Monthly Archives: July 2011

The past will never end

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There was a blogging flurry (a “blurry,” if you will) last
week over another study, asking whether the always-on, everywhere internet is
making us dumber, or at least affecting our memories. And it’s true, I no
longer need to remember that the bushy-browed professor in “Ball of Fire” was
played by Oskar Homolka – IMDB takes care of that for me. And I don’t see that
as a bad thing, because that was the kind of information I never really needed,
but for some reason felt compelled to maintain, even though it took up space
that probably should have gone to remembering my wedding anniversary or my
mother’s birthday. (And yet, not everything has changed, ’cause it didn’t take
me a google to come up with Oskar’s name.) So maybe we remember less because we
can now get information in a second, and maybe that’s okay. (Although I’d like
to be able to come up with a mental construct that describes electrical
reactive power without having to fly to Wikipedia every time.)

But what is being lost is the nagging mystery, the curious
question that sticks in your mind for months or even years, perhaps being
resolved by chance, perhaps never being resolved at all. It used to happen all
the time . . . you might see a sign on the street, or pass by a building with
odd initials and wonder what it could mean. You might see a forgotten symbol
and file it away under the things you wanted to figure out the meaning of
someday. You might encounter an untranslatable phrase and stick it in the back
of your mind until you hit the right book or old professor who could tell you
what it all meant.

And it hasn’t even been all that long. It took me years
(years!) before I solved the mystery of the name of the movie “Repeat Performance,”
a barely remembered bit of late-night black-and-white fluff that I only
remembered for its portrayal of a poet whose patroness had promised him a
volume bound with morrocoed endpapers. But as the depth of the archived
material on the internet grows, as search goes deeper and deeper into connected
storage, it’s only a matter of time before that search, like so many others,
takes me seconds. When I publish a snippet on Hoxsie, I routinely look up the
names of the people in the ads or articles from the 19th century,
and more often than not I find out something else about them. It’s probably
easier for me to learn the history of Moses Jones, practical slater, here in
2011 than it would have been when he was roofing St. Joseph’s Church back in the
1850s. That’s just fundamentally strange, and an altogether new condition of
the modern world, yet we’ve come to accept it as normal in a very short time.

As I rode the train past Philadelphia the other day, I gazed
out the window and saw an odd sign along the tracks: “Rule 292 / Stop / Here.” In
any other day and age, I’d have been amused, wondering how I would know if Rule
292 applied to me or not, hoping that the people who really needed to know
would know. But now I was able to figure it out before the train got to the
next station. Takes all the mystery out of life.

No, they mustn’t.

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bicyclists must walkLike most people, I obey the law, except when I don’t. I follow all the
traffic rules when I’m cycling. I do not ignore stop signs, and I don’t
roll through red lights (and if that’s made me annoying to erstwhile
riding companions, so be it – the whole problem with drivers today is
their absolute sense of entitlement, of a right to the road superior to
everyone else’s rights, and I’m tired of it). I signal my stops and
turns when it’s safe for me to do so (but with the rough pavement we
have, releasing the handlebars isn’t always a good idea). I don’t cut
through parking lots or ride on sidewalks. I even stop for school buses,
not because my bike is going to run over some kindergartener, but
because it’s the law. It’s just what you do.

But I’ll be damned
if I’ll obey the signs on the ramps up to the Dunn Memorial Bridge that
say “Bicyclists must walk on ramp.” There is no reason on earth for this
rule. First, it doesn’t recognize that on that narrow ramp, a cyclist
walking his bike is twice as wide, making it harder for people going in
opposite directions to pass each other. Second, it doesn’t recognize
that it’s nearly impossible to walk that steep ramp in bike shoes.
Third, it would add at least 40 minutes to my commute every day if I
were to actually walk my bike on the ramps. But most importantly, there
is NO REASON for it. Why would I have to get off my bike and walk it? If
I can’t control my bike on a hill, then I couldn’t be riding on that
bridge anyway, because the choice on either side of the bridge is a

Do we periodically require that drivers get out and push
their cars on a stretch of highway? No. Why not? Because it would be
insane. Same with this. You want to tell me to yield to pedestrians,
fine. You want to set a speed limit, fine. You want to warn me to slow
down on the complete afterthought of an elbow in the ramp where the
homeless drop their crackpipes to the pavement, fine. But you want me to
get off and walk my bike just to make getting across the river on a
nasty, unmaintained, glass-strewn sidewalk just a little less pleasant?
Not fine.

What brings this to mind? Coming home from a hot ride
on Sunday, getting ready for a long slog up the hills to home. There are
hundreds of cyclists along the river because the Bike the Canal ride
was finishing up in Albany that morning. And I get behind a couple of
them with their big cruiser bikes and their packed saddle bags who have
decided to go across the river. And like any good tourists, they are
obeying the sign and walking their bikes up the ramp. They’re so wide I
can’t get around them even on my bike, and if I get off and try to walk
up the ramp in my skittery bike shoes I will be even wider and
completely unable to get past them ,and now I’m stuck spending 10 extra
minutes in the hot sun just slogging across this unfresh hell of a
bridge cursing the bureaucrat (possibly someone I know, I realize) who
decreed that bicycles must be walked on this ramp. When I finally got to
a point in the glass-strewn gardenway where I could squeeze myself
between their depanniers and the chainlink fence and get by, I got to
the down ramp and found another pair of cyclists, dutifully walking
their pack mules down the ramp.
Why do I not obey this sign? Because it is insane.

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What I don’t miss about TV

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I will never be one of those annoying snobs who doesn’t have a TV, and needs to be sure you know it. Or, an even worse bore, someone who does have one but forbids their children to watch it. Listen, my kids have learned very important lessons from television — not just some seriously interesting things about the scientific method, quantum physics and time, but also that guys running around without shirts on are generally to be avoided (see any episode of “Cops.” Or “Campus P.D.” for that matter).

I have enjoyed, even loved TV since I was old enough to be babysat by it. But the advent of the DVR taught me I should only watch what I want, when I want (“no flipping,” as Larry Sanders would have said), and an extended battle with my cable company led me to conclude that I was paying a lot of money to bring crap into my home that I didn’t want there, just in the hope that something good would come along once or twice a day. So we cut the cable and went with the internet model, using Hulu and Netflix to get most of our TV doses, with the promise of some iTunes subscriptions and the occasional highly necessary cycling package to fill in the gaps. And I could hardly be happier. So here’s what I don’t miss:

  • Constant banners, pop-ups, promos and other distractions. Over the past few years, nearly all the channels have decided that a) whatever they’re showing right now isn’t any good, but something better will be showing later on; b) the audience is made up of jittery monkeys who won’t watch the screen unless something flashy is happening. I couldn’t be more annoyed by the constant banners, logos, pop-ups (some with sound!) that played OVER what I was trying to watch. It’s the channel saying, “Sorry, this is some shitty programming we don’t believe in, but boy have we got something for you later on!” Which they will interrupt with banners, logos and pop-ups blocking the show they promised would be worth watching. They have no faith that what they’re presenting will keep me interested. Generally, all the buzzing just made me change the channel no matter how much I wanted to watch something; I’d go find it on DVD or streaming so I could watch it without distractions.
  • Reality TV. It started so innocently, with “Survivor” and then maybe “Amazing Race,” a nice mix of real-ish people in extreme situations that made for entertaining television. “The Real World” started out that way, except that the extreme situation was communal living and free booze. Then they hit on “The Osbornes,” which flipped the paradigm to un-real people in non-extreme situations, and it was a rapid downhill slide. Don’t watch it, you say? Yes, agreed, but my not watching it didn’t keep it from permeating the culture, from being advertised every minute and talked about on other TV shows during every minute it wasn’t advertised. Without cable, I’m living an existence of willful ignorance of all things Kardashian; I can’t even learn things I don’t want to know accidentally, and believe me it just makes me a happier person. 
  • Waiting for cancellation. Because scripted TV just can’t attract an audience these days, the few shows that I’ve tried to give a shot to have died on the vine. Sometimes they’re gone before I can even start to watch them. It’s hard to commit to a storyline that you know is likely to go away by the fourth episode. I used to say that I was into bands from the ’60s because they had already broken up, and couldn’t disappoint me (at the time, I didn’t know about the state fair reunion tour circuit). I don’t know how this model can work to produce quality programming, but now we take the time to dip into a series in little bursts. We’ll watch a few weeks of “Buffy,” then “Ally McBeal.” Suddenly we’re deep into “Doctor Who.” We know the end already came, and we’re dealing with a defined universe of shows, and that’s okay. (Wasn’t the original “Twin Peaks” supposed to be just a few episodes, and wouldn’t it have been endlessly better if it had stayed that way?)

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  • Once again, summer feels like it’s over before it’s even begun. In a whirl of travel, end-of-the-school-year events and rain, I’ve missed the lengthening of days (or feel like I have), and it’s only downhill from here. There will be camping but not much of it, and if it doesn’t stop pouring our only canoeing may have been in April.
  • My incredible string of good fortune in the health arena continues (coming, I must say, after a very sickly childhood, so I feel like I’m owed). After months of inadequate healing, swelling and general pain in my knee, I finally took it to a surgeon, who took one look at it and, despite being a surgeon, had no interest in cutting it open. Told me to keep doing what I was doing and it would get better. And he was right, it has. Quite extraordinary, though, since I presume that surgeons are pretty much like beavers — always gonna see the need for a dam.
  • Life without cable (or any broadcast TV, for that matter) is going pretty swimmingly. The Playstation seems to want to be restarted every couple of times before it’ll give me Netflix, but in general I’m enjoying a much more conscious choosing of my entertainment. (And, in particular, Rebekah’s having introduced us to Doctor Who, which I could never previously get into but which we’re now completely hooked on. The David Tennant episodes, at least.) Also, despite my trepidations, NBC Universal’s on-line Tour de France package is working spectacularly well, with flawless streaming, very high-def pictures (we could read the washing instructions on Thor’s shorts), ability to slide up and down the timestream without causing streaming panic, and no commercials, stupid promotions or anything else that detracts from the perfection that is the Tour. So, highly recommended.
  • Light riding, again because of the awayness, the raininess, and the desire to get out with Rebekah as she’s starting to enjoy road biking. Hard to beat that feeling of effortless riding that comes with a road bike.
  • Took in fireworks in Scotia, having found a fantastic location for viewing them. The little village gets hella-crowded for the fireworks, and the general tenor of drunken crowds doesn’t sit well with me, but I still feel it’s my duty as a parent to get my kids to fireworks at least once a summer, and that’s the surest place for me to do it. Absolutely nothing could ever convince me to try to see the fireworks at the Empire State Plaza again — it’s the most horrible place in the world to put on a fireworks show. A select couple of thousand people get a good view, and the rest of the world tries to see through the surrounding buildings. It’s insane, and I can’t understand why anyone goes.