My Boston Commute

For over a decade, I commuted into work via traffic-ridden highways. A year ago I moved to a job in downtown Boston and have instead left the stress for the bus driver, plus a wonderful mile walk through the heart of Boston. Years ago I posted my crazy drive, now here are a few of my daily views.

I board the bus just outside my house, which immediately gets on the highway. Even with heavy traffic, my ride is less than 15 minutes.


The Boston skyline slowly comes into view. We cross the Charles River over the Zakim bridge just before my ride comes to an end.


My walk then begins in Faneuil Hall, through the financial district and toward the waterfront.




I then cross the Fort Point Channel towards the giant milk bottle, where I get to see a bit of the Atlantic and the changing tides, before I turn around to see a great view of Boston just before I arrive.



A Few Weeks With A Smartwatch


For the past year, I’ve noticed more and more moments that I wish I had a smart watch. I have followed MetaWatch and Pebble from their inceptions but always held off to see how well they really worked. Initial reviews showed they had limited features and poor integration, and rumors have been flying for months that Apple has it’s own iWatch on the way that would certainly do a better job.

After this fall’s set of Apple announcements failed to produce a watch (and I think I know why), I finally decided to give in. I decided to go with a used watch off eBay to save some money, especially in case Apple surprised us sooner than later. While Pebble is the more popular pick with its endlessly interchangeable watch faces, I went with a MetaWatch Frame, and so far I have been mostly happy with it.

I want a watch to simply be a notification extension for my phone. With a quick glance while walking, driving, or during a meeting, I can easily see if I just received an important email or just some status update. Important news alert or spam. Event reminder or text message. I don’t need or want it to do much else, and certainly don’t want battery life wasted to do the extra bells and whistles. While the Pebble only supported email (with its own mail client), Metawatch sent me an email months ago saying it supported ALL notification center alerts immediately with iOS 7, and it does so perfectly. Furthermore, the Frame is a much nicer metal with glass, not plastic case and screen like the others. It is also the thinnest, and lasts more the five days on a charge.

In fact I find I no longer miss calls and messages because while I sometimes don’t feel the phone vibrating, there is no missing the watch buzzing on my wrist. It’s not rude to quickly glance at your watch during a conversation or meeting. And frankly I love the classic low-res screen with perfect pixel fonts and Susan Kare icons. While there are many choices for layout positions, unfortunately they only offer the one watch face.


But I think I know why Apple hasn’t announced a watch yet. Everyone thinks it’s the watch’s limited battery life. That’s not a problem at all, and apple conquered that long ago with he iPod shuffle. No, the problem is the iPhone’s battery life! Despite using Bluetooth Low Energy, the phone is down 50% by mid-afternoon on a work day, where it might normally be at 85%. Not a problem during normal days when I can top it off, but no good for those longer days or traveling.

So I love the watch for workdays and my usual schedules, but there are plenty of improvements needed. I still think Apple will appease us geeks with a more perfect watch sooner or later, and I’ll be first in line for it.

Google Reader, R.I.P.

It was very sad this morning to see my most-used corner of the internet shut down. For many years, Google Reader delivered all of my web sites—all my news, information, and most knowledge—in a single steady stream. While there are many similar alternatives now, nothing quite duplicates it just yet.


Many years ago I used to visit many websites, each several times a day. Sites that would regularly post new content in short articles. Yes, blogs, but in a broader sense any news site, even forums. An incredible amount of time was wasted repeatedly checking, finding nothing new or worse figuring out where I left off to then catch up. These sites (as well as this site) all offered a way to subscribe to an RSS feed of this information. Desktop clients existed to do something with this, but rarely am I sitting on my computer at home reading. Google Reader did a spectacular yet simple job of gathering it all together and allowing me to access it—right where I left off—from anywhere.



The way I used Reader was not exactly their target, and is a big part of why many of the alternatives don’t work for me. I really wanted everything in one feed; I do not just pick the site or category I’m in the mood for and read a bit. So my configuration was essentially Unread articles from All Sites, Full articles displayed, in Reverse chronological order. I could pull it up on any computer, it would open where I left off, then I could just hit the J key to move down the list as I quickly read. The other side of things was thanks to the excellent 3rd party Reeder app on my iPad, I could download this huge feed and read it from anywhere, even without an internet connection. It would keep track and catch up later. 


Thankfully we had a few months warning of Google’s unfathomable decision. Many folks stepped in to make alternatives. Unfortunately, none of them are really complete. I gave them as much time as possible than in the last few days signed up for them ALL, even created a spreadsheet to evaluate the features. You can find a list of alternatives anywhere, but I’ll narrow things down to what I think works best for me.


First, and last, is Feedly. I don’t like it. They have differing opinions on interface and you have to work a bit to get it to work MY way. But it does work, and technically checks all the boxes. Most importantly, it is the ONLY solution with iPad apps with offline caching including Byline. This is how I used Google Reader most of the time, so despite my distaste it is my final choice, until something else presents itself.


The Old Reader is my top vote for a true replacement. No doubt because they target to almost copy Google Reader exactly, and even bring back some of its sorely missed sharing features. Unfortunately there is no app support yet. “Coming Soon.”  Similarly I also like NewsBlur, which is a bit more advanced. Digg has also made a nice effort.


The Greatest Potential award goes to AOL Reader. Their beta reader invite showed up just before midnight on July 1st. It is simple, clean, enjoyable, and works well. Right now there’s no app support. But unlike all the others, there’s a big company with money standing behind it. A company that is tired of being behind the times and laughed at. They stand to gain a lot if they continue to flush AOL Reader out and have the resources to make great apps as well. Only time will tell.


I just wish this was all a big joke from Google. Reader had millions of devoted users, and Google of all companies should have been able to find a way to make such a decent web app successful. My usage stats over the last few years went well over their 300,000 articles-read cap and I see no sign of slowing down.



Generations of Light


We’re getting closer and closer to a decent replacement to the 172-year-old incandescent light bulb! Clockwise from right is a 60 Watt incandescent, a 14 Watt non-dimmable compact fluorescent, Philips 12.5 Watt AmbientLED (2011), and Phillips’ newest 11 Watt Energy Saving LED (all 2700K “Warm White”). What you are seeing is not only an improvement in power efficiency, but also in quality of output that gets closer to original incandescent. Affordability is improving as well, as I just picked up the new Phillips at Home Depot for $13.

Phillips still leads the pack with its more expensive L-Prize Bulb (10 Watt, 940 Lumen, 92 CRI), the new more affordable (and all-white) Energy Saving bulb (11 Watt, 830 Lumen, 80 CRI), and the year-old AmbientLED (12.5 Watt, 800 Lumen, 80 CRI). The new model hides the yellow so it looks better if not hidden in a fixture; it also turns on faster and dims lower than the AmbientLED.

Others are playing catchup; Cree will soon have a 9.5 Watt 800 Lumen 80 CRI bulb it claims will also sell for $13…check out LEDs Magazine also had a recent article of what’s out there.

Update: Watch my video comparison of the new Philips and Cree bulbs here!

In addition to a challenging power supply design that can not only continue to provide DC voltage when significantly dimmed, but also duplicate that dimming on its output, the real challenge is creating a warm glow in a full sphere from a point source of cold light. White LEDs are actually purplish blue and then coated on the die with a phosphor that glows and converts that energy to multiple colors in the white spectrum, much like an old tube television converts its cathode ray to glowing points of light. What Phillips has done is separate that phosphor and place it remotely on the outside of the bulb (the new bulb still has a dome in the middle), and as a result the AmbiLED bulb looks yellow when off. Now the light is being produced by the phosphor around the outside of the bulb and has a nice even spread.

Anyway the real reason for this babbling is to show you what one of these looks like when taken apart and powered! The royal blue LEDs bathe the room in nothing but blue light, but the phosphor petals glow yellowish white on their own, even some distance from the LEDs:



This summer I started smoking…meat, that is. Earlier this year I picked up an electric smoker which allows me to not only smoke but to slow-cook food at precise low temperatures. Being electric means just typing in the temperature and walking away for several hours (well, returning occasionally to reload wood chips and check meat temperature).

I started with ribs, which came out awesome. (I used some rub from Dinosaur BBQ and sauce from The Farm) I repeated ribs again but also threw in some other meats like pork tenderloin, before finishing them on the grill.

But my favorite was smoking a whole turkey for Thanksgiving! After the Farm offered such an amazing thing many years ago, I was determined to try it myself. The skin had some kick to it, but the smokey flavor permeated throughout all the meat. Great at the dinner table, but the flavor was even better matched in the cold turkey sandwiches that I ate for a week afterwards!

Sam also made her amazing roast turkey in the oven, so we had a feast for many days. Here are the two next to each other:

Impossible Polaroids

Last week I found a Polaroid 600 instant camera in the Davis Sq. flea market. The film is not made anymore, nor are many of the chemicals needed to make it. The Impossible Project stepped in when Polaroid was shutting down, obtaining one of its old factories and equipment, and attempted to recreate the film. It’s an ongoing development as they can’t quite reproduce some of the many chemicals that are squeezed onto instant film to develop it and as a result, it is very sensitive to light, temperature, and humidity—requiring some care as soon as it is ejected from the camera. I picked up some Impossible color and black & white film this week to try it, and despite the trouble, it’s still fun!