ride a bike!

January 25th, 2009

I think this world would be a better place if everyone rode bikes more.

They’re simple machines, and you can learn to maintain them yourself or have it done for you extremely cheaply.  They last for years if properly taken care of, and they’re powered by the most renewable energy source there is.

Biking is good for you, mentally and physically.  Not only do you get good exercise while you’re moving from point A to point B, you experience the environment around you in a way that you just can’t do from a car.  And you can move at your own pace.  If you want to take it slow and just mosey along on the sidewalk, you can, or if you want to race cars and do crazy bike messenger bus-dodging, you can (though I would not recommend the latter if you like staying in one piece).

It’s also good for the environment.  Bikes cause zero emissions, of course, and they use a relatively small amount of metal for the machine itself and for the hydrocarbons needed to lubricate it.

It’s better for our collective quality of life, because it creates less traffic, less fatal accidents, and more personal interaction.  It’s not very easy to have “bike rage.”  It does happen, but since bikers have to deal with problems face-to-face in a way that drivers don’t, the crazy factor generally gets reined in.

All these benefits also add up to it being simply cheaper to bike.  It’s even cheaper than public transit, although most places you can combine the two if you need to.

You live far from your work, you say?  I think many people do, but you can make that work too.  Drive as far as you must, but take your bike for at least part of the way.  If you’re commuting into the city center, you won’t have to deal with crazy downtown traffic or the expensive parking.  And you’ll get mad respect from the bike messengers once they see you every day.  Maybe you’ll even start to see the city differently – I really think if our population centers were more bike-friendly, it would be better urban planning.

It’s not easy to start the habit.  Like anything worth doing, it takes commitment and effort.  But once you get into it, you’ll appreciate it more and more.  People will ask you if you’re working out.  Your co-workers will remember you as the bike person.  You’ll be relaxed and ready for your destination when you get there, because you had some fresh air and quiet time to think as you pedal.

Don’t you remember how free you felt when you rode your bike as a kid?  You can get that feeling back!

more bread, less cookie.

December 6th, 2008

So Facebook is great at posting little snippets of what’s going on, but if you know me, you probably know that I like to pontificate.  Usually I just do a Cliff Claven style too-much-informational type rant in response to one of Enzo’s innocent “how does X work?” questions, but in an effort to practice my writing skills and shamelessly drive more traffic to my blog, I’ve connected it to my Facebook profile.

One thing that I want to try to preserve here is longer thoughts.  It seems like all I hear about is the death of blogs, and not just from vapid Twitterites but from places I wouldn’t expect like Wired and Nicholas Carr.  (I’ll ignore for now the fact that I read both of those pieces through Google Reader…)  And everyone, but everyone is reading less longer-format work.  I’ve been reading novels again the last six months or so and it’s really seemed to make a difference in how I think.  So both for myself and for any willing victims, I’m going to post stuff here that takes a little bit longer to say.  I want to make sure that I try to fight to preserve my favorite endangered species, the American Attention Span.

I’m sure the main result of posting a ton of notes is people de-following me and wondering why they decided to friend this guy who loves the sound of his own voice so much.  But hopefully you will find something interesting and/or thought provoking here.  Perhaps my desire to write longer pieces stems from the fact that I need to work on editing myself more.  But for years I wanted to write stuff and didn’t because I assumed that people wouldn’t want to read it.  So now I’m just trying to ignore the fact that you probably won’t care to read past the first few sentences.  If that means I get better at being terse, then good.

Not that everything is going to be long.  But some things will be, and while I enjoy the zen semi-poetic challenge of encapsulating a moment with Twitter, I am more comfortable firing off with longer pieces.

More bread, less cookie.

burlington telecom

December 5th, 2008

So I’m now writing to you all from the bleeding edge of networking technology.  Yes, our little town, incredibly, is one of a small group of municipalies in the nation who have taken the step of treating Internet connectivity as a utility, like electricity or water.

To that end, Burlington Telecom was formed a few years ago and has spent the last couple of years building out a fiberoptic IP network throughout the city.  Through it, they are offering telephone, “cable” television and Internet services to anyone the network can reach.  They’re rolling it out in different neighborhoods as they get the network built, but the plan is to eventually serve all of Burlington.

In July we canceled Comcast and got Internet and TV service through Burlington Telecom.  We opted out of their telephone service because we use Vonage.

So how do their services stack up so far?

Internet:

As far as the Internet service goes, it’s incredibly awesome.  Besides the engineering radness of having a fiber optic link directly to my house, BT offers synchronous speeds, which at my service level means I have 5Mbps for both downloading and uploading.  With Comcast, I had bursts of that for downloads, but only 386Kbps for uploads.  Now, for most people this is not going to make a ton of difference.  The main internet activities for many are just requesting and loading web pages and email.  But for some things, it’s made a pretty huge difference.  Connecting to the work VPN is much much faster, and connecting to my home machine from work is also much faster.  And the main bottleneck in OpenArena seems to be my CPU now, not my network.  I’m sure if I had other more fancy multiplayer gaming needs I’d see similar results.

I don’t need a modem any more; they simply run ethernet from the fiber box on the outside of my house to a switch in my basement.  From there, ethernet simply runs to the Vonage router.  Pretty soon I’ll have to get a real wireless router instead of using the cheesy setup I have now (I’m torn between the Apple AirPort Express base station because of AirTunes and the Netgear WGR614L because it’s hackable), but things are running smoothly now.

The only real gripe I could come up with is that the DNS servers they run seemed really slow.  Web pages would spend 10 seconds saying “looking up blahblah.com” before finally loading.  Once they did, they’d often get stuck on other lookups as the pages requested other domains (like accuweather.com has some content on vortex.accuweather.com as well as coriolis.accuweather.com).  I switched them for a public DNS address I found on the Internet and all seems well.  KC says that it’s slow for her, but sometimes it’s hard to ferret out the sources of her impatience, since they are usually legion.

Television:

Now, the television service has been a mixed bag.  For the first three months or so, the service really sucked.  The channels all looked great, of course (even though we still have a pretty average standard-def TV), but the DVR service was terrible.  The UI was only semi-intuitive.  Most of it seems easy enough to find, and a month or so after we’d been subscribers, they put out a pamphlet describing how to do stuff that covered most of the bases.  The main thing that is a bummer is that when you are viewing the Guide (the grid of shows by channel and time), you can’t switch days easily.  If today is a Tuesday, and you want to record something on Sunday, you have to keep scrolling to the right, hour by hour, for all the hours between Tuesday and Sunday.  For the math-challenged, from noon Tuesday to noon Sunday is 120 hours!  That is just silly.

And that was a pretty minor gripe compared to the fact that there was a lot of random bugginess.  Shows we’d recorded would disappear, or the audio and video would be randomly corrupt in the middle of a show.  It got to the point where we didn’t really trust the thing to record stuff that we wanted to record.  Kacey ended up calling and chewing them out pretty hard, and told them that we shouldn’t have to pay for a service that just didn’t work.  To our surprise, they agreed with her, and credited us on our next bill.  They’d gotten tons of complaints and they were working with their vendor to fix stuff.  Supposedly there was going to be some software upgrade coming that was going to take care of a lot of these issues.

Now, any tech person knows that most software upgrades are bullshit.  They fix things, but Murphy’s law dictates that they never fix YOUR issue.  So imagine our delight when things magically started working not long after that phone call!  All of the random weirdness is now gone, thank goodness.

However, you still can’t change days in the guide, and it’s still just a digital VCR with a nice GUI.  When you click a show it basically just sets it to record at a certain time and channel for a given duration, and recurs if you want.  But it doesn’t know if a show is a rerun or and there’s nothing even close to having it recommend stuff like Tivo does.  But at least it works as advertised.

We have gotten a few things through their pay-per-view service, which works as advertised, but the offerings are nothing to write home about.  The times we’ve done it we’ve been looking for stuff for the kids, so maybe it’s just that category that’s not impressive, but I don’t really care about that stuff anyway.

So overall, now that their DVR issues are fixed, Burlington Telecom is well worth it.  They have offered solid tech, good customer service, and we can take comfort in knowing that we’re supporting a local company, and besides – it’s just cool as hell that we have a fiber-optic cable connected to our house.

hipster is a meaningless term

December 4th, 2008

Liam pointed me to this article that calls out hipsters for basically being the endpoint of Western civilization.

It don’t think that you can compare self-obsessed club kids with a true counterculture, it was a nice n’ scathing evisceration of the vanity of people who try to be too hard to be cool without just trying hard to be real.

I think it’s a sign of the difference between 26 and 36 (to use one of my favorite phrases these days) that I think this way, but their reflexive preening attitude is my main worry about our hyperconnected world (and yes, haha irony that i’m putting this thought in a blog posting): very little happens nowadays that is not filtered through the great digital echo chamber.

It takes no time at all for shit to become stale.  Memes come and go, relentlessly farmed by people who want to be on the edge, and they wither and die like cut flowers.  How will the kids come up with good stuff if they’re so worried about how it’s going to look?  Maybe the only way to come up with something original is to toil away in digital seclusion, like neal stephenson.  Until that becomes hipster.  Then I guess creative people are fucked.

Dear Internet Explorer 6 User:

July 24th, 2008

Dear IE6 user:

I hate you.

Nothing personal, you understand, and really I just hate your choice of browser, not you.  But that lead was too easy to resist.

You may not realize this, but you make web developers’ lives (and your own for that matter, but we’ll cover the selfish angle first) much more difficult than it needs to be.  See, when you browse to a site with IE6, innocently shopping for your widgets or reading your content or whatever it is that you’re doing, the web server dilligently records your visit, and notes the fact that you are using IE6 instead of a more recent browser.

And when that happens, dear reader, it means poor web developers like me are a little more likely to have to support IE6 when we’re making all the websites that you know and love.  And honestly, we’re tired of it.  It came out in the dark ages of the web, in 2001, when Microsoft and Netscape were in the midst of fighting with each other over what standards web browsers would support, and thus it has very poor support for web standards.  And web standards are a Good Thing for people like us, and thus for people like you who use what we build.  Web standards mean that we can build something one way and be reasonably sure it will work across various browsers and operating systems.  If that’s the case, we can build stuff in less time and for less money.  We can spend more time and money doing cool stuff instead of lame stuff like chasing down cross-browser bugs.

But you, dear IE6 user, are standing in the way of this effort.  Because those pesky web servers are logging your every visit, we know that you are out there, much as we would like to ignore you.  Sadly, your numbers are still large enough that we cannot yet ignore you, lest we lose your vaulable pageviews.  Some people in our field, you should know, have the idea that we should ignore you anyway, which is pretty tempting.  But those people generally don’t work in places where they have to answer to people who don’t care about web standards but only the money that comes in from the web channel.  So most of us still have to deal with you.

But let’s say that you don’t really care about progress on the web.  “I can still make my purchases on Amazon and read the New York Times”, you might say, “so why should I care?”  Well, there’s a personal angle here too.  Yes, dear IE6 user, you could even stand to benefit too!  IE6 has many known bugs and security vulnerabilties that newer browsers don’t have.  Microsoft tries to do a good job of patching it up to keep it from blowing stuff up, but of course they are going to put most of their energy into IE7 and the upcoming IE8.  So honestly, they are only dealing with you because they are forced to, as well.  If you upgrade to the newest version of IE, your browser will be more secure, and will be less likely to experience weird errors or even crashes.  Your computer and I will both love you a little bit more.

So if you’ve read this much of my (sorta) impassioned plea, dear IE6 user, please: just visit the IE downloads page and upgrade.  Or hey, you could upgrade to Firefox and get an even better browser.  But either one is cool – whatever’s easier for you.  And thanks!

mantra for today

July 23rd, 2008

“imagine the life you want to live.”

fantasy football scouting

July 10th, 2008

To the person who leaves the printouts from ESPN.com with fantasy football scouting reports in the men’s room at work:

Thank you.

game criticism

July 8th, 2008

It seems like everyone is talking about how games need more critical thought than they get. And I agree. Pretty much everything could use more critical thought. For the amount of time and money that people put into making and consuming games, it would be nice to see some more justification than pure escapism.

Now, escapism is the root of any true connection with the audience, I think. A book like Moby-Dick has had staying power because it succeeds as an adventure story as well as a treatise on man’s capacity for self-destruction.

Escapism has been a good enough reason for me, but I won’t deny that it still seems like wasted time. After the machine is switched off, the experience vanishes, more or less. It won’t stay with me and inspire trains of thought the way even a relatively simple movie like Once does. Why?

Part of it is economic, but that applies to movies and novels and other things, so that can’t be part of it. Honestly, I think it’s because games are interactive, and most people are stupid, or at least lazy.

Now, anyone that says games have a similar cultural footing as the traditional media as books or movies is probably trying to sell them. There are some that try hard, and a few might even provoke some thought. But the whole idea of what a computer game is will have to get upended before they can have the potential to change lives, inspire people and live forever.

I think the game industry suffers from what the movie industry suffers from: fear of failure.  There are such large amounts of money involved in making a big game these days that game publishers and movie studios stick to the formulaic, the lowest common denominator.  So you get games and movies that are diverting, but that have no staying power at all.  There are indie movies out there that do all right, and there’s a thriving subculture around them of people who identify with the aesthetic and what they might call “indie values”.  But where are the indie game designers?  I’m sure they’re out there.  I have been meaning to check out these award-winning indie games for months and never gotten around to it.  When I do, maybe I’ll have new faith in the capacity for games to be more than mindless entertainment.

Now, pardon me, I’m off to do a little fragging…

surfing rules!

July 8th, 2008

So we went on our family vacation to Maine recently, which was awesome.  I surprised myself, though, with how much of it I wanted to spend at the beach.  We spent two days hanging out on the beach out of the 6 we were there, and it just didn’t seem like enough.

When it was time to leave the beach on those days, I didn’t want to go, even as I was playing the good daddy and shepherding the boys away from the water.  When we were eating dinner, I just wanted to go back to the sand.  When it was raining and threatening thunderstorms, I figured we could hang out at the beach till we actually saw lightning bolts.

We did some really fun things in between beach times, don’t get me wrong.  I would have been bummed to not go to Strawberry Banke or the zoo.  But I have to confess that I just can’t get enough of the beach.  The lake is fun, and there are nice things about a lake that the ocean doesn’t offer, but there is simply no substitute for the power of the sea.

Probably the main reason I’ve been thinking about it so much was because I took a surf lesson.  I can’t believe I’ve waited this long to try it!  And I have to try it now, when I live hundreds of miles from the ocean, when I lived within walking distance for years and years in SF?  What the hell was I thinking?  Surfing is the perfect sport for me.  It’s by far the king of the boardsports.  It’s strange to me that snowboarding has gotten so big when both skateboarding and surfing are so much better.  Skateboarding is the ultimate in simplicity.  You have a pretty cheap and simple device that’s super portable, and you can do it anywhere that’s flat.  Surfing takes more effort because you can only do it in specific places, and the board is much bigger, but still, you just dive in and go.  With snowboarding, not only do you have the most equipment of any of the three, but by and large you’re restricted to specific places that are generally far from populated areas.  And these places have to maintain huge infrastructures to get people from the bottom to the top of the mountains and to keep the snow cover reasonably consistent in many of them.  And yes, lots of places don’t need snowmaking, and you can always hike, but that’s not the reality for most people.

Taking that surf lesson and falling in love with it instantly made me realize what it’s like for people who live in NYC or Boston and who love snowboarding in Vermont, but just can’t make it up here very often.  They have to look at it the way I have to look at a surf trip: it’s a commitment in time and money and it’s a very special occasion when it can happen.  They dream about moving to the mountains, and they read our website just to get the merest taste of the lifestyle.  I take snowboarding for granted now.  It’s easy to go and there are lots of incentives to go.  I should go more than I do, given how easy it is.  It’s good to remember that many people are not so lucky…

But it’s summer now, and all I want to do is go surfing again.  I want to feel the sand in my toes.  I want to watch the sun go down over the ocean (yes, I know I’m living near the wrong coast for that, but sunsets over the ocean are better than sunrises).  I want to smell the overpowering smell of sea life, permeating everything, flavoring everything with that metallic tang.  I want to clear my head with the constant roar of water slowly grinding rock to powder.  I want to watch my kids dig holes to see the water flow in as the tide comes in.

Ah well.  I will do well to remember those people who envy me, just like I envy beach residents right now…

salvatore is 3

May 15th, 2008

Dear Sal:

It seems like time passes more quickly for you than it does for your brother.  Much as Mommy and I try to keep the pace of your lives as mellow as we can, time still gets away from us.  You are already three!

There’s such a difference between two and three, Salvatore.  Now you run, climb, tumble and play with so much more confidence in your body.  You just do things now, where at two there was still a sort of experimental quality to how you moved.  Now you just go for it, and if you tumble and fall, well, it just means you have a good story and a scrape to show me when I come home that evening.

You think of much more than you can say, I think, but you try all the same, and I can tell that not being able to make the words come out of your mouth the way you want them to is incredibly frustrating sometimes.  And then you have a total meltdown, the likes of which Enzo never really had, the red-faced, balled-fists, eyes-shut screaming that only utter toddler helplessness can bring.  But you are like your mother, it seems.  You get over it, and you move on.  I know you will learn to live with life’s frustrations, but I hope you can learn to harness that fire inside, because it can be a pretty powerful force.

Not that you are inarticulate.  Far from it.  You have more words than I thought possible, and more new ones come every day, and you put them together in ever more complex arrays.  And you are very observant.  It’s strange to have a little one mention things to you that you thought passed them by, but that’s part of the joy of being a parent.  You and Enzo are a true reflection of how things are going at the Boone household, and I’m glad that you are both doing so well.

I am proud to be your father, and happy birthday!