Human Sled Dog

Photo by Mark Lee

Here is a way to ruin a perfectly fine July afternoon. Take one iron sled, load it with two 45-lb. plates, grab rope, and drag like a maniac down a shopping mall parking lot, turn at the other end, and then push it back. Follow with 12 kettlebell swings, nine chest-to-bar pullups, rest a minute and do it again four more times. I weighed myself before and after and managed to lose four pounds of sweat (note the drip forming underneath my chin) Emesis nearly followed which would have shaved another couple bulemic pounds off. I recovered with margaritas and mexican food.

Cape Cod Fish Kills: How Much Worse Is It Going to Get?

In the department of poo:

Depressing news out of Little Pond in Falmouth, one of the long salt ponds along the Falmouth shore from the Inner Harbor to Waquoit Bay: over the weekend a bunch of striped bass –some apparently up to 40 inches in length — were found dead on pond’s shores. The culprit? According to the press it’s septic tank pollution from the gazillion houses that surround the pond.

Looking at the density of the houses some lucky developer was able to cram into the area long ago, and add in the fact that each and every one of those houses flushes their toilets into big holes in the sandy ground, who can be surprised that a ton of effluent is leaching into the water? I’m amazed that a significant stack of bass were up inside of such a stagnant pool this time of year (perhaps they followed a school of baitfish in from the clean water of Vineyard Sound) and I can’t understand how anyone, particularly the people who live around there, can sit back and do nothing. The alarm is ringing and it doesn’t smell very nice.

This isn’t Falmouth’s first fishkill. Another one occurred a year ago, nearly to the day, in North Falmouth. Fish kills aren’t rare — so-called “oxygen events” occur regularly in ponds and backwaters with restricted water flow.

The density of development along the south shore of the Cape is astonishing and one has to wonder what the town officials thought they were doing when they zoned postage-stamp lots along the estuaries.  It’s obvious to me that something has to be done to get the shit out of the bays, and the shoreside ghettos of Falmouth seem as good a place to start as anywhere with small, local cluster treatment plants. A big pipe solution is not going to fix these neighborhoods anytime soon, and persuading, even mandating everyone starts pooping into composting toilets is laughable.

I’m starting to warm up to composting toilets (not a great choice of words). Last year Barnstable County had a program offering to install the things on a 20-year, zero interest loan in the homes of people with failed septic systems who were considering a Title 5 septic project. Two friends in Cotuit have installed the technology. One was put in at least a decade ago, the other is going in right now in a new construction project. I was given a tour of the installation and it was pretty amazing — it’s called a Phoenix –but had some limitations in a retro-fit scenario as the composing tanks need to be located generally directly below the toilet itself (which looks like any ordinary toilet). As I have a minimalist Cape Cod cellar (essentially a round, brick lined root cellar sort of thing) I’d have to jack the house up, excavate a new basement, and then, and only then could I consider a composting solution (I could consider a composting outhouse I suppose ….)

People will going to freak out at whatever solution is proposed because it will cost them a lot of money to get there.  When Barnstable hooked the Paine Creek neighborhood in Hyannis up to the municipal waste water treatment center there were pitchforks and torches at the town council meetings.

The estimate for a new Title 5 compliant septic tank is generally $20,000 — and those do nothing to get nitrogen out of the watershed.

The state has an online tool to search for your local beaches and the results of their water tests. Here in Cotuit, water is tested outside of the harbor at Loop and Oregon Beaches. I’ll be working later this week with the Three Bays Preservation organization to initiate private testing at Ropes Beach, where we had a town ordered closing in 2007. Here’s a link to the Barnstable County department of health’s site for beach testing. One beach in Barnstable failed this week – Lovell’s Pond in Cotuit.


Cape Cod Times story

Falmouth Enterprise story

State report on Little Bay nitrogen sources.

Michael Caine and Me

This photograph of Michael Caine from 1968 is going to be auctioned by Christie’s this summer as part of its celebration of all things London.

Where the cliche of cool on your run-of-the-mill men’s fashion blog is Steve McQueen in a pair of blue Persols and a Barbour motorcycle jacket, for me it’s this guy, largely on the strength of two movies — Get Carter and The Ipcress File — and because he was the first celebrity I ever came into contact with as a kid. Besides, it doesn’t get much cooler than a pair of shades, a cigarette, and a Martini while wearing a killer suit with cufflinks.

North of Boston, right on the Maine-New Hampshire border, was a small ski area called Big A — or Mount Agementicus in York, Maine. The interesting thing about the mountain was it was upside down — meaning one drove to the top where the lodge was instead of the typical ski area configuration that has the lodge at the base of the hill. It was an easy mountain, perfect for a ten year-old kid with pair of wooden skis and leather boots to practice the snowplow and stem christie. It had a few lifts and one chairlift, which to my mind made it a major ski experience as chairlifts were a lot easier to deal with than T-bars and rope-tows.

I remember it was around 1968, I was somehow skiing by myself, waiting alone in line for the chairlift. Singles always got paired up with other singles. I was paired up with Michael Caine, though I didn’t know who he was at the time.

I sort of figured out he was different. A couple things tipped me off. First, he was English and I hadn’t heard many English accents by that age. Second, people seemed to notice him because he looked … sleek. Adults, mainly ladies, were looking at him, whispering to each other, pointing and otherwise marking him as different from the average guy.

We waited for the chairlift, looking over our shoulders, poles in one hand, and were off and rumbling upwards. Down came the safety gate. He introduced himself, asked me my name, and made very nice small talk all the way up the hill. We talked about skiing, we talked about the Red Sox (who had lost the World Series the summer before and were my pre-Bruins obsession in life),  and we talked about school. He never said he was an actor, just that he had come up alone from Boston that morning to get some runs in but wished he had the time to go farther north into the White Mountains. I had never been to the White Mountains and agreed that would be an excellent adventure.

I nervously disembarked at the top of the hill and made ready to ski back down the intermediate slope that I was fond of cruising down. He told me to go first and I did, bombing down to the bottom of the hill and the tail end of the chairlift. We rode up together a second time. We talked some more. I liked the guy. In all, we skied together for maybe an hour — three or four runs — before my mother waved me into the lodge for a nose wiping and a PBJ.

“Do you know who that man was on the chairlift with you?” she asked.

“Yeah. Michael from Boston,” I said. “He’s really nice.”

Here’s a picture of Big A’s trail map. I miss those old little ski areas that used to pepper the foothills north of Boston in the 60s and 70s. A couple snowless winters killed them off. Big A had killer views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Isle of Shoals off of Rye, New Hampshire. The picture is from the excellent New England Lost Ski Area Project, which has been cataloguing these “ghost” ski areas with loving nostalgia. I was surprised to learn that the year I rode the chairlift with Caine was only the second year that Big A was in operation, so it was pretty much brand new. It closed in the mid-70s. Done in by its proximity to the ocean and the Arab Oil Crisis.

The Amazon Effect

Amazon continues to amaze. I’ve worked with them as both a customer and a business partner in the past and never cease to be amazed at how far ahead of the rest of the world they are when it comes to defining three essential things:

  1. Online commerce. They may not have been the first online merchant, but they sure seem like it. Any ecommerce user experience is, by default, stacked up against Amazon’s and compared.
  2. Cloud: Amazon Web Services has had more of an effect on startups, SaaS, and the notion of cloud services than any other single provider.
  3. Devices: the Kindle was and is brilliant.

What inspires this post was a recent shopping experience I had at my alma mater, I was buying a new battery for an old computer (an X61 tablet) and was surprised to see, alongside the familiar PayPal option, a new way of checking out using my Amazon credentials. This is basically the ecommerce analogue to using Facebook or Twitter credentials to log into Foursquare or whatever.

Amazon is rapidly extending its infrastructure from the servers to the warehouses to third party merchants. The old hosted store front, Amazon merchant model that saw brands like ToysRUs abdicate their brand in order to spare themselves the infrastructure investment that a full ecommerce platform demands is slowly giving way to an ala carte menu of ecommerce enablement options such as Lenovo taking advantage of Amazon Payments, and others using Amazon’s fulfillment capabilities to pick-and-pack and ship their goods.

Will Amazon Payments increase conversions for merchants such as Lenovo? Doubtlessly. The days of digging out the wallet and entering CVN numbers are definitely numbered and just as PayPal is turning into a major element of eBay’s recent success, having Amazon enabled in the cart is going to become de rigeur for other merchants.

Note the omission of three key icons in payments: there’s no Visa, Mastercard or American Express option in Lenovo’s list of checkout expediters — just the two that make it the most convenient.

Embracing the Suck

Today’s trip to the gym was brutal — a fast intense workout called “Fight Gone Bad” which was developed for a UFC cage fighter, who, upon completing the routine was asked how it compared to an actual fight: “That was like a fight gone bad” was the reply, and so the name stuck for 18 minutes of fast paced work involving a rowing machine, a 20 lb. medicine ball, a 75 lb. barbell and a 20″ high box.

As the clock counted down from ten seconds to kick off this morning’s FGB I had impending empathy with the masochism of those who do sports that have nothing but suffering to offer. Rowers know that every 2,000 meter race ends with a bad case of oxygen debt so bad you have to fight the body’s autonomic impulse to stop and save itself. A cyclist starts the Tour de France knowing that nothing but three weeks of hell lies ahead. I imagine no one starts the Boston Marathon expecting a good time to follow. A few days ago I watched a Crossfit video that profiled a top competitor; in it he uttered the great line that he guessed his success came from his “embracing the suck.”

Defining the “suck” is a matter of individual taste. For me it involves accepting the fact that the gallon of sweat that is pooling underneath me is fine, natural, and to be expected. Yes I will develop tunnel vision, hear roaring sounds between my ears, get slippery hands and electrolyte-depleted leg cramps for hours afterwards. But, in comparison with anything else life will throw at me today, nothing will come close to sucking as much as a Fight Gone Bad.

Bluefin: interesting media analytics

Show me the word “analytics” in an ad and I instantly grow cynical for word feels like the refuge of the desperate trying to sell the great white whale of ROI to the tight-fisted.

Dan Lyons calls out a very very interesting technology coming out of the MIT Media Lab for correlating social chatter and user utterances with television programming. This company, Bluefin Labs, strikes a strong chord given my past interest into the role of the “back channel” among fans during televised real-time events: Red Sox games, State of the Union Addresses, the Academy Awards.

This TedTalk from 2011, by Bluefin’s founder Deb Roy, is interesting on several levels. First, it exhibits an amazing demo of data collection and analysis — in this case video footage and audio clips shot throughout his home and then processed to track the progress of his baby learning how to speak the word “water,” mapped against the context of where and when the word was learned (bathroom, near the kitchen sink, etc.). This capture model has amazing implications in terms of building an amazing “life record” and brought to mind the efforts of people like Gordon Bell’s MyLifeBits project at Microsoft and Stephen Wolfram’s personal analytics analysis of his email history. I freak out when I see an old Super 8 movie of myself waddling around in sagging diaper circa 1959 at Cotuit Rope’s Beach. Imagine being able to see myself take my first steps, say “water”, etc.?

The interesting kicker to Roy’s personal experiment is the commercial application and the ability to map the Twitterverse and Social Graph to mass media events. If I was a media planner or TV stats wonk, I’d be freaking over this stuff from Bluefin.


The Helicopter is Departing

I spent the day yesterday at Northeastern University attending my son’s freshman orientation. He departs on August 23 for four months at the Dublin Business School, part of Northeastern’s program to spread around its incoming class and give a couple hundred of them an opportunity to start their college careers at affiliate campuses in Costa Rica, Australia, Greece, London or Dublin. This is a good thing I think. He will need to cook for himself, clean his own toilet, and deal with his own budget. I hope he returns with more than just good grades.

We were split up after the welcoming session. He went off with his cohorts to learn about making healthy choices, I went off with the parents  to learn about “letting go.”

Continue reading “The Helicopter is Departing”

Beware of Phone Makers Bearing Updates

So I have a new phone. The sleek Samsung Galaxy IIIS. It is a nice phone. It runs the latest public version of Google’s Android OS, Ice Cream Sandwich. The phone is fast, very functional, and a joy to use after my prior junkware laden HTC Evo.

The mobile carrier is Sprint. I like Sprint for the most part. The attraction was their unlimited data plan, but that’s another discussion for another day. I did a jailbreak on the Evo to get rid of Sprint’s asshatted Nascar app and other memory hogging, undeletable pieces of junk inflicted by the marketing morons, and from then on was on my own with Cyanogen. I was happy to see the new Sprint install was basically unjunked and as close to pure ICS as one could get.

Yesterday my Google News page had a link to a story that Sprint was sending out a software update to Galaxy IIIS owners which would disable the “universal search” functionality delivered through the Google search widget on the home screen. This means a search doesn’t hit just the Web, but also looks locally on the phone at contacts, documents, etc. I like this feature very much.  It spare me from going to two functions to perform searches and makes things a lot more convenient.

So why is Sprint disabling the function? Because Apple is suing Samsung and Google for patent infringement, claiming the universal search function on a phone is its idea and its alone. While the parties duke it out in court, Google or Samsung or Sprint — who knows and who cares — decided to remove the function, which means if I accept and install the pending “software update” sitting on my phone, I’ll basically make it less of a phone.

What pisses me off is the complete lack of communication from Sprint, Samsung or Google that they are going to croak a function on my phone. There’s no email. There’s no warning or explanation. Instead I get this bullshit, mislabeled as a “fix” which does nothing to reveal the surprise inside. Indeed, according to a story at the Android Authority, which refers to the disabling code as an “easter egg”, the software update is being sent out to unsuspecting Galaxy owners at Samsung’s request. The “fix” comes with absolutely no description of what it purports to fix.

My feelings about Apple? Jobs did vowed to kill Android so the Samsung lawsuit is a big one. This latest move is what I expect from Apple, along with, high prices, DRM, irrational fans, discrimination against Persians, design porn, multiple failures in the cloud …..

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