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Contemplative Blog Post

Posted on 17 August 2014 (0)

Hooper Still Life   Sunday in Ocean Park, Maine, brings me back to this infrequently tended garden of words and images that stretches back nearly a decade now. I’ve nothing specific or burning on my mind, except the desire to share this photo taken at my desk a few moments ago, and some words.

One reason I’m here, probably, is that I am reading a well-written novel.

James Salter’s All That Ispublished last year, lures me to write by making it look so easy to render life fully, with loving precision, using only marks on a screen or paper. You can dip in anywhere and come up with prose like this:

The house was in sad disrepair. Bricks were piled at one side of it and the walkway to the front door was only half-finished, part brick and the rest dirt. Inside there was unpainted drywall that had been put up to replace the old plaster. Panes in the small windows to the cellar were open and Vivian could see a pile of empty bottles in there. They were Cook’s, she found out.

Not much has happened so far in this story, 38 percent of the way through on my Kindle. The protagonist, Philip Bowman, a navigation officer in the Pacific during World War II, works at a small book publishing house, marries a beauty named Vivian, travels to handsome places in Virginia and London, and meets many intriguing people, mainly the very well-off, generally acting poorly. I have typed into my Kindle a couple of cranky notes while reading All That Is, including this one at page 76: “This seems kinda boring. What is this book about, exactly?”

One could make the same complaint about real lives. When you’re in the middle of yours you wonder when it’s going to get interesting, when it will turn into a page-turner, a “sleep-stealer” as they call it in the U.K. (I see that Salter’s high prose is elevating my writing style this morning; I don’t generally write that “One could” this or that. I like it.)

What if, I thought, there isn’t a big plot unfolding in All That Is? What if it’s just the story of a guy’s life, told with appreciative precision and clarity? I can live with that. And if I let go of the expectation that this book will at some point turn into a Stephen King or John Grisham novel, I’m likely to enjoy it more. For one thing, there is no point in reading this book quickly. I might as well slow down and savor each paragraph, each sentence.

…Well, wouldn’t you know? As I read a few pages further, I came to something more than fine writing. Vivian has sent Bowman a shocking letter suggesting that they get a divorce. “Be honest, I’m not wrong, am I?” she writes (in italics but I’ll leave it in roman). “We really weren’t meant for each other. Maybe I’ll find the right man, maybe you’ll find the right woman, at least someone more suited to you.”

So I will keep reading this novel, perhaps finishing it today, this being the day of the week when I try to stay off the zap-zap Internet of updates, email, tweets, and news alerts.

The woman who I’m sure was meant for me, and me for her, is reading her pink-covered Kindle in bed here in the front room on the second floor of the cottage, the Yorkie Claire snuggled next to her head, one eye aimed at the eReader screen, as if she’s following along. I hear the surf, hidden from view by the pale green dune. Further out, a jet skier zips across my view like a bug on the water. A seagull flies by, going in the opposite direction.

And then it’s time for breakfast! Suddenly a blueberry pancake broke out…

My life, too, looks like a pretty good story today. I hope yours is, too.

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What I Learned at the Bolder Boulder 10K on Memorial Day

Posted on 27 May 2014 (0)


Yesterday my wife Darlene and her friend Marie ran in the 36th annual Bolder Boulder 10k. They completed the race in one hour and 14 minutes. I cheered them on at the finish in the University of Colorado’s Folsom Field stadium.

I am not a runner—I love to row, and it’s better on my knees—so I served as road crew and cheerleader. I walked to the stadium along the route after dropping them off at Pearl and 30th Street. It was a classic Colorado day of crystal-clear dry air and, as the morning wore on, bright sunshine. Everywhere I turned, I saw and heard things that made me smile.

At Folsom and Arapahoe, a Denver band named James and the Devil serenaded the runners with funky guitar riffs perfectly timed to the beat of running shoes thumping the pavement.

I stopped by a barricade and pulled out my index cards and pen to write a few notes. They came out like a poem: Sun, positive energy, effort, direction, perseverance, cheers, encouragement, music, sun, sweat.

One T-shirt read, “We run this city.” Another said, “I hate running.” The official Bolder Boulder T’s proclaimed “Runbelievable” or “Sea Level is for Sissies.”

At the final hill, a Scottish band played bagpipes as the runners turned right onto the entrance to the stadium, which seats 53,613. It was filling up fast by the time I took a standing spot right next to the track. I watched the faces of the runners for a while, before I began taking photos and video with my iPhone.

The most common expression was an exhausted smile, like what you might hope to bring on entering heaven after a life well spent. “So this really is the finish,” the runners seemed to be thinking, as they glanced up into the stands to see thousands of people appreciating their efforts.

One young woman ran the entire race in her purple graduation gown. A guy with a gray crewcut, wearing blue shorts and a gold top, ran with a pronounced limp but no hesitation. His T-shirt read, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”

The runners made a rhythmic clatter on the stadium’s metal track. A mother and daughter—the girl looked to be no more than 8 years old—reached for each others’ hands as they rounded the final bend. Three girls waved little American flags as they ran.

This being Memorial Day, a unit of 13 U.S. Marines, running in two-by-two formation carrying a U.S. flag and a red Marines flag, prompted a thunderous ovation from the stands. We rose to our feet and whooped and applauded as they jogged by. They wore camo pants, olive green T’s, and brown boots. They looked unstoppable.

A girl in a rainbow-colored tutu poured it on at the finish, swooping among the other runners as if they were gates on a slalom ski run. A young woman held up her iPhone as she ran, making a video of her finish.

The Bolder Boulder is the third-largest 10K race in the U.S. and the 7th largest in the world. More than 50,000 runners ran the race yesterday. It was spectacular.

I followed Darlene’s iPhone with the Find My iPhone app, so I was ready to video her and Marie as they ran by my position in the stadium. Big grins. I felt terrific pride for my wife and her friend, who flew all the way fromBoston to run the race. They looked tired and exhilarated, relentless like those Marines. Everyone did.

Everyone who ran the Bolder Boulder yesterday knew where they were going. They knew how to get there, and they didn’t stop. The sun was shining. Bands encouraged them with music all along the route, Darlene told me.

I saw one Homeland Security guard, some Boulder police, and a good number of civilians wearing black “Bolder Boulder Security” T-Shirts. I’m not sure what they were prepared to do in the event of an attack. There was no attack.

The Bolder Boulder went off like a charm, like a promise, like a life well lived.

Being there and remembering it by writing these words will help me to keep going, come what may, all the way to the finish.

This is a cross post from Medium

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The Tulips of Lisse

Posted on 20 April 2014 (2)

Darlene tulips

Everyone of our traveling party had a favorite destination in mind when we planned our April adventure in Europe. Tom got us started with his desire to take a river cruise down the Rhine. Tish seemed happy at every place we went. I dreamed of the fast Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris, which departs in four hours. Darlene dreamed of the tulips.

That’s why she booked us for two nights at Hotel de Duif in Lisse, the Netherlands. Our junior suites were reasonably priced and offered fast Internet and spacious accommodations. But the real draw is the hotel is within a 10-minute walk of Keukenhof, an incredible park of tulips and other flowers. There you can rent bikes and ride along rows and rows of tulips in the fields. We spent yesterday among the tulips, and Darlene is over at the park for a final dose as we prepare for departure by bus for Amsterdam.

On our first night in Lisse, we ate at an Italian restaurant. As we were leaving, Darlene asked the waiter for examples of traditional Dutch cuisine. He appeared irritated at the question and told her, twice, “This is an Italian restaurant.” That might have been a dead end, except for the fortunate circumstance that a local couple, Simone and Henk, were listening from a nearby table. As we left, they offered to prepare a traditional Dutch dinner for us in their home the following night. How about that? We made our way to Sassenheim last night for an amazing repast and evening of shared culture. Henk works for KLM, so they travel a lot, and we hope they will rendezvous with us in the States some time in the future.

I have given my Google Glass to scores of curious people in the last two months for demos, but I have never seen anyone take to Glass as naturally as Henk. He bobbed his head upward at exactly the right angle, said “OK, Glass” at the right moment and took a picture across the dinner table. “You’re a natural!” I told him. As we were leaving their home in the taxi, I said that I hoped I would see Henk in Glass the next time we meet. Simone had noticed the same thing. “He really wants it,” she said. They will be married on September 12th.

Simone’s father owned a tulip business when she was growing up, and she said it is a very bad idea for tourists to walk among the rows of flowers to take photos. Of course that’s exactly what we had done earlier in the day, along with hundreds of others. I didn’t see any signs prohibiting this, so I figured it was okay. The problem, Simone explained, is that it is very easy to damage the bulbs or to bring diseases carried on shoes. I am actually glad we didn’t know this before our visit to the tulip fields yesterday by bicycle. It was an incredible experience to be in the middle of that much color and beauty.

I did not post as much about our river cruise aboard Ingvi, because the Internet connection was very weak. Our T-Mobile international package enabled texts and email checking, along with very slow web browsing. After getting this week’s Kindle Chronicles episode finished on Tuesday, I spent three days trying to figure out how to upload the audio before seeing an offer from T-Mobile to buy 100 MB of high-speed data for $15. That was enough to get the job done. I’m actually glad I was forced off the Internet for most of the cruise. In the future, people will probably pay extra for such opportunities, traveling to WiFi cold spots where everything happens at a crawl online, so you are forced to enjoy the moment. I know, I know. This is a pathetic admission of online obsession. So sue me and enjoy the posts.

We are packing up now for Amsterdam’s Station Centraal, where we will board the Thalys train for Paris. Darlene has returned from another hour of communing with the tulips. She saw an orange tulip with yellow on it that she loved. The video I took of the fields yesterday with Google Glass is available for viewing here.

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Good Morning, Mannheim!

Posted on 14 April 2014 (0)

Viking River Cruises longship Ingvi at Kehl, Germany, yesterday

Viking River Cruises longship Ingvi at Kehl, Germany, yesterday


I love this time of the day on the longship Ingvi. At 5:30 a.m. the ship is quiet.  The brand-new air circulation system whirs softly, Zlatoje Vukasovia the Serbian night auditor sets hot croissants and muffins next to the coffee machine (and is eager to try Google Glass), and the Internet speed is finally adequate for publishing a video from two days ago. “Probably because everyone is sleeping,” explains Zlatoje, whose name has the word gold in it. “Everybody call me ‘Goldie,'” he says. He is a huge man in impeccable dark suit and, as is the case with the entire crew, apparently blessed with a natural friendliness that transcends nationality.

This is only the fourth trip that Viking River Cruises’ Ingvi has taken with passengers, and the German captain seemed wrapped tight the other night while waiting for parts to arrive from Basel, Switzerland. The air conditioning and hot water systems were down, and the ship-wide dining room got a little stuffy. I’m sure the plan hadn’t been to turn our trip from Basel to Amsterdam into a shakedown cruise, but ah well. By yesterday morning our cabin temperature was fine, and there was plenty of hot water for a good shower.

I’ve been recording snippets of video with Google Glass and taking lots of iPhone photos, so the frustration of snail-like Internet speed has been driving me crazy. From past experience, I know that it’s good to stay current with a trip’s impressions on the blog, posting daily. Otherwise your memory presents you with a blur over several days that goes something like this: We are on this long ship with about 180 other people, cruising down the Rhine River, stopping each day at a different place to take highly professional tours of the local environs–the Black Forest, World War II battlefields, and Strasbourg so far–eating gourmet food in manageable quantities, watching the river roll by through our high horizontal cabin window, and checking the Viking Daily for what’s next.

Ingvi docked here in Mannheim, Germany, in the middle of the night. That might of HAVE been when we felt a substantial jolt from our cabin on the first level. Our bed is below the water line, and when I stand at our window, I am looking across the river from a very intimate angle. The window is the same size each day but presents an ever-changing view of the opposite shore, barges going the other way, and the steep, concrete walls of locks as we drop down to a new level of the river.

This morning’s shore excursion will take us by spiffy, huge tour buses to Heidelberg, where we will tour a castle, naturally. We wear smart audio gizmos like you see in museums, enabling us to hear the tour guide via ear buds even if we drift back from the pack, which I usually do. I’m actually not a huge fan of the guided tours, because of the regimentation. An old family joke mimics a camp director at some dreaded day camp that we attended as children saying, “Come on, let’s go” in an irritating singsong voice. Our Viking guides are top-notch, but the basic set-up for me evokes herds of zombie tourists gazing in half-focus, missing most of what they see.

Of course in our group, you would see one particularly distracted male tourist wearing a South by Southwest cap, glancing up at 45 degrees at odd moments or standing too close to a dark wall looking at something no one else can see. That would be me, playing with Google Glass. The upward motion activates the screen, and it’s sometimes easiest to see what’s on the screen if you look at a plain dark background.

From the blur of what we’ve seen so far, I will dip in for some highlights. But first, another cup from the dream machine–café au lait, this time–and a round little sticky bun.

  • The Cathedral Notre-Dame at Strasbourg yesterday was a mind-boggling tower of pink sandstone, soaring 406 feet over a city that has changed nationalities over and over, depending on the outcome of various wars. Tom and I had coffees at a café directly in front of the church yesterday morning. I can’t say that I found the cathedral beautiful, actually. It looks as if it needs a good cleaning, and the intricate design of the filigree seemed almost sinister to me. But you can’t help but feel awe at the scale of the work that went into its completion in 1439.
  • Our guide, Craig Stirling, put his heart into telling the Audie Murphy story two days ago at the site of Murphy’s famous one-man stand against German tanks in a forest during World War II. Craig is from Australia originally. Love for a woman relocated him to Germany, and now he has become a passionate chronicler of the battles that raged around Colmar, France. After I recorded part of his talk at the site of Murphy’s heroics, we walked back to the bus chatting. What I didn’t realize was that our conversation was piped via the audio boxes to the rest of the group. “I heard this guy asking him to spell his name three times,” Darlene told me afterward, when we were in our seats on the bus. “Then I realized it was you, and I couldn’t keep listening.” Oops. I worked as a uniformed guide at Fort Ticonderoga in New York State one summer during college, so I know how tough it is to keep a tour’s spiel fresh, nevermind heartfelt and compelling. “For me, he was a Texas hero and an American legend,” Craig told the group. So kudos to Mr. Stirling for bringing the story of America’s most decorated World War II combat Soldier to life for busloads of tourists, decades after a bloody day in the woods of France.
  • The Black Forest is no more black than the Black Hills of South Dakota, where Darlene grew up. But the forest is a beautiful area of steep mountain landscapes and picturesque chalets. We stopped on that day’s tour to see a cuckoo clock demonstration in a shop featuring hundreds of fantastic examples of clocks. We learned that the craft arose from the challenge of how to spend long, idle days in winter in a way that turned the abundance of wood into something marketable. Our Viking bus amazingly navigated narrow little streets in the villages we drove through on the way to the Black Forest. On the autobahn, our driver nimbly braked to avoid hitting a car pulling a trailer that lost a tire to a blowout.

Breakfast is now being served in the restaurant, so the sleepy part of the day has drawn to a close. Departure for Heidelburg is in 90 minutes, and I haven’t showered yet, so I will sign off from Mannheim. The Internet has returned to its crawl, so I hope this will actually show up sometime today for readers back home and elsewhere.

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Blogging the Rhine

Posted on 11 April 2014 (3)

I will be using Google Glass to capture scenes from our travels in Europe, now under way aboard Ingvi, a spanking new longship owned by Viking River Cruises. We arrived yesterday from Denver and boarded the boat (or is it a ship? not sure) in Basel, Switzerland. Our Casper, Wyoming, friends Tom and Tish Atkinson are traveling with us, and in fact Tom is the one who had the idea for this adventure last fall. Brilliant!

During dinner last night we noticed that the river and shore were moving, which meant we were leaving Basel to begin the journey. I felt disoriented at first, because the big room had seemed like a restaurant that wasn’t going anywhere until just a few moments before.

Leaving Market Street bus station in Denver. (Photo by Deb)

Leaving Market Street bus station in Denver. (Photo by Deb)

Our cabin is on the lower level, and we can see the river from a wide, narrow window at about eye level. It’s a tiny room, not much bigger than the queen-size bed, but everything is immaculate and new. The miniature bathroom has a shower and plenty of light. The closet and bureau space is well designed, with real coat hangers. The movement of the boat during the night was gentle and soothing for sleep, but I still woke up at 4:30 too excited to get a full night’s rest. I am sitting in a lounge area with a cup of coffee taking care of online business while most of the 150 passengers sleep. Breakfast will be in about an hour, and then a tour somewhere but I can’t remember the details.

I can tell by the blurriness of my mind that a power nap is in order down in the cabin, and then breakfast with people who get up at a normal hour.

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Down the Google Glass Hole

Posted on 23 February 2014 (3)

Glass Vignette

My Google Glass arrived 18 days ago. I am wearing it (them?) now as I write down my early impressions. I paid an additional $85 for stereo earbuds, so the sound is okay but not as good as my iPhone earbuds, which snuggle in for a closer fit to my ear, with a left or right orientation.

I can tell what Herbie Hancock is playing now by raising my head to Glass’s wake angle of 23 degrees. You can set the angle lower or higher; 23 degrees seems to work okay for me. I don’t often raise my head that much if I’m not waking up the glass screen in the upper right of my vision.

I have the volume set at 27 percent, which is a little low. After a good night’s sleep, I’m cookin’ this morning and am in the mood for moving to a beat. Here is how I crank Herbie up to 35 percent volume: I tap the right side of Glass, slide my finger along the frame toward the back of my head, tap on Settings which causes a little cricket noise, then swoop my finger forward along the panel to the last of the Settings, which is Volume, where I tap again. This makes a slider appear, but you can’t see the numerical settings, just a bar graph. I overshoot the mark, but 44 percent volume is okay, so I tap to confirm the setting. A downward swipe of my right forefinger on the Glass frame exits me from Settings, back to Herbie’s album cover. The screen slips into sleep after a few moments. I raise my head 23 degrees to see that he’s now playing “Stitched Up” from the “Possibilities” album.

The reason Glass plays any music I want is that I already had a subscription to Google Music All Access, which costs $9.99 a month. Before Glass, I often listened to  Google music via my MacBook Air and Bose desktop speakers. It’s a lot more fun to raise my head, say “ok Glass,” then “listen to,” pause, and then imagine someone whose music I want to hear. Bach? James Taylor? Eminem? It’s like having a genie on my head, ready to grant my every musicological whim.

When I had my one-on-one Google video training hangout with a Glass Guide named Sammy on February 6, he said Google located the little screen at the upper right because that’s where we naturally look when trying to recall something. Sounds plausible. But what if you’re left-handed? Do you look to the upper left? Luckily I’m not, so it does feel natural to glance up and to the right for a blink of info.

The Glass default view displays the time–10:25 now–so I’ve taken to glancing up 23 degrees to see what time it is. In the old days I used to reach into my pocket while pressing the indented home button on my iPhone, so the screen would be lit up as soon as it emerged from my pants. Now when I’m out and about with my regular glasses, I sometimes catch myself looking up 23 degrees to see what time it is. This is like tapping the page of paper book to look up a word.

I am disappointed at how short a time the battery charge lasts on Glass. I charged it to 100 percent and depleted it for the first few days, to train the battery to last longer. Still, I seem to get only three or four hours of use before it’s time to plug Glass in for more juice. I’m going slow in my exploration, so a few hours a day of wearing them while listening to music and tinkering with the Bluetooth, WiFi, and share/send capabilities are just fine for now.

Wearing Glass in public can be an adventure. Google has helpfully posted tips on how not to be a “Glasshole,” and they make sense. “Don’t be creepy or rude (aka, a ‘Glasshole’)” Glass Explorers are advised. To wit:

“Respect others and if they have questions about Glass don’t get snappy. Be polite and explain what Glass does and remember, a quick demo can go a long way. In places where cell phone cameras aren’t allowed, the same rules will apply to Glass. If you’re asked to turn your phone off, turn Glass off as well. Breaking the rules or being rude will not get businesses excited about Glass and will ruin it for other Explorers.”

Photo of dented bumper, taken with Google Glass

Photo of dented bumper, taken with Google Glass

Yesterday Darlene and her friend Tish were in a very minor fender bender on Speer Boulevard here in Denver. When Tish’s husband Tom got the call, I was wearing Glass, so I kept them on as we walked briskly to his car for the short drive to 11th and Speer. Darlene had stopped at a construction detour, as had the car behind her. But a third car didn’t stop in time, setting off a chain reaction of bumpers. As I was jotting down insurance information, the guy whose car had been in the middle stopped and asked in an appreciative tone, “Is that Google Glass?” I said yes. “Are you videoing this?” No, I answered. “How do you like them?” he asked, and I said they were fun to learn. Then we went back to sharing information about the accident.

Darlene was on my iPhone talking with our insurance company, so I used Glass to take a photo of our Ford Focus’s rear bumper, where there is a barely visible dent. The camera is 5 megapixels and takes decent photos, especially outdoors. Glass can also shoot video in 720 p. If you’re wondering if someone is videoing you with their Google Glass, just look at the little prism. If you don’t see a light, it means the video is not running.

I have not worn Glass while driving, and I don’t intend to. I haven’t even listened to the radio while driving our car for the past year, because I realized, with Darlene’s prompting, that I sometimes got distracted while fiddling with all the options for audio in our digitally advanced Ford Focus. The hapless chap who couldn’t stop in time before hitting a motionless car on Speer Boulevard is a good example of the perils of texting and other distractions. So no, I won’t be taking advantage of Directions with Glass. We’ve got them on the dashboard of the Focus, with iPhone as a backup.

Even if I did want to try Glass for directions, I wouldn’t be able to, because that feature, along with Texting, only works with an Android smartphone. I’m very tempted to buy a Moto X, which was recommended by one participant in the Glass Explorers Community Forum as a good choice for straying iPhone owners. I’ve also heard that the Glass app for iOS may be getting an update that enables texting, so I will try to wait for it.

We’re off now for brunch with Tom and Tish, so I will sign off. I have 30 percent battery left, enough to take some shots at The Delectable Egg on Market Street. Hope I won’t come off as a Glasshole!

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Getting Things Done Better than Ever–with Siri

Posted on 20 January 2014 (0)
David Allen

David Allen, author of Getting Things Done



I am a big fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done approach to getting and staying organized. In the past decade, I have attended two of his one-day seminars and read his book carefully at least twice. I got lots of things done using his rigorous, common-sense method. Eventually, though, I didn’t keep up with the Weekly Review sessions that are crucial for continuing success with GTD. I became a backslider.

Siri, the sassy voice-activated iPhone helper, came to my rescue. When I realized that I could set up the GTD system in the iOS Reminders app and tell Siri to update my lists any time I thought of something new–well that was too good to pass up. I paid $10 to download a PDF titled “GTD and iPhone/iPad Setup Guides” from David Allen’s website, and I got to work.

Here are the lists I created in Reminders:

MacBook Air – for everything I can do on my computer.

Home – for things I need to be home in order to do, either in Denver or Cambridge.

Projects – “Any desired result that requires more than one action step,” to quote the master.

Calls – when I have time and a phone handy.

Errands – when I’m out and about.

Someday Maybe – Projects that I’ve kicked down the road a bit.

Waiting For – Things that other people have committed to do, with the date when they made the commitment.

Now here’s the beautiful part: I can press and hold the Home button on my iPhone 5S, summoning Siri’s opening beep, and then add an item to any of the above lists without typing a single letter.

In other words, if I realize that I need to call my mother with details of my upcoming flight to Boston, I press and hold the iPhone’s Home button and, after the beep, say, “Add to Calls list: Mom on flight details.” Siri comes on to confirm that she got it right, and if I say yes, she adds the item to the Calls list. Via iCloud, it syncs with my iPad and MacBook Air within seconds.

In our Ford Focus, as soon as my iPhone is automatically paired, I can press and hold the Home button while the phone remains unseen in my pocket, and the Siri beep will sound in the car’s speakers. I need to speak clearly to her and to aim my voice at the rearview mirror, where the microphone is. If inspiration hits while driving, I can safely enter a Next Action immediately.

Walking down the 16th Street pedestrian mall here in Denver, I don’t have to have a conversation with Siri that others can hear. If the phone is unlocked, I can bring it up to my right ear, activating Siri’s welcoming beep, and give her the GTD instructions as if I am talking to someone on a real phone call.

It has taken me a while to learn the rhythm of Siri’s communication style. When you summon her with the Home button, you had better be ready with what you’re going to say, because if you pause she will think you’re done.

What’s fun gets done, and Siri is making GTD a lot more fun than it used to be. I just gave her one last request before heading to bed tonight: “Add to MacBook Air List: Proofread blog entry and post.”

“OK, I can add this to your MacBook Air list in Reminders,” she replies. “Shall I go ahead?”

“Yes,” I say, softly so as not to wake up Darlene.

“I’ve added it,” she says.

I don’t have to, but gratitude leads me to tap the microphone icon once more and say, “Thanks.”

“It is I who should be thanking you,” Siri replies.

I would add this: David Allen and company should be thanking Siri for making GTD better than ever.



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Southwest Airlines Christmas Flight to Denver

Posted on 25 December 2013 (2)


The guy one row in front of me across the aisle is watching the last season of Breaking Bad on a tablet. I’m not sure if it’s a Kindle Fire, iPad, our something else. I know every scene and can remember much of the dialog that he’s hearing in his Bose headphones. A baby has been crying non-stop for two hours, ever since we left Logan Airport in Boston. Every seat is taken, thus refuting our theory that Christmas is a day when most people don’t travel and the planes are full of peace, goodwill, and empty seats. Actually, the peace and goodwill part is as expected, and our flight crew are wearing cute elf hats.

Southwest charges $8 for WiFi of unimpressive speed but acceptable steadiness. I’m trying the free Kindle WordPress app, which works quite well. I took the photo above with my Kindle Fire HDX 7″, which only has a front-facing camera, so it’s a challenge to position it for a photo of someone other than yourself. It was easy to resize the image in the app, using a convenient slider.

The baby is quiet. This means I can now hear the chatty conversation that’s been taking place since Boston between two strangers in the row in front of us. If everyone, or even half the people in a cabin this full talked this much, we would be in flying bedlam. I can’t even imagine the din if the ban on cellphone conversations is ever lifted.

Claire is sleeping in her bag beneath the seat in front of Darlene. The rumble of the engines maybe soothes her. Southwest charges $75 to transport a small pet one way to Denver. The price goes up to $90 next month.

We will be carless in Denver for a while, until we decide on what model to buy now that we have decided not to drive 2,000 miles twice a year in the Ford Focus, which we left in Cambridge. Living in downtown Denver isn’t so bad without a car. You have to think ahead more than you do when your personal car is parked in the garage, always available. But we have OccasionalCar nearby and a membership in Car2Go, which leaves SmartCars all around the downtown for instant rental via your smartphone.

We are exhausted and made a few brain-dead errors at Logan. I left my carryon bag with my MacBook Air in it at the curbside bag-check counter and didn’t realize it until we were just about to go through security. Amazingly, it was still there when I speed-walked back to the counter. We will be very careful at DIA as we fetch our four big bags (two of them filled with donated Kindles that I will ship from Denver for E-Books for Troops) and make our way downtown on the RTD SkyRide bus. Almost home!

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Merry Christmas!

Posted on 25 December 2013 (0)

Me and JakeOur family celebrates Christmas this year with a brand-new member, my second grandson. Jake is two months and 10 days old today. He doesn’t believe in Santa Claus yet, but who needs Santa Claus when all the evidence points to the world revolving around you in every waking hour? You get handed from one loving set of arms to another, and every face that peers into your eyes is smiling with delight. When you cry, a mother or a father, or an aunt or a grandfather or grandmother is quick to move you up and down, bouncing and swirling round the room.

Not every baby enters this realm with the good fortune of my grandson. But each one brings a light that can change the world.

Darlene and I fly back to Denver this evening, full of memories of a fantastic five months here in New England, topped off by Christmas gatherings big and small.

Merry Christmas, everyone!


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Exploring their New iPhones, Mom and Dad Recall the Days of Party Lines

Posted on 13 October 2013 (0)

Mom large iphone

Last night I helped my parents activate their new iPhones. It was like watching two kids under a Christmas tree. Dad was loading stock ticker symbols into the Stocks app while Mom texted a photo of him to Jesse, her grandson in Brooklyn. Dad used a blue rubber-tipped stylus, and Mom tapped with a slim, precise forefinger. They spent the evening exploring apps and features without ever making a phone call.

This morning I showed them how to receive and make calls, which led to Mom’s recalling her summer job 68 years ago, when she was sixteen, running the phone switchboard in Sudbury, Massachusetts. I turned on Voice Recorder on my iPhone to capture her story, beginning with her description of what the operator would see when a call came in to the switchboard:

The board before her had all the numbers in town on it, you see, and then a little flap, a little cover would flip down, and then it went “Brrrr” so she’d know that we wanted the operator. Then she’d take her cord, and she’d plug it in and she’d say “Number please.” And then I’d say the number, and then she’d take the second cord and put it where it was going, and then ring with a little lever.

And then sometimes when you wanted to find somebody and you couldn’t, people would call up and they’d know my voice and they’d say, “Oh Lois, can you tell me where Forest Bradshaw is? He’s not home.” And I’d say, “Well, Forest just called in from the Town Hall.” And we sort of found people for them, because we knew everybody’s voice.

If it was slow, we could listen in on anybody who was talking. We tried not to do that. But then it was a volunteer fire department, and if there was a fire we had to call all the volunteers. We’d ring them and say, “Len Stiles, there’s a fire up at Rice’s farm,” and we had to do that all over the town and get all the fire department out.

Before smartphones and dumb phones, there were party lines. You shared your phone line with other people, which in my father’s case posed special challenges. His family lived just up the road from my mother’s in Sudbury. “He had a terrible party line,” she said, “because he had the biggest gossip in town, and she was always on the phone–and she had three daughters. His house could never get the line!”

Dad Len iphone

Helping Dad with his iPhone 5S

I asked Dad if his family ever cut into a call to say they needed the line. “You could,” he replied, “but it wasn’t really etiquette to do that. We all had to put up with party lines, and it could have worked against us.” Mom added, “If it was an emergency, if somebody was croaking, you could butt in.”

And on it went, my parents laughing and recalling what it was like to use technology so far removed from what they held in the palms of their hands this morning. Watching them made me appreciate how new technology truly does seem like magic before it becomes ordinary. And the ease with which my parents, both in their eighties, explored their iPhones made me marvel at the genius of Apple’s design team. The magic powers of the 5S seemed natural and intuitive. They were having a ball.

“This is just like when you showed us the Macintosh,” Dad told me with a warm smile. That was nearly 30 years ago, in a hotel room when they were visiting me in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. They’ve kept up pretty well with computers ever since, and now it’s the iPhone.

Mom asked Siri where the best surfing is near Brooklyn, New York, where Jesse and his fiancee moved recently from L.A. I helped her take a screen shot of the list that Siri made for her, including Uncle Funky’s Boards, and she texted it to him, cackling with laughter. “He’s going to think his grandmother is loopy,” she said as she tapped on Send.

Last night, after I’d texted a photo of Mom and Dad using their iPhones to my youngest daughter, she texted back, “Oh boy! Wait till they discover FaceTime…”

There is no turning back, thank goodness. And the magic continues.

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