BlathrWayne Lorentz

Blathring in August, 2022.

What did I just tell you?

Wednesday, August 31st, 2022 Alive18,754days

Every time I use Microsoft Windows, I manage to find another way it simply doesn't make sense to me.

In this example, I have instructed Microsoft Outlook to “Save All Attachments” from a particular e-mail message. Instead of saving all of the attachments, it pops up a modal window asking which attachments Iʼd like to save. Well, Iʼd like to save them all. Which is why I clicked on “Save All Attachments” and not “Save some, but I'm not sure which ones I might want, so why don't you stop me in the middle of my work instead of doing what I've instructed you to do.”

There would be no shame in Microsoft adding a “Save Some Attachments…” item to its already ample menu structure.

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Tastes like the 70ʼs

Saturday, August 27th, 2022 Alive18,750days

The correct vessel from which to drink an R.C. Cola is a Mayor McCheese jelly jar. But, failing that, any glass item sporting a 1970ʼs paint job will work.

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Sheʼs in for a surprise

Monday, August 22nd, 2022 Alive18,745days

Annie tucks tighter than Thomas Daley in the men's 10 meter synchronized platform event.

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Coffee math

Sunday, August 21st, 2022 Alive18,744days

After months of research involving 1,0000 Splenda packets, 400 H.E.B. “Sweetener” packets, and 1,640 cups of coffee, I can personally confirm that it takes three H.E.B. packets to do the same job as two Splenda packets. You're welcome.

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Atlantic City can't get a break

Friday, August 19th, 2022 Alive18,742days

Looking for a fine collection of photos depicting Mozambique, Italy, Japan, and the Middle East? Just search Adobe Stock for “Atlantic City, New Jersey.”

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Leaf me alone

Friday, August 19th, 2022 Alive18,742days

A cup of coffee with leaf latte art from Greenway Coffee

I wonder what kind of leaf this is. To me, it looks like a philodendron, left in the corner office of a skyscraper after everyoneʼs switched to work-from-home.

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Touched by an angle

Friday, August 19th, 2022 Alive18,742days

Best use of these screens I've seen yet.

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Does not inspire confidence

Thursday, August 18th, 2022 Alive18,741days

Fidelity has 4½ trillion dollars ($4,500,000,000,000.00). If it canʼt make a web site work, what chance do I have?

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Cleanliness counts

Thursday, August 18th, 2022 Alive18,741days

If the dirt on the sidewalk apron is deep enough to support plant life, perhaps it's time for the City of Houston to invest in a street sweeper.

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Playgrounds never change

Wednesday, August 17th, 2022 Alive18,740days

Ducks in Hermann Park

This reminds me of the old song from The Electric Company (or maybe it was Sesame Street?):

One of these kids is not like the others
One of these kids is not the same
One of these kids does not belong
Do you know his name?

Ducks can be cruel.

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“G” is for “coffee”

Wednesday, August 17th, 2022 Alive18,740days

A cup of Greenway Coffee coffee from Greenway Coffee

I tried Greenway Coffee for the first time today. Itʼs a solid cup of joe. Better than some, but not as good as others. But in its favor, it's on Main Street in downtown Houston; and the price is a little bit less than the Starbucks 40 feet away.

I recommend the Texas honey and somethingorother. That's what I got. Too bad I donʼt remember what itʼs called.

Bean bags are on the pricey side — running ~$20. But that includes a free cup of coffee, which brings the price down closer to $15. Which isnʼt awful in 2022.

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More like an onion

Wednesday, August 17th, 2022 Alive18,740days

Latte art from Greenway Coffee. I think it looks a bit like the iris growing in my garden.

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Thereʼs a fungus among us

Wednesday, August 17th, 2022 Alive18,740days

Mushrooms in Hermann Park

I donʼt know if thereʼs too much water, or too much mulch on this hillock, but either way the result is a ʼshroom with a view!

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Coffee underachiever

Sunday, August 14th, 2022 Alive18,737days

A repair guy working on the super-duper high-tech coffee robot machine. Which is almost always broken.

The Costa Coffee machine at Whole Foods is broken. Again. I've been to this particular Whole Foods in Midtown Houston nine times. The coffee machine has only been online and functional once.

It's either bad timing for me, or a bad machine from Costa. Either way, it's bad news for Whole Foods.

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Failsourcing

Sunday, August 14th, 2022 Alive18,737days

Picture of a Chinese city in the Apple Maps entry for Midland, Texas

Crowdsourcing used to be all the rage in the tech industry. It was a way to get content for your project for free. Use your automation system to ask enough people for content, and some small percentage will happy oblige. The problem with crowdsourcing is quality control.

If you let anyone contribute anything, anyone will contribute anything. I once built a crowdsourced system for people to share photographs of landmarks. A significant percentage of the photos contributed were people standing in front of a camera holding up their resumes, presumably hoping that someone searching for a photo of the Berlin Wall might magically hire them to write code in India.

In the example above, we see the result of two levels of folly. Getty Images allows anyone to upload photographs to its system in order to sell those pictures to other people. That's the crowdsourcing. Then Apple outsourced photography for Apple Maps to a bunch of entities, including Wikipedia, TripAdvisor, and also Getty Images.

The result is a photo of a city in China among the photographs that are supposed to depict the West Texas city of Midland.

Never trust content you don't control.

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Whoops right back at'cha

Friday, August 12th, 2022 Alive18,735days

An error message starting with the header “Whoops!”

When your three-billion-dollar companyʼs error messages start with “Whoops!,” it does not inspire confidence in your three-billion-dollar company.

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Gunsmokin'

Friday, August 12th, 2022 Alive18,735days

Can you imagine being a parent in 1955, and having to explain to little Billy that Miss Kitty, his favorite Gunsmoke character, runs a whorehouse?

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Cleanup in aisle 500

Thursday, August 11th, 2022 Alive18,734days

An H.E.B. error message

H.E.B. has over 100,000 employees. Someone should get out and push.

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Alley art

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

Graffiti in North Garland Court at East Lake Street in Chicago

Chicago has better graffiti than Houston has legitimate murals.

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L of a shop

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

A boarded up kiosk in the CTA Red Line Monroe station

I was surprised to learn recently that a good number of people in Chicago donʼt know what this is. And many people donʼt even notice that theyʼre there.

Iʼm old enough to remember when these underground kiosks thrived at CTA stations all over Chicago. Some were newsstands. Some were Dunkinʼ Donuts shops. Some sold other kinds of food to passengers. I always thought that was funny, because at the time, you werenʼt allowed to eat or drink on a CTA train. But the CTA was happy to sell you both inside its own stations.

I remember lines at the Dunkinʼ Donuts kiosks would sometimes be long enough to block the turnstiles.

Today, theyʼre all boarded up with stainless steel plates. Some, like this one, are decorated. As if to pretend that they never existed at all.

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Empty news

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

An empty newspaper rack at Adams and Dearborn in Chicago

It was just a decade ago that newspapers were fighting for space in Chicagoʼs downtown newspaper racks. Now, nobody cares.

The racks were installed by the second Mayor Daley as part of his efforts to clean up downtown, where busy street corners would sometimes have ten, 15, or even 20 newspaper boxes all chained together, spilling out into the street and blocking both pedestrians and traffic.

The new street furniture brought order, but also controversy. Small and marginal publication accused the city of playing favorites. There was always room for a Tribune drawer, or a Sun-Times drawer, or a Crainʼs Chicago Business drawer; but neighborhood, non-English, classified advertising, and pornography publications couldn't always get in.

Lawsuits were threatened, but I donʼt know if they ever went anywhere. Perhaps simply because right around the same time, people en masse decided to get their news from the internet for free, instead of paying for dead trees. It didn't help that both of the big newspapers doubled their prices (or more) as the internet ate their revenue.

Today, about the only place to get a newspaper in downtown Chicago is in a drug store. And even then, you might have to go to two or three different stores to find one, since so few are printed. There's no need, since work-from-home has made a 2022 weekday lunchtime on LaSalle Street feel like the same location at 6am on a Sunday in 2012.

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Broken news

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

A broken marquee outside WLS-TV

This LED pylon was a big deal when it debuted 20 years ago. Even though it only showed promos for WLS-TV news, it was considered a major work of public art, which is why it was allowed to take up space on a public sidewalk.

The last time I checked on it was in 2017. It was broken then. It was also broken today, when I checked on it again in 2022. I can only hope that I just have bad timing, and it hasn't been broken for five years. State Street is already a lot shabbier than when I lived a few blocks away.

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Optimism

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

A signboard at Midway Airport

And by “peace and quiet” Southwest Airlines means “listening to the simultaneous FaceTime calls of half-a-dozen people who think pajamas and flip-flips are appropriate attire for a flight across the country.”

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Way way wayfinding

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

The CTA Red Line Lake station

This is an example of wayfinding done right.

With a mere glance out the door of a subway train, I can see three signs telling me that this is the Lake station.

The signs are large, clean, and clear, with very high contrast.

Itʼs remarkable how many transit agencies and airports, large and small, forget the importance of wayfinding, communication, and consistent design.

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Generational dirt

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

The CTA Red Line Chicago station

Iʼm pretty sure I recognize all of this dirt from the last time I lived in Chicago about eight years ago.

Thereʼs no reason for any CTA station to look like this, especially considering that it has fewer passengers now than in recent years.

If the CTA canʼt handle basic sanitation, how poorly run are the rest of its operations? More to the point — How are passengers supposed to feel safe, if they canʼt even feel clean?

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I do not want fries with that

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

A “Ham Quicke” at the Lavazza cafe inside The Drake Hotel

I used to live in a state where prostitution is legal, and even Iʼm not sure what a “ham quicke” is.

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♫ I want my MeTV ♫

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

An ad for WRME-LD/Chicago

If your radio station is actually an analog signal at 87.75 Mhz, muxed with a low-power ATSC 3.0 digital TV channel at the ass-end of the FM dial, and you still manage to come in #13 in the ratings, youʼre doing something right.

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Where the big boys are

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

IAH

Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), as seen from a plane that just left Hobby Airport (HOU).

They're only about 17 miles apart, but Iʼve flown between them a few times.

In the 1990's there was a bit of a kerfuffle when Bush Airport raised its parking rates. People were mad. Like Texas mad. Because in Texas, parking is virtually a human right.

To capitalize on this, hometown flyer Continental Airlines offered a promo: Fly with Continental from Bush, and you can park at the much cheaper (my memory says it might have even been free) Hobby Airport. Continental would fly you from the smaller airport to the larger one to catch your real flight.

The magic of this was that, at the time, airlines would give you 500 frequent flyer miles just for getting off the ground. I was able to bank several thousand frequent flyer miles just hopping back-and-forth between IAH and HOU on my way to other cities. This was back when frequent flyer miles meant something, and werenʼt just Monopoly money.

One day as my flight from HOU to IAH was getting ready to take off, the plane taking off ahead of us crashed. We were still on the taxiway, so you could see the wreckage right there.

It was a small non-commercial plane, but that didnʼt make any of us passengers feel better because the Continental flight was a puddle-jumper so small that it only had seats on one side.

After a delay, we ended up taking off from another runway. Since then, my flights have been mostly uneventful. As they should be.

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I remain uncaffeinated

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

A sign at Midway airport listing coffee options

This sign at Midway Airport helpfully lists 18 coffee options in the gate area. I had a couple of hours to kill, so I went looking for a cup of joe. No luck.

More than half of the locations were closed, either temporarily or permanently. Most of the rest had lines 30 people deep. Probably because so many of the other restaurants were closed.

When I did finally find a place with a reasonably-sized line, they had no coffee. Didn't know they were supposed to have coffee. And were surprised to see their location listed on an official airport sign as having coffee.

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Nibbles

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

What $18.50 buys at Midway Airport

Big city mayors like to talk about promoting the health and welfare of their people. Then they allow the airport to sell passengers hamburgers for $4.00, while the healthy snacks cost $17.50 plus tax.

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No wonder boarding is so slow

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

A signboard at Midway Airport

Southwest Airlines encourages people to download its app for a “contactless day of travel.” You know what else is contactless? The way it was done up to now.

There's nothing about using an app that is more contactless than using a home-printed ticket, or even the old-style paper tickets. Both are read by a contactless scanner. It's not like the gate agent is going to lick your face because youʼre not using an app.

There are more disadvantages to using an app for your boarding pass than using a piece of paper:

  • Ask any janitor — people drop their phones in toilets all the time.
  • Restrooms, bars, restaurants, payment kiosks — there are a thousand ways to lose your phone in an airport.
  • Phones run out of battery.
  • Phone apps crash.
  • Phone apps malfunction.
  • Internet connectivity is required, but not guaranteed.
  • Internet connectivity in airports is notoriously slow and unreliable.
  • People run out of data on their mobile plans while waiting for their planes.
  • Screens time out and turn off just when someone gets to the gate agent. It happens constantly.

My observation waiting in line behind people using app-based boarding passes is that the paper passes scan more quickly, and more reliably than the phone-based equivalents.

The only reason to use an app-based boarding pass is if you enjoy forking over even more of your personal information to an airline so that it can sell that information to other people.

I am a paying passenger. I am not your recurring revenue stream.

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Airline humor

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

A signboard at Midway Airport

I know Southwest is trying to be folksy and humorous by having the status sign at the airport gate tell me I have plenty of time to read magazines. But I canʼt help but think, “No kidding. My flight has already been delayed six times tonight.”

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Only editions

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

The Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune

Anyone visiting Chicago can bring home a box of Fannie May, or a Drake Hotel flask. It takes a real professional tourist to hunt down a copy of both newspapers.

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Transportation artery

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

An ad for Butcher Boy cooking oils

If you see an advertisement for cooking oil while on the subway, you might be in the Middle West.

Very wholesome.

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Youʼre next

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

A floor-cleaning robot at Houston Hobby Airport

The tech nerd part of me that should think, ”Oh, cool! Hobby Airport has industrial-grade floor cleaning robots!” is outweighed by the human being in me who thinks, “Well, there's one more job that some person with low skills got kicked out of.”

Not everyone in the world has the mental or physical capability to do a mid-level or high-level job. But they still need a job, and deserve the dignity that comes with employment. In the 80ʼs the justification for turning jobs over to robots was that the newly unemployed could be re-trained to fix or run the robots. But in my experience, that's only rarely true.

The more I interact with people of all social strata, the more I realize that mopping floors in an airport is a really good job for some people. One they can be good at, and proud of. That will allow them to provide for themselves, and maybe even another person or two. Iʼm not currently convinced that we should automate the humanity out of society.

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Performing stability

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

A list of meaningless status updates from eero

Vagueness is not a virtue. I can only imaging that the git commit history for Amazonʼs eero team looks like “Update,” “Update,” “Update,” “Update,” “Update.”

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Iʼve fallen, and I canʼt get up

Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 Alive18,733days

H.E.B. JSON payload

I sure hope Iʼve never broken a web site so badly that it starts squirting JSON all over the intarwebs.

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Well, it is Southwest…

Tuesday, August 9th, 2022 Alive18,732days

My flight from Chicago to Houston cost $68. At check-in, Southwest Airlines helpfully offered me an upgrade to priority boarding for just $298. What a bargain!

Yes, I know why this is, but that doesn't make it any less stupid.

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This is your fault

Tuesday, August 9th, 2022 Alive18,732days

Mayor Lori Lightfoot poster welcoming people to Chicago

When you leave the airside of Midway Airport, this is what greets you. On the surface, itʼs a nice welcome message from the Mayor of Chicago. Sweet.

The cynic in me immediately starts thinking itʼs a shameless promotion, and another way for her to get her face out there, like all those craptastic little towns scattered across America with signs reading “Welcome to Gripplebunk; Population 3,122; Cleetus McFasterberry, Mayor.”

But the more I think about it, thereʼs more to this sign. Itʼs Mayor Lightfoot taking pride in her city. More importantly, itʼs hizzonor putting her neck out there and telling people “If your visit sucks, thatʼs my fault. If the train brakes down, thatʼs my fault. If you get mugged on Wabash, thatʼs my fault.”

It's also saying, “If you have an awesome time at Oak Street Beach, thatʼs my fault, too!” But few people seem to associate good things with the people responsible for them. Itʼs much easier to assign blame when thing go wrong.

Lightfoot is far from my favorite Chicago mayor, especially among this new generation. I disagree with a bunch of the things sheʼs done. But at least sheʼs trying to do things. And in ways big and small, she doesnʼt run from controversy or responsibility. Which makes her an old-style Chicago mayor.

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I can see my luggage from here

Tuesday, August 9th, 2022 Alive18,732days

Houston Hobby airport from the air

Flying over Houston Hobby Airport (HOU). Much improved over the last time I flew from there.

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I can see my house from here

Tuesday, August 9th, 2022 Alive18,732days

Downtown Houston, Texas at sunrise

7:14am, over downtown Houston.

It makes me think of the Poirot line, “Old sins cast long shadows.”

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Welcome to Chicago. Now go home.

Tuesday, August 9th, 2022 Alive18,732days

The Discover Chicago store at Midway Airport. Closed for business.

I know that Mayor Lightfoot put a lot of work into the retail experience at Chicagoʼs airports. One of her big successes was populating them almost exclusively with local restaurants. Great idea. But you can't highlight local businesses, if those businesses aren't open.

This photo was taken at on a Tuesday at 5:37pm. It does a pretty good job of illustrating the retail situation at Midway Airport. Even though this was prime time for travelers, very few of the shops were open.

First impressions count. And millions of people will have this as their first impression of Chicago when arriving at Midway.

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A life in transit

Sunday, August 7th, 2022 Alive18,730days

My retired transportation cards

I have a bad habit of holding on to transportation cards; especially if they have leftover money still loaded on them.

  • Ventra (Chicago)

    The grey Ventra card was the first one. It also functioned as a MasterCard debit card with the idea that it could be of benefit to poor people and the many thousands of Chicagoans who canʼt or donʼt have a bank account. That didn't really work out, and eventually it was migrated into the more common blue transit card.

    Amazingly, I was able to use the blue Ventra card on my most recent trip to Chicago. It had about eight dollars on it when I last used it, and 11 years later, that money was still available, and it worked fine. It turns out that it doesnʼt expire for 25 years.

  • Akbil (Istanbul)

    More durable than a card, and you can hang it on a keychain, I got an akbil to get around Istanbul. The akbil system has since transitioned to a boring plastic card like most of the rest of the world, and the money that I had left on this has now expired.

  • Amtrak (United States)

    This was just a rewards card, like a frequent flyer card. I earned quite a few points going back-and-forth between Chicago and Saint Louis; Seattle and Vancouver; Saint Paul and Chicago. But since Amtrak discontinued service to Las Vegas, I stopped using it and the points expired.

  • Oyster (London)

    I think this is the oldest of the bunch. I have no idea if thereʼs any money left on it.

  • Orca (Seattle)

    Orca bills itself as a single payment solution for getting around the entire Puget Sound area. But I seem to recall that it wasn't actually accepted everywhere. That may have been fixed by now, but I seem to recall that when I was using it, it was only valid on ferries, and Sound Transit buses and trains. I remember using paper transfer tickets on Seattle city buses.

    I have no idea if thereʼs any money on this one, either.

  • Do It All (Singapore)

    This card is supposed to do it all. I don't know if it did. I only used it on trains, and perhaps a cable car to Sentosa Island.

    Thereʼs probably money left on it, if it hasnʼt expired.

  • Octopus (Hong Kong)

    I've noticed that a lot of transit cards are named after sea creatures.

    I had money on it, but that was probably forcibly expired as Hong Kong was crushed under the mainlandʼs thumb. At least I still have my Hong Kong money with the image of Queen Elizabeth Ⅱ on it.

  • T-Money (Seoul)

    A good number of transit cards are also positioned as general-purpose payment cards. My observation was that T-Money achieved this most thoroughly, and early.

    It seemed like you could use T-Money anywhere in Seoul. Its acceptance was probably wider than even Visa or MasterCard.

    Since T-Money is more like a bank account than a transit card, there's probably money left on it.

  • Suica (Japan)

    Suica is one of two major transportation cards in use in Tokyo, and adjacent areas of Japan. The other one is Pasmo.

    How to choose between the two? Easy — Pick the one with the cute penguin on it.

    Suica has a unique set-up process, where you can create your account and login at the ticket vending machine, and it prints your name on the back of the card. Pretty nifty.

    Thereʼs very likely money on this one, since itʼs not that old.

  • Zipcard (United States)

    When I lived in cities where I didnʼt need a car all the time, I used ZipCar to bring home major purchases that wouldnʼt fit on transit, or to take longer trips.

    The interesting thing about the ZipCar process is that you tap the card on the car to unlock it and get the keys.

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Still more productive than an agile standup

Sunday, August 7th, 2022 Alive18,730days

Ycombinator error

Hacker News is broken. Silicon Valley productivity up 63%.

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That mat is going to melt

Saturday, August 6th, 2022 Alive18,729days

A woman all alone yogaing on the roof

I understand that hot yoga is trendy, but I'm not sure that doing poses on the roof of a concrete parking garage when it's 103° with 80% humidity is a great idea.

Still, nice day for it.

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Laissez les bons temps spamer

Friday, August 5th, 2022 Alive18,728days

E-mail unsubscribe confirmation. Maybe.

This e-mail from the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority reads “You unsubscribed.” It also says “You will receive an email update when new information becomes available.”

So, am I unsubscribed, or am I going to receive e-mail updates?

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The <blink> tag lives!

Friday, August 5th, 2022 Alive18,728days

Me: “Man, remember how V.C.R.'s used to blink 12:00 all the time after the power went out? That was awful.”

My KitchenAid microwave oven: “Hold my beer...”

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