Tuesday, May 31, 2005

diary of a Cross-Atlantic flight

Originally uploaded by Avant Game
The following are notes from my flight home from London yesterday. It is a rather incomplete record of the flight, but after a certain number of British candy bars were consumed at 34,000 feet I became incapable of formulating any thoughts other than "mmmm...."

10:17 AM. I try to get rid of all leftover British change before boarding the plane by making six consecutive vending machine purchases. I buy a Cadbury Flake bar, a bag of Maynard Wine Gums (never mind that I already have 3 much bigger bags of Maynard Wine Gums in my checked luggage and felt slightly ill after having a makeshift dinner of Wine Gums and white chocolate Flake bar last night in my hotel room), a Cadbury Dream bar, a Cadbury Double Decker bar (which is a mistake, I was really trying to buy the Cadbury Brunch bar but entered 52 instead of 62 by mistake and figure I will just give the Double Decker bar to Kiyash) and a Diet Coke.

10:39 AM. I board the plane and take my aisle seat, G, in row 43. It’s over the wing, in the center section, and on the aisle so I can run around the plane as much as I like. Perfect. I was supposed to be in the same exact seat on the trip over to London two weeks ago, but they stuck me in a middle seat in a side section, which I accepted without complaint because I arrived 59 minutes before the flight was schedule to leave, 1 minute after the check-in counter closed, and had to cry hysterically for 3 people of escalating authority before they decided I could even get on the plane. Perhaps you will not be surprised that I arrived at the airport more than 2 and a half hours early for today’s flight.

10:43 AM. My immediate neighbor for the flight arrives and at first glance appears quite promising company. He is about my age and wearing a bright red vintage Atari tshirt, and I think perhaps we will chat happily about games for a bit. However when I say “nice shirt” as he eases past me to take his seat, he looks at me like I’ve just licked his elbow. I think perhaps he is just not the chatty type, but I am forced to relinquish this self-preserving explanation is when he commences a rather lively conversation with the two other people in our row, two males who are sightseeing to San Francisco. Mr. Atari, a.k.a 43F, is British but has lived in San Francisco for 6 years and is therefore full of travel advice. I try to interject a couple of suggestions but all 3 others in row 43 project a unified disinterest in acknowledging my presence. If this were Airplane Survivor, I’d be the first thrown out the nearest Emergency Exit.

11:01 AM. We are still sitting at the gate. We were supposed to take off at 11, but two people were denied boarding due to “improper documentation”. Their luggage apparently made it on board, however, and so we have to wait for them to find it and fish out it. I pull out the book on British biscuits and tea that fellow puppetmaster Michael gave to me last Friday as a show of support for my cookie rolling project.when we met up in the Clapham section of London for our annual sushi-and-barhopping extravaganza. The books, it turns out, is full of useful information that I make mental notes to including in my cookie rolling blogging, if I ever get around to it. (I am now officially 7 installations behind on my blog!)

11:13 AM. I reset my Ironman watch to local San Francisco time, my takeoff ritual. I suppose I could say something about it helpfully orienting me and easing me into the time of wherever I’ll land, but really it’s just useful to me to have something manual and productive to do right before takeoff so I don’t accidentally get nervous like I used to.

3:14 AM. Through the magic of make-believe time zone change, it is now roughly 3 in the morning instead of nearly noon. Kiyash is sleeping.

3:21 AM I notice the young woman behind me, who coincidentally also has light hair in braids like me, is slumped over holding her head in one hand. with the airsickness bag open and clutched in the other. I am slightly concerned for her.

3:34 AM. Several flight attendants begin to hover around the sick woman behind me. At first they attempt to persuade her to disembark when she complains of severe abdominal pain. They notice she is bone cold to the touch. One attendant runs to tell the captain not to take off—we are next in line—in case the passenger needs to get off the plan and see a doctor. So our flight is further delayed.

3:36 AM. After much discussion, the passenger says weakly that she just wants to go home — and San Francisco is home. They bump her up to first class so she can lie down. I think I overhear them promising her some wicked strong painkillers, but that could have been my imagination.

3:38 AM. We should be taking off any minute. I look through the inflight shopping guide to see if there is anything I can spend my final forty pounds on before we land. I hate converting currency because of the percentage you lose to the exchange agent. I want to buy J.Lo’s Miami Glo perfume — I love how it smells — but honestly, there’s just no way I can buy anything affiliated with Jennifer Lopez. Sigh.

3:47 AM. Take off! Finally! — just 47 minutes behind schedule. We should still arrive on time, which is good because Kiyash is going to meet me at arrivals so we can take the BART home together. I love how for most flights, the flight time listed is longer than the actual flight time. This always comes as a happy surprise when the captain announces the shorter schedule. It’s like setting your alarm clock fast just so you can remind yourself when it goes off that it’s fast, and you have time to snooze a couple of rounds. Same odd psychological disavowal, allowing for a happy “surprise” that doesn’t really catch you off guard at all.

3:52 AM. I put on my pinkish-purplish arm warmers.

3:54 AM. The flight attendants start making announcements, so I pull out my iPod to play over their explanation of the… well, whatever they’re explaining. I don’t actually know because I’ve got my iPod on.

3:55 AM. Like pretty much all other 13 flights I’ve taken this month, I start by listening to Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me” and imagine it’s Constantine from American Idol. Seriously, I have no idea who Nickelback is or what he/it/they look(s) like. So it’s all Constantine in my mind.

3:56 AM. I notice that I can see my reflection in the backseat video screen…which means I can watch myself rock out with my iPod. Fun!

3:59 AM. I listen to K-os’ “Crabbuckitt”.

4:03 AM. I listen to M.I.A.’s “Galang”.

4:07 AM. I listen to Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Wanna Be” and imagine it’s Bo from American Idol. I don’t know what Gavin looks like either. I spend a minute thinking about how Carrie Underwood winning A.I. demonstrates exactly how Bush managed to win the presidential re-election in 2004. Seriously.

4:12 AM. I listen to LL Cool J’s “Headsprung.”

4:13 AM. I decide to keep an in-flight diary.

4:14 AM. I accept Virgin headphones and their long-haul amenities kit. I decide not to open it yet… I’ll save it as a present for when I’m bored.

4:16 AM. I start creating backentries for what I did prior to 4:13 AM, when I decided to keep this diary. I think this particular entry right here represents the twist in the mobius loop of first-person reflection.

[…missing time, I made notes for this time period but never typed them up…]

4:53 AM. Laptop is open. I begin typing up my diary notes.

4:57 AM. I notice I am developing my sparse notes into actual prose. This may take a long time. Maybe I will never catch up to my actual experience. There is a mathematical metaphor here somewhere. I am having a hyperbolic experience of flying. I have airplane asymptopia. Wouldn’t it be awful if when planes landed, instead of making contact with the runway, they forever grew exponentially marginally closer to it, never intersecting. I hope Mrs. Mosser, my 9th grade geometry and 12th grade calculus teacher, appreciates my adult use of the asymptope.

5:34 AM. Eat vegetarian lunch while watching Mean Creek — not because I particularly want to watch Mean Creek, but rather because entertainment aimed at the teen demographic seems to be the perfect fit for my mental state while fly. (Witness the 14 episodes of Degrassi: The Next Generation I burned through on the way over, and the many Radio Free Roscoe shows I watched while traveling between Swedish and Dutch cities.) Mean Creek is distinctly not horrible.

7:13AM. Resume typing up notes while staring at Sky Map—we are over Greenland. In parentheses below Greenland, the Sky Map reads “Denmark.” I am highly confused. Is Denmark really Greenland? Are those just two different names for the same country? I try to recall where Denmark is. What goes with Sweden and Finland? Damn! I am really hopeless when it comes to Scandinavian countries. Norway! Norway?? (I didn’t figure that out, the sky map showed me.) Oh my God. Are Denmark and Greenland the same place?

7:39 AM. According to the SkyMap we are now leaving the air space over the country that may or may to be Denmark, but which is certainly at the very least Greenland.

7:40 AM. I need to take a break from typing up my now lamentably verbose diary notes. I take out wine gums to eat while watching the season finale of The O.C., an episode I downloaded via Bittorrent from my London hotel room. A battery check reveals I have 5 hours and 38 minutes left on this one — awesome. Extended life battery for my laptop was such a smart move! Go Jane!

8:34 AM. A quick walk around the cabin to stretch my legs, and I reread a few emails.

8:37 AM. I overhear a flight attendant mention ice cream to someone. What! Ice cream! Yay! Here comes the snack cart… drinks only, or secret goodies? Ah yes, I see secret goodies…

8:40 AM. Time to finish out the Radio Free Roscoe archive on my laptop. I could SO be Canadian. In Utrecht last week, someone asked if I was from Canada… he “Recognized” my accent. I said, “I’m not from Canada, but I have watched a lot of Canadian TV.” From You Can’t Do That On Television and Degrassi to Fifteen and Kids in the Hall… yah, I’m all about the Canada, eh?

8:41 AM. I am eating strawberry yogurt ice cream bar something. Yum.

8:46 AM. I cuddle Wowie Zowie the wombat, who has been on 3 continents… and to Utrecht, the Netherlands TWICE! That is more than most people, let alone wombats.

8:49 AM. Speaking of Canada… we are now over it! Officially across the Atlantic. 5:13 to go ‘til San Francisco!

9:11 AM. Whoops. I’m eating the Double Decker candy bar I was going to give to Kiyash. Sigh. That always seems to happen!

9:13 AM. I give up keeping a diary and watch 6 episodes of the O.C., season 1.

1:50 PM. I land.

Sneakily, I am posting this photo from an earlier flight written about on this blog, rather than a photo from my Virgin flight described in this post. I will give a British candy bar to whoever posts the correct flight reference in the comments first! And yes, I still owe Sean his prize from the Andre the Giant has a Posse comments contest. Thanks for the reminder.

Friday, May 27, 2005

the Cookie Rolling world tour

Okay, it's not a world tour... yet. But it has been quite a whirlwind cookie rolling adventure the past 10 days days, with stops in L.A., Amsterdam, Utrecht (the Netherlands), Umea (Sweden), Stockholm, and London. Spelling "Sisyphus" in stroopwaffels in Utrecht was a landmark moment in the project. Here, I am putting the finishing touches on our "graffeati", which is superimposed over some local Dutch graffiti. Full reports on all 6 edible installations coming soon (and I'll add some videos to my Avant Game site). In the meantime, you can check out FlickR photo streams of each city's cookie installation using the links above. I have a couple days in Berkeley before the travels recommence... with words number 9 and number 10 in New York City and Vancouver, respectively.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

"investigating new possibilities with friends. now is the time!"

The cookie rolling (project description) has begun (Flickr slideshow from installation #1).

Installion #1. City: San Francisco. Cookies: Fortune cookies. Freshly baked at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. Word: "The." # of cookies consumed on-site: 7.

Design note: My San Francisco cookie choice was inspired by a local 1983 mock court case, in which California's Historical Court of Review declared that fortune cookies were invented in San Francisco.


I decide to buy my inaugural cookies at a tiny factory tucked inside the brightly muralled Ross Alley in Chinatown.

I find the factory easily -- I was there more than 3 years ago in January 2002, location scouting for the North Beach/Chinatown Go Game that I was designing at the time. Today, the Go Game still runs variations of that North Beach game almost every month, but all of the Chinatown missions have been scrapped. Chinatown, as it turns out, is a tough neighborhood for pervasive play. Maybe that's why I am drawn back there for my first cookie rolling experiment.

Inside the factory. While I am picking out my cookies, I remember with some surprise that I know some conversational Mandarin Chinese. So I say xie xie, thank you, to the woman who gives me an unfolded cookie right off the hot press. Xie xie again to the gentleman who hands me my two bags of cookies -- one for the installation and another to take home to share with friends at the next the cookie is still rolling progress update party. I am lucky that xie xie is the most apt thing I could possibly say in these circumstances. It just so happens to be my best Mandarin phrase. One of the very few I pronounce with the correct tone.

("Thank you", I realize an hour later when I am traveling back home on the BART, is the only phrase I always am sure to learn to pronounce correctly when I travel to foreign countries. There is something very liberating about being able to communicate only the sentiment of gratitude for weeks at a time. I find that I like the person I am when the only thing I can communicate in the local language is "thank you." Garrison Keillor wrote a poem about this phenomenon, a poem I read once with great pleasure and have been unable to track down since.)

After xie xie-ing my heart out, I go back into the alley to consume my mandatory cookie. This is my fortune: "Investigating new possibilities with friends. Now is the time!" I rather like the imperative nature of the latter half of the fortune. It has... momentum. But I want to tell the cookie that I probably will be conducting most of my investigations alone, not with friends. Cookie rolling, I think to myself, is a solitary task. After all, I initially designed the project as a way to give me something concrete and goal-oriented to do on my many travels alone to strange places. (Otherwise, I am inclined to hide out in my hotel room.) But perhaps there will be cookie rolling with friends. I decide I like the idea of cookie rolling allies... even if Sisyphus did not have anyone helping him push the rock.

I find an incline for rolling: one of San Francisco's patently steep residential streets. I open up a bag and select the cookie that I will roll. The physical affordances of a fortune cookie do not suggest a particularly smooth rolling action. And in fact, the rolling itself is rather clunky, especially uphill. When it is time to allow the cookie to roll down the incline, though, it rolls a little better than I expect. To be fair, I do give it a pretty good push. I wonder briefly if Sisyphus was actually pushing the rock down himself all those years.

It is time, finally, to spell out the word. I choose a spot near the corner of the sidewalk by a decorative Chinese post. There are two pedestrian crosswalks nearby, which makes me happy. I love pedestrians (I don't have a driver's license), and I love playing in crosswalks. The TransAmerica Building is in view, which also makes me happy. It is one of my favorite San Francisco landmarks, and Kiyash and I can see it on the San Francisco skyline from our apartment building.

As I am arranging dozens of fortune cookies to form the word "the", I notice that on all of the fortune slips sticking out of the cookies, there is an image of a bee. I love bees. This is not the sort of thing I would have noticed before the summer of 2004. I also notice that one slip in particular seems especially motivated to sneak out before the cookie is officially cracked. This is what I can make out on that sneaky slip: "-tic places. [...]place." I am tempted to pull the slip out to see what it has to say about (fantastic?) places and the meaning of place. the cookie is still rolling, after all, is a project all about place. However, I decide to leave the actual fortune a mystery. Perhaps it is the purpose of this project to fill in those missing words. Perhaps over time, after dozens of other site-specific cookie installations, I will come to learn what there is to know about -tic places and place.

I eat six more cookies during the rolling and spelling process. I am hungry. Not only have I just given a talk for the Word-of-Mouth Marketing panel at AD:TECH 2005, but also rolling cookies up San Francisco streets is hard work. As I work my way through the additional cookies, I decide that each subsequent fortune I receive is exponentially less predictive for me. (Perhaps I should chart a decay curve illustrating this imagined effect.) Because really, one can only encounter fortune cookie destiny once in any given meal. So the only other fortune I pay much attention to is this one: "Your uniqueness is more than an outward appearance." I am stumped by this fortune, because I am an identical twin. My uniqueness is not, in fact, to be found in my outward appearance at all. Not even in my DNA.

I finish installing "the" in fortune cookies at the base of the decorative Chinese post. While I am documenting the installation with my digital camera, a late middle-aged Chinese woman walking by stops in her tracks and begings stomping on the cookies. "These are for the children!" (or is it "the chickens?") ::stomp stomp:: "That's why they crush them!" ::stomp stomp:: I manage to capture a quick video of the stomping before she wanders off. I have no idea what has prompted this stranger's intervention. However, I am inspired by her decisive action. Looking down at the remains of the installation, I realize that a pile of fragile fortune cookies on the ground absolutely, positively demands to be stomped on. What an obvious affordance! What a pleasurable and natural response!

My first cookie word survived a mere 30 seconds in the wild. I take this to be a most auspicious beginning to an experiment in edible existentialism.


Future cities to be cookie rolled this week: Seattle and Los Angeles. Upcoming words: "gods" and "had".

Friday, May 06, 2005

The Coachella Files

Coachella 004
Originally uploaded by Avant Game.

What happened at Coachella? Blogs tell life backwards, but this is the way it went down:

We depart for our mission.

We receive further instructions.

We make our first liaison.

We conduct recon ops and training exercises.

We reflect on the mission.

Nisha and Ian sent a Last Resort Retrieval package to both me and Kiyash. It contained signature LRR pins, Treo 650s, and Bluetooth headsets.

So it's official: We are fully equipped and ready to try this heist thing again.

Whether it's for LLR.. or our own trouble we make ourselves.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

co-conspirators for life

The rest of the story has already been written.

Things did NOT go as planned.

No SD card. Never met Nisha. Lost all contact with Myke. The Web feed was cut off.

Got rid of the goons, but by then it didn't matter. The Coachella 5 had already been labeled as traitors.

Trust is a funny thing. I like face-to-face contact for building trust. Same-space interaction. But we never got to see Nisha or Ian, never stood in the same room as them, never looked each other in the eye. So it makes sense that they didn't trust us... at least, not as much as we trusted each other.


Were we just chasing windmills in Coachella?


Nisha may have a few regrets about aborting the mission. But I don't regret going down to Coachella at all.

SMG3er, HitsHerMark, Laura, Kiyash and I... well, we are co-conspirators for life.

We know we have an indefatigable ally in Diandra, who was our lifeline throughout the day and night, our only reliable souce of info during the botched heist, and who was the only Op on the mission who stayed with us until the bittersweet end.

We know we have real friends who fought for us when we were under suspicion, who got mad and loud for us when we were left hanging during the heist, who cared enough to stay awake all night watching out for us, who were online at 4 AM when I came home deflated and wanted to talk, who were online again at 9 AM the next day when I woke up wanting to talk some more about what had happened, who offered to buy two rounds of commiseratory drinks (see you at Spat's, Ariock and Ranger D), and who right now are busy getting ready to make the next mission go down the right way.

Stay tuned. They're on the case.

And you may just see the Coachella 5 rise again.

photo ops

10 PM - Midnight.

...we do additional on-site recon...

...we get live updates from our off-site co-conspirators...

...we get suspicious of Myke's stalling tactics and try to grab the mission dossier from his back pocket...

...we game security and sneak backstage @ Coachella after we had leave our mission contact, Myke...

... we locate the Audi with the SD card we are supposed to lift and Kiyash photographs the VIN #...

...we try to social engineer our way into the car...

...I am dancing at the Audi afterparty when the goons show up...