My Friend Bob

Back in 2004 I was still a young dude adjusting to adult life in the biggest city, New York. My years there were some of the highest highs and lowest lows in my life, and it was a constant process of adjustment that provided plenty of weird moments and perspectives. After buying a new laptop, my trusty Toshiba “Big Blue”, I thought I’d try keeping a blog the same way a small handful of my friends had done. The tone was goofy, ridiculous and vulgar, but I also wrote the way I think: about anything and everything, spinning it around to get a look at all sides.

Individual blogging was still a small-scale novelty in 2004, and I had a higher-traffic blogger notice my site one day and start sending over some readers from Standing on the Box, a Gawker-promoted first-person blog about working as a bouncer in NYC. Eventually I learned the writer’s name was Bob, that he was a football fan and former D-1 player, and that he was going to be hanging out at a bar with another Internet-popular anonymous blogger and this guy if I wanted to meet up and hang out. Over a few beers in a West Village bar, we all shot the shit about blogging and all the lighthearted nonsense that came with it, and before long we were grabbing drinks on a regular basis with other blogging oddballs. Like I said, it was a novelty.

In time Bob and I bonded over more than blogging, though. For all the hugely interesting things that he did in life — playing D-1 football, Army tours in Bosnia, teaching and coaching at a top NYC private school, working with some of the most advanced strength trainers in the country, and then creating a well-written insight into the not-so-glamorous side of NYC nightlife and scoring a book deal based on that insight — he shared an underlying bog-Irish psychology that no matter what heights you reach, a vocal part of your consciousness still questions whether you really deserve to be there, even as you strive to experience, learn and process more and more of life. He was from Queens and I was from Pittsburgh, but whenever we discussed our respective experiences, I could count on a friend who had that same sense of awkward, romantic amazement at exploring the world beyond your origins.

It’s that that I’ll miss most about Bob — he passed away suddenly last weekend at age 43. I’ll really miss the surface-level fun: busting balls over wings and beers in some pub, texting about the NFL or hanging with Willie Colon, and hitting shows at NYC rock venues to hear some live metal. But most of all, it’s tough knowing that I no longer have that friend and fellow traveler who knew the importance of broadening yourself.

Rest in peace, Bob.

Your Best-Ever Buffalo Wings Recipe – Straight Out the Oven

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Website readaz: make these for the Super Bowl, or hey, for pretty much every meal. Using the oven results in a more evenly and thoroughly cooked wing — underdone chicken wings are truly disgusting — and also results in wings that taste more like seasoning and less like fryer oil. Can you dig it? CAN … YOU … DIG IT?

Phattest Oven Wings

2 pounds raw chicken wings
Approx. 4 tbsp olive oil
Tony Chachere’s Original Creole seasoning

Sauce
1/3 stick of butter
5 oz Frank’s Red Hot

Preheat oven to 350. Rinse wings in collander, pat dry and cut with scissors into separate drumstick and flat pieces; discard triangular end tips of wings unless you like to eat bones and feathers. Place wings in mixing bowl and toss with olive oil and generous portion of Tony Chachere’s: 3-4 shakes. Place wings on parchment-paper-lined cookie sheet and bake in oven for 70 minutes at 350. In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter in the microwave (30 seconds or so) and add Frank’s; mix together until blended. Toss wings in sauce until well-coated; serve with blue cheese dressing and celery sticks.

My prediction for today: Denver 20, Seattle 13

United Economy Plus, Seat Reclining, Cloud Storage, Spotify vs. Google Play Music

San Diego vs KC

Steelers were robbed. You can’t say that without admitting that they were a terrible playoff team this season, but still: robbed.

  • I flew back to Chicago a few weeks ago in what was nominally a United Economy Plus seat, but it was exactly the same dimensions as a regular seat. According to the flight attendant, a lot of the older United planes aren’t refitted with the better legroom, rendering that Economy Plus seat just a regular old Economy seat with different labeling on united.com. I felt completely ripped off by a free membership perk.
  • Speaking of that, I don’t know if the general flying population has a high rate of seat reclination or if I just have some kind of magnetic talent that attracts seat recliners directly in front of me. On that last trip, I was reclined into on the way out to the O.C. and I was reclined into on the way back to Chicago. Reclining your seat is never OK. I don’t know why airlines even provide this feature, which is minimally beneficial to the recliner and maximally annoying to the reclinee. I’ll sometimes ask people to sit up if my knees are really getting crushed, but that feels dickish because reclining seats are a feature and not a bug. Get me out of this dilemma, airlines.
  • I’m in the process of moving the entirety of my digital files onto Google cloud storage so I can quit buying high-powered and high-cost home computers once and for all. This process is slow, only because even a rather small amount of files can take a long time to upload. But yeah, it’s nothing but tablets and smartphones once I’m done with this project, because the 90% of my digital life that’s already on web-based applications means I only open a laptop for the office life anymore.
  • Moving all these files onto Google gave me a chance to cheat on my beloved Spotify with Google Play Music. 20,000 songs can go up there for free, and I have but a measley 3,700, so uploading my MP3 collection was easy.*

    *(That’s not counting the iTunes DRM files that I’m still kicking myself for buying years ago when I briefly owned an iPod. (Its memory died completely one month after the warranty expired.) Apple’s hatred of data proliferation will always be my prime beef with the company. Google lets you export your entire Gmail and Calender archive multiple times in any given day! Apple needs to quit trying to be AOL circa 2003.)

    I’d give Play Music credit just as a file repository, but I also gave the Google All Access pass a try for free for a month. It’s $9.99 per month, the same as Spotify, and roughly the same idea: add any song in the entire Google licensed collection to your own library, download it for offline play if you want, make playlists, create radio stations based on your tracks, and do all that other good stuff you can do in this golden age of music consumption. Google’s interface is cleaner than Spotify’s and matches up with the interfaces from Google+, Google Now and the like, so you got the consistency thing. I’m into that.

    HOWEVER, after trying it for a month, I’m sticking with Google Play Music as a cloud repository but using Spotify’s subscription service. For one, I’m tied in to Spotify, and all the material I’ve read says that transferring playlists is a pain in the ass. That’s a critique of Spotify more than it is of Google, but the Google critique comes into play because those playlists wouldn’t really transfer anyway: Spotify has a larger license than Google at this point. So all those Metallica tracks on my “Destroy All Workouts” playlist aren’t going anywhere when they’re not even available on Google Play. Today I was playing some Fugazi tracks and ran into the same problem: no Fugazi available other than what I uploaded myself. When the features are otherwise the same, this catalog limit is the current deciding factor. Spotify wins this round.

Best NU Wedding Cake Ever, Image Capture Everywhere, ACA and News Cycle, I’m Done with Hockey Fights, NFL Scoring, Master of Puppets

  • I’m on the plane to Orange County, Calif., and took in this Economist article about the ubiquity of digital recording. As I read it, part of me was doing the older-person “These broad changes to society are bad!” reaction, but I told myself years ago that I wouldn’t be one of those people who can’t deal with change, and I’m already accepting this idea. Part of that is because I already recognize how useful it is to have a digital life-augmentation device thanks to my smartphone — seriously, they are miracle devices on a historical scale — and we’re already finding an incredible number of uses for recording data, so images are no different. The other half accepts this because those who grow up in this image-capture reality aren’t going to know any different. To me, it seems horrifying that the most difficult times of a kid’s life (hey 7th grade!) are being captured for posterity, but the relative impact of living with that when all of your peers are also living with it is much different. It has and will forever be impossible to live two people’s lives, so there’s no way as a young kid to grasp what it would be like without ubiquitous recording. You read about this image-capture paranoia, then you look at the selfie epidemic: people adapt. I will too!
  • I’m with this blog post: it’s way hyperactive to think that the extensive ACA website troubles of 2013 are going to have a definite impact on the 2014 elections a full year from now. If they’re fixed sooner rather than later, nobody is going to remember this. A monster typhoon tore up the Phillipines just last week, and it’s already out of the news cycle this week. Presuming that the site is fixed by at least Q1 2014 or so, expecting modern America to care about something that happened a full year ago isn’t very realistic. I don’t really think short memory like that is a good thing, but it’s nonetheless a thing.

    That said, I certainly sympathize with this lady who had her insurance canceled. If you support the ACA, the proper response to her situation is “Man, I hope that gets fixed, as that’s a pretty big flaw” instead of “Shut up and accept that that extra $5,000 per year is going to a cause greater than your family budget.” There’s always a short end to the stick.

  • It wasn’t a single injury or fight or Ray Emergy idiocy that finally crystallized my opposition to fighting in hockey; it was this extremely calm and rational article in which I couldn’t argue with a single one of the points made. So yeah, I’m officially anti-fighting. And that’s coming from a major hockeyfights.com fan and web professional who occasionally cites hockeyfights as a website that delivers exactly what someone interested in hockey fights would want it to deliver. Sorry, hockeyfights, but I’m arguing that you should move your extensive informational skills to some other topic from now on.
  • Scoring is way up in the NFL in the past few seasons, thanks largely to the rules changes to protect passers and receivers, and even if it pains me to admit it as a dude from the supposed home of “blue-collar, lunchpail, smashmouth football” (never mind that the Steelers abandoned that a while ago), watching a high-scoring passing game is the best. It also makes me feel a little less guilty about enjoying pro football: take out some of the forceful, repetitive collisions from a run-oriented game and pro football becomes more of a game of athletic skill, with less of the downside of watching grown men give themselves traumatic brain injuries. You could criticize that from either end of the spectrum — “You’re still a heartless capitalist pig who enjoys watching men injure themselves for money” vs. “Football without the smashing of mouths is a game for princesses that just reflects how far America has spiraled into Kenyan socialism” — but the NFL and I both know that watching seven TD passes by the best athletes in the nation is an ongoing visceral thrill, so screw off.
  • After overdosing on Metallica in the wake of their being Spotified, I can confidently say that Master of Puppets is the best Metallica album. Consider that confidently said.

Travel and Gamification, NFL 2013, Tacos


August 2013 was the second time in three months that I left a blank monthly archive. Two out of three ain’t bad, unless it’s a non-updated website.

  • I’ve been traveling a lot this year for work. This isn’t always fun, but it has been a tremendous insight into the idea of gamification. I never knew of airline status as anything other than some vague preferential treatment for years and years, but now that I’m on the road all the time, this shit has become way too important.

    I finally made Premier Silver on United two months ago — admittedly that’s a pretty weak boast if you talk to any true road warrior — and the arrival of the silver-ish (in other words, gray) luggage tag tag in the mail felt like that time I got called back for the second round of Jeopardy! auditions. Now I’m one of those people who gets the special security line, Economy Plus seating and envious looks from exhausted tourists who know they’ll miss out on an overhead compartment spot. Whatever, haters: go fly into Charlotte-Douglas and John Wayne Airport week after week and they’ll throw you a bone, too.

    So the gamification part: no matter how trivial a task or a reward might seem, the desire for recognition and achievement is so strong that the people controlling that task/reward can really draw a lot of extra desire and effort out of the rest of us just by enumerating levels and badges. It’s one of the many psychological tactics out there in the world, and while I know appending the words “Premier Silver” to my boarding pass doesn’t mean anything at all in the real world, here I am caring about it anyway.

    I’ll take note of that again when I check in at my hotel tonight. Just eight more nights until Hilton Diamond status!

  • The NFL starts up again this week. Speaking of psychological control, I am well aware that Roger Goodell and the owners get away with a huge amount of ethically despicable behavior, yet I’m already right here eagerly consuming their product yet again this fall. I don’t quite know what to feel about this other than to point it out – if there’s some way to separate the fandom from the naked greed that drives owner indifference to both players’ mental health or the public’s finances, all while wrapped in a soggy blanket of fake down-home American grittiness, then I’m all for it, but I know already my fandom is going to win out anyway. If someone could figure a way out of this moral dilemma before the cheese for my nachos finishes up in the microwave, that would be great.
  • All I know about the tacos out here in California is that they are amazing. Why does a corn tortilla go so well with grilled seafood and lime? I don’t know, but I am eternally grateful to the person who found this out. You could really enjoy a life of tacos and ocean out here without much effort.

Late Publishing, Pirates, Belgian Beer

For the first time in more than six years running this iteration of my website, I have a barren monthly archive. (See history menu on the left side of a single-post page.) Sorry, June 2013. I only made July because I thought, “Hey, it’s the end of July and I’d be going two months without sending something into the blogging ether. Not OK.”

  • Baseball will forever be dull as paint, but I guess it’s nice that the Pirates are the best paint in MLB right now. People keep telling me “Hey! The Pirates are in first place!”, which makes me think “baseball”, which makes me think, “I could go for a nap right now. I’ll just finish reading this coverage of Steeler training camp before I hit the hay.” That’s what yinzers do.
  • Tonight I had a fantastic Belgian-style dinner at The Globe here in Garden Grove, Calif. Highly recommend it, and if you get a chance, also try some St. Bernardus ABT 12, which was awesome. I say that as a guy who doesn’t normally like Belgian beer either – too sour, but not Bernardus. Great name too that makes him sound like a more O.G. Roman version of the brandy-toting dog breed.

Matte Cars, Google Now, Penguins-Bruins


I got that Q5 on dubs. OE dubs, but still: dubs.

  • There’s a Maserati owner near me who keeps driving his ride down the street when I walk my dog in the morning. This is mostly notable because his car is painted matte black. I don’t know why peeps do this – when you go with a matte finish, you make your $130,000 car look like a 1991 Nissan Sentra, one you painted with black Krylon to hide the mismatched replacement door you bought at the junkyard.
  • I’ve been using Google Now on my phone … but I’ve decided I’m not into it. I only say that because I think it’s not all-encompassing enough – I use lots of different sites and applications to do things like read news or tweet, so until Google Now gets Big-Brother enough to read all of my digital activity and then predict the cards
    I need that way, it’s limited to my search and email behavior and therefore missing out on a lot of what I need in my day.
  • To prep yourself for the next series: go read 10 must-watch storylines for Penguins-Bruins. Then cheer for Pittsburgh.

Digital Strategist Goes Car Shopping

My first-ever word was “car”. That’s probably not that exceptional for an American kid, but it starts this blog post off nicely.

When I was little, I’d stand on the white leather seat of my Nana’s mint-green Cadillac Eldorado and pretend to drive it. (If only it were here today.) As an 11-year-old I memorized all the makes and models I saw, which in our late-’80s/early-’90s hood were blockish Chevy Cavaliers and Ford Tempos from what I would consider the ugliest car-making era in history. (One neighbor also owned a heinous gold Pontiac Fiero for good measure.) Having never owned my own car, I was more excited at the end of college to finally buy an auto than to get my own apartment – I had the black 2002 Chevy Monte Carlo SS in mind, the one that got a shoutout at the end of “#1 Stunna” by Big Tymers. Birdman and Manny Fresh, you have taste.

But then I moved to New York and to D.C., and the car love was lost and forgotten for the sake of urban practicality. Even after marrying into my first car, the wife’s 2003 VW Jetta GL Turbo, I took good care of the vehicle but never really geeked out over it. Over time it aged gracefully but more and more pointedly, signaling in the past year that it was time for a new whip.

Then last month happened and I’m squarely back in four-wheeled hotness territory with this new machine, which I have named Big Shine:

2013 Audi Q5 3.0T Premium Plus

So as an Internet-enabling pro, how’d I go about that? I’m glad I posed that rhetorical question to myself because it gives me the chance to expound on car-buyer digital behavior.

Three-part staging is nice and neat in consulting slides, so that was how I set my shit up:

  1. Price-be-damned big list to find the best choices,
  2. Final four to get down to a chosen few, then
  3. Negotiation to get the best deal.
  4. First up was figuring out what style of car to get. I’m down with the slow-roller, old-man-luxury American rides (see the aforementioned Eldorado), while the wife comes from a family that’s long been in love with German sportiness and precision. We also had to think about the smaller family members we hope to add in the next few years, so practicality and space were a concern. A sedan might work for this situation, but it’d have to be pretty sizeable to hold any kid stuff, and a contiguous cabin-trunk still has a spatial advantage over a separate compartment. I have a strict no-station-wagons policy having grown up with two nerdwagons – one even had wood paneling – and a full-sized SUV is too big and impractical for the city. That left a crossover as the best option, so I dove into the top-three resources I used in my search:

  1. Edmunds.com, for reviews and specs,
  2. Kelley Blue Book, for their useful pricing model of MSRP > Suggested Fair Price > Invoice, and
  3. A Google Drive spreadsheet to keep track of all the info, consultant-style.

I started pasting relevant info into the first tab in my sheet: price, engine, performance, dimensions, and any other stat that might be even mildly relevant. I went for the new models to pick out our optimal car, because I figured I would do the feature-cutting and used-car-shopping once I got to the negotiation stage. Also had to throw in the photos for visual appeal. I got this:

Screen Shot 2013-05-03 at 2.25.53 PM

So then it was all about paring to a test-driveable list. By the time the first available Saturday for both of us rolled around, we made it through seven cars in one day, all 2013 models:

  • BMW X5 – nice ride, but too expensive and too big – I did keep the smaller X3 in mind.
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee (V6) – too sluggish.
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee (V8) – much better with the gas-guzzler engine, but too expensive for what it is.
  • Mercedes-Benz GLK 350 – drove great, sweet interior, cheaper than expected, but nerdy exterior and in-laws don’t love theirs. The dealer was my favorite of the day though.
  • Audi Q5 2.0T (4-cylinder) – nice pickup, great handling, great interior, slight egg-shaping. Lost some points for the hair-geled dealer rep who was a sleazy douchebag even by car-sales standards.
  • Lincoln MKX – luxuriously cavernous old-man interior (cream-colored leather and wood FTW), but sluggish to drive and with an ugly, horse-toothed snout.
  • Cadillac SRX – handles great, solid pickup, looks like it will cut you and is a Cadillac (+10 baller points), though it was dark when we drove it so the verdict was unclear.

So for the next week, I whittled it down to a list of 3.5 cars — we kept wavering on the Mercedes and ultimately dumped it — and made spreadsheet tab 2:

Screen Shot 2013-05-03 at 2.31.45 PM

That meant the next Saturday we’d be re-driving the X3, Q5 and SRX. Now I also brought bmw.com, audiusa.com and cadillac.com (mobile site built by Acquity Group) into the mix to check out all the available option packages and trims. (Audi of America, your site is terrible at this.) I called up the dealers and made some appointments so we could get our final, more immediate comparison between the three:

  • BMW X3 xDrive28i: Fast acceleration even with a 4-cyl, great steering, roomy, but the most expensive of the bunch despite its Spartan, Reagan-era interior. I’d also be just another Lincoln Park jagoff in a Beamer. Keine Bayerische Motoren Werke für uns diese Zeit.
  • Audi Q5 3.0T / 2.0T: The 3.0T has the V6, and it was the shiz. Nice, quiet, smooth ride with great handling and a nicely appointed interior. We drove the 2.0T again but were spoiled by the 3.0T, and the 2.0T didn’t measure up anymore. We left thinking this was a really great car, but I still wanted to try the Cadillac.
  • Cadillac SRX Performance: We showed up at the dealer and it was a thing of beauty: sharp, shiny, strong-looking, black clearcoat and fitted with the high-polish 20-inch wheels the dealer knew had caught my eye. Yet after driving it, I found it inverted my expectations for a Cadillac: it drove just as nimbly as the high-end German cars, but the interior was disappointingly plasticky and cramped. The cool CUE touchscreen didn’t make up for a weird V-design on the console with buttons that weren’t sensitive enough and, as the true death blow, a tiny backseat with no legroom. This one hurt because I was all about the idea of Cadillac ownership — I had already named my future SRX “The Stackillac”. But alas, the SRX just didn’t want it enough with that weak backseat effort.

    Clear winner: the 2013 Audi Q5 3.0T.

It was time to negotiate. While I had wanted to buy a 2- to 3-year-old car to save on the depreciation, the only used Q5s I saw on Carmax, Cars.com or the dealer sites had racked up big miles and were still barely cheaper than a new one. (Ultimately a good sign if everyone’s holding on.) I hadn’t intended to buy a new car, but here we were.

Google Maps helpfully provided me with a list of all the Audi dealers in the area, so I busted out spreadsheet tab No. 3 and started emailing and calling each dealership. I knew I had three areas to work:

  • New-car price
  • Trade-in value for the Jetta
  • Options or extras

I conducted all my discussions through email whenever I could to make things go at my pace and put all the offers in the spreadsheet for comparison, only picking up the phone when I needed to confirm an offer or communicate a better one I had at a competing dealer. This worked like a charm: I got a price just barely more than invoice, a trade-in value for the Jetta right near blue-book value, and a few hundred (at least in MSRP terms) worth of throw-ins like all-weather floor mats and wheel locks. Did I still lose somewhere? Probably, but as far as I can tell from every independent online source, we got a truly phat deal in the end with these awesome LED accents to boot:

This was a firsthand demonstration of the value of information. I mean that literally: access to digital information saved me thousands of dollars. We hear a lot from the news industry about its own disruption, but the auto industry has been equally upended. That’s tough for dealers, but great for us auto buyers. As I gotta say in all aspects of my life: Thanks, Internet.

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