Snapchat your vacation

Posted in Travel on May 12th, 2014 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

I guess the ghost is because the photos vanish?Photography, especially while on vacation, is a very strange subject. When visiting a new place, people immediately whip out their cameras or cellphones to capture, permanently, an image of whatever they point at. The lens of the camera becomes a surrogate eye, so that the vacationer "sees" (through the viewfinder) but does not experience. I am somewhat critical of ubiquitous photography, in that I feel there is little value in taking pictures on vacation, partially because a better picture has already been taken, and partially because the camera becomes a distraction.

I am also critical of the correlated desire (or even need) for these pictures to be seen by others. That is, when vacationing, people not only take pictures constantly, but then expect to show them to friends and family upon their return. This feels to me like a form of need for validation ("look how much fun we had!") rather than an actual desire to express the beauty of a place, the excitement of an experience, or whatever else the picture likely failed to capture. Not only does this further emphasize the point that the photographer was distracted, focusing on the image rather than the source of the image, but frankly, most people don't care.

This last point is one of the major reasons photo sharing on social media has been so successful when slideshows of yore were not: it moves the control from the photographer to the audience. That is, those people who do care to see the photos can, while others can move on and ignore them. While this does not solve the first problem (in fact, I believe it exacerbates it), it certainly does a good job of dealing with the second.

However, the permanence inherent in social media means that one's online presence is a constant, rolling résumé or advertisement. ("Look at me! Here's things I've done! Here's places I've been!") This, as I stated above, exacerbates the first problem, and as a result, people who fifty years ago would not have ever touched a camera spend time today taking pictures of everything, including the most mundane.

I took a short vacation to Portland a few weeks ago to visit breweries and check out their beer culture (which is incredible). The last time I went on a beer-related vacation (or "alcoholiday" in 1920s slang), I found myself taking pictures of the occasional beer menu or beer flight and tweeting them out. I did this largely because when friends of mine do similar vacations, I'm always intrigued by what and where they're drinking. These pictures are quick, they don't heavily distract from the experience, and they are interesting to at least some small number of people. So when I went to Portland, I intended to do the same.

However, upon whipping out my phone for the first flight picture, the little ghost in my notification bar informed me that I had a Snapchat waiting for me to view. I opened it up and saw a picture of an impressive few bottles of beer from a friend of mine. In response, rather than tweeting the beer flight, I Snapchatted it, as a reply to that picture and as an addition to "My Story."

Now you may think it hypocritical that I can say I dislike ubiquitous photography and would use Snapchat. And I assure you that's a correct thought. It absolutely is hypocritical. The rise of photo sharing social media applications such as Instagram and Snapchat has massively increased the presence of this problem, and by using Snapchat, I'm encouraging it. Pictures I take are not better than the ones I allude to at the beginning of this post, nor are they free of the attached distractions. Nor are they more interesting. I do not claim that any reason others may take photos would not apply to me. There is an unquestionable attraction to photography, even knowing full well that I will not likely ever revisit these pictures.

There is, therefore, a massive benefit to the ephemerality inherent in Snapchat. Essentially, because vacation photos are not something most people ever look back on after a brief grace period after the vacation, such photos are practically ephemeral, though in practice not at all. With social media currently, such pictures last forever. But with Snapchat, one can match the intentions ('bragging' or quest for validation, updates to friends and family who care, the satisfaction that comes from capturing an image) with this additional desire for true ephemerality of vacation photography.

On my trip to Portland, I snapchatted the entire time. Every picture I would have tweeted I instead pushed to those very few people with whom I am connected on Snapchat. The experience was exactly the same in terms of mechanics/satisfaction of the photography, and better still, the pictures are now gone. I never have to worry about not revisiting pictures I never would look at again, simply because they no longer exist.

Most importantly, Snapchatting my vacation forced a slight remedy to my first problem above; because I knew photos would be fleeting, I was able to take such pictures while still making sure that I focused on enjoying the experiences themselves – after all, the memories of such experiences would last even if the pictures won't.

So I highly recommend that you Snapchat your next vacation. Take the same pictures you would have taken before, but push them out to My Story and then put the phone down, enjoy the vacation, and make memories that are less ephemeral.

Give me ice or give me death

Posted in Travel on August 7th, 2013 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

I was in London two weeks ago and I intend to be there again this coming week. I'll have a lot to say when I get back (I've been thinking about a few things related to restaurants and beer and London and will likely put them together in the coming weeks) but I want to get this one out now, in case the Queen reads this blog and can decree a change before I get there on Sunday.

There's a serious ice problem in England. Actually in all of Europe, but I believe you have to tackle a problem one step at a time, and England seems as good a first step as any.

The ice problem is this: there's no ice.

Seriously. You like ice in your drinks? Too bad. England operates on an interesting conversion system (something to do with the metric system, I'm sure) that appears to be as follows:
Ice water –> Water
Iced tea –> Jail time

I actually did see a few cubes of ice at one point (a rare sighting indeed) when I ordered a Sazerac at a restaurant. I was a bit surprised, because at other bars, I had seen liquor bottles stored in a cooler so that bartenders could avoid needing ice. I kid you not. "Ridiculous" does not even begin to describe that.

Now as it happens, I particularly like having ice in my water, so this is particularly distressing to me. Also distressing is that I can't understand it: England is a first world country. Surely they have freezers, ice machines, etc. available to them. It's not like ice is a luxury or a precious commodity. There's no reason why ice should be hard to find. But in England, it's a scarcity.

England, I'm calling on you to be the change I wish to see in the world. Start freezing water, preferably in segmented-cube-shaped plastic trays, and put the resulting cubes in your water. It will blow your collective minds. Or freeze them.

It's just "Montrose," dammit!

Posted in Travel on August 27th, 2012 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

Batman's Top Ten Pet Peeves #1: "When people call him The Batman. It's just Batman, dammit!"Most of the people who live in Houston are new to Houston or new to life. I recently read that 70% of people who live here did not live here thirty years ago, either because they weren't yet alive or because they are transplants in this fair city. Because of Houston's fast growth, there are some things, namely how we name neighborhoods, that are undergoing changes. Some of these changes are reasonable. Some are not. Here's a quick guide to what you should call different areas.

It's just Montrose

Montrose, one of Houston's coolest areas, is a neighborhood around Montrose Blvd. It should be noted that the way I'm referring to it, "Monstrose," is how it should be referred to. Please, stop saying "The Montrose." There is nothing "the" about it. This is not The Castro. This is not The Bowery. Montrose is way south of The Woodlands and pretty close to The Village but that shouldn't confuse you.

The Village or Rice Village

A good barometer of whether someone is a native Houstonian is how they call the area west of Rice University. People not from around here tend to say "Rice Village," especially if they're from New York, where another Village claims the title in their heads of "the village." Those of us who grew up here, on the other hand, tend to say "the Village." Both are okay. Unlike "Montrose" versus "The Montrose," this is really just a personal preference thing. If you say "Rice Village," everyone knows what you mean. And if you say "The Village" and there's no chance you're talking about NYC, the same should be true. Just say whichever sounds more reasonable to you.

EaDo & Midtown

As areas become more gentrified, they will change their names. That's okay. This isn't the same as "The Montrose" which is simply a bastardization of a name that already exists. This is more like an example of someone went by "Jimmy" as a child but decides to go by "James" as they grow up. "Third Ward" or "Fourth Ward" doesn't sound as good, or as exciting as "Midtown." And "EaDo" sounds unrealistically New Yorkish, but "Chinatown" doesn't really fit since it's no longer accurate. Of course, if you want to stress your O.G. Houston status, feel free to keep numbering the wards. Just don't mix them up.

Texas Medical Center

If you ride the light rail, you might notice that there is a stop called "Dryden/TMC" and another stop called "TMC Transit Center." These stops are in the Medical Center. TMC, in fact, stands for "Texas Medical Center." This should be a good way to remember that the word is "center," not "district." There is no Dryden/TMD stop because there is no Medical District. There is a Medical Center. Don't confuse the two.

There's probably a lot of areas that I'm forgetting, which is fine, because I can always make a second list. But it's very important to remember, even if you have trouble with TMC or the Village or the various new names that are constantly popping up: it's just "Montrose," dammit.

A brief hitchhiking memory

Posted in Travel on January 30th, 2012 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

One time I hitchhiked with a driver who had no hands.

I tried to write several different intros into this story, but they were all garbage, so I decided to cut to the chase.

Basically, in Israel, everyone hitchhikes. It's how you get around. And when I was stuck on a horrible kibbutz in the middle of nowhere, it was the only way to go anywhere worth going. And as a result, I met a variety of interesting characters.

One guy was a driver with no hands. He had lost them during a war (my memory is vague on which war). He drove by threading his hooks through well-placed rings all over the car. There was a ring on the steering wheel, a ring on the door handle, and a ring on the gear shift. These rings were specifically designed to accommodate his hooks.

Seemingly, having no hands doesn't change your driving ability. Like all Israelis, he was horrible. Not worse than anyone else though, so I guess the hook-and-ring system works.

The (uncertain) future of Worst Place

Posted in Travel on January 21st, 2012 by Nathan – 2 Comments

One thing I omitted in yesterday’s post about the changing landscape of Morningside Heights deserves its own post. For years, next to our favorite Chinese restaurant (West Place, or as we’ve always called it, Worst Place) stood an empty former Blockbuster. When I first arrived in New York, this Blockbuster was freshly closed, still displaying the sign that indicated that you once could have rented movies there.

Over the next four years, it would slowly become less and less of a Blockbuster and more and more of an empty shell. And that was how it stood until we left.

But on this recent trip, we noticed something new in its place: Nikko Hibachi Asian Fusion. A chinese/japanese/otherese restaurant right next door to Worst Place. As we walked by, we noticed that the place was full, swarming, while the usual line-out-the-door indicating the lunch special at West Place was gone. We walked right in and were almost completely alone.

Add to that the fact that the Department of Health has downgraded West Place to a ‘B’ and we don’t foresee a good future for our favorite Chinese. Most likely, that lunch special was the last Worst Place we’ll ever have.

As the Columbia area becomes ever more gentrified, its places like Worst Place that suffer. Sure, that’s just how the market works, but in this case, it’s a real gem that’s being replaced by yet another cookie-cutter Asian Fusion restaurant. And that is simply sad.

Morningside's changing landscape

Posted in Travel on January 20th, 2012 by Nathan – 1 Comment

So last weekend while Rebecca and I were in New York, we noticed that there have been some major changes to the Morningside Heights area, in surprisingly little time. Since May, a lot of places have closed, opened, or just changed. Here's some things we noticed:

  • New electric parking meters on nearly every corner.
  • The Manchester Diner. Never seen this before in my life. This spot (Broadway & 109th) used to contain some nondescript store that I don't remember at all. A quick search tells me it was West Way Cafe, which sounds plain enough that that's probably true. Now it's a new trendy-looking diner.
  • Some other restaurant nearby that I've already forgotten. And I didn't know what it replaced either. Nonetheless, this happened.
  • The scaffolding in front of the buildings on 121st is gone. These buildings actually have facades.

Admittedly, this is a small list, but there were more changes that I can't remember now. It wasn't that important, but at one point, Rebecca and I both commented that there were some serious changes. It felt weird that after only about eight months, the landscape would have changed enough for us to notice these things. Maybe it's because we had visited and not gradually seen these changes. After all, when Haakon's Hall replaced Radio Perfecto, it wasn't strange, because I saw every step of the way. Same with the opening of Mel's Burger Bar, or any other changes that occurred during my time at Columbia.

When I was young, I would listen to my parents or other adults talk about "oh that restaurant used to be this restaurant" and "before this was there, there was a whatzit." "No, it was a blah." "Oh yeah, it was a blah after the whatzit." I always thought this was ridiculous and meaningless, but I now know it's just nostalgia. And more importantly, I'm finding myself doing it too. And that's even more ridiculous.

Comparing Atlantic City Casinos

Posted in Travel on January 19th, 2012 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

For my bachelor party, Yoni planned that we head to Atlantic City (a slightly longer drive than you would think), where, of course, the entire economy is based around casinos.

We managed to visit three different casinos, for various amounts of time. I figured I'd compare them here:

Borgata – I was really excited for this one because of the season of Gordon Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen that I have watched. See, the winner was promised a head chef position at a restaurant at the Borgata. Though that apparently never came to fruition, so that sucks. Anyway, the casino is VERY high-class. Very nice restaurants, some ritzy clubs, etc. Tables were expensive, we couldn't play craps unless we wanted to be at the $100-minimum-bet table (the lowest available was $15, but that was beyond full) or blackjack unless we wanted to sit at a $50-minimum-bet table (the lowest available was $5, but again, full with a waiting line.) Most tables were expensive, as the cheapest of each game had only one table. On the other hand, alcohol was more freely available than later.

Wild Wild West – This is clearly the sketchiest of casinos. The sign outside had one "wild" burnt out, the tables were closed (you could go upstairs to Bally's if you wanted to play table games, but that's apparently much more expensive) and the main selling point seems to be a "24-hour happy hour" which really defeats the purpose of "happy hour." Also they had dancing "western" women. Or rather, what New Jersey thinks of "western."

Trump Plaza – Very cheap tables. This is why we ended up here, so that we could actually gamble a bit. Alcohol flowed slowly at first (at the craps table) but faster later (at blackjack). Might just be poor logistics in terms of the setup. Also most of the dealers were wearing sports jerseys, which seemed really informal and odd. Nonetheless, we spent a lot of time here, and it was quite fun.

If I had to rank these casinos, I'd do so thusly: if you're going to be seen, or to eat, or to club, or to gamble high dollars, Borgata is clearly the best. If you're going to gamble for cheap, Trump is your place. And if you're going to a bachelor party, you should hit up all three.