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racing shopping cartYesterday my 15-year-old son and I made brief stop at the Micro Center in Cambridge, looking at what it might take (and cost) to build a Linux/Windows desktop computer from the ground up—something that had been an interest of his for the last couple of years. (Mine too, actually.) The answer, price-wise (at least there), was more than we wanted to spend, so we decided to stop looking and head out.

But there were plenty of distractions in the store, so I paused at a few counters, tables and bins to examine stuff like cheap ($2.99) optical mice, flat-screen monitors (mine are old and fading), and various kinds of outboard drives. (Two of mine crapped out last week, and our first stop of the day had been dropping them off at a repair shop.)

As it happens we were on our way back from a hike in the Blue Hills Reservation, where the kid’s patience had already been stretched by my tendency to pause to munch and reminisce at every huckleberry patch (I grew up spending summers among them), plus a half-hour stop at the observatory and science center at the crest of Blue Hill itself. So he was glad when we finally walked out of the store, and, presumably, to the car and then home.

But there was a Trader Joe’s in the same lot, and I wanted to make a quick stop there to pick up a few supplies. The kid groaned.

“I promise to shop like a man,” I said. “Fast as I can.” Then I began to sing that rhyme to the tune of the Four Season’s “Walk Like a Man.” Shop like a man, fast as you can. Shop like a man, my son…

He replied, “The true man shops without stopping.”

It then took us less than two minutes to get what we wanted (yogurt for smoothies, peppermint tea, a couple other things), check out and leave. The kid calls this “speed shopping.” Also “powering through” a store. Rob Becker, whose Defending the Caveman is a required theater experience (go as a couple—it’ll help), puts it this way in an interview:

Q: What does the title of your show refer to?

A: The show is about an average guy’s response to all the anger that is coming at him. It goes back to the beginning of time. The image of the caveman is that of a guy bopping a woman on the head and dragging her back to his cave. But no serious anthropologist believes that. The caveman thought women were magical. But the caveman, to me, became a symbol of man being misunderstood.

Q: What were our primitive roles, and what effect do they have on our behavior today?

A: Men were hunters; women were gatherers. The hunter locks in on one thing, which is why guys have a narrow focus, whether it’s watching TV, reading the newspaper or driving. They block everything else out because, as hunters, they had to focus on the rear end of an animal. On the other hand, women, as gatherers, had to take in the whole landscape. Their field of vision is wider.

Q: How do these differences manifest themselves in a shopping mall?

A: The hunter tracks one thing. If I need a shirt, I go and kill a shirt with my credit card and drag it home. The gatherer doesn’t know what she’s going for because she doesn’t know what’s going to be ripe or in bloom. She’s open to the environment. When I go shopping with my wife, I keep bugging her about what she’s looking for, and she says, “Don’t bother me; I’ll know it when I see it.”

Q: Do men and women respond differently to an empty bowl of potato chips?

A: Women cooperate, men negotiate. If six women are sitting around a bowl and it gets low, they all get up and go to the kitchen as a pack. And while they’re there, they’ll make more dip. With six guys, it’s completely different. One guy will say, “It’s my house; I’m not going to refill it.” Another will say, “Yeah, but I bought ‘em.” Another will say, “But we used my car.” I’ve seen it come down to their using a tape measure so the guy closest to the kitchen had to go.

The italics are mine. The kid’s too.

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So here’s the storm happening right now over Boston:

Also watching lightning strikes on Lightning Finder, as well as out my window, before I go outside for a better view.

Check out FlightAware‘s view of KBOS (Logan airport) flight activity map:

flightaware-kbos

You can see flights avoiding the storm as it approaches the airport, which is just above the “BO” in KBOS.

It’s just a summer thunderstorm. Nothing exceptional. It’s just fun to watch it online in all these places as well as from a chair on my front porch.

… And now, a few minutes later,  the sun is out and we have rainbows in Cambridge. Meanwhile, flights are taking off from Logan, while inbound flights circle in the sky to the east:

By the way, also at FlightAware, there’s this notice: “Boston Logan Intl (KBOS) is currently experiencing inbound flights delayed at their origin an average of 1 hour 33 minutes due to thunderstorms.” So if you’re coming here for the weekend, good luck.

 

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Snow house

That’s what it looks like now. And a “double” storm is due to hit tomorrow night.

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weathermap

The mudslides we feared in Southern California didn’t materialize when I posted about the topic on January 21st. Now they are feared again, as a new wave of winter rainstorms passes through. Some slides have already happened. More will. Count on it. (And if you’re at serious risk, really please do GTFO.)

Meanwhile, back here in Boston, a winter snowstorm is headed our way, after treating D.C., Maryland and the surrounding regions to another heavy layer of snow, atop the deepest in memory, which hasn’t had a chance to melt. (One relative there went for many hours without power, looking out on a scene where his car appeared only as a low hill in snow through which only trees and houses protruded.)  We’ve mostly been spared this winter, as have the ski areas to the north. Those will probably be spared again, since this storm is expected to do its heaviest dumping south of here. Bummer, that.

On Friday we fly back to Santa Barbara for The Kid’s winter school break. There are mudslide risks there too, though not as severe as in Los Angeles. (Our hills are mostly rock. L.A.’s are mostly dirt. Think of L.A.’s hills as sponges — because that’s what they are. Place a dry sponge on a steep incline, drip water on it, and see what happens when it fills.)

Maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll miss the rain there, and get treated to some of those sunsets we’ve been missing. Hope so.

[Later...] I just got a call from my wife, awakened at 3:3oam in California by a call from the school here. A snow day has been declared. Doesn’t look like it yet, though. There are details in the clouds, like scales on a mackerel. But, as we can see from the radar, it’s coming.

[Later still...] It’s now 2:30 in the afternoon, not long before school gets out, and there has been approximately no snow at all. Just a mix of light flakes and drizzle. Good, I guess.

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Heavy Whether

borgpond

Chris Daly posts a 1995 essay he wrote for the Atlantic, recalling almost exactly the experience I had as a kid growing up and skating on ponds in the winter. An excerpt:

When I was a boy skating on Brooks Pond, there were almost no grown-ups around. Once or twice a year, on a weekend day or a holiday, some parents might come by, with a thermos of hot cocoa. Maybe they would build a fire — which we were forbidden to do — and we would gather round.

But for the most part the pond was the domain of children. In the absence of adults, we made and enforced our own rules. We had hardly any gear – just some borrowed hockey gloves, some hand-me-down skates, maybe an elbow pad or two – so we played a clean form of hockey, with no high-sticking, no punching, and almost no checking. A single fight could ruin the whole afternoon. Indeed, as I remember it 30 years later, it was the purest form of hockey I ever saw – until I got to see the Russian national team play the game.

But before we could play, we had to check the ice. We became serious junior meteorologists, true connoisseurs of cold. We learned that the best weather for pond skating is plain, clear cold, with starry nights and no snow. (Snow not only mucks up the skating surface but also insulates the ice from the colder air above.) And we learned that moving water, even the gently flowing Mystic River, is a lot less likely to freeze than standing water. So we skated only on the pond. We learned all the weird whooping and cracking sounds that ice makes as it expands and contracts, and thus when to leave the ice.

Do kids learn these things today? I don’t know. How would they? We don’t even let them. Instead, we post signs. Ruled by lawyers, cities and towns everywhere try to eliminate their legal liability. But try as they might, they cannot eliminate the underlying risk. Liability is a social construct; risk is a natural fact. When it is cold enough, ponds freeze. No sign or fence or ordinance can change that.

In fact, by focusing on liability and not teaching our kids how to take risks, we are making their world more dangerous. When we were children, we had to learn to evaluate risks and handle them on our own. We had to learn, quite literally, to test the waters. As a result, we grew up to be more savvy about ice and ponds than any kid could be who has skated only under adult supervision on a rink.

While Chris lived in Medford, near Boston, I lived Maywood, New Jersey, which is near New York. Like Medford, Maywood was a mixed blue/white collar town. Still, it wasn’t dangerous.. Nobody worried about a kid being ‘napped. Or abused, except by bullies (which were normal hazards of life). Kids were taught early to be independent. I remember how I learned to walk to kindergarten. Mom came all the way with me on the first day. On the second, she let me walk the last block myself. Then one block less the next day. Then one block less the next day. Finally, I walked all the way myself — about half a mile. I had turned five years old only two months before.

We mostly skated at Borg’s pond, in Borg’s Woods, a private paradise under a canopy of old growth hardwood on the Maywood-Hackensack border, owned by the Borg family, which published the Bergen Record during its heyday as a truly great newspaper. The pond is still there, inside the green patch at the center of this map. Great to see from the Borg’s Woods Page (actually a site with much more) that the woods is now a preserve   Here’s a trail map that shows the pond. And here is a tour of the woods that shows the pond (I hope Eric Martindale, who maintains the site, doesn’t mind my borrowing the pond shot above), the “four oaks” that are still standing (and where we used to have club meetings), the sledding hill behind the Borg house and more. What a treat to find that it hardly looks any different now than it did fifty years ago.

We could skate on larger water bodies too. There were other lakes and reservoirs nearby. I also have fond memories of Greenwood Lake , where I lived a young adult, editing the late West Milford Argus. Ours was a former summer house (made mostly of cast-off parts) only a few feet from the shore. In the winter we skated there and in the summer we canoed up into New York (State), across the border of which the long lake lay on maps like a big stitch.

Anyway, Chris is right. On the whole we were more free. Not of restrictions. Heaven knows, parents then were much more stern and disciplinary back then. Spanking, for example, was the norm. Our freedom was from fear of what might happen as we became more independent and self-reliant.

Thinking more about it, I don’t want to idealize my childhood years. We lived in constant fear of nuclear annihilation, for example. Through much of my childhood I kept a list in my head of all the places I wanted to see before everybody was incinerated by some politician with an itchy finger. There were also racial, sexual and other forms of oppression, repression and worse.

But we were a bit closer to a natural state in some ways, I think. Or at least kids were. Outside of school, anyway.

By the way, I see that the Brooks Estate, home of Brooks Pond, is now also a nature preserve. As it happens I have also shot pictures of that place from the air. Here’s one. And here’s a shot of Spy Pond (subject of my last post).

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There’s something new on the FM dial in Boston. You might think of it as a kind of urban renewal. Grass roots, up through the pavement. (There’s a pun in there, but you need to read on to get it.)

You might say that fresh radio moved in where stale TV moved out.

Here’s some background. When TV in the U.S. finally went all-digital several months back (June 12, to be precise), one wide hunk of spectrum, from 54 to 88Mhz—where channels 2 through 6 used to be—turned into “white space“. In other words, empty. For most of us this doesn’t matter except in one little spot at the very bottom of the FM dial: 87.7 FM. It’s the first click on nearly every FM radio, yet the FCC licensed no FM stations there, because that notch belonged to TV channel 6 audio. From January 1963 until June 2009, you could hear Channel 6 (WLNE-TV) at that spot on the dial, across much of Southern New England, including the Boston metro. When analog television shut down in June, WLNE moved to Channel 49 with its digital signal. After that, 87.7 was white space too. (Some more background here.)

In a few cases (New York and Los Angeles, for example), somebody would get a license (New York, Los Angeles) to operate a low power analog Channel 6 TV station, leave the picture off and just broadcast the audio, creating a virtual FM station that most listeners didn’t know was licensed as picture-less TV. (LPTV stations are exempt from the digital requirement.) That was pretty clever, but it was also pretty rare. For the most part, 87.7 was all-hiss, meaning it was open for anybody to put up anything, legal or not.

Such as here in Boston. It was a matter of time before somebody put up a pirate signal on 87.7. That happened this week when “Hot 97 Boston,” an urban-formatted Internet station, appeared there. Hot 97 is also known as WPOT, according to this thread here.

I checked here and here to see if it’s legal (on FM), and can find no evidence. But it does sound like a real station. If you’re into urban radio with a local Boston flavor (also with no ads), check it out. The signal isn’t big, but it’s not bad, either. And it’s worldwide on the Net.

[Two days later...] I figured by now the Boston Globe and/or the Boston Phoenix would pick up on this story. So I just tweeted a bulletin. Let’s see what happens.

[Later still...] Dean Landsman reminded me that Brian R. Ballou of the Globe had a report on TOUCH-FM in June 2008. TOUCH is another pirate that appears from its website still to be active, at least on the Web (though at the moment I can’t get it on either FM or the station’s “click here/listen now” link). [And later again (October 13) ...] TOUCH-FM is still on the air. It’s pretty obliterated by other signals here in Cambridge, but I got it well enough to follow this morning in the car when I drove to Boston and back.

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It’s been a long travel day, and we’ve got an hour to go before getting unstuck here in the Denver airport, which is in Nebraska, I think. Got an early flight out of Boston, then failed to get on by standby with two flights so far. But we’re reserved on the third, and due to arrive in Santa Barbara an hour and a quarter before tomorrow.

Anyway, my normally sunny mood, even in the midst of travel woes (one should appreciate the fact that commercial aviation involves sitting in a chair moving 500 miles an hour, seven miles up), was compromised earlier this evening by an unhappy exchange with Enterprise, the rental car company. I wrote about it in Unf*cking car rental, over in the ProjectVRM blog. It concludes constructively:

So I want to take this opportunity to appeal to anybody in a responsible position anywhere in the car rental business to work together with us at on a customer-based solution to this kind of automated lameness. It can’t be done from the inside alone. That’s been tried and proven inadequate for way too long. Leave a message below or write me at dsearls at cyber dot law dot harvard dot edu.

Let’s build The Intention Economy — based on real, existing, money-in-hand intentions of real customers, rather than the broken attention-seeking and customer-screwing system we have now.

There’s the bait. We’ll see if anybody takes it.

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Mostly I work like a hermit:  in an attic with two window air conditioners fighting the heat and providing an endless source of dull noise that furthers my sense of productive isolation. For the last few days of record-high temperatures, the AC units have been losing the fight. Today they’ve been winning, so I haven’t been paying any attention to the world outside.

Then, one minute ago: Boom! A crack of thunder. Sure enough, Wunderground says a storm is moving in. It doesn’t look big, but it’s bowling a strike right across Boston:

stormtrack

A perfect excuse to take a snack out on the back porch for a front row seat on the best of nature’s summer theatre. (One of the things I miss when I’m in Santa Barbara, though I’ve been missing Santa Barbara mightily during the heat wave here.) And sympathizing with the passengers that are surely soon delayed on approach to Logan.

[One hour later...] Well, that was a case of wishful blogging. The storm cell passed over Boston but missed most of Cambridge. I see here another small one is on the way (right now it’s over Ashland, between Hollston and Framingham), but it might be pooped out by the time it gets here.

[Next morning...] The small patch of rain never got here. In the evening I went to a barbeque in a Cambridge backyard and the place was still soaked by the rain that missed my place. This morning it’s hot all over again.

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Whatever else you’re doing, tune right now to WERS. If you’re not in Boston, here’s the online stream. The show is All Acapella, and it’s freaking amazing. There is so much outstanding a capella music being made right now, by college students alone. Stevie Wonder’s “As” is playing now, sung by the Stanford University Everyday People. Before that was “Some Kind Of Wonderful” by UMass Amherst Doo Wop Shop. Just great, great music and performances that are flat-out astonishing. Talk about good Web integration: here’s the current playlist

What’s On Now

Current Show: All A Cappella
Most Recent Songs: (View Full Playlist)
4:05 pm “As” by Stanford University Everyday People
CARA 2000
4:03 pm “Some Kind Of Wonderful” by UMass Amherst Doo Wop Shop
Black Friday
3:58 pm “Every LittleThing She Does Is Magic” by Washington University Mosaic Whispers
Defrosted
3:55 pm “Elenor Rigby” by Tonic Sol Fa
Style

And that’s on top of a Backwoods show I heard this morning on WMBR. Not much Web integration, but still a great station.

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It’s not like this in Atlanta, but it was like this in Boston a few days ago. So, another photo set of ice on storm windows.

And another.

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