The Case of the Missing Coat Hangers

Illustration: Andy Orin from a Le Samourai screenshot.

Getting packages reliably in New York City depends entirely on where you live. Not your neighborhood, but your building. Some have lobbies, some have stoops, some have nothing but a door that opens directly to the sidewalk. Some have doormen if you can believe it.

I reside in the Belvedere, a large, squat, six story building that dates to 1924. Not that anyone calls it the Belvedere, but that’s what it they wrote on the front in cement when they put it up around a hundred years ago. It has a big empty lobby where there probably used to be a kid in a bellhop outfit and about 70 apartments above. All good and fine for general living. But I’ve always had a hard time getting packages delivered. Delivered to me, anyway; they deliver them somewhere. Most things just sit in the lobby by the mailboxes but some things do not.

A few days ago I ordered some coat hangers to clean up a messy closet. (Technically it was a “hanging organizer,” but let’s keep it simple for rhetorical sake.) It was from Amazon, and was scheduled to be delivered the next day just in case it was a dire closet situation and Marie Kondo was at my neck.

Indeed the following day the package was dispatched, and I checked its status every so often while I worked. Around half past noon, it was delivered. (Funny how all the delivery services use a passive voice; it never says ‘a person handed you a box’, it just says that the ‘package has been delivered’.)

But first let me tell you about the police who knocked on my door in April holding a scrap of cardboard. A worrying sight. They explained that they had caught a package thief fleeing from our building the night before. Around 2am or so a man got into the lobby and rummaged through the mail, helping himself to whatever looked enticing. But the building’s super intendent somehow caught wind and chased him out. A good man, perhaps one of the only good building supers. The police subsequently caught the thief and his cache of nicked packages, and among the detritus was a shipping label with my address. So the police knocked on my door the next morning just to let us know.

As such, whenever I am expecting something to be delivered, I try to be expedient when retrieving it from the lobby.

When the coat hangers arrived I went down to the mailboxes and found nothing. Nada. No note, no boxes. Unfortunate, but not a big ticket item. The absence of coat hangers is no tragedy. Prior to this, in all the years of chasing boxes I’ve only had one thing go missing, for-real missing: an iPhone. An iPhone! Practically the most valuable thing you can mail. Like slipping an gold ingot into a mailbox. But this isn’t about the iPhone.

I went back to my apartment to check the delivery status again, to see if they left any specific detail of where it was left — ‘by the door’, ‘in the mailbox’, etc. — and there was none. But this particular shipping company provided something new with the delivery notification that I hadn’t noticed before going downstairs: a photo.

Photo by Lasership

That’s not my door.

No clear number on the door either, though the hallway is recognizably somewhere in my building. But it reminded me of the missing Indian food.

Last September I ordered Indian food for my birthday. When the delivery person arrived outside the building, he called my phone to let me know. I went down but there was no one there. Assuming he had gotten inside and I just missed him, I went back to my apartment — and there was no one there. He called my phone again and said he was outside my door, where he certainly was not.

So I walked down the hallway and heard him in the distance, on the other side of a fire door that separates the left and right sides of the building exactly in the middle. He was standing outside of an apartment door with no number that he had incorrectly guessed was mine. In fact, I had to show him my phone to prove that I was me and not some meddling neighbor trying to steal the food. I haven’t ordered from them since. Too much work.

But I knew why he thought that was my door. For some reason this building, the old Belvedere, has all the odd numbered apartments on one side and all even numbers on the other. I’m an even number, so my immediate neighbors are 2, 4, 6, etc. My apartment number is 8.

The man with the Indian food followed the numbers and went to the door next to 7, a door that just happens to have no legible number. But it’s over in odd-numbered land where the odd people live so the door next to 7 is 9, presumably. Or 5. I don’t know if other hundred-year-old buildings are like this, but that’s how they designed things at the Belvedere. All the odds on the right, all the evens on the left.

So when I saw the photo of my coat hangers outside of a door with no clear number, I had a hunch. Even though the address wasn’t visible, it was next to the perpendicular swinging doors that separate the building exactly in the middle, between the left and right side of the building. Odds and evens.

Sure enough I went down the hall to the same door where I argued for my Indian food a year earlier and found my coat hangers.

It hadn’t occurred to me until now that the lost iPhone might have ended up there too, at the door with no number. But that’s another mystery. Someone signed for it and left the initials “OA”, according to the post office. (Perhaps a clue, but those are also my initials, reversed, so that might be a dead end. It could also be Brit Marling.) Lucky for me the cell company replaced the lost phone (and mailed it directly to the post office for pickup) so that case is all hung up as far as I’m concerned.

But if you’re ever in the Belvedere and run across the no-number door in the odd hall, ask them about it for me.

Do Allbirds Give You Wings?

After seeing advertisements for Allbird shoes everyday on Instagram and Facebook and countless other webpages for a year, I bought a pair. I knew what they were before I ever saw an ad because I regularly read the sorts of publications that cover things like a shoe startup company. But seeing them every single day, in video ads with toes wriggling in soft wool, got to me. I needed to experience the future of feet.

Did they reinvent the shoe? Is wool the future of shoe tech? Will these shoes change my life, foot-wise?

No, not really, but they’re fine. They are soft. They are comfortable. Maybe more environmentally-friendly in some regard?

The shoes are different from most shoes in that their top shell is made from wool. It’s more dense and thick than a sweater or something, but it is indeed a woolly material. Thus the shoes lack the rigidity of most sneakers that are made from plastics and rubbers and artificial materials. That’s a plus; there’s no need to break them in. There are no new-shoe-blisters because there’s just nothing in there that’s rigid enough to rub you the wrong way.

The sole is a nice squishy foamy sole, good for everyday use. I have some Adidas running shoes with soles that are slightly more rigid, and I think the Adidas feel a little better for actual running… if running was something I did. Maybe it’s the more aggressive profile of the Adidas–thick heel for impact tapered toward the front–but the Adidas shoes feel more designed for GO FOWARD! motion. The Allbirds are called runners, but feel less runny. Which is fine, just less go-forwardness. I opt for the Adidas when I know I’m going to be walking a lot.

And some people wear them without socks. Feels wrong to me! But you could. I’d imagine they’d feel like dirty socks very quickly, but they are also machine washable.

Allbirds have a unique, unremarkable aesthetic; they’re a shoe with no visual flare beyond ‘shoe.’ No stripes or stars or reflective bits. Kind of reminds me of Odo from Deep Space Nine, a shapeshifter who, for some reason, couldn’t quite master a human face, so his face looked like melted silly putty without wrinkles or defining features. Just the idea of a human face. Just the idea of a shoe.

Odo, the featureless face guy. The Allbirds of faces.

And the laces are oddly stubby.

I’m fairly ambivalent about the look; I bought the aforementioned Adidas shoes because they came up on Zappos when I clicked SHOE, because I needed shoes, for walking in. Some people, the sneaker people, think Allbirds are grotesque business casual things. Not wrong! Not bothered! (Also, Allbirds are popular among Silicon Valley types.)

They are fine, they’re fine. Fine. I’ve been wearing them for a few weeks and they are still comfy. No doubt about that. But–mostly because of their indistinct, perhaps orthopedic look–they do not exactly spark joy. They look like something a grandpa from the future would be wearing in retirement. Futuristic grandpa. Fine.

So put on your Allbirds, jump on a Bird scooter, and ride into the future, gramps! It’s woolly there.

(An editor would tell me to write a better kicker [a kicker is the last sentence in an article]).

So here’s the kicker: shoe.

(Shoe is the thing that kicks.)

The Cake Outside the Door


The other day when I left my apartment to run some errands I stepped out into the hallway and there was a cake outside the door.

A boxed cake, an Italian panettone. Not a freshly-baked cake but a sort of seasonal coffee cake with the requisite shelf life such that you can buy at retail stores. I picked it up to check for any notes or addresses to explain why it was here (I don’t know anyone in the building; you nod and say hello to people, good morning, to 80 or so other people, but I don’t know anyone who might gift me something), and there was no note. Just a cake, in a box, outside my door.

I thought, perhaps, it was from the immediate neighbors. They accidentally set off the fire alarm in the hallway just a few days ago, and perhaps this was some kind of penance, penance for making us step into the public light in pajamas to check if we were going to die or not. But there was no note! (And we did not die.) No hi sorry here’s a cake from your neighbors! Nothing! Floor cake, and that is all.

I thought, perhaps more likely, that the cake was intended for a different apartment, and the person just got the number wrong. Intended for a different apartment that would understand an unmarked cake at the door. But what could I do to rectify the location of an unmarked cake?

I also considered that there are some kids in the building, frenetic children who run through the hallways and bounce off the walls and play in the lobby, and perhaps they placed it there for whatever reason. Like some kind of ring-the-doorbell-and-run game. Here’s a cake! Suckers! A reverse dine-and-dash.

So without any clear resolution, I brought the floor cake inside. What else could I do?

I share a two bedroom apartment so I waited until my housemate got home before I chose to eat, dispose off, or give away the item; perhaps floor cake was entirely comprehensible to her. (And though I was distrustful of the cake, I would have definitely just eaten it anyway.) I was right to wait, because the explanation was mundane.

There’s a place in the lobby where people sometimes put free stuff; books or whatever. A box of coat hangers. Children’s toys that have run their attention span. Dianetics.

I said to my housemate, I found this cake, someone brought us cake? And she had an explanation. Someone has placed the cake in the lobby, in the free zone, and these particular types of cake were a recent topic of conversation at her work. She was curious. So she ran back up stairs with the cake but needed to catch an Uber so she just left it outside our door, as you might with any package when you have places to be, things to do. Deals to make! Modern businesswoman! Catching cars, finding cakes!


That was a little disappointing–no one intentionally gave us cake–but also a little gratifying in its explicit unremarkableness. Which is the only lesson I have, the only kicker: the explanation for everything you don’t understand is probably more boring than you expect it be.

I Can’t Stop Watching This Clip of Bohemian Rhapsody


Bohemian Rhapsody is a silly cartoon movie starring fake teeth. It’s not good, but it is popular. I can see why; it’s not not entertaining! Particularly if you enjoy the music, which carries the movie along with Rami Malek’s wholehearted dive. But it’s all an absurd mess that glosses over reality and is haunted by the spectre of its director, Bryan Singer, who was fired from the production before filming completed. The band might also be partly to blame, the Actual Queen band, supposedly wanting to make a movie that was innocuous to all legacies involved.

So it’s not surprising that the entire thing feels like a weird fever dream. I half-expected interstitial placards that just said SCENE MISSING. Nonetheless they finished the film. And now it’s an Academy Award-winning film, including a gold statue for editing.

Before the awards, this clip was widely circulated online as an example of how messy it all is (what’s with the glossy surreal color grading, by the way?), particularly the editing:

And yeah! The pace of cuts is obviously absurd; it’s just a calm conversation around a table but it feels like there are at least 50 different shots in 82 seconds. You might expect wildly fast cuts in an action sequence, but not tea time.

But people kept pointing to this clip as an example of terrible editing. And I kept watching it over and over to find a glaring error. Any cut that just doesn’t work. And… I couldn’t! Is it… is this editing actually fine?

The whole scene and everyone’s place in it is completely comprehensible. It reads fine; I know where everyone is around the table. With most of the characters framed following a basic rule of thirds, my eyes are never not in the right place during the fast-paced cuts.

Have I gone mad by watching the same clip seventy dozen times? Probably.

I realize that the sheer number of reaction shots is preposterous. It seems to me it would have been a simpler to set up a couple wider shots where you can see multiple characters without making cuts. Instead, there are about 6 or 7 different camera set ups for this one scene around a table. Individual shots for almost every character is not how I would do it! But the editing never takes me out of the moment.

Aside from watching this one scene over and over like a zoetrope, it is difficult to discern how much an editor’s decisions help to elevate a movie. It is laborious and almost invisible work. It is as if the only people who really know how much work the editor has done are the director and the cinematographer and their teams, who know what was shot, and what was not.

But he got the votes, and now John Ottman, the editor of Bohemian Rhapsody, has an Oscar.

Update: Here’s a good examination of why this scene is crazy and how it could be less crazy.

It’s wild that Dragon Ball is so mainstream now. Even the video game is mind-blowing. I had to scrounge the dark web for postage stamp-sized Real Player videos in my day. (And actually there was a Spanish translation–the entire series!–that aired around the year 2000 down in San Diego and Tijuana. That version even had all the original music!)

Anyway, Goku. That’s the whole blog post, thanks.

I’m Mad at Heart


Today’s blog is about interface design, foolish tech optimism, and the horror of reality. Reality–not great! Some good stuff. But social networks want you to log on a feel good! Smash that like button! Click the heart! They tend to prioritize positivity by design.

The other day I saw a journalist post a story about an atrocity, and my broken brain noticed something peculiar, unrelated to the story itself.

At the time, the post had been retweeted much more than ‘liked’ or favorited or hearted; that’s sort of a rare thing on Twitter, when clicking the heart button is the less significant action. Popular posts tend to be ‘hearted’ a zillion times but retweeted less, because retweeting commits a post to your feed, as though you’re saying the same thing. But not a lot of people were ‘liking’ this story about Native American’s struggling with the government shutdown. Because it’s not a fun topic to like! (The ratio has since leveled off, which undermines my whole point, but bear with me.)

Social media platforms have designed this sort of positivity into their interfaces. I’ve noticed the same thing on Medium (disclosure… a company I do contract work for). On that platform, you can “clap” for an article to show that you read it or you care about it. People click “clap” if they like something. But if you publish some ugly truth–maybe a deep dive into the Rohingya genocide, for example–positive reinforcement feels a little strange. Feels weird to clap for genocide even if you’re trying to express support for the work. More notoriously, a couple years ago Twitter changed their ambiguous ‘star’ button into a heart. That was particularly annoying because a heart is more loaded than even clicking ‘like’; you might recognize something as being important without wanting to blast a Valentine’s Day card at it.

This is all to say that most platforms, in trying to foster positive discourse, inherently discourage engagement with things that are not nice, even if they are important.

Fewer likes, or faves or hearts or lucky charms, sometimes mean the article will be circulated less, depending on whatever algorithm is in charge. It’s basically a user interface challenge–how do you indicate your attention without also expressing a specific emotion?–but it affects the way BILLIONS of people share and consume information.

There’s room here for an aside about what you might call “inspiration porn”–a troop comes home and you won’t believe what happens next, a dog did something amazing when little Timmy yadda yadda, this whole town rallied around some idiot. Upworthy famously rise and fell trying to appeal to this quirk in the algorithm, but it’s still a spammy genre of Dumb Things You See on Facebook.

Of course Facebook diversified it’s responses to include cute illustrations that range from sad to mad to heart and the old fashioned like. Even so, clicking sad face emoji feels like a bizarre way to engage with difficult information. But I realize a neutral symbol wouldn’t really make sense either. I would not click uh… Ball… or Triangle… or whatever.

I don’t have a better way; it’s just something I was thinking about. Please like and subscribe!

I Drank Soylent for a Month and There Was Nothing Interesting About It, Not Even the Poop

Photo: Soylent

Some time in late November I decided to order a tub of Soylent, the foodlike meal-replacement powder. My reason, aside from curiosity, is that lunch is always a pain to procure. I work from home and can’t just carelessly walk to some overpriced midtown salad joint that caters to office workers. And I don’t particularly want to spend too much time making anything; the emotional labor of designing a sandwich is too much to bear!! So I thought of trying Soylent.

No, of course I had no intention of eating Soylent exclusively. I just wanted a stupid thoughtless meal in the middle of the day! Soylent is a stupid thoughtless meal in the middle of the day.

It’s fine. It’s fine! It tastes sort of like raw cake batter. Like when you lick the mixing blade when mom is making a cake. It didn’t even make me do weird poop.

The stupidest part of the endeavor was that also I bought a ‘Blender Bottle’ at Target to prepare for my Liquid Journey, but the only one in stock was made of some carbon fiber metal alloy fancy crap that cost like $25 bucks. It’s just a water bottle but it has a cheap metal sphere thingy to do the blending when you do the shaking; honestly some ice cubes can do the same thing in any bottle. I hate spending money but I needed to commit! Commit to being a Shake Guy! Harnessing the power of the sphere! Call me William Shake Sphere!

The Soylent itself is $34 for 12 meals (if you consume 400 calories, the recommended meal size). Which means it’s cheap, but not necessarily cheaper than a bowl of cereal or whatever. I got the cacao flavor. Tastes like cold watery chocolate cake batter. Fine! Lunch sorted for a few weeks. I tried adding a little chocolate syrup but it didn’t really blend in the right way? Because you add water to the Soylent powder, and syrup needs milk, not bland-ass water! Chocolate syrup cannot collab with water. One time I poured coffee into the mix and it was abhorrent! I shouted CACAO!! into the wind. But plain cacao Soylent with water and ice was fine.

I didn’t quite finish it; you’re supposed to consume the Big Jug within 30 days of opening and when I got back after the holidays it the remaining Dust Food smelled a little off (as I bought it over a month ago). I think it was still fine but I was worried about invisible mold or, whatever. I’m not food scientist. Not even a food grad student.

I have not ordered more. But I might! Perhaps! It is more convenient that my current lunch habit of hoping, absolutely praying, that I have some leftovers that I don’t remember and then eating crumbly granola bars while gazing out the window like a sorrowful granola ghost in a William Shakesphere play.

An Appreciation of Treme, David Simon’s New Orleans Show

In a television landscape dominated by dragons, zombies, dreams of the apocalypse, and detectives, David Simon’s 2010 show Treme is a breath of fresh air to revisit. No wait, scratch that–it’s a breath of musty air from an old house with creaking floorboards while a record player scratches a familiar song.

The show begins 3 months after Hurricane Katrina, and as you would expect from a David Simon project, follows a ensemble cast, each trying to live their lives after the storm. For those directly affected by the floods that means literal rebuilding, navigating the bureaucracy of government assistance, and searching for loved ones who lost contact during the storm. For others–the musicians, the restaurant workers, the lawyers and law enforcement officers trying to stave off corruption–surviving in post-Katrina New Orleans is a matter of returning to status quo and aspiring for more.

What makes Treme unique as a television show is the music, and how every character, regardless of their profession, has a deep relationship with the music of New Orleans. Amid the large cast with no specific protagonist, the music and its role in the lives of the characters is the real subject of the show. Of course–and I say this with only second hand knowledge–one would assume that music as a binding factor is what its like to grow up in New Orleans.

If there is one character who acts a center of gravity to the ensemble, it’s Albert Lambreaux. Played by Clarke Peters (who you will recognize as The Wire’s Detective Lester Freamon), Lambreaux is a humble and proud builder whose home was mostly destroyed by the storm. He’s well-respected in the community as being a chief in the tradition of Mardi Gras Indians–most people refer to him as Big Chief. And making a new costume so that he’s able to walk with his Indian crew on Mardi Gras day is more important to him than rebuilding his home. Peters growls throw his scenes with his head held high, exuding a knowing air about life’s hardships and the stubborn resoluteness it requires.  His son Delmond comes to help, and finds himself straddling life between New York, where he’s a successful modern jazz musician, and New Orleans.

The cast is numerous and diverse. Antoine Baptiste is a professional musician hustling from gig to gig, never able to really soar even though he’s (relatively) beloved in the community and finds consistent work. (Played by another Wire alumnus–BUNK!–Wendell Pierce.) Eventually Baptiste, despite his hustling and dreams of bacchanalia, is ultimately caring and responsible to those who depend on him and he reluctantly takes a job as a high school band leader, and slowly finds himself more dedicated to the kids than to his own music career. Steve Zahn plays a charming rabble-rouser as DJ Davis, an entrepreneurial radio DJ, aspiring musician, and general prankster who is dedicated to preserving New Orleans and calling out bullshit when he sees it.

Like the music, food is a frequent topic on the show, most directly portrayed through the lens of Janette Desautel, a successful and yet perennially struggling chef (played by Kim Dickens). With cameos by David Chang, Eric Ripert, and Emeril Lagasse, the show’s portrayal of Desautel’s struggles is grounded in real world kitchens. Notably, Anthony Bourdain helped write these segments. She navigates the culinary world from top to bottom, from corporate kitchens to independent barbecues on wheels.

But I’ll stop needlessly listing off characters. I recently rewatched the full four season run of the show, and felt that distinct sense of sadness that you only get upon completing a great, long novel filled with characters you love. It’s just a television show, but I can comfortably say it’s a work of art. Treme portrays life’s endless ambiguities, pitfalls, and great beauties without hanging on any storytelling cliches, letting life and death play out in a way that makes you forget that people sat in a room somewhere writing this show from scratch. Have a watch, buy the soundtracks, you might be surprised.

Why Props Matter

One of my favorite things about Tested is learning about Adam Savage’s obsession with movie props–both collecting genuine items and building them himself. Even if I don’t share the desire to go to such extreme lengths to maintain high levels of accuracy in replicas, I understand the almost instinctual compulsion to collect those items. But I can’t explain it.

Above is a look at how various props work to further the story and develop the characters in movies, focusing not on just the iconic MacGuffins, but on the simple, little things that are used on screen.

The Most Interesting Thing About the New Dragon Ball Movie is the CGI

Dragon Ball story lines are silly and mundane–oh no, it’s the most powerful person in the universe… until there is someone more powerful–but I enjoy them because I enjoy that world and those characters, and it’s fun. As such, the most interesting thing about the recent movie, Resurrection F, isn’t the blue hair or the return of Freeza. It’s how they utilized computer graphics in fairly subtle but substantial ways.

I guess there are spoilers here–whatever man, it’s Dragon Ball, people yell and punch and just when someone isn’t powerful enough, then they are. Let’s take a look at a few shots:

Dragon.Ball.Z.Resurrection.F.2015.JAP.ENG.1080p.BluRay.x264.AC3-JYK.mkv_snapshot_00.34.09_[2015.10.25_17.41.17]It’s obvious that a shot like that, in which Freeza’s minions arrive on earth, uses digital techniques if only to replicate hand-drawn elements, but the truth is a little more complicated. Take a look at the characters surrounding the intergalactic police dude, Jaco:

Dragon.Ball.Z.Resurrection.F.2015.JAP.ENG.1080p.BluRay.x264.AC3-JYK.mkv_snapshot_00.40.09_[2015.10.25_17.32.00]Jaco, is in fact the only hand-drawn character in that shot. All of the other enemies surrounding him are actually cel-shaded 3D models. [Edit: Maybe Jaco is CG too! I can’t tell.] A lot of wide shots of the battle make use of these models to fill out the scene, but even fairly close shots make use of them too. Quite effectively! Most people will have no idea that they aren’t hand-drawn (and I suppose most people wouldn’t care either, but what matters is that the use of CGI doesn’t change the fundamental look of the show).

Surprisingly, there are a few close up shots in the headlining battle between Goku and Freeza that use 3D models too. I noticed the camera moving dramatically around the action and thought to myself–heck, it’s incredibly difficult to draw that kind of camera movement into animation without the use of CGI aids. Sure enough, there are a handful of hero shots that are entirely CG:

Dragon.Ball.Z.Resurrection.F.2015.JAP.ENG.1080p.BluRay.x264.AC3-JYK.mkv_snapshot_01.06.02_[2015.10.25_17.57.01]You might notice that Goku looks a little awkward–his hands and arms could use more refinement in the tracing and his hair looks a little weird, but in motion, you probably wouldn’t notice. However, there are a few flagrant glitches if you watch it frame by frame (and who doesn’t watch movies one frame at a time?):

Dragon.Ball.Z.Resurrection.F.2015.JAP.ENG.1080p.BluRay.x264.AC3-JYK.mkv_snapshot_01.06.01_[2015.10.25_17.22.16]Look at Goku’s leg and ankle. Oops. But I’m really just nitpicking because that particular shot is only two or three seconds long. I wonder if they borrowed any digital assets from the Dragon Ball Xenoverse video game, which uses similar cel-shaded graphics to a slightly different but impressive effect.

Altogether the animators used a variety of methods to enhance the scope of movie without flagrant changes to a familiar aesthetic. When you’re dealing with an old, beloved property like Dragon Ball it’s easy as heck to mess it up, and it’s pretty nifty that they added their own flourishes to make it feel like a modern movie than a television show.