Category Archives: Reviews

“Nothing interests humans more than other humans”

I’ve been reading a wonderful book about urban planning called Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream.

Suburban Nation
The cover to the book “Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream.”

In this politely harsh critique on the idiosyncrasies of modern attitudes towards city building and the backwards promises of suburbia, Andres Duany and his team write one sentence in particular that could easily sum up the main problem with suburban living:

Nothing interests humans more than other humans.

I’m sure you’ve seen images like the one here before.

An image from a webpage of the Montclair Film Festival that accompanies a series entitled “Coming Of Age In Suburbia.”

Cookie-cutter homes, sometimes all built exactly alike, placed along winding “community” roads that don’t really lead anywhere. These “communities” promise high standards of living sometimes afforded by 24-hour security personnel, reliable maintenance staff paid for by money-hungry homeowner’s associations, and most importantly, a peace of mind that only a staid arrangement of homes, homes and more homes could offer.

But the negatives in these communities outweigh the positives. I see this happen even in a highly populated city like Miami, whose outlying suburbs – Kendall, Miami Lakes, Cutler Bay – cause traffic jams daily as commuters travel increasingly longer distances than they should to get back home from their jobs in the city.

Traffic is only part of the problem, though. The very idea of people jumping into their cars, tuning out the world until they enter the safety of their gated home within their gated community, is one that’s tearing us apart as a society.

In Suburban Nation, Duany explains that suburbia grew out of a mid-20th century distaste with dirty and cramped inner cities whose factories, sweatshops and tenements were but infant children of the Industrial Revolution. “Inner-city living” became a phrase befitting of people who couldn’t afford to live somewhere nicer.

Nowadays, the opposite is true, with people paying premiums to live in city centers even if the extant appeal of suburbia has blighted them into a shell of what they used to be.

Downtown Miami and its surrounding neighborhoods are great examples.

A shot of Brickell, a Miami neighborhood, at night.

A formerly bustling area at all hours of the day, Downtown Miami is now a vagrant-ridden ghost town after 6pm. However, condominiums in and around the area are commanding insane prices that most of Miami’s population can’t even afford.

Why is that? Because the urban renaissance is upon us. People don’t want to live ten, twenty, thirty miles from their jobs or from places of entertainment, for that matter. The city life is the new chic, with the ability to walk to everywhere becoming the new way to live. Cities themselves are way cleaner and more attractive than they used to be when suburbia became a thing, meaning “inner-city living” is fast becoming something cool.

City Life
Best part of living in the city? Taking to any high roof and feeling like Batman.

The most appealing factor of that city life chic, however, is indeed the fact that it’s so easy to interact with other humans. When people are able to walk to the majority of their daily destinations, they naturally encounter a greater amount of other humans than if they were to drive everywhere. Think about running into your friends or colleagues at a bar on your way to the grocery store, jumping into a fitness class at the park on your way back from work.

We need to ask ourselves, then: what do we really qualify as a high standard of living? For me, living in a gated community where there’s nothing to do is the exact opposite of a high living standard. Being able to meet new people simply by stepping outside my living quarters is a much more appealing lifestyle, and for obvious reasons, it’s also a much more sustainable one: think about how many pedestrians fit into the space taken up by a single automobile.

Suburbia, Duany and his team ultimately conclude, is a failed experiment that catered to specific circumstances of its time but ultimately did not deliver on its promise of better living. People love people, and putting up dividing walls, fences and gates between neighbors is not the way to promote that.

What do you think about living in suburbia versus living in the city? Let’s talk!



What I’m listening to right now

I don’t often write these kind of basic, “snippet of my life” posts but I’m feeling kind of inspired to do so today so why not. The following are Youtube links to the five hottest songs on the Monzón Billboard 100.

Continue reading What I’m listening to right now

Are HD MiniDV Camcorders Obsolete in 2016?

Though some may write them off as obsolete, HD-capable MiniDV camcorders can actually be of great value to the amateur Youtuber and videographer.

Continue reading Are HD MiniDV Camcorders Obsolete in 2016?

‘We Are Your Friends” – the definition of a guilty pleasure

“Grossly adolescent” is the best way to sum up Max Joseph’s feature film directorial debut, We Are Your Friends. But just like “gross” income isn’t actually gross, Joseph’s film about a group of friends trying to make money and be something better is not necessarily rotten.

The film tells the story of Cole Carter (played by Zac Efron), a college dropout whose best friends Mason, Squirrel and Ollie want to jump over the Hollywood Hills and out of the San Fernando Valley to a life that doesn’t involve sleeping on the floor at Mason’s house and riding around town in Squirrel’s station wagon.

The group explicitly touts Cole as a DJ on the rise to stardom and implicitly lauds him as their ticket out of the valley. Cole prioritizes his craft, which leads him to meet a formerly legendary DJ named James Reed (played by Wes Bentley) and his much younger assistant-turned-girlfriend, Sophie (played by Emily Ratajkowski). After a falling out between the two over the wayward Sophie, James’ penchant for organically produced sound ultimately lands Cole the gig of a lifetime in Los Angeles.

A nightclub-worthy soundtrack weaves the film’s scenes together, as do creative special effects and enjoyable dialogue that’s characteristic of college dropouts down on their luck.

What the film lacks, though, is focus. Joseph said he wanted to make a film “about kids graduating from high school or college and moving on with their lives,” and while that may be a part of it, We Are Your Friends feels more like a mashup of several other possibilities that could have been something better on their own.

One thread is the chemistry and feeling of being in “the golden years” between Cole and his pals. Another is that of the formerly artistically devoted but now financially motivated James Reed.

None of these threads are explored to the point of satisfaction.


For one thing, it’s never shown or even explained what exactly makes James a sellout, which is a shame since Cole and James fight each other over it in a strip club bathroom. Furthermore, even though the title of the film is We Are Your Friends, the time spent with the buds feels secondary to Cole, and by extension, secondary to the plot.

The sudden departure of one of the four friends, in fact, comes so out of left-field that its purported effect on Cole doesn’t even feel real.

Ratajkowski’s role as Cole’s love interest also feels tacked on; Cole would have still developed the same way as a character had she not been there.

Then again, being unfocused yet enjoyable may be the film’s greatest virtue. Being in your early 20s involves lots of distractions, and Joseph himself compared the film to “throwing a party. You set it all up but you invite people to the party and they each bring something.”

Joseph chose a predictable production as his first feature but ensured that it was done right. Making a feature film is no easy feat and even Joseph claimed that the production “didn’t have a lot of money” and “didn’t have a lot of time.” He was blessed with the collaborative readiness of the actors and music talent for the film but cursed with the plot of a glorified glimpse into the world of DJ-ing that isn’t very moving.

Ultimately, the movie serves a purpose as a guilty pleasure flick worth watching for the occasional comedy nailed by Cole and his pals, the eye candy provided by Efron and Ratajkowski and the pounding electronic soundtrack that Joseph so valued during the film’s production.

1997 Ford E-150 Cargo Van

My experience with a cargo van is definitely one for the books. So in 21st century fashion, I’m going to present it to you on the Internet.

Cleaned up and posted up against an urban background, the Econoline looks like a proper man's truck, in my opinion.
Cleaned up and posted up against an urban background, the Econoline looks like a proper man’s truck, in my opinion.

There’s no need to bore you with the mechanical facts of a 1997 Ford cargo van, especially one of a base model like the one I had, with two submarine-like windows on the right side that had been spray painted on from the inside and no retractable bed or fancy interior lighting to speak of. Just in case though, my now-defunct van boasted a 4.2 liter V6 engine pumping out a meager 200 horsepower at 4800 rpm and delivering a whopping fuel capacity of 12 mpg in the city and a solid 17 on the highway. The guy I’d bought it from was a Hispanic man who seemed to be concerned solely about making ends meet, for the inside of his van was a dirty, rusty and essentially apocalyptic mess of frayed wires, screws, sand, loose pebbles and derelict tools. The floor of the cargo bed itself had a huge gaping hole in the rear-right side, which provided a perfect conduit for the un-catalyzed fumes from the straight-piped exhaust channel to enter the cabin and stink up the place even more. To round it all of, a dead fuel gauge, weak battery, unreliable alternator and various misfiring cylinders made you feel confident when ascending highway ramps at a barely maintainable 55 miles per hour.

This would be the first of many times that I'd be left stranded by the Econoline.
This would be the first of many times that I’d be left stranded by the Econoline.

You may be asking a perfectly fine question: was there anything positive about the van at all? The answer is yes. The roomy cargo area – once it was rid of its rotted wood floordboard and cleaned to the extent of human capacity – allowed me to install a set of free Craigslist couches, a $20 Wal-Mart area rug and three Walgreens air fresheners. Together, this set allowed me to witness the birth and untimely demise of a fun idea gone awry – the camper van done cheaply.

The Econoline could've been a fun camper van project ... it just never matured in time.
The Econoline could’ve been a fun camper van project … it just never matured in time.

I purchased the van based on the idea that a two wheeled vehicle – propelled by human or motor power – would be my main form of transportation, and that any moving box I ever bought would be reserved for pleasurable drives around the city. While this idea of mine still stands, I admit being very wrong about exercising that idea with this van. Van ownership is not for the faint of heart – these machines are complex works of modern engineering that can take so much abuse from people that treat them like garbage that one day, they’ll just throw their hands up in the air and burst.

BOOM went the engine block when it couldn't take it anymore. I believe there was a lack or an extra amount of oil pressure in the block which made parts shoot out.
BOOM went the engine block when it couldn’t take it anymore. I believe there was a lack or an extra amount of oil pressure in the block which made parts shoot out.

And that’s exactly what happened to this one.

Less than 3 months into owning the van, its engine block blew up into a fiery mess. An array of parts inside the block shot out of the block one day while I was driving the van to my job, leaving a gaping hole on the left side of the block that would make someone think a T-Rex clawed its way into the engine. The hole provided a front-row seat to the flames that bore on inside the block until no more oil was left to be burned.

Off it went, to never be seen again.
Off it went, to never be seen again.

Just a few days later, a tow truck driven by another Hispanic man looking solely to make ends meet picked up the van and hauled it away, as one of the rear cargo doors flew wide open when he made a right turn onto the street (yeah, that door never worked). More than $1500 later (after purchasing the van for a modest $800 but spending the rest on commercial insurance and Florida registration fees), I was back on my bike.

Note to self – never buy a van again. Unless it’s something cool, like a VW van of years past.