Friday, November 25th, 2022 Alive 18,840 days
It's called a “tech stack” because of how easily it falls over.
It's called a “tech stack” because of how easily it falls over.
Netflix is one of the largest media companies on the planet. If it canʼt keep its web site from eating itself, what chance do I have?
I just received a notice from Constellation Apartments that my service request has been completed.
It's worth noting that I haven't lived at Constellation for 16 months.
I wonder what took them so long to fix.
“No Access to Delivery location” is Postal Service for “There was a big Astros World Series parade in the way, so the mailman went home.”
The Billy Joel song Pressure is on the radio right now. It reminds me of when this song was in the top 40 on the radio. My friends and I used to love this song because it spoke to us, how we felt and thought, and the pressure we felt in everyday life. Screaming the chorus together was a means of venting our anger and anxiety.
We were eleven.
I canʼt remember what pressure we thought we were under at that age, but how awful is it that at age 11 we even had a concept of pressure and sought coping mechanisms.
Today I got a good look at Tina, the lizard who lives in my garden.
She has blue eyes, like my wife.
While I appreciate the Potter Country Store being creative with its web site, I donʼt think a laundry basket is quite the right icon for a virtual shopping cart.
Unless they use laundry baskets to do their shopping in Schulenburg, Texas. You never know. People in Pennsylvania call shopping carts “buggies.”
Guy looking at vines at the nursery: *Grunt*
Me: That one is nice and clingy if you want something that will climb brick.
Guy: You know about ivy?
Me: Just from my days at Harvard.
Guy: You went to Harvard?
Me: Lots. I used to deliver pizzas all over New Haven.
Guy: Walks away
I got a new Atari cartridge today. Itʼs the Sears version of Warlords.
Iʼve never played this game, and have no connection to it. But I bought it for three reasons.
A drop in the level of the uterus during the last weeks of pregnancy as the head of the fetus engages in the pelvis.
That doesnʼt sound like a very fun video game.
November 4th, and the Christmas lights are up on Main Street.
Iʼm O.K. with that.
This is one of those jobs I could never do.
These guys are only about ten stories off the ground, but in Chicago, I used to see guys 40, 50, even 60 floors up with nothing to support them but a couple of ropes and a plank of wood.
I hope theyʼre well-paid.
In Hong Kong, Iʼve seen children doing this 20 stories up with just a single rope, balancing against the glass with their bare feet.
I doubt theyʼre well-paid.
Thing nobody asks at a store anymore:
“Paper or plastic?”
…Until today. Today I noticed that the check-out people at H.E.B. ask shoppers if they want paper or plastic bags. Itʼs like Iʼm in the 1980ʼs!
Itʼs nice that H.E.B. gives you a choice. If you have a pet and need poop bags, you can choose plastic, and re-use a plastic bag instead of buying new bags. Or, if you donʼt want to kill sea turtles, you can choose paper, since theyʼre made from trees, which we can make more of.
Itʼs possible to make moisture-resistant paper bags. Perhaps that should be the default so we can both bag pet nuggets and save the planet.
Upgrading macOS on a headless Mac is an iffy proposition. The last time I did this, I ended up nuking the whole machine and restoring from a backup.
If it works, Iʼll go across the street and buy a lottery ticket.
30 minutes later…
Itʼs O.K., Annie. I have a button to do that.
I watched Itʼs the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown tonight. I never noticed before that when they go trick-or-treating, all of the Peanuts kids are wearing rubber gloves.
I decided to make my own frozen burritos. For the filling, I had two choices:
Naturally, I went the hard route.
Hereʼs an odd design choice. In macOS 13/Ventura, the Stocks program allows you to add a stock youʼre viewing to your watch list. To do that, you press the + button. To remove a stock from your watch list you press the ✓ checkmark button.
In my lifetime, a checkmark has always meant something along the lines of “yes” or “confirm” or something else affirmative. Using a check to remove something — an inherently negative action — is counterintuitive to me.
I voted today. That was unexpectedly hard.
I remember when the elections people used to beg people to please come out to vote because so few people did. Now there are huge lines, which is good. But there were partisans standing there shouting at us waiting in line, which is bad. But even though I had to wait an hour it was all very organized, which is good. Except that all of the spaces in the parking lot were taken up by the partisans camped out with all of their gear so I had to park a block away, which is bad.
I got a new video game today. Well, itʼs an old video game, since most of the games I play are for the Atari 2600.
Itʼs Chase, which is the Sears Tele-Games rebranding of Atariʼs Surround.
A simple as it is, this is an engaging game, which explains why itʼs been recreated on dozens and dozens of machines. People today still have warm and fuzzy memories of 1997ʼs Snake on Nokia cell phones, but it originated in 1976 with the Blockade arcade game from Gremlin before it became Sega/Gremlin.
This version is solid, except that the bleeps are annoying, so itʼs best to turn off the sound and put on some period-appropriate music like Sirius 70ʼs on 7.
It also has a nice freeform drawing mode, which is useful to endearing oneself with oneʼs sweetheart.
Itʼs chilly today, so Tina is warming herself on a lightbulb in my garden.
iPadOS 16 may not be quite ready for prime time. At least not the part of it that only shows an icon placeholder graphic when you try to do math with it.
I only rarely go to McDonaldʼs; maybe three or four times a year. So I was surprised and delighted to find itʼs McRib season!
The McRib is the finest fast food sandwich there is. Better than a double Fisch Mac. Better than Starbuckʼs Thanksgiving panini. Yes, better than Chick-fil-a.
Itʼs never McRib season in Las Vegas, so for the seven years I lived there, I had to make my own — Driving three hours across the Mojave Desert to the nearest McDonaldʼs that had them, in Barstow, California. I never did find out why the McDonaldʼs franchises in Vegas donʼt carry McRibs.
Here, in Houston, McRib does exist, so I grabbed a loaf of that sweet, smokey, salty, crunchy, sesame seeded goodness.
Pro tip: Serve the sandwich on top of a pile of fries so that the sauce drips onto the fries, and you donʼt waste any of it on the plate.
Hope is that human condition that compels us to continue eating barren Cool Ranch Dorito after barren Cool Ranch Dorito, just in case the next chip out of the bag is one of the five lucky chips that are laden with the seasonings promised in the picture on the outside of the bag.
I guess rubber cement is called “craft glue” now. Perhaps, it doesnʼt have much rubber in it anymore. It doesnʼt seem to make very good fake boogers like it used to.
Autumn is here. Time to replace all the plants in my garden that were killed by the Texas summer.
There is a new visitor to the garden these days. Her name is Tina. Today I saw her leap from a pot onto a flower and eat a fly. Good lizard.
I know that Iʼm not perfect. I know that while I think my web sites work on every device, thereʼs probably a configuration out there on which they fall over. But the University of Houston/Downtown really has no excuse for this.
How is it possible for an organization to put out a public web site in 2022 that doesnʼt work on mobile phones? Itʼs bad enough that this page from UH/D is cut off on the right side, but there is no way to even scroll to the right to see whatʼs missing! And this is on a recent iPhone, not some obscure open source homebrew kit.
I preview every single web page I build for desktop, tablet, and two mobile phones. Every one. Sometimes dozens each week.
The University of Houston/Downtown brags that itʼs the second-largest university in Americaʼs fourth-largest city. Surely, someone on campus must have a smart phone to test with.
Thanks, iOS 16. Can you be a little more vague?
Today I learned that you can get Chick-fil-a to set up shop at your festival in the middle of nowhere.
By the time I got there, the chicken had run out, and all that was left was a folded-up tent, and signs advertising all of the chicken I couldnʼt eat.
Tired of being outstanding in your field? Now you can be out sitting in your field.
Off-the-grid green sustainable energy? Sounds like what farmers, ranchers, and others have been doing for the last 500 years.
Todayʼs coffee is “Coffee,” possibly from Celebration Catering.
I write “possibly” because I donʼt have any pictures of the folding table from which the coffee was vended, but “Celebration” seems familiar, and the “Catering” portion, Iʼm sure is right.
This is the coffee that was on offer at The Compound, a ranch-themed events center in Round Top, Texas. The other option was “Decaf.”
The coffee is good. Smooth but weak, like that guy in high school who was always convinced that he was a ladies man, and tried too hard. I added some French vanilla creamer, which improved the texture a bit. The same would not have helped my high school friend.
The sign outside this CVS says the pharmacy opens at 7:00am. I showed up at 8:00am, because thatʼs when Apple Maps says the pharmacy opens. Guess which one is right?
Holy shit, itʼs Apple Maps!
I walked into the store at 7:57am, sat in a chair by the pharmacy, and the metal security shutters rolled up at exactly 8:00am. Score one for the massive tech company.
The Marberger Farm Antique Show is permanently closed, according to Apple Maps. Itʼs also open for business, according to Apple Maps.
When something goes wrong and macOS canʼt find the correct icon for an operating system update, it uses a paper plate with “mac OS” written on it.
Now you know.
This is not a real weather forecast for the North Pole. Itʼs what CARROT³ does when it canʼt connect to the intarwebs to find out what the weather is. Cheeky, as expected from CARROT³.
The cause of the network issue was a firewall called Little Snitch from Objective Development in Austria. I use it to marvel at the dozens and dozens of data hoarding companies that try to extract information from my computer without my knowledge or consent. Unfortunately, it doesnʼt play nice with the latest version of macOS, so when I upgraded to 13.0, I was inexplicably unable to move data through any network connection, wired or otherwise, even with Little Snitch turned off.
The solution is to reboot into Safe Mode, then drop the Little Snitch program in the trash, and reboot. To my delight, just moving the program into the trash is enough to uninstall system extension these days, which is nice.
I checked Objective Developmentʼs web site, and in true Austrian fashion, it blames Apple for the problem. If I have to choose between not using Little Snitch and not using my computer at all, itʼs an easy choice to make.
A neighbor I’ve never met before knocked on my door tonight and gave me this. She’s moving out, and found it in her refrigerator. She’s admired the garden on my balcony, and thought I might take care of it, since she’s leaving.
Over my wife’s objections, I have put it in a pot with some dirt, and we’ll see what happens when it has sunlight to work with, and not just the dim bulb of a refrigerator.
I can’t imagine what the rest of her refrigerator looks like.
What kind of a person eats pizza from a vending machine? Well… me.
Thereʼs a pizza ATM across the street from my home now, so I tried it for lunch, and it wasn't bad. It wasn't excellent, but it's pizza from a vending machine, not a bistro in Ischia Porte. I don't think anyone who knowingly buys pizza from a vending machine is in a place to complain about quality. Not even on the internet.
There are seven pizzas to choose from. I went with pepperoni because it's a good basic benchmark.
After three minutes, the machine ejects a pizza, like a 1981 Sanyo VCR. The result is not perfect, but it's perfectly edible.
There wasn't much pepperoni flavor. Perhaps some of the other choices are a little more pronounced. But the crust was quite good. Overall, it reminds me of pizza from the California chain Pieology.
The downside is that all you get is a pizza. If you don't already have a drink, that might be problematic. I happened to have a bottle of water with me, just like I knew what I was doing.
I took my pizza to the Harris County Employee Smoking Lounge (a.k.a. the alley by the sally[port]), and it managed to stay hot and crispy the whole way there.
I suspect the vending machine isnʼt doing too bad. I saw someone leaving with a pizza as I was walking toward it. When I was waiting for the bake, someone asked me about it. And when I was coming back from eating, there was a young couple waiting for their Hawaiian pie to cook. Thatʼs three customers in about 40 minutes. Not bad for an out-of-the-way location with zero advertising.
Protip: There's a slot on the machine that has cello-wrapped plastic knives. Take one. The crust is pre-sliced before the pizza bakes, so the cheese runs across the seams, and you'll have to cut the cheese to get pie-shaped wedges out of it.
A butterfly came to visit my garden tonight. Itʼs called a common buckeye, but to me itʼs most uncommon, because I donʼt get very many butterflies.
Hereʼs my million dollar idea.
Iʼll open an antiques store in the Cotswolds called ”Everything is five pounds.”
Which means that everything either costs £5.00, or weighs five pounds.
So if I have a knackered silver-plate vesta case, that would cost £5.00.
But if after a rummage in a skip, if I found one that I was really chuffed about, I would put it in a box with a brick, and charge £85.00 because the package as a whole weighs five pounds.
My slogan would be “I have no idea what I have.”
Another day, another technology that fails to live up to its billing. This is a familiar one: Amazon.com, and its Amazon Music service.
Today I tried to play the album Koop Islands by the band Koop. Except that I canʼt.
Whenever I press the play button on one of the album's songs, Amazon Music plays something other than the song I requested.
I clicked on Koopʼs song Come to Me and it played the song In the Morning by Natural Self.
I clicked on Koopʼs song Koop Island Blues and Amazon Music played the song Ode to Billie Joe by Nicola Conte.
If Amazon canʼt handle something as simple as playing music, maybe I shouldnʼt let it store my credit card information.
Today is Monday, October 17. My iPhone wants to tell me that in several languages, all at once.
Today I had the misfortune of trying to use Starbucks customer service. I donʼt know which middle manager got a big bonus out of this scheme, but do hope that someday that person has to use the system he set up. Itʼs a masterpiece of outsourcing failure.
I placed an order on the Starbucks web site to send an e-gift card to someone. Immediately, I received an e-mail receipt. A few minutes later, I received an e-mail stating that “We were unable to process your eGift Card order from Starbucks.”
I placed the order again. Once again, the receipt came immediately. Then the same automated processing failure letter.
I tried once more, the next day, with a different payment card. Same story.
Finally, I decided to call the phone number. After all, customer service is available seven days a week. It turns out all that means is that the phone number is answered seven days a week. It doesnʼt mean anything can be done to fix the problem.
After being transferred three times, and reading the order number to three different people, I was finally informed that all the people who answer the phone are allowed to do is send an e-mail to another department letting them know that I'd like to place an order.
Eventually I received another e-mail from Starbucks “customer service:”
Good idea. As suggested, I “replaced” my order. I replaced my Starbucks gift card order with one for an Amazon.com gift card.
For Halloween this year, my wife bought me a chocolate toad.
This is no cheap injection-moulded Hershey-grade nosh. This is a hefty hopper, decorated to a level of realism that is startling, if youʼre not expecting it to be there when you open the refrigerator door.
Mr. Toad is from the Fortnum & Mason department store in London. The confection connection between chocolate, amphibians, and Britannia may put you in mind of the fictional chocolate frogs from Harry Potter. The difference is those are in movies, and this is in my kitchen.
It weighs almost half a pound, and Iʼm not sure how I'm going to eat it. I have no problem biting the heads off of Easter bunnies. They look like cartoons. But this knobby indulgence has sugary eyes that look straight into your soul.
If youʼre able to rip a DVD at over 800 frames per second on a laptop, you may have an M2 MacBook Pro.
One of the problems with getting my news from newspapers is that occasionally, I get the news from the weather app.
I guess that by “America,” Duckduckgo thinks I mean “India.”
Some day I hope to live in a world where search engines search for what I ask, and not for what they feel like showing me.
Streaming media is one of the many areas of technology that has failed to live up to its hype.
Streaming services use vague marketing words promising “unlimited” this and “endless” that. But the seldom-acknowledged fact is that if you rely on streaming music services, the music you love could just disappear tomorrow with no notice, or recourse. Thanks for the money, donʼt let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.
Just like how newspapers publish lists of whatʼs going to disappear from Netflix at the end of the month, streaming music also gains and loses music and artists regularly.
The screenshot above is Amazon Music telling me that it no longer has any songs by Comsat Angels. It knows Comsat Angels. It used to have Comsat Angels music. But not today. If you love Comsat Angels and give money to Amazon Music, youʼre out of luck.
Streaming music is the same thing as renting music. You donʼt own it. It can be taken away from you at any time.
Itʼs similar to when Microsoft abandoned its e-book store and millions of people lost the millions of books they thought they owned. A digital librarian sneaked into their homes in the middle of the night, emptied their shelves, and left behind a note reading, “Didnʼt you read page 640 of the EULA? You only rented these books. Sucker.”
This is all fine if all you care about is whatever is trendy over the last 48 hours. But people connect to books, movies, and especially music emotionally. Thatʼs why people create music. And to have those emotions yanked away from you is going to be hard on people once they realize that the things they once loved have disappeared and they didnʼt know it was going to happen.
As for the Comsat Angels, Iʼll hit the local record stores to find what Iʼm looking for. Then Iʼll own it. For real and forever.
Today, however, Iʼd like to point out what, on the surface, looks like a tech success story. But at a deeper level is the success of a traditional brick-and-mortar retailer to adapt to changes in society in order to — literally — deliver better than a tech company did.
It started a couple of days ago, when I ordered something medical from Amazon.com. In general, I donʼt buy anything that goes on or in a living being from Amazon. Between counterfeits, people selling used items as new, and a constantly-growing list of other reasons, relying on Amazon just isnʼt safe anymore. When your company canʼt even prevent selling bogus copies of books, you have a problem.
In this case, however, I ordered from Amazon because the medical thing I needed was not available from any of the CVS or Walgreens stores that I can reach, and purchasing from Walmart meant waiting two to three weeks for delivery. Walmart used to be safer than Amazon, but has recently decided to trod the same road to unreliability by embracing unknown, unverified, and dubious independent sellers.
What Amazon delivered was clearly not suitable. Instead of being in branded packaging, the item was in a Zip-Loc bag. Legitimate medical items arenʼt packaged in consumer baggies. Legitimate medical items are also not labeled by hand in ball-point pen. And they also donʼt spill their contents during shipping, unless they are seriously mishandled. The box that the item arrived in was in fine shape, and the medical item sufficiently padded.
Exasperated, I went to the CVS web site to see if perhaps the item was back in stock my local store. The CVS web site would not function. So I tried Walgreens. Except, this time instead of specifying a store that I can get to easily by train, I let the Walgreens web site pick one. And it did a splendid job.
The item I needed was in stock at a Walgreens in an area I would never think to travel to. So I put two in my cart, selected “Same day delivery” and went back to reading my New York Times.
Before I could finish the International section, there was a guy dropping a paper bag on my doorstep.
I checked my e-mail and found that the time from when I placed my order online until Walgreens notified me that my order was ready to be delivered was four minutes. Four minutes. It was picked up minutes after that, and delivered to me straight away.
The total time from when I placed the order to when I received my Walgreens order was 22 minutes. For an item that I couldn't get at a drug store near me, and that Amazon sent a counterfeit of.
Yes, I had to pay $3.99 for the delivery. But the item was a dollar cheaper at Walgreens than at Amazon, and I ordered two of them. So the cost difference was $1.99. More importantly — I got what I paid for.
Walgreens is better than Amazon. Man bites dog. The sky is green. Everything the tech bubble has been preaching about the death of brick-and-mortar is wrong.
The header graphic for Microsoft's Azure pricing calculator reads “HELLO.”
Funny how Microsoft has no problem at all automatically opting me in to sharing my personal information with its “partners” within four seconds of me creating an account. But if I try to opt-out, it suddenly canʼt cope.
If a simple toggle of a button can bring Microsoft to its knees, why would I trust it with anything at all? Is this the power, resiliency, and scaleability of the masterful Azure “cloud” its always talking about?
Congratulations to the New York Times for not having to print any corrections on Monday, October 10th.
That sounds bitchy, but itʼs not. Journalists donʼt take corrections lightly. Having issued a few, myself, I can tell you that it hurts a lot, and for a long time.
One difference between bloggers and journalists is that journalists let people know when they make mistakes, and print corrections. They donʼt just pop into WordPress and silently change things.
Remember back when McDonaldʼs mascot was a convicted felon? Everyone knew it, and nobody cared.
Societyʼs tolerance and forgiveness has since been replaced by internet outrage.
If Walmart only sells washer fluid that freezes, you might live in Houston.
Also, donʼt drive anywhere else.
The Walmart app has a filter labeled ”Show available items only.” Seriously? Why would I want a store to show me things that it doesnʼt have?
Who goes to a store, or looks at a storeʼs app and thinks to themselves, “I wonder if they donʼt have this?” “Hey, Walmart, show me all the things that you canʼt sell."
What kind of things are on Walmartʼs list of things it doesnʼt have. Fabergé eggs? The Loch Ness Monster? Maybe the Popeʼs mitre?
Walmart is far from the only store guilty of this. Amazon is among the worst offenders. Target and Walgreens, too.
How does showing things you donʼt have benefit a customer?
This is a clipping of an obituary that was in the newspaper this morning.
Amazingly, I still see people on the internet who claim that COVID-19 is only dangerous to the elderly, and theyʼve lived long enough and should vacate their homes to make way for new generations.
Selfishness and stupidity seem to go hand-in-hand.
“This call is being recorded for quality assurance.”
Really? Me, too. Same reason.
The louder Hollywood features get, the more explosions movie makers cram into two hours, the more over-saturated and contrast-y they become, the more I find myself watching old black-and-white movies.
I have little affinity for the current line of major motion pictures. I think itʼs because everything is handed to the viewer on a platter. Did this character have a bad childhood? Yes, hereʼs a flashback tinted blue and out of focus. Did this character get hurt? Yes, hereʼs pictures of the sucking chest wound. Did these characters have sex? Yes, here they are getting it on.
It seems like all of the budget in big budget films is spent on big budget special effects. I know that as a movie-goer, Iʼm supposed to invoke my “willful suspension of disbelief.” But even the James Bond films have gotten so over-the-top unrealistic that Iʼve stopped watching.
I think part of the draw of the lo-fi cinema is similar to the draw of books.
Books, almost universally, are better than the films that they give birth to. The focus in books, naturally, is the writing. Your mind is engaged to fill in the vividness of the scenes, the sounds of the voices, and the smells of the environment.
Likewise, though to a lesser degree, black-and-white films call upon your mind to fill in the missing color. And because of the era in which they were created, the special effects are minimal to none, the locations are largely interiors rather than exotic, and the sex is implied rather than broadcast.
Engaging a personʼs brain to bridge gaps in content is something that brains seem to enjoy. Itʼs the basis of such elemental human experiences as faith, hope, and the lottery. There would be no doomscrolling of social media if it wasnʼt for the human brain yearning for a little something more. A little more engagement with the content flickering by underthumb. A little hope that the next finger flick might bring joy.
Like books, old films focus on the writing, because they live and die by the dialogue, and not the explosions. It wasnʼt until giant grasshoppers eating Chicago became a regular occurrence that film-makers figured out that they could replace expensive writing with cheap special effects. The normalization of money-over-quality is how we got to the hyper-optimized theater-going experiences we have today. Just like de-valuing writing is how we ended up with reality television.
I didnʼt used to like black-and-white movies. And I used to refuse to watch anything with subtitles. But as Iʼve found that the Hollywood of today isnʼt interested in customers like me, Iʼm learning that the Hollywood of yesterday was. Fortunately, I can explore what the old Hollywood created without pouring any of my money into today's trough of gluttony. Itʼs all available for free at the public library, or on free over-the-air television.
When H.E.B. says the grocery delivery person is 17 minutes away, thatʼs how I know he's standing outside my door unloading his cart. It's always exactly 17 minutes. I get the text message, look for the cat acting up, and can see the shadow of the delivery person outside my door.
Consistency is a good thing. And “consistently wrong” is a type of consistency, right?
I saw this guy from the train.
Iʼve had bad days in my life, but Iʼve never had “nobody to pick me up from the hospital” bad days.
I was feeling sorry for myself at the time, and this helped put things into perspective. Iʼm someone who earns his living doing nothing more interesting than pushing buttons for a living. My problems are minuscule compared with the rest of the world.
Since x-rays are all digital now, it looks like the old x-ray backlight cabinets are being repurposed as message boards.
One of the nice things about Houston Methodist Hospital is the fish.
Scattered around the campus are large aquaria, which are much nicer to look at than the television screens hanging from the ceiling blaring The Price is Right while youʼre trying to comfort a nervous loved one.
For some reason, this aquarium in this office has no fish.
What happened to the fish? Did they never arrive? Are they out for a walk? Did they die?
Sarcastically I think, “If the doctors in this section can't keep fish alive, how can I expect them to keep people alive?”
Also, I think maintaining fish tanks for a large, deep-pocketed healthcare company is a dream job. It seems like there's enough of them to have someone in-house.
Houston Methodist Hospital has eighty-brazillion dollars and ninty-brazillion employees. If it canʼt keep its webview from breaking a leg, what am I supposed to do?
Also, someone should fix that grammar. It's probably Epicʼs default, but that doesnʼt make it right.
Dear Apple Maps,
Please stop showing me places that are “permanently closed.” I know the pandemic ruined everything. Youʼre not helping me find whatʼs left.
It's nice that iOS 16 lets people know the phone is too hot when it does things. It used to do things, but not tell you.
When I lived in the desert, just having an iPhone in your pocket or on a table could sometimes cause the phone to turn itself off. If you were lucky, you'd see something very quickly appear on the screen about “Entering thermal shutdown” or some such. A minute later, you were out in the desert without a working phone.
Apple, and most tech companies, build their products for the environment where Apple, and most tech companies, are located — San Francisco. When I talk to tech people who work at these companies, sometimes they simply cannot wrap their brains around weather conditions that are commonplace elsewhere.
Another example is iPhone wired headphones. Theyʼre made with plastic that gets brittle in the cold. Of course, when youʼre bundled up against the cold is when you need your headphones the most. That was how I learned about Bluetooth headphones, and got a set of Sony headphones for use with my SonyEricsson M600c when commuting on the CTA in the middle of the night during Chicago winters. Apple wouldnʼt make its own wireless headphones until over a decade later.
“Max Ice” is my 80ʼs action hero stage name.
An object can be both well done, and not good at the same time. To wit: “Holiday Stuffing” favor potato chips from H.E.B.
The San Antonio supermarket chain has leapfrogged pumpkin spice season and landed firmly in the fuzzy, nostalgic quagmire of Thanksmas season.
Opening the bag, I took my usual deep breath of snackmosphere to preview what was ahead, and I nearly gagged. It really does smell very much like Stove-Top stuffing. It also tastes more like stuffing than a lot of brandsʼ actual boxed stuffing does these days.
So H.E.B. gets an A+ for execution, because when someone said “make stuffing-flavored potato chips,” someone else made it happen. But as food goes, itʼs just not good, because when you eat it, you expect one thing and get another.
Iʼll still finish the bag, though. And let the “Holiday” term slide because stuffing is traditional for both Christmas and Thanksgiving.
One of the best features of the Sunday Morning program on CBS is the part at the end where we get to see some part of the natural world. No lasers. No music. No talking heads. Just birds, and plants, and bees, and animals doing what they're meant to do.
While CBS has slashed the time devoted to that segment each week from minutes down to mere seconds, other television stations like KHOU/Houston and Sky News, have started adding these segments.
As a former television producer, I know that in addition to be beautiful and memorable and giving people a reason to stop and stare, these segments with soft ending times are useful for padding out a short show, or sacrificing so that I can cram in some last-minute story.
With the infinite resources of the intarweb, there's no need to cut nautre for time. So here is my gift to you: A turtle being all turtle-y in Hermann Park. Watch as long as you like.
Today I decided to make a Sears-accurate label for my Harmony cart.
If you're not a retro video game nerd, some of those words may not make sense. To elucidate:
The Harmony cart comes with a label that doesn't look like an Atari label, or a Sears label, so it kind of ruins the look of the machine. In fact, there's no label on the end at all. That's because that's where you jam the microSD card into the cart so you can play your games.
I found some fonts on the intarwebs and decided to teach myself a bit of Affinity Photo. The result is pretty good. It's far from perfect, mostly because I couldn't find a font that really matches the Sears font. Which makes sense, since Sears was a big enough company to have its own font artists.
Bauhaus appears to be the closest font, and there are hundreds of Bauhaus-inspired fonts available for free download on the internet. Sadly, most of them are corrupt, incomplete, or worse. It seems that the people who run free font web sites just copy files from one another, and don't bother to verify that the font actually works.
For the green text, I found a generic seven-segment-display-inspired font that's almost correct, except for the middle pointy bit of the capital M.
I printed out the label on glossy photo paper, which looks nice, but isn't truly accurate. To be accurate, it would be on matte label stock, sun faded, smeared with peanut butter, and have the corner peeled up a bit.
Since Sears was in the habit of renaming so many games, I decided to change the name of my Harmony cart to "Super Multi-Cart." The name just popped into my head.
Because the microSD card sticks out of the end of the Harmony cart a bit, the label doesn't lay flat. I haven't decided how to address this. My options are:
If you're into this sort of thing, here are the Affinity Photo label files I made, so you can print your own, or improve upon what I've done:
Halloween can be educational. In addition to teaching children about math (candy nutrition labels), geography (mapping out a trick-or-treat route), history (Halloween folklore), and extortion ("Trick or treat!"), it's also possible to learn about physics. The way to do that is with a Halloween bubble light.
I don't know why bubble lights went out of fashion, but showing a child that something that is boiling can still safe to touch is an opportunity to learn about the phases of matter, the elements, boiling points, and all kinds of happy physics and chemistry things.
Also, it's never too early to put up Halloween decorations — if they're educational.
The delightful thing about the Fresh Stacks version of Ritz crackers isn't that by putting the crackers in smaller sleeves, they stay fresher longer. It's that you never know how many crackers there are going to be in each sleeve.
In the photograph above, you can see that one sleeve has 14 crackers, while the other has 11. It's all the fun of a food lottery, but with a bonus side of vaguely feeling like you're being cheated.
I havenʼt lived in Texas long enough to consistently remember that some items in the supermarket are cheaper if theyʼre labeled in Spanish.
For example, here are two packages of bulk pumpkin seeds from H.E.B. The ones I bought on the 17th were the Spanish-labeled ones and cost $6.98 per pound.
A week later, I bought more pumpkin seeds, but accidentally got them from the English-labeled bin, so I ended up paying $7.98 a pound.
I initially noticed this while in the store because the two bins are near one another, which is why I picked the Spanish ones last time.
I suppose there are plenty of ways to get all angry and political about this, but Iʼm not. I find it amusing, and yet another one of the quirks of living Lone Star.
How does one get both drunk and sober at the same time? Booze coffee!
This isnʼt that, but itʼs what I imagine such a drink would be, if such a drink existed. Other than Irish coffee, which is more like coffee-flavored booze than booze-flavored coffee.
It will surprise no one that this gustatory confusion spews from the ever-reliable roastmasters at Piñon Coffee in Albuquerque. Iʼve tried hundreds of coffees from all over the world, and I keep going back to Piñonʼs larder. It must be something in the water. Free shipping doesn't hurt, either.
As promised by the fonts on the label, the vanilla flavor is smaller than the Bourbon flavor. It sneaks up on you like the guy pretending to be drunk at the end of the bar who picks your pocket while youʼre engrossed in your iPhone. The Bourbon flavor, on the other hand, smacks you on the side of the head like the stench of high-octane pee from the subway-tile-and-fly-poser-lined bathroom at CBGB.
On a scale from Never Again (1) to Sell a Kidney For More (10), this is about a 2. Four if it's on sale.
Itʼs fine for what it is, but even though Iʼm a quick riser, I like my coffee to be friendly in the morning, not to bite me on the leg and knock stuff off the coffee table with its tail.
Ordinary human being: “What's the longest day of the year?”Webdev: “In which font?”
Today I learned that there are both “ridged” and “wavy” potato chips, and theyʼre not the same thing.
Clearly, there are people who prefer one over the other, or both wouldnʼt be on offer.
“Insufficient” means “not enough,” it doesnʼt mean wrong. “Incorrect” is closer to what FortiClient is trying to say. This is why tech companies should hire a proofreader for anything that leaves the building, even if only on a contract basis. It makes you look amateur, and in the case of this security app — insecure.
Also, if you use “credential(s),” rather than just counting the number of credentials and using the correct word, thatʼs just lazy.
The call quality was awful. The organizer wasn't prepared, peopleʼs dogs kept barking, and I ran out of coffee. One star.
Oh, you mean how was the connection quality? Why didnʼt you ask that, Microsoft Teams?
My wife received a catalog in the mail from Scully & Scully. And just in time, too!
Iʼve been building a 300-foot-long 17th-century Spanish galleon in the back yard for the last five years, and need a massive desk for the captainʼs quarters. You know — to put my gold doubloon scale on and to shout “Arrrrrrr!” across at scallywags and landlubbers.
And at just $12,275, itʼs a bargain! Might as well get a full set of matching $3,000 chairs from the next page.
“Cache Update” is my 80ʼs action hero stage name.
This is no longer a fork. It is now a three-k.
Annie spends so much time sleeping in the closet that I decorated her front door for Halloween.
I guess someone on the iOS 16 team at Apple didnʼt check for NULL before shoving the date data into the string formatter. The lesson is, of course, that while you never trust external data, sometimes you can't trust internal data, either.
Still, Apple is the single largest company on the planet right now. If it canʼt do software, what chance do I have?
80 brazillion people stood in line for a day, or more, just to see The Queen's coffin for 15 seconds.
Things like this put the “great” into Great Britain.
40 brazillion people turned out to cheer King Charles Ⅲ during his brief visit to Wales today.
So much for the chattering anti-royalists who scream into their internet echo chamber that the monarchy is both widely and deeply despised in the land of the red dragon.
SAM76 was one of many computer languages that came out in the 1970ʼs that promised to be the “next big thing,” but failed to gain traction.
I haven't found a SAM76 interpreter to play with in 2022, so here's an example of what a SAM76 program would look like, from the May-June, 1978 issue of Creative Computing that would take a number from the terminal input, and uses recursion to print out the factorial of that number.
I'm no SAM76 expert, but I think there's a typo in this listing. I think the !%ii… is actually supposed to be !%is… to retrieve an “input string” from the terminal. But I'm happy to be proven wrong.
As you may have guessed from the ten slashes, this language is all about nesting commands. Amusingly, it doesn't matter how many slashes you close your expressions with, as long as it's enough. So just keep banging that slash key!
SAM76 is a great example of smart people dealing with the scarcity of their time. This is a language that has been optimized for teletypes, punch cards, and paper tape. The % isn't a command prompt, it's a command. (More specifically, a “warning character.”) The “mu” and “pt” and such are shortened, almost tokenized, keywords.
Sadly, there is no SAM76 entry on Wikipedia, and almost no information on the internet about it, so it will soon be erased from the public memory by search engines (*cough*Google*cough*) that choose to only show things currently trending in popular culture. Shakespeare, youʼre next.
This H.E.B. frozen cheese ravioli is “ready to cook.” Is there another option? Does H.E.B. sell “some assembly required” cheese ravioli?
But, wait — it gets worse. Even if you accept the cookies, all that happens is the over-friendly “Agreed!” button gets greyed out. You never actually get to proceed to the ITV News app.
As the Brits say, it's “not fit for purpose.”
Since Iʼm going to spend most of the morning watching Queen Elizabethʼs cortège on Sky News, I guess itʼs time to tuck into my Harrodʼs Knightsbridge Roast #08.
Unlike The Queen, who was a very strong woman, this coffee is rather weak. Itʼs very much diner coffee, similar to that which is served by the Omelete House in Las Vegas. Which was the last restaurant in which Jerry Lewis ate.
Perhaps it's only appropriate. The coffee is as weak as tea. And tea would have been a more appropriate choice this morning.
…Now select “Hyperlink” … No, the other “Hyperlink” … No, the one with the control decoration indicating … No, the other one … No, just mouse over “Hyperlink” … No, the other one …
This is why Iʼm reluctant to help people through their Microsoft woes.
Microsoft Outlook is telling me that there is a problem with Microsoft Word. I guess itʼs well-intentioned, but snitches get stitches.
I guess this is what happens when I rely on the same company that sells me plastic adhesive googlie eyes 👀 👀 👀 to deliver my prescriptions.
There's a big push in large healthcare companies to make things easier for patients. It sounds dumb to have to state that, but there has not always been the institutional will to care for patients on their level. But a lot of studies and computer models have shown that something as simple as repeating instructions to a patient can improve the outcomes of treatment in a percentage of people. With so many people in the world now, even a small change can mean enormous savings in money for hospitals, insurance companies, and the patients, themselves.
Unfortunately, we're still at the beginning of the process of bringing the healthcare institutions down to the level of the people they are supposed to serve. The use of regular language and easy methods is spreading, but remains uneven.
To wit: The image above, which is the first question asked when trying to book an imaging appointment with Houston Methodist Hospital.
This is an online form for patients, not doctors. When a regular person phones Methodist to make an imaging appointment, it suggests you use this form to make the appointment online.
I am not a doctor. How am I supposed to know if I need an “MRI 1.5T Wide Bore with Contrast,” or an “MRI 3T without Contrast,”, or a “Fluoroscopy,” or something else? It turns out the type of appointment I need isn't even listed in the options.
As someone who builds healthcare web sites for a living, I understand the technical reasons why this is the way it is. But I also understand that it doesn't have to be this way.
There are people in healthcare who care quite a lot about making things easier, and therefore better, for patients. That caring and understanding rarely pervades and entire organization. But it has to.
What we see here is, in my semi-expert opinion, a breakdown in the chain of caring. Something got outsourced to an external company that doesn't have to care. Someone didn't get trained in the importance of making things easier for the patients, and let this awful thing see the light of day. Some web developer somewhere doesn't have the authority, confidence, or will to question what's been handed to him to produce. He's just there to push buttons and cash a check.
Every person at every level of a healthcare organization not only had to be told to care, but trained to care. Even, and especially, the directors and C-levels. The upper levels are told about how much money can be saved by making healthcare more accessible to ordinary people. But they aren't trained in what that actually looks like, so they are not able to spot mistakes as they're happening, so they can have the people under them correct the problems before they persist and spread. Allowing people to say “That's the way we've always done it” is evidence of a sclerotic organization.
Similarly, and as alluded to above, with the continual outsourcing of functions, you also end up outsourcing caring. Someone pasting together AJAX snippets from StackOverflow in an SalesForce application on the other side of the planet doesn't care that the web site is useless to 90% of users. They've done their job, and that's all their staffing company cares about. It's important to understand that lack of detail and care makes your healthcare company look bad, and it hurts your bottom line by making your treatments less effective, and making your doctors work more.
Everyone in a healthcare organization has to not only care about the patients, but be trained in this. Not just the hands-on people like doctors and nurses and patient liaisons. Everyone. The people who process forms. The people in accounting. And, yes, the I.T. people. Every single person in a healthcare organization affects patients in some way.
To its credit, of the dozens healthcare organizations I've interacted with in dozens of states, Methodist is among the better and more advanced with regard to how it treats its patients. But the process is incomplete.
Healthcare companies talk a lot about caring. But unless there is an ethos of responsibility to the patient that includes every single person in that organization, it's all just marketing.
Iʼm always trying to explain to my coworkers the importance of future-proofing what you publish.
Here we see a happy coffee sleeve touting Houston Methodist Hospitalʼs rank as the number 16 hospital in the nation. Except that it isnʼt.
Methodist is actually number 15. Sixteen was last year. But some middle manager thought it was a good idea to order fifty brazillion coffee sleeves flogging the #16 position, and now itʼs stuck under-bragging until they run out.
“Whadda ya mean there's no Facebook Messenger on this thing? I have to call my bookie to beat the spread!”
I'm not sure where the Amazon.com chatbot picked up the phrase “Thank you for understanding here.” But, inspired by its gratefulness, I think Iʼll understand “over there” next.
With half a trillion dollars to work with, this still happens to Amazon.com. So, what chance do I have?
At Wal-Mart, pipe cleaners are now called “fuzzy sticks.” Iʼm not sure what to blame for this change in terminology. Perhaps:
I guess all of the new people don't know about Sherlock Holmes.
Iʼm old enough to have lived in a world before “pumpkin spice” everything.
I was digging the Halloween decorations out of the basement today, when I came across my old PSP gear. Joy!
Sonyʼs PlayStation Portable wasn't the first portable video game system I ever owned. I had the original Atari Lynx back in the 80ʼs. But the PSP brings back warm memories of a time in my life when I was more full of hope, and the world seemed to be filled with endless possibilities
I was in Japan in February of 2005, a couple of months after the PSPʼs launch, but two months before it became available in the rest of the world. My wife and I were riding on a subway in Tokyo when an OL (“office lady” — the female version of “salaryman”) sat down next to where I was standing. She pulled out a PSP and started playing ルミネス (“Lumines” in English). I was absolutely enthralled. I immediately said to Darcie, “Thatʼs what I'm bringing home from Japan.”
Yodobashi Camera is like the old Crazy Eddie electronics department store, except taking up a dozen floors of a skyscraper. If it runs on electricity, it's probably at Yodobashi. Anything from a Hello Kitty waffle maker to a household earthquake detector. From a refrigerator to a radiation monitor that you hang around your neck. From a transistor radio to the latest computer gear. If there was a PSP in Tokyo, I was sure I'd find it here.
Except that I didnʼt. Yodobashi was too much for me. Too many levels. Too much stuff. Precisely zero signs printed in English. I was over my head. Finally, I had to ask for help. A young man in an ill-fitting suit and an eager grin decided to take a chance with me.
My Japanese is bad. Real bad. When weʼre in Japan, my wife is in her element. She handles the shopgirls, and drags me around like a wide-eyed toddler. But I was on my own this time.
I tried to communicate very clearly and plainly, “Video games?” Blank stare. I broke out my best non-regional radio voice and enunciated as clearly as I could: “Play-stay-shun Port-a-bull.” Nervous smile.
Finally, I resorted to pantomime. I held my hands out in front of me in loose vertical fists, and pumped my thumbs up and down like I was pressing buttons.
With an expression of exuberant relief and a flourish of forearms and pointing palms, he guided me to a half-height white cabinet, bent over, slid back the glass door and popped up with a glossy white box.
With a hasty bow, he took off like jackrabbit down the warren of Panasonic boom boxes, Sony Cliés, and Sanyo voice recorders. His job was done, and he was happy to be done with me, and out of there.
That's why to this day, my wife and I call our video game machines “Peesps.”
Today I learned the local nursery sells Arabica plants. The sign says they grow to be eight feet tall, but have to be protected from the cold. Of course, the ceiling in my library is ten feet tall, so maybe...
Netflix says today marks one year since I've had Netflix. Which is not true. I've had Netflix for 24 years. But Netflix doesn't have a way to put an account on hold when you go on vacation, or move. Instead, you have to cancel your account, then sign up again when you come back home or arrive in your new place.
Amazingly, and much to its credit, when you sign up again, your Netflix queue is restored, and you're right where you left off. So I guess it's only ½ a fail.
If youʼve ever wondered what San Antonio tastes like, H.E.B. has you covered.
Taste of San Antonio sounds like a Summer food festival, but it's actually a flavor of coffee, available in regular, decaf, K-cups, and decaf K-cups, for those of you care more about the look of your coffee maker than the quality of the coffee it spits out.
Apparently, San Antonio is “Medium-bodied with cinnamon, chocolate and vanilla flavors.” I only know one person in San Antonio, and Iʼd say that describes her correctly.
It's both naturally, and artificially flavored. For your safety.
To me, it tastes a bit like Biscochito coffee from Piñon Coffee in Albuquerque. But weaker. But that last part might just be because itʼs from a supermarket, and not a place that draws milk foam cowboys on top of your drink.
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.
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.
Annie tucks tighter than Thomas Daley in the men's 10 meter synchronized platform event.
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.
Looking for a fine collection of photos depicting Mozambique, Italy, Japan, and the Middle East? Just search Adobe Stock for “Atlantic City, New Jersey.”
Best use of these screens I've seen yet.
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.
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.
Fidelity has 4½ trillion dollars ($4,500,000,000,000.00). If it canʼt make a web site work, what chance do I have?
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.
Latte art from Greenway Coffee. I think it looks a bit like the iris growing in my garden.
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!
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.
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.
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.
When your three-billion-dollar companyʼs error messages start with “Whoops!,” it does not inspire confidence in your three-billion-dollar company.
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?
H.E.B. has over 100,000 employees. Someone should get out and push.
I sure hope Iʼve never broken a web site so badly that it starts squirting JSON all over the intarwebs.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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:
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.
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.
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.
If you see an advertisement for cooking oil while on the subway, you might be in the Middle West.
Chicago has better graffiti than Houston has legitimate murals.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
I used to live in a state where prostitution is legal, and even Iʼm not sure what a “ham quicke” is.
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.
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.
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.
7:14am, over downtown Houston.
It makes me think of the Poirot line, “Old sins cast long shadows.”
Flying over Houston Hobby Airport (HOU). Much improved over the last time I flew from there.
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.
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.
I have a bad habit of holding on to transportation cards; especially if they have leftover money still loaded on them.
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.
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.
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.
I think this is the oldest of the bunch. I have no idea if thereʼs any money left on it.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Hacker News is broken. Silicon Valley productivity up 63%.
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.
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?
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...”
The National Weather Service has a budget of $1.2 billion. If it canʼt keep a web site from drowning, what chance do I have?
People forget how primitive video games were in the early years. For a very long time, the only way to start a game was to press the Restart button on the console. It would be years before anyone dreamed up the idea of starting or restarting a game by pressing a button on the controller thatʼs right there in the playerʼs hand. Itʼs so elementary that people today take for granted that itʼs always been that way.
In the early years of video games, there was no such thing as sitting back and relaxing while playing a game, unless it was something with no end, like the free draw mode in Surround. You had to reach out and touch the console every few minutes when the game ended.
I lost my debit card a month ago. I found it today, wedged under one of the fins in the dryer. That means it not only went through the washing machine, it went through about 30 dryer cycles.
The card still works. The chip is fine, and the mag stripe works OK on newer machines.
Do that with your fancy device with Apple Pay, or whatever Google is calling its wallet this week, and you know what happens? You walk home.
I see people on the internet all the time claiming that plastic cards and cash are things of the past, and no longer needed. Thatʼs only true if you never go anywhere interesting, never eat anywhere unusual, and never do laundry.
Iʼm supposed to have super-duper awesome benefits with United Airlines because I have a Chase credit card. A couple of weeks ago, I decided to see what those benefits are. Naturally, the link on the Chase web site was broken. It just looped though a login screen over and over.
Since Iʼm a paying customer, I moaned about it to Chaseʼs customer service.
I ended up booking my ticket on another airline, and forgot all about it until I got this in the the mail today. I guess someone at Chase figured it would be faster to mail me a book about the benefits than to fix the link.
I guess this ends up being a story about good customer service, because not only do I have the book, but I just checked, and the link is fixed, too.
Pocari Sweat is an interesting thing. Japanese people love it because itʼs a great hydration drink. Americans who like to cosplay Japanese, but will never go there and know of Japan only what they read on the internet, like Pocari Sweat because of its quirky, to American ears, use of the word “Sweat.”
When recovering from a sunburn or the flu, Pocari Sweat is my go-to drink. It used to be rare and exotic, but now it's available in Japanese-themed stores across America, and guzzled down by people who know nothing about Japanese culture other than comic books and a vision of Akihabara that is 30 years out of date.
Most of them don't know that the Sweat theyʼre sucking isn't the real thing.
In this photo above, a bottle of real Pocari Sweat is on the left. On the right is the American version, which an internet search shows is actually bottled by the Crystal Geyser Water Company at its co-packing facilities in Bakersfield, California.
Is there a difference between Japanese Pocari Sweat and Bakersfield Pocari Sweat? But hereʼs what's in each:
Another interesting difference is the serving size. The suggested serving size for the American Pocari Sweat is one full bottle — 500 milliliters, giving you 130 calories.
The suggested serving size of the Japanese Pocari Sweat is 100 milliliters — a fifth of a bottle, giving you 25 calories. If you decided to drink the entire Japanese bottle anyway, thatʼs 125 calories.
Is one better than the other? Perhaps if you have strong opinions about high fructose corn syrup, or grapefruit juice. But taste-wise, I canʼt detect a difference. The Japanese drink has about 4% fewer calories, assuming you drink the entire bottle. And like many Americans, I am a firm believer that 1 container = 1 serving.
Still, itʼs useful to know the difference, if you hang out in places that attract fake Nihonjin. To sort out the posers, just look at the label on the bottle. Real Pocari Sweat sold in America will have a paper nutrition label pasted over the original Japanese label.
I think that Yamato Transport has one of the best corporate logos on the plant. The delivery company uses a stylized mother cat carrying a kitten by the scruff of its neck.
Relatable content with bold colors. Itʼs my understanding that people in Japan just call the company “Black Cat.”
Me: “Hey, Siri, stop the music.”
Siri: “Sorry, Wayne. I'm unable to stop.”
Really? It's only R.E.M. It's not like you can dance to it.
Scrappy tech startup in 1972:
Two guys in the basement of a college science building, working all night with tubes, relays, and transistors.
Scrappy tech startup in 1982:
Two guys in a garage, working all night wire-wrapping circuits.
Scrappy tech startup in 1992:
Two guys in a college dorm, working all night optimizing cross-platform compiler routines.
Scrappy tech startup in 2002:
Two guys in an anonymous strip mall, trying to cram their big idea through a 56 kilobit ASDL connection.
Scrappy tech startup in 2012:
Scrappy tech startup in 2022:
Two guys on the 43rd floor of a bank building, bluffing their way through a PowerPoint in front of a bunch of V.C.'s.
Have you ever noticed that if you search for “doctor patient vaccine” in Adobe Stock, 90% of the fake doctors injecting their fake patients are using the same technique that a junkie uses to mainline skag? Have these photographers never received any kind of vaccine ever in their lives?
Stackoverflow is broken. Silicon Valley grinds to a halt.
Have you ever wondered what the top of a light rail train looks like?
I thought I was being all clever, using my phoneʼs camera flash to see what was making that noise in the dark.
It turns out, I donʼt want to know.
Me (to the HomePod three feet in front of me): “Hey, Siri, is it going to rain today?”
A different HomePod (three rooms away): “-mumble- -mumble- -mumble- -something- -mumble-”
When I lived in Houston the first time, there were many streets in Midtown that still had their historic tile mosaic street signs intact. In the decades I was away, the streets of Midtown were rebuilt, and the old curb signs removed so that the sidewalks could meet A.D.A. standards. Fortunately, the City of Houston decided that instead of throwing away the historic mosaics, it would embed them into the face of the sidewalks to preserve them.
The results is bad. Really bad. What you see above is the result of two things I've observed:
The first point I've learned from actual people. Iʼve met a number of people with this “good enough” attitude, and lack of pride in the things they do. One guy who thought this way bought his wife a used iron from eBay because he thought it was a “good enough” anniversary present.
The second point, I discovered while trying to explain the situation with mining rights on the checkerboard sections of the Navajo Nation. The person I was speaking with had no concept of what I was saying until I showed her what it looked like on a map. Until then, she had no reference for “checkers” or “checkerboard.”
I suspect what happened to the sidewalks of Midtown was a combination of a lack of pride in one's work, combined with a lack of basic knowledge. The result is that it makes the City of Houston, and its people, look stupid to anyone who uses a sidewalk in Midtown.
Today, Siri informed me that I use my phone an average of 19 hours and 22 minutes per day. Either Siri is wrong, or I really need to eat more fiber.
I finally got around to fixing up the over-the-air antenna hooked up to my TV. I re-scanned and found 121 channels.
Not all of the channels are great. But that's no different than the DirecTV service I have in my apartment, for which I am obligated to pay $80 a month. Except that the majority of the dross over the air is shopping channels and infomercials, while DirecTV seems to be 90% pornography, sports, and also shopping.
The important thing is that with the over-the-air antenna, I get The! Movies! Network!, and MeTV+. I've also discovered a channel that is mostly British and Australian DIY and lifestyle shows, like Escape to the Country, of which Darcie and have long been fans. Going to have to rev that $20 ATSC DVR into high gear for a while.
Here's a table of what I found, mostly for my own reference, and subject to change with a shift in the wind.
If you're viewing this on a mobile phone, you won't be able to see the table until you hold your phone horizontally. That's because tables look like absolute pants on phones.
|Display channel||Station||ID||Network||Primary language||Content|
|2-3||KPRC-TV/Houston||H&I||Heroes and Icons||English||Variety|
|14-1||KETH-TV/Houston||TBN HD||Trinity Broadcasting Network||English||Religion|
|21-4||KVQT-LD/Houston||Classic||Classic Reruns TV||English||Variety|
|21-9||KVQT-LD/Houston||Biz-TV||Biz Television||English||Talk shows|
|21-10||KVQT-LD/Houston||NowMTV||NowMedia TV||English and Spanish||Variety|
|21-11||KVQT-LD/Houston||ACE||American Classic Entertainment||English||Variety|
|21-13||KVQT-LD/Houston||MBC||Millennium Broadcasting Channel||English||African|
|26-3||KRIV/Houston||FOX WX||Fox Weather||English||Weather|
|27-2||KQHO-LD/Houston||S.E.T||Saigon Broadcasting Television Network||Vietnamese||Variety|
|27-3||KQHO-LD/Houston||Fodd&FU||Food and Fun TV||Vietnamese||Variety|
|27-8||KQHO-LD/Houston||theV||Global Mall TV||Vietnamese||Shopping|
|27-10||KQHO-LD/Houston||Peace and Happiness Television||Vietnamese||Lifestyle|
|28-4||KUGB-CD/Houston||KUGB-CD||Magnificent Movies Network||English||Movies|
|28-7||KUGB-CD/Houston||KUGB-CD||Classic Reruns TV||English||Variety|
|32-4||KEHO-LD/Houston||KEHO-LD||Magnificent Movies Network||English||Movies|
|34-1||KUVM-CD/Houston||KUVM-CD||LATV||Spanish and English||Variety|
|34-3||KUVM-CD/Houston||KUVM-CD||Magnificent Movies Network||English||Movies|
|34-5||KUVM-CD/Houston||KUVM-CD||Magnificent Movies Network||English||Movies|
|45-4||KXLN-DT/Rosenberg||NTD||New Tang Dynasty Television||Chinese||Variety|
|46-3||KBPX-LD/Houston||Nudu||Nu DuMont Television||English||Variety|
|49-4||KPXB-TV/Conroe||Defy TV||Defy TV||English||Variety|
|49-8||KPXB-TV/Conroe||HSN||Home Shopping Network||English||Shopping|
|57-3||KUBE-TV/Baytown||SBN||SonLife Broadcasting Network||English||Religion|
|57-6||KUBE-TV/Baytown||Mi Raza TV||Mi Raza TV||Spanish||Infomercials|
|57-10||KUBE-TV/Baytown||AChurch||Three Angels Broadcast Network||Spanish||Religion|
|67-4||KZJL/Houston||HSN||Home Shopping Network||English||Shopping|
The coffee of the day is Starbucks Veranda roast. I got this bag for free with my wife's Starbucks points/stars/thumbs/whatever. It's very hard for free coffee to be bad, so it must be good.
My memory is that Starbucks used to have a Veranda coffee, and a Blonde coffee. This is labeled both. I know that blonde is a type of roast, so I'm a little corn-fused here. Maybe Starbucks comnbined the two products into one to cut down on SKUs.
Today I learned from tech support at Citibank that Safari is not supported for “security reasons.” She recommended that I use the vastly less-secure Google Chrome browser, instead.
Good job, Citibank.
I sure wish I could book a flight on United Airlines. But for three days in two different browsers on two different computers, all I get when I search is this screen, which never changes.
Maybe American Airlines wants my money.
HEB made $31,000,000,000 last year. If it can't make a web site work, what chance do I have?
Thanks, Amazon. Ooh! Paper towels!
Sometimes if I canʼt sleep, I like to scroll through Apple Maps and see what can be seen. On this particular night, I found a flock of birds near NASA. They look like egrets or something similar to me.
Some people like to measure a computerʼs ability to asking if it can run Linux. Some ask if it can run Doom. I ask, ”Can it run Zork?” The answer for my TRS-80 Model 100 is “Yes, with a little help.”
If your electric company promotes itself with the slogan “Giddy Up!” you might be in Texas.
And if you trust something as important as electricity to a company that promotes itself with the slogan “Giddy Up!” you get what you deserve.
My headless M1 Mac Mini crashed hard, so I had to hook up a monitor and re-install macOS Monterrey, which after 30 minutes helpfully tells me, “About a minute remaining.”
And by “About a minute” it meant a little under three hours.
It rained last night, so this morning, I can be an artsy-fartsy photographer in the garden.
Today was the last day of operation of the Artefaqs Corporation.
Unless you're a low-level paper pusher at a local, county, state, or federal licensing entity, you most likely didn't notice.
Artefaqs Corporation was my first business. I started it in 2003, and for 19 years it provided income for me and my family. At first, it did quite well, and I had many clients from big-name banks to construction companies to global real estate developers. But the world has changed over the last two decades, and it was time to officially close up shop.
When I left the world of journalism, Artefaqs was my sole source of income, and it did quite well. The first nail in the coffin was the Great Recession, which started in 2007, but didn't hit me until 2008. Most of my clients disappeared overnight, or no longer required my services.
So, I pivoted. Moved the company to a cheaper state, and soldiered on. Everything was moving along smoothly, until the next financial crisis hit a decade later. By this time, I still wasn't fully recovered from the last pivot, so I ended up taking part-time work coding for another company.
I wasn't entirely happy with the company, but it helped pay the bills, and allowed me to keep a measure of semi-autonomy in my life. Still, not being able to devote myself to Artefaqs full-time meant that it couldn't grow and thrive. But that eventually ended when my job was outsourced to India.
I sent a day wandering the waterfront of Laughlin, Nevada feeling sorry for myself. Then I realized that I had two choices in life: Go work for someone else full-time, or devote myself to Artefaqs and re-build it full-time. I chose the safer road, which was to go work for someone else.
I sometimes wonder what I could have made of Artefaqs, had I pursued a second pivot. But the greater concern I had at the time was providing healthcare for my family. Working for someone else allowed me to have health insurance far better than what I could have bought on my own. So, even though I wonder, I know it was the right thing to do.
Now that I had a full-time job, Artefaqs moved solidly to the back burner and over the next few years, where it cooled to the point where the cost of keeping the company alive (about $2,000 a year) was more than it was making in revenue.
Now that it's over, I can say it was a good experience. And I learned a lot, so I don't regret doing it. Most importantly:
If I ever get in a bind, or get bored, or my current employer disappears, at least I know that I have the skills to quickly start a new company, and at least try to put food on the table for my family. We'll see what happens.
This morning, one of the bushes in my garden decided to surprise me with yellow flowers.
I decided to see why the holes in my Swiss cheese plant are so much larger than they should be, and found this little guy curled up in the garden.
I guess I should squish him or spray him or something. But I think Iʼll just let him have the plant. I can grow another. And the world needs butterflies more than I need yet another plant. Plus, birds gotta eat, too!
I shall call him “Herman.”
The Main Street Square fountains are being tested again. These have been broken for the entire year Iʼve lived in Texas, and who knows for how long before that.
The last time I bought Orca Bay salmon fillets, the package weighed a pound. Now it's just ten ounces. Thatʼs 37½% smaller.
Either my supermarket switched to carrying the smaller package and kept the same price, or the fish company is putting fewer fish in the package.
Since thereʼs a different photo on the package, it doesnʼt seem like the fish company is trying to pull a fast one, so I blame the supermarket.
Dominoʼs Pizza made four billion dollars in 2020. It should have enough people working on its web site to make sure the CAPTCHA doesn't overflow its container.
It also shouldnʼt use Google's reCAPTCHA service, but thatʼs a different bucket of plastic monkeys.
This is what happens when you try to let Houston Methodist know about an error on its web site.
Thatʼs one way to reduce customer service costs by 100%.
“Max Cool” is my 80ʼs action hero stage name.
And I guess “Door Alarm” is my trusty sidekick.
Dessert tonight is some sorta chocolate mousse cake. Amtrak makes a fine sorta chocolate mousse cake. If my wife wasnʼt sitting right there, I would ask this sorta chocolate mousse cake to marry me.
Wait, I found the description:
Flourless Chocolate Torte: The perfect paring of bittersweet chocolates, topped with semisweet chocolate truffle ganache and drizzled with chocolate sauce and whipped cream.
I donʼt know why it has a hole in. Maybe thatʼs where the calories go.
Tonightʼs Amtrak appetizer is going through an identity crisis.
“Lobster crab cake: Pan-roasted lobster crab cake served over a Farro, butternut squash and craisin salad with Sriracha cream.”
So itʼs got lobsters pretending to be crabs, and cranberries pretending to be raisins. Doesnʼt matter — it was really good.
It seems that my choices are to:
Maybe Iʼll enter my personal financial information later, when Amazon.comʼs system is a little more stable.
The bar at the Hotel Monteleone is now on my list of favorites. Itʼs famous for its Carousel Bar, which is good because every historic hotel should have a bit of history. But I prefer the adjacent area, instead.
The carousel is right at the barʼs entrance, which means that the spectacle and tourist book hype ensnares the chavs and attention-seekers before they can go any farther. This allows the rest of the establishment to be a more mellow, convivial place. The carousel area is for bros and the selfie-absorbed to watch sportsball and make a spectacle of themselves. The remainder, at least during the day, is a place where you can hide in a wingback chair and tuck into your newly purchased William Faulkner book. The adult beverages wonʼt help you understand the first three chapters, but at least you can enjoy the confusion knowing that this is the proper place to do this most proper of things.
Pull that switch, and youʼll cause a Blackity Black Out.
Fortunately, spelling doesnʼt count on yard sale flyers. Perhaps spelling “tchotchkes” as “chotskies" is an indication of quality second-hand goods at low low prices.
The sign reads:
U.S. chess master
Play the living legend
Itʼs nice to see that sidewalk chess is still a thing. I havenʼt seen it since I lived in Chicago. It makes one feel better about the neighborhood and the city to know that things that are both smart and random can happen in public.
Perhaps not so random, as there was a chess bar across the street from this scene. But still — New Orleans has a chess bar. What is this, Tyrol?
I am sad to report that time, economy, and pandemic have not been kind to the place. It seems to have lowered its standards in order to bring in more foot traffic.
There are dinner specials. The wait staff is spread thin. Tourists are allowed in all dining rooms not only without a jacket, but in T-shirts and sockless. Any of this would have been absolutely unthinkable not that many years ago.
The food remains solid, if smaller. On the plus side, the baked Alaska remains among the best I've tried, even if it's been tarted up for the Instygram age.
Then again, when Iʼm 182 years old, I will probably make some concessions, too.
What you see above is the result is my inability to clearly communicate what I wanted. I wanted an iced coffee in a paper cup. The reason was simple: Mr. Wolfʼs cold drink cups are boring unadorned plastic, and lack the cool wolf logo. I wanted the dapper wolf on my drink.
The baristas were nice enough, but perhaps it was heat stroke that prevented me from explaining what I wanted.
In the end, we compromised on the pictured frankendrink: Iced coffee poured in a plastic cup, and the plastic cup jammed in a paper cup. Close enough. Still good.
PJʼs Coffee is one of New Orleansʼ hometown brews. Itʼs basic, but has the virtues of being consistent, pleasant, and ubiquitous. Food offerings seem to vary widely from store to store, but a bit of hyper-local flavor is a good thing.
A lot of people compare it to Starbucks, but itʼs a different animal. Itʼs more akin to Peetʼs Coffee, or a better grade of Dunkinʼ Donuts.
PJʼs is also one of the very few coffee companies that sells beans specifically for cold brew. It has the virtues of being consistent, pleasant, and in my refrigerator.
I find that wandering the streets at dawn is a good way to get to know a city.
New York wakes up to a sudden swarm of delivery trucks, bringing the day's supplies into the metropolis for consumption by its populace.
Seattle wakes up more slowly, to the sounds of ferries and grinding beans, and crusty-eyed baristas bracing for the morning onslaught.
Chicago wakes up to the march of civil servants — transit workers, garbage men, traffic aides — putting things in order for those who will follow.
New Orleans… New Orleans wakes up with a hangover.
Other cities tidy their rooms before they go to bed. New Orleans wakes up weighed down by heavy air, drifts of garbage, and the slow-moving rivulets of other peopleʼs bodily expulsions.
From west to east comes a brawl of cleaners — both human and mechanical — to shift the debris, sweep the horizontal, and hose down everything that will take a wet. Within 90 minutes, even the hygiene abomination of Canal Street exhales in relief, ready for another assault from the next shift of tourists.
One of the interesting things about the built environment in New Orleans is the way some buildings manage to survive.
Houses in New Orleans have to deal with termites, mold, rising damp, horrendous rainstorms, aggressive vegetation, and more.
Looking at buildings like these makes me wonder how many dozens of hurricanes theyʼve been through, but are still standing after a hundred or more years.
Meanwhile, the house I rented in Las Vegas needed major repairs just 20 years after it was built.
Café Du Mondé coffee is an acquired taste. And try as I might over the years, I haven't acquired that taste yet.
Millions of words have been written on and about chicory coffee, and thereʼs nothing I can add to that volume. You either like it, or you donʼt. I drink it when Iʼm in New Orleans, because itʼs the local flavor, just like the kick in the kidneys of Turkish coffee in Istanbul, or the diabetes-in-a-cup that flows on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington.
I think Café Du Mondé persists, in part, because it is the location where a lot of peopleʼs good memories were begotten.
If youʼre drink Café Du Mondé under the original expanse of awnings late on a rainy night with someone you love, youʼre bound to be in a good place, even if for only as long as the coffee lasts. And in the future, when you think of pleasant memories, and the pleasant places where they were spawned, just like the rain, sticky powdered sugar, and inadequate napkins, the coffee — as bad as it is — is part of that memory, and elevated in oneʼs mind.
Café Du Mondé coffee was special when I first had it, but today itʼs available in almost every supermarket in America, and in places all around the world. So itʼs not unique. But that doesnʼt mean it isnʼt special. If not on the tongue, at least in the mind; which is usually all that matters.
For a coffee shop with “beignet” in its name, beignets seem to be an afterthought at Cafe Beignet.
I suspect that this chain does well because it has excellent placement, magically appearing at the right time in all the right places. But if beignets are on your mind, keep walking. There are better options.
These guys ran a 136-year-old hotel that inspired, entertained, and hosted scriveners like William Faulkner, John Grisham, Ernest Hemingway, Anne Rice, Tennessee Williams, and got their giant oil-painted pictures hanging on the walls of the crystal chandeliered lobby.
What have you done today?
When new used books are received at Crescent City Books, sometimes it is found that they contain little slips of paper. So the staff at Crescent City posts those around the store for everyone to see.
Thereʼs shopping lists, love notes, and incoherent word salads of all kinds.
If youʼre looking for inspiration, itʼs thumbtacked serendipity aplenty.
I donʼt know if lunch at Galatoireʼs was the finest meal Iʼve ever eaten, but it is certainly in the top two of all time.
Part of it was the food, which was excellent. But most of it was the people. Both the staff, and the other customers.
The wait staff were the most professional Iʼve ever seen. They have mastered the art of being exactly where they should be at exactly the right time. Of being invisible, yet always on hand. Of being friendly, while being anonymous. Of putting the “serve” into service. And not just the ones attending my table. Watching the others around the dining room, I could see similar attention being given to everyone.
When the entire staff from the butter-and-rolls guy to the manager visits a pair of regulars over the course of an hour and greets them like old friends, it shows why those people keep coming back.
And thatʼs just it — this was a room of regulars. Each part of an individual knot of friends, but in a room full of friends new, old, and not yet met. And everyone so interesting to look at and listen to that my wife were silent with each other as we eagerly devoured multiple conversations from multiple tables at the same time.
Plus a scattering of people who looked like writers, playwrights, bankers, fashion designers, and a 30ish woman eating alone that the staff ensured was never lonely during her meal.
An in this age when too many American restaurants think “hospitality” means putting a time limit on your visit so they can “turn” the table for a new revenue source, my wife and I never felt rushed. We were there for two-and-a-half hours, and could easily have stayed longer. That was also true for everyone else. Most of the parties were already seated when we arrived, and when we left were still there talking, reminiscing, conspiring, and engaging in fruitful human-to-human contact in a way that has been largely lost elsewhere.
As a restauranteur, when a hundred people gather in your room, and nobody takes out their smartphone, you know youʼve done your job right.
Curation is the key to quality. It's the difference between a disc jockey and an iPod on shuffle mode. It brings order to chaos. It allows the best things to stand out in a way that makes sense.
Curated in probably the best way to describe Faulkner House Books. Perhaps, curated to a fault. This isn't a place you go to explore the unknown. It's where you go to fill in the gaps in your knowledge. To buy important books by important people. To re-read all the things you were assigned to read in high school, but were too young to appreciate.
There probably isn't a bad book in the entire store, which is both a blessing and a curse. It's good to know that no matter what you buy, your money won't be wasted. But at the same time, the only kind of undiscovered fringe writers you will find are people who were undiscovered and fringe half a century ago, and are now so mainstream their books are covered in school.
I ended up with Soldier's Pay, because it's the book that William Faulkner wrote when he lived in this building, which is why Faulkner House Books is called Faulkner House Books. It's a good book, once you burrow through the first few chapters and get used to the writing style. In high school I was given the choice of a Hemingway book and a Faulkner book, and I chose Hemingway. Now my education is complete.
Even for K-cup coffee in a two-star hotel, Metropolitan by Farmer Brothers isn't a very good coffee. It's the sort of coffee that you make in your room on your first morning in town, which then causes you to wander the streets each subsequent morning looking for better coffee.
Considering the catalog of cost-cutting measures employed by the Hotel Saint Marie, perhaps this was a deliberate choice to keep from having to spend an extra 75¢ servicing the room.
I found a pay phone!
Using a pay phone requires three things that are increasingly scarce:
There are still lots of payphones in the world, but theyʼre generally not on the streets where they can be easily noticed. Coins are so scarce that even banks have a hard time getting them. And while it used to be the case that most people knew a dozen or two phone numbers by heart, today they use a gadget to remember for them.
I understand why these things happen, but it seems like there should still be some kind of “infrastructure of last resort” for emergencies, misfortune, and those on the margins of society. New technology is great, but it still breaks too easily for us to rely on it enough in many situations.
This is Snook, the shopcat at Louisiana Music Factory. Heʼs very affectionate when not sleeping in a sunny window, but doesnʼt respond when asked for advice on jazz records.
Museum cafes are almost universally overpriced. I figure that Iʼm paying a premium for the convenience of giving my feet a break, having a snack, and then resuming my mental stimulation with minimal delay.
A lot of museums think their food has to look like art, cater to waifs, and embrace the ”less is more” cliché.
But the New Orleans Museum of Art is different. Portions are large, prices are reasonable, and its fried chicken sandwich is quite good.
Also, thereʼs paintings and stuff in the other rooms of the building.
Meet my friend, Lily. This is her pad.
Such a nice, elegant French Quarter courtyard. Or, at least it would be if the Hotel Saint Marie didnʼt use it as a smoking lounge. I had to wait five minutes for the drifting smoke to clear to get a nice picture of the fountain.
Honestly, though, this is among the least of the Hotel Saint Marieʼs sins. Never again.
CCʼs Coffee House is another local slinger of joe in Louisiana. The “C” and the other “C” stand for “Community Coffee,” the Baton Rouge company from which this small chain originated. So, really the full name is “Community Coffee's Coffee House,” which entirely fails to roll off the tongue.
CCʼs is good, and the Pelican State could use more of them. Itʼs a reliable cuppa, and the cafes I visited are both spacious and low-pressure.
Since theyʼre both local, itʼs natural to compare CCʼs Coffee with PJʼs Coffee. CCʼs is perhaps a scosh below P.J.ʼs in terms of flavor, but while P.J. seems to aspire to replicating the Starbucks proliferation model, CCʼs has a serious local vibe. Even its drinks have names like Mochasippi, embracing its location in a way that PJʼs only does in a token fashion, like offering café au lait. Even Dunkinʼ can do that.
I did purchase beans from CCʼs, and they were unremarkable. Not bad. Not good. Diner grade coffee, if thatʼs what youʼre into.
Sounds about right. If you canʼt trust graffiti, who can you trust?
The sign on the outside reads “No loitering or sitting here.” The artist on the inside is clearly both sitting and loitering as he works his watercolors.
At 6am, after a hard nightʼs rain, even Bourbon Street doesnʼt look half bad.
My wife has a thing about restaurant ceilings. She tries not to look at them, because they might ruin her meal.
After learning this, I've developed a habit of always looking at restaurant ceilings, and her fears are not unreasonable — some of them are disgusting. Smoke-soaked corbels, brown-stained drop ceilings, mysterious holes that could be entries for any number of creepy-crawlies.
I think the ceiling above the bar at The Court of Two Sisters is among the worst. It's like the backdrop for some kind of over-the-top Disney pirate ride, but in real life, with real cobwebs, and real who-knows-what. It was very easy to imagine a spider dropping down and adding just a bit of crunch to someone's cocktail. Ick.
The restaurantʼs web site claims eating there is a “one-of-a-kind experience.” Well, it was certainly memorable.
My wife and I had dinner at The Court of Two Sisters. I got the pork chop, with came with a side of cornbread and a drizzle of pecan syrup.
O.K., maybe not a drizzle. More like a deluge. Perhaps a flood.
There was so much syrup in the dish, that I couldn't taste the pork, so I canʼt even say if it was good. With the cornbread absorbing the syrup puddle, it was more like breakfast than dinner.
I have a rule about meat: The only reason to drown it in sauce is to hide a bad cut of beef. I donʼt know if that applies to pork, as well.
All that said, The Court of Two Sisters deserves credit for at least being open. The pandemic has ruined dining in New Orleans. If you don't want fast food, or to eat in an ear-splitting bar, or something made of alligator, there are startling few options. Of those that remain, very few are open during the week; and even fewer on Mondays, Tuesdays, or Wednesdays.
The Sisters isnʼt excellent, but itʼs open. And when everything else is closed, that makes it the best restaurant in New Orleans that night.
It doesn't have to be good, but it is.
The bar at the Hotel Monteleone puts out quite a nice meat-and-cheese tray. “Charcuterie” if youʼre trying to be fancy-schmancy.
There are a dozen reasons to waste four to six hours in the Monteleone bar: Watching the people on the carousel; watching the tourists perambulate outside; absorbing the art, music, and food New Orleans proffered throughout the morning. But the smörgås-on-a-board encourages you to linger, to sip your drinks slowly, and to chew as often as youʼre supposed to.
I wonʼt pretend to know or like every item on offer, but thereʼs enough variety for both me and my wife to find things we like, and we have very different tastes.
The Eighth District police station in New Orleans has an unusual feature. Iʼve seen lots of police stations with gift shops and museums before. But inside the gift shop in this police station is a vending machine that spits out swag.
I slid my credit card through the reader, punched a button, and out popped a New Orleans Police Department ball cap. Very cool.
I think that many people donʼt know that the New Orleans P.D. sells hats, shirts, tote bags, and other branded items. At least it seems like the people who live in the Eighth District donʼt.
Early the next morning, I went to a bodega near Esplanade to get a newspaper. It was raining, so I wore my rain jacket, which is kinda-sorta safety yellow, and my new N.O.P.D. hat. There were some locals sitting around drinking coffee and shooting the breeze. The store was out of newspapers, so I asked if anyone knew where I could get one because none of the stores near my hotel had any.
“Near my hotel” let them know I was a tourist. But until then, they said they thought I was a cop. When I told them I got the hat out of a vending machine at the police station, they were not happy.
I can understand why they were upset. If I can unintentionally make people think Iʼm a police officer, imagine what someone could accomplish if they were actually trying.
Two historic downspouts, crafted in the shape of grotesque fish. Between them, a boring corrugated plastic tube. All serve the same purpose, but two of them are signs of an advanced civilization, while one is a sign of people being cheap.
I've seen hitching posts outside of supermarkets in rural Pennsylvania. I've seen hitching posts in half-dead mining towns in Nevada. I've seen hitching posts outside Post Offices in California. I certainly didn't expect to see hitching posts in New Orleans, but there are quite a few of them.
Considering how they are artfully cast from iron and not just a bunch of scrubwood timbers nailed together, I expect these are for fancy horses, and not desert mules.
This is either the hippest underground dive club youʼve never heard of, or an abandoned townhouse.
The eviction notice doesnʼt really help solve the mystery.
I put my camera in a plastic shopping bag. As I was wandering around, the camera took some pictures. So now I know what my stuff sees when Iʼm carrying it home.
Nature finds a way.
Some people wouldnʼt be caught dead in some hole-in-the-wall place.
Some people will never leave.
If you were a child in the 1970ʼs, you may recall the crispy, chewy, vanilla taste of good old-fashioned lead paint chips.
If you have plants growing out of your hotelʼs downspouts, it might be time to hire a different maintenance crew.
The E.J. “Lionel” Grizzaffi Bridge in the foreground, and the Long–Allen Bridge in the background, both carrying road traffic over the Atchafalaya River in Morgan City, Louisiana, at sunset.
People on the internet like to complain about things. Itʼs an inclination I suffer from, as well. But of the dozens of meals Iʼve had on Amtrak, I havenʼt had one yet that was worthy of complaint.
Here we see “Amtrakʼs Signature Flat Iron Steak.”
8-oz Black Angus steak with a cabernet reduction sauce, served with baby green beans, Parisian carrots, and your choice of cheddar polenta or a baked potato
I went with the polenta. Yummy.
I donʼt think I have ever turned down an offer of carrot cake. Amtrakʼs is a solid player.
An old family recipe made with raisins, pineapple, and walnuts, frosted with a cream cheese icing and drizzles with white chocolate and caramel sauce
Amtrak makes a better cheeseburger on a train than I can make in my car. Almost as good as I can make on a grill. It's a hefty sammitch, with good char and flavor. Chips, though, not french fries. I guess vats of boiling oil are a bad idea in a moving conveyance.
White Oak Bayou creeps along in front of the downtown Houston skyline. One of nearly a dozen individual skylines that Houston offers. Itʼs funny that way.
If you drive into downtown Houston via I-45 from the north or I-10 from the west, you will be greeted by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Stephen F. Austin, and Sam Houston.
Each of them weigh two tons, and are the work of exurban sculptor David Adickes. He made them, and 39 others, in 2004 for a theme park in Virginia that never opened, so the entire bustle of busts never left Houston.
These four were relocated to a cut-off corner overlooking the freeways at 1400 Elder Street. Officially, itʼs called American Statesman Park. But most commuters know it as Mount Rush Hour.
I have often said thereʼs no such thing as bad ice cream. The same cannot be said for coffee.
Amtrak coffee is bad. I've had it on the Empire Builder, on the Coast Starlight, on the Hiawatha, on the Lincoln Service, on the Texas Eagle, on the Sunset Limited, and on the Cascades. I keep trying it, but itʼs bad every time.
Government train coffee may be the only drink worse than bank lobby coffee.
If I had an Instagram account, I could tell the supposedly Texas-style Howdy Kolache company that saguaro cacti donʼt grow in Texas. They only grow in southwestern Arizona, hundreds of miles away.
Iʼd tell them myself, but like many hobby companies these days, the only way to make contact is via the one random social media app of their choice.
H.E.B. makes web developers sad.
A young woman celebrates graduation by throwing her cap into the air from a car that my Uncle Eddie would have driven in the 1970's.
His was better because it had curb feelers. Hers is better because itʼs in pristine condition in 2022, while his is probably rusting away at the bottom of Gravesend Bay.
Part of the Amazon Music screen says “purchased.” Another part says I canʼt download the music I paid for.
Trying again in 15 minutes didnʼt change anything. Nor did trying again in 30 minutes, or 45. An hour after my purchase I got on the blower with Amazon customer service, and was told to wait 24 hours to download the music I paid for.
Thatʼs OK for me, because I'm patient. I was able to download the music when I tried a couple of days later. But isnʼt the whole point of Amazon Music that people are supposed to have immediate, unlimited access to their music?
It was just this morning I was thinking that I donʼt see so many cowboys in Houston anymore. Then, just before lunch, a clown car full of them drove up to the roof of my parking garage and belched out a whole passel of dudes.
Those are not lampshades in the foreground. Those are the kinds of cases that are used to transport big-ticket cowboy hats on planes. There are cowboy hats that cost more than a MacBook Pro.
Today I learned that Chick-fil-a is not interested in serving the 50 million Americans, including the elderly, the poor, and some disabled people, who do not have or cannot use a mobile phone.
Also, anyone whoʼs phone has run out of battery, or anyone has dropped their phone, or pays for data, or is from another country.
Today I found out there is a Steinway store down the street. I have mixed feelings about this.
On the plus side, itʼs a sign of culture and civilization, and all of the aspirational things in life.
On the other hand, a lifetime of watching Looney Tunes has taught me that there is a 90% chance of a coyote dropping a piano on my head if I walk on this side of the street.
Citibank is the third-largest bank in the United States. It has almost two trillion dollars. Itʼs been around for 210 years.
And yet, it still canʼt make a web site that works. So what chance do I have?
Also, with two trillion dollars, youʼd think it could hire people who can write complete sentences.
I think that the word “unexpected” is pretty high on the list of words you donʼt want to hear from your bank. It ranks right up there with “insolvent.”
Fortunately, Citibank is only the third-largest bank in America. Itʼs not like its web site is used for anything important.
If Citibank canʼt keep its web site from going all pear-shaped, what chance do I have?
Sometimes Iʼm a little slow before Iʼve had my sixth cup of coffee in the morning, so it took me a bit realize that “Specs-a-doodle” is a play on snickerdoodle.
Does the coffee taste like a snickerdoodle? Maybe. Kinda. Sorta. As much as any coffee thatʼs been sitting in a see-through plastic bin under florescent lights in a liquor store for the last dozen months or so. Or, perhaps the idea is that this is the perfect brew to sip with an actual snickerdoodle. Iʼll have to try that.
Specʼs coffee isnʼt great tasting. But it has other redeeming qualities. Primarily, that it exists and is easy for me to get to by train. Also important is that there are over a 120 varieties of the stuff available. Yes, I counted the bins.
Thereʼs something about chocolate fudge that makes it the go-to flavor when coffee companies want to flavor their beans.
Itʼs no secret that chocolate pairs well with coffee, but so do lots of other flavors. I wonder if chocolate flavor is really cheap and easy to find since so many things in the food industry are flavored with chocolate.
Like every other beanery with flavors on offer, Specʼs has a chocolate fudge coffee. In my experience, chocolate-flavored coffees tend to be smoother than regular coffee, but not this one from Specʼs. It manages to have a tinge of chocolate flavor while still retaining the bitterness and acidity of plain old dark roast.
If thatʼs what fills your cup, bully on you. For me, the current chocolate-flavored coffee champion remains Piñon Fudge from Piñon Coffee in Albuquerque. Strong chocolate flavor, and itʼs smoother than Mel Torméʼs satin pillow case.
3Fibs is the sort of coffee joint that Iʼd love to love, but I canʼt. Itʼs just not for me.
Although I consume about a hogshead worth of coffee each month, itʼs rarely of the highest quality, never made correctly, and certainly not tasted with the care and respect it deserves. I brew with a Keurig, for Godʼs sake.
I like sweet, and chocolate, and filberts, and all those things that made Starbucks famous, and drive absolutists absolutely mad.
3Fibs is expert-level coffee. The menu is sparse. There are no flavorings. There is no Frappuccino, or its equivalent. Itʼs coffee for people who are serious about coffee. Thatʼs not me, but I'm glad that there are people out there who are defenders of the faith. Without them, there would be no caffeine coattails for sots like me to ride upon.
The space has a good vibe. Very much a coffee house, and not a café, or a store. And the baristas manage to be both friendly and knowledgeable without also being condescending. Those three attributes rarely go together, and disappear altogether as you progress northwestward within the continental United States.
The coffee was good. I think. Very strong. But it was obvious that this was a drink that I donʼt have the refined taste buds to appreciate.
You know what Iʼm doing right now? Hiding under a big tree during a thunderstorm.
You know what youʼre absolutely not supposed to do during a thunderstorm? Hide under a big tree.
Every once in a while, I see someone on the news who got killed while hiding under a tree during a thunderstorm. But man, once those fat drops start pummeling you, instinct kicks in.
More intelligent was the couple down the hill that turned a picnic blanket into a tarp and laid on the ground to wait out the storm. Smart people. Soggy, but smart.
Itʼs still a bit strange for me to see people leisurely recreating along and on top of Buffalo Bayou. When I lived in Houston twenty years ago, it would be unthinkable. The bayou was considered so filthy that people treated it the same way children do when they play the hot lava game hopping around on the living room furniture.
Now I see people boating, fishing, and generally having a good time along a waterway that a generation ago was verboten.
According to the bayouʼs 2001 Master Plan Project document, itʼs 13½ feet deep downtown. That same document also states that there is an E.P.A. Superfund hazardous waste site a half-mile downstream from this location containing “arsenic, chromium, cobalt, lead, copper, and nickel.” Yum.
Maybe thatʼs been cleaned up in the last 20 years. Maybe the document is correct in stating that somehow, in spite of regular bombardment by hurricanes, tropical storms, and other severe weather that the bad stuff somehow never leaches into the bayou. Or maybe Iʼll just stay out of the water for now. If the hazardous waste doesnʼt get me, a buffalo gar will.
Come on, Mr. Plant! Only 27 feet to go! Streeeeeetch!
You know what happens when geese lose their fear of people? They stand on your foot and rip a page out of the paperback youʼre trying to read. Naughty goose.
Grass, flowers, turtle, rock. Everyoneʼs looking in the same direction. Except for me. Iʼm looking at them looking at something else. Must be quite a show.
“How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?”
“Ask Mr. Owl."
Me: “I'll start with the seafood gumbo.”
Waitress: “Shrimp, crab, sausage, okra, rice.”
It turns out she wasnʼt asking me what kind of gumbo I wanted, she was listing the ingredients. It has all of those things in it. Lucky for me, she was tactful and didnʼt point out my dumbassery.
The bowl is deeper than it looks, and submerged beneath the sauce is way more grits than one digestive tract can process.
Shrimp and grits at the Grand Galvez Hotel is Gulf shrimp, smoked cheddar grits, andouille sausage, peppers, and onions under a green chili sauce.
Itʼs food that sticks to your ribs. And your pancreas. And all of the rest of your major organs. A good way to replenish your energy if youʼve just wrestled a shark out of the maw of an alligator while snorkeling off Seawolf Park.
Nature finds a way.
Itʼs not the ones you can see that you have to worry about. Itʼs the ones you canʼt see.
I donʼt know why the mob bothers hiding the bodies of its enemies in Indiana corn fields, or New Jersey stadia, or Nevada reservoirs. Chuck a corpse in a gulf coast swamp, and itʼll be chewed up, digested, and reduced to gator nuggets in a matter of hours.
Even if the F.B.I. knows where to look, the agents will be like, “Yeah, weʼll just let them have this one.”
I found the record The Sound of Houston at the record store today.
In the early 1980ʼs, KRBE Radio held a contest where its listeners were asked to compose a theme song for the city. The winning entries were then pressed into a record, and 40 years later here they are today — in the value bin, priced at 99¢.
The songs are very very 1980ʼs. Lots of power ballads with saxophones, clarinets, and chimes. Surprisingly few have much of a country twang, but many would fit in with the local TV news themes of the era.
It seems sad that the heartfelt work of a dozen recording hopefuls has been reduced to just 8¼¢ a piece.
Listening with 2022 ears, none of them are very good. But they are an audio time capsule of a certain era, and a certain place.
I found the record The Sound of Houston at the record store today.
In the early 1980ʼs, KRBE Radio held a contest where its listeners were asked to compose a theme song for the city. The winning entries were then pressed into a record, and 40 years later here they are today — in the value bin, priced at 99¢.
The songs are very very 1980ʼs. Lots of power ballads with saxophones, clarinets, and chimes. Surprisingly few have much of a country twang, but many would fit in with the local TV news themes of the era.
It seems sad that the heartfelt work of a dozen recording hopefuls has been reduced to just 8¼¢ a piece.
Listening with 2022 ears, none of them are very good. But they are an audio time capsule of a certain era, and a certain place.
Itʼs always a shame when bad people happen to good coffee. That seems to be whatʼs happening at the Canary Cafe location on Fulton just north of Cavalcade.
The store is nice. Good decoration. Good furniture. Even a cozy backyard in which to savor and chill.
The coffee is good. The sweets are excellent. I had something that was something like a cross between a peanut butter sandwich and baklava. Trés scrummy.
But the people running the place donʼt really seem to know what theyʼre doing. Itʼs like they came from another planet where everything they know about serving coffee came from watching reruns of Friends. As if theyʼve never actually been to a coffee shop, themselves.
Maybe itʼs a new location, and these are just growing pains. The newspapers are full of stories about how restaurants canʼt find quality workers, so maybe this is evidence of that problem.
But Iʼll certainly go back. The coffee is solid, and the pastries would make a firefighter bite a Dalmatian. Hopefully, the people problems will be worked out by then.
Someone left this book on a light pole support for any random stranger to find and read.
While I am a random stranger, Iʼm also about 50 books behind on my reading, so Iʼll leave this for someone else.
Itʼs nice to know thereʼs another soul out there who sets books completed free, rather than throwing them in the trash. I leave mine on trains.
Not every creature of the night makes it back home before the commuters arrive. I came across this opossum cowering in a nook of One Shell Plaza.
The security guard says it happens a lot. He called someone to remove the critter, but that was hours ago, and no one has shown up. So the terrified thing cowers in the corner, intermittently shivering and hissing. Iʼd probably do the same thing, if I was him.
If your morning commute involves dodging natural gas tankers, you might be using the Lynchburg Ferry.
Ever meet someone who would not take “no” for an answer? Ever meet a bug like that?
This hairy fellow would not leave me alone. I could have squashed him easily enough, but the birds gotta eat, too. So I just kept moving him to other parts of the picnic table. And every time I did, heʼd come right back and try to read my book with me.
Whoʼs richer? The paper pusher trapped in a cubicle in the middle of an anonymous suburban office building, counting the seconds until 5pm, or the people who spend the work day in the sun, setting lines in the water with a cold beer and a transistor radio?
The egg farmer brought brown eggs this Easter. This is the first year Iʼve died brown eggs. The colors seem richer, but also muddy. It seems to work best with light-colored dyes. Yellow comes out gold, but blue comes out black.
Discovery Green at night. You canʼt see the park for all the lights and buildings, which is mostly true durng the day, as well. There is a trend in modern park design to over-build in order to make a single park everything for everybody. The result is that very often, as in the case of Discovery Green, it ceases to be a park and is transformed into a playground for adults.
How to get yourself un-invited from future gatherings at One Park Plaza:
“Hey, did you know your pool is shaped like a penis?”
Itʼs one thing for Facebook to have a hiccup every now and again. Nothing important ever happened on Facebook.
But when the Nevada Department of Taxationʼs web site upchucks on tax day, itʼs cause for concern.
Hole-in-the-wall joints are very often the best joints. If the food isnʼt great, the atmosphere makes up for it. In the case of Two Hands Coffee, one doesnʼt need to make up for the other, because both are great.
It's a diminutive space. “Small, but perfectly formed,” as the Brits would say. Good coffee. Good service. And speedy.
Also, what do you do when the woman at the coffee window looks exactly like your high school girlfriend who you heard moved to this part of the world? Because that totally didnʼt happen to me.
Reason number 4,096 not to absent-mindedly push buttons on your iPhone while itʼs in your pocket.
You know youʼre far away from home, when the seven Home buttons that control your lights and things go away on your iPhone.
It would be less disturbing for there to be a message like “Canʼt connect to your home right now,” rather than just making them disappear.
Three packages for three different people dumped in a corner is actually not the worst Amazon.com delivery experience Iʼve seen lately.
At least these were inside a building, and not just dumped on a sidewalk outside a skyscraper in the middle of Americaʼs fourth-largest city.
It is said that in Houston, you can plant broomsticks and grow brooms. Itʼs a way of saying that the cityʼs location, geology, and weather are so well-suited to growing plants that if you canʼt grow something, the problem is you.
Thatʼs mostly true, but only if you get enough light. If youʼre in a north-facing apartment, youʼre just as hampered in your growing efforts as someone facing north in Chicago, or Los Angeles.
To grow plants in Houston, you need a lot of sun to counteract all of the excess moisture you have to deal with. That's why under the city's proud canopies of oak trees, the vegetation is usually sparse, or in varying states of decay. If you get dappled sunlight, you might have luck with foxtail ferns, but the important word there is still ”luck.”
A good example is at Houston City Hall, where the mighty oaks spread their branches, bogarting the sunlight and leaving everything underneath to rot. It all looks really bad. But in the sunny spots, you can see the landscapers are doing a great job with the flowers.
I feel a little sad that I went to the Houston Museum of Natural Science to see the Egyptian artifacts, and only ended up taking the same old photograph that every other tourist does.
I think I just didnʼt feel inspired.
I can see that the HMNS tries hard. But it all comes off as very Disney-fied. Not real. Plastic shrink-wrapped for my protection. I know itʼs done to get children interested in the exhibits. But too often, museums forget that adults go, too.
I wonder if Iʼd still feel this way if I hadnʼt been to some other really amazing museums featuring Middle Eastern and North African artifacts. The Oriental Institute in Chicago is the best one Iʼve been to so far, with the Eski Şark Eserleri Müzesi in Istanbul a very close second.
The University of Chicagoʼs Oriental Institute feels like walking into Indiana Jonesʼ alma matter, and visiting it makes watching the Raiders of the Lost Ark movies a bit richer. The Jones characterʼs background includes ties to the University of Chicago. And George Lucas is also very fond of Chicago, where he tried to build a museum, but was rebuffed by special interest groups who believed a parking lot was a better use for land in a public park.
Eski Şark Eserleri has better stuff, but the facility is really run down from decades of what is euphemistically called “deferred maintenance.” Ordinary people call it just plain neglect. But itʼs certainly worth seeing, if youʼre in Istanbul, where there is absolutely no shortage of fabulous musea.
This pedestrian crossing signal works.
It doesnʼt look like it, because in the photograph, itʼs burned out or turned off of just taking a snooze. But it works now.
Today I had my first interaction with Houston city government. I used the city's 311 app to report that this pedestrian crossing signal at Smith and McGowen was not working.
The app, itself, is a disaster. But I finally managed to file a report at 12:12pm, and in a few minutes received an e-mail confirmation.
At 1:30pm received another e-mail:
Case Resolved $$ Per A. Gutierrez @ 13:23 completed Miscellaneous....intersection was cycling upon arrival, no power to peds 2,4, and 6, load switch for peds 2,4, and 6 were not in place on back panel, replaced load switch for ped 2, ped 6 all good, ped 4 sent intersection into flash, checked for shorted wires for ped 4 inside of cabinet and found shorted wire for ped 4, fixed problem and installed load switch for ped 4, all peds are working for 2,4, and 6
In other words, the City of Houston fixed the pedestrian signal just on hour and 11 minutes after I reported. Thatʼs not at all what I expected.
Itʼs very tempting for me to start walking around my neighborhood and reporting all kinds of problems to 311. But this city is not a well-maintained city, and doing so would be a full-time job. So Iʼll keep reporting problems here and there, and know that I played a small role in making this town a little less run-down.
On my evening promenade, I came across this stained glass window above one of the entrances to one of the Chase buildings in downtown Houston.
It looks like a battle scene, and this being Houston, that means itʼs probably San Jacinto, or the Alamo, Goliad. Or maybe one of the other Texas battles that are less famous and didnʼt get their own state park, tourist attraction, or flag.
There were so many battles in Texas, that thereʼs an entire Wikipedia article just for the ones fought during the Texas Revolution.
I know there are lots of plaques inside this building, so one of them could probably clue me in. But itʼs Saturday night, and Chase is closed.
The Houston Police Department has its own museum. Your reaction to that may indicate where you were raised.
Iʼm East Coast, so I had never heard of such a thing until I started exploring the west. The first police museum I came across was in Phoenix. But it seems the concept has spread across the country, and a police museum even opened in New York in 1998.
I wonder if thereʼs a gift shop.
When I last lived in Houston, the Midtown neighborhood was also known as Little Saigon. Youʼd never know it today.
Most of the streets had Vietnamese street signs, there were at least a half-dozen Vietnamese restaurants, plus supermarkets, general stores, social clubs, and more. One restaurant was well-known because of its giant sign “Fu Kim.”
Today, thatʼs almost all gone.
This is the only Vietnamese street sign I know of in Midtown. The only other evidence that the area had any Asian influence at all is a peeling sign above an auto repair shop.
Iʼve been told that most of the Vietnamese people moved to the suburbs, but among the people Iʼve spoken with, there doesnʼt seem to be a consensus about why. Some say itʼs because property in Midtown became too expensive, but that seems unlikely, as itʼs still really quite cheap. Others say itʼs because the initial wave of post-Vietnam War immigrants became assimilated, and as they became upwardly mobile, they pursued the American dream in the ʼburbs.
Buildings do a great job of preserving history, if you know how to read them. A building may change owners, colors, and names, but its height, setbacks, floor spacing, materials, and other fundamentals can tell you a lot about it.
In some cases, buildings wear their history on their sleeves. 3100 Travis in Midtown Houston is one of those. Above what used to be the main entrance is a nice Texas-flavored bas relief featuring an oil well, and what may either be a pipeline or a railroad connecting McAllen with New York.
A lot of early- and mid-20th-century architectural decoration featured allegories, often of “Progress” or “Commerce” or “Engineering.” I donʼt know which allegorical figure this is supposed to be, but this is Texas, so heʼs riding a horse.
If your local supermarket carries soda made from cacti, you might live in Texas.
Why is Lionel Richie dressed like Whereʼs Waldo?
Thereʼs a big backup at the floating bridge toll booth, so there are no Amazon.com employees available to take my order right now.
If Amazon.com canʼt keep its web site running, what chance do I have?
Itʼs nice to see a TV station with a streetfront studio. They were in fashion in the 1990ʼs, and most large markets had at least one. They were a way to showcase the station in high-traffic areas, similar to the way big consumer brands like Starbucks, Hershey, and Nokia build flagship stores on busy tourist streets to serve as 3D interactive billboards.
The first one I saw was at KSDK/Saint Louis in 1994. Chicago is a walking town, so by the early 2000ʼs, several radio and television stations built their own. WLS-TV, WMAQ-TV, WBBM-TV, and WGN radio all had them. WKQX radio had one in the Merchandise Mart, but since the Mart doesnʼt have much of a street-level presence, it faced inside, where all the office workers could see it. WLUP radio and WFLD television each did something similar at Michigan Plaza, but while the radio stationʼs version was well done, it was hard to find. The TV station never really pulled it off. Even Loyola Universityʼs WULW/Chicago, and its student TV station had a streetfront studio.
The last time I checked, both WLS-TV and WBBM-TV have let their former showcase spaces deteriorate, and theyʼre not much of a draw anymore. WGN radio was still using its space in Tribune Tower extensively, but no longer 24 hours a day. WGN had an interesting gimmick where a microphone was suspended outside of the studio, and the talk show hosts would occasionally engage members of the public.
A similar setup was featured in a Tony Hillerman book, outside of KNDN/Farmington. Itʼs possible that it was real, since the Hillerman books tend to be more fact than fiction.
When I was at WGN-TV we longed for a streetfront studio, like the big stations downtown. But we were way out in North Central, pretty much half-way out of town. When WGN radio opened its showcase studio, we were jealous, since the space next to WGNʼs studio was originally designed to be a TV studio, and itʼs where WGN-TV was located until it moved out of downtown in the 1960ʼs. We always thought that space should rightly be a TV studio again, especially with all of our competitors opening shiny new studios all over downtown.
That never happened, because the people who owned the TV station at the time thought the prime downtown location was better used as retail space, then a museum, then retail space, and then left empty.
The picture above is KHOU/Houstonʼs downtown streetfront studio, and the woman in front of it is anchor Shern-Min Chow. We worked together for about five years, and she was always nice to me, but I donʼt think sheʼd remember me, so I didnʼt say hi.
When I was at KHOU, we prided ourselves on the fact that we were the only TV station downtown. All the others were half-way out of town, and when important things happened, we were usually better positioned to get to the news before everyone else.
Since then, KHOU has moved even farther away from downtown than the other stations. Its main studio is in the Galleria Area, but at least this satellite studio gets daily use. The only TV station that does local news thatʼs farther away is KIAH/Houston, but its news product is a very faded shadow of what it was when I was there.
You know what sounds awful? Pizza on a stick.
You know what is really good? Pizza on a stick!
Carnival food can be really awful, but the pizza on a stick at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is really good. Flavorful, moist, and easy to handle without getting greasy. The amount of pizza you get on a single stick is a full meal, so as carnival food goes, itʼs good value for money.
Iʼve never understood the appeal of what are called “alternative” milks. In ordinary life, I try to avoid processed food, and with the exception of fake meat, pretend milk is probably the most processed food on the planet.
I have a fasination with farms, so I like to watch the farm life demonstrations at the rodeo that are intended for children, but instructive for those of us who grew up playing on concrete and asphalt.
This demonstration was about how to milk a cow, but I was drawn to the banner nearby that compared cowʼs milk with various nut milk. Itʼs a little hard to see in the picture, so Iʼve reproduced the information here:
If you're viewing this on a mobile phone, you won't be able to see the table until you hold your phone horizontally. That's because tables look like absolute pants on phones.
|Cowʼs milk||Almond “milk”||Oat “milk”||Soy “milk“|
|Protein||8 grams||1 gram||4 grams||8 grams|
|Fat||2½ grams||2½ grams||2½ grams||4½ grams|
|Carbohydrates||12 grams||8 grams||24 grams||9 grams|
What's interesting to me about the table is the highlighted numbers. The highlights indicate that those nutrients occur in the milk naturally. In cases where a nutrient is not highlighted, that means itʼs added when the food is processed. So while the nut milks have five percent more riboflavin than cowʼs milk, the cowʼs milk has it naturally. Itʼs not added at a factory.
Why does it matter? Some people think that the body absorbs nutrients better if they come from nature, not a pill. Which may explain why my doctor encouraged me to eat certain foods, rather than take a supplement, when I was found to be a bit short on a particular vitamin.
I wonʼt pretend that cowʼs milk is the perfect food, but itʼs good to have information to compare, especially if youʼre more worried about carbohydrates than calories. Or potassium instead of fat.
On the other hand, the U.S. Army thinks the cowʼs milk is almost the perfect food. When I was in R.O.T.C., we were taught that if we were ever trapped behind enemy lines, try to find a cow because with cowʼs milk and iron tablets, you can live for a very long time.
There are parts of Houston that are really ugly. But there are also parts that are really pretty, and very often those are places where the city has made an effort to plant flowers.
I wandered through Main Street Square in the rain today, and the flowers are in full bloom.
Thereʼs a stereotype along the lines of “People in Houston wonʼt ride transit.” If that was true, then Metro wouldnʼt have had two million disembarkments at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo a couple of years ago.
My observation so far has been that the people who are most against transit in Houston are people who donʼt live in Houston, or if they do, they live on the fringes, and not in the actual city part of the city.
If your local supermarket sells chicken feet labeled “Chicken paws,” you might live in Texas.
This is pretty much the most Texas thing Iʼve seen today.
Not only do people spend weeks riding their horses to Houston each year, the local TV news monitors their progress.
After a day at the tree museum, I like to stop at Food D'lite on the way home. Itʼs a combination hamburger stand and Chinese food joint.
Itʼs my understanding that in the early part of the last century, it was common for Chinese immigrants who opened restaurants to serve both Chinese and American cuisine, in order to expand their customer base and to ingratiate themselves with the locals. Iʼve also noticed it in a number of old movies from the 1940ʼs, so it seems to be a little slice of Americana that is fading away as restaurants now strive to pigeonhole themselves into a particular category, rather than attract the largest number of people they can.
As you can tell from the picture, Food D'lite is small, old, and garishly-painted. So, naturally my expectations were high the first time I went here.
I have never gotten a hamburger from this stand, but I am happy to report that the Chinese food is excellent. Itʼs very much in the style of the heavy, muddy East Coast Cantonese I grew up with, and very far from the fresh-crispy-sprouts-and-heat of the West Coast Szechuan Iʼve had to make do with for the last decade.
If the Metro Green Line ran just another 4.8 miles eastward, Iʼd probably have lunch here every other day.
There are more creatures living in this eight-ounce, two-day-old mud puddle than in my entire seventeen-story apartment building.
Nature finds a way.
I spent the morning at the tree museum. I think the Houston Botanic Garden will be really nice in ten years or so. Today, it looks a lot like itʼs just barely gotten off the ground. Lots of saplings on bare earth. Bulldozers. Sections cordoned off for construction. Urban hillbillies riding quads over the exhibits.
I became a member last year, but probably wonʼt renew. The benches that were nice for sitting on and looking at nature have been removed. Itʼs doing concerts now, farming for restaurants, and charging unwarranted prices to walk through its Christmas lights display. Even members have to pay, which is very unusual amongst serious musea.
It has a good location, and lots of potential. I suspect that the financial pressures of COVID have caused its leadership to lose its way in the forest.
The self-service ordering gizmo at Shake Shack canʼt cope with my hot dog order. Which I find a bit ironic, considering that Shake Shack started out as a hot dog stand.
This is what I get for using a computer to replace a personʼs job. Thereʼs a perfectly good human being ten feet away who can take my order if I wait 90 seconds, and my bag will never be out of sync.
Remember when technology was going to make our lives better?
After four phone calls, and a total of 74 minutes on hold with Bank of America, I was finally told that the people who can fix my problem donʼt work on Saturdays. But I can go to my local branch.
Except that all of the local branches are “temporarily closed.” So I canʼt even close my accounts in protest.
People who donʼt live or work in downtown Houston tend to think of it as a bleak and austere place. I can understand why. For 50 years, most new buildings in downtown were constructed with fortress designs and blank walls of glass and concrete facing the sidewalks. For half a century, the cityʼs urban core was built upon the idea that nobody walks in downtown Houston. Even though that was not true.
People do walk in downtown Houston, but they do it underground. Like the Pedway in Chicago, and the Skyway in Minneapolis, Houston has a series of retail-gilded tunnels connecting its main buildings. And at certain times of the day theyʼre so flooded with people that it can be hard to get around.
The problem for Houston is that it doesnʼt have enough foot traffic to support both street-level retail and tunnel-level retail, and the resulting dispersion of retail spaces prevents either option from reaching the critical mass required to form a vibrant pedestrian experience.
If all of the retail in the Houston tunnel system were to move to street level, downtown would be transformed. It would be filled with people, restaurants, convenience stores, tailors, jewelers, and other shops that are currently out of site to a great number of people.
The antipode would be to move the street level storefronts underground so the subterranean area can thrive. That would have made sense last century, but Houston is trying to develop a tourist economy. People from other places expect retail to be at street level, and theyʼre not going to run a gauntlet of security guards and hidden elevators to pick up a burger after an Astros game.
Houston has seen an explosion of home-grown retail in the last decade, but much of it is scattered throughout the neighborhoods. Chicago has seen something similar, but in Chicago if youʼre successful, you donʼt open a second branch in another outlying neighborhood. You open it downtown. Itʼs helped local chains like Argo Tea, Dollop Coffee, and the various Goddess incarnations to grow and expand their reach.
I suspect that Chicago has some kind of incubator program that helps these small local retailers occupy prime space downtown. Houston has plenty of empty street-level retail space downtown. It just need an organization with a bit of money to connect the owners of that space with ambitious new brands.
One of my newspapers didnʼt come today. So I tried to let the Houston Chronicle know it has a problem. Naturally, since the conglomerate that ate Houstonʼs paper of record doesnʼt have customer service people on the weekend, I have to fill out a report online. And, naturally, the web site doesnʼt work.
Even if I had to wait on hold for a while to speak to someone about it, a human being could solve the problem immediately. Instead, I have to remember to call the newspaperʼs customer service people during the week to get credit for the missed delivery.
Remember when computers were going to make our lives better?
I think someone leaves peanut butter sandwiches around for the homeless people in my neighborhood.
I think someone doesnʼt realize that grackles love peanut butter sandwiches, and are really quite clever.
One of the work-from-home workforce in my building answered a call from his boss while cooking lunch. You can see the rest.
When we evacuated the building, I grabbed my work laptop, but not my shoes, so I ended up working the rest of the day from Day 6 Coffee in my pajamas and slippers. However, this being downtown Houston, I was the least-oddly dressed person there.
Interestingly, both the Metro Green and Purple line trains were suspended because the nearest johnny pump to my home is across the street, and the firefighters had to run hoses across the train tracks to connect to my buildingʼs risers.
Thereʼs a coffee shop down the street called The Italian Job. Itʼs run by a couple of guys from Italy who decided that Houston could do with a bit of civilization, and decided to contribute by importing enormous chrome-plated espresso machines.
Itʼs located in one of the new skyscraper apartment buildings, and across the street from a park, so it has an audience built-in. But it looks more like a bar than a coffee shop, and based on the paraphernalia behind the counter, Iʼd say that booze is its bread and butter.
Still, you never see a bar without coffee, and if youʼre going to be the sober one in the bunch, the coffee proffered here is really quite good.
The space is tight, which is great for rubbing elbows on a night out on the town, but not so great for people trying to dodge COVID in the middle of the day, so I got mine to go.
It's a quality brew, made in the Italian tradition — meaning produced in no absolutely no hurry. This isnʼt Naples, so itʼs an indication of care, not contempt. And the extra time comes through in the flavor. This is not push-button global chain espresso.
I donʼt understand the stewardship philosophy of the people who run Discovery Green. Thatʼs why Iʼm not surprised to see that one of the worldʼs largest entertainment conglomerates has been allowed to bogart public space to promote one of its brands.
A Pixar-themed miniature golf course is now squatting on one of the few green parcels of Discovery Green. Why? Presumably in the name of holy, sacred “programming.”
Iʼve been to a lot of municipal meetings where the people who run parks talk about how they run them. Invariably they talk about how the park should be “programmed.” These days they also call it “activation.” Same meaningless buzzword. Different generation.
Discovery Green is already over-programmed. There's webcams, movie nights, concerts, restaurants, promenades, temporary ice rinks, a model boat basin, a splash pad, a playground, a climbing hill, a pond, a parking garage, a wall of fame, a jogging trail, multiple seating platforms, a solar array, a shuffleboard court, chess tables, picnic tables, a dog park, bocce courts, a bandstand, art installations, a giant mister, a putting green, flea markets, a library, reading rooms, and probably many other things I havenʼt stumbled across yet.
Discovery Green should pick a couple of things and do them well, rather than shoehorn 30 different things into less than a dozen acres poorly. Let another park have some of the action. Itʼs not like most of Houston doesnʼt need more parks.
More to the point — whatʼs wrong with a park being a park? Whatʼs wrong with trees and grass and flowers and birds? Is there no room anymore for rest, contemplation, and refuge? Urban parks were invented to give people a break from city life. But most new parks are built for engagement, experience, and social media — All of the things for which parks should be an antidote, not a vector.
Things that sometimes donʼt work, or donʼt work as expected:
Thing that always works exactly as expected: My wifeʼs vinyl record player.
I shall work here today.
I know that a group of crows is called a “murder,” and a group of ravens is called an “unkindness.” So I shall coin the term “an arrogance of grackles.”
Today I learned that Edible Arrangements won't let you buy anything without using a credit card, and without being put into “the system.”
I just want to buy something, hand over some money, and walk away. Why is that so wrong? Why must I be signed up, tracked, tabulated, collated, and sold in order to buy fruit?
My actual thought process this afternoon: “I should stop by the drug store on the way home. Oh, wait, my phone isnʼt charged. I wish I had some cash with me.”
I now understand that I am a slave to technology.
If the ice cream man does brisk business in December, you might live in Houston.
Itʼs funny how 20 years ago, giving someone a coupon for Christmas was considered really low-rent, and the sort of thing that grandmas on Welfare did.
Today we call it a “gift card” and itʼs all so magical!
Lots of Gulf Coast Texans visit the San Jacinto Monument as children on school field trips. But few visit it after that. Which is a shame, because it is as adults that we can best appreciate it.
When youʼre a child, this is just another great big building and what did your mom put in your lunch and what kind of bug is that and Mikey stop pulling Jennyʼs hair or youʼre going back on the bus.
As an adult, you can marvel at the geometry of the enormous star at the top; appreciate the reliefs of the people who laid the foundation for what Texas is today; and study the fossils embedded in the limestone base.
The San Jacinto Monument is 13 feet taller than the Washington Monument. The Texas state capitol in Austin has the same 13-foot supremacy over the U.S. capitol in Washington, DC. But for some reason, while Texans have the remarkable ability to regularly manage to mention the Austin capitolʼs height advantage over the DC capitol, they never mention the monumental difference. Perhaps because it was taught to them as children on a field trip, and theyʼve since forgotten OK thatʼs enough back on the bus Mikey you have detention for the rest of the week.
For a short while today, Iʼm keeping the battleship Texas company in its slip in Deer Park, off of the Houston Ship Channel.
The battleship was built in 1912, and decommissioned in 1948. It is now a museum, but in such a state of disrepair that it is going to be towed somewhere to be refurbished. That is, if someone can figure out how to do it, and find someone willing to do the repairs. But itʼs my understanding that the money has already been lined up for the project, and usually thatʼs the hardest part.
What is strange to me is that today is December 7th. Itʼs Pearl Harbor Day. But thereʼs no one here but me and my wife. This is a decorated World War II warship. I expected bunting, and a brass band, and veterans in wheelchairs with gleaming medals.
But itʼs just us.
I made cookies today. Truthfully, I made about 40 cookies today, but these are the six that donʼt look awful.
I donʼt intuitively understand the link between liquor stores and rabbits, but I approve of neon signs, so Iʼm OK with this.
Is this the most ghetto McDonaldʼs in America? Letʼs look at the facts:
The things I do for a McRib.
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?
I should probably do something about this.
A column in todayʼs newspaper suggests, “Try a plant-based sweetener like Stevia” instead of sugar.
So what exactly to millennials think sugar is made from? Rocks? Oil? The dried, ground up bones of boomers?
If you wander through the tunnels under downtown Houston, you might run across this. Itʼs a slice of the old Cotton Hotel, preserved underneath the skyscraper known as 811 Main.
Thereʼs a plaque nearby which explains:
This façade belonged to the historic Hotel Cotton, built in 1913 on the southwest corner of Rusk and Fannin. The majority of the façade is from the original building, yet severe damage to the façade later in the hotelʼs history necessitated part of the structure be recreated.
The 11-story Hotel Cotton was developed by Almon Cotton, a wealthy, investment-loan man from Colorado. When the Cotton first opened its doors on Saturday, March 1, 1913, people called the building sensational — it was the first hotel in downtown Houston with a bath in all 152 rooms! Although it was located in what some still considered the countryside (the city had to clear weeds on adjacent land), the Cotton charged very high rates at $1.50 per room and had steady business from the start. The neighboring Stowers Furniture Company building, which still stands today, supplied the first furniture for the Cotton. One Houston newspaper later branded the Cotton as the “Shamrock of 1913,” which exemplifies its luxurious and impressive modernity at the time.
Soon after its opening, the Cotton passed through a series of owners, where its name was eventually changed to the Montagu Hotel. After falling into extreme disrepair, the hotel was demolished on January 20, 2007.
Even in Houstonʼs hottest neighborhood, thereʼs no shortage of urban decay.
Or people to take pictures of it.
If a museum stages an exhibition of Pablo Picasso and Alexander Calder, youʼre obligated to photograph it in high-contrast black-and-white.
When in an art museum, do as the art students do.
The tech world in 2021:
Nothing is new.
If Apple can't get localization right, what chance to the rest of us have?
When the National Museum of Funeral History tells you not to open a casket, you do not open the casket.
When it comes to transit hardware malfunctions, I guess itʼs better that the ticket machine fails than the train.
Although, I think I havenʼt seen a parity error in 30 years.
I think this is Siriʼs passive-aggressive way of telling me Iʼm drunk.
When I went to vote today, the Harris County election people gave me a little finger condom to keep me safe from cooties on the touch screen voting machine. Or maybe to keep the voting machine safe from me.
I got a new computer today. Itʼs hard to believe that Iʼve been using my old computer for (math… math… math…) eleven years.
That wee machine has been with me through a dozen homes and another dozen countries, from Turkey to Japan to exotic Canada. Iʼd miss it, if the new one wasnʼt so much better.
“Paging Alfred Hitchcock. Mr. Hitchcock, white courtesy phone.”
If you ever want to know what the inside of an automatic barista machine looks like, just head to Whole Foods in Midtown Houston. Thereʼs a good chance itʼs inner mechanism is open and available for you to examine.
Iʼm not sure how many times Iʼve been to this Whole Foods store — maybe a dozen times — and the coffee machine has never been working.
Every time I go, thereʼs a repairman busy tinkering with it. Which seems like quite a coincidence. Either Costa Coffee has an employee whose job is to repair this one machine full-time, or thereʼs something about me going to Whole Foods that causes the machine to kill itself.
Iʼve long moaned about how Houston is a city that would rather spend a lot of money tearing things down and rebuilding them, than spend a little money maintaining what it already has. Since Iʼve returned to the city, I see it over and over again.
This is the latest example. These are warning lights that were embedded into the stop lines of streets that cross Metroʼs Red Line downtown. They were pretty neat when the train first ran, taking the flashing lights usually hanging beneath a grade crossingʼs crossbuck, and putting them into the street, itself, nice and tidy. The resulting wigwag light pattern both alerts drivers to the approach of a train, and also lets them know where to stop.
That is, if theyʼre working. Which theyʼre not. None of them work anymore. I wrote to Robert Gallegos, my elected city councilman asking what happened to them.
Not only did he not respond to my letter, his office didnʼt even acknowledge its receipt. Having previously lived in Chicagoʼs 42nd Ward under its very responsive Alderman Brendan Reilly, Iʼm surprised that a local politician would simply ignore a constituent. I guess Mr. Gallegos doesnʼt need my vote.
I donʼt drink wine. I havenʼt been to New Jersey since before the internet. No, I didnʼt sign up for your mailing list. I do not want your spam, filthy lying spammers at Renault Winery Resort in Egg Harbor City, New Jersey.
Guess which state wonʼt get my tourism dollars.
If the single largest technology company on the planet canʼt keep its web site from upchucking, what chance do I have?
A nice autumn day at the tree museum.
Houston has a number of interesting second-line musea that often donʼt get the attention they deserve. One of them is the former Houston Municipal Airport terminal, now known as the 1940 Air Terminal Museum.
It is chock-a-block with exhibits of aviation history, with a heavy local focus, which is appropriate since so many airlines got their start in Texas, and Houston was formerly the home of several majors.
You can climb inside a vintage passenger aircraft, like one you might see in an old movie. And if you go on the right day, you can be escorted up to the top of the control tower.
That space is in an advanced state of decay, which is why the museum requires a chaperone, but itʼs a nice elevated location from which to take photographs of the adjacent Hobby Airport.
Annie likes to pull the green peppers and black olives off of my pizza. But only if itʼs from Frankʼs Pizza. If itʼs any other pizza, she just eats the cheese.
My cat eats a lot of cheese.
I woke up to a jumping spider in my garden. I guess theyʼre called that because of the way people jump when they run across one first thing in the morning.
Today I discovered that my microwave has a frozen burrito function.
Where have you been all my life?
I spent a bit of today watching the bees toil outside of the Houston City Hall Annex.
Iʼve been told that the big bees, like this one, are locals. Itʼs the small bees that are migratory.
While I agree that the former mayor Brown deserves to have a train car dedicated in his honor, I donʼt like when these sorts of awards are bestowed on people while theyʼre still alive.
They say you can find anything in a used record store. And I think I just did.
For a low-lying coastal city on a bayou that is regularly subjected to hurricanes, itʼs sometimes amazing how ill-prepared Houston is for routine thunderstorms.
CVS #1 today: No, you canʼt have a COVID shot.
CVS #2 today: No, you canʼt have a COVID shot.
Walgreens: Here, have a COVID shot! And a coupon!
I donʼt think CVS understands the goals of the governmentʼs COVID vaccination program.
Sometimes Annie watches Star Trek with me. Itʼs no surprise; all the ladies love Riker.
Darcie managed to get a Saturday off of work, so we went down to Galveston Island.
People in Houston always like to say that Galveston is crap, but itʼs not. Sure, itʼs a bit run-down, but so is every single seaside town Iʼve been to on the planet, from Seattle to Kowloon to Torquay to Singapore to Üsküdar to Barnegat Light. Thatʼs part of what makes them seaside towns.
Even so, Galveston is much better now than when we last saw it 20 years ago. Far fewer abandoned buildings. Far better streets. And now that Darcie and I are older now, we see Galveston differently and driving around can decipher its history just by looking at the building styles. Weʼll be back.
I mentioned the trip to one of my doormen this morning, and she told me sheʼs never been there. Sheʼs lived in Houston all her life (24 years is my guess), but never bothered to drive 40 minutes to see the ocean. Itʼs both sad and not surprising. There are an awful lot of people in the world who never take an interest in anything beyond whatʼs immediately in front of them.
For generations, hotels have been more than places of rest. They have served as public spaces, places of respite, and cultural institutions.
I have met people who donʼt understand why good hotels have elaborate lobbies, full-service bars, and fine restaurants. They think of hotels as nothing more than a place to sleep. But just as you can use a computer for more than sending messages, hotels are far more than places to be unconscious.
The Hotel Galvez is one of those places. On this day, it serves my and my wife well as a refuge from the heat. A place to recharge with afternoon tea. And an opportunity to reflect on what we did today.
There is no shortage of shorted and flip-flopped tourists to-ing and fro-ing through the space, intent on maximizing their experiences. But experience is about more than checking items off of a list. Itʼs about savoring what life offers you. They can have their precisely-computed schedules of water parks and trinket hunting. A comfy chair, an ocean breeze, and an attentive waitress are what makes a vacation memorable to me.
Time and tide conspire to turn a piling into a cylinder of art.
If the largest newspaper in America canʼt keep its web site running, what chance do I have?
Today's coffee is the Texas Latte from Day Six Coffee in downtown Houston.
This coffee is probably best taken hot, but even though it's only 93° today, my body still believes it's a hundred-and-bullshit outside, so I got it iced.
It's pretty good, but should be well-swirled to make sure all the good bits at the bottom get properly distributed throughout.
The Day Six menu describes it as a "double shot of espresso with vanilla bean flavoring, caramel sauce, and steamed milk." I usually associate vanilla with Madagascar, and caramel with England. But Texas has milk, so we'll go with that. It's a solid drink, but forgettable. The sort of thing that you can get pretty much anywhere. And at $5.50 a pop, it's not really value-for-money. $3.99, and I'm there.
I shall work here today.
Itʼs a gentle rain, and Iʼm under the overhang.
The New York Times has “lost” this web page. I guess thatʼs not surprising, since it also lost my newspaper today.
Rome is renowned as the city of fountains. Itʼs my understanding that Kansas City also considers itself a city of fountains. Houston, on the other hand, is a city of dead fountains.
When I last lived in Houston, the city had recently spent millions sprucing up a slice of downtown, filling it with imaginative fountains, and declaring it “The Cotswold District” in sign and literature.
Ignoring the absurdity of the cognomen, what happened after that is a typical Houston story. Nobody maintained the fountains. Today, there are over a dozen of these bulky, trash-filled wrecks beached across half as many city blocks.
I wrote to my city council representative asking what happened, and didnʼt get a response. I guess he doesnʼt need my vote.
I asked some of the locals about it, and they told me that fountains downtown are a bad idea from the start because homeless people will just use them for bathing. OK, I understand that. But the problem isnʼt the fountains, itʼs that youʼre not taking care of your homeless people. Homeless people sleep on the streets, too. Does that mean we shouldnʼt have streets anymore?
A quiet evening at Main Street Square in downtown Houston.
Itʼs quiet because the Main Street Square fountains are broken. And have been for at least several months, if not longer.
Have I mentioned that Houston is a city where everything is broken all the time?
They threw the deck chairs into the pool at Market Square Tower to keep them from blowing away in the storm.
They hung the pool over the public sidewalk because they like to tempt fate.
Itʼs funny how a bunch of people who arenʼt even smart enough to get vaccinated are suddenly lecturing everyone else, like theyʼre a bunch of Constitutional scholars.
My tiny moss has made a tiny flower.
I went to the Church of the Annunciation today. Itʼs one of those urban core Catholic churches that churches under the radar, serving its neighborhood for hundreds of years while the nearby cathedral gets all the attention. Most large American cities have one like this. Places like Saint Joan of Arc in Las Vegas, Assumption Catholic Church in Chicago, and the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis are other examples.
Annunciation is old-school, in both style, architecture, and message. While I did the special kind of musty funk that fills old American Catholic churches, Iʼve never been able to get used to using a Communion rail. Perhaps I have weak knees. Or I donʼt like people looking at my butt.
Still, if youʼre looking for a just-barely-this-side-of-Vatican-Ⅱ experience, this could be the place for you.
I really should stop this tomfoolery. But I also want to find out if sheʼs dumb enough to get her head stuck in a peanut can.
I think I have found the worst government web site on the planet: New Jersey Family Care.
Its many technical faults aside, it looks like something a kid whipped up in Geocities in the 1990ʼs, not something dealing with healthcare. And certainly not something that taxpayer dollars paid for.
Annie has decided that Iʼve done enough work for today, and I should turn my attention to smaller, furrier needs.
You know the supply chain shortages are getting out of hand when even the grackles have to line up for bird seed.
Iʼve learned to stop wearing my Dodgers sweatshirt around the building. People give me the stink eye. One of the valet guys told me itʼs because people here hate people from California. Iʼm not surprised. People are like that in Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, too.
In the basement of my building, itʼs possible to see the new foundation holding up the old foundation.
Unpacking my stuff today, I was reminded of another good reason to hire a packing service when youʼre moving: Comedic value.
Every time Iʼve hired a company to pack my stuff to move, something has happened that just made me shake my head. Usually, itʼs caused by the packersʼ fear that they might forget to pack something.
When I moved from Houston to Chicago, the packing company packed my garbage, so that when I arrived in the Windy City, I had a nice stinking garbage can all ready to be emptied.
This time, the packing company actually packed the shelves from the cabinets in my kitchen. Iʼm not sure what Iʼm going to do with them in my new place, because theyʼre the wrong size for the cabinets here.
My old apartment building can have them back, if it wants. It just has to pay for the postage.
When people ask me why I moved to Houston, I tell them itʼs because I love to ski, and Iʼm bad at geography.
Annie has found a safe location from which to observe the Grand Unpacking of All the Things.
I shall work here today.
Three fails in one word. Pretty impressive.
An additional point should be deducted for putting a dingbat in the middle of a sentence.
In most cities, they have people pushing brooms to clean the streets. But this is Houston, so “Letʼs see if thereʼs a way we can do this sitting down while burning dead dinosaurs.”
If you put that thing in reverse, does it spew out everything its Hoovered up?
Thereʼs a weird kind of hybrid bar -slash- epicurean bodega near my home called District Market that gives free coffee to cops and other essential workers. Thatʼs nice.
People make a lot of jokes about cops and doughnut shops thinking that itʼs nothing more than a lame stereotype, but few understand that thereʼs a historical reason for that association.
America used to be littered with all-night coffee shops. This was because people used to stay out later, as they didnʼt have much entertainment at home. People also used to work later because a lot of once-massive industries demanded it. And more people worked overnight shifts than they do now. Stopping at a coffee shop or a diner on the way home at 2am was a perfectly normal thing to do. People also used to work harder, so in some cities there were 24-hour cheap steak joints, but thatʼs a story for another time.
Because these coffee shops were open in the small hours, they were often the targets of criminals. A clever way to attract police officers to your late-night noshery in order to repel criminals was to offer the badged free coffee, and sometimes free doughnuts.
Whether District Market is giving away free coffee in lieu of paying for improved security doesnʼt really matter, because itʼs still a nice thing to do. And the whole notion of “free coffee” which used to be ubiquitous in American society has almost disappeared today.
My apartment building has a Stockwell vending machine in the basement.
Unlike the vending machines of yore, this one is just an open cabinet with a camera that watches what you take off the shelves and uses magic A.I. fairies to send you a bill. That is, if it works. Which it doesnʼt.
I canʼt even get the Stockwell app to acknowledge that the Stockwell machine in my building exists.
I guess Iʼll spend my snack money at the convenience store across the street, instead. Where I can pay by cash, or credit card, or Apple Pay, or even food stamps if I had them. And if something goes wrong, there are intermittently friendly people to help me out, and not some Silicon Valley robot barking, “object has no attribute.”
The Southwestern Bell building across the street has a channel in it that was once populated by windows. Then the windows were converted into doors. And now theyʼre death traps.
Amazingly, I occasionally see people open these doors and stand next to the abyss smoking. The crush out their cigarettes on the historic brick facade.
Annie is half in the bag this morning.
This is what happens when you move from a state with a COVID notification app to a state that lacks a COVID notification app.
I shall work here today.
Annie reflects on her day.
It's interesting to see how much Houston has changed in the last 20 years, and how much it hasn't.
Things that are new include the robot security guards at the neighboring skyscrapers; light rail lines on three sides of my building; and a complete lack of jazz, classical, or news radio stations.
What hasn't changed includes Frank's Pizza, which has the finest 'zza west of the Mississippi; the first Starbucks I ever went to is still there; the horrendous undercarriage-scraping defect in San Felipe Road is still there 20 years later; and also the notion of “Texas friendly.”
People are so nice here compared with California, Nevada, Washington, Illinois, and most of the other places we've lived. The first truck stop we went to when we crossed the border was out of newspapers. Some rando guy heard me asking the casher about it, and he gave me the paper he was reading. “I only wanted to read the front page,” he lied. Same with 90% of everyone we've met. So generous.
They let you merge, unlike the Californians who are so angry and jealous to their cores that they think everything is a race. Even the guy with Tourette syndrome who works the parking lot at Target is super nice to everyone. A cop stopped traffic so I could cross the street carrying a pizza. I just can't imagine that happening anywhere else.
Iʼm not happy that Netflix is borked. But at least the error message is creative.
But if Netflix canʼt keep its system running, what chance do I have?
OK. But my doctor says I shouldnʼt.
Every electronic road sign in Nevada: “Keep Vegas open, get your shots now!”
Every electronic road sign in Arizona: “6.8 million doses administered so far. Get yours!”
Every electronic road sign in New Mexico: “Protect your family. Get your free COVID vaccine.”
Every electronic road sign in Texas: “Buckle up for safety!”
It turns out my new oven has a Sabbath mode. It also turns out to do the opposite of what I assumed it would.
I have no idea how much I paid for gas. I think the credit price for Plus is “Burp.”
Annie relaxing at the Aloft Hotel in San Antonio.
Not only did DoorDash eat itself, it canʼt even show a legible error message.
Itʼs like the DoubleFail Twins of delivery apps.
I didnʼt necessarily expect to wake up to chirping birds and the softness of wind through sagebrush this morning. But I also didnʼt expect to wake up to a diesel-powered emergency sump pump.
The water line feeding the Best Western Plus Hotel in Fort Stockton broke overnight. Which means that after driving 400 miles last night, I have to drive another 350 miles without a shower. In August. In Texas.
“Dude, there's a Smokey on your tail. Floor it!”
Annie surveys our room at the Best Western Plus Hotel in Fort Stockton, Texas before settling down to sleep on top of the refrigerator.
Meanwhile, in West Texas.
After a busy day surveying the packing of all of our things, Annie snoozes high atop the pile of stuff in our living room.
August 1st, and the gas station is already loaded for Halloween.
When the Apple Card launched, it had the most amazing customer service.
Two years later, itʼs a smoldering pile of garbage.
Darcieʼs car has to ride in the back of the bus.
The monsoon has been generous this year.
I never thought I would miss the smell of creosote, but I will. When the rain falls on tumbleweeds, it makes a weird wet dog smell. The outflow boundary from the thunderstorm carries the smell far and wide, and is a much more reliable indicator of rain coming than radar is.
Protip: If you're ever in a slot canyon or a dry gulch, and suddenly you smell a wet dog, run. I've lost count of the number of stories I've seen in the newspapers this year about hikers and homeless people killed in flash floods. Dozens, at least. Always under blue, unsuspecting skies. The news helicopters sometimes follow a flash flood coming off one of the mountains as it weaves through the gullies and washes. Once, KTNV showed a car speeding down the road trying to outrun the water. It didn't.
If I canʼt trust Capital One to run a web site, how can I trust it with my money?
Since every single story on NBC Nightly News is labeled “Breaking News,” I wonder what the producers will use when thereʼs actual breaking news to report.
“Breaking News! We Really Mean It This Time!” Or maybe “ZOMG!!!WTF!!BBQ!!!11!1!” might work.
If you can get married at the UPS Store, you might be in Nevada.
Iʼm old enough to remember when ice cream came in paper boxes. Thatʼs how all ice cream was sold in supermarkets for the first twenty years of my life. Paper boxes. And in a few places, big plastic buckets. Then in the 80ʼs, the Ben and Jerryʼs round pints showed up.
I was in the supermarket Friday, and noticed that you simply canʼt buy ice cream in paper boxes anymore. I suspect the current fashion of rounded containers is about reducing the volume of ice cream delivered per package in order to goose profits, but I donʼt have the energy to be outraged by anything anymore.
Microsoft Office is so poorly programmed that even Microsoftʼs error reporting daemon crashes.
Todayʼs coffee is Biscochito, from that place in Albuquerque again.
A biscochito is the official state cookie of New Mexico, and you can really smell and taste the cookie flavor, though itʼs not overwhelming. A biscochito is similar to a butter cookie, but the recipe has evolved over the last 400 years to be every-so-slightly spicy, with the flavors of anise, cinnamon, and space launches. But thatʼs OK, because I like my coffee the way I like my women: spicy and our of this world.
She canʼt read, but Annie sure digs those Nancy Drew books.
Citibank is broken today. But thatʼs OK. Itʼs not like 50 million people rely on Citibank for anything important.
Every ten years it seems like the tech world bring in a new batch of people who never bothered to study how things worked in previous decades, and thus end up not only reinventing the wheel, but hyping it up like itʼs the first time anyone ever thought of whatever it is theyʼre all excited about.
Timesharing → Thin clients → Web apps
Hypercard → Web sites
Brittanica → Encarta → Wikipedia
Q-Link → IRC → Second Life → Virtual reality
Rabbitjackʼs Casino → BetMGM
Also not new: Cloud computing. Check out the highlights from this 1979 advertisement for MicroNET:
MicroNET was a way for CompuServe to allow people to use spare capacity on its big iron computers. People could upload their personal projects, conduct business, and even develop software using the might of dozens of machines thousands of times more powerful than what they could afford in their own homes. Maintenance, backups, power supply, networking, and other infrastructure details were abstracted away from the end user so the user could concentrate on the task at hand.
Sound familiar, Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, and a thousand other virtual machine companies?
Pretty much the definition of “celebrate the little things.”
If your beauty pageant has replaced the swimsuit competition with an animal slaughtering competition, you may live on the Big Rez.
Todayʼs coffee is Tim Hortons Maple (artificially flavored) Coffee. Why Timʼs, and why K-cups? For the same reason I buy most of my coffee — it was on sale.
A lot of coffee claims to be flavored with everything from chocolate to cinnamon to lavender. And itʼs almost always a hint of a suggestion of a note of a whisper of a nod in the general direction of a particular savor. This coffee doesnʼt play that game. It hits you square in the face with a hockey stick dunked in maple goodness. I have a jug of pure maple syrup in my refrigerator that feels inferior to this product. If you like maple flavor (And on a 116° day like today, who doesnʼt?), this is right grind for your gears. Itʼs like twisting a K-cup into a maple tree and letting the sweet, caffeinated nectar drip into your favorite Canadian Tire tumbler. While wearing flannel. And listening to Rush.
Does it taste like real Tim Hortons coffee from a real Tim Hortons shop? I donʼt know. Itʼs been so long since Iʼve slurped black and dunked Timbits in the Great White North that Iʼve forgotten what itʼs supposed to be like. But Iʼm going to declare it “close enough” because I like my coffee the way I like my women: Syrupy and Canadian.
I have a road trip coming up this week, so Iʼm calling the hotelsʼ front desks to confirm my reservations.
I think itʼs time to make a new reservation elsewhere.
The lease for my new apartment is very long, but I read the entire document anyway.It turns out that I am not allowed to let my cat smoke a hookah in the freight elevator.
First thing on my to-do list once Iʼm settled: Buy a cat-sized hookah.
Todayʼs coffee is Goose Bumps from Vesta Coffee in Las Vegas.
The coffee is pretty good, considering it comes from a city that prides itself on being artificial, superficial, and doing things “good enough.” Itʼs very smooth, which might be attributed to the relentlessly mineralized water that Vegas siphons from Lake Mead, before returning it to the lake after being processed by four million kidneys. The stated notes are “chocolate, graham cracker, sweet.” I certainly get the chocolate, and a bit of the sweet. But Iʼm not sensitive enough to detect graham or any other type of cracker in my coffee. Still, this desert coffee isnʼt a dessert coffee. Itʼs a nice weekend morning coffee, or a good reward in the afternoon after accomplishing some minor, yet dreaded, task. Iʼd buy it again because I like my coffee the way I like my women: wholesome and surprisingly good.
It's funny how finding an apartment has changed so much from the days when I'd roll into a city with all of my possessions in the back of my pick-up truck and drive around looking for For Rent signs.
Now it's all online with pictures, and virtual reality tours, and instant approval options. Not that the instant approvals help us.
Most people get approved for an apartment in 15 minutes. It typically takes us a week, because the background check services have to look us up in each of the dozen states in which we've lived. Unnecessary stress and delay.
Living in the desert in the summer, you see a lot of strange things. One of the oddities is cars with wild paint jobs.
Car manufacturers need to test their cars in extreme real-world conditions, so itʼs not unusual to see test cars driving around the desert. They stand out because they are usually covered with strange grid patterns, spots, or other visual camouflage intended to hide the details of the carʼs shape and abilities.
But like all cars, they have to stop for gas eventually, and their drivers have to go to the bathroom, so they turn up regularly at gas stations on the fringes. Perhaps not often enough for automotive spies to move to the desert, but certainly regularly enough that I see them a couple of times a month.
In order to get the cable company to stop calling me trying to sell me TV service, last month I told Cox that Iʼm blind.
Now my internet bill comes in Braille.
If Microsoft canʼt handle internationalization, what chance do the rest of us have?
The New York Times app sure knows how to load ads.
Too bad it doesnʼt know how to load the news that I pay for.
“Before Time Runs Out?” Thatʼs pretty scary.
What does Marriott know about my health that I donʼt? Or maybe itʼs some kind of a threat? Why is Marriott threatening me?
I guess Iʼll stay somewhere else thatʼs less threatening.
If your city has to take out an ad in the New York Times letting people know everything is not as bad as it seems, you know you have a P.R. problem.
Today's coffee is Maple Walnut from Piñon Coffee.
It's not exactly maple walnut season around here. This week has been wildfires, not fireplaces; and 117° above, instead of 17° below. But this place never sees a proper autumn or winter, so you make your own.
Like other Piñon products, it's very smooth. And when freshly ground, it smells more like maple and walnuts than the maple walnut cookies that I get from my neighbors fresh out of Canuckistan.
Why Piñon again? Because I'm a sucker for free shipping. And because I like my coffee the way I like my women: sweet and smokey.
No beating around the bush. I will just plainly state right here that Wise potato chips are the best potato chips on the planet.
Every once in a long while something goes terribly wrong with the universe and a black hole opens up, depositing Wise potato chips at a store near where I live. They are the potato bomb.
While most other potato chips aspire to be like Layʼs potato chips, these are the chips that Layʼs aspires to emulate.
The only problem is that theyʼre hard to come by if you donʼt live back east. And occasionally youʼll get a weird, shriveled green potato chip. But I eat those, too.
I bought a new pair of sewing scissors from Amazon. It came in a package that required scissors to open.
Todayʼs coffee is Costa Rica Decaf from Mod Cup Coffee in Jersey City.
How did I end up with coffee from New Jersey? I was thinking about hipsters. Remember them? They seem to have mostly disappeared now, but I figured if there were any still around, theyʼd live in Jersey because they got priced out of Brooklyn. Yep, there they are.
Even though this coffee is decaffeinated, it still kicks. This is a manly decaf, from back when men were real men and a shoeleather steak with a cup of black coffee was considered a light lunch. This coffee is so Italian it wants to drive Panzers into the Horn of Africa. This is a coffee that will lead you down a dark back alley and kiss you so hard that you wonʼt notice it lifting your wallet. And you wouldnʼt care if it did. But thatʼs OK, because I like my coffee the way I like my women: Aggressive and untrustworthy.
With 200,000 employees, if Bank of America canʼt keep its web site from failing, what chance do I have?
I got a new Atari cart today. It's Basketball, and naturally the Sears Tele-Games version because that is the manner in which I roll.
The game is not great in a lot of ways, but it is exceptional in one — It perfectly captures the vision, abilities, and naïveté of video games in 1978.
Two years later, it made an appearance in the movie Airplane!, much to the delight of video game fans and the horror of nervous flyers.
I swiped up to unlock, and instead the screen sort-of half swiped left. The lock icon, the unlock instructions, the wallpaper, and a dark overlay moved left, revealing another copy of the wallpaper underneath. Meanwhile, the time, the music panel, and the quick keys stayed put.
Fortunately, all was solved ten seconds later when the phone shit itself and rebooted.
I got a new Atari cartridge today. Itʼs Pole Position.
Iʼm not big on racing games, though I enjoy watching other people play them. My problem is that Iʼm not very good at racing games. The one racing game I actually like and am also good at is Ridge Racers for the PSP.
This Pole Position cart wasnʼt a deliberate purchase. It came in a box with a knot of other games, but Iʼll keep it for two reasons.
First, because I do have some nostalgic memories of playing Pole Position when I was a kid. I wasnʼt any good at it back then, either. To me, a joystick was entirely the wrong control method for this game, especially considering that every Atari console shipped with perfectly fine paddle controllers, and many people also had the racing version of Atariʼs paddles left over from other games.
The second reason Iʼll keep it is because the end label is wrong. It reads “POLE POSITN*.”
Label errors werenʼt uncommon on Atari games, and got more and more common as the years went on and the company moved from sprinting to walking to hobbling with a cane to shuffling with a walker to its inevitable dirt nap. But this is a pretty glaring error, and I do enjoy knowing that other people make mistakes, too, so Iʼll put this one in a protective sack to keep it fresh.
I got a new Atari cart yesterday. Itʼs BASIC Programming.
While the word “BASIC” in the title is properly capitalized because it is an initialism for Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, the title would also work in sentence case as “Basic Programming,” because this is truly basic programming.
Lots of modern-day reviewers on the internet who are more interested in outrage clicks than thoughtful conversation deride this program as a farce or even a toy. I have the unpopular view that BASIC Programming is really quite good, both as a technical achievement and as a cultural change agent. It achieves a number of important goals:
This is all elementary school stuff today. But when this cartridge came out in 1979, it was absolutely revolutionary. For $50, an Atari owner could get a taste of what it was like to actually program a computer. And while computers were starting to occasionally appear in well-to-do homes, they were still staggeringly uncommon, and cost about the same as a new car.
Joysticks and buttons in arcades gave wider society its first opportunity to command an electronic machine to do things. BASIC Programming gave Atari owners the ability to give an electronic machine sequences of commands, and to act on them. Moving a dot around a screen with a joystick had been done long ago through various electromechanical methods. But this was the first chance for ordinary people to actually command a machine to do more than just react to stimulus.
BASIC Programming has a limited feature set, but itʼs still an integrated development environment, not fundamentally different from what computer programmers use today. One significant difference is that BASIC Programming managed to present a fully functional I.D.E. in a minuscule 2K of memory. Thatʼs about one sixth of the words in this article.
By comparison, the current version of Microsoftʼs I.D.E. starts at 274,000 times the size of BASIC Programming, and increases rapidly from there, depending on what language you write in.
Atariʼs BASIC Programming crosses the same ocean as Microsoftʼs VS Code, but does it with a styrofoam pool noodle instead of the Queen Mary.
In addition, BASIC Programming is user-friendly in one specific way that few computers are today. Like me, it had Sister Maria for third grade Arithmetic class, where she preached, “Anything divided by zero is zero.” Try to divide something by zero in Atariʼs basic BASIC, and it politely gives you zero. Unlike modern computer systems that fall on the floor, curl up in a ball, and start quietly sobbing to themselves when asked the same question.
The one popular modern-day gripe I agree with is that the input method is cumbersome. Itʼs a pair of keypads, one plugged into each joystick port, and then locked together. I understand why it was done this way, but that doesnʼt make it easy to use.
Still, the single keypad pair is pulling more than its weight, even for the era. It is used for:
Just looking at the command set, thereʼs a lot of interesting points.
In addition, when you run a program, the systemʼs cursor moves through the program during execution, allowing you to follow along with whatʼs happening. This kind of functionality is an add-on in modern systems.
On a personal note, I love the idea that it has a Halt command. It brings a lot of nostalgic feelings to my tummy. Back when computers were commanded to run and then halt because of their military origins. A time when you couldnʼt start a computer without a key. When computers had mechanical odometers behind a panel so that the IBM service guy from New Paltz could write down for how many hours you used the machine, to let Big Blueʼs billing department know.
Yesterday was a quiet Saturday, so I sat down with BASIC Programming and approached it with my programmerʼs analytical mind, and without the biases of modern-day development. My conclusion is that this is really quite fun.
I started by typing in all six of the programs I could find on the internet. Unlike the days of typing in program from the backs of magazines, these all worked the first time, with moving dots and pinging sounds. Then I started to experiment on my own.
The dialect of BASIC that this cartridge uses is very much of its era. Variable assignment is done with ←, instead of =, just like in 1960ʼs and 1970ʼs computing languages like AP/L. Goto is your friend, not your enemy. And the notion of whitespace for readability goes right out the window. This will be a show-stopper for anyone used to cruising Appleʼs internal codebase.
Iʼm not musical in any way, so naturally I enjoyed stringing along rudimentary bloops and bleeps into nonsensical songs. For an afternoon, I was the e e cummings of synthpop, but I was also doing something: I was creating. This was an a-ha moment, and I felt a rainbow connection to dads of the 1970ʼs, sitting cross-legged in wood-paneled living rooms, scales drifting lazily from their eyes as the future was revealed.
If you appreciate programming elegance, the value of simplicity, or simply dig code golf, this is your course. You are forced to think about what youʼre doing. To make choices, evaluate tradeoffs, and make do with what you have. Itʼs a lot of the brain stimulus that gets some people into programming as a profession in the first place
There are a number of people who enjoy making tiny programs. Some so small that they fit into a PC-DOS boot sector. I think a few of those people might thrive within the constraints of this environment.
The biggest limitation of BASIC Programming is memory. You can only cram a few dozen symbols into the machine. Thatʼs to be expected, since the entire console only has 128 bytes of memory. Thatʼs the reality of 1979. But today, people are able to program Atari cartridges that work with comparatively massive amounts of information. One guy even sells Atari carts that are full-motion videos of popular movies. I suspect one of those clever people could find a way to make a version of this that works around the memory limitation.
The second-biggest problem is the Frankensteinian keyboard. As an input device, it was never intended for long-form content. But the cognitive overhead of shifting modes, double-checking the screen, and the constant hunt-and-peck involved make it hard to concentrate on the program, and not on the controller. Perhaps thatʼs another throwback to 1970ʼs computing, though.
Iʼm old enough to be one of those programmers who wrote their programs out on paper first (graph paper, if you were lucky), then typed it into a shared computer, and hoped that it did what was intended. Maybe if I spent more time thinking about the code beforehand, rather than writing it on-the-fly as is common today, coding in BASIC Programming wouldnʼt be so arduous.
Still, I think that with a bit of time, it would be possible to come up with a harness that links a standard Human Interface Design keyboard with the pair of Atari joystick ports to emulate the keypad. In my mind, it would take some kind of Arduino or Raspberry Pi device with a dozen I/O pins. Voltage might be an issue, but nothing insurmountable to todayʼs hobbiest.
In fact, using this method, one could actually load BASIC Programming programs stored in a host system through the Arduino-powered keypad interface. You could write a program in Microsoft VS Code, or Panicʼs Nova, and when you push to git, or the version management system of your choice, it could also be sent wirelessly to the Arduino, which then relays the keypresses into the Atari 2600.
Now I know what Iʼm going to do when I retire.
I got a new Atari game today. Galaxian.
Itʼs colorful, modern, and very well done. Not at all the sort of thing I go in for.
Iʼm more a plodding Space Invaders kind of guy. I like a game that allows me to have a sip of beverage without penalty.
This is the first time Iʼve seen Galaxian in its 2600 form. By the time this cart hit store shelves in 1983, my interest had already moved to the Commodore 64, and so this was never on my radar.
I got a new Atari cartridge today. Itʼs Pitfall, by Activision.
This game was massive when it came out. Everyone I knew did everything they could to get a copy. But this is my first time playing it.
My parents were Sears people, and so unless I somehow came up with the money myself, they would only buy gen-you-wine Sears Tele-Games versions of Atariʼs games. And since Pitfall was Activision, not Atari, I was stuck. But not for long.
A few months later, a Commodore 64 was set up in my bedroom, and while my friends had tired of Pitfall and moved on to other games, I didnʼt care whether they lent me their cartridges or not. I had a whole new world of possibilities opening up under my fingers, right on my homework desk.
I remember that Wizard of Wor was a huge hit in the arcades. Now I have it as an Atari Cartridge.
I find it humorous that this is a video game from CBS, the media Goliath I would later work for, briefly. In 1982, it seemed like every big company on the planet was trying to get into the video game business. From toy companies like Mattel to movie companies like 20th Century Fox to record companies like K-Tel.
Even the arcade version from Midway seemed very primitive to me, so Iʼm not eager to try out the 2600 version, which I assume to be even worse. But maybe Iʼll be surprised by a high quality, fluid, engaging production from a company as large and resourceful as CBS.
Oh, wait. I used to work for CBS. I know better.
I got a new Atari cart today. Itʼs Poker Plus, the Sears version of Atariʼs Casino.
This is the text label version, which is what I prefer because that means its an older version, and what I would have had in my home, if my family had this cart in 1978. But we didnʼt.
The version of this game with the Sears picture label is more unusual, but not quite what one might call “rare.” Just seldom seen for sale.
Itʼs a very minor topic of discussion in the realm of Atari nerds that Sears spent a lot of time and money making its own artwork for the Atari games it licensed. There are plenty of debates over which is better. I donʼt have a preference. But I do note that the Sears imagery is often racier than the Atari version.
Here are the Atari and Sears picture labels of the same Casino/Poker Plus game.
The Atari one is fine, featuring a slim young woman in a strappy white evening frock engaged in severely constrained enthusiasm. The Sears one features a Vegas showgirl wearing low-rise panties, a feathered headdress, and nothing else. Sheʼs covering her breasts with her slender arms, but not out of shame, based on her smile.
As a resident of Las Vegas, I am uniquely positioned to decide which label is more accurate. And I can tell you that the Sears version is more correct.
Not because there are lots of gregarious topless showgirls roaming the casinos of Sin City. There arenʼt. Except for street buskers, the showgirls are all gone. Itʼs Miss Atari who is wrong. The notion of Vegas casinos being populated by well-dressed, glamorous, interesting people died in the late 1980ʼs. If she was done up in crop-top football jersey with a tattooed beer belly hanging over pajama bottoms and Crocs, toting a three-foot-long empty plastic beverage container and a grudge against Southwest Airlines, then she would fit right in.
But graceful white evening dress and statement jewelry? This isnʼt Monaco.
I got a new Atari cartridge today. Itʼs Space Shuttle by Activision.
From what Iʼve read, this is supposed to be one of the most difficult of the mainstream Atari 2600 games. Itʼs also supposed to be among the most rewarding to complete.
Itʼs supposed to be hard because the controls are very difficult. When Atari needed more buttons for one of its games, it just rolled out new controllers. Activision took a different path, and instead repurposed many of the existing switches on the Atari 2600 console to control functions of the game.
That Activision needed more buttons and levers to control this game makes sense, because youʼre flying a freaking space shuttle.
Also, from what Iʼve read, I shouldnʼt call this a game. Itʼs believed to be one of the very first consumer flight simulators, and it sounds like the sort of thing Iʼd have to take a full day off of work to get right.
Iʼm curious about how I would do with Space Shuttle, reliving the days when space exploration was about to be so common that weʼd “shuttle” people into outer space the way Pan Am shuttled people up and down the east coast. Here in 2021, neither of those things exist anymore.
Wanna start a fist fight in Whole Foods?
When Rando McFreedumb asks you why youʼre still wearing a mask, look him in the eye and say, “Because Iʼm better than you.”
I donʼt think Iʼm welcome back at that Whole Foods.
I got a new Atari game today. Itʼs Breakaway Ⅳ, the Sears Tele-Games version of Atariʼs Breakout.
Breakout has some interesting history behind it, which is unfortunately being re-written in the internet age. It was one of the Atari games that Steve Jobs worked on, and he enlisted Steve Wozniak to help with the project. That much is not in dispute.
However, since the death of Mr. Jobs, itʼs become common for revisionist historians on the internet to paint him as a comic book-grade evildoer. After his death, the embellishments became louder and more elaborate, as there was no living person to push back against them.
Today, if you look into the history of Breakout online, you are told that Jobs was a con man who took advantage of poor, helpless Saint Wozniak and twirled his mustache all the way to the bank.
Accounts from the time of the gameʼs development tell a very different story. But itʼs easy to slander someone after they are dead. Especially if youʼre trying to remake your own image, and benefit from internet outrage.
Another detail about Breakout that the chattering internet classes scratch their heads over is why Sears would label this game “Breakaway Ⅳ” instead of “Breakout.” The reasons are both simple.
Sears had a habit of renaming the Atari games it licensed if the names were too close to the names of other video game consoles that Sears had previously released. In the occluded view of video game history we get from the internet, consoles like the Atari 2600, the Fairchild Channel F, and the Magnavox Odyssey started it all. But there were hundreds, possibly even thousands of video game consoles before those.
The previous generation of consoles lacked interchangeable cartridges, and often could only play a single or a handful of games. But they existed. And they had names. Sears sold at least a dozen of these machines under its Tele-Games brand in the years before the Atari 2600 was invented, so in order to prevent confusion and re-using product names, it came up with new ones. For example, Atariʼs Street Racer became Searsʼ Speedway Ⅱ.
In addition, while Atari repeatedly targeted its advertising to individual game players, Sears heavily promoted its video game machines as devices to bring families and groups of people together. Breakout is one of those games that can be played by up to four people. The “Ⅳ” may be an indication of the number of people who can be brought together to play at once.
I got a new Atari cartridge today. It's Arcade Pinball, the Sears version of Atari's Video Pinball.
It's a really good game, with just the right balance of luck, still, and action to be engaging.
People on the internet like to moan that Sears should have called it “Video Pinball,” like Atari did. But Sears was putting out video game consoles long before Fujicorp, and several of them already had pinball games, which were commonly referred to as ”video pinball.” Labeling this cart “Arcade Pinball” cuts down on confusion for those who were playing video games at home before 1977.
I got a new Atari cartridge today. Itʼs Outer Space, the Sears version of Atariʼs Star Ship.
Star Ship was one of the least popular of the original Atari 2600 launch titles. The graphics are a bit crude, even for 1977, and the gameplay isnʼt much fun without a second human companion. Atari stopped making this game by 1980, while other launch titles continued for years afterward.
The Sears version is not notable on its own. The Atari version is most famous for sometimes coming with a weird label with giant yellow letters that looks nothing like any of the other Atari cartridges. The oddball label doesnʼt it more collectable. A quick scan through fleaBay shows sellers asking the same price for either version.
Couldnʼt sleep this morning, so I took the new lens out to the balcony. I didnʼt bring the tripod because I didnʼt want to wake everyone in the house. Next time.
Todayʼs coffee is Hacienda Esmerelda Bourbon Pointu from Mod Cup Coffee in Jersey City, New Jersey. Why would anyone buy coffee from New Jersey? Thatʼs a tale for another page of the calendar. For today, letʼs just focus on the coffee.
Iʼll start by saying itʼs bad. Not bad in the way that James Brown was bad, or the way that playing hookie from school was bad. I mean bad as in I brewed two cups and threw the rest in the trash. And this is coffee that costs four times what I ordinarily pay for coffee. I didnʼt just want to stop drinking this coffee. I wanted to divorce this coffee, move to a new city, get plastic surgery, and change my name to get away from this coffee.
Mod Cup has a very long web page championing this coffee which starts out by proudly declaring that this is “A coffee so rare and revered that in 2016 even Starbucks could only get one small harvest of it.” Well then, it must be good, right?
No. Iʼm convinced that the reason Starbucks only got that small harvest is because it didnʼt want any more.
Hacienda Esmerelda Bourbon Pointu (Weʼll call it “Ezzy” for short) is described as “Citrus and floral.” when I drank it, I didnʼt get any floral, but I got an awful lot of citrus. Like lemon. Like someone couldnʼt decide if they wanted tea or coffee to drink, so the made both in the same pot at the same time. And then threw in some Halls cough drops because it wasnʼt lemony enough. And then threw in an actual lemon.
What kind of Citgo refinery fumes are wafting through Jersey City that someone thought lemon coffee was a good idea? This coffee reminds me of some of the women I dated in New Jersey: full bodied, sour, and likely to key your car for not noticing their new shoes.
As I write this, I can hear the announcers at the baseball stadium a block away announcing the starting lineup. Itʼs the Las Vegas Aviators against the Sacramento River Cats. I hope thatʼs a fish, since generally speaking, cats and rivers get along like hydrogen bombs and Pacific atolls.
A big league baseball team, the Oakland Aʼs, was here all week inspecting the stadium and the city and the showgirls. Since Las Vegas stole Oaklandʼs football team, it seems natural to try to steal its baseball team, as well. The move would happen before Las Vegas could built a real stadium, so until one can be erected, the Aʼs would play… wait for it… a block away from me. What could possibly go wrong?
I got two new cartridges today, with the same game: Super Breakout. Both the Atari and Sears versions.
As games go, Super Breakout was a massive hit. When it was released in 1980, the Atari 2600 was fully mainstream, so for a lot of people, this was their first exposure to Breakout in any form, and everyone wanted it.
The Sears version is notable because it has the game title on both the end label, and the top label. And the game name on the top label is off-center, as itʼs an unbulleted part of the bullet list of game variations. And since Sears is using the Atari name for this game, the label also has a trademark disclosure.
This is one of those games that exemplifies that playing video games used to be a group activity, whether at an arcade or at home. The Atari 2600 version of this game can have up to four players. The Atari home computer version could have up to eight players.
Today, if you want to play a video game with eight other people, you do it in your momʼs basement, all alone, hooked up to the internet. Itʼs not the same thing.
The most annoying thing about the 1970ʼs: People who would call Atari cartridges “tapes.”
I went for a walk to Starbucks today. No more masks. Not even signs for masks. Clearly there is a hazard, since the employees are still masked and hiding behind toll booth-grade plexiglass. But the rest of the store? Come on in! Sit and and stretch out! Stay all day! Go ahead and take your boots off and dig at your blackened toenails with a Bowie knife, weʼre all friends here!
I should have known it was a bad idea when I opened the door to my apartment and there was a black widow spider standing there. Not a female like we all know from the Batman TV shows. But a male black widow, which is larger, skinnier, and looks like a homeless crab with a hangover.
On the plus side, itʼs hard to get killed by a male black widow unless you disturb its web. Which means I should stop messing about with random spider webs I see on the way to get the mail.
The two sunflowers Iʼm trying to grow in three-inch terra cotta pots have gone from silly to ludicrous. Oneʼs about four feet tall, the other about three-and-a-half. The seed packet said theyʼd grow to between 12 and 20 feet tall. Theyʼd better get a wiggle on if they want to reach that height before I move.
And by “0 seconds,” iPadOS means “Several minutes.”
Just when I thought that Linux was the last operating system without built-in advertising, along comes Ubuntu.
I didn't want to spend two hours today playing Atari games. But I had to. They were invading my space.
Today I noticed that the imitation wood veneer of my Sears Tele-Games machine is different from the imitation wood veneer of my TV stand. I guess Iʼll just have to buy new furniture.
Coffee and seven newspapers (thereʼs a Chicago Catholic under there somewhere). My day is set.
This is what happens when you recycle a Postal Service box to send something via UPS.
Day two of the dust storm. Houston has crap air, too, but at least thatʼs just chemicals and not Mother Nature trying to bury the city.
Today I learned that iOS has an icon for “sandstorm.”
Also, that I should say home today.
If you get a COVID shot at a strip club, you might live in Las Vegas.
If the single largest company on the planet canʼt keep its services from fudging their Huggies, what chance do I have?
Oh, good. The milk I just bought at Safeway is only a week past its expiration date. Safeway is getting better.
Considering that milk has a pretty long shelf life, I wonder how long this carton has been sitting in the cooler. A month? Two months?
“Giant inflatable novelty pool sharks? Aisle 19."
I used to blame myself and feel bad for not checking the expiration dates more closely when Iʼd end up with expired food from Safeway.
Now Iʼm just mad that Safeway willingly and repeatedly sells me expired food.
The atmosphere is having a nice little hissy fit in Las Vegas right now. A touch of rain about an hour ago, and now a windstorm. More interestingly, we had some thunder. We hardly ever get thunder here, because with the effort involved in getting over the mountains, thereʼs usually not enough energy for lightning. Itʼs the same story in Seattle.
People talk about all the rain in Seattle, but itʼs almost always a very calm, gentle rain. What the Navajos call “female rain.” I donʼt know what the Quileute in La Push, Washington call it. But when we visited, Darcie took a smooth rock home from the beach, and didnʼt find out later that youʼre not supposed to do that. We ended up having all kinds of bad luck right after that. Go figure.
Thereʼs a Door Dash guy trying to deliver something soggy and greasy to my neighbor, and the wind just made off with his big red bag. Run, Dasher, run!
I went to Starbucks today. I havenʼt been to Starbucks in 18 months. They spelled my name wrong, and screwed up my drink order, so really the only thing thatʼs changed is the furniture.
I went for a walk today. And like a basset hound with a thyroid condition, I can use all the walkies I can get.
On the way home, my watch pinged me with “It looks like you went outside for a walk. Congratulations!” I pushed the wrong buttons trying to take a screenshot, and the message went away. If a smart watch is a jerk to you in a crosswalk and nobody sees it, can you still rant about it?
My new media server is here!
Theyʼve taken down the sign at Starbucks requiring everyone to wear a mask, so naturally, none of the customers have a mask. Somehow they assume that the lack of a paper sign means everything is OK.
Clearly, everything is not OK, or the employees wouldnʼt be wearing masks, and there wouldnʼt be plexiglass between the customers and the employees.
Today I said goodbye to one of the most promising, but least used, gadgets in my travel kit. Itʼs a talking electronic translator.
It translates English words into Japanese, Mandarin, and Cantonese. That is, it would have if Iʼd ever used it.
The problem is that I donʼt ever have the need to translate single words when Iʼm traveling, which is about all itʼs good for. It has some built-in phrases, but theyʼre very few, and getting to the phrase you want can take a minute or more. By then, the person youʼve flagged down on the street for help has gone on with their day.
A better version of this might have been a good aide for learning a new language, but the screen resolution is too low to make sense out of the displayed glyphs, and the speech sounds like itʼs generated by a Texas Instruments TMC0281. Think “E.T. phone home” on a Speak-and-Spell. In Chinese.
I got a new Atari cartridge today. Itʼs Memory Match, the Sears Tele-Games version of Atariʼs A Game of Concentration. When it comes to the battle between Atari titles and Sears titles, Sears wins here.
Today I learned that delivery apps donʼt care what name you put in them. I think Iʼll be Ford Prefect tomorrow.
Today I got a new Atari cartridge. Itʼs Maze Mania: A Game of Cops ʼn Robbers, the Sears version of Atariʼs Maze Craze: A Game of Cops nʼ Robbers.
Whatʼs interesting about this cart is that while Sears changed the name from Maze Craze to Maze Mania, it kept the subtitle. Mostly.
Sears contracted “and” as “ʼn,” instead of using Atariʼs “nʼ.” I wonder if that was a deliberate decision, or the result of carelessness.