Go East, Old Man

It will be inter­est­ing to see how this has changed since 2005

Well, I’m not quite old, yet, I hope, but I am going East, for about a week. Here’s the the plan: My fam­i­ly is hav­ing a reunion in Orlan­do, Flori­da next week­end, cel­e­brat­ing my Aunt’s Birth­day (suf­fice to say It’s a big one). In the week lead­ing up to that date, I’m going to vis­it some parts of the east­ern US that I haven’t seen since we left in 2005 (a year and 10 days ago, to be pre­cise). First stop is Dublin, New Hamp­shire, to vis­it The Walden School Sum­mer ses­sion. I’ll write more about this amaz­ing insti­tu­tion in my next entry. I’ll be vis­it­ing and hope­ful­ly soak­ing in the cre­ative juices there from Tues­day through Wednes­day. On Thurs­day I’ll be in Boston, vis­it­ing our old neigh­bor­hood in Cam­bridge and look­ing up some some old friends. I have to admit that while I con­sid­er Van­cou­ver my home, we did live for 14 years in Cam­bridge, and since we’ve left, every once in a while I’ll do a lit­tle dig­i­tal sleep­walk using Google Maps Street View to our old court­yard and the oth­er streets in the neigh­bor­hood. I know every crack in the side­walk between Hamp­shire Street and the Kendall Square T stop, or used to know, rather. I expect that I’ll be sur­prised at how things have changed. I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to taste some Toscanini’s Ice Cream, or even an Emma’s Piz­za or Kendall Brew­ery beer, but any and all of those will be nice to sam­ple once again, just to make sure that they are all as good as I remem­ber them. I’ll also have no chance to hear the BSO, or go to any con­cert, for that mat­ter. Per­haps a ‘cul­tur­al’ reunion is some­thing I’ll have to plan for anoth­er time. In the mean­time, 3 whirl­wind days in New Eng­land book­end­ed by flights all around North Amer­i­ca will be how my week goes. Let’s hope the heat wave has bro­ken before I get there.

Ear­ly Fri­day morn­ing I fly out of Logan (which I must admit I’m not look­ing for­ward to see­ing again — I hate that air­port — often called the worst in North Amer­i­ca — with a pas­sion and hope that some­day they will mer­ci­ful­ly tear it down, but I’m not hold­ing my breath ) to Orlan­do, where Pam and I will join my par­ents, cousins and oth­ers in the Flori­da heat (although I sus­pect we’ll be in air-con­di­tion­ing much of the time).

The Countdown Begins

It’s Decem­ber, and that means 2 things: 1) a busy social cal­en­dar and 2) the count­down until the Win­ter Sol­stice. First, about the par­ties and oth­er cel­e­bra­tions, we actu­al­ly start­ed the sea­son in late Novem­ber at the Narvey’s who held a hol­i­day par­ty plus view­ing of the Canucks game (we lost, but Pam won the pool!). This past week­end we had a nice time with Matt and Oana, who this year decid­ed to cel­e­brate both Kram­pus and Saint Nicholas Day, since Oana’s sis­ter Nico­let­ta has him as her Saint (I’m not pre­cise­ly sure how that works, but I guess I’d get Saint David, the patron Saint of Wales, who has his day on March 1, right?) There was lots of great food, includ­ing the tra­di­tion­al stuffed cab­bages, a Roman­ian spe­cial­ty that Matt made along with cheeses, sausages and breads. I remem­ber my grand­moth­er, who was Russ­ian, used to make the best cab­bage rolls or  ‘Prachas’, as I remem­ber her call­ing them (also known as Gołąb­ki in Pol­ish). Pam and I brought some veg­gies with spicy peanut dip­ping sauce (not exact­ly tra­di­tion­al, but prob­a­bly a good foil to all the heav­ier, East­ern Euro­pean fare). This com­ing Thurs­day is the recep­tion and cel­e­bra­tion of the Best of 604 Awards, a brand new event that reminds me that we have a ton of great blog­gers deserv­ing of recog­ni­tion in this area. I’m thrilled that I actu­al­ly know sev­er­al of the nom­i­nees and hope they all win in their cat­e­gories.

12 Days until we Start Moving Toward the Light Again

Every year, around this week or so, I’ve got­ten in the habit of count­ing down to Decem­ber 21st, the Win­ter Sol­stice or short­est day of the year. It’s a turn­ing point, as if we’re all tak­ing a stroll toward a dark­er and cold­er end of the solar sys­tem and sniff­ing the air, and then turn­ing around and head­ing back (I know, it’s not exact­ly that, but it helps me visu­al­ize bet­ter what’s going on).

We haven’t stopped watch­ing US news, a habit we picked up when we were fever­ish­ly glued to the run-up to the elec­tion. After that media extrav­a­gan­za, it’s been the steady melt-down of the US econ­o­my that has held us with mor­bid fas­ci­na­tion.  Of course, there have been some reports of eco­nom­ic trou­ble here, such as the news this morn­ing that the Bank of Cana­da had dropped it’s key lend­ing inter­est rate by .75 basis points to 1.5%, which is report­ed­ly the low­est this bench­mark has been in a half a cen­tu­ry. Nev­er­the­less, there doesn’t seem to be quite the tone of pan­ic, fear and dread that we see and hear from the south of us.

So although it’s pret­ty gloomy out­side (heavy rain, wind and tem­per­a­tures that are slow­ly falling toward the freez­ing mark), we know that there will be that turn­ing point, and we know exact­ly when it starts, at least in terms of the num­ber of hours of pos­si­ble sun­light. On Decem­ber 22, the day will be a minute or so longer, and we are jour­ney­ing back to Spring, and even­tu­al­ly Sum­mer. My ace in the hole is that I know that as ear­ly as Feb­ru­ary (Feb­ru­ary! My year­ly neme­sis!), there will like­ly be some cher­ry blos­soms here.  All we have to do is hang on anoth­er 20 days or so and we start to see signs of Spring!

Will the Inau­gu­ra­tion of Pres­i­dent Elect Oba­ma a month lat­er be the turn­ing point? Wasn’t that was his Elec­tion Speech was about ? (‘This was the moment’) Or didn’t I hear that phrase some­where much ear­li­er in his cam­paign?

I guess we can wait for the turn­around, but the prospect of hun­ker­ing down for one or two years is not very appeal­ing. Life is short, and the inex­orable pace of move­ment on this scale makes plot­ting a turn­ing point some­thing that can only be done years lat­er, when some his­to­ri­an or econ­o­mist, por­ing over the num­bers and trends points to a date and says ‘Aha! That was when things began to turn around.’ For us liv­ing through it, the eco­nom­ic sol­stice isn’t some­thing that we can count down to.

A Casualty of Economic Winter

Out of Town News in Cambridge

Out of Town News in Cam­bridge

There are also per­ma­nent loss­es; some com­pa­nies and insti­tu­tions that won’t live through this eco­nom­ic Win­ter to see Spring. Recent­ly I learned that Out of Town News, the spir­i­tu­al and archi­tec­tur­al cen­tre of Har­vard Square (it even had the address of Zero Har­vard Square), will be clos­ing for­ev­er on Jan­u­ary 31 of next year. While I know that the days of news­pa­pers and news­stands are num­bered, I’m sure that the down­turn in the econ­o­my has­tened the end of this insti­tu­tion, which along with the Wordsworth book­store (already gone for years — it closed even before we left), was some­thing that I’ll always see in my mind’s eye when I think of Cam­bridge. I have to admit that I only stopped in there a a half-dozen of times in the decade and a half I lived in Cam­bridge and the prices were near­ly as out­ra­geous for mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers as they are at May­fair News near us now on Broad­way (It’s prob­a­bly not their fault; mag­a­zines in Cana­da are crazy expen­sive!). Per­haps Out of Town News was on the wane long before we even took notice.

Besides the cher­ry blos­soms, I’m look­ing for­ward to the fin­ish of some new addi­tions (a new Whole Foods on Broad­way! Woo hoo!), and even a new street­car line from Granville Island to Sci­ence world, along with tons of oth­er new con­struc­tion for this city in this spring, and in the com­ing year in prepa­ra­tion for the 2010 Olympics. In the mean­time, time to head down to (hun­ker down in?) our win­dow­less but warm gym in the base­ment to lis­ten to pod­casts and ped­al on the sta­tion­ary bike, think­ing of those new places I’ll actu­al­ly be cycling to in a few months.

Political Youth

It’s no secret that the youth of Amer­i­ca have embraced Oba­ma as their can­di­date, and I’m thrilled, but also a lit­tle sur­prised, that for the first time in my life, there is the dis­tinct prospect of the US Pres­i­dent actu­al­ly being younger than I am (although by less than a year — 10 months and 22 days, to be exact).  Barack Oba­ma is at this moment, fly­ing to see his ail­ing Grand­moth­er in Hawaii. Mine is long gone. His age is on my mind, because I can relate to him as a mem­ber of my age group, Gen­er­a­tion JonesNot a boomer, much as they would like to lump us in with them (and I always think of Clin­ton and yes, Dubya as quin­tes­sen­tial boomers, rep­re­sent­ing much that was both good and bad about that gen­er­a­tion), and not a Gen-Xer, Gen­er­a­tion Jones doesn’t get as much press, but it I’m begin­ning to pon­der what it will be like with one of us actu­al­ly in charge. To quote Wikipedia’s def­i­n­i­tion:

Gen­er­a­tion Jones is a term that describes peo­ple in cer­tain Eng­lish-speak­ing coun­tries born between the years 1954 and 1965. Amer­i­can social com­men­ta­tor Jonathan Pon­tell iden­ti­fied this gen­er­a­tion and coined the term to name it. Gen­er­a­tion Jones has been referred to as a hereto­fore lost gen­er­a­tion between the Baby boomers and Gen­er­a­tion X, since pri­or to the pop­u­lar­iza­tion of Pontell’s the­o­ry, its mem­bers were includ­ed with either the Boomers or Xers. The name con­notes a large, anony­mous gen­er­a­tion, and derives from the slang term “jonesing”, refer­ring to the unre­quit­ed crav­ings felt by this gen­er­a­tion of unful­filled expec­ta­tions.

From Then to Now

Anoth­er age-relat­ed top­ic was on my mind: When I vol­un­teered to work on the Dean cam­paign in Mass­a­chu­setts, we used to have many peo­ple who were younger than us over to work on the Mass-for-Dean web site. Chris, Emi­ly and James’s lap­tops would be out at the kitchen table suck­ing down bits on the still fair­ly new wi fi net­work. We worked on the web site, on hand­outs, signs, coör­di­na­tion of resources and meet­ings, and a bunch of oth­er activ­i­ties.  I still keep in touch with a few mem­bers of the group that Pam affec­tion­ate­ly referred to as ‘The kids’. So it’s with a lit­tle pride that I view the Dean ’50-state strat­e­gy’, the stun­ning­ly effec­tive use of the Inter­net as a fund-rais­ing tool, and the sign­ing up of all of those new vot­ers as per­haps hav­ing ‘fetal’ begin­nings in our town­house in Cam­bridge. Nev­er­the­less, I don’t think any of us had any idea of how sophis­ti­cat­ed the online com­po­nent of the cam­paign would become.

There is also so much vital­i­ty and cre­ativ­i­ty of those who are now involved in the Oba­ma cam­paign, which I can plain­ly see, even from a dis­tance. Even though I’m not a fan of the music, this online ‘grass-roots’ web ad struck me as so pol­ished, so ‘pro­fes­sion­al’, and so emo­tion­al­ly appeal­ing that I felt that I had to embed it here. Some of the newest gen­er­a­tion of vot­ers in the US (and who are, of course, even younger than the kids who crowd­ed around the kitchen table 22 Lilac Court) have made a very impres­sive get-out-the-youth-vote video:

Celebrating the Smoot

Accord­ing to Google’s built-in cal­cu­la­tor func­tions, I’m 1.04477612 smoots tall. And what, you may be ask­ing, is a smoot?

From Wikipedia:

The smoot is a non­stan­dard unit of length cre­at­ed as part of a Mass­a­chu­setts Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy (MIT) fra­ter­ni­ty prank. It is named after Oliv­er R. Smoot (class of 1962), an MIT fra­ter­ni­ty pledge to Lamb­da Chi Alpha, who in Octo­ber 1958 was used by his fra­ter­ni­ty broth­ers to mea­sure the length of the Har­vard Bridge between Boston and Cam­bridge, Mass­a­chu­setts.

One smoot is equal to his height (five feet and sev­en inch­es ~1.70 m), and the bridge’s length was mea­sured to be 364.4 smoots (620.1 m) plus or minus one ear, with the “plus or minus” intend­ed to express uncer­tain­ty of mea­sure­ment. Over the years the “or minus” por­tion has gone astray in many cita­tions, includ­ing the com­mem­o­ra­tive plaque at the site itself. Smoot repeat­ed­ly lay down on the bridge, let his com­pan­ions mark his new posi­tion in chalk or paint, and then got up again. Even­tu­al­ly, he tired from all this exer­cise and was there­after car­ried by the fra­ter­ni­ty broth­ers to each new posi­tion. Every­one walk­ing across the bridge today sees paint­ed mark­ings indi­cat­ing how many smoots there are from where the side­walk begins on the Boston riv­er bank. The marks are repaint­ed each year by the incom­ing asso­ciate mem­ber class (sim­i­lar to pledge class) of Lamb­da Chi Alpha

This past week­end, smoots and Oliv­er Smoot were back in the news:

Father of the ‘Smoot’ returns to MIT

By Associated Press | Saturday, October 4, 2008 | http://www.bostonherald.com | Local Coverage

CAMBRIDGE — The father of a unique mea­sure­ment known as the “Smoot” has returned to MIT.

Oliv­er Smoot was the short­est pledge in the school’s Lamb­da Chi Alpha fra­ter­ni­ty 50 years ago when they decid­ed to lay him on the Mass­a­chu­setts Avenue Bridge.
They found he mea­sured 5-foot-7 inch­es, then marked the bridge every five feet and sev­en inch­es, deter­min­ing it was 364.4 “Smoots” long. Today, Google’s cal­cu­la­tor func­tion will change any mea­sure­ment into Smoots.

The orig­i­nal Smoot — who lat­er became chair­man of the Amer­i­can Nation­al Stan­dards Insti­tute — returned to the Mass­a­chu­setts Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy on Sat­ur­day for “Smoot Cel­e­bra­tion Day.” Smoot spoke and was pre­sent­ed with a plaque, which will be installed on the bridge.

MIT pres­i­dent Susan Hock­field said the plaque will bright­en the day for wind­blown pedes­tri­ans.

I love the fact that Smoot became chair­man of the Amer­i­can Nation­al Stan­dards Insti­tute. Who bet­ter to pre­side over such an orga­ni­za­tion than some­one who is a Stan­dard of Mea­sure him­self!

On the half a dozen or so times that I walked on the Mass Ave. bridge, I sur­veyed the Smoot marks like the one in the pic­ture above, and was intrigued by the effect of a half a cen­tu­ry of repaint­ing (the repaint­ing wasn’t always in the same colour!) I heard sto­ries about the Boston police describ­ing the loca­tion of dis­abled vehi­cles on the bridge being ‘near the 200-smoot mark’ or  ‘at the 250th smoot’. In fact, giv­en how use­ful the smoot marks were, I won­der if it might be a good idea to also mark Vancouver’s bridges of sig­nif­i­cant length (such as the Granville Bridge, here in Van­cou­ver)  in smoots. I’ll bet it would help with traf­fic reports. We could even append some smoot infor­ma­tion at the bot­tom (as a foot­note) of those flags already on the bridges. While the Bur­rard Street Bridge is prob­a­bly not long enough to war­rant ‘smoot cal­i­bra­tion’, the Cam­bie and Lions’ Gate bridges could cer­tain­ly ben­e­fit from this mea­sure­ment. Even if we got pres­sure from the folks in Boston that only the Mass Ave. bridge could have smoot marks (because they were a bona-fide tourist attrac­tion), I’d counter that there is no such thing as a copy­right or oth­er rights on a unit of mea­sure­ment.

Per­haps some day in the dis­tant future, peo­ple will won­der why all bridges are mea­sured in smoots, and prob­a­bly assume that it had some­thing to do with road con­struc­tion or the ele­va­tion of bridges above water. After all, mea­sure­ments often have strange his­to­ries. The orig­i­nal def­i­n­i­tion of the inch was the width of a man’s thumb. In the 14th cen­tu­ry, King Edward II of Eng­land ruled that 1 inch was equal to 3 grains of bar­ley placed length­wise, end to end.

I Get To Attend an Opening...Again


Ah yes, I remem­ber it well: The long lines in the Cam­brid­ge­side Gal­le­ria Mall, the T-Shirts for those near­er to the front of the line, the excite­ment as the doors final­ly opened… The Apple Store open­ing in Cam­bridge, Mass­a­chu­setts was one of the first ones that Apple had. We were used to the fact that although we weren’t Cuper­ti­no (or even San Fran­cis­co), Cam­bridge was one of the East Coast cen­tres for Apple’s pres­ence. After all, in the ear­ly days of Mac­world Expo (and I doubt if many peo­ple who own an Apple prod­uct know this at this point), there was a West Coast Mac­world Expo in San Fran­cis­co in Jan­u­ary and an East Coast Mac­world Expo in Boston, usu­al­ly dur­ing the hottest week in August. It wasn’t until that fate­ful day when Bill Gates’s 20-foot face appeared on the screen behind Steve Jobs dur­ing his keynote (and it was hissed by the crowd) that Steve made sure that there would be no more Mac­Worlds in Boston.

I know, I know, there were prob­a­bly oth­er rea­sons, but Jobs’s annoy­ance at the dis­agree­ment of the Boston crowd with his strat­e­gy of hav­ing Microsoft invest in Apple dur­ing their dark­est hour prob­a­bly didn’t help the show. In the fol­low­ing year, Jobs refused to give the keynote, and the show moved to New York City. It con­tin­ued on a few years there at the Javitts Cen­ter, but atten­dance at that venue quick­ly petered out. As many have point­ed out, the Inter­net can now dis­perse infor­ma­tion about prod­ucts far faster and far­ther than any show floor could. There is now only one Mac­World Expo, each Jan­u­ary, and it remains a San Fran­cis­co tra­di­tion.

When we moved to Van­cou­ver, I missed that sense of being on Apple’s radar. Despite the fact that many here use the Mac (in fact, in recent years it’s increased), I found the local Cer­ti­fied Apple Deal­ers a bit ram­shackle, with rel­a­tive­ly small vari­ety of periph­er­als and messy, poor­ly main­tained dis­play areas. My first job was work­ing for some­one who hat­ed the Mac, and he was relieved when I didn’t insist that I use one in his small office (I would have been the only Mac user in the shop). At IBM, we all were assigned Thinkpads, of course. The con­sul­tants from Vic­to­ria often had Macs. At Blog­ger and small­er busi­ness events, the Mac was pre­dom­i­nant. Nev­er­the­less, the absence of the iPhone in Cana­da, the high­er prices for prod­ucts, and con­stant­ly hear­ing the rumors that Apple Hat­ed Cana­da didn’t help mat­ters.

Our days of liv­ing in a rel­a­tive­ly less impor­tant spot in the Apple uni­verse are about to end. On this com­ing Sat­ur­day morn­ing, I hope to be in line for the open­ing of the first Apple store in Van­cou­ver. We’ve been wait­ing for this for some time. Its going to be in the heart of down­town, at the Pacif­ic Cen­tre Mall (actu­al­ly the pre­vi­ous loca­tion of Holt Ren­frew, a high end Depart­ment Store, who have moved into new digs near­by). I believe that it’s only the fifth store in Cana­da, with the oth­er three in Toron­to and one in Laval.

To put things in a bit of per­spec­tive, anoth­er Apple store opened in Boston (across the riv­er from Cam­bridge, but cer­tain­ly near our old home) last week. It’s the largest Apple Store in the world, tak­ing up three floors and sport­ing an all glass façade, on Boyl­ston Street. Oh well, I guess Boston still looms larg­er in Apple’s realm, but at least we’re no longer off the map.