- There is a gang of mallards that is out to steal from us, and perhaps kill us. They are The Jets, and they are everywhere. We have been stalked, shadowed, harassed and jimmy-jacked (pathwise) by this murderous flock of fowl.
- Deer count: way down. Only in the 30s instead of the hundreds, though one of them was so bold that keeping it out of our shelter was almost impossible. (Then it treated us to a display of its ability to keep its own behind clean. Impressive!)
- When people are awakened by a bear in their tent, they scream really loud. It sounds nothing like “whoa, bear.”
- Mountainman has some paddles that are outrageously sexy, including a canoe paddle that weighs about as much as a marshmallow. We settled for a kayak paddle that weighs about as much as a peanut butter sandwich. And two PFDs. And some water shoes. And a new Camelbak. And some other stuff. . . .
- We invented three brilliant new foods: Coffee-flavored Nilla Wafers; coffee-flavored cranberries; coffee-flavored banana chips. Just store ground coffee in a ziploc bag next to a ziploc bag of the other ingredient, and voila!
- There is absolutely nothing funny about the name of local electrical contractor BJ Queen. Not even when it’s plastered on any number of passing panel trucks. No even when you’re traveling with teenagers.
- We’re going to start a real estate company. We will sell inexpensive vacation homes in the Adirondacks that will happen, for reasons of expense, to be built in drainage ditches. We will call it Last Ditch Real Estate.
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.
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?)
- 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.
I’ve been traveling with some regularity for some twenty
years now, and there are a couple of things that hotels just can’t seem to get
right, and they’re the simplest things in the world, so I’d like to see some
effort made to fix them. Two simple things and I’ll feel like we’ve made some
progress as a civilization.
First, hotels of America, make your internet access
wireless, truly high-speed and high bandwidth, and free. And by “free,” I mean
stop trying to make it a super-rich profit center, build it into the cost of
every room, and think of it as being as basic as having a bed in the room (and
I’m talking to you, DoubleTree, which recently gave me a room without a bed). Nearly
every traveler today relies on internet
access, and if you don’t give it to us, we’ll just do it through our phones and
remember that you made it an expensive pain in the ass. Still feel the need to
charge me $10 a night for something I can get free in almost any coffee shop?
Fine, then give me a rebate of the same amount for the cable bill, because you’re
pumping 40 or 50 channels into my room and I never, ever turn the TV on. Then we can
call it even.
Second, and maybe even more important, turning on the lights
should not be like solving a tavern puzzle. Every single hotel room I go into is
set up differently, and it’s annoying every time. Some of the lights (and it’s
impossible to predict which ones) are on a wall switch. Others have a switch
somewhere on the base of the lamp. Some others you’ve got to find the turnkey
in the socket. Some of them have the switch in the cord. This week’s stay, I
had two seemingly identical lamps on either side of the bed. They looked
exactly the same. But one had a switch in the base, and the other one had it up
in the bulb socket. That’s just fucking with me, and you need to cut it out. It’s
insane. If I could get back all the time I’ve lost figuring out how to turn on
lights, added to the time I’ve spent figuring out whether to pull on the paper
towels or wave my hands at the soap dispenser, and I’d have at least an extra couple
of months to tack onto my life. But this shouldn’t be hard. If the switch is
going to be on the base, then it should be on the base of every lamp in the
room. If it’s going to be an inline switch that you then tuck behind the desk
and bed so I can’t find it at all, fine, but do it for every goddamn lamp so I
know what to expect. You want me to clap to turn them on, fine, but can’t they all
be on the clapper? You spend millions laying out these rooms. Some designer reject
from a Bravo reality show spends weeks poring over lamp designs to find just
the right one, and then he or she or whatever says, “Order 400,000 of these desk lamps, but make the switches on every
one of them in a different place.” You’re wasting my life and grinding
civilization to a halt and you need to cut it the fuck out.
You know, I thought I was more annoyed by the internet
thing. Apparently not!
After a few years of hardly any work-related travel (with
occasional bursts of driving activity down the Taconic), I’m suddenly a
bag-dragging road warrior. Except I hate the road and my cars are both above
the magic 100,000 mile mark (my first ever to make it that far with severe
electrical or psychological crises), so in fact I’ve become more of a rail
warrior. All of a sudden, I’m once again all about the public transit.
The new job, as close as it is, is still a longer commute
than my home office was. It requires me to shave every day, too, which is much
more of a sacrifice than the short commute to downtown. However, having left
the State system for a number of years, a parking spot downtown is not in the
cards. Pending layoffs won’t do it – people would have to die in droves before
I could move up the parking queue, and I’m out of town so much that I probably
wouldn’t pay for parking if I could get it. So that puts me back on the bus.
I got around by city bus for years in Syracuse, and kept that
up when I moved to Albany. Even across the river, our house is two blocks from
a bus stop. But the first time I had to stand around downtown Albany with a
vomiting baby, waiting for a rare mid-day bus to carry me back to Rensselaer
County, that was pretty much the end of public transit for my commute Between
that and a job that knew no regular hours, the bus just didn’t work.
Now it does. And so does the train to Wilmington. And the
Wilmington Trolley. And the train to Philadelphia. And the subway, and the Norristown
High Speed Line. And hotel shuttles. And good old-fashioned walking. Yes, I’m
beholden to the vagaries of Amtrak and the likelihood of hot track action, but
the delays are a lot less frequent than they are driving the Thruway or I-95.
And when you’re not driving, you really get to see things. People, buildings, architectural details, the splendor of the Hudson river, the
surprising persistence of the Meadowlands, the awful ass-end of industrial New
Jersey and Delaware. Everything from unspeakable beauty to razor wire and
I want to add the bike to my commuting habits, but the need
to drag my laptop and clothes and lunch and everything else is proving to be a
drag on my initiative, as desperately as I need the miles. All this traveling
is cutting seriously into wheel time, and something must be done, but I need
big depanniers and the will to haul them up the hills at a modest pace that won’t
leave me arriving at work bathed in sweat. (My last job had both a secure bike
lockup AND showers. I was spoiled.)
So about the only way I’m not getting around these days, at
least for work purposes, is by car. I’m pretty pleased with that. (Of course,
as I write that, the train is coming to a slow crawl that will give me plenty
of time to ponder the mightiness of the Hudson and how long it would take me to
paddle up it from here to home.)
I don’t know why, but comments spam on my site has gone from viagra/cialis malware misdirection and the usual assortment of gibberish to incredibly longwinded pastes of senseless articles about Windows 7. I don’t get why volume is considered a good thing here — it’s mostly longer than any comments system would allow, and who’s going to even be able to scroll through it to get to the suspicious link? I could handle the spam, and don’t mind cleaning up 20-30 comments a day for the one or two legitimate comments I get a month (most of my feedback comes through Facebook, not here). But now it has become so cumbersome, the individual messages have become so long that scrolling through them is taking up serious time. So for a while, I’m going to shut off comments. If you’re my friend on Facebook, try me there, or if you want to say something, locate my email address on the site. But for a while, anyway, we’re going comment-free.
Image via Wikipedia
Cable TV was just one of those things that snuck up on me and became entangled in my life, kind of like ivy. While I’ve always loved television, it wasn’t until the early ’90s that we even had a color TV, and someone had to die for us to get that (a bequest of sorts, not a violent Sony-jacking, I assure you). We had cable off and on in the ’80s and then not again until we had kids, when we convinced ourselves that a little basic cable would be a good thing. People say they don’t use TV as a babysitter? They don’t know what they’re missing out on.
Then we got the high-speed internet, and upgrading beyond what they called “broadcast basic” was pretty cheap, so we did. Then we got into bicycle racing, which was showing only on the digital channels, which meant an upgrade to digital cable. Then we realized we were spending an unnecessary fortune on telephone service when it would be essentially free if we added it to our cable package, so we did. And suddenly, we’re entwined.
But that was fine. There was science on the Science Channel, History on the History Channel, movies on the various movie channels. Plenty to see. And then reality tv started taking over the earth, and mission creep became the byword of the day. The Independent Film Channel started producing TV shows and not showing so many movies. The History Channel started showing reality shows about junk shops. And there were f’ing Kardashians everywhere. I found myself spending more time finding something to watch than actually watching it. The DVR was one of the greatest inventions in the history of communications, but still . . . I was paying a lot for very little content I wanted to watch.
Through all those years, we’d had very very good service from Time Warner. Then this winter something weird happened, and we stopped getting a whole bunch of channels. Randomly. They’d go, then they’d come back. We changed boxes. We had three service calls that made no difference whatsoever. We were told our problem was going up to some magical higher problem-solving level (and that we wouldn’t be billed while we didn’t have service). Nothing happened, and we got accustomed to not having the cable available. I experimented with Netflix and Hulu Plus, and found pretty much everything I could want to find there, and the rest is available from the iTunes store.
Then we figured out that there were pretty much only 302 people who called us on our home phone: my mother, her father, and 300 telemarketers who ignore the “do not call” registry. So we were paying in the neighborhood of $50 a month for phone service we barely used — three out of the four of us had cellphones, and for $5 a month more, we could make that an even four out of four.
How did we get Time-Warner to finally fix our service? We decided if it wasn’t resolved by date certain, we were cancelling. When we said that to the service department, it made no difference. When we called the billing department to cancel the service, suddenly we had action. And suddenly the problem that had vexed everyone was fixed with just one more visit. But by then, we were off the junk, and really didn’t want to go back on. So we called again to arrange cancellation, and they offered to take $90 off our $150 monthly bill. Very generous? Well, maybe so. But it just pissed us off more than we had been paying way more than was necessary for years, if they were willing to give us such a dramatic reduction just because we threatened to cut the cord. So rather than mollifying us, it maddened us, and that was it: no more cable.
Not to say it was super-obvious. We were without Netflix or Hulu on the TV for the weeks that the Playstation Network was out of service, which was maddening. In the end, we decided to keep our home phone number we’d had for more than 20 years and transfer it to one of our cell phones, so we didn’t end up resolving the telemarketing problem and it took a couple of weeks of gyrations to make that transfer work.
We’re still trying to work out how to interface with the computer’s library, deciding if we’re going to go with AppleTV (which would require us to buy a new TV) or some other solution. But we’ll be able to afford a shiny new TV in a very short time with what we save on the cable and phone bill every month.
G’bye, cable! Time to disentwine.
Image via Wikipedia
And that feels good. My several years’ sojourn of being a lone gun / jack of all trades / one man band / just a few teeth above a carnie is at an end. Life as a consultant had its moments, but it all relied on what I already knew, information that I could dole out in little chunks of billable hours. Now that I’m an organization man again, I can focus on knowing something and knowing it well. But first I’ve got to learn it, and there’s a LOT to learn. Learning curve? It’s the learning Mur de Huy. (Especially appropriate, if you know the Fleche Wallone, because while it’s not the steepest climb in the world, riders have to climb it three times in the spring classic.) But climb it I will, and it’s really nice to be learning again.