Sunday, July 29, 2007

Couched Observations

We went to go buy a sectional a few days ago. Now that we are out in the burbs, we have enough room for furniture that is not featured in the latest dystopian sci-fi film with a good-on-paper but terrible-in-practice brainwashing authoritarian regimes and limitless seas of white people dressed in grey. Films that illuminate the unreachable spark of the human soul and how the bastions of technology and society will never breach it, nay, not in a thousand years, not in a thousand million years, and definitely not with shock troopers that have been creatively garbed using 3 gallons of white spray paint and a $57 spent at the army surplus store.

In fewer words, we can now afford furniture that can fit more than two petite, overly polite exchange students.

So we went to the area around town that sells furniture: it has great edifices built on the idea that industrial warehouses can be semi-attractive and not depressing at all furniture showrooms. Never mind the exposed metal rafters overhead, or the fact that the waste incinerator is a scant 30 meters away. No, keep your eyes downward. To the richly textured laminate flooring which expertly reflects the more boring hits from the 70's, 80's (and the tamer parts of the 90's) piping from two tinny speakers across the vastness of the warehouse.

I mean showroom.

And it's not enough to have one of these monstrosities. No, we have to have several of them. All in a row. Which gives one the silly impression that maybe there are savings to be had. Large showrooms brings to mind bulk sales, which brings to mind vaguely shoddy furniture at deep deep discounts.

You would be wrong, of course. They aren't any cheaper. The stores managed to maintain whatever sliver of pretension they had; before they became enormous repositories of dark green corduroy barcaloungers that will never be as valuable as your father-in-law cherishes it in-between rousing NFL plays.

Salespeople hover nearby, dressed three times better then you even at your own funeral. They dote. They question. They cajole. But not too much. They don't lay it on thick. They know today's internet-ipod-community -sourced-edgey -XGen-progressively -forwardly-backpatible-yuppie -ecowarriors are wise to the old plays. The motormouth listing of features. Grandiose comments on luxury and nefarious claims on 'quality'. No no no. That won't due. For the consumer nowadays knows what Finnish village the lumberjack grew up in who happened to fell the particular white spruce that makes up the main supporting frame of the ottoman. They know price per yard of this or that fabric. They know the commission rate of the sale-peoples, the latest benefits to be cut from the warehousing staff, and the why light mauve will NEVER be the 'new black'.

And so we trudged, we walked, we marched through all the stores. Comparing, squeezing, measuring. We were treated with distance.

Particularly in the stores that were for only the upscale clientele. The ones with ostentatious chandeliers (are there ever un-ostentatious chandeliers?) and salespeople who look too well monied and well-bred to be working at all, and perhaps work the job every odd Thursday as a lark, and to get away from Odessa Wordsworth, who simply won't stop crowing about her latest small slam at that bridge tournament three months prior. In places like this, ordinary furniture has prices of biblical proportions. A child's bookcase can run a full $1500. One thousand five HUNDRED dollars! All to carry a few completely ignored toys, one beloved stuffed teddy bear from the latest cartoon, and a single book that is read, by memory, every single night.

So those stores we quickly run from. But the rest, no matter how different their branding is, always manages to be the same inside. The same couches, the same salespeople, hedging around you, making sure not to tread on any well-known and well trodden booby trap. Respecting the customer, letting the customer come to them.

It got tiring.

On our last trip, to the last store, in the Great Big Furniture Store Block of Massiveness, we were met, or, er, intercepted, by a salesman. Not a salesperson. A salesman. Because when he started his career, there were only men on the floor. They smoked cigarettes and made disparaging remarks about the 'damn pinko ruskies'. They wore one type of glass frame (horn rimmed with enough plastic to withstand the shrapnel from a point blank grenade) if they did at all. They had the same ranting discussions about baseball, or hockey, and somehow still managed to blame it on the 'commies'.

So this fellow intercepts us. His moustache and hair are dyed in what can only be described as a Black-Hole Black. So overly dyed that you can hear the screams from photons as they got sucked into the pigmentation. Light steadfastly refused to reflect off of the hair.

He takes one look at us. I'm not even sure if he breathes before he's off and running with his pitch. It's fast, it's furious. His arguments and points go up, around, does a little loop-de-loop, buzzs the control tower, then explode into several smaller, faster planes, which continue on their paths. He's confused, we're confused, but he continues on. He makes wild claims on quality, outrageous remarks about luxury. And although his speech is fast, it has an easy-going quality. One gets the impression he missed a very good living being a highly successful -- if FBI-sougt-after cult -- leader.

I look around, wondering if maybe we wandered on a used car lot without really knowing. But we haven't, and he isn't selling cars. He's selling us a fabulous sofa. It's ridiculously fabulous. Why is he even selling anything else? The showroom is a waste of space is what it is. Waste of space. This right here is top of the line. Better than (insert some sofa brand we supposedly know about) and much better than (insert another name, possibly a sofa brand, possibly a brand of unfiltered cigarettes). Hell, the material is (mention an arbitrary value, say, British Coinage Stamps per farthing).

It's hard not to get wrapped up. Luckily, he is selling a sort of good product. It's made by local furniture makers. It has a really good warranty. It, as the saying goes, practically sells itself. Which is either a testament to how conducive I am to slick devil-may-care salespeople, or a reflection on the very real sectional we'll be getting in 2 to 3 weeks.

Hey, maybe those dystopian sci-fi brainwashing films were onto something.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Geek Cred

Buying a new computer is a geek rite of passage. For the masses -- those who have no idea what a d20 is and have really no opinion on Greedo and his itchy trigger finger --it's a foreign concept. They know not the agony of buying a computer; for them, it's a simple matter of buying it from Dell.

Ah, but the geek carries a heavy burden. For the geek, there are endless reviews to read. Specs and opinions, reliability ratings, benchmarks, and voltage readings. For the geek must, must find the optimum component for his computer, and cobble it together, piecemeal, a Dr. Frankenstein working in digital parts.

He must give birth to the perfect PC.

And it's arduous. Technology moves fast. What may have been the perfect price/performance ratio for your overclocked RAM will be worse than old if you don't move fast. Did you check up on the intermittent disk failures for that harddrive you have decided on, specifically when you video encode Bulgarian Soap Operas? Did you know that the chip maker is going to discontinue that chip and double pump the L2 cache in just two weeks? What about the current strikes in that video card's factory? Reliability for those cards have gone way down!

But the geek may not, must not, take the easy way out. Must never fall back on the ease of a pre-made system. If they have children, are going through quintiple double bypass surgery, and staying up late to get the latest Matrix Figurine at the local comic shop, they may get a fellow geek to make the system for them.

But never, ever should they pick a system that they would have *gasp* technical support. Nay, that way lies madness. Never should they be able to tell the average non-geek where they had got their system without the non-geek looking at them, stifling a yawn and responding with "So, not Dell huh?". Yes, the computer shop should be obscure, possibly with some nonsensical acronym, even better if most people casually confuse it for a shop that sells Chinese fuse boxes.

It's a sticky, ugly business, this PC building. It's somewhat the equivalent of buying a gearbox, tires, chassis, electrical system, and drivetrain all separately. Then making sure each part works correctly together, slapping it all together, turning the key, and hoping for the best. The rite itself is a bit of madness, a bit of alchemy, a bit of hopeful conjecture.

But then, rites are meant to be difficult.

EDIT: Oh hells, I've been blogging for a whole year! Go me! And Web 2.0! And push button web publishing! How long have you guys been reading this? Come on, admit it. Yes, even you, Spambot ver. 2980491a Beta 3.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Gore-Tex™ Does Not Do Heat

One of the things about living in BC (a province of Canada, one of ten, on the far west coast. We're like the Oregon of Canada, except more hippyish, without the high-brow Intel connections and a Nordstrom's on every block) is that the veracity of your Canadian-ness is always in question. It usually revolves around the lack of severe cold weather that plagues BC. If you haven't faced certain death from -40 C weather simply because you've missed your bus, you just ain't Canadian.

So when a particularly nippy winter hits us, we always get the transplanted Ontario-an/Newfoundlander/etc roll their eyes, purse their lips, slap their short-wearing leg and say "You think this is cold? This ain't cold..", then proceed with a none too entertaining foray into the finer points of hypothermia and the futile effort to combat it with a Tim Horton's double double.

There is something within the (let's face it) male psyche that yearns to undergo the greatest hardship, the most extreme conditions. For bragging rights on who is the most 'rugged', 'manly', and heretofore undisputed Man of the Woods. As a BCer, you must sigh, take another sip of your half-decaf-none-fat-soy-double-expresso-capu-double-froth-machiatto frappe, slowly finish your marijuana roach, and say "You don't say?"

The curse of a being in BC is that the body is simply not exposed to any extremes in temperature. Extremes in annual precipitation, yes. Extremes in combating Seasonal Affect Disorder while biting back tears of anguish about living the middle of a temperate rain-forest where it actually rains, certainly. But the body of a BCer simply has no defense or preparation for any weather that cannot be countered by a good Gore-Tex™ shell.

Which is why when it gets hot in BC, specifically the Lower Mainland, it gets Really Hot. Where Really Hot is a function of absolute temperature multiplied by the Coefficient of Weather Wimpiness. In short, it's been approximately 50 degrees Celsius (in perceived heat) here in the Lower Mainland. Entire cars are melting on the street. Black top on slightly inclined streets are flowing down like so much rock infested, tarred molasses. The very air we breath hints of brimstone and there have been reports that this air moved at a breeze can set small pets afire. Clouds literally explode in the air, like some sort of napalm experiment gone awry. Every building has faded under the sun making all of Vancouver look like a massive, poorly designed Disney Theme Park ghost town. Horned demons have been seen to be lazing about on park benches, attired in what can only be described as "sauna wear". People worry not so much about hyperthermia than they do about igniting instantly in a fury of spontaneous combustion. At least, this is the perception of many Vancouverites, particularly me.

But you know, it's just heat. In a month or two, it'll be back to monsoon season. At least we won't have to have our Canadian-ness assaulted by Arctic Winter Loving Easterners. For now, at least, there is no national pride in suffering through a heat wave.

Lame-Ass YouTube Link

You may know him as the uber nerd bus token collector on "King of Queens", now know him as: Comedy. God.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Is there anything as bracing as hours upon days reassembling particle board furniture? Many of you might say, "Well, hell, yes. Many, many things. Almost everything in fact." I will attempt to argue the contrary (oh look, I sort of wrote about this before).

Particleboard Assembly & Interaugmentational kNackery is a time honoured craft. While it is new, and doesn't have the panache of say, masonry, or the callus-on-the-hands down-to-earthedness of roofing, it has its charms; to wit, the Allen Key. Ah the Allen Key, simplistic hexagonal faux-screwdriver for the mechanically disinclined. A champion in a sea of hard to learn and impossible to understand 'crafstmanship' and 'professional workmanship'. A leveller, if you will, for those who would like to walk into the local Rona with pride, or at least, with a little less angst.

Sure, sure, all you are doing is reapplying some European engineers assembly plans to cobble together reconstituted sawdust. But hey, sometimes that sawdust has a very striking (if not very convincing) wood grain veneer! It's also is oh so handy as a stand in for real furniture. Which is what PAIN is all about: making the house a home, feeling some bit of mastery over the physical world. Bending (pre-made, super compressed, reconstituted bits of) wood to one's mighty arm, creating form and function where there was chaos (or seventeen neatly ordered planks with neatly printed instructions and a precise number of wooden pegs and fasteners). This is where PAIN really makes life bracing (ly painful) and refreshing (as a bath of slightly foul smelling acid). Man alive, am I ever so glad to have just waste-- invested the better part of two days doing it.