Archive for December, 2008

Tue 30 Dec 2008 3:04 pm   //   Posted in: Technology

Taking a short break from blogging

I plan to use the month of January to make some improvements to my Web site. Blog posts and other site updates will be less frequent while I devote some time to this. Stay tuned.

Wed 24 Dec 2008 7:40 am   //   Posted in: Photos

Merry Christmas!

(Sterling the cat, photographed by Sydney.)

Tue 23 Dec 2008 9:10 am   //   Posted in: Media, Technology

It’s time to get worried about the Internet

I’m alarmed by how many web sites have built their business models on one idea:

Traffic = Money

It feels right, doesn’t it? Popular movies, books and TV shows make money. Unpopular ones don’t. It stands to reason that the same is true for free-content web sites… Like Facebook and and YouTube and all the others we enjoy every day when we’re bored at work on our lunch breaks.

Okay, suppose you’re trying to make a hit web site, as measured by traffic volume. Let’s take this idea one step further. (more…)

Mon 22 Dec 2008 1:19 pm   //   Posted in: Failure, Media, Technology

Duh: Digital TV switch is confusing

As you may remember, back in April I upgraded my TVs to get digital reception. It was easy for me to figure out (as a technical person who pays attention to the news), but I wondered if the average TV viewer would go to the trouble of requesting the $40 government coupons and buying the converter boxes. People are busy. Who even bothers to think about how their TV works? (I get the feeling most people don’t understand that digital TV, HDTV and LCD television sets are not all the same thing.)

Today the Times reports what should have been obvious: The digital TV switch will be an epic mess. Millions of people will lose their TV signals in February and not understand why. And it’s a problem that will disproportionally affect the poor (who don’t have cable or satellite TV). From my observations, the problem will render useless the TVs in almost every laundromat, gas station, and corner store in my neighborhood. At my apartment (near the top of a hill that faces the Empire State Building, a mere eight miles away) I’ve totally lost channel 13, New York’s PBS station. I’m guessing that millions of households in New York City are about to be cut off from Sesame Street. Meanwhile, the couple of extra digital channels I’ve gained are mostly wasted on weather loops and traffic cameras.

Winners here are telecom companies, which are getting more spectrum, and the federal government, which is selling it to them.

Sun 21 Dec 2008 2:39 pm   //   Posted in: Movies, Music

The most offensive holiday movie

One of my favorite ways to celebrate the season is to attend the New York Pops holiday concerts at Carnegie Hall. Last night’s show ended with a sing-along to the song “White Christmas,” a thousand voices filling the concert hall with that familiar and peaceful tune. It was the perfect antidote to Scrooge-ism.

We rode the subway back home, lit up the tree, and surfed around for a Christmas movie to play. Sydney suggested “White Christmas,” but iTunes didn’t have it for rental and Netflix didn’t have it streaming. So I found “Holiday Inn,” the 1942 movie in which the song “White Christmas” first appeared, on Netflix. We hit play and sat back on the couch to watch.

“Holiday Inn” is a vehicle for the talents of Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire: A bunch of song-and-dance numbers with some screwball comedy linking them together. Irving Berlin, of course, wrote the music. The movie features a different song for each holiday of the year, and the “White Christmas” scene – the first time audiences ever heard this song, in the middle of a terrible war – is still moving.

But later, the movie gets to a number so awful, it’s unbelievable. The characters put on a show celebrating Abraham Lincoln’s birthday… (more…)

Sat 20 Dec 2008 11:55 am   //   Posted in: Mobile update

Snowy subway

Ice-covered December weekend in New York.

Fri 19 Dec 2008 8:53 am   //   Posted in: Hard times, New York is different

What do we do if New York starts to suck?

One reason New York City could afford to be ambitious in the 2000s is that we got so much tax money from rich people in the financial services industry. Well, that’s a wash. Since October the mayor has cut a lot of important city services. The governor has proposed taxing everything (taxis, soft drinks, you name it) and cutting money for schools and hospitals. The MTA expects to cut service and raise the cost of the 30-day MetroCard from $81 to over $100. And importantly, a lot more people are out of work and things aren’t looking up for them.

We know from history that New York City runs in boom and bust cycles. The time I’ve lived here (since 2002) has been a pretty good run. And the city, no doubt, has better days ahead. But we’ve all heard stories about the junked-up, broke, crime-ridden New York City of the 1970s and 1980s (or at the very least we’ve seen The Warriors). Yikes!

Suppose 2009 gets ugly.

Like a lot of New Yorkers, I love this city, but I’m not from here. I’m here because, on its merits, New York City is the best place to live that’s still within a few hours of my family. I have a real job, a solid community, and a lot of good friends here. This is still the best city in America.

But I’ve talked to a couple of New Yorker friends recently who are doing what I’m doing: A small part of my brain is quietly formulating a contingency plan for what to do in case New York starts to suck.

Wed 17 Dec 2008 11:38 pm   //   Posted in: Food & drink, No right to be good

A cereal for our times

So brilliant! So stupid! Why did it take them this long to think it up?

Coming soon: Just Raisins!

Tue 16 Dec 2008 2:03 pm   //   Posted in: Transit

More train news!

The Jersey casinos are about to launch a new Atlantic City Express Service train departing from Penn Station on weekends. Behold the ACES train! Service starts Feb. 6 and costs $50 each way for the two-hour, fifty-minute trip. Most intriguing: You can rent the lounge in the rear of the train for a private party. I don’t enjoy casinos, but I will probably take this train at some point any way just to check it out.

I’m curious about which tracks the train uses. NJ Transit will operate the service, and the ACES train will make just one stop between New York and Atlantic City: Newark. The map on the Web site seems to show the train continuing along the Northeast Corridor rather than the North Jersey Coast Line (which doesn’t run all the way to Atlantic City.) I’m a little fuzzy on how the train gets to Atlantic City without going through Philadelphia, unless maybe it does and the map just doesn’t show it?

Tue 16 Dec 2008 8:00 am   //   Posted in: Transit

Northeast corridor is hot right now

1. Barack Obama and Joe Biden will ride a train from Philadelphia and Wilmington to D.C. on the way to the inauguration next month. This is so cool! Unclear what kind of train they’ll be on. Two days after them, I will also be riding the train to D.C. to see the inauguration in person.

2. Transportation Secretary Peters announced Monday that the federal government is seeking private companies to build new high-speed passenger rail lines using $30 billion in federal money. One proposal is to build a entirely new rail line between New York and Washington.

This is a wacky idea. The Northeast Corridor is the only passenger rail line in the whole country that actually works the way it should. For years, everybody has been saying that the best way to improve travel along those tracks is to build a new Hudson River tunnel, given that the current tunnel is only two tracks wide, causing an infuriating bottleneck. Estimated cost: $7.2 billion. This money should be spent on that project.