Like Etsy But…

IMG_3082Another weekend, another Halloween… but I’m getting ahead of my blogging. Last weekend saw the last SoWa open market of 2009. SoWa is a silly term for the south end of Boston’s South End.

It was a lovely sunny October day, we bumped into some friends, we bought some art… The print of dinos reading is by Eric Sturtevant: our home life sometimes resembles the picture.

The two smaller prints are by Chen Reichart, whose blog and Etsy store are called botodesigns. The autumnal print seems to illustrate that we should become a two-Android family soon. Chen and her partner were kind enough to compliment me on the tshirt I was wearing, and to ask where I got it (Threadless, Star Men in Moon’s Milk).

Indeed, the SoWa market is like Threadless, Etsy, and similar web sites come to life, in ways that demonstrate advantages of real life over the web. The market has a good selection of tshirts, crafts, etc. It also has an antique market next door, in a rather wonderful old trolley barn.

The market also provides the chance to meet the artists: that’s face-to-face, the ultimate social medium. On Sunday it had sunshine, halloween candy and other seasonal flavorings. Now, time to post this, and get ready for halloween itself.

Fun Day, Now For Sunday

Buildings and BuildersThis post is partly a pretext to showcase the photo, of which I am immodestly proud. Maddie is more justly proud of the taller-than-her tower. She built it at the Museum of Science yesterday afternoon.

In the morning, Maddie braved a villain-themed 6th birthday party by herself.
Max and I went to the warm heart of Roslindale. We cut haircuts at the Rialto (I’ve just posted my 5* review at Yelp).

We went to the Farmers Market. It was the last of the year, and, judging by the weather, it’s time for this particular good thing to come to an end for 2009. Kudos to the Creek River String Band (here’s my photo, here’s the band’s MySpace) for providing music despite cold fingers.

We got back to the party just in time for Max to have cake. Then back home for a little rest, then off to the site of the construction in the photo.

Lesson For Harvard: Don’t Blow the Grocery Money on Lottery Tickets

“Don’t gamble with the money you need to pay the daily bills” is, according to Beth Healy of the Boston Globe, a basic rule of family finance.

The university [Harvard] disclosed yesterday that it had lost $1.8 billion in cash – money it relies on for the school’s everyday expenses – by investing it with its endowment fund, instead of keeping it in safe, bank-like accounts.

I found this story particularly interesting, for multiple reasons. First is the set of quotes Healy scatters through the article. A former Dean, still at Harvard, remarked on the “interesting way to handle the grocery money.”

A Stanford spokeswoman said that “it would be highly unusual for the California school to put funds from its general account into long-term investments.” Did she use the phrase “more Ivy than brains”? The Globe doesn’t tell us.

Second is the vast sum that Harvard needs for everyday expenses. The University could buy a lot of groceries for $1.8B, even if it shopped at Whole Foods.

Third, and last for now, is the question of oversight. Shouldn’t someone be watching the financial wizards who manage Harvard’s money?

Hippo Thoughts From a Couch

This sunny morning, I took the kids to Franklin Park Zoo. For the first time, we saw the hippo walking along the bottom of the pool. We then saw said hippo heaving out of the pool, and now so can you.

Many of the animals were livelier than usual. The lemurs were particularly playful (video). The rat snake moved (video). The ocelot climbed, jumped, sharpened claws, and generally did things other than sleep (no video, though).

To return to the hippo theme, and at the risk of repeating or reposting myself, Hippos Go Berserk! is a fine book: fun story, cute hippos, helpful with counting, fun for Max (3), still fun for his big sister Maddie (6) and for their father (a little older).

WordCamp Boston 2010

James of Boston WordPress Meetup is organizing a WordCamp, to be held in Boston early next year. WordPress is the software behind this and millions of other blogs; a WordCamp is a conference that focuses on everything WordPress.

Next year is the first year for decades that I won’t be based in Massachusetts, so I’ll probably miss WordCamp Boston. In past times, I might have muttered that I’d have to miss it because of my bad luck. But it’s just as true to say that I’ll miss WordCamp Boston because I didn’t organize one earlier, despite knowing that Boston is an excellent city for a WordCamp.

Perhaps I should try to get to Boston BLOGtoberfest, the 2009 edition of which is but a few weeks away.

Those interested in WordCamp Boston might want to take the poll on when it should happen. I was hoping for Sunday February 7, the day after Unity Games XVI, but: I note that something else is happening that day; and only Saturdays are on the poll.

Thanks to Patrick Havens for the photo of WordPress schwag. Patrick took the photo at WordCamp San Francisco 2008. He made it available under Creative Commons, which seems like a WordPressian thing to do. By the way: San Francisco is the most WordCamp’d city, with a score of 4; Chicago hosted a WordCamp earlier this year, without the support of Barack Obama; Brazil also hosted one earlier this year.

Smarter Navigation and Closed Streets

Consider this: social media tools are making it easier for people to get around the places they live. Mashable Josh followed that assertion with “a list of ten great social media tools to help you better navigate your city.” I marked Josh’s post, thinking that I might have cause and time to go back and actually read it.

Then a real live navigation-related problem sent me back to the post and to some of the tools it lists. This Sunday should see the second open house (the first one went well, thankyouverymuch) for our condo. Said condo is about a hundred yards from the route of the 2009 Roslindale Parade. The two events are as close in terms of time as they are in terms of space, in that both are scheduled for Sunday afternoon.

This presents several real-life problems. To make them concrete, let’s imagine that one of the people who would attend the open house is called Robin (a name that could indicate either a female or a male, and one with connotations of nesting).

Problem (0) is the basic navigation problem: how to get to the condo. That’s too easy to qualify as smart navigation, but I list it as the baseline navigation problem. It’s the nail for which the standard hammer used to be MapQuest. Google Maps has, I think, taken over that position; anyway, it is the first tool on Josh’s list of ten.

Problem (1) gets us into smart navigation territory. Robin, on the way to the condo for the open house, finds that some of the roads on the suggested route are closed. A smart navigation tool would tell Robin about a route available at the time – in real time, if you will. Google Maps addresses problem (1), as does Waze, the second tool on the list.

Problem (2) involves smarter navigation. Robin knows ahead of time that certain roads will be closed due to the parade, and would like to be able to print the map ahead of time. Perhaps Robin suspects that real real-time navigation is a bad idea, since it distracts attention from driving.

Perhaps Robin wants a map of the parade route. All right, perhaps I do. The parade’s web site doesn’t provide one. It provides a text description of the route. “Washington St. at Adams Park in Roslindale Village, to South St., to Belgrade Avenue, to West Roxbury Parkway, to Gottwald Rotary, to Centre St., to South St., and ending at Fallon Field.”

Is there a tool that takes text directions as input and gives a route map and directions as output? I’m not aware of one. I tried to use Google Maps to draw the route along a street map, but it kept on taking shortcuts, or going 20 miles north to a different Gottwald Rotary, or…

Then I went to the third tool on Josh’s list. He describes Wayfaring as “a great Google Maps mashup that helps users to easily create their own information maps.” I have to describe it as a service that gave me a “404 – page not found” error during signup, and then could not find a location called “boston massachusetts.”

At that point I gave up on this particular attempt to use these “smarter navigation tools.” My frustration didn’t just come from the web tools. It also came from my overlapping attempts to find out from the police the times at which the parade roads would be closed and reopened. I was transferred from the local station, to media relations, to field services, to special events (I think I have those names right) before I had the sense to give up.

I do have a couple of positive notes on which to end. First, I did get an answer to my street closing times question. I used the contact form on the Roslindale Parade website. I got a prompt response from Tom Donahue, chair of the parade committee, by good old-fashioned email. Tom expects Belgrade Avenue to be closed from about noon to about 3:30pm, by the way. The other good news is that the open house is going ahead (starting at 11:30 instead of noon).

October Poetry

Universal Adam linked to Breathing Hannah’s poetic post about October. Between them, they reminded me of Ted Hughes’ poem “October Dawn.”

A glass half full of wine left out
To the dark heaven all night, by dawn
Has dreamed a premonition
Of ice across its eye as if
The ice-age had begun to heave.

“October Dawn” may well be my favorite poem (with due respect to Hannah, Sylvia, WB, and many other poets). When I looked for it online, Google sent me to Yahoo, and to an answer to a question about the poem’s meaning. It’s a pretty good answer, I’d say, although not the answer; and the Yahoo answers page has the virtue of quoting the poem complete, albeit with line breaks messed up.

Real Estate Opening

Our Boston apartment is now really on the market. Yesterday (Sunday) saw the first open house. It was a rainy day, which we thought might cause people to stay at home rather than to go out househunting. But our agents informed us that levels of attendance and of serious interest were encouraging. Perhaps the rain only deters the hobbyist houselookers (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

The apartment became a little less tidy during the afternoon, when our daughter had a friend over. It’ll get tidier again tomorrow (Tuesday) when there is a showing. Thereafter, we’ll try to keep the place in a state such that it’s ready to show at short notice.

This post in the Real Estate Ramblings series follows from the pilot post.

Real Estate Ramblings: Pilot

Max Fascinated by Pod and TruckReal Estate Ramblings (RER) is a new series. This is the pilot post/episode, in which the plot is set in motion, and the main characters introduced.

The plot concerns a move from Boston to Washington DC. Three of the main plot strands are: selling property in Boston; buying property in, or near, DC; and the actual move.

The family on the move provides four of the main characters:

  • Pack Dog, one of the parents, who tends to hoard stuff. PD would be called Pack Rat were it not for RER’s use of Chinese astrology, whereby each character’s name includes the animal of birth year.
  • Minimalist Pig, the other parent, who sees the move as an opportunity to shed ugly excess possessions.
  • Lovable Lamb, the older of the two kids, and the big sister of…
  • Playful Puppy, the youngest member of the family. His parents hope that he will be out of diapers before the move: PP himself isn’t making any promises.

Other key characters include the agents. Roger Johnson is helping with the purchase a house in the DC area.

Ellen Grubert and Janis Lippman are the agents for the sale of the Boston property. To be more specific, the property is a condo in Boston’s friendliest neighborhood, and here’s the condo’s page at E&J’s site.

The frame from the pilot episode shows PP marveling at what he sees as the sudden arrival of a huge and mysterious box. We’ll learn more about this box during the RER season. Stay tuned!

End of Summer

Soaked and SquaredWhat marks the end of summer? Labor Day? That’s the day on which the US seems to switch off summer. The autumnal equinox? That has much to recommend it, including the loveliness of the term autumnal equinox.

But it seems to me that summer ended yesterday: Monday September 14, the day on which Maddie (and other Boston Public Schools kindergarten kids) started the new school year. That’s about halfway between 2009’s Labor Day and equinox.

We had a lot of fun this summer, much of it watery. Here are Maddie and Max enjoying the wet playground at the Soule Recreation Center. (The Soule is in Brookline, on Hammond Street, just south of route 9.)

And now, on with autumn, Boston’s best season. Yes, I do still call it autumn rather than fall, even after all these years in New England. Anyway, autumn 2009 will probably be our last season in Boston…