through, but sometimes it doesn't. Then you are left with the unenviable task of dropping that entire life you've constructed in your mind. That entire life which justifies you spending An Absorbitant Amount Of Money on, and have to reimagine your life somewhere else.

It's tortuous and wicked process, real estate.

*to bring the negative ions through to your electromongonical devices so that you might have a nice smoothy or watch some arbitrary geographical area hit by the latest meteorological nightmare