Props to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky

Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International AirportI’m supposed to be eating Tex-mex in Austin right now, reliving old SXSW’s with that group of people I only see this time of year. Instead I’m in a Courtyard Mariott somewhere in Northern Kentucky. Apparently not the part where the bourbon flows freely from spigots one every street corner.

But I’m not mad, I’m glad. The room is comped, my flight isn’t too early in the morning, and they have free high speed internet access. I guess they do this sort of thing often in Cincinnati because after landing they asked people to raise their hands if they had a connection to make. Even the staff raised their hands. It was a straight up connection party on that plane.

The hour and a half spent on the tarmac in Boston cost Deltinental severely, because I’d say a good third of the plane missed the last flight of the night. When we all staggered to the ticket counter, there was a giant sign that said “hotel accomodations,” and they had already prepared vouchers for room, board, and pre-printed our tickes for the morning. Now that’s what I call service.

So if you’re going to fly through a hub during the snowy season, make sure to fly through Cinci, because they won’t give you this “we’re not liable for flights delayed due to weather” bullshit. They give you the red carpet. Or something. In fact, in 2004 it was rated Best Gateway Airport in the US of A.

Fill My Closet

nordstrom's gift cardOver the past few days I’ve received emails from a few friends asking me to sign up for a service called “Fill My Closet,” which appears to be yet another viral marketing campaign.

Their proposition is simple: sign up for a free trial from a host of companies, get 5 of your friends to do the same, and get a free $250 gift certificate to Nordstroms. Paypal was the first company to utilize this sort of strategy when they paid cold cash for every new signup a user could generate. I fell pray to this offer (who could resist free money?), as did millions of other people. Paypal subsequently turned out to be a great service, and I would have signed up anyway.

FillMyCloset on the other hand is essentially a viral marketing frontend for all of the old school junk snail mail—magazine subscriptions, free product trials, cd clubs—seemingly great offers with huge drawbacks. These junk services are brokered by a company called MetaReward.com which allows people to easily sign up for services (one-click shopping for thigns you don’t want) Unlike the postal service, which is a random attempt to find gullible people, FillMyCloset uses social networks to find cliques of gullible people.

If each person that completes the required networking service, and gets 5 people to sign up for a service, the cost to the service provider would be $50. I’m sure that none of the participating companies would pay that much money per new customer, so the service must depend on people not being able to quite achieve their goal. If they set the number of friends too low, everyone will succeed, and if they set the number too high, no one will think it’s possible. Five seems to be the magic number, although I’m not sure why it’s so hard.

The site is a service of Free Super, an incentives-based viral marketing company. Their website provides very little information about the company, except that they can “generate thousands of new customers every month, at a fraction of the legacy cost of acquisition.” At least they’re upfront about their sliminess.

NYC bicycle abuse

critical mass in times squareIf you’ve ever been in New York on the last Friday of any month, you’ve probably come into contact with the NYC Critical Mass bike ride wherein hundreds of bicyclists “spontaneously come together to ride the ordinarily car-clogged streets of their cities.” I’ve seen this spectacle twice completely by chance, and it’s awesome.

Tension has been rising between these peaceful bikers and police, who claim their actions to be a dangerous act. This dispute reached its apex during the RNC when the NYC office of transportation declared Critical Mass to be “Disorderly Conduct and Obstructing Governmental Administration.” Since then numerous bikers have been harassed and sometimes even arrested on charges of traffic violations. Yesterday I recieved this email from my friend Jamie:

Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2005 12:26:45 -0500 (EST)
From: Jamie Rollins
Subject: biking is a crime
So you guys might be interested to hear that I was arrested Friday night for riding my bicycle here in New York City. Yes, you heard me right; I was arrested for riding my bike, IN A BIKE LANE, in Manhattan on Friday night. I was riding during the monthly Critical Mass bike rally, which the city of New York seems to have deemed a criminal activity.

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Blizzard of ’05

As the snow slowly blankets the urban landscape here in Cambridge, I can’t help but think back to the last time we had snow like this. That would be, umm, last Saturday through Sunday. I love the snow. I also love blizzards, white-outs, winter weather events and snow emergencies. I classify these things as “fun disasters.”

Besides all of the truly bad side effects (snow shovel heart attacks, destroyed property, etc.), a big snowy storm forces people into a kind of alternate reality where the rules are different. Cars are silent and share the roads with pedestrians, people stop and chat in the street, stores offer free services, and everything happens at molasses-speed. There’s a solidarity in a good snow storm, a combination of “what the hell happened?!” and “I’ll shovel your car if you shovel mine,” that makes the city seem more amiable for a while.

The futile life of dogs in the winter
The futile life of dogs in the winter

One of the changes I’m not so fond of is depicted above. Sure, dogs have to pee, and unlike New York, Cambridge dog-owners actually clean up after their dogs in the snow. But can’t someone explain to the modern pooch the futility of their efforts? Can’t they pee somewhere that I don’t have to look? If you’re horrified by this image (as I am), you can check out some other photos from this crazy time:

Photos from the blizzard of 05

Media Lab Europe to close

media lab europeMedia Lab Europe (MLE) announced today that it will be winding down it’s operations in Dublin. Apparently it was not able to raise the €50 million necessary to stay alive before it’s time ran out.

As many of you know, I spent some time at MLE and I have to say that it engendered an academic environment like no other I’ve been in. I imagine it’s similar to the atomosphere that the MIT Media Lab had at its inception: tons of space, enthusiastic students and an experimental attidude that assumes nothing is impossible.

I’m not aware of the cause of its failure, whether financial or political, but I’m extremely sorry to see it go. I hope the current students there find a new home that is rewarding as their old space in the Guiness Hop Store.

MLE, RIP.

Wrong side of the road

look ma, i'm driving on the wrong side!I often tell the story of my driving experience in Ireland this past March, particularly the bits about adjusting to the opposite side, the random road signs and tiny (half-lane?) highways. I must have recounted these memories a dozen times, but a few days ago I had the strangest experience: as I was telling the story, the image in my head of driving along the Irish countryside was wrong somehow — I was driving on the left side of the car.

The more I thought about the trip, the more I realized that every memory had miraculously been reworked in my brain to have me driving American-style. Left-side drive, on the right side. When I got home I looked up photos from the trip and confirmed that indeed my recollection had been tampered with. Even more surprisingly, the more people I told about my memory failure, the more I realized that it’s not an anomoly of mine. Nearly everyone with a single experience of driving on the opposite side had adjusted their memories and put themselves on the wrong side of the car.

It makes sense from a technical perspective, namely that it’s easier to store memories as extensions of things we already know. Since driving on the left side of the road is a huge anomaly in my experience, it’s much easier to ignore that fact in the long run. Somehow the blending of old experiences and new has created a completely inaccurate picture. It definitely makes me think twice about trusting my mind’s eye.

Telemarketing I can’t refuse

I’m a pretty harsh critic when it comes to telemarketing. I’m especially unhappy when these slimey creatures get my cell phone number. I can also be a bit unhappy when they wake me up on a Saturday. I’m not a housewife, I’m a grad student, and grad students need their sleep on the weekends. Doesn’t their detailed marketing data tell them that?

all telemarketers are this cuteSo this story starts with a phone call to my cell phone at 9am on a Saturday, and I’m about to rip this guy a few new eye sockets when he tells me he’s calling from Comcast. Ok, my bad, I’m the one that made the mistake of giving them my cell phone. Must have been a weak moment. Anyway, he tries to offer me a cable modem, I refuse, asks how much I pay for DSL and I say $30/mo., and he offers me cable for $23/mo. No contracts, no hidden costs, just 20% lower than their competitor. Suffice to say, once I had cleared the guck out of my eyes and realized the gravity of the situation, I accepted his offer.

So I’ve resolved that I’ll give telemarketers a chance in the future. I’ll constrain our interaction to the following dialog:

  • Me: hello?
  • Telemarketer: I am prepared to offer you a service you already have for 20% less than what you’re currently paying.
  • Me: ok. hit me.
  • Telemarketer: Knife sharpening for $3 per month.
  • Me: strings?
  • Telemarketer: one-year contract.
  • Me: deal. take care of the arrangements.

Any subtle deviation and I’ll revert to the old me. Truthfully, this was the first positive experience I’ve ever had with a sales person on the phone, and it was immediately followed by a speedy disconnection of my DSL and phone service immediately afterwards. Maybe these people are finally getting their act together.

Superman, RIP

Breaking news.. Christopher Reeve has just passed away. So sad.

Superman, RIP
Superman, RIP.

The strange thing about this news is that I immediately pasted that link to my blog and everyone in my buddy list still awake at the time without really considering why. It’s a flashbulb event, the kind of thing that, for whatever reason, emblazens itself on your brain to the effect of “I know where I was when so-and-so happened.” The amazing thing is, I knew immediately when I saw the BBC story that I needed to flood it.

Foocamp Hacks

I returned to Sebastopol this year for the second Foocamp, a nerd-laden affair taking place on the rural campus of O’Reilly Publishing. The event is a sort of self-organizing conference of talks on varying topics of technology and geekdom, all of which take place in an unused portion of the O’Reilly offices. In order to navigate an otherwise empty building, the organizers assign different areas with names of animals, in the true O’Reilly tradition. With the only significant defining feature of every room being a sign with the names ant, appaloosa, armadillo, camel, hermit crab, jaguar, koala, opossum, owl, reindeer, tree frog and wallcreeper, it can be pretty difficult to get your bearings.

Tim O'Reilly in the Appaloosa Room
Tim O’Reilly speaks in the Badger Appaloosa Room

What happens when you introduce a subversive element into this environment, equipped with some serious ammunition and a few too many beers?

BADGER PANDEMONIUM

Campers woke up bleary eyed for talks on Sunday unable to locate their precious knowledge. Hackers watched and rubbed their hands together and sang to themselves, “badger.. badger.. badger.. badger..” No one got hurt, except one poor badger who was ripped to death and a mushroom who was abducted. And the campers got their knowledge.

Time Travel Vacation

After re-rewatching 24 Hour Party People I’ve become obsessed with the idea of being in a place at a particular point in time—the moment that a place, a culture and a people come into sharp focus. So just for exercise, let’s assume that in the next 20 years time travel becomes freely available and cost-effective to the point that we are forced to decide between vacationing to a place now or then. What time and place would you choose to spend your two weeks per year on?

I find that most of my friends choose a moment in history when a particular culture or subculture is on the brink of being recognized. For me it’s Manchester in either the late 70’s or the late 80’s, and for other’s it’s Soho in the 60’s or Athens at the height of the Greek empire. The thing that strikes me about these time-places is that we all seem to be excited by the prospect of visiting a moment that defines us, but we were unable to experience.

The irony of this experiment is that if we really did travel to these historic venues, I’m sure we’d be much more excited about being there than the people involved. Of course they don’t know how important their moment is, and how could they, they’re living in it. I’m sure there’s thousands of moments right now that people of the future would be willing to pay a year’s salary to be a part of, but we won’t know for years exactly what we should be jealous of.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I wish time travel was ubiquitous and cost-effective so that I can visit all of my favorite places in time. Or maybe all of the most influential pieces of history were actually footnotes in the textbooks until future time travellers went back and made them popular. Damn the time travellers.