• Is “We Built This City” the worst rock song ever made?

    I recently read that Starship’s “We Built This City” is considered to be one of the worst rock songs ever made, mostly because of the disconnect of its anti-corporate message and the undeniable fact that it sounds like a cheesy advertising jingle.

    Let’s dig deeper.

    Perhaps its worst offense is that they named the entire album after its cringiest lyric, “Knee Deep in the Hoopla,” a line that not only sounds dumb but doesn’t even make the slightest bit of sense in the context of the song. 

    The second cringiest lyric is, of course, “Marconi plays the mamba.” Listen to the radio… or maybe turn it off?

    There’s also the fact that the song can’t decide which city it’s about, with references to both San Francisco (“the city by the bay”) and New York City (“the city that never sleeps.”) And the video clearly references Las Vegas. But does any city even want to be associated with this song?

    If there’s anything interesting about the lyrics, it’s how utterly devoid of meaning any of it is. It’s the lyrical equivalent of a lorem ipsum.

    As for the music video I’m still struggling to understand what any of this has to do with Abraham Lincoln, but perhaps we’re beyond that point. The extras in the video seem equally confused. And what’s going on with the compositing? Even by 1985 standards it looks worse than a typical TV weather report.

    I was a bit surprised when I found out the song was covered recently by a band called *checks notes* um… *checks notes again* Ninja Sex Party. And that the music video for this cover was filmed — where else — at Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe.

    Take a look:

    What makes the Ninja Sex Party, a phrase I can’t believe I just had to type for a second time, version of the song so much more palatable is the way they injected some much needed silliness into it all. If anyone is knee deep in the hoopla, it’s them.

    It still keeps the baffling line that brings up the ugly specter of police brutality, only to say nothing whatsoever about it. No matter who sings it, this truly is a song about nothing. Eat your heart out Seinfeld.

    Still, is it really the worst song ever made? While it may sound like a commercial jingle, they’re not here to sell you Pepsi or Levi’s or anything. And it has a catchy enough hook and chorus to at least be listenable, which unfortunately is more than you can say for most pop rock.

    So I’ll step up and say that no, We Built This City is not the worst song ever made. That doesn’t mean it’s good, but as Ninja Sex Party’s version goes to show maybe all you need to do is put on a shirt made out of glitter and have some fun with it. After all, if who cares what’s good or bad as long as we’re having a good time?

  • Bubblewrap sort

    bubble wrap
    Photo by creative_stock

    The problem

    Anyone familiar with computer science algorithms knows about bubble sort. In this algorithm, you sort a list of things in “bubbles” by going over it repeatedly in sequence and swapping two bubbles next to one another until they’re all sorted.

    Although this algorithm is simple to explain, it’s really inefficient as you will have to go over the list potentially many, many times until it’s sorted.

    And it has one more problem: isn’t the most fun part of bubbles popping them?

    The solution: Bubblewrap sort

    Enter bubblewrap sort! This takes advantage of a shortcut most sorting algorithms haven’t even thought of. Here’s how it works.

    After putting everything in our list in bubbles, we simply pop all the bubbles. You know, like bubblewrap. Now the list is empty, and by definition an empty list is a sorted list.

    C++ code listing

    Here’s an implementation of bubblewrap sort on a C++ vector:

    #include <vector>
    #include <iostream>
    // Perform a bubblewrap sort.
    template <class T>
    void bubblewrap_sort(std::vector<T>& vec) {
    // Print the contents of a vector.
    template <class T>
    void print_vector(std::vector<T>& vec) {
        std::cout << "Vector:";
        for (T content : vec) {
            std::cout << ' ' << content;
        std::cout << std::endl;
    int main() {
        // Create an unsorted list of integers.
        std::vector<int> list_to_sort;
        // Print our original list.
        // Run bubblewrap sort and print our list again!
        return 0;

    Program output:

    Vector: 3 6 1 -2 10


    Traditionally we expect a sorting algorithm to return a list with the same elements in a sorted order, but if we shave those requirements down to just returning a sorted list — any sorted list, really — the problem becomes much simpler to solve. And more fun, because there’s nothing more satisfying than popping bubblewrap.

  • My own unique piece of BART history

    BART legacy number plate

    You may have been on it, or you may have seen it go “rohr”-ing past you. What could it be?

    I recently purchased a number plate from a retired BART train over at RailGoods.com. This was the plate on a B-type BART train car — specifically car number 1648 — made by Rohr Industries in 1974. It was retired from service after 6 million miles.

    All of the original BART fleet was made by Rohr and had two types of train cars: A and B cars. A cars have an operator’s cab at one end and feature a distinctive sloped “nose” design. B cars were the middle type of car, featuring no operator cab. In the 1980’s BART added a new type of train car, the C car which features a flat front with a small operator cab that could be closed off and used as a middle car.

    BART legacy number plate

    After buying this big metal plate I wasn’t exactly sure how to frame it. So I took it down the street to Underglass Custom Framing and let them do their thing. I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical of the frame choice they recommended, but I also have no problem deferring to professionals. In this case the co-owner of the shop, Eric (no relation) not only picked out a frame color that matches the number plate perfectly, but also treated the tops of the screws he used to mount the plate so that they appear to match its wear and tear.

    Now that this plate is mounted it feels like a museum worthy piece. For some strange museum that keeps parts of old subway cars, I guess.

  • Dallas wrap up and stray observations

    Don’t go to Dallas during a heat wave.

    That’s probably super obvious advice to anyone who’s been to Dallas during a heat wave, but if you haven’t here’s the deal: in a Texas heatwave when there’s a breeze it’s not a relief. Oh no. It’s like being inside a convection oven where the breeze simply brings more heat.

    And with that, let’s get on to my not-so-timely musings about Dallas.

    What’s Dallas like?

    Physically, downtown Dallas reminds me a lot of downtown Los Angeles — the oldest buildings are from the same era, the sidewalks are nice and wide, and there are freeways criss-crossing the area.

    In terms of the people, they are by and large “city folk” who are not reflective of the general Texas population. You’re not going to find many people with thick Texas accents, and plenty of them (gasp!) don’t even own a pickup truck.

    Oddly, many of the locals seemed blissfully unaware of some of the hidden gems in their own city, including a somewhat well hidden mall (more on that later.)

    JFK assassination sites
    JFK assassination sites

    JFK assassination

    Call it morbid, but one of the bigger tourism draws in Dallas is the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In the above photos, the one that looks like an oversized bathroom stall is the JFK memorial. It’s meant as a quiet reflection area. The brick building is the School Book Depository Building where Lee Harvey Oswald fired two bullets from a window on the sixth floor (on the right, second window down from the top.) The two spots where JFK was shot are marked by big Xs on the street.

    Oh and before anyone says “grassy knoll!” I should mention that when you see it in person, it’s plainly obvious that if someone fired a gun from there, the bullet would have been traveling in the wrong direction. So there’s that.

    First Baptist Corporate Church

    First Baptist Church of Corporate America

    When I first spotted the complex of buildings known as First Baptist Church, I thought it was a bank. In my defense, it looks like a series of office buildings and there are plenty of banks that have “First” in their name. Yet apparently this is the largest “megachurch” in the region.

    Now I’m not religious at all but I can’t even begin to imagine wanting to spend my Sunday mornings in an office building. What next, eating Sunday brunch in a cubical?

    Dallas DART
    Dallas public transit

    Public transit

    The main public transit operator in Dallas is DART, or Dallas Area Rapid Transit. Really creative name, wonder where they got the idea. They have a fairly decent light rail system that goes to and from downtown, and even connects to the Dallas Fort Worth airport. But it’s largely a bus system. Although it could use more frequent service, their app is pretty good and makes it easy to pay for rides. One unique feature they have are AM and PM tickets, valid for either the first half or second half of the day.

    In downtown Dallas there’s also a free historic streetcar line called the M-Line Trolley operated by McKinney Avenue Transit Authority. These vary quite a lot from typical PCC streetcars to custom streetcars made of wood.

    Mercifully, all the public transit I experienced in Dallas had air conditioning. Your mileage may vary.

    AT&T Discovery District

    AT&T Discovery District

    The company currently calling itself AT&T — formerly known as Southwestern Bell or SBC — is now headquartered in Dallas. This headquarters consists of several buildings connected by a big public plaza and includes a food court, a 3D model of the AT&T logo, an AT&T store, and the original Spirit of Communication statue with its big gold penis.

    The food court is pretty pricey though they do have a lot of options, including a full bar. Be aware that it’s a strictly cashless affair.

    "Secret" mall in downtown Dallas

    The “secret” mall

    The downtown Marriott is actually a collection of seemingly unrelated buildings connected by a massive atrium. Inside that atrium is a small and apparently struggling two story mall. Since the Marriott mainly caters to business travelers, this impressive space seems to largely escape the radar of locals.

    Of the five or so locals I asked about this place, only one recognized the above photo. None of them could tell me what it’s called. It’s not even marked on Google Maps.

    Downtown Dallas


    I stayed at an Airbnb located in the old Statler Hotel, a very retro 1950’s building that was partially converted into apartments, and a chunk of those apartments were then converted to Airbnbs by Sonder. Everything that’s old is new again, right?

    Well, sort of: these apartments feature in-unit laundry and full kitchens, perfect if you’re traveling light and/or on a budget. I had a couple frozen pizzas and did my laundry twice. And the view (see above photo) was fantastic.


    Some of the tours I had booked were unfortunately cancelled due to the heat, but here are the two I went on.

    • ExperienceFirst Dallas Highlights Tour: This is a long, detailed tour that covers a lot of ground in downtown Dallas. Many of the places I visited in Dallas — including places in this post — I found out about while on this tour. I did this tour on my first day in Dallas and would highly recommend doing the same. It’s a great intro to the city.
    • Dallas Terrors Ghost Tour: Covering some of the less savory aspects of Dallas’ history, this somewhat short tour touches on both the JFK assassination as well as an unfortunate history of lynchings that occurred in downtown Dallas. It’s reasonably priced, though they do offer ghostly upsells as well as a pub crawl option for those inclined.

  • Spoilers: Meow Wolf’s The Real Unreal

    I’ve reviewed The Real Unreal in a previous post. While I hinted at the story and space in that review I did my best not to spoil anything.

    This post is all spoilers, so stop reading now if you want to go in fresh.


    After going through the security checkpoint there’s a gift shop on the immediate right and the lockers are on the left. The cafe and bathrooms are on the hallway on the right.

    The entrance to the exhibit is straight ahead. They will give you an introduction spiel if you arrive as part of a timed group, but may wave you through otherwise.

    We’re told the house is from a small town in Illinois, but upon entering it’s immediately obvious that it bears many similarities to The House of Eternal Return, which was originally said to be located in California.

    The family that lived here are clearly missing, but where did they go and why? The story doesn’t seem to answer this although we can make some educated guesses.

    The Real Unreal


    All of the secret passages from the house are basically the same as the ones in The House of Eternal Return — but they lead to different places.

    Most notably the refrigerator in the House of Eternal Return that led to Portals Bermuda has been replaced by a fridge from the brand “Brrrmuda” which leads to a strange room connected by refrigerator doors.

    Which takes us back to the story… sort of.

    The Real Unreal


    Due to technical issues during my visit I’m not sure I absorbed the entire story, but here’s the gist.

    Food entrepreneur and vlogger Carmen Delaney, who proudly describes herself as Black and bisexual, lives with her semi-retired jazz musician father Gordon in a big old house in Bolingbrook, Illinois. They’re both mourning the death of Gordon’s wife and Carmen’s mother, Ruby.

    Ruby was the first one to notice there was something… odd about the house they lived in, but in her mind it was a positive force that helped care for the family.

    Since the house is pretty big, they’ve allowed Carmen’s close friend LaVerne Fuqua to share a bedroom with her young son Jared as part of a business arrangement.

    The Real Unreal
    Oh no. Not this guy again.

    Seemingly because the house was so similar in design to the House of Eternal Return (see: spoilers here) it somehow collided with the “metaverse” created by Lucius Selig and his psychic/sonic powers. This is confirmed by a note left by Morgan Pastore in the laundry room and a video from Lucius in the Brrrmuda-verse through one of the fridge doors.

    Unfortunately these inexplicable changes to the house have lead to the disappearance of Jared. They’re all trying to find him and his older sister is visiting from her college dorm to help investigate.

    An email on Carmen’s laptop in the dining room also confirms this story takes place in the same narrative universe as Omega Mart. This seemingly means that all Meow Wolf installations are connected.

    The Real Unreal


    As far as immersion goes, this installation needs better connections between the story and the physical space. The main question in any immersive story is “who am I?” and I was never clear on this.

    The next question is of course where this family went and why we’re going through their home. All we seem to know is that Jared disappeared, but where is everyone else?

    The cafe at this location is a bit boring, and given that the installation is partially food related it seems like an obvious opportunity for a crossover.

    But perhaps the most obvious gap between the story and the installation is Gordon’s music. Aside from a record player in a bedroom we don’t hear much of the jazz he’s known for, which seems odd considering there’s a unique background soundtrack throughout this and every other Meow Wolf attraction.

    The Real Unreal


    The most surprising aspect of The Real Unreal is its location — inside of a massive shopping mall. These days malls aren’t doing particularly well, so if Meow Wolf can make it work then more power to them.

    But will this work in a mall setting long term? I have no idea. Seems like an odd choice to me but I’ll admit that I don’t know Texas, nor have I ever set foot in a mall of this scale before.

    However, the most obvious aspect of this entire attraction is that it’s physically so similar to the House of Eternal Return. That’s incredibly bold — perhaps too bold? It suggests a commitment to the strength of the story, which isn’t quite there yet.

    The Real Unreal
    Stage and dance floor

    My takeaways

    As I said in my general review, The Real Unreal feels a bit unfinished. There’s a pretty big disconnect between the story in the house and everything that happens behind it. This criticism could be applied to almost any Meow Wolf installation but it seems particularly obvious here in Grapevine. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of cool rooms to check out, I just don’t see any connection between them and the story. I don’t know if the current Hollywood WGA writer’s strike applies to Meow Wolf or not, but this seems like an easy enough problem to fix.

    Grapevine Mills has a number of entertainment options, with a movie theater, a Legoland playground for kids, etc. The Real Unreal is by far the most expensive entertainment option in the mall. On the other hand, it feels like the one thing in the mall you have to go see. The larger question is if people feel the need to return.

    There is one trick Meow Wolf has up its sleeve: just like the House of Eternal Return, there’s a big stage and dance floor area within The Real Unreal. As far as I know it hasn’t been used — yet. If they were to host live music it could very well be the thing that gets people coming back again and again.

  • Dallas Museum of Art

    Dallas Museum of Art
    Dallas Museum of Art
    Dallas Museum of Art
    Dallas Museum of Art
    Dallas Museum of Art
    Dallas Museum of Art
    Dallas Museum of Art

    Located in the middle of downtown Dallas, the Dallas Museum of Art is a free art museum with pieces from a wide variety of places, styles, and time periods. It includes everything from works by Picasso to a large Hindu shrine.

    And there’s even a mummy.

    This scattershot approach provides a taste of a lot, but not much depth to any one style or period. Which is fine if you’re a casual fan or just interested in checking out types of art you might not usually go see.

    The museum’s current building opened in 2007. From the outside it’s very forgettable looking, though a number of interior courtyards break up the space and provide ambient natural light in the galleries.

    My recommendation: It’s free to reserve a ticket for the main galleries, and a perfectly fine way to spend a couple of hours. Some special exhibits may require paid tickets.

  • Review: Meow Wolf’s The Real Unreal (No Spoilers)

    Just outside of Dallas in the city of Grapevine there’s an absurdly large mall known as Grapevine Mills. They say everything is bigger in Texas, but nothing quite prepared me for a mall that’s so big it somehow has three separate Auntie Anne’s Pretzels locations within.

    Okay so I know the title says “no spoilers” but since The Real Unreal is so new it’s barely been written about before. So if you really want to go in completely fresh, you can stop reading now. However I will barely touch on the story in this post. Consider yourself warned.

    Here we go!

    The Real Unreal

    What is The Real Unreal?

    The Real Unreal is Meow Wolf’s latest immersive story world, built into a “big box” style store at Grapevine Mills. (If my Google-fu is correct this was previously a location of Restoration Hardware.) Aside from the unusual location it works like other Meow Wolf locations, where you purchase a timed ticket and line up to get in.

    Once inside, it’s a bit dark and there’s a big house and… hey wait a minute! Haven’t I see this before?

    Since this is a spoiler-free review I won’t go into the story details much aside to confirm that yes, this is a sort of “echo” of The House of Eternal Return, or at least it appears that way at first glance.

    But as you enter the installation, you’ll find plenty of the similarities are skin-deep at best.

    The Real Unreal

    Practical stuff

    Getting to Grapevine Mills from Dallas more or less requires a car of some sort. I spent a small fortune on Lyft rides to and from downtown. In theory you can take a public transit shuttle from the Dallas-Fort Worth airport though the lockers inside of The Real Unreal can only fit small bags (purses, shopping bags, etc.) and are not meant for luggage.

    Meow Wolf’s “no weapons, no liquids” rule applies. If you have an empty water bottle there’s a place to refill it inside near the bathrooms and cafe area. And you will have to go through a metal detector before entering.

    The space is smaller than both Omega Mart and the House of Eternal Return, however it’s fully accessible for those with physical disabilities. If you can’t find your way from point A to point B without going through a cramped secret passage, staff are happy to assist by showing you an alternate path.

    The Real Unreal is open later than the rest of the mall, which is great if you want to experience it without the crowds. However, I did find myself locked inside the mall and had to figure out how to work the locks on the doors to exit. Perhaps they could advertise this aspect as an escape room?

    The Real Unreal

    My experience

    As this is Meow Wolf’s newest installation and has only been open for about a month, I knew going in that it would be a little rough around the edges. However I didn’t quite anticipate the amount of teething problems.

    There are a couple of key aspects to the experience that drive the story along which unfortunately were often in use by other participants: a diary and a phone. I actually never got to use the phone due to the constant line of people waiting for it. There were supposed to be two phones, one of which was broken (I alerted a staff member to this, hopefully it will be fixed soon.) I’m not sure there would be a narrative explanation for multiple copies of a diary but certainly there could be a few more phones.

    I do think Meow Wolf should have anticipated these choke points and designed around them, although obviously hindsight is 20/20.

    Visiting The Real Unreal so soon after visiting The House of Eternal Return is a trip to say the least. You think you’ll know where a secret passage will lead only to be thrown off completely. That’s all I will say about that (for now.)

    My recommendation: This needs a little time to settle, right now it feels like a beta version of something that could be impressive, but it’s not quite there yet. Unless you’re an immersive design geek (like me) you’re better off waiting a year or two for the early issues to get ironed out.

  • Thanks-Giving Square

    Thanks Giving Square
    Thanks Giving Square
    Thanks Giving Square

    Thanks-Giving Square is a public/private park featuring a shell-shaped non-denominational worship room with an incredible series of stained glass skylights.

    The square itself could almost be mistaken for any other public plaza, were it not for this odd building in the corner. After walking up a spiral ramp there’s a doorway into the chapel-like space which features a few chairs, an alter that’s a big cube of solid marble, and a piano that’s used for funeral services and such.

    It’s free and almost always open to the public.

    The park outside is also worth strolling through, though unfortunately part of the water feature was not functioning during my visit to Dallas.

  • Eye, aka “the giant eyeball” in downtown Dallas

    Giant Eyeball

    After my trip to Santa Fe, I hopped on a plane and then a DART light rail train to downtown Dallas. After dropping off my bags at my Airbnb I walked down the street to see it: the giant eye sculpture at 1601 Main Street.

    This mixed media sculpture was created by American artist Tony Tasset based on photos of his own eye, and originally debuted in Chicago’s Loop neighborhood. Eventually it wound up at this site which previously was the home of an abandoned office tower.

    The Eye is part of the luxurious Joule hotel in Dallas, where rooms typically start at about $500/night and and can go well beyond that. This sculpture is part of a private outdoor event space located right across the street from the hotel and is often used for weddings.

    Giant Eyeball

    Would you want to get married next to a sculpture of a giant eye? Well… me neither, but apparently some people do.

    Although the event space is not open to the public, the eye is clearly visible both from its Main Street address as well as the pedestrian alley around the corner.

  • Santa Fe wrap up and stray observations

    Santa Fe street art

    I have a lot of thoughts on Santa Fe but I’ll start with the basic info you need to know.

    The basics

    Santa Fe is at an extremely high elevation — higher than Denver — and as such you will get winded from the thin atmosphere, even just from a long walk. It takes some getting used to, the important thing is to pace yourself.

    The summer weather is challenging to prepare for. First of all, it gets very dry. I kept getting bloody noses, and while the saline nasal spray helped it didn’t entirely resolve the problem.

    Second, the heat isn’t necessarily that bad. Although it might be 95 F out, when there’s a breeze it’s fine. Believe it or not, some locals don’t even have air conditioning.

    My last point about the weather is the summer monsoons. They came very late this year and I only caught the start of it. What happens is it’ll be a warm sunny day, and then suddenly there’s a huge thunderstorm with a bunch of rain, and then it’s warm and sunny again. I managed to get by without an umbrella, but your luck may vary.


    Fewer than 90,000 people actually live in Santa Fe, and many are retirees. The main industry is tourism and related service industries. This leads to an unusual situation where there are many top notch museums, activities, restaurants, etc. that primarily exist to serve non-locals. Though admittedly, Albuquerque is significantly larger and only about an hour away.

    Speaking of which, in order to visit Santa Fe you’ll probably have to fly to Albuquerque as it has a major airport. Santa Fe does have an airport, but it only has one terminal with one gate, and the runway is too small for larger jets.

    Downtown near Santa Fe Plaza there are numerous artisans selling their stuff outside, and pricier indoor galleries as well. As is often the case with this kind of arrangement there’s a ton of overpriced tacky junk that was probably made in China. However, one thing unique to the area are the Native Americans selling homemade jewelry — look for the sellers outside the Palace of the Governors. This should go without saying, but you do not photograph Native Americans without their permission.

    Santa Fe Plaza
    Santa Fe Plaza, downtown Santa Fe

    The food

    Despite many rave reviews of the local cuisine… I wasn’t very impressed, to be honest. I even went on a food tour and it just drove the point home even more: all the local dishes are very same-y.

    I also developed an irrational hatred of the locals insisting on calling getting one item with green chili and another with red chili as “Christmas.” That’s goddamn irritating.

    This isn’t to say you can’t find good food in Santa Fe. I found perfectly good traditional Mexican food, a French cafe, etc. all over town. But I’d skip the seafood as the nearest body of water is quite far. Also whatever an “Oriental” restaurant is… no.


    There isn’t any. Almost everything closes at 9 PM. There’s a couple bars open a bit later than that but not a lot later. Your best bet is to go read a book or watch TV or something.

    Getting around

    For the most part I walked around Santa Fe, only taking Lyft rides to get to and from Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return. It’s a pretty compact city and I’d say the most walkable areas are downtown and the Santa Fe Railyard area.

    However… there’s a couple big gotchas here. First, the streets and sidewalks are not always well paved, and the sidewalks are rarely ADA compliant. Some of the paving was in such horrible shape I thought it was gravel at first.

    Second, although it’s an older city with a lot of smaller streets, they made the same post-WWII mistake many cities made and installed extremely wide streets (aka “stroads”) that are not pedestrian friendly at all. The odd thing is there’s often so little car traffic on these huge multi-lane roads that you can just cross wherever you want. It’s like they were building for a future that never came to pass.

    Santa Fe Railyard
    Santa Fe Railyard
    Santa Fe Railyard

    The Railyard

    One of the newer neighborhoods is the Santa Fe Railyard, a former railyard (no points for guessing that) which is now home to a large farmer’s market, housing, art, and a few places to eat and drink.

    I was surprised to find how close this was to where I was staying and wish I found it sooner — especially the farmer’s market which had a surprising diversity of food considering, you know, it’s in the desert.

    Funnily enough, the Railyard was successful enough that it got… wait for it… a train station. You can’t make stuff like this up.