Thursday, December 06, 2007

Tim Ferris on the reality of RTA

In response to Tim Ferris's "Claudia pens a beautiful devotional piece" comment on RTA

In August of 2006, for a variety of reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with any dissatisfaction with RTA services, I ended 9 years of daily weekday RTA commuting and rented a parking space in the Penton Media garage.

A week ago, for a variety of reasons that include yet another increase in the parking fee, a healthy dose of Green Guilt, and the realization that I need to sock away some money so I don't have to spend my retirement eating out of Dumpsters, I terminated my parking arrangement.

Having been out of the loop for more than a year, I visited the GCRTA Web site to get schedule and fare information. While there, I played around with the RTA Trip Planner.

The UI is clumsy and unfriendly, but that's beside the point. In my admittedly brief encounter I found the Trip Planner to be as effective at trip planning as Britney Spears is as a role model.

I selected Triskett station as a point of origin and the Tower City rapid transit station as a destination. Among the eight optional routes the Trip Planner presented, not one suggested actually taking the train from Triskett to Tower City. One route suggests taking the 75x bus from Triskett Station to Tower City Station. Another suggests taking the 75x from Triskett to the Madison/117th Station, and then transferring to the train.

I think the idea of the Trip Planner is cool, but at this point that feature doesn't really know the dance steps and can't seem to remember the lyrics.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Cleveland Evolution

A tenth anniversary is a significant thing, and I couldn't let a special date pass without notice.

At 4:00 PM on Friday, November 21, 1997, I slipped my time card into the clock  at Gleasel String Instruments, on the fifth floor of an ancient industrial building at East 36th and Superior, and punched out for the last time, ending a 25-year span of mostly blue collar jobs.  At 8:30 am the following Monday, November 24th, I took a seat in a cubicle on the 18th floor of what was then the Bond Court building, on 9th Street at St. Clair, and officially entered the Internet economy.

On Friday I was spraying lacquer finishes on cellos. On Monday I was writing capsule reviews and creating other Web content for one of the first online retail sites.

The unobtrusive sign on the office door said "Book Stacks Unlimited."  On the other side of that door, in small offices and cubicles, the smartest, funniest, most passionate group of people I have ever encountered spent their days hunched over computer keyboards, engaged in the various tasks necessary to keep the world's first online bookstore up and running.  I took a $6K annual pay cut to make that career change. I'll never make a better investment.

Books Stacks Unlimited began doing business as a TELNET site in '91 or '92. Connecting to Book Stacks in those early days was a have-your-modem-call-my-modem deal, with nothing on the screen but plain text. But it wasn't long before Book Stacks launched a Web site,, nearly two years ahead of Amazon.

Books Stacks was founded by Cleveland entrepreneur and Internet pioneer Charles Stack. Stack holds  three patents for e-business applications, and in 2000 was named to InfoWorld's Top-Ten E-Business Innovators, a list that included Tim Berners-Lee, the guy who pretty much invented the World Wide Web.

Book Stacks was acquired in 1996 by a big fish, which subsequently merged with another fish to form Cendant, which eventually closed  Book Stacks in November of 1999.  The URL was purchased by Barnes and Noble, but the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine still offers vestiges of the old site.

When Book Stacks closed, I was offered a job at Flashline Inc., a company Charles Stack started in 1998. I moved from the Book Stacks office on Bond Court's 18th floor to the Flashline office on the 13th floor in the same building -- along with several other people from Book Stacks. Flashline eventually outgrew the cramped quarters on the 13th floor, and moved to a larger 16th-floor suite with ten times the space. 

Charles Stack's original idea for Flashline was as an online retail site for anything that could be sold in digital form:  ebooks, music, movies, software, whatever. The focus quickly narrowed to software components, chunks of computer code that could be wired together into new applications must faster than developers could create the new code from scratch.

But Flashline continued to evolve.  What was once an online store where developers could buy and sell software components quickly became a software development company producing a product that provided its growing list of Fortune 1000 customers with the means to manage and control all of their software assets. It is with good reason that that product has been compared to an online bookstore.

The environment at Flashline was what you'd expect for a start-up -- fast and frenetic. Job titles and job descriptions didn't mean a hell of a lot -- everybody wore multiple hats, everybody worked hard, and everybody worked together. Even long after the DotCom bust, Flashline maintained the atmosphere and energy of the early Web companies. 

Flashline's flagship product eventually drew the attention of another big fish, as was the objective all along. BEA Systems, a 5000-employee Silicon Valley software company that itself began as an tiny start-up in the early days of the Web, acquired Flashline in September 2006. Most of the Flashline team, myself included, went to work for BEA, remaining in same suite on the 16th floor of what is now the Penton Media Building.  After the acquisition, the office was re-christened BEA Great Lakes Engineering, largely because the initials spell out BEAGLE.

Charles Stack, whose laurels have never done duty as seat cushions, has moved on. He's now working with two former Flashline execs, looking at investment opportunities in the next generation of Internet start-ups.

As for me, I'm now a 53-year-old geezer with grandkids, a 10-plus year veteran of a World Wide Web that evolves so quickly now that I'm beginning to question the wisdom of trying to keep up. Over this past weekend I watched the 1998 Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan romantic comedy "You've Got Mail," and couldn't help but laugh at the modem tones that announced another syrupy message exchange between the main characters. That technology seems so old now, but I suspect that in far less than another decade today's Web will seem as outdated as dial-up.

But it's the anticipation of what's coming next that keeps me hooked. I'm glad to be a part of it, and I'm especially glad that my wife found that little ad in the PD's Help Wanted section in the fall of 1997.  That ad led me into a new career and a new life, and put me in the company of some truly remarkable people, too many to mention here. It has been an extraordinary ten years, and it all happened right here in Cleveland.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

BBC NEWS | Americas | Students shot at Cleveland school

BBC NEWS | Americas | Students shot at Cleveland school: "Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson told reporters that two teenage boys and two adults had been hurt in the shooting and another girl had injured her knee."

On the heels of the shootings in Wisconsin comes the news of similar violence right here in Cleveland, just a couple of blocks from where I'm sitting right now.

Who needs Al Qaeda? We're doing a damn good job of terrorizing and killing each other without foreign intervention. Can Homeland Security protect us from ourselves?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

ABC News: Butt Pat Could Get Boys Jail Time

ABC News: Butt Pat Could Get Boys Jail Time: "Two middle-school students in Oregon are facing possible time in a juvenile jail and could have to register as sex offenders for smacking girls on the rear end at school."

As is pointed out in the ABC article and elsewhere, there's no question that what these kids did was inappropriate. But if adolescent ass-grabbing is a sex crime, 80% of the boys in the Wilbur Wright Junior High School class of 1969 -- of which I am a member -- would have criminal records. Whatever happened to detentions? Or getting slapped in the face by the grabbee?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Nation Beat @ Ingenuity 3.0

Pounding it out
Originally uploaded by Bob Rhubart
I left work a little early on Friday to walk over to Ingenuity 3.0. Got there just in time to catch the last couple of numbers by Nation Beat, a fantastic World music band, based in Brooklyn, New York.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Pope: Other Christians not true churches - Yahoo! News

Pope: Other Christians not true churches - Yahoo! News: "LORENZAGO DI CADORE, Italy - Pope Benedict XVI reasserted the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church, approving a document released Tuesday that says other Christian communities are either defective or not true churches and Catholicism provides the only true path to salvation."

Perfect! In a world already torn apart by religious sectarian conflict, the head of the Catholic church decides to turn up the heat.

No wonder Christopher Hitchens' book is doing so well.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Yucking it Up

Manohla Dargis's New York Times review of Robinson Devor's horse-on-men sex documentary "Zoo" includes this sentence:
"It is, after all, difficult to sing of the bodies electric and equine amid a chorus of 'yucks.'"
The first thing I thought of when I saw the word "yucks" was that I wouldn't have spelled it that way. I associate the word "yucks" with laughs, as in "let's get together and have a few yucks."

Given the onomatopoetic usage of the word, I somehow expected a different spelling, like "yuch" or the more Mad Magazine-like "ycch."

These days, the verbal expression of disgust is more likely to be "Eeeewwww!" or "I just threw up in my mouth" or "Oh no you dih-int!" But then, given the subject matter of the film -- a group of men in the Great Northwest who used to get together, have a few drinks, and then go out to the barn to show Trigger a really good time -- I suppose open guffawing just as likely a response.

Let's face it, however artfully crafted the film may be, however haunting its imagery, it's still about guys who enjoy being humped by horses. I don't feel the least bit unenlightened or loutish or repressed or even Republican in saying that that's just plain, freakin' weird.

So naturally I have no interest in seeing the film. I mean, I enjoy documentaries, and I'm as open-minded as they come, but I can't even imagine being interested in something this... yucky.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Author Kurt Vonnegut dies at 84 - Yahoo! News

Author Kurt Vonnegut dies at 84 - Yahoo! News: "Vonnegut, regarded by many critics as a key influence in shaping 20th-century American literature, died Wednesday at 84. He had suffered brain injuries after a recent fall at his Manhattan home, said his wife, photographer Jill Krementz."

So it goes.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Satellite Radio Combination Criticized: Financial News - Yahoo! Finance

Satellite Radio Combination Criticized: Financial News - Yahoo! Finance: "Because there will be fewer channels and programs operated by a combined monopolistic entity, there will be less demand for innovation and a fresh supply of creative new talent and material,' The Carmel Group wrote."

If I knew of an effective way to express a spit-take in words, I'd do it right now.

According to this story, the Carmel Group was hired by the National Association of Broadcasters, an organization that clearly knows something about stifiling innovation and creativity.

Give me a freakin' break.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A Second Life For Business - Second Life: Is Business Ready For Virtual Worlds?: Is Business Ready For Second Life

A Second Life For Business - Second Life: Is Business Ready For Virtual Worlds?: Is Business Ready For Second Life: "But Chris Holdren, vice president of Web services at Starwood Hotels, who oversaw the construction of a hotel in Second Life a prototype of the new Aloft brand hotels scheduled to appear in the real world in 2008 says Second Life presents enough opportunities that corporate technology leaders should pay attention to it. 'I definitely think they should learn about it and understand it,' he says. 'Whether they invest in it is a more complicated question.'"

Pay attention indeed. The Web innovations already underway will make the Dotcom revolution pale by comparison. What we once thought of as the virtual world ain't so virtual anymore, as more and more real business is conducted online. In fact, the online experience for many of these transactions is a far more desirable, in terms of convenience and efficiency, than the real deal (think about standing in line at a bank or to check in for air travel.

Somewhere in the convergence of "conventional" ecommerce and services like Second Life, something new will emerge, a truly virtual experience that will make all this typing and clicking seem like smoke signals and cave paintings.

In this new world, even more so than now, success will go to the innovators. Those innovators are already making the effort to understand the future.

Save Internet Radio! Petition

From an email from Rusty Hodge, General Manager and Program Director,

[O]nce again internet radio is facing huge additional royalties for broadcasting music. These royalties are in addition to the ones that we pay to ASCAP and BMI, and are a royalty that is only paid by internet broadcasters. Over-the-air (AM/FM) broadcasters are explicitly exempt from this royalty; it only applies to internet broadcasters and subscription music services.
The music industry never tires of demonstrating its utter cluelessness through these attempts to turn back the clock.

Don't let their idiocy ruin the future of music. Please sign the Save Internet Radio! Petition.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Scientists to save 5,000-year-old embrace - Yahoo! News

Scientists to save 5,000-year-old embrace - Yahoo! News: "In a
Valentine's Day gift to the country, scientists said they are determined to remove and preserve together the remains of a couple buried 5,000 to 6,000 years ago, their arms still wrapped around each other in an enduring embrace."


Yesterday I watched an X-File rerun entitled Field Trip, which included an overhead shot of two skeletons in an embrace -- an image that was very nearly identical to the photo in this Reuters news story.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

In Space, No One Can Hear You Go Completely Bat-Shit Crazy

And in a story about the Right Stuff gone terribly, terribly wrong:

Astronaut in bizarre kidnap plot in Florida court - Yahoo! News: "Police allege Nowak drove 950 miles from Houston to Orlando -- wearing adult diapers so she would not have to stop to urinate -- and disguised herself in a dark wig, glasses and trench coat to confront her rival, Colleen Shipman, who according to media reports is a captain in the U.S. Air Force."

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Molly Ivins dies of cancer at 62 - Yahoo! News

Molly Ivins dies of cancer at 62 - Yahoo! News: "'Naturally, when it comes to voting, we in Texas are accustomed to discerning that fine hair's-breadth worth of difference that makes one hopeless dipstick slightly less awful than the other. But it does raise the question: Why bother?' she wrote in a 2002 column about a California political race."

I love Molly Ivins' political writing. She was a loud, brassy, unabashedly liberal voice, a thoughtful, perceptive thorn in the side of pomposity. She was the Anti-Coulter. She will be missed.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Antony Bourdain on Cleveland's Roots

A quote from celebrity chef and way cool dude Anthony Bourdain, in today's PD:

"Fine dining by all accounts has definitely improved. It's that middle range [of restaurants] that I'm worried about. The guys that need to hang on are not the hot new place, but the ones who have been here all along -- the old-style Polish, German, Ukrainian, African-American places."

This comment hit home with me. While the city desperately needs to free itself from elements of its past, Cleveland's rust belt history and blue collar roots are what make it unique. Cities of the future will be become increasingly identical in their technical infrastructure and related amenities. Let's not turn our backs on the cultural roots that will distinguish this city.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Lev Gonick on Cleveland 2.0

Even in a world dominated by off-shoring to China, out-sourcing to India, supply-chain management phenoms like Wal-Mart, new in-sourcing operational logistics by players like UPS, not to mention the game changing role of the internet, the most important starting point for the Cleveland 2.0 project is to stop looking in the rear view mirror.

This message should be flashling 24/7 on every electronic billboard and DiamondVision screen in the county.