Oct 22 2013

I Guano Kill Em All

There's this bird called the cormorant, also known as the "shag", which has been a part of the local wildlife for the last decade or more, arriving from the south and taking up residence along with the gulls, terns and ospreys. They are big black birds with long necks and cape-like wings they hold open to let the breeze dry them off. They feed on the bottom on mussels and crabs, popping to the surface to shake their heads and paddle along until spooked, at which point they windmill and run over the surface until they achieve escape velocity and can get airborne.

I want them all dead.

Cormorants exist to shit on my boat. I have strung up old CDs on strings like the rearview mirror of a teenager's first car to scare them away. I have spent a hundred dollars on bird spikes for the spreaders on my mast. I have festooned my boom with old plastic grocery bags until the poor boat looks like a tree on the Grand Central Parkway in Queens.

But they shit and they continue to shit. And then they shit some more. They deposit prodigious amounts of fish-imbued filth all over the decks, the wheel, the cleats, lines, seats, dodger, windows, spars, winches and lifelines, coating the boat with a thick coat of white guano mixed with undigested mollusks, pebbles, and some sort of toxic waste that is impossible to remove. Flies love the stuff and the whole affair is just an invitation to salmonella, shigella, giardia, diarrhea, MRSA and whatever other flesh-eating bacteria you care to contract.

Yesterday was pull-the-boat day, so Sunday I put-putted out in the motorboat with my son to get things ready for the pulling of the mast at Town Dock. My buddy Tom K. was standing on the shore and bore the bad news. "Good luck with the guano" he said. Sure, I knew they had found a little gap in the bird spikes on the lower starboard spreader and one had managed to spackle the dodger with a blast of ass vomit, but that was okay, I saw that mess the weekend before as I returned triumphant with a bucket o'tautog, but like an idiot I didn't clean it up. Leaving it there was tantamount to declaring the Bald Eagle was now a designated cormorant port-a-potti and they took advantage of the invitation. It's a matter of dwindling opportunities, sort of like musical toilets where as the days go by the music stops and they take away another boat to poop on. Stay in past Columbus Day and the ratio of bird butts to available boat toilets get worse and worse until the last boat standing is a heaping, stinking mess of avian fertilizer.

It reminds me of the islands off the coast of South America in the Pacific Ocean that were so coated in bird shit that fortunes were made mining the stuff and shipping it back to the world as fertilizer. Guano was big bucks. But not my guano. No, my guano is my cross to bear.

So I get the boat into the town dock and start calling around for a power washer in the belief that I can use the dock's faucet and some high pressure blasting to tidy things up before the kibbutzers and bored amateur wharfingers of Cotuit can point out the obvious and tell me it looks like birds have taken a massive dump (why are all dumps "massive?) on my yacht. I tie up. Test the faucet. Dry. The powers-that-be in the Town of Barnstable evidently believe the world stops on Columbus Day and have disconnected the pipes for the winter. Another boat arrives, also frosted with a nice layer, the owner asks me "Is the water on?" Nope. The term "shit out of luck" is invoked and I tie the end of a poo-covered jib sheet to the handle of a bucket and start hauling five gallons of sea water aboard every thirty seconds to try to soften it up and sluice it over the side.

The first helpful rocket scientist arrives with a cock-a-poo or a labra-dump on a leash and says, "Hey, someone got hit hard." Ha ha. Very funny. Really? No fooling? You think? Scrub, scrub, scrub. Flies going up my nose. Backsplash in my mouth. The other boat owner has rubber gloves on. Not me. I just start rolling in the stuff and compose my obituary: he died a coprolagniac.

Six hours later and the sails are off, the turnbuckles on the rigging are loose, the neutral stop-switch in the throttle is fixed and the engine is running but the boat is still smeared with stalagmites of cormorant. I have been told to use lime remover, Comet, warm soapy water, screw-it-let-the-rain-wash-it-off, and to-hell-with-it--just-shrink-wrap the whole mess and pretend it didn't happen. Being a nice day the dock was busy with spandexed cyclists, panting joggers, shoulder season tourists, local wise guys and friends and neighbors. Every single one of them expressed some rueful condolences over my messy boat.

Only one said anything that made any sense. I salute him.

"Next time put out mousetraps. All it takes is one and they get the word and won't come back and if you're lucky, you might see one trying to shake a trap off it's claw."

Thank you. I shall have my revenge.

8 responses so far

Oct 14 2013

It’s a David Ortiz World and We Just Live In It

Published by under Baseball,General

This is why I watch baseball.

One response so far

Oct 14 2013


When I was a kid I saw some fishermen bring a mess of tautog (Tautoga onitis) into the Town Dock and lay them out on the planks for a hose-off. I'd never seen a fish like it before, and was really fascinated by the horrid red tumor-ish looking thing on their white underbellies. They are known as "blackfish," "oysterfish" and the "poor-man's lobster." Yesterday I caught and ate my first one ever.

Tautog is a word from the Narragansett tribe, originally "tautatog"  and first noted by Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, in his 1648 lexicon of the Narragansett language. They are members of the wrasse family and are remarkable looking fish, with thick rubbery lips and snaggle-toothed mouths with blunt teeth for crushing and grinding shellfish and crustaceans, their preferred diet. They spawn inshore in the spring and move off a bit to rocks and wrecks during the summer, migrating to deeper water over the winter. The fish are renowned for being one of the better eating fish in New England, especially in fish chowders, and are said to be tricky to catch given their penchant for diving back into the rocks when hooked up.

With the fall fishing season being measured in weeks if not days, I feel a strange longing to get on the water as much as possible these autumn weekends and put my time in before I put the boats away and settle into another winter of my discontent. So yesterday, on a brisk Columbus Day weekend Sunday, I called around the local bait and tackles looking for crabs -- the preferred fall bait of the tautog -- found some in Falmouth, and off I went for two quarts of green crabs, some six ounce bank sinkers and four pre-tied rigs.

My son and I took the skiff out through Seapuit and the Osterville Cut and immediately questioned the wisdom of pounding through the three-foot seas to the best tautog spot in the area, a ledge of rocks a mile or so off of Centerville. I could only run the boat at slow ahead while trying to dodge the spray and I could feel the negative vibes radiating off of my passenger as one wave after another soaked us down, rendered my sunglasses useless, and foretold an expedition that would probably redefine "fool's errand." But we had $10 worth of crabs to use and I was determined not to throw away good bait just because of a healthy northeasterly breeze pushing a chop into our face. Real men fish when they can, not when it's nice.

After twenty minutes of slow going I saw the surf crashing over the exposed pile of snaggle-toothed rocks -- a bad sight that made me happy to have a VHF radio aboard should something catastrophic happen -- and made a slow approach, looking for the best way to anchor in the building seas without crunching the lower unit of the outboard on the pile of glacial till. My son made ready with the anchor, I motored upwind to one side of the reef, told him to let it drop, and waited until it dug in and the boat pointed up into the wind.  We were too close on the first set as only  five feet lay between us and catastrophe. So I went back into gear, took the tension off the anchor line and had him pick it back up for another set about twenty feet off. The advice on fishing tautog was simple: find the obstruction and get close as the fish lurk right around the rocks picking off barnacles and crabs. Setting the baits too far away is useless because the tautog won't venture very far from their shelter.

With the anchor set and no signs of dragging to our doom like the wreck of the Hesperus, I was confident enough to turn off the engine and make ready with the rods. We were using old fiberglas trolling rods owned by my grandfather -- wooden handles, yellow and blue thread around the guides, with old Penn conventional reels filled with 50 lb. test monofilament. I tied on the rigs, clipped on the weights, and, seeing that the boat was pitching way too much to safely play with hooks, took a safe seat, opened up the chinese-food paper quart container, and took out the first victim -- a little green crab.

Fishing with bait is a bit violent. Guaranteed to get an "eww" out of the audience, and working with crabs is a bit sadistic. I ripped off the claws and legs until I had a half-dollar sized circle of crab body. In goes the hook, one on top and another below in a classic hi-lo bottom rig

I slung-cast both sets of bait right beside the ledge, handed one rod to my son and kept one for myself.

The boat kept pitching and rolling like crazy. An open 18-foot skiff, in mid October on Nantucket Sound without a single other boat around to offer rescue should the worst occur and Cousin Pete out of town for the weekend and thus unable to answer any panicked cell phone calls to come out in his boat and save us (and I didn't renew my BoatUS tow policy this summer).  But we had life jackets and a radio so I wasn't too concerned, just vigilant as we were on the verge of pushing our luck as the white caps built and the wind blew harder off the land in the direction of Hyannisport and the Kennedy Compound.

"Whoa." My son went from skeptical to interested. I turned and saw his short rod bent double.

"Caught in the rocks?" I asked skeptically.

"Hell no. This is a fish."

The rod bounced the way they do when there are fish on the other end as he reeled, fighting the submerged surprise. I got ready to assist. Bracing myself against the rolling of the boat as the anchor line creaked and rubbed in the chock. And then, from the green depths, was a black shape. I leaned over, guided the line through my hand to the leader, and swung the catch inboard.

It was a tautog. A black, slippery, pugnacious tautog with the big red "vent", its exaggerated anal opening all red and protruding due to the crushed shells that pass through it, sort of the fish equivalent of a diet of crushed glass and razor blades mixed with hemorrhoids and fissures. I got a hold of the very cool looking fish, let it calm down, grabbed the fishing pliers and worked the hook out, laid the fish along the ruler on the edge of the cooler seat, and finding it well over the 16" minimum, tossed it in the bucket for dinner.

Then it was my turn. I landed a little one, about a foot long, and gave it the obligatory good luck kiss on the head and sent it back to grow up.

Thirty minutes, fifty unlucky crabs, and the bucket was loaded with the limit of six squirming fish (three each). I tossed the remaining crabs over the side to fend for themselves or appease the hungry Tautog God, then broke out two beers and a pair of chicken sandwiches slapped together from Saturday night's leftovers. All was well with the world.  It doesn't get much better for a guy than to catch fish with his eldest son on a sunny day (and then watch the Red Sox snatch an epic victory from the Tigers later than same day).

The "fun" part began when we got home. I banged a nail into a plank to keep the fish from sliding around while I filleted them and got very up close and intimate with my food. Which is how it should be. The tautogs' stomachs were filled with crabs and shells (CSI Cotuit, Dave Churbuck fish coroner). I stripped out the guts and gills and set aside the heads and racks to make a fond de poisson (fish stock). While that bubbled away we hit the grocery story and bought the fixings for a Bahamian fish chowder. It was good. The tautog went to their maker in a very good and spicy stew and will see further duty tonight in Baja-styled fried fish tacos.


5 responses so far

Sep 23 2013

The America’s Cup is Actually Interesting

I may be a traditionalist when it comes to racing sailboats -- I like them wooden, leaky and gaff-rigged -- and I have bitched about how the America's Cup needs to come back to Newport, Rhode Island and be raced in those oh-so-elegant 12-meters of my youth. But after spending a rapt half hour on the couch with my tablet and a half-hour of coverage from San Francisco Bay I take it all back. AC-72 catamarans are amazing things.

Catamarans have the reputation of being the jet-skis of the sailing world. The people who sail them tend to be adrenaline freaks who zip back and forth looking for speed and little else. The boats point into the wind like square-riggers, require elbow and knee pads and a crash helmet, and beg to be sailed while yelling "yee-hah." They entered the America's Cup under desperate circumstances in 1988 when Dennis Conner showed up in one to kick New Zealand's ass after they showed up in a 90-foot mega yacht and convinced a judge to uphold the move away from 12-meters as perfectly legal under the terms of the "Deed of Gift" -- the rules that govern the strange and venerable competition. Dennis and his catamaran sailed circles around the New Zealanders, the credibility of the America's Cup hit an all-time low, and all semblance of dignity went out the window. But catamarans were in.

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Not that the America's Cup was ever a fair fight. As my buddy Charlie points out, the name of the game has been getting a technical edge from the very beginning when the American's sent an overpowered schooner over to England to kick the best butts in the Royal British Yacht Squadron. Half the battles have been in the courts, with challengers and defenders contesting the ambiguous rules every chance they get and giving full credence to the cliche of the "sea lawyer." Winged-keels,  crews of ringers from foreign countries, billionaires with more bucks than brains ... what's not to love?

Whatever. I tip my hat to Larry Ellison for making it a total tech fest on Silicon Valley's home waters. These boats represent the cutting edge of aquatic technology, use nothing but the wind to scream along at more than 35 mph, and thanks to overlaid graphics, helicopters, onboard Go-Pro helmet cams, and crazy color commentary that would be more in place in a UFC cage match, finally putting to rest Mark Twain's old tired complaint that watching yacht racing is less exciting than watching paint dry or grass grow.

The US is behind -- docked two races for cheating -- and it's do-or-die with them needing to win all of the remaining race to stay in the game.

4 responses so far

Sep 23 2013

The decline and dilution of the Byline

Published by under General

Consider the state of the byline. The name of a writer on top of an article or blog post isn't enough anymore to let readers know the implied qualifications of that author  now that publishers are opening up their mastheads and page-views to unpaid contributors, consultants, thought-leaders and advertisers in what New York Times media critic David Carr recently called "an oven that makes its own food."

Carr made that reference to Forbes.com and its decision to open its digital pages to external contributors, and in a brilliant revenue building move, to advertisers who pay to appear in an advertising channel Forbes calls BrandVoice, part of the current craze in digital advertising formats known as native advertising. Forbes isn't the first nor the last online publisher to welcome contributions from witers other than their full-time staff of reports and editors. Nor is it the first to practice native  advertising, formerly known as "advertorial" or "custom" publishing. The Huffington Post was founded as a cacophony of bylines and voices, all vying for attention and traffic in the "look-at-me" economy. For publishers it's a sweet deal, letting them become Tom Sawyers who persuade others to paint the fence for them.

Bylines haven't always been a given in journalism. Jack Shafer, writing for Reuters in 2012, offers up the interesting historical note that General Joseph Hooker demanded reporters covering his campaigns during the Civil War put their names on their stories so he could hold them accountable.  Hooker insisted on bylines “as a means of attributing responsibility and blame for the publication of material he found inaccurate or dangerous to the Army of the Potomac.”

The purpose of a byline is to simply attribute a story to a writer: one part vanity, another part accountability. Bylines aren't biographies of that writer, just a single three-word attribution ("By John Smith")  that imply that the words and fact and opinions that follow were written by that person (Shafer writes about the proliferation of fake bylines flowing from off-shore content farms, but that's another story for another day). In the dinosaur days of mainstream print journalism there was an unspoken sense that if a publication granted a byline to a staff writer then that writer had a certain validation as being judged competent and experienced enough to grace the publication's masthead and pages.

A degree of professionalism in an unlicensed craft was assumed if the byline appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Forbes or Time.  Earning a byline from the Boston Globe implied a different level of professional quality and experience than a byline in the MetroWest Shopper. In short, a byline was a writer's equivalent to a doctor or lawyer tacking MD or JD onto their name. It was hard to earn but ultimately the only public recognition a reporter received. It took me a long time to earn a Forbes byline. Now any extroverted hyper-social networker with a craving for a high Klout score and a taste for LinkedIn/Quora influence points can start bloviating for free and walk away with "Forbes Columnist" on their resume.

Today the appeal of giving it away for free to Forbes is simple -- it's a great resume inflator. Now any aspiring expert can add Forbes to their resume and point to some digital clips as proof. The mounting number of would-be pundits on LinkedIn who proclaim themselves to be Forbes columnists or contributors reminds me of people who send away for mail order coats of arms.

You can call it the democratization of the press, the breaching of the walls of conceit that doomed dinosaur journalism, the wall that said "we're better than you" when it came to publishing the reader's letters of complaint and disagreement, the walls that said the only persons qualified to put a word on paper were those deemed qualified to do so by the editor who hired them and paid them. Mastheads were tough to crack -- ask any young journalist in the late 1970s who dreamed of breaking into the Washington Post and getting a seat at the same table as Woodward and Bernstein. Those seats were rare and hard to obtain, Ben Bradlee didn't hand them out to K-street lobbyists and Congressional staffers. Today? Hey, if you're willing to work for free and can string some words together into a coherent sentence, preferably with a provocative, link-bait point of view, then publishers are more than happy to give you a shot at OpEd immortality.

In this blurry world of "content marketing and native journalism," it is getting harder to tell the reporters from the advertisers. The wall between the journalism and the ads is coming down, and Carr and others (like Andrew Sullivan) are lamenting what we've lost. Sure, the money is nice and helping publishers make payroll (or avoid paying it) -- and some graphical efforts are being made to fence off the advertorial native stuff with tinted boxes, hairlines and little "sponsored by" tags -- but the blurring issue is out there and it isn't so much about segregating the paid words from the "real" words, it's about the qualifications of the byline as well.

Bylines are a relatively new phenomenon in journalism. They rarely appeared in 19th century newspapers, and indeed many writers used pen-names to mask their identity, particularly on political polemics. Thomas Paine, in writing Common Sense, one of the most influential calls-to-revolution in the years leading up to the American Revolution, chose to mask his identity and byline the work as merely: "Written by an Englishman."

As correspondents began to make a name for themselves and were prime draws for a newspaper during the lurid days of yellow journalism, when war correspondents like Richard Harding Davis and Ambrose Bierce were the stars of the press, bylines were marketing devices to build circulation. Some magazines don't grant bylines at all: The Economist is the best known practitioner of the anonymous policy.

I've freelanced under pseudonyms -- I got hired by Forbes when I wrote a try-out story about digital mapping in 1988 under a bogus name because I didn't want my then-current employer to know (that story won second place in the Computer Press Association awards in 1988, so the validity of the byline didn't have much to do with its credibility, though it was indeed a tacit deception on my part and Forbes' on their readers. )I have ghostwritten books, and continue to freelance edit and write assorted articles and whitepapers anonymously for a few clients in the consulting and corporate world. They evidently like my assistance due to my background in the professional press, and I like the fees they pay. There are a lot of ex-journalists like me turning a good buck writing corporate journalism these days and I don't begrudge them a penny.

The point of all of this is that the editorial authority of the old stalwarts is gone like their paper editions. They're trading on fading memories of being brands that stood for something important but are losing their mojo to Buzzfeed and TMZ. Newsweek? Dead. Businessweek? Sold for a dollar to Bloomberg. Forbes? Still alive and flourishing thanks to its experimentation, but still attracting the ire of the Times and other media critics for pushing the limits and definitions of the first medium to get truly disrupted and overthrown by the digital revolution.

No responses yet

Sep 09 2013

With the Red Sox, nothing is a sure thing

Published by under Baseball

The Red Sox bandwagon is officially rolling. The checkout lady at the grocery store told me "Go Sox" yesterday and the simple fact that I am screaming at the television set late in the games is a leading indicator that post-season fever is building.

It was with some superstition that I saw this post-season probabilities chart on MLB.com that give the Sox a 100% chance of making the post-season. Sorry, but the magic number is down to 12 to keep Tampa out and dependent on the wild card. Nothing is 100%, especially since the Sox set the record for the worst September meltdown in the history of the game back in 2011, the season of beer and chicken.

Yet here is proof some statistical, Monte Carlo simulating fool thinks the Red Sox are a sure thing. Bring on the Rays and I have tickets for Friday's game against the Yankees at home:


One response so far

Sep 09 2013

Three Books I’d Like to Write But Won’t

Published by under Books,General

Book writing pays about a nickel an hour, so other than inflating one's resume in this modern attention economy, why bother? Anyway, here's three non-fiction book ideas that should be written but won't be written by me:

1. The Seedy Underbelly of the Internet: someone needs to get into the semi-sleazy, ethically challenged, weird world of spammers, hate bloggers, affiliate marketers, SEO whores, search toolbar installers, pay-per-posters, belly-fat miracle advertisers that buzz away on the edges of the noblest ambitions of the Interwebs. This is the desperate world of the grifters who exploit every technical advance and loophole from permalinks and trackbacks to page rank and SERP. They are work-at-homers, con men and women who produce garish content-marketing blogs, conduct seminars on how you too can make a stack of cash from Facebook and Twitter, whoring out your content link blog, and play the affiliate marketing game. They put pictures of girls with cleavage on their fake avatars, invite you to be their LinkedIn friend, then send you a message extolling their polystyrene packaging plant in South Korea. They scrape your blog posts and call them their own. They run automated spam bots that write semi-coherent comments on your blog. They pick epic flame battles with other scammers and revel in being hated. These are the true geniuses of precision marketing.

I get depressed just thinking about researching that one.


2. Conference Whore: if I were a rich man, and had nothing to do all day, I would spend my time attending a full year's worth of conferences and idea-fests like Davos, Burning Man, Demo, TED, a Microsoft Sharepoint convention in New Orleans, SIGGRAPH, Le Web, Forrester Consumer Experience, DrupalCon, CES ...... A life spent in airport lounges, business class, fancy golf resorts on the edge of San Diego, Palm Springs, Tahoe, a world of registration tables, name tags hung around the neck, keynotes, panel discussions, calls to raise my hand if I've ever ...., breakout sessions, hashtags and live-tweeting, questions from the audience (please wait for the microphone), networking events, happy hours, breakfast buffets, bio breaks. This would amazingly depressing -- a year on the road tracking the idea circuit, a perpetual junket in the weird alternate reality of the face-to-face event. To make it doubly depressing, combine Conference Whore with the Underbelly pitch and do nothing but attend sleazy marketing seminars on how to make a million buying domain names ....

The year of living at conferences would be very unhealthy, probably worth 25 pounds in ass fat and would probably lead to some sort of psychological warping.

(search for "conference badges" on Flickr. Tara Hunt is amazing)


3. Ziff Knew Weeds: The rise of the tech press in the 70s and 80s hasn't been written, but should, before the original old guard passes away.  The title comes from my ex-boss, the late Bill Ziff, who was a super smart eccentric polymath who legend had it would strike up bizarre conversations with his employees about roadside weeds (he was an accomplished amateur botanist) .

From the first newletters and enthusiast bibles, to breakthrough pieces like Stewart Brand in Rolling Stone, the battling empires of Pat McGovern and Bill Ziff for dominance of the PC industry through PC World vs. PC Magazine, PC Week vs InfoWorld, MacWorld vs. MacWeek, Computerworld, Computershopper, Release 1.0 ..... the power of the tech press, a blend of geeks and old newspaper hacks and the sleazy tactics they deployed from dumpster diving in Silicon Valley to read Apple's trash to bribing teen-age printers apprentices in Iowa with t-shirts to cough up the first copies of IBM's user manuals, partying with Bill Gates at Comdex, refereeing epic pissing matches between boy wonders who would go onto become the richest men in the world, snorting coke in the review lab on deadline night .... The tech press of Boston and Silicon Valley chronicled the wild birth of an industry that changed the world, until they were waylaid by the Internet and put out of work by a new crop of gossipping gadget bloggers.


Anyway - there's three free book ideas for anyone with the patience and gumption to tackle them.

6 responses so far

Sep 08 2013

Indoor Rowing Makes It to the Big Leagues

Published by under ergblogging,Rowing

It was only a matter of time before the exercise-cultists discovered the rowing machine, aka "ergometer", aka "erg."  I wondered why the concept of group rowing classes haven't taken off -- Chris Ives sort of pioneered the concept in the 90s, Swiss sculler Xeno Mueller has a devoted following out of his studio in Newport Beach, Josh Crosby breathed a new life into the Water Rower (the stylish piece of furniture rowed by Kevin Spacey in House of Cards) and now, thanks to Crossfit, the wheel-of-pain has come into its own as the flavor of the month for gym rats seeking the next big thing to go along with their smart wristbands and perpetual search for the new and different.

While it would be tempting to point at the Sunday New York Times Style Section article as either the moment in time when ergs came into their own .... or jumped the shark, it is good to see the misunderstood, much maligned erg make its debut in the national press as something other than a weird thing used by masochists.

You can read the piece here.

Here's where Crossfit gets credit for taking the erg out of the boathouse and into the gym:

"Why the surge in popularity? Thank CrossFit — and nearly everybody selling indoor rowing does. That craze’s high-intensity strength and conditioning workouts sometimes require ergs, and CrossFit offers rowing certification for instructors. Some CrossFit boxes, as the gyms are called, offer temporary homes for group indoor rowing start-ups as they already have the machines and the space."

My Yale buddy and fellow-rower Mike Ives gets a prominent mention in the piece:

"And on a steamy recent Tuesday at the West Side Y.M.C.A. in Manhattan, Michael Ives, 55, a former Yale rower (toting the gold medal he and his team had recently won at the Henley Masters Regatta in England) had to turn away some 10 hopefuls from one of his evening classes.

“I don’t think it’s a case of misery loves company,” Mr. Ives said. “It feels good, and it sounds good,” he added, referring to the rhythmic, almost meditative, whooshing of all of the ergs moving in unison. His class — pioneered by his younger brother Chris, widely credited with being the first to offer indoor group rowing, in 1995 — is a polished version of what crew teams might do off-season. There is no music, only the sound of Mr. Ives’s preternaturally calm voice offering pacing instructions."

3 responses so far

Sep 06 2013

Cotuit Water Boil Notice Sept. 6

Published by under Cotuit,General

UPDATE: As of Tuesday 9/10, it is cool to resume drinking Cotit water


The water department found e coli bacteria in the system so don't drink the water without boiling it for at least a minute beforehand.

details are here

2 responses so far

Sep 05 2013

NYTimes: Hollywood’s Tanking Business Model

Published by under General


An interesting observation in a piece in the New York Times about Hollywood's Summer of Flops (Lone Ranger, etc.) that states the obvious but is worth keeping in mind during this era of severe "digital disruption:"

"The instinct to retrench and overemphasize strategies that have worked in the past is a common problem in companies as they get bigger and have more to lose, particularly as technologies change. Polaroid and BlackBerry doubled down on their time-tested formulas despite market changes, suggesting that this behavior can undermine even the most successful companies. “The more successful and larger they become, the more antibodies they develop to doing anything new,” said Alan MacCormack, a Harvard Business School professor. "

"Because persuading an industry’s largest companies to experiment is challenging, smaller and more entrepreneurial companies are usually tasked with figuring out the next-generation business model."

The biggest impediment to innovation is an installed base (to paraphrase Mitch Kapor), and management strategy consultants have made bank for decades advising the CEOs of the biggest companies on how to make the transition from an ailing cash cow to a refreshed, innovative stance that will drive growth and defend against upstart startups without the baggage of the old cow. The problem is, other than Apple's resurrection by the Second Coming of Jobs, and the Gerstner rebuilding of IBM from big iron to big services .... what old brands have managed to deliver a second act?

The obvious solution for a lumbering dinosaur sitting on a big mound of money is to buy the next-generation start-ups and develop a sort of internal VC radar to identify the hot upstarts out on the edges of the industry and simply buy their IP and talent. The internal skunkworks model of delivering breakthrough innovation (innovation in my book is invention made commercial) may have worked at Lockheed and a few other rare cases, but these are dire times for big players, most of whom are watching formerly dominant players in mobile -- Nokia and Blackberry -- blow marketshare dominance down to the point of single digit irrelevance in a matter of two or three years.

It's silly to try to oversimplify the reasons for big organization sclerosis, but in my experience it has more to do with organizational design, governance, quarter-to-quarter focus on earnings, and the self-preservation instincts of incumbent senior leadership. In other words, it's not about ideas or magic insights, it's about behavior and bureaucracy and the terror of possibly failing.

One response so far

Sep 04 2013

Thriving in a ‘PC-plus’ world: An interview with Lenovo CEO Yang Yuanqing | McKinsey & Company

Published by under General,Technology


Great interview from June by McKinsey's Gordon Orr and Rik Kirkland  with Lenovo Chairman/CEO Yang Yuanqing. Genuinely great leader who was part of the original Lenovo crew from the mid-80s.  Probably the tech sector rock star, their version of our Bill Gates/Michael Dell rolled into one.

He makes some key points about Lenovo's rise to #1 in the sagging PC industry.

1. The company followed a "protect and attack" strategy of protecting its enterprise/commercial business in the west while attacking in emerging markets, particularly Brazil and India through acquisitions and organic growth.

2. It diversified out of PCs into mobile early and has been a scrappy player inside of China's fierce smartphone market.

3. It isn't reluctant to invest in R&D to differentiate its products.

4. Being Number One is a self-fulfilling brand builder, as he put it: everyone knows the name of the tallest mountain in the world, but what's the name of the second tallest?


One response so far

Sep 03 2013

What I’m reading, Labor Day weekend

My fellow Kettleer fan and baseball wiseman Jim D. loaned me "The Summer of Beer and Whiskey" by Edward Achorn. Faithful readers know my guilty pleasure is reading baseball books and this has been one of the best, introducing me to the history of the game in its earliest years after the Civil War, focusing on the 1883 pennant race between the St. Louis Browns and the Philadelphia Athletics. The title is appropriate. Some players were drunks, syphilitics, cheats, brawlers, racists and stars. All were colorful and all were hard men -- playing barehanded, pitching until their arms could pitch no more, crashing through fences, and fighting for room to play in outfields mobbed with spectators.

The game was coming out of a low period of gambling and cheating., but showmen such as St. Louis owner Chris von der Ahe knew how to repackage the game for the working man by playing on their only day off (Sunday) and serving beer (he owned a bar and brewery). The result was the birth of the national pastime.

Second up, Alec Wilkinson writes about Cape Cod's Great White Sharks in the September 9 issue of The New Yorker.  Shark porn is an industry unto itself, fueling the annual Shark Week, weirdness like Sharknado, and other oddities that play to whatever deep horror we have about the evils of the deep. I have a family member who has some sort of amazing Bloomberg terminal alert set to shark attacks, and not a day goes by without some forwarded link to a horror story about a decapitated abalone fisherman. Bottom line: "Don't get out of the boat."

Wilkinson tells the story about how Great Whites have always been around the Cape, killing a teenager in the 30s in Mattapoisett, freaking out Henry David Thoreau during his walk down the peninsula, and now coming back in droves to a diner stocked with a ton of grey seals who are booming thanks to the Marine Mammal Protection Act that made it highly illegal for commercial fishermen to keep their population down with an onboard .30-.30.

The piece focuses on the Ocearch expedition that just wrapped up its second summer off of Monomoy Island catching and tagging Great Whites aboard a specially equipped former Bering Sea crabber.  I printed out a copy from the New Yorker's horrible digital edition and my son and I spent a happy half hour reading it together, me handing over each page to him as I finished them.

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Aug 29 2013

Cargo Cult Analytics (best thinking on big data I’ve read in a long time)

Published by under Journalism,Metrics

Former IDG colleague Matt McAllister tweeted a link to a wonderful post by Stijn Debrouwere, a Knight-Mozilla OpenNews fellow who is "loosely affiliated with the Guardian’s data science team in London."

Debrouwere tackles the futility of newsroom analytics and measurement, something I lived at Forbes.com and IDG and then Lenovo when I ran web analytics, mainly Omniture (now Adobe) and Google Analytics. As Debrouwere sarcastically notes, putting dashboards on big flat panel screens and making them really big makes them really important. He compares media executives who cling to their dashboards to New Guinea primitives waving at the sky and waiting for the cargo to come to them the way it used to come during WW II when the US Army was fighting the war.

Some zingers from his post:

  • "If you’re like most people, you don’t stray very far from the dashboard you get when you log in. You stare and squint and hope insight will magically manifest itself."
  • "There’s nothing like a dashboard full of data and graphs and trend lines to make us feel like grown ups. Like people who know what they’re doing. So even though we’re not getting any real use out of it, it’s addictive and we can’t stop doing it."
  • "There’s enough social media analytics tools to merit listicles that helpfully introduce you to the top 8."
  • "You’re supposed to put these dashboards up on a wall, on a huge plasma screen. Because of course numbers are twice as persuasive if you make them twice as big."
  • "Metrics are for doing, not staring."
  • "I honestly can’t recall the last time I’ve looked at our pageviews. I know it wouldn’t get me anywhere."


This Big Data thing has a lot of people confused, myself included. And for good reason. We think of this big database in the cloud, doing something so big and difficult that it requires lots and lots of processing power and a thing called "Hadoop," watching individuals interacting like so many ants with companies and stuff in real-time like some scary NSA spooky datacenter in Utah listening to all our phone calls  (but respectful of our privacy of course), figuring out patterns and trends and opportunities and MAGICAL INSIGHTS in REAL-TIME.  So let's get ourselves some of that there Big Data and save the company, be like Google, A/B test the shit out  of stuff, and get rid of the Highest Paid Person's opinion, blah, blah blah.....

First, a lot of people, including me, suck at math and statistics and so we overcompensate by regarding any numbers and the word "quantitative" as mystical.  If it has a number attached to it (not an adjective) it must be important.

Second, the legends around Big Data and the magical insights they deliver to retailers are kind of cool to consider and become mythical. Target can tell when a woman is pregnant based on her shopping history. Wal-Mart figured out 80% of its store visitors turn right when they enter the store. The promise of finding one of those awesome insights is just too compelling to miss. The problem is staring at a dashboard doesn't equate to discovering an insight. Hence a lot of us are like the Cargo Cultists.

Third, modern management is obsessed with measurement -- former colleague Lew McCreary called it the Tyranny of Metrics -- and the Pokemon Model of Got To Get 'Em All applies to equating Big Data with Big Data Collection, which yields the ugly phenomenon coined by Google metrics guru Avinash Kaushik: "Data Puking." The admonition that, "You can't manage what you don't measure," has built a corporate culture more concerned with looking buttoned-up, on the ball, and obsessively accurate than being intuitive, empathetic and innovative.

I was the guy who built these dashboards, peered at them for magical insights, puked them at my bosses, and over time I started to get really cynical and put  tired old quotes pissing on measurement   into my PowerPoint presentations:

Einstein: "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."

Warren Buffett:"They studied what was measurable, rather than what was meaningful" - 

I know Debrouwere's post appealed to me because he was specifically addressing metrics in the newsroom -- a place I spent most of my career. But it also struck a current chord with me because of  my work for clients, all of whom cite Big Data incessantly as a force for disruption and transformation, yet haven't the faintest clue of how to harness it or whom the Oracle will be in their organization who will study the digital tea leaves and come up with the single "AHA!" that will make them Measurement Legends.


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Aug 27 2013

Feathered Winos

Published by under Cape Cod,Cotuit,General

Every morning, after the sky brightens around 6 am, the birdfeeders get a visit from a mother turkey and her four toddling pullets. They come up Main Street from the direction of the Town Dock, enter the August-brown dead grass lawn and cross it together, in a strung out line -- mother in the middle, two on each flank -- pecking for stuff as they bob and amble across the driveway to the arbor.

The mother raids the hanging feeders, knocking down enough seed so the young ones can scratch and eat while she stands guard and peers around suspiciously, waiting for some predator to come out of nowhere and cause some carnage. They hang out for ten minutes, clean up the spilled seed (I'm reaching for an Onan reference here), then shuffle off the way they came, back into the woods behind the house where the local wildlife sanctuary seems to reside, including a very vocal owl, a murder of crows, an occasional covey of quail and the whiff of a skunk.

The turkeys visit every morning. The dog is insane with hatred. Squirrels were bad enough, chipmunks infuriating, but the turkeys confuse the dog, who senses something alien and dinosaurish about them that just isn't right. The song birds stay away from the feeders while the turkeys are in residence, and flock back under the Concord grapes as soon as they move on.

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Like the ospreys overhead, I never saw these birds until a few years ago. After being nearly wiped out during the Depression by hungry Cape Codders, they've made a comeback and gone from novelties to nuisances in some minds, one wit calling them "feathered winos staggering around our neighborhoods."

They attack mail men. They charge children. They cross roads and cause little traffic jams. I want to go full Pilgrim  Localvore this November and eat one for Thanksgiving but I understand you can only shoot them with black powder, muzzle loading blunderbusses while wearing pointy shoes with pewter buckles on the third Tuesday of October no closer than 5 miles to the nearest dwelling.

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Aug 24 2013

Sampson’s Island Dredge Update

Published by under Cape Cod,Cotuit

I've missed the recent meetings and hearings on the dredging proposal by Three Bays and Mass Audubon to take 800 feet of sand from the Cotuit end and pass it back and shore up the Osterville end.

The Barnstable Patriot has an article this week updating the current state of the proposal and the mounting opposition to it. Recent meetings at Freedom Hall hosted by the Cotuit-Santuit Civic Association, and ongoing Conservation Commission hearings have continued debate over the big project.

The next CC hearing is September 17 at 6:30 at town hall in Hyannis. The Patriot writes:

"“What needs to happen is to move it into a higher gear,” Barnstable Conservation Director Rob Gatewood said this week. That includes a complete environmental review, with conditions, from the state’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, which he called a “huge role as gatekeeper.”That report may or may not be ready on Sept. 17, he said.


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Aug 23 2013

Baseball Scorekeeper

Published by under Baseball,Books

I switched scorebooks this summer in the interest of checking out some alternatives. I started scoring with the free cards the Cotuit Kettleers used to hand out as recently as 2009, but have since migrated to spiral-bound books of scoring blanks.

The standby for me for the past three seasons  has been C.S. Peterson's Scoremaster. I would order one or two every spring from Amazon for $7 (though the vendor claims a massive discount from a list price of $30 which is absurd because I don't remember paying close to that).

Here's a scoresheet from Peterson:



Apologies in advance as the scan doesn't do much justice to the detail on the form, but there it is. Pretty dense, kind of cramped, but it did the job for the most part and didn't have any obvious irritations.

Peterson's is a good book. I'm familiar with it, it has a pitch count tracker which one can see on the far right. It is soft covered so it isn't very rigid in the lap and it has no pockets to stash ticket stubs, 50-50 raffle tickers, or other detritrus picked up at the ball park.

This summer I tried something new, a very trendy super scorebook complete with an introduction, a set of how-to-score instructions, a fold-out cheat sheet with common symbols and abbreviations, and yes, a memento pocket inside of the back cover.  This version is called the Baseball Scorekeeper and is priced at $13.56 onb Amazon, twice the Peterson price. It even has co-authors, Stuart Miller and Zack Hemple.

I liked it. It was a little basic but it also got the job done, it just didn't get to the level of obsessive detail that Peterson's does. The lack of a pitch count tracker was an issue, and the player hit column just noted hits, not doubles, triples, etc.



I'd recommend the Scorekeeper to a beginner, wish Peterson's came in a hardcover version and while I'm giving advice, would tell the Scorekeeper guys to consider an elastic band of some sort -- like Moleskin notebooks have -- to help hold the thing together when it is folded open and both sides are in use.

Next season I'll try something else.

And to hell with scorekeeping apps. Yes yes yes I've heard of Gamechanger, and have tried the iScore app. Only douchebags take tablets to ballgames unless they're getting paid to bring one there. Give me paper and pencil and a bag of peanuts in the shell.

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Aug 18 2013

Blaming the blockers: What’s the future of online advertising? — Tech News and Analysis

GigaOm has published an opinion piece I wrote at the suggestion of Om Malik about the poor prospects for the present digital advertising model. I went off on a screed in my first draft against the protests of the Internet Advertising Bureau who have been attacking people like me who turn on ad-blocking software and turn off third-party tracking cookies.


I'll let the column speak for itself.

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Aug 18 2013

The Taussig Portrait

Published by under Cape Cod,Cotuit

There's a rumor of a certain paint spattered floor here in Cotuit, the kind people liked to paint in the early 60s in old houses by dipping a wooden paint stirring stick in a pot of colored paint and snapping it to create a constellation of speck and spots. The floor of the old front parlor in my house used to have such a spatter-effect, but I think that was painted over by my wife the interior designer at some point in the 1990s.

The rumor is that Jackson Pollock painted such a floor in a beachside house near Loop Beach that was recently sold to a Boston financier who tried to tear it down as all Boston financiers must tear things down, but was saved by the local historic preservationists who managed to persuade their new neighbor to move the old place back from the view of Nantucket Sound to make room for his new starter castle. Whether the floor is there or not is still a matter of myth, but I like to think of the ghosts of great artists who summered in Cotuit over the years, leaving behind some talented marks like initials carved into the bark of an old tree.

In yesterday's Sunday New York Times I was surprised to find a story about the artist Jamie Wyeth and a portrait he painted as a young man of Cotuit's famous summer resident, the pediatric cardiogist Helen Taussig. In August of 1963 -- fifty years ago -- young Wyeth arrived in Cotuit to paint the portrait of the eminent physician, a portrait commissioned by her colleagues to recognize her pioneering work saving "blue babies" -- infants with cardio pulmonary defects.

The Times printed a picture of Wyeth's portrait and Mersol describes the horrified reaction of her family and friends, one so negative that the painting was never hung in a place of honor but given to Doctor Taussig who wrapped it in a beach towel and stashed it in her attic. When it was presented to the hospital after her death in 1986 (I never met her, only knew her reputation and the racing mark named after her that the Cotuit Mosquito Yacht Club occasionally sails around in southerly winds), the hospital did its best to hide it in a private alcove where visitors couldn't find it.

Wyeth billed his patrons $1000 and travel expenses for the work, and it took him two tries before he was paid.

The Times contrasts the Wyeth version with another, blander portrait painted later in the doctor's life. I definitely prefer Wyeth's version: her strength and intensity shines through, a hint at the ambition and intelligence of medicine's earliest and most gifted femaile practitioners.

Anyway, I thought it worth commenting on as I read the story sitting in the cockpit of my sailboat anchored in the cove of Cotuit's Sampson Island this morning and with a look to my left could see Doctor Taussig's old home as well as the house with the mythical Pollock spatter floor.


Update: Thanks to Fred J. for pointing me to this piece in the Barnstable Patriot by Stew Goodwin that confirms the tale of the floor.

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Aug 17 2013

Published by under General


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Aug 17 2013

The Twilight of the Laptop

Published by under Technology

It's been three years since I bid Lenovo adios and used my employee discount to buy my last ThinkPad, a T410s. I was a big ThinkPad booster in my day. I was paid to be. Cash incentives aside, the all black design, the red trackpoint pointer in the middle of the keyboard, the promise of a rugged, durable, non-nonsense computer was a classic alternative to the generic chromed plastic and blue indicator lights being pumped out by the competition in the PC industry's ongoing race to the bottom of commodity computing. ThinkPads were the best laptops on the market and it was easy to market that fact.

No offense to the good designers and engineers I worked with back then, but the T410S was a lemon that took two annoying warranty trips back to the service center to solve a bad display problem and then an aggravating overheating problem that caused it to shut down and turn into a brick. I hadn't done my homework when I bought that machine, and when I tried to breathe a second life into it with a 64 GB SDD harddrive I learned that the  original disc's form factor was utterly weird, expensive, and ultimately impossible to upgrade. So I said to hell with it, built a great desktop tower myself with parts ordered from Newegg and haven't looked back.

The ThinkPad still works but I don't use it anymore and have passed it along to my son. I expected to buy another one this summer, but ....

This post is being written on a $250 Google Nexus 7 tablet with a $70 Logitech wireless bluetooth keyboard. The battery life is great. I can use it in my lap, on the porch, in the morning with my morning coffee. While I don't like having to take my fingers off of the little keys to touch the screen and move the cursor around, I can get past all that because for $320 I have a great set up for taking notes, editing documents from my Dropbox and Google Drive accounts, watching past episodes of Deadwood on HBO Go and controlling my Sonos speaker system playing WWOZ over TunedIn radio.

I won't buy another clamshell classic laptop ever again. I may be given one if I take another job inside of a corporation, but even then I imagine the "bring-your-own-device" to work trend will give me the freedom to show up with a tablet/wireless keyboard combo. This isn't a retromingent screed against PCs, just a statement of personal preference backed up by one of the more vicious disruptions in computing platforms since the PC was introduced to the world in the late 70s.

The old argument that serious creation and composition would always prefer a real notebook with a real keyboard is silly. I can see myself buying a Thinkpad tablet just to get to the ThinkPad's legendary keyboard (the way the Thinkpad engineers deliver the best keyboard experience is a great, untold story but one that few serious typist/Tpad fans would dispute), even the Microsoft Surface is a nice piece of hardware. And as I see more and more iPads and Android tablets pulled out in meetings and turned into typing devices with bluetooth keyboards, I think I'm justified in saying the sun is setting on the world of Inspirons, Pavillions, Satellites and ThinkPads.

I've tried external keyboards in the past, most memorably a folding contraption back in the heyday of the Palm Pilot that got maybe a grand total of three hours usage before I gave up in expensive disgust. But this stripped down combo of Android and bluetooth typing is working for me when I am away from the desktop battlestation.

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