Saturday, April 30, 2005

a head start on trouble

Noon – 7 PM. After our successful liaison with Mr. Dangerous, a.k.a Myke, Kiyash and I spend the next seven hours scouting the festival grounds, strategizing our game plan for the heist, speculating about Myke’s involvement, and of course taking in a few sets. K-os rocks the Gobi tent, and Jean Grae puts on a show that will surely rank as one of the great live performances I see this year.

Throughout the afternoon, we text message and talk to SMG3er and HitsHerMark via phone. They’re also stalking the festival grounds. We decide collectively that don’t want to be seen together as a group too much before the heist. Better to keep our affiliation on the D.L. for now. We’re pretty sure the Coachella 5 will have a high-enough profile once we start trying to break into the A3 and recover the SD card from the nav system. So we agree to work the grounds separately until sunset.

Sunset. SMG3er and Laura have found each other, and then they find us. The pink wig turns out to be a pretty effective beacon for fellow retrievers.

The four of us compare notes on our earlier meet with Myke. We're suspicious that he might be in disguise, too... his hair is manic enough to suggest a wig.

Since this is our first face-to-face contact, we decide some team bonding is in order to develop the trust we'll need to pull of whatever the night has in store for us. So we psyche up for the mission by syncing up our cell phones and inventing a Coachella 5 cheer. We also create a secret Coachella-themed code to scream if we ever need to covertly alert each other to danger, which we practice screaming several times: "This band sucks!!"

We don’t know what Nisha, Myke, or our other partners-in-crime have in store for us at 10 PM. So we decide to undertake a series of on-site training exercises to practice our special skills for the high-stakes heist.

First, we locate one of the two massive, collective drum installations that allow lots of people to bang together on metal sculptures that offer extreme acoustical affordances. By banging frenetically on the drums together, the four of us practice two of our elite heist skills that we had reported to Nisha earlier in the week: Creating a distraction and making noise to obscure a signal. Unbeknownst to us at the time, Hitshermark had completed the same training mission earlier in the day on her own.

Next, we decide to work on our getaway skills. We head over to the collection of insanely modded bikes put together by Cyclecide. The wheels, steering systems, and grills of the bikes have been hacked to produce extremely wonky rides. No brakes, of course. We practice navigating around the bike rodeo, imagining we're being chased by goons. We think the wonkiness of the rides will help throw the bad guys off our trail, sort of like drunken master fighting. Kiyash masters the meanest machine, a wobbly monster that puts him five feet off the ground.

Earlier in the day, Kiyash and I had both worked on our getaway stamina by powering Cyclecide's do-it-yourself Merry-Go-Round. (You have to pedal bikes welded to the rotating core in order to make the amusement ride work.) SMG3er and Laura work on their stamina by eating concession treats, like a churro.

Laura and I decide that we are the mostly likely targets for interrogation, should Gunter or the goons grab us during the heist. So we strap ourselves into the Aversion Therapy Bike to de-sensitize ourselves to whatever ruthless methods the bad guys might apply, in a Worst Case Scenario. The Aversion Therapy Bike is a stationary bike modded with a whip attached to the back wheel. Each time you pedal a full cycle, the whip lashes you on the lower back. The harder and faster you pedal, the more it stings. Laura and I pedal-whipped ourselves like crazy. When I was done, my back was quite red. Ah, how we are willing to suffer for our art.

Our training exercises were complete. It was time to connect with HitsHerMark in front of the Mojave tent where Secret Machines would be playing. She was there, waiting, and ready to make our final mission preparations.

With the Coachella 5 finally assembled, and two hours to kill before our Tesla Coil meet, you might say we had a head start on trouble.

We had no idea how much trouble that trouble would be.

a pretty dangerous profession

9:30 AM, Kiyash and I head out for the final two hours' drive through the desert to Coachella. Despite our sleep deprivation, we are amped for the heist.

Our meet with Myke, outside the main entrance to the Coachella music festival, goes exactly as planned.

He is easy to ID, wearing the bright red “Hustler” t-shirt that Nisha emailed us a photo of last night. Myke and I make each other at precisely the same moment. My cell phone rings with his (917) area code just as Kiyash snaps a surveillance photo of Myke from 500 yards away. Over the cell, Myke directs us to approach.

I initiate contact using the codeword Myke gave us on the call late last night: dangerous.

“Hustling can be a pretty dangerous profession, you know.”

Myke barely smiles and nods. He has a pretty steely game face on… hard to read

Myke, as it turns out, is a man of few words. He slips us our tickets to the festival without a word. He does not want to discuss any details of the heist. He will not divulge any information about his relationship with Nisha. He does, however, want us to meet him again later that night for further instructions.

We set up a second liaison for 10 PM at the Tesla Coil, which is a freestanding electro-hectic sculpture that intimidates me with its excellent impression of the third sign of the Apocalypse.

Kiyash and I set off to find our fellow retrievers, scout the massive festival grounds, and engage in some pre-mission training exercises.

something of a character

11:30 PM. It’s been six hours on the road, and we’re still an hour out from the place we’re crashing for the night. I get a call on my cell phone. I don’t recognize the number, but it’s starts with (917) … NYC. Nearly midnight is pretty late for a phone call from an unknown number, but I’m sure it has to do with tomorrow’s heist. I pick up.

It’s someone named Myke. He says he’s working with Nisha, and he’s going to meet me and Kiyash at the main entrance to the Coachella Music Festival. He names a 2-hour window of opportunity to find him, tells me what he’ll be wearing and that Nisha will email me a photo to confirm that’s he’s one of the good guys. He gives me a codeword to introduce myself by tomorrow when when we spot him. He’ll hand off a pair of tickets to the festival.

I’ll fill you in on the details of the meet after it goes down. For now, better to keep them to myself. I wouldn’t want to see any other mercenaries intercept this info and pick up the passes on our behalf. Or, make any trouble for Myke.

Once we're in, we’ll spend the afternoon and evening blending in at the shows. We've got a second meet up with the other 4 retrievers, and we'll be making a few other face-to-face connections to set up our local support network. They'll be a handful of good guys on site not officially in on mission, including a couple of really good guys from Melissa’s old crew. We've also got an amazing crew online making sure those of us in the field are up to date on everything going down. They kept me up to speed last night on the road with calls and text messages.

It's good to have allies.

So: We’ll do some scouting on site during the festival performances. Then we wait until the heist goes down… Late. At the afterparty.

Don’t know what our roles will be yet. But you can watch the mission live from a Web cam. 11 PM – 3 AM.

Update: Arrived safely at the hotel. Got the picture of Myke from Nisha. He appears to be something of a character.

He’ll go perfectly with my pink wig.

Friday, April 29, 2005

the coachella heist

Kiyash and I are on our way to the heist.

8 hours from now, we'll roll into Coachella.

I will try not to play it too unstable, despite what my background check may have revealed.

Kiyash is in charge of keeping me out of trouble. Scratch that. Kiyash is in charge of getting me into trouble.

I'm ready for anything.

As my 42 co-conspirator said to me as I left the office: "Good luck with your impending felony."

Updates from the road.

Monday, April 25, 2005

hot pink American quarantine

Saturday afternoon I gave an artist's talk about performance and gameplay at the New Langton Arts Gallery. My powerpoint slides were hot pink, the audience small and intimate, and my comments improvised and heavily flavored with introspective confession. It was one of the most pleasurable and productive talks I've given in ages. I was especially pleased to be able to riff about Twister Cage Match, one of the San Francisco Art Institute games developed in the game design as art practice class I taught last fall. Kiyash was a brilliant partner-in-crime for some live demonstrations of performance gameplay mods, including trash-talking RPS.

A few hours and a cocktail reception later, the New Langton Art gallery was sold out for the evening performance/playtest of Organum. The playtest featured truly l33t g4m3r skills demonstrated by a beatboxer, a Tuvan throat singer and an experimental feminist improvisational opera singer collaboratively playing Organum together. Their collective sound was variously frenzied, sexy, playful, funny, alive and organic. Amazing.


After the Organum fest, Kiyash and I stayed out late in the city to go dancing at the DNA Lounge. It was an Orkut party... in other words, an online social network manifesting itself in real physical space. Yay! But of my 57 Orkut friends, mostly SF/Bay Area locals, I only saw one at the party, and he barely recognized me at first. Hmm. This clearly demonstrates something interesting about social network apps, and I am going to have danah boyd write an epic poem further explicating this point. On the other hand I saw two of my Orkut friends at the Organum event, which was really more work than social. Which clearly demonstrates some other really interesting thing about social network apps, and I am going to have ian bogost design a persuasive game to thoroughly elaborate this point.

Despite a lack of social context (Kiyash isn't even on Orkut!), I let my newly blond(ish) hair down (literally) and we found our footing pretty easily during the hip hop set... Outkast, Usher, J. Lo, 50 Cent and Notorious B.I.G... I kept waiting for the 80s set, but alas it was not meant to be.


At the Sunday Albatross Pub quiz night, Kiyash and I knew 16 fewer things than we did last Sunday. Alas. (Kiyash improved his Connect Four score, though-- the final tally was Kiyash 9, Jane 3). On our way to a pretty bad score of 28, we discovered that we really do not know much about 1) sports trivia 2) leading ladies of the '30s, '40s, and '50s or 3) so-called general knowledge that is really just more sports trivia in disguise. (Boo) Fortunately, we apparently still know much about 1) early American quarantines 2) music and 3) centrifugal devices. We named our team-of-two "Minimum Score 44" in an optimistic effort to best last week's score of 43. Again: alas.

Friday, April 22, 2005

is you is or is you ain't

Drinks upstairs at Le Colonial in the Union Square district last night with 42 and MSN folks. Champagne, live '20s band, old-school glamour couples dancing in their formal evening gloves and hats, and me singing along to Fats Waller songs I learned when I was 8 years old. The drink menu and dessert menu convinced me that Le Colonial is now permanently on my favorite SF places list. In other words... Waller's words... it is definitely my baby.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

the cookie is still rolling

This is my new project. I plan to execute it during my travels, beginning with upcoming installations in San Francisco (fortune cookies), Seattle (To Be Determined), Los Angeles (TBD), Amsterdam (stroopwaffels), Utrecht (TBD), Umea (TBD), Stockholm (TBD), London (TBD), New York City (black and white cookies), Vancouver (TBD) and Philadelphia (tastykakes).


project: the cookie is still rolling
artist: Jane McGonigal

medium: cookies
platform: temporary, site-specific cookie installations
documentation: digital photography, digital videos, flickr, web site
project dates: 04.19.05 – present (and no end in sight)

project description:

the artist will spell out Camus’ existential essay “The Myth of Sisyphus” in cookies, one word at a time. each word will be installed in a public location and constructed from a different kind of cookie, locally-purchased or prepared. each word of the essay, 1406 in total, will appear in a different city. the project will continue indefinitely until the improbable event of its completion.

the temporary cookie installations will be documented through digital photography and video. The photos will be added to the Flickr database and the videos posted to the artist’s website.

project rules:
1. the cookies must be purchased or prepared in the city.
2. the words must be constructed and installed in the exact order they appear in Camus’ essay.
3. the words must be installed in a local language.
4. the artist must eat a cookie at the site.
5. the artist must find a nearby hill or incline and roll a cookie down it.
6. no repeating cities. each word must be installed in a different city.
7. no repeating cookies. each word must be constructed out of a different kind of cookie.


As often as possible, I will bring additional local cookies home and host the cookie is still rolling update parties where you can come to my apartment, eat the cookies, and check out the latest photos and videos.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

the getaways

Today Kiyash and I made a getaway... twice.

First, we drove down to Monterey for a 24-hour escape from the East Bay. The official reason: I was invited to give a talk at Cal State University. More importantly, we had also planned some unofficial getaway fun: a trip to the famous aquarium before my lecture and an overnight stay near the beach afterwards.

At the aquarium, we both touched a shark gently with two fingers. (And we touched a skate. And a sea urchin.) Kiyash enjoyed it. I felt like I was on Fear Factor. We learned how to do sea otter impressions (lie on back, paw at both cheeks while rubbing feet together) and considered having a pet penguin instead of a dog. We spotted something concrete and sandy to scramble on by the beach. So we did.

We had a service-challenged lunch at a vegetarian Chinese restaurant in downtown Seaside. The atmosphere and menu reminded me of the oldest vegetarian restaurant in Beijing. The summer rolls reminded Kiyash of the ubiquitous gummy spring rolls in Melbourne that we ate almost every day while we were there.

We checked into our hotel. [...] I gave my talk. [...] Then we decided to go back to Berkeley instead of spending the night in Monterey. A second getaway! In one day! We were unstoppable.

So we raided an Albertson's at 9 PM for a getaway meal. Then we checked out of our hotel room at 10 PM, raising the hotel manager's eyebrows. "So soon?" He definitely thought we were up to something. I said to Kiyash on the ride home, "So we spent $100 on a hotel room we didn't actually stay in. At least we'll have a good story to tell." He helpfully pointed out, "...a good story, which we can't actually tell anyone."

Hmmm. Right. Well, I managed to tell at least PART of the story here. The ellipses are the plotpoints that Kiyash and I may just have to take to our graves. I guess that's how you know you've made a really great getaway. When you can't tell another living soul how or why you did it.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

anybody want a peanut has a posse

Tonight Kiyash and I entered the weekly quiz night at the Albatross Pub. It was our first quiz night there, and my first quiz night ever. We were inspired by the Blockbusters episode of The Office, which we watched Saturday night on a bootleg DVD we brought back from Shanghai for a dollar.

We named our team Degrassi Jr. Spy vs. Spy in honor of a pair of early childhood references. However, at the last minute, during a series of warm-up Connect Four games (final score: Jane 6 - Kiyash 1 - Tie 1), we changed our name to Anybody want a peanut has a posse. (First person who explains our name in the comments wins a peanut. Or, our bootleg The Office DVD.)

Not knowing how mastermindly one needed to be for such things, I set a modest goal for our team: to get at least 1/5 questions right. Alternately, not to completely humiliate ourselves.

We did NOT completely humiliate ourselves! We placed 7th, and after six rounds of 10 questions each, we scored a total of 43 points! 7/10 (general knowledge), 10/10 (Irish books and authors), 9/10 (photographs of famous people), 6/10 (name that tune), 8/10 (gases... you know, radon, methane, amonia...), and 3/10 (super hard general knowledge). And we were the only two-person team (most were 4 or 5 brains per team).

Kiyash kicked more ass than me, I think. He recognized Primus in the name that tune round, but I failed to recognize the photo of Jean Paul Sartre, which seems like it should have been my end-of-the-bargain. I did, however, write Ron Popeil's name sloppily enough in the famous persons round that it was mistaken for the correct answer, chef Jacques Pepin. w00t! And I recognized "Take on Me" in 2 notes.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Hiking the comedy trail

Today Kiyash and I discovered (or invented) the comedy trail.

We thought we were hiking the Pine Canyon Loop in and around Castle Rock and Mount Diablo. We weren't.

The comedy trail, as we decided to call it about halfway through the 10 mile trip, could also be known as "the Pine Canyon Loop PLUS." As in, the Pine Canyon loop plus several other dissimulatively Pine Canyon Loopy-looking trails that repeatedly lure you off the actual Pine Canyon Loop. The effect of such multiply and deceptively intersecting trails? You are never sure where you are. Well, except as one horse-riding couple helpfully pointed out to us, "You're not even on your map anymore."

While hiking the comedy trail, Kiyash helpfully entertained the possibility that the Pine Canyon Loop map we were following was, in fact, for a Pine Canyon Loop in Australia or South Africa or Montana... anywhere but California. And thanks to our possibly international map, we found ourselves up to our shins in mud, fording a creek MORE than at least precisely 11 times, and on a perfectly untrampeled path that almost certainly no one else had walked on for months.

Our hike was full of navigating errors (we managed to find and then lose the Pine Canyon Loop 4 times, I think), tactile pleasures (slopping through mud? really?? scrambling up a log?? REALLY?? woo hoo!!) and delightfully unexpected sight lines (Kiyash: "The hiking instructions say that at this point 'the imposing Castle Rocks formation rises high above the trail on the right'." Jane: "Really? What's that big grouping of rocks about 1000 feet below us?" Kiyash: "Castle Rock." [...pause...] Jane: "WHAT??")

It was pure comedy.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

A fisherman without fins

Today Kiyash and I hiked the Steep Ravine and Coast Trails around Mt. Tamalpais and down to Stinson Beach. We packed vegan sushi and chocolate-covered marzipan for a picnic, but wound up eating all of the sushi in the parking lot before we even began the hike.

The trip was satifsying, but fairly mellow in comparison to our previous experience hiking Mt. Tam together. That was in August 2001, when after beginning a respectable well-marked summit climb, someone in our group of 4 spotted a very stern "DO NOT TAKE THIS PATH" sign. What followed was a very un-respectable scramble up verboten "lost trails" and through unforgiving brush. Our scandalous ascent culminated several hours later in a perilously balanced wine-and-cheese picnic on top of a very high rock, which many onlookers seemed to be afraid we were all going to fall off. (We didn't.)

Today, I think I am more likely to remember the sunset ride home together than the hike, the two of us singing along to the Scissors Sisters CD in our rented Matrix, figuring out that the lead singer is "a fish swimming without fins", and not (as I had thought) "a fisherman without fins". I, however, am definitely a fisherman without fins.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Champagne and the O.C.

A free bump up to first class on the return trip from Seattle made a bit of turbulence and highly enthusiastic banking on the ascent much less bothersome. (Why don't they just aim the runways in the right direction?? Sigh.) I sipped champagne and watched a lovely Season 1 episode of The O.C. on my laptop.