LOLcat triple threat, starring Buckminster (as himself)

Buckminster has better grammar and spelling than your typical LOLcat, but he does indulge in an occasional predilection for typing like Prince.

My ambivalence... let me show you it.Take I: Buckminster is unimpressed by my camera

My papmered lifestyle... wearies me.Take II: So much napping, so little time

Pillows R 4 pussiesTake III: Buckminster’s jowls are his own pillow

Get a Real Job! or, Thoughts on Pseudo.com

Bringing new meaning to the phrase “get a real job,” I now learn that my last full-time gig was for a “fake company.” Years after the fact of its demise, Pseudo.com founder Josh Harris has pronounced to Boing Boing that Pseudo Programs Inc. was in fact a massive performance art piece, aided and abetted by the since discredited New York Times journalist Jayson Blair.

What is Harris up to? Is he, as my former colleague Jacki Schechner puts it, “Batsh*t Crazy“? Has he been retroactively inspired by the literal definition of the word with which he chose to christen his venture, and now remembers things the way he wants to? To give him the benefit of the doubt, this pronouncement itself may be the performance piece. Or, he may indeed just be batshit crazy.

pseudo.com logoWhat’s in a name, indeed?

Regardless, wow! All of this comes as some surprise to me, as I drew a regular paycheck at the time. I was there, so I can attest that Pseudo was “real” insofar that it had regular employees, sitting behind desks, computers, cameras, and studio mixing desks. We reported every day for actual work, for pay, with benefits. We produced countless hours of audio and video programming for exclusive broadcast over the internet, years before technology and bandwidth made such things commonplace and trivial. If I was a pawn in someone’s conceptual art piece, well, it’s still a bullet point on my resume, man. But it may explain why I’m having trouble locating most of my past colleagues on LinkedIn.

Some of the comments on the Boing Boing piece are more amusing and insightful than anything I could attempt here, but I thought it might do the public record some good for a former employee to contribute a few thoughts and memories about the tiny corner of Pseudo I was briefly involved with.

I joined the company in November 1999, right at the precarious peak of the infamous dot com bubble. Countless startups were all trying to figure out how to make money on the internet (wake me when somebody figures that one out). Pseudo was one of the first and most notorious, with a rough-and-tumble reputation of hard partying and drugs. Worse than all that (at least in the eyes of Wall Street) was how it excelled at its true forte: burning money in spectacular fashion (and speed). Old-media executive David Bohrman had been recently brought on as CEO in an effort to steer the chaotic company into profitability. To illustrate how much old-world thinking was driving Pseudo at the time, Pseudo’s disparate programs were fractured and reorganized into “channels,” an amusingly quaint metaphor ill-suited for the internet.

The Pseudo.com Quarterback Club logoThe Q.B. Club logo. I don’t know who designed it, but that’s the font Triplex, and it’s got a whole lotta Illustrator action goin’ on

One of these new ventures was the Politics Channel, still remembered now for its groundbreaking online coverage of the 2000 Democratic National Convention. But I was to be part of another channel no one, not even Wikipedia, now remembers: The Quarterback Club Channel. The Quarterback Club was a collaborative venture by several NFL players (including Warren Moon, Kordell Stewart, and Boomer Esiason) to consolidate their various moneymaking and charity ventures. Yes, that’s correct. This Dork Reporter, who couldn’t possibly care less about professional sports, and in fact often disdains them, took a job working for football celebrities. To my family at the time, I was working for the NFL, but to me, I was right where I wanted to be. To a former film student also interested in web design, making short animated films for the internet looked like the perfect job.

It was pathetically easy to get hired with the dot com bubble was at its apogee. As is my policy, I was utterly frank in my interview. I had used the then-new and trendy web animation tool Flash for a few projects by then, but was hardly an expert. What they had in mind for me was to execute Flash animated cartoons, then a radically new thing, from the writing, directing, and art by Kevin Ross (with whom I still have beers). Here’s a rough transcript of my interview:



MY FUTURE BOSS
"Do you know Flash?"

ME
"Well, yes..."

MY FUTURE BOSS
"You're hired!"

That was easy! But the humiliations started early. One of my first tasks was to tote Warren Moon’s briefcase around after him on a visit to the Pseudo offices. I had never although I had never heard of him, but I was informed he was far too famous to carry his own shit. I have clear memories of it being made of orange basketball rubber, which makes no sense but that’s what I recall.

The Q.B. Club, Politics, and Comedy teams were housed catty-corner to the main Psuedo building, on the north side of Houston & Broadway. If Pseudo’s legendary partying was still going on under the reign of grownup-in-charge David Bohrman, we saw none of it over at our depressing digs. The confusion over the two locations was always a problem. Once, Boomer Esiason mistakenly showed up at our place, and was clearly unimpressed as we tried to give him directions to find the main office (I didn’t know who he was, but my meeting him really impressed my sports-fan cousin). There was everything to be read into our placement; the Pseudo veterans hated how Bohrman was mainstreaming the company.

Despite its justified reputation for profligate spending, Pseudo could be petty, cheap, and wracked by turf wars. Our NoHo Pseudo annex was viewed as intruding on the old skool’s SoHo territory, and they let it be known by delaying our computer and software orders for weeks. We were effectively crippled, but Kevin Ross and I produced the first and part of the second episodes of Q.B. Toons on my own personal PowerBook G3 (it could handle the animation, but didn’t really have the processor oomph for the multi-layered audio tracks we needed). The situation was so dire, and we were so obviously unwanted that I know many of us considered quitting (not a single one of the Q.B. Club team ever did). Speaking for myself, I was convinced Pseudo was the wave of the future, and the best possible place for a former film student to be.

Many of the “new-skool” employees came with little understanding of the medium in which they were to work: the internet. But to be fair, at the time, who did? Our boss was a former Navy Seal, and some of the rest came from television and video production. Time and time again we came up against a frustrating inability to write and communicate clearly. Kevin and I coined the phrase “purple puppy” to describe the kinds of random requests we would receive, as in, “Can you put in a purple puppy?” I still amuse myself with the in-joke to this day.

Kordell Stewart as Activator ManKordell Stewart was not amused by “Activator Man”

All told, I was there for a little more than half a year. The rest of Pseudo had some success promoting the film American Psycho and selling the SpaceWatch Channel to Space.com for a chunk of change. Meanwhile, we only able to produce four episodes of Q.B. Toons. The first was little but a crappy teaser, featuring a holiday greetings from Warren Moon (what Scrooge would not be moved by that?). The second episode told the full, fleshed-out tale of li’l Moon in his first-ever game. The third starred Bernie Kosar and was a disaster, in my opinion, taking ages to produce and looking the worst. But our fourth, and what turned out to be our last, is our masterpiece. Reportedly our supervisors, and Kordell Stewart himself, were not amused and it remained unaired. We were inspired by the cut-out animations of the Monty Python genius Terry Gilliam, but the visual allusions were lost on everybody.

The Pseudo.com Politics ChannelKlik-a-Kandidate: Bush wallows in his daddy’s riches, and Gore rides the information superhighway

We labored under an air of impending doom throughout, and the only ray of light was the daily visit by an enterprising (and very cute!) girl that sold homemade sandwiches door-to-door. I still have copies of some of the internal emails that circulated after each new article predicted Pseudo’s demise. So with the writing on the wall, we tried to diversify with two new projects for the Politics Channel: Klik-a-Kandidate and Campaign Dope. We were finally put out of our misery during the first round of layoffs in June 2000. The day began with an almost comical omen: as we were all called to assemble in the main Pseudo offices, I scraped my arm against the rusty grille of an old truck while crossing the street. There was not a single Band-Aid to be found in all of Pseudo, so I clutched a paper towel to the stubbornly bleeding wound for the rest of the day.

About half of the Quarterback Club staff was called into a brief meeting with Bohrman (like being picked, or not, for a dodgeball team). Our burden relieved, we dragged our pink-slipped asses back to our offices to hurriedly copy our files onto Zip disks (remember those?) in time to grab a few pints at the local pub (which I recall being a really good, authentic Irish pub, actually… I wonder if it’s still there?). I spent the rest of the night in the emergency room for a tetanus shot. The next day I got a call from ABCNews.com, but I declined to comment, thinking I might hurt my chances at finding a new job (but I was working again within days). A second round of layoffs only a few months later put the rest of the company to its definitive end. The domain Pseudo.com appears to live on as a some kind of patchwork of affiliate music links.

Even if it took some wild pronouncements by Josh Harris for it to happen, it’s nice to see Pseudo back in the news. It was a great talking point for me in job interviews right after it imploded, but these days it’s hard to find someone who’s even heard of it. I now work for Warner Bros., and I certainly hope that the original Warners (Harry, Albert, Sam, and Jack) don’t someday rise from the grave and say “Psyche! Just kidding!”

Willfully Ignorant Design

A profoundly depressing statistic from today’s New York Times:

“According to a CBS News poll last month, 51 percent of Americans reject the theory of evolution, saying that God created humans in their present form. And reflecting a longstanding sentiment, 38 percent of Americans believe that creationism should be taught instead of evolution, according to an August poll by the Pew Research Center in Washington.”

Fifty. One. Percent. And yet, a voice of reason from the least expected source:

“The Vatican has issued a stout defence of Charles Darwin, voicing strong criticism of Christian fundamentalists who reject his theory of evolution and interpret the biblical account of creation literally.” (News.com.au)

My head is spinning. It used to be so easy to blame the old Italian guys in silk dresses for Western fundamentalism. We’re now officially living in an age when the Vatican is more rational than Bush, who believes “both sides” should be taught in schools.

Stayin’ Alive

Not as in getting funky, but as in not getting blown up on the subway. You know how every time there’s a terrorist attack, the media tricks some rescue worker or unfortunate bystander into using the phrase “body parts everywhere”, which they can then morbidly quote with relish? The next batch of human soup you can hear about just may well be New York chunky style.

So no movie review this time. A little like HtMT, I usually don’t use this blog to talk about me me me, but some shit is goin’ down in New York City right now that I feel like writing about.

Before afternoon rush hour yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg and the Chief of Police held a press conference to report the feds had uncovered credible evidence (the feds claim otherwise) of a coordinated attack of between 12-20 bombers on the subway system, perhaps as soon as that day (yesterday). Even better, the plot is tied to malcontents in Iraq (duh), and while military forces are carrying out top secret missions in Baghdad to foil the plot, we’re supposed to go on our jolly way riding the subway as normal.

Just like Bloomberg himself pledges to do. Whereas just minutes before, he said “It was more specific as to target, it was more specific as to timing.” Do the math! So naturally he’ll be riding the subway. It’s when he checks his watch and gets off that I’d be worried.

I walk home through Central Park whenever possible during the summer. It’s reason #384 why I heart NY. By early October it’s dark and chilly before I leave work. So before the news broke, I was already debating whether or not I would take the subway home. And then upon walking out the door of my office building, I saw a caravan of black SUV’s rolling through midtown. Not an unusual sight in a city housing the United Nations, but what was strange this time was their haste, the sirens, and the tinted windows actually open. For once I finally got to see who’s inside those things: imposing muscle men in suits scowling out at pedestrians. I decided right then and there that I would definitely walk home. I had a lovely scenic walk through the park at dusk, but this morning opted to ride the train back to work.

As puzzled media outlets have been reporting, New Yorkers have not been staying away in droves. People need the subway; the city doesn’t function without it. Only rich people live in a strata where public transportation is just something that rumbles beneath your feet occasionally.

But the subway is wide open to attack; I don’t care what city officials claim. Frankly, I don’t understand why anyone hasn’t bombed it already. In a London shocked by the first serious bombing in years since the IRA cooled it, more perpetrators pulled off another one just when you’d think the bobbies would have been more alert than ever. Luckily the bombs literally fizzled.

There are cameras all over the city (traffic cams, ATMs, buildings’ security systems… it’s said any New Yorker is photographed at least once every couple of minutes). But unless there’s some more advanced big-brother surveillance system that I don’t know about, the subway is just sitting there, asking for it. NYC has slowly but steadily been phasing out human-staffed entrances to the subway in favor of Metrocard (disposable smartcards you buy from vending machines) turnstyles. Today there’s a cop at every subway station, but there are usually several entrances to each station, and they are typically at least one block long. There are literally dozens of unguarded entrances where you could enter carrying a giant pink polka-dotted nuclear warhead and a placard reading “HEY LOOK AT ME I’M CARRYING A WARHEAD”.

Bloomberg also urges us to be on the lookout. What for? There’s at least one of everything on the subway. I say that with affection, not out of racism, sexism, sexual orientation-ism or any other -ism. This is New York #%$&in’ City, for #%$&’s sake!

Last night I lived through an extended dream, many details of which fled upon waking, but I do recall some large cataclysmic attack. As on 9/11, I was safely dozens of blocks away, but unlike 9/11, people I actually knew died and my guilt was so overpowering I cried in my dream. It’s disturbing that my brain personalized today’s events so much; I never thought my survivor’s guilt from 9/11 was anywhere near in the leagues of people who were actually there and made it out, or personally knew someone who did. A few weeks ago, I watched a movie that included footage of the planes hitting and the towers collapsing. It had probably been years since I had seen it, and even then I only saw it on TV like everyone else in the world (I was about 70 blocks away). I’m not really sure how to describe how it felt to see again, but it’s a little like I do right now.

I Heart Katamari

Best. Game. Ever.

To give that statement a little context: I’m a novice gamer at best. My cruel, heartless, Dickensian parents wouldn’t let me have an Atari growing up (kidding, Mom & Dad! I’m the better for it) so I’m a latecomer to all this beeping, flashing, vibrating analog joysticking stuff. A few years ago, I was engrossed in The Matrix films to a degree that seems silly now. But at the time, I was designing the official shop so I can explain away my obsession as having arisen from spending all day every day Photoshopping distressed metal boxes with glowing green screens. Word was that the Enter the Matrix Playstation game was a veritable revolution in gaming, an unprecedented merging of cinema and interactivity, necessary to understand the upcoming sequels, yadda yadda yadda. Sucker that I am, I actually bought a Playstation 2 on the strength of this hearsay, and… the game sucked. I had never even touched a PS2 before and I could tell that it sucked.

Worse than that, it was unbelievably violent. Before you call me naive for thinking it wouldn’t be: My favorite of the Matrix series is No. 2 (yes I know that’s against popular opinion, but what does Popular know?). If you watch closely, you’ll notice that although our ostensible heroes Neo and Trinity mow down dozens of innocent humans (not, technically, their bodies, but their consciousnesses in the Matrix, resulting in their real-world bodies dying) with machine guns in the first film, not a single living person dies in the second. Unfortunately the game takes after the first film and the player’s very first task is to sneak into a post office and kill as many armed guards as possible.

Where to start? First, is it intentional irony that you’re going postal on poor USPS workers? Second, why in the hell are they all packing heat, as opposed to packing tape? I forgot to mention that you start out the game unarmed, and the included instruction/hint book helpfully suggests a complicated combo move (or whatever gamers call it… you have to move the joystick up and to the left, press a dozen buttons in a complex sequence, turn around three times and toss salt over your shoulder) to sneak up on somebody and break their neck.

Now let me say here that I am against censorship in all forms, and all the talk about banning or even creating a rating system for violent videogames sets off all my liberal alarms. But when a game like this actually encourages the player to sneak up on an innocent human being just doing his job (as opposed to a non-sentient but malicious computer program, as the Matrix mythos call a villain) and break his neck instead of confronting them head-on and potentially costing you health points in a fist-fight… well, I nearly had the urge to call my representatives in Congress.

So my Playstation gathered dust for a good long while. I would occasionally take a stab at other games, but wound up selling most of them back. I did enjoy one quite a lot: The Simpsons Hit & Run, a sort of Grand Theft Auto (or so I’m told) without the hookers and whacking and stuff. Great fun! Seriously, you should try it.

But then I read about Katamari Damacy in Time Magazine, and was intrigued. Partly that the media would focus on a game for any reason other than to decry its poisoning our nation’s children’s precious bodily fluids, but also by it sounding totally unique. And it is, as far as I know. Basically, you roll a big sticky ball around the place and pick things up. The bigger your clump gets, the bigger things you can pick up. Soon it becomes clear that if you play long enough, everything around you is pick-uppable, including people, skyscrapers, and even clouds. It’s insane! Totally weird! Addictive!

I just picked up the sequel We Love Katamari this weekend and have fallen in love all over again. I wouldn’t say it’s a huge conceptual advance over the original, but there are many more worlds to explore, more complex goals, and more general loonyness all around. Yay! I’m a gamer!