Google’s Gone

This is never a good sign:

Google Does Not Exist

Google Does Not Exist

At least it’s not “Google can’t be found.”  The irony would be stifling.

There are certain aspects of Verizon’s service I won’t miss, though in their defense my Internet connection has only malfunctioned once in the four years I’ve had it.

I’m the Mayor of Test – Wrong Locality

I accidentally zoomed to the wrong spot on a Google Map and ended up seeing Laramie, Wyoming.  Also: an inexplicably Asian name and a place called “Test – Wrong Locality.”

Google Maps: "Test - Wrong Locality"

Google Maps: "Test - Wrong Locality"

Laramie, Wyoming: home of Google Maps’ best test cases.

Boston Globe Fail

Most businesses I’ve called to cancel local services or change my address in preparation for moving made the process effortless.

And then I called the Boston Globe.

Jason: How can I help you?
Me: I’m moving to the other side of the country, so unfortunately I’ll need to cancel my subscription.

Jason: Do you realize that one of the advantages of your Monday to Friday subscription is the great local news coverage?
Me: I do, and I’ve enjoyed it, but since I’m moving it wouldn’t really be “local” anymore.

Jason: We’d be happy to update your delivery address.
Me: I’m moving across the country.

Jason: You could let someone else in the household take advantage of your subscription.
Me: The entire household is moving.  I really do need to just cancel the subscription.

Jason: Would it help if I offered a 25% discount?
Me: Err.. no.

I understand that businesses don’t want to let customers go without a fight, but when I open the conversation with “I’m moving,” it would save us all a lot of time and trouble if you just cut your losses and let me go. I like the paper, I’m fine with the cost, and I’m satisfied with the service.  There’s nothing for you to fix.  I’m just no longer going to be located within a thousand kilometers of your delivery area.

Making Too Much Lemonade

Katie Johnston writes in this morning’s Boston Globe on how Europe’s airport shutdowns in the wake of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano affect Boston:

Travelers’ despair aside, officials are considering the economic impact of the disruptions on Boston. Some are hoping that the loss of business from Marathon spectators who could not get here will be offset by those who can’t get out.
“Honey, I know you wanted to be home by now, but since we’re stuck here let’s at least buy some more souvenirs.”

Marathon 2010

I woke up this morning thinking, “I’m too tired and sore to get out of bed.”  Twenty-five thousand other people got up and thought, “Maybe I’ll run 26.2 miles today.”  The Boston Marathon started in 1897 and happened today for the 114th time.

I (of course) find the logistics of coordinating a marathon as fascinating as someone who’s capable of running in one.  Look at the precision:

Water distribution near Cleveland Circle

The supply list for each water station includes “Cardboard (23×36), 128 pieces” and I absolutely cannot figure out what they’d use that many pieces of cardboard for.  It also includes two shovels, six rakes, and 12 “Gatorade stirrers.”  And, inevitably, four rolls of duct tape.  You can’t do anything without duct tape.

The marathon brings out some local color in all parts of the region.  I caught this pair of bananas being chased by a gorilla toward the end of the race, for example:

Gorilla chasing bananas

Gorilla chasing bananas

But I’ve always been particularly intrigued by the women of Wellesley College.  They traditionally line the route alongside the College, screaming so loudly that their segment of the course is dubbed the “scream tunnel.”  They also offer kisses to the passing runners.

This pair of photographs comes from the Boston Globe:

Kiss a First Year

Kiss a First Year

Kiss a Senior

Kiss a Senior

Notice that “I’m a senior” and “I’m a first year” are both given as added incentives for stopping for a kiss.  Sophomores and juniors are, perhaps, less skilled kissers.  One sign this year read, “I Majored in Kissing.”  Another advertised (and here we step up a few notches on the “disturbing” scale), “I won’t tell your wife.”

It’s easy at first to see the creepy side of this tradition.  Middle-aged men essentially pause in the middle of a race to take advantage of the fact that they do not ordinarily get to kiss 18 year-old women.  And we know from OkTrends that they want to.

But that overlooks why spectators gather for this marathon in general: to encourage these runners who are testing the limits of their own endurance — sometimes beyond the breaking point. And it’s not just a poetic ideal.  Fans shout encouragement to each individual. Many runners write their names on their clothes just to hear thousands of people shout them along the way. Imagine at mile 22 feeling like you can’t possibly take another step only to have a complete stranger start jogging along side you and shouting with the crowd, “Let’s hear it for Sarah!  Come on, Sarah!  You’re almost there!  It’s all downhill now!” I’ve seen it happen.

Twenty-five thousand people run in the Boston Marathon.  Half a million people come to cheer them on.  Volunteers hand out cups of water and clear the streets with their rakes, shovels, and duct tape.  Locals put on absurd costumes to make everyone laugh. Bands perform in the street to make everyone dance. And at Wellesley, the students cheer on the athletes so emphatically that runners actually have to remember to pace themselves through the tunnel.

A couple years ago, Adidas (one of the event’s sponsors) ran ads that showed a bib number along with that runner’s “reason for running.”  One said simply “To hear the Wellesley scream.”  My absolute favorite read:

My muscles were screaming, but the fans were screaming louder.

And if that isn’t enough, you can even stop for a kiss.

Welcome to Verizon

In preparation for moving, I needed to cancel my Verizon DSL account.  Naturally, I Googled “cancel Verizon DSL” to get instructions, and the first page of results is filled not with information from Verizon, but with horror stories.  That’s never a good sign.

Sighing, I searched “cancel” in Verizon’s help system and immediately got the 800 number to call — so far, one click.  I called. After a few quick voice prompts, I got transferred to Kelly: an agent working in a United States call center, who already knew the phone number I had given the computer earlier (which isn’t the case in some call centers).

Kelly: How can I help you?

Me: I’m moving, so I need to cancel my service.

Kelly: Do you need to transfer your service to another address?

Me: No.

Kelly: You have a two-year contract, so there’ll be a $99 early termination fee.

Me: Yep; I expected that.

Kelly: Okay.  We’ll turn off your service on Wednesday.  Is there anything else I can help you with?

Me: Nope.  Have a nice day!

Start to finish, the call was under six minutes.

I struggle to see how that could possibly have gone any better.  Either Google lied to me through ranting, or whatever problems Verizon once had are fixed.


I just stumbled onto OkTrends: the official blog of the free dating site OkCupid.

OkCupid asks members to answer questions that other members have written, and uses the answers to find good matches.  Because anybody can write a question, the topics are not limited to smoking preferences and pet ownership, but cover the entire range of human activity.  Have you been in prison?  Would you prefer to go to a movie or a musical?  How often do you shower?  Do you like trying new foods?  Should flag-burning be illegal?

The OkTrends blog studies this trove of data in the aggregate to derive some fascinating conclusions about dating in general and our society as a whole.

Consider The Case for An Older Woman. We see here, for example, what ages men prefer their partner to be.

From OkTrends

Based on their “allowable match” settings, men are perpetually okay with women a little older, but are reluctant to give up on dating a young woman.

More importantly, the heat map shows whom men are actually contacting, with green areas indicating lots of messages.  A 30 year-old man will say he’d only date someone 22 or older, but he “spends as much time messaging teenage girls as he does women his own age.”

Read the full article to see how women’s preferences compare.

OkTrends also translates data into practical advice for finding a match.  For example, see Exactly What to Say in a First Message.

It’s heartening to see that messages with “netspeak” (like “ur” and “ya”) tend to elicit responses less than 10% of the time, compared to an overall average response rate of 32%.  The word “sexy” also discourages replies, while non-physical compliments like “fascinating” encourages them.  “Atheist” gets answers, but “God” does not.  And discussion of specific interests (“vegetarian” or “zombie”) goes a long way.

Finally, the blog dissects some of the implications of its data for our society at large, in posts like The Democrats are Doomed, or How a “Big Tent” Can be Too Big.

Economic vs. Social Beliefs (from OkTrends)

Economic vs. Social Beliefs

I like in particular this depiction of social vs. economic beliefs.  Perhaps we lose sight of our ideals as we get older?

Some of these broader conclusions suffer from the flaw that we can see only a snapshot in time.  People who are 50 today grew up under different conditions than people who are 20 today, and may favor their economic beliefs (for example) for reasons other than their age.  It’s fascinating either way.

Even though I’ll never need an online dating site again (nor any other form of dating, for that matter), I’ve still subscribed to this blog.


Boston Ballet’s Melissa Hough first caught my attention at this time last year when she danced the part of Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty. Tonight, I had the pleasure of seeing her in the title role of the ballet’s current production, Coppélia.

Her dancing was beautiful, elegant, and precise; her acting emotional and engaging; and her smile addictive. She made the show.  And that’s saying an awful lot, given the talent and character of everyone on stage, in the orchestra, and behind the scenes of this performance.

Coppélia is the story of a girl, Swanhilde, who loves a boy who finds himself flirting from afar with someone else — someone who turns out to be just a life-sized doll atop the balcony of a toymaker’s workshop.  Swanhilde (Hough) sneaks into the workshop, puts on the doll’s clothes, and simultaneously tricks the poor dollmaker into thinking his beloved creation has come to life while showing her beau how foolish he was to think the doll was a real girl.

The story is delightful and Boston Ballet tells it perfectly with beautiful sets and costumes, devine music, and most importantly, the best dancing this side of imagination. This was one of the best performances I’ve seen of any sort in quite some time.

Coppélia continues through April 18. I suggest you try it yourself.