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Fort Lee has been in the news lately. Seems traffic access to the George Washington Bridge from Fort Lee was sphinctered for political purposes, at the spot marked “B” on this map here:

The spot marked “A” is the site of my first home: 2063 Hoyt Avenue. Here’s how it looked in 1920:

My grandfather, George W. Searls, built it in 1900 or so. He and grandma, Ethel F. (née Englert) Searls, raised thee children there: Ethel M. Searls, born in 1905, Allen H. Searls (my father), born in 1908, and Grace (née Searls) Apgar, born in 1912. Grandpa died in 1935, but Grandma and Aunt Ethel lived here until 1955, when I was eight years old.

It was in a fine old neighborhood of similar mansard-roofed homes, most of which were built before the George Washington Bridge showed up and became the town’s landmark feature. Pop, who grew up climbing the Palisades and had no fear of heights, helped build the bridge, mostly by rigging cables.

Not long after finding a place to stay in New York in Fall of 2012, my wife and I took a walk across the bridge to visit the old neighborhood. I knew the old house was gone, the land under it paved over by Bruce Reynolds Boulevard. What I didn’t expect was finding that the entire neighborhood had been erased. See the brown area on the map above, between the highway and Main Street? That was it. Palisade Avenue, behind Hoyt, is now a house-less strip of rotting pavement flanked and veined by wild grass. The only animal life we spotted was a large groundhog that ran to an old storm drain when we approached.

Little of the Fort Lee I knew as a kid is still there. The only familiar sights on Main Street are City Hall and the old fire station. Dig this: City Hall also shows up in the background of this shot of Mom with my cousin Paul and I, when we were both a few months old, in April 1948. This street too has been obliterated: replaced by stores and parking lots, with no trace of its old self.

When I was a kid in the ’50s, my grandparents’ generation — all born in the second half of the 19th Century — was still going strong. One relative I remember well was great-aunt Eva Quackenbush, Grandpa Searls’ older sister. Here she is with Mom, and the baby me. Eva was born in 1853, and was twelve years old when President Lincoln was shot — and event she talked about. She visited often from her home in St. Louis, and died just a few days short of 100 years old, in 1953. Living long is a Searls family trait. Grandma made it to 107 and Aunt Grace to 101 (she passed just last month, fun and lucid to the end).

So to me the world before cars, electricity and other modern graces was a familiar one, because I heard so many stories about it. Grandma grew up in The Bronx, at 742 East 142nd Street, when it looked like this:

Today, according to Google’s StreetView, it looks like this:

The red A marks 732. On the left, behind that wall, is a “towed car” lot. It sits atop a mound of rubble that was once “old Lincoln Hospital”:

According to the Wikipedia article on Lincoln Hospital, “In 1895, after more than half a century of occupying various sites in Manhattan, the Board of Trustees purchased a large lot in the South Bronx—then a semi-rural area of the city—at the corner of 141st Street and Southern Boulevard.” This is a morning view, lit from the southeast, looking north across 141st Street. Grandma’s place was on the back side of the hospital. Amazing to think that this scene came and went between the two shots above it.

Grandma’s father, Henry Roman Englert, was the head of the Steel and Copper Plate Engravers Union in the city. His trade was also destroyed by industrial progress, but was an art in its time. Here he is, as a sharp young man with a waxed mustache:

Henry was a fastidious dude who, on arriving home from work, would summon his four daughters to appear and stand in a row. He would then run his white glove over some horizontal surface and wipe it on a white shoulder of a daughter’s dress, expecting no dust to leave a mark on either glove or girl. Or so the story went. Henry was the son of German immigrants: Christian Englert and Jacobina Rung, both of Alsace, now part of France. They were brewers, and had a tavern on the east side of Manhattan on 110th Street. Jacobina was a Third Order Carmelite nun, and was buried in its brown robes. Both were born in 1825. Christian died in 1886 while picking hops in Utica. Jacobina died in 1904.

Grandma met Grandpa in 1903, when she was twenty and he was forty. She was working as a cleaning woman in the Fort Lee boarding house where Grandpa lived while he worked as a carpenter. One day she saw him laying asleep, and bent down to kiss him. He woke, reached up, and kissed her back. Romance commenced.

Grandma didn’t like to admit having done cleaning work, insisting always that she was “lace curtain Irish,” to distinguish her family from “shanty Irish.” When ethnic matters came up in conversation over dinner, she would often say “All for the Irish stand up,” and everybody would rise. In fact she was only half Irish. Her mother, Catherine “Kitty” Trainor, died in her thirties. Henry later married an Italian woman and produced more progeny, only one of which was ever mentioned by Grandma. That was Harry, who died at age five. The largest framed photograph in Grandma’s house was one of Harry, looking up and holding a toy.

Kitty’s dad was Thomas Trainor, who came over from Ireland in 1825 at age 15 to escape England’s harsh penal laws. (He shipped out of Letterkenny with an uncle, but the Trainors were from south of there. Trainor was anglicized from the Gaelic Tréinfhir, meaning “strong man.”) Thomas worked as an indentured servant in the carriage trade, and married Catherine McLaughlin, the daughter of his boss. Thomas then prospered in the same business, building and fixing carriages at his shop at the south end of Broadway. His two daughters were Kitty and “Aunt Mag” Meyer, whom Grandma often quoted. The line I best remember is, “You’ve got it in your hand. Now put it away.” Mag taught Grandma how to walk quietly while large numbers of other people in the house were sleeping. Grandma passed the same advice to her grandkids, including me: “Walk on the balls of your feet, toes first.” The Trainors also had a son, who ran away to fight in the Civil War. When the war ended and the boy didn’t come home, Thomas went down to Washington and found his son in a hospital there, recovering from a wound. The doctors said the boy would be home by Christmas. And, when Christmas came, the boy indeed arrived, in a coffin. Or so the story went.

An interesting fact about Fort Lee: it was the original Hollywood. The Searls family, like most of the town, was involved. Grandpa was D.W. Griffith’s head carpenter, building film sets such as this one here. Here he is (bottom right) with his crew. Here’s a link for the Fort Lee Film Commission, featuring samples of the silent movies made there. Among the extras are family members. Lillian Gish and Lon Chaney both boarded upstairs at 2063 Hoyt. So did the dad of the late Elliot Richardson, a cabinet member in the Nixon and Ford administrations.

Time flies, and so do people, places and memories. My parents’ generation is now gone, and family members of my own generation are starting to move on. I can count ten places I used to live that are now gone as well, including my high school. Kevin Kelly told me a couple years ago that none of us, even the famous, will be remembered in a thousand years. I’m sure he’s right.

But I still feel the urge to pour as much as I can of what I know into the public domain, which is what you’re witnessing now, if you’re still with me at the bottom of a long post. I believe it helps to see what was, as well as what is.

For example, this view up Hoyt Avenue from the site of the old Searls place, in 2012, is now filled with a high-rise that is almost complete. The little bridge-less town where my grandparents met and my father and his sisters grew up is now a henge of high-rises. Fort Lee itself is now also known as Fort Lee Koreatown. In this constantly shifting urban context the current scandal seems a drop in the bucket of time.

 

Aunt Grace — my father’s younger sister — died yesterday at her home in Maine. She was 101 years old, and in good health until just a couple days ago. Last month, in fact, she flew to San Diego to visit one of her granddaughters.

Grace often said she wanted to live to 108, like her mom, Ethel F. (née Englert) Searls. We should all be so lucky as either one.

Talk about a good life.

Grace was a lifelong artist, best known for her ceramic Toby Mugs, which she made in the basement studio of the Apgar family home alongside Big Brook in Marlboro, New Jersey. She and Uncle Archie moved there around the turn of the ’50s, with their three kids, George, Ron and Sue. The house was first built as a mill in the early 1700s and had been through many incarnations afterwards. Archie continued to work on improving it through the rest of his life. Same went for the land, which the family also farmed for many years.

When Grace finally “retired” a few years ago, after the age of 90, she didn’t go south like so many seniors. Instead she moved to Edgecomb, Maine. There she continued to maintain a vigorous and independent life.

To help remember her, I’ve put together a couple photo sets on Flickr: one of shots throughout her life, and one of her 100th birthday party last year. The former are mostly from her own photo collection, which I’ve been scanning and posting over the last several years. Some are of Grace, some are of her relatives and friends, and some are mine that she’s commented on, as “gsapgar.” She was the last person whose approval I still craved.

I’ll miss her smarts, her humor, her hospitality, her generosity, and her loving presence in the world. She was as fine a Mom, aunt, grandma, great-grandma and friend as anybody could wish for.

We’ll all miss her.

Grandma Searlsfootstone says “1882 -  ” and is hardly and overstatement. She died pushing 108 in 1990, and was lucid, loving and strong in all the ways that matter.

She was one of four sisters in her family. That’s them, with their dad, on the left. Grandma is the one on the bottom right.

My father was one of three sibs, with two sisters, Ethel and Grace. My mom was one of three sisters and one brother. My wife is one of six sisters, plus two brothers. All those women were, and are, strong too. (Grace is now 101 and doing great.) My sister (Commander in the U.S. Navy), daughters and granddaughter too. Love ‘em all.

It’s Grandma’s birthday tomorrow, her 131st. It’s my wife’s birthday today. My daughter’s was yesterday. (Also JP Rangaswami‘s and RageBoy‘s.) So here’s a toast to all of them — and especially to the strong women who have been raising me all my life.

I orient by landmarks. When I was growing up in New Jersey, the skyline of New York raked the eastern sky. To the west were the Watchung “Mountains“: hills roughly half the height of Manhattan’s ranking skyscrapers. But they gave me practice for my favorite indulgence here in Los Angeles: multi-angulating my ass in respect to seriously huge mountains.

What stands out about these things aren’t just their elevations…

  1. San Gorgonio, 11,503′*
  2. San Jacinto, 10,834
  3. San Antonio (Old Baldy), 10,068*

It’s their relief. These mothers are almost two miles high: alps above low plains and hills that slope under city and suburbs to the sea. One day when I went skiing at Mt. Baldy (same mountain as I shot above, on approach to LAX), I met guys who had gone surfing that very morning, not far away.

That’s right: skiing. In Los Angeles County.

All these mountains are crumples along a seam in the earth called the San Andreas Fault. The 40-quadrillion-ton Pacific Plate is crunching up against the also-huge North American plate at a high rate of geologic speed and force. The core rock inside these mountains is about 1.7 billion years of age, but the mountains themselves are, geologically speaking, as new and temporary as waves of surf. Note the catch basins at the base of San Antonio Canyon in the shot above. Their purpose is to catch rocks rolling off the slopes, as well as rain-saturated “debris flows”: Southern California’s version  of lava.

Speaking of which, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of John McPhee’s The Control of Nature (here’s an LA Times review), which features a long chapter titled “Los Angeles versus the San Gabriel Mountains.” That anybody would build a damn thing on or below the slopes of these virtual volcanoes speaks volumes about humanity’s capacity for denial.

Well, I was gonna drive up to the top of Mt. Wilson this morning to catch the sunrise over the layer of marine fog just over my head here in Pasadena, but I’ve got too much work to do. So I’ll just enjoy orienting toward it as I drive to Peet’s for coffee, and let ya’ll derive whatever vicarious pleasures might follow along. Cheers.

[Later...] Beautiful clouds atop the mountains all day today, with showers scattered here and there, and even a bit of snow. Tonight the snow level will be about 5000 feet, I heard. Should be pretty in the morning. Alas, I’ll be arriving at Newark then.


* The photos in Wikipedia for both are ones I shot from airplanes. They are among more than 400 now in Wikimedia Commons. I love feeding shots into the public domain, to find helpful uses such as these.

Mom died ten years ago yesterday, just as I was putting up the post below. I learned a short while later that she was gone. It was a good post then, and still is now. So I thought I’d run it again. — Doc

1953 Wanigan:
Except for school, I had a happy childhood. That means my summers were idylls.
In the summer of 1949, a couple months after my sister was born and while I was turning two, my parents bought an acre and a half of land near Cedarwood Park on the edge of the pine barrens in South Jersey (near The Shore, pronounced Da Shaw), bought a small wooden building, towed it to a clearing on a flat-bed truck, sat it on a shallow foundation, built a kitchen out of cast-off boards and windows, erected an ourdoor privy over a pit, pounded a pipe into the ground for well water, screwed a hand-pump on the top of the pipe, furnished the place with garage sale items, hung a pair of Navy surplus canvas hammocks between scrub oak trees, and called our new summer home “The Wanigan,” which they said was “Eskimo” for “house that moves.” (Apparently the derivation is Ojibwa, but so what.)
It was paradise. Grandma and Aunt Ethel had a place nearby. So did my great aunt Florence and Uncle Jack. Aunt Grace, Uncle Arch and my cousins Ron, George and Sue all lived in Marlboro, not too far away. They’d bunk in Grandma’s garage. Other friends and relatives summered nearby, or would come visiting from near and far, sometimes staying for weeks. Over the next thirteen years the Wanigan got an additional room and indoor plumbing, but was otherwise blissfully unimproved. We never had a TV. For years our only phone ran on DC batteries and connected only to Grandma’s house.
We went to Mantoloking Beach almost every day. For a change we swam the beaches and lagoons of Kettle Creek (we had a little land with a dock on Cherry Quay Cove) or the Metedeconk River on Barnegat Bay. We fished and crabbed in small boats. On the way home we stopped at roadside farm stands, bought tomatoes and corn, and enjoyed perfect suppers. We rode our bikes through the woods to the little general store about a mile away, bought comic books and came home to read them on our bunk beds. We grazed on blueberries, three varieties of which comprised the entire forest floor. We built platforms in the oak trees, collected pine cones and played hide-and-seek in the woods. Bedtime came when the whip-poor-wills started calling. We fell asleep to a cacaphony of tree frogs and crickets.
The picture above was shot in the summer of 1953, when I was turning six (that’s me with the beer in the front row), behind “Bayberry,” the house Grandma Searls shared with her daughter, our Aunt Ethel. That’s Grandma at the top left. Aunt Ethel is in the next row down next to Mom. Behind both are Aunt Grace Apgar and my great Aunt Florence Dwyer (Grandma’s sister). Then Aunt Catherine Burns, cousin Sue Apgar, Mary Ellen Wigglesworth (a neighbor visiting from back in Maywood, our home town), then Uncle Arch Apgar. In front of Arch is George Apgar. Pop (Allen H. Searls) is in the middle. In the front row are my sister Jan Searls, Kevin Burns, myself, Uncle Donald Burns and Martin Burns (who today remembers being scratched by that cat).
Grandma lived to 107. Aunt Florence made it to her 90s too, as I recall. Aunt Grace is now 91 and in great health. (Here we are at Mom’s 90th birthday party last April.) Aunt Katherine is still with us too, as is everybody from my generation (now all in their 50s and 60s).
I’m waxing nostalgic as I plan a return visit this weekend to North Carolina, probably for the last time in Mom’s life.
I’m also remembering what late August was like back then, as we prepared to end another perfect summer. It was wanting paradise never to end — and knowing, surely, that it would.

Among those in the photo who were alive when this post went up, we’ve lost two: aunt Katherine passed several years ago, in her late 90s; and ccousin Ron Apgar, who was shy of photos when this shot was taken, died at 70 last year. The rest of us are all still doing fine — especially Aunt Grace, now 101 years old.

Route 66A year ago I entered the final demographic. So far, so good.

@Deanland texted earlier, asking if I had a new affinity with WFAN, the New Yawk radio station that radiates at 660 on what used to be the AM “dial.” Back when range mattered, WFAN was still called WNBC, and its status as a “clear channel” station was non-trivial. At night clear channel stations could be heard up to thousands of miles away on a good radio. Other stations went off the air to clear the way for these beacons of raw 50,000-watt power. As a kid I listened to KFI from Los Angeles in the wee hours and in California I sometimes got WBZ from Boston. Now even “clears” like WFAN are protected only to 750 miles away, which means any or all of these stations also on 660 splatter over each other. Reminds me of a fake ad I did once back when I was at WSUS: All the world’s most beautiful music, all at once. We overdubbed everything we could onto one track.

Funny, a few months back my 16-year old son asked what the point of “range” was with radio. He’s a digital native who is used to being zero distance from everybody else on the Net, including every broadcaster.

He made his point when we were driving from Boston to New York on a Sunday afternoon last month, listening to the only radio show he actually cares about: All A Capella on WERS. While WERS is one of Boston’s smaller stations, it has a good signal out to the west, so we got it nearly to Worcester. Then, when it went away, the kid pulled out the family iPad, which has a Net connection over the cell system, got WERS’ stream going, and we listened to the end of the show, somewhere in Connecticut, with the iPad jacked into the car radio, sounding great.

Meanwhile here I am with a giant pile of trivia in my brain about how AM and FM broadcasting works. It’s like knowing about steam engines.

But mostly I keep living in the future. That’s why I’m jazzed that both VRM and personal cloud development is rocking away, in many places. Following developments took me on three trips to Europe in May and June, plus two to California and one to New Zealand and Australia. Lots of great stuff going on. It’s beyond awesome to have the opportunity to help move so much good stuff forward.

Speaking of distance, the metaphor I like best, for the birthday at hand, is “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66.” Composed in the ’40s by Bobby Troup, the jazz composer and actor, it has been covered by approximately everybody in the years since. The Nelson Riddle sound track for the TV show Route 66 was evocative in the extreme: one of the best road tunes ever written and performed. In addition to that one I have ten other versions:

  • Erich Kunzel
  • John Mayer
  • Chuck Berry
  • Nat King Cole
  • The Cramps
  • The Surfaris
  • Oscar Peterson & Manhattan Transfer
  • Andrews Sisters and Bing Crosby
  • Manhattan Transfer
  • Asleep at the Wheel

My faves are the last two. I’ll also put in a vote for Danny Gatton‘s Cruisin’ Deuces, which runs Nelson Riddle’s beat and muted trumpet through a rockabilly template of Danny’s own, and just kicks it.

Anyway, my birthday is happy, so far. Thanks for all the good wishes coming in.

Eleanor SearlsMom would have turned 100 this week. She got to celebrate her 90th ten years ago, though it seems like yesterday. She died several months later, of a stroke while recovering from a botched gall stone removal procedure. The stroke was preventable, I believe; but I won’t lay blame. Mom lived a long and full life, and wouldn’t have wanted to make a stink about it. That wasn’t her style.

She was a smart, fun, loving and thoroughly wonderful woman. I remember once, when I was in my twenties, sitting around a fire in the little commune-like community where I lived near Chapel Hill. One of the others asked, “Who is the most sane person you know?” When I answered “My mother,” the rest were amazed. Not many people our age said things like that about either of their parents. But there was no doubt in my mind. Mom was profoundly sane. There wasn’t a crazy cell in her mind.

She was raised in Napoleon, North Dakota, the middle child among five. Her parents were from large Swedish homesteading families. (For the genealogists, Oman — or Ohman — and Sponberg.) She could read as a small child and entered school early, graduating high school at sixteen. Her colleges were North Dakota State and the University of Chicago. For a while she taught in a one-room schoolhouse, starting at age 19. She was doing social work  in Alaska when she met the man who became my father, and who proposed to her by mail while in Europe fighting in WWII. They married when he returned in 1946 . I showed up a year later, and my sister Jan two years after that. We lived in Maywood, New Jersey, during the year, and in Brick Township, by the Jersey Shore, in the summers. Mom’s last and longest job was teaching 3rd and 4th grade in the Maywood school system. She and Pop retired to Graham, North Carolina in 1974. Pop died in 1979, and Mom carried on as a pillar of the local community — just as she was a pillar of everything she supported in her life.

I could go on, but instead I’ll share what I posted on my blog on the day she died:

1953 Wanigan:
Except for school, I had a happy childhood. That means my summers were idylls.
In the summer of 1949, a couple months after my sister was born and while I was turning two, my parents bought an acre and a half of land near Cedarwood Park on the edge of the pine barrens in South Jersey (near The Shore, pronounced Da Shaw), bought a small wooden building, towed it to a clearing on a flat-bed truck, sat it on a shallow foundation, built a kitchen out of cast-off boards and windows, erected an ourdoor privy over a pit, pounded a pipe into the ground for well water, screwed a hand-pump on the top of the pipe, furnished the place with garage sale items, hung a pair of Navy surplus canvas hammocks between scrub oak trees, and called our new summer home “The Wanigan,” which they said was “Eskimo” for “house that moves.” (Apparently the derivation is Ojibwa, but so what.)
It was paradise. Grandma and Aunt Ethel had a place nearby. So did my great aunt Florence and Uncle Jack. Aunt Grace, Uncle Arch and my cousins Ron, George and Sue all lived in Marlboro, not too far away. They’d bunk in Grandma’s garage. Other friends and relatives summered nearby, or would come visiting from near and far, sometimes staying for weeks. Over the next thirteen years the Wanigan got an additional room and indoor plumbing, but was otherwise blissfully unimproved. We never had a TV. For years our only phone ran on DC batteries and connected only to Grandma’s house.
We went to Mantoloking Beach almost every day. For a change we swam the beaches and lagoons of Kettle Creek (we had a little land with a dock on Cherry Quay Cove) or the Metedeconk River on Barnegat Bay. We fished and crabbed in small boats. On the way home we stopped at roadside farm stands, bought tomatoes and corn, and enjoyed perfect suppers. We rode our bikes through the woods to the little general store about a mile away, bought comic books and came home to read them on our bunk beds. We grazed on blueberries, three varieties of which comprised the entire forest floor. We built platforms in the oak trees, collected pine cones and played hide-and-seek in the woods. Bedtime came when the whip-poor-wills started calling. We fell asleep to a cacaphony of tree frogs and crickets.
The picture above was shot in the summer of 1953, when I was turning six (that’s me with the beer in the front row), behind “Bayberry,” the house Grandma Searls shared with her daughter, our Aunt Ethel. That’s Grandma at the top left. Aunt Ethel is in the next row down next to Mom. Behind both are Aunt Grace Apgar and my great Aunt Florence Dwyer (Grandma’s sister). Then Aunt Catherine Burns, cousin Sue Apgar, Mary Ellen Wigglesworth (a neighbor visiting from back in Maywood, our home town), then Uncle Arch Apgar. In front of Arch is George Apgar. Pop (Allen H. Searls) is in the middle. In the front row are my sister Jan Searls, Kevin Burns, myself, Uncle Donald Burns and Martin Burns (who today remembers being scratched by that cat).
Grandma lived to 107. Aunt Florence made it to her 90s too, as I recall. Aunt Grace is now 91 and in great health. (Here we are at Mom’s 90th birthday party last April.) Aunt Katherine is still with us too, as is everybody from my generation (now all in their 50s and 60s).
I’m waxing nostalgic as I plan a return visit this weekend to North Carolina, probably for the last time in Mom’s life.
I’m also remembering what late August was like back then, as we prepared to end another perfect summer. It was wanting paradise never to end — and knowing, surely, that it would.

As a postscript, I should add that Grace is still doing fine at age 100. Katherine made it to 99. My cousin Ron Apgar (one of Grace’s two sons, who opted out of the picture above when he was eleven) died early this year at 70. He was an awesome dude and like a big brother to me when we were growing up. The rest of us are all well. Life is good.

It’s raining here now, in Manhattan. It was snowing earlier, but then came the sleet, and now the rain, and the slush. Here’s what I shot with my phone a few minutes ago, on my way back from the subway:

Blcch on broadway

And here’s what this kind of thing looks looks like on Intellicast‘s radar:

Blcch map

The red X marks where I grew up, on Woodland Ave in Maywood, New Jersey, about 5 miles from the George Washington Bridge and Manhattan. Woodland Avenue was (and still is) a hill. Not a big one; just one ideal for sledding. It had a nice steep slope at the top, and a long flat stretch at the bottom, so you could get up some good speed and glide a long way. Sometimes the town would designate Woodland Ave as the sledding hill, and block off the top and the bottom except for residential traffic. If the snow was deep enough, cars would pack it down and make sledding better.

Terrace Ave, one street over, was good for sledding too: steeper at the top, with a shorter glide path at the bottom. So was the back yard of the Borg house on Summit Ave in Hackensack, which was a short walk through Borg’s Woods, also owned by the family. (It’s now a nature preserve.) The Borg family owned the Bergen Evening Record (now just The Record).

This was back in the 1950s, which were simpler times. There was no cable, no Weather Channel. Almost nobody in our social stratum went skiing. Few civilians had four-wheel (or even front-wheel) drive vehicles. For kids, sledding was the favored recreational activity in snow, and the best sleds were Flexible Flyers. The family had a big old heavy one, good for seating two or three people. It looked like the one on the right (from 1936), but a bit longer. It may have been that old too. We also had a smaller one, good for solo flights.

If snowy weather threatened, as it does now, we’d be glued to our radios, eager to hear a forecast that did not include the dreaded word “rain.” The most disappointing forecast was this one: “Snow mixed with and then changing to rain.” It was also the most typical for New York. An inch or few of snow would fall, and then it would turn to sleet, or drizzle, and then rain, and the street would turn to slush. These days they call snow/rain combo “wintry mix.” That’s the pink on the map. Almost always the forecast would say something like “significant accumulations in the outlying suburbs.” Those are the areas in blue already.

So my heart’s is back in Maywood today, while my ass is in Manhattan, watching the blizzard fail to happen — at least here. On the iPad is the Weather Channel, tuned in to our Dish Network box in Santa Barbara. The forecast, as always with TWC, is breathless and dire. They (or somebody) have named the storm “Nemo.” Oy.

In a slightly more ideal world, we would have already rented a four-wheel drive, thrown a suitcase and ski clothes in the back, and have driven up to Hunter Mountain, or some place in Vermont. I’ll bet the skiing up there will be perfect for the next few days. But we’re busy, and not in a position to indulge.

TWC says it’s still going to snow later, with accumulations even as close as Maywood. So, for the sake of the kids out there, I hope the pink turns blue.

This is a hard one to write. Peter Sklar, the founder, editor and chief-everything of Edhat, Santa Barbara’s original onine daily, has died.

Peter was the Steve Jobs of placeblogging. Like Steve, he was an original genius and nobody’s fool. He could be prickly and sarcastic, and he did things his way. He was also a fun guy, great to hang out with and to talk to at any depth on any subject. Thus, in character, he had a clear and steady vision of local journalism that was equally serious and felicitous — a combination that served as a model for placeblogs across the country.

What made Edhat so wonderful, from the start, was Peter’s light touch. There was always gentleness, humor, and a strong aesthetic sense of what’s right for the town, its people, its businesses, its unique and quirky civic qualities. Peter wrote most of Edhat in the early days, and I assume until recently as well. Edhat’s voice has remained Peter’s, always been a delight to read.

As an original and highly principled genius, Peter could be less than sweet to others he thought were horning in on his turf, either with competing publications or with the larger concepts of placeblogging and journalism. (In fact, Peter liked neither the term “blogging” nor any of the blogging or content management systems in the market. As an alpha programmer, he home-brewed Edhat from the start. He also did it on old versions of Windows, which drove me nuts as an open source and Linux guy.*) But again, the main thing with Peter was fun. It says something that, among all the advice we gave him back in Edhat’s formative years, the one piece he took was holding a party. When I get a chance later I’ll dig up and share the pictures. Meanwhile, here’s how Craig Smith, another friend and local blogger, describes Peter and his work:

A mathematician by training and a dedicated runner, Peter always struck me as being quirky (kind of like Edhat) and he could at times be temperamental. He liked numbers (as in, “we counted the number of horses in the Fiesta parade”) and he liked rules. (Ever notice how many rules there are about posting comments on Edhat?) He could fairly have been described as a my-way-or-the-highway type guy. But you could also say that about Steve Jobs. But like Jobs, Peter was a genius at what he did. Never mind that guys like me didn’t like some of his rules about what kind of stories Edhat would link to (he would link to news stories but not “opinion pieces” or newspaper columns) or the fact that the comments section on Edhat often seemed to be in need of some serious adult supervision, Peter always knew what his community of readers wanted and he made sure that they got it.

With newspapers on the decline, Peter was a champion of “citizen journalism” and Edhat was a place where a lot of breaking news in this town first got (and still gets) reported. And many times that reporting is done by the Edhat community of readers. Skeptical of mainstream media, he once told me, “Remember, the word ‘professional’ only means that they are getting paid.”

It’s meaningful that Craig and I both compare Peter to Steve. (Note: I didn’t see Craig’s post until I started writing this one.)

I only got the news about Peter over breakfast a few minutes ago, from my wife, who knew him better than I did. It clobbered us both. Santa Barbara is home for us, but our work takes us elsewhere so much that we don’t get to see our friends there often enough. I was looking forward to catching up with Peter on our next return to town over the holidays. Even though I kept up with Santa Barbara through Edhat, I missed learning that Peter had been sick with inoperable brain cancer for over a year. Now he leaves a huge hole in our hearts, an in our town.

But Edhat lives, and not just in Santa Barbara. I can’t begin to tell you how much tenacity and grace it takes to do what Peter and his crew have done with Edhat.

Here’s a picture Peter and Molly, in a nice obituary by The Independent, the local weekly paper (and a competitor with whom Peter enjoyed a happy symbiosis). And another, by Leah Etling, who worked with Peter at Edhat. More at KEYT, Noozhawk and the Santa Barbara Review. Also this from David Powdrell.

Our hearts are with Sue, Nick, Zack, Molly and the larger Edhat family, including the great town Peter left better than he found it.

* Few know that “Edhat” as a name actually had a Linux connection. Maybe you can guess it.

Strays Amid Rome Set Off a Culture Clash says The New York Times. On one side, archaeologists who wish to save ruins from occupation by cats. On the other side, the cats’ lovers, including tourists who marvel more at the abundance of serene kittehs, lounging atop walls and columns than at the historic site itself:  a place called Largo di Torre Argentina, or just “Argentina” to the locals.

It looks like Rome’s exposed basement, excavated down to one floor below street level. The broken-down walls and columns of Argentina contain no less than four Republican Roman temples and a corner of Pompey’s Theatre, beside which Julius Caesar was assassinated — perhaps within this very space. The whole thing lies within the Campus Martius, of which the main surviving structure is the nearby Pantheon.

I was there with the family two summers ago, and shot some kitteh pictures. To help anybody who wants pix for their own kitteh-vs-whomever stories, I’ve put those shots in a photo set here. All are Creative Commons licensed for attribution only (the least restrictive license available on Flickr).

My son remembers what I say better than I do. One example is this:

I uttered it in some context while wheezing my way up a slope somewhere in the Reservation.

Except it wasn’t there. Also I didn’t say that. Exactly. Or alone. He tells me it came up while we were walking across after getting some hang time after Mass at the . He just told me the preceding while looking over my shoulder at what I’m writing. He also explains that the above is compressed from dialog between the two of us, at the end of which he said it should be a bumper sticker, which he later designed, sent to me and you see above.

What I recall about the exchange, incompletely (as all recall is, thanks to the graces and curses of short term memory), is that I was thinking about the imperatives of invention, and why my nature is native to Silicon Valley, which exists everywhere ideas and ambition combine and catch fire.

My sister and I received a durable lesson in generosity in the summer of 1963, in the heart of Iowa. That was where our family’s 1957 Ford Country Sedan station wagon, towing our Nimrod pop-up camper trailer, broke down.

It was on a Sunday morning in late June, heading south from Des Moines on I-35 when the engine made a loud bang, and there was smoke and steam everywhere. We pulled over to shoulder and sat there for a long time while the engine cooled off and the day heated up. Then we topped off the radiator with some of the water from our cache, started the car back up and knew right away that the engine was in very bad shape. Pop figured that fewer than car’s straight-six engine’s cylinders were working, and that water was leaking through the head gasket  (since steam as well as smoke and unburned gas fumes were coming out the exhaust). There was no traffic to flag down on the highway, which was still new.  So all we could do was limp on, while limping was all the car could do.

At the top of the first exit was a sign that pointed west to St. Charles, and east to St. Mary’s. The former was closer, it said, so we turned right. We pulled up in front of a general store with some old guys on the porch out front, and asked if there was a service station nearby.

“Deane fixes cars,” one of them said, and told us which house was Deane’s. It was down the road on the left.

Turns out this was Deane Hoskins, a master mechanic with a complete garage in his garage. His day job was working for GM’s diesel division in Des Moines. His wife was Arlouine, a teacher like Mom. They also had a bunch of kids: Carolyn, Linda, Janet, Karen and Robert. All were friendly and eager to help. Deane told us to pull in. So Pop and I disconnected the camper, left it in the street, and went up the driveway to help Deane as best we could while he tore down the broken engine.

At the peak of the Hoskins garage’s roof, facing down the driveway, was a thermometer in the shape of a big clock. It said 112°. Sweat poured off Deane’s nose and chin. I remember that his eyes were blue, though one was a mix of blue and brown. The whole time he talked to us about engine design, how they worked, and what they were built do do. This Ford, he explained, was built to fail.

The policy was called “planned obsolescence,” and you could see it in the cooling tubes in the engine block, flanking the cylinders. Water cooled by the radiator flows through these tubes, keeping an engine from overheating. The pistons in the first and sixth cylinders looked fine. The ones in the second and fifth were pitted on the top. The pistons in the third and fourth cylinders had holes blown through their tops. That was because the cooling tubes flanking the third and fourth cylinders had metal plugs in them, causing the pistons to overheat and eventually fail. The plugs were the opposite of necessary, unless the necessity was a blown engine, eventually. In our case the eventuality was sixty thousand miles.

This was a huge blow to Pop, a committed Ford Man. This wagon was the first new car he had ever bought, and it had been nothing but trouble from Day One. Even before this last failure he figured the car cost $60 per month on average to fix, and this was in 1950s dollars. It was also clear and present evidence of customer-hating corporate venality. To this day it amazes me to see nothing written about Ford’s (or anybody’s) practice of plugging an engine block’s cooling tubes. Were all of Ford’s inline-6 blocks crippled like this? Or was this an experiment by Ford with just a few engines to see what happened? How could a worker in good conscience have put the plugs in there, when the result would obviously be a short life span for the engine?

Deane drilled out the plugged tubes, removed the bad pistons, honed out the two center cylinders, called up a friendly Ford dealer, and drove us over to pick up some new pistons and a fresh head gasket. The dealer was closed on Sunday, but opened up just for us. On the way over we went through a covered bridge, one of those later made famous by The Bridges of Madison County.

By evening Deane had the engine back together, and the car running fine. We spent the night as the Hoskins’ house guests, and in the morning went on our way. For years Mom kept up with the Hoskins family through Arlouine. It was what moms did in those days. Mom was from a small town two states away: Napoleon, North Dakota. St. Charles and its friendly ethic was familiar to her.

Pop’s partisan loyalties were simple and clear. Three of the biggest were to the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Ford Motor Company and the Republican Party. So this was the second time he felt betrayed. The first was when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. The third was Watergate.

Leaving St. Charles on Monday morning, we drove west. In Griswold, barely bigger than St. Charles, we found a Chevy dealer. It wasn’t that Pop was suddenly a believer in Chevy, but that he had become a disbeliever in Ford. He also took Deane’s word that GM didn’t play the planned obsolescence game. There were just two new cars in the showroom: a minimal white Biscayne and a  blue Bel-Air. Pop and Mom wanted to get the Biscayne, but my sister and I talked them into getting the Bel-Air, which had a 283 v-8 rather than the Biscayne’s straight six. Better for pulling the trailer, we argued, successfully. Pop’s compromise was to make sure the car had no radio and no air conditioning. That car was almost trouble-free until the transmission went, at 125,000 miles — a lot in those days. That’s when we sold it, in 1969.

And that’s Griswold, above. I spotted it last week while looking out the window of the plane from Newark to Los Angeles. It doesn’t look much different from above than it did on the ground forty-nine years ago. The dealer was small, with just two cars in the showroom: our Bel-Air and the Biscayne. No Impalas. I don’t remember the name, but there are no Chevy dealers in Griswold today.

I see that Deane died in 1991 and Arlouine in 2005. And, at the second link, that Linda is also gone. But our encounter with the Hoskins family isn’t forgotten, half a century later. To me the “flyover” states are places where good people live and lucky people drive through. Turns out our bad luck in St. Charles with a bum Ford was the best thing that could have happened.

 

 

When Underwood typewriterour kid started using a computer in the seventh grade, I got him a copy of Mavis Beacon so he’d learn how to touch-type.

I didn’t see him using the program, but I did see him typing. So I asked him what was up with that. He said “I looked at it a couple of weeks ago. It was good.” I asked, “Did you learn to touch type from it?” “Sure,” he said. “It has tests. I used them. I did fine.”

So I asked him to show me. He did. First try: 30 words per minute. Second, 45 wpm.

I took typing in the seventh grade ,which ran from September 1959 to June 1960. work keyboardIt was a year-long class, one period per day. My typewriter at school was an early-Fifties Underwood Rhythm-Touch like the one on the left. For practice at home my parents got me a WWII-era Underwood that looked exactly like the code machine.

I got an F in my first semester of typing class, because I made a lot of mistakes. I got a D in my second semester, for the same reason. For what it’s worth, I doubt anybody in that class has done more typing since then than I have.  Or have worn out more keyboards. Such as the one on the right, which I’m using now.

My handwriting, long neglected, looks about as good.

Some old habits died hard. Here they are:

  • Returning the carriage after the bell five spaces before the end of a line.
  • Wanting to set tabs the old-fashioned way, feeling the physical insertion, literally, of a metal tab into the carriage path.
  • Double-spacing between sentences. Not doing this was my most common error, back in typing class.
  • Hyphenating long words at the ends of lines.
  • Indenting the first line of a paragraph, with a tab five spaces in.

For years I hated word processing without hyphens, and double-returns between paragraphs with no indents. But after awhile I became accustomed to that new norm, and came to appreciate its benefits as well. (For example, when copying and pasting a bunch of text and not having to take out the hyphens and indents that only made sense in the old layout.) I also taught myself to restore my original proclivity to single spaces between sentences.

As for typing speed, I have no idea how fast I am now. What I love about not knowing is that it truly doesn’t matter.

My parents, Eleanor and Allen Searls, were married 65 years ago today. Allen and Eleanor Searls wedding The wedding was in Grace United Methodist Church, in Minneapolis.* Mom’s family, all descendents of Swedish immigrants to homesteads in Minnesota and North Dakota, were the primary attendees, as I recall being told. Pop’s family was from New Jersey, and that’s where the couple settled down and raised their family. Additions were myself, a bit less than a year later, and my sister Jan, another 20 months after that.

We were lucky kids. Our parents were good, sane, loving, smart, hard-working and convivial people. Our home was a safe and happy one. We had lots of family gatherings, and lots of friends in our town and around the little summer place Pop and uncle Archie Apgar built on the edge of the Pine Barrens in South Jersey. For us that place was paradise.

Mom and Pop are gone now, but the family is still intact. We celebrated my birthday at Pop’s little sister Grace’s place in Maine two weekends ago. She’s 99 now, and doing great. (Here’s a photo set from that trip. All the shots of me in that set were ones Grace shot. As you can see, I enjoyed the company.)

So here’s a toast to Mom and Pop. We love ya both, and always will.


*Today that’s Northeast United Methodist Church, and it’s not clear to me if the church where Mom and Pop got married is the one still at 2510 Cleveland Street N.E., or the one the website says is for sale at 2511 Taylor St. N.E. I suspect not, though, since the picture of that church, called Trinity United Methodist Church, doesn’t have steps like the ones we see in this picture of Mom and Pop leaving the church after the wedding.

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“When I’m Sixty-Four” is 44 years old. I was 20 when it came out, in the summer of 1967,  one among thirteen perfect tracks on The Beatles‘ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. For all the years since, I’ve thought the song began, “When I get older, losing my head…” But yesterday, on the eve of actually turning sixty-four, I watched this video animation of the song (by theClemmer) and found that Paul McCartney actually sang, “… losing my hair.”

Well, that’s true. I’m not bald yet, but the bare spot in the back and the thin zone in the front are advancing toward each other, while my face continues falling down below.

In July 2006, my old friend Tom Guild put Doc Searls explains driftwood of the land up on YouTube. It’s an improvisational comedy riff that Tom shot with his huge new shoulder-fire video camera at our friend Steve Tulsky’s house on a Marin County hillside in June, 1988. It was a reunion of sorts. Tom, Steve and I had all worked in radio together in North Carolina. I was forty at the time, and looked about half that age. When my ten-year-old kid saw it, he said “Papa, you don’t look like that.” I replied, “No, I do look like that. I don’t look like this,” pointing to my face.

Today it would be nice if I still looked like I did five years ago. The shot in the banner at the top of this blog was taken in the summer of 1999 (here’s the original), when I was fifty-two and looked half that age. The one on the right was taken last summer (the shades on my forehead masking a scalp that now reflects light), when I was a few days short of sixty-three. By then I was finally looking my age.

A couple months back I gave a talk at the Personal Democracy Forum where I was warmly introduced as one of those elders we should all listen to. That was nice, but here’s the strange part: when it comes to what I do in the world, I’m still young. Most of the people I hang and work with are half my age or less, yet I rarely notice or think about that, because it’s irrelevant. My job is changing the world, and that’s a calling that tends to involve smart, young, energetic people. The difference for a few of us is that we’ve been young a lot longer.

But I don’t have illusions about the facts of life. It’s in one’s sixties that the croak rate starts to angle north on the Y axis as age ticks east on the X. Still, I’m in no less hurry to make things happen than I ever was. I’m just more patient. That’s because one of the things I’ve learned is that now is always earlier than it seems. None of the future has happened yet, and it’s always bigger than the past.

When in Rome…

Coliseum

So we’re in Rome and I’m thinking about Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf and cable cars…

When I lived in the Bay Area and hung out in San Francisco, I did like all the other locals, and stayed away from the tourist stuff. Sure, right after we arrived from North Carolina in 1985, when the kids were twelve and fifteen, we hit all required tourist to-dos, in one day, and that was about it. After that we were locals, which meant we did other things.

But this is Rome, and we can’t resist doing The Usual, and also a bit more.

“More” for me began on the way in, when I got this series of aerial photos. The Coliseum, above, is a close-up from this shot here.

More soon, I hope.

 

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While arguments over network neutrality have steadily misdirected attention toward Washington, phone and cable companies have quietly lobbied one state after another to throttle back or forbid cities, towns and small commercial and non-commercial entities from building out broadband facilities. This Community Broadband Preemption Map, from Community Broadband Networks, tells you how successful they’ve been so far: Broadband Preemption Map Now they’re the verge of succeeding in North Carolina too.

This issue isn’t just close to home for me. I lived in North Carolina for nearly two decades, and I have more blood relatives there than in any other state. (Not to mention countless friends.) Not one of them tells me how great their broadband is. More than a few complain about it. And I can guarantee that the complaints won’t stop once the Governor signs the misleadingly-named ”Level Playing Field/Local Gov’t Competition act” (H129), which the cable industry has already been lobbied through the assembly.

The “free market” the phone and cable companies claim to operate in, and which they mostly occupy as a duopoly, is in fact a regulatory zoo where the biggest animals run the place. Neither half of the phone/cable duopoly has ever experienced anything close to a truly free market; but they sure know how to thrive in the highly regulated one they have — at the federal, state and local levels. Here’s Ars on the matter:

Let’s be even clearer about what is at stake in this fight. Muni networks are providing locally based broadband infrastructures that leave cable and telco ISPs in the dust. Nearby Chattanooga, Tennessee’scity owned EPB Fiber Optics service now advertises 1,000Mbps. Wilson, North Carolina is home to the Greenlight Community Network, which offers pay TV, phone service, and as much as 100Mbps Internet to subscribers (the more typical package goes at 20Mbps). Several other North Carolina cities have followed suit, launching their own networks. In comparison, Time Warner’s Road Runner plan advertises “blazing speeds” of 15Mbps max to Wilson area consumers. When asked why the cable company didn’t offer more competitive throughput rates, its spokesperson told a technology newsletter back in 2009 that TWC didn’t think anyone around there wanted faster service. When it comes to price per megabyte, GigaOm recently crunched some numbers and found out that North Carolina cities hold an amazing 7 of 10 spots on the “most expensive broadband in the US” list.

And here’s what Wally Bowen and Tim Karr say in the News & Observer:

North Carolina has a long tradition of self-help and self-reliance, from founding the nation’s first public university to building Research Triangle Park. Befitting the state’s rural heritage, North Carolinians routinely take self-help measures to foster economic growth and provide essential local services such as drinking water and electric power. Statesville built the state’s first municipal power system in 1889, and over the years 50 North Carolina cities and towns followed suit. In 1936, the state’s first rural electric cooperative was launched in Tarboro to serve Edgecombe and Martin counties. Today, 26 nonprofit electric networks serve more than 2.5 million North Carolinians in 93 counties. Strangely, this self-help tradition is under attack. The General Assembly just passed a bill to restrict municipalities from building and operating broadband Internet systems to attract industry and create local jobs. Although pushed by the cable and telephone lobby, similar bills were defeated in previous legislative sessions. But the influx of freshmen legislators and new leadership in both houses created an opening for the dubiously titled “Level Playing Field” bill (HB 129).

No one disputes the importance of broadband access for economic growth and job creation. That’s why five cities – Wilson, Salisbury, Morganton, Davidson and Mooresville – invoked their self-help traditions to build and operate broadband systems after years of neglect from for-profit providers, which focus their investments in more affluent and densely populated areas. Not coincidentally, all five cities own and operate their own power systems or have ties to nonprofit electric cooperatives. (While the bill does not outlaw these five municipal networks, it restricts their expansion and requires them to make annual tax payments to the state as if they were for-profit companies.) How does a state that values independence, self-reliance and economic prosperity allow absentee-owned corporations to pass a law essentially granting two industries – cable and telephone – the power to dictate North Carolina’s broadband future? This question will be moot if Gov. Beverly Perdue exercises her veto power and sends this bill where it belongs: to the dustbin of history.

We don’t need more laws restricting anything around Internet infrastructure build-outs in the U.S. That’s the simple argument here.

We need the phone and cable companies to improve what they can, and we need to encourage and thank them for their good work. (As I sometimes do with Verizon FiOS, over which I am connected here in Massachusetts.)

We also need to recognize that the Internet is a utility and not just the third act (after phone and TV) in the “triple play” that phone and cable companies sell. The Net is more like roads, water, electricity and gas than like TV or telephony (both of which it subsumes). It’s not just about “content” delivered from Hollywood to “consumers,” or about a better way to do metered calls on the old Ma Bell model. It’s about everything you can possibly do with a connection to the rest of the world. The fatter that connection, the more you can do, and the more business can do.

Cities and regions blessed with fat pipes to the Internet are ports on the ocean of bits that now comprise the networked world. If citizens can’t get phone and cable companies to build out those ports, it’s perfectly legitimate for those citizens to do it themselves. That’s what municipal broadband build out is about, pure and simple. Would it be better to privatize those utilities eventually? Maybe. But in the meantime let’s not hamstring the only outlet for enterprise these citizens have found.

Here’s a simple fact for Governor Perdue to ponder: In the U.S. today, the leading innovators in Internet build-out are cities, not phone and cable companies. Look at Chatanooga and Lafayette — two red state cities that are doing an outstanding job of building infrastructure that attracts and supports new businesses of all kinds. Both are doing what no phone or cable companies seems able or willing to do. And both are succeeding in spite of massive opposition by those same incumbent duopolists.

The Internet is a rising tide that lifts all economic boats. At this stage in U.S. history, this fact seems to be fully motivating to enterprises mostly at the local level, and mostly in small cities. (Hi, Brett.) Their customers here are citizens who have direct and personal relationships with their cities and with actual or potential providers there, including the cities themselves. They want and need a level of Internet capacity that phone and cable companies (for whatever reason) are not yet giving them. These small cities provide good examples of The Market at work.

It isn’t government that’s competing with cable and phone companies here. Its people. Citizens.

No, these new build-outs are not perfect. None are, or can be. Often they’re messy. But nothing about them requires intervention by the state. Especially so early in whatever game this will end up being.

I urge friends, relatives and readers in North Carolina to Call Governor Perdue at (800) 662-7952, and to send her emails at  governor.office at nc.gov. Tell her to veto this bill, and to keep North Carolina from turning pink or red on the map above. Tell her to keep the market for broadband as free as it’s been from the beginning.

Bonus link.

[Later, as the last hour approaches...]

Larry Lesig has published an open letter to Governor Perdue, Here is most of it:

Dear Governor Perdue:

On your desk is a bill passed by the overwhelmingly Republican North Carolina legislature to ban local communities from building or supporting community broadband networks. (H.129). By midnight tonight, you must decide whether to veto that bill, and force the legislature to take a second look.

North Carolina is an overwhelmingly rural state. Relative to the communities it competes with around the globe, it has among the slowest and most expensive Internet service. No economy will thrive in the 21st century without fast, cheap broadband, linking citizens, and enabling businesses to compete. And thus many communities throughout your state have contracted with private businesses to build their own community broadband networks.

These networks have been extraordinarily effective. The prices they offer North Carolinians is a fraction of the comparable cost of commercial network providers. The speed they offer is also much much faster.

This single picture, prepared by the Institute for Local Self Reliance, says it all: The yellow and green dots represent the download (x-axis) and upload (y-axis) speeds provided by two community networks in North Carolina. Their size represents their price. As you can see, community networks provide faster, cheaper service than their commercial competitors. And they provide much faster service overall.

2011-05-20-broadbandgraph.png

 

Local competition in broadband service benefits the citizens who have demanded it. For that reason, community after community in North Carolina have passed resolutions asking you to give them the chance to provide the Internet service that the national quasi-monopolies have not. It is why businesses from across the nation have opposed the bill, and business leaders from your state, including Red Hat VP Michael Tiemann, have called upon you to veto the bill.

Commercial broadband providers are not happy with this new competition, however. After spending millions in lobbying and campaign contributions in North Carolina, they convinced your legislature to override the will of local North Carolina communities, and ban these faster, cheaper broadband networks. Rather than compete with better service, and better prices, they secured a government-granted protection against competition. And now, unless you veto H. 129, that protection against competition will become law.

Opponents of community broadband argue that it is “unfair” for broadband companies to have to compete against community-supported networks. But the same might be said of companies that would like to provide private roads. Or private fire protection. Or private police protection. Or private street lights. These companies too would face real competition from communities that choose to provide these services themselves. But no one would say that we should close down public fire departments just to be “fair” to potential private first-responders.

The reason is obvious to economists and scholars of telecommunications policy. As, for example, Professor Brett Frischmann argues, the Internet is essential infrastructure for the 21st century. And communities that rely solely upon private companies to provide public infrastructure will always have second-rate, or inferior, service.

In other nations around the world, strong rules forcing networks to compete guarantee faster, cheaper Internet than the private market alone would. Yet our FCC has abdicated its responsibility to create the conditions under which true private broadband competition might flourish in the United States. Instead, the United States has become a broadband backwater, out-competed not only by nations such as Japan and Korea, but also Britain, Germany and even France. According to a study by the Harvard Berkman Center completed last year, we rank 19th among OECD countries in combined prices for next generation Internet, and 19th for average advertised speeds. Overall, we rank below every major democratic competitor — including Spain — and just above Italy.

In a world in which FCC commissioners retire from the commission and take jobs with the companies they regulate (as Commissioner Baker has announced that she will do, by joining Comcast as a lobbyist, and as former FCC Chairman Powell has done, becoming a cable industry lobbyist), it is perhaps not surprising that these networks are protected from real competition.

But whether surprising or not, the real heroes in this story are the local communities that have chosen not to wait for federal regulators to wake up, and who have decided to create competition of their own. No community bans private networks. No community is unfairly subsidizing public service. Instead, local North Carolina communities are simply contracting to build 21st-century technology, so that citizens throughout the state can have 21st-century broadband at a price they can afford.

As an academic who has studied this question for more than a decade, I join many in believing that H.129 is terrible public policy…

Be a different kind of Democrat, Governor Perdue. I know you’ve received thousands of comments from citizens of North Carolina asking you to veto H.129. I know that given the size of the Republican majority in the legislature, it would be hard for your veto to be sustained.

But if you took this position of principle, regardless of whether or not you will ultimately prevail, you would inspire hundreds of thousands to join with you in a fight that is critical to the economic future of not just North Carolina, but the nation. And you would have shown Republicans and Democrats alike that it is possible for a leader to stand up against endless corporate campaign cash.

There is no defeat in standing for what you believe in. So stand with the majority of North Carolina’s citizens, and affirm the right of communities to provide not just the infrastructure of yesterday — schools, roads, public lighting, public police forces, and fire departments — but also the infrastructure of tomorrow — by driving competition to provide the 21st century’s information superhighway.

With respect,

Lawrence Lessig

To contact the governor, you can email her. If you’re from North Carolina, this link will take you to a tool to call the governor’s office. You can follow this fight on Twitter at @communitynets
You can follow similar fights on Twitter by searching #rootstrikers.

Well put, as usual. Hope it works.

I’ve been fairly quiet on the developments in Egypt, preferring to let others do the blogging, especially when they know far more than I do. (Ethan Zuckerman, for example.) But I’ve been involved in many conversations, because it’s damned interesting, what’s going on. One of those conversations is with my sister Jan, by email. She’s a retired Commander with the U.S. Navy, and a veteran at international matters as well, having served as an exchange officer with the British Royal Navy and as a protocol officer with the U.S. one.

I liked an email she sent this morning well enough to ask her if it was cool to share it. She said yes, and here it is:

I can’t help but believe that at least half the educated and aware (not always the same thing, is it?)  population of the world isn’t digesting yesterday’s outcome without thinking of their own government.  I liked Tom Friedman’s line in his latest column Postcard From a Free Egypt – NYTimes.com Hello, Tripoli, Cairo calling. I can feel his optimism and I have it, too.

I don’t think this is going to be nasty to watch; I have been beyond impressed with the control the protestors have displayed in this process, and I just realized why:  Facebook may have gotten them into the Square, but it was Twitter that kept them in hand.  This was not the protest of the bullhorn, of the warping of direction by misinterpretation caused by passing the word along because the word was universally available in one shot! The age of reiteration is over.  Now is the age of the direct thought going out to all ears vs the age old chain of mouth to ear to mouth to ear….  That is the power of Twitter.

So the message and the method stayed true.  No one went off the rails, the whole thing was non-violent in intent and in execution. And – the hitherto unimaginable – the youth stayed true to that.  Youth, who we associate with hooliganism in sports and overheated loyalty to their current cultural idols, they kept their eye firmly on the long-view.  They led their elders – the professionals who had lived under the thumb and threats of a tyrant, the educated who were stifled and stilled by fear, the political who were passively waiting.  The youth led, because they had a unity of purpose that was tightly held — or in this case twittered.

Today I am stunned, and smiling, and … wondering.  Do our politicians realize that we, too, have an enormous disenfranchised population?  That we have a large, youth-filled population who feel they have few options or opportunities? That we have an underclass in living in a poverty that should be unimaginable in a first-world country?  That we have an eager and interested population that feels its voice cannot be heard by our government over the cacophony of corporate interests?

And this is not the voice of the Tea Party.  I think it will become glaringly obvious  that the Tea Party was a just a segment of the frustrated, found to be useful to and thereby fueled and funding by special interests, enlarged by bored and lazy media and will eventually be fragmented by electoral fulfillment.  The population I’m thinking of has not been heard from yet.  The Administration may think that Organizing for America gives them a voice, but it hasn’t, because it is too one-way.  It is a fund-raising, message passing tool of the administration.

The voice heard in the square in Cairo and in the streets of Egypt did not rise up overnight or out of thin air.  That voice that has been unheard because it was a voice shouting in a vacuum.  But a vacuum cannot exist in cyberspace. Traditionally in revolutions the key is to take over the one-to-many vehicles of mass communication, radio and TV.  But this time they were not taken over, they were ignored.  They weren’t needed because it was the masses that were communicating.

So now we are in a new age, an age of leadership and governments being held accountable to the voice of the governed.  And in this new age I am optimistic for Egypt as well as other oppressed people.  I hope every autocrat and dictator is hearing footsteps in the dark.  And I hope our government is paying close attention — people have voices and, no matter how disenfranchised, they have just learned a new way to make them heard.

Bonus link.

[Later...] While this post has met with a fair amount of approval here and in the Twitterverse, Doug Skogland has some pushback.

Perhaps linking to this piece by Nicholas Kristof will help.

woman, dog, car

The Kid has been scanning archival family photos and I’ve been uploading them to Flickr (where I have now passed 39,000 shots in that one site alone). Many of these photos are well over a hundred years old. Most are about eighty years old, give or take a decade or two. They’re from the collection of Grace Apgar, my father’s sister, who is now 98 and doing fine. She’s been putting corrections and contexts into the comments. (There is a lot of longevity here. Grace’s mom, my grandmother, lived almost to 108.)

The shot above has me intrigued, because I’m curious to know what kind of car that is. Here’s another shot, of my father and a buddy, with a different car. That shot has a date, but the car’s identity isn’t clear to me yet. There are more car shots here and here.

So, just some fun stuff on a weekend, identifying old things.