Wenceslas Square Google Street View happy discovery of the day — September 24, 2010

Wenceslas Square Google Street View happy discovery of the day

Years ago I went to Prague by myself and took a lot of (in retrospect very earnest and juvenile) notes in a diary. I remember very clearly being overwhelmed as I sat on the steps of the National Museum: in front of me was a very simple memorial to Jan Palach, who had committed suicide by lighting himself on fire in front of the Museum. The memorial was a tattered wooden cross embedded in the cobblestones on the street. Right across the street from the memorial … is a McDonald’s. My brain couldn’t handle the dissonance, and even now I get a little sick thinking of it.

I decided to see if both these details were in Google Street View. Indeed they are. Check out the Palach memorial, then turn about 45 degrees to your left.

The simplicity and solemnity of the one, against the ugliness and plasticity of the other, is haunting to me in a way that few other things are.

Barack Obama…for state senate! — June 22, 2010

Barack Obama…for state senate!

Back when I was in college (Carnegie Mellon class of 2000), a friend who was attending the University of Chicago gave me a placard that was posted hither and thither on Chicago’s South Side: a dorky-faced guy with a ridiculously toothy grin smiling out at us. It read

“Barack Obama

for state senate”

My buddy Josh and I thought this was hilarious. Over the years, we turned the guy on the placard into a superhero. We’d be studying for one hard exam or another and would say to one another, “You know who could ace the piss out of this test right now?” The other would respond, “*Barack Obama!*” to which the first would respond, inevitably, “…*for state senate!*” Or we’d be at the gym: “Man, these weights are *tough*! … Know who could lift them without breaking a sweat?” “*Barack Obama!*” “…*for state senate!*”

The years go by. It’s 2004. There’s a dude up on the stage at the Democratic National Convention who’s making everyone ask, “Why do I have to vote for Kerry? Why can’t I vote for this guy?” Josh and I called one another: “Uh … dude, do you see who’s on stage right now?” It was surreal.

It’s still surreal. Every few months it occurs to me afresh that Josh and I were making this obscure local politician the punchline of a joke probably a decade before he became president of the United States. Bizarre.

Google to acquire my former employer for $1 billion? — April 21, 2010

Google to acquire my former employer for $1 billion?

If so, then holy fucking shit. Seriously.

A while back, I mentioned that Google was now in the business of giving multimodal travel directions: MBTA, say, to mass-transit system to mass-transit system to Amtrak. I mentioned that it would only be a matter of time before they’d connect up to airlines, etc.

What I didn’t mention there, but have always believed, is that the airline piece is something that only ITA could handle. They’ve been working on the problem of finding the cheapest flight between two cities for their entire history; if Google wanted to add airlines to its route-finding software, it would either have to reinvent what ITA did, or acquire ITA. Given that it took ITA the better part of a decade, and a team of the smartest people you could find, to solve this problem, it’s always been obvious that Google would acquire ITA rather than build this technology itself. If Google is planning to add air travel to its route-finding software, it follows that they’d have to acquire ITA.

ITA is sitting on the best kind of monopoly you can hope for: they’ve solved a problem that no one else can solve. They deserve any success that comes their way. And they can name their price if Google comes knocking. If Google decides not to buy, but they want to add air travel to their software, they’ll have to spend at least five years trying to do it. They’ll probably have to poach large numbers of ITA employees. They’ll need to hire people away from the airlines themselves. I’m no business strategist, but it certainly seems like ITA has them over a barrel here.

I, for one, bow deeply in the direction of ITA’s headquarters on Portland Street in Cambridge. If this works out the way it’s looking, then congratu-fucking-lations to you folks.

I’m still kind of in shock, even though this all makes perfect sense.

Reasons to maybe not feel entirely confident when flying Bahamasair — April 3, 2010

Reasons to maybe not feel entirely confident when flying Bahamasair

Stephanie’s and my Bahamasair flight from Stella Maris to Nassau was half an hour late yesterday (I’ve decided to use the phrase “Bahamian efficiency” from now on), so I had time to examine the airline’s new statement of principles on the check-in room’s wall. Their principles, in order, are

* Safety
* Security
* Regulatory compliance
* Quality

A few paragraphs down, the airline affirms that these are their principles, *regardless of how the airline behaved in the past*.

First of all, you have to arch your eyebrow a little bit at the presence of “regulatory compliance” in that list. I have a number of principles, which I adhere to inconsistently, but “abiding by the law” is one that I don’t feel it necessary to list; I take that one for granted.

Secondly, the regardless-of-the-past clause seems like the sort of thing you write while walking away from the smoking hulk of one of your aircraft. “Fresh start,” you say to yourself while dusting the soot off your clothing and bandaging your bloody calves. “Yessir, Bahamasair is a *new company*, starting right now … not that we had much choice, given that our only plane is disappearing beneath the North Atlantic even as we speak. STILL, though! New company. Yep.”

We made it back to Nassau in one piece. I’m pretty sure the Stella Maris-to-Nassau plane was the smallest such vehicle I’ve ever traveled on: I had to fold my body in half to fit under the ceiling on the way to my seat. If you’re a ten-year-old child, though, you will have no problem at all flying in a Bahamasair plane.

(I wish the Bahamasair principles document were on the web, but it sadly appears not to be.)

Things I am going to do/buy if I convert to full-time at work — February 26, 2010
A long weekend’s journey into Sunday evening — February 7, 2010

A long weekend’s journey into Sunday evening

It was a long, stressful (but exhilarating) month at HubSpot, and everything wrapped up last week. So I was looking forward to this weekend to recharge my batteries a bit.

It didn’t quite work out that way. First of all, my body took the end of the one-month development cycle, with its stress and sleeplessness and lack of exercise and not-entirely-awesome diet, as an excuse to finally collapse. The cold started on Thursday, built a head of steam on Friday, and really pummeled me on Saturday.

I couldn’t do what I wanted on Saturday, because I had to help my lovely girlfriend move her stuff from one place to another — including beds, dressers, etc. We moved all that stuff *out* of the old place yesterday, and moved it all *in* to the new place today. Normally I’d have plenty of energy for that sort of thing, but the cold took it all out of me after a few hours of work.

I took the 1:30 train back to Cambridge and planned my relaxation. Central to it was a hot toddy. Also a bed. Other than those two things, most was negotiable.

A few hours later, and here I am: pajamas on, in bed, toddy balanced on my sternum, cats both within reach, and nothing I’ll need for the next 15 hours anywhere outside a three-foot radius. The toddy has already worked its warming magic. Life … is good.