Category Archives: Culture

Fish Don’t Exist

I know, you’re thinking, of course fish exist. I have seen fish, smelled them, eaten them, maybe caught them–there is no denying that they exist. Any yet, that’s the title of Lulu Miller’s delightful book, Fish Don’t Exist which tells the story of David Starr Jordan, the founding president of Stanford University, whose mission in life as an ichthyologist was to discover every species of fish–a quest he pursued with zeal, certainty, and rigor. When the great California earthquake shatters the ethanol filled jars. He grabs a needle and thread to start connecting the labels to samples. This is a tale of American grit–or so Miller had me thinking. Yes, I was hooked from the first chapter.

Fish Don't Exist - Book cover

Miller is one of the co-creators of NPR’s marvelous Invisiblia podcast–she approaches Jordan with a journalists restless curiosity but this book is also a personal history and a reflection on our world. She covers chaos theory, reminds us of Voltaire’s critique of optimism, and the dangers of hubris. We follow her on her journey of discovery–both about Jordan and on the importance of meaningful connections. She grapples with our significance in the universe, and champions doubt to temper our impulse to be blind to the world’s complexity and bigness.

Fish Don’t Exist is one of my favorite reads of 2022.  It is one of those books that changed how I see the world and affirmed my faith in doubt.  Aren’t you wondering just a little bit about how it can be possible that fish don’t exist?  Act on that curiosity my friends.

Exploring Mexico City by Bike

As part of a family vacation I brought my Brompton SL-3 to Mexico City.

At just over 8.91 million people, It’s one of the most densely populated cities in the world, and it sprawls covering 571 square miles. It’s a great city for getting around by bike. I found dedicated bike lanes, a high tolerance for sharing the road, and cyclists of all stripes–from parents taking teenagers to school, to fixie riders and just about everything in between. The official, EcoBici bikes and docks are the ubiquitous with 452 stations offering 6,000+ bikes across the city. Dockless bikes, like Jump also dot the urban landscape.

Pedaling Mexico City

What about the experience of riding?

Mexico City consists of major thoroughfares–like Avenida de les Insurgentes–where there are several lanes of traffic going in each direction it’s a small island in the middle. These roads often feature a dedicated bus lane, which also doubles for a bike lane. These lanes are separated by very low rise dividers and unlike New York City, where bike lanes are often used for parking, in CD MX, bike lanes live up to their names.

Such lanes may sound like a luxury but they are essential given how heavy the traffic is. Mexico City ranks at 13th world wide for traffic congestion. In my experience, finding a bike lane was a pleasant, if somewhat unexpected surprise. Most of the time I rode amidst the heavy traffic along side, between and close to cars, weaving to move at a faster clip.

When traveling with family (who are yet to be persuaded about the merits of riding bikes in city traffic) I found myself in Ubers or taxis. Unlike my experience on the bike, we were always in traffic, which I then commandeered to practice my limited Spanish .The conversations went something like this.

“There is a lot of traffic.”

“Yes, always.”


“Yes, always.”

There is not only car traffic but many people making their way. While in the taxi when I looked across at the Durango metro bus stop and saw passengers waiting to board. There seem to be as many people on the bus as there are cars on the streets.

That said, the side streets are luxurious, peaceful and not congested. There is a mix of grand, classical buildings, decaying facades, green parks with flowers, and of course, dogs, every where dogs.

One other thing I did notice was that the air seemed a bit thick with fumes from cars, trucks and buses at times. Indeed, my phone reminded me that the air quality was at risk for sensitive populations. That didn’t stop me, or the cyclists of this fine city.

Note: I have had some luck stowing the Brompton the overhead but after one stern Australian bureaucrat made me run a security gauntlet a second time I opted for a bike case, thinking that now whenever I travel the bike comes with me as a checked bag. I know, it’s kind of boring but it takes the stress out of wondering if I am going to get through security.

Bike Snob Visits Consumer Reports

It’s not every day that a world renown bike blogger shows up at the office, but this week, Eben Weiss, a/k/a Bike Snob, visited Consumer Reports where I am lucky enough to work.

I’ve been following Eben’s blog for years to gain insight on any manner of things, to learn new words about bad habits I have like salmoning and shoaling, and gawk at the bikes people send him to test, like this wood frame Renovo, or a 100 year old steel steed. More and more, Eben’s been an impassioned and thoughtful advocate for all of us who tend to travel on bikes, our feet or just about anything but a car.

Alex and Eben in CR's TV Lab.

Alex and Eben in CR’s TV Lab.

Alex and Eben examine the helmet testing machine.

Just how does Consumer Reports test bike helmets? Bike Snob finds out.

Eben Weiss in CR's Anechoic chamber. Where we test all kinds of speakers.

Eben in CR’s Anechoic chamber. Where we test all kinds of speakers.

If you ever ride on two wheels, or traverse your town in anything other than a car, you would do well to read Bike Snob.



Apple watch displaying time

10 Impressions on the Apple Watch, 10 Days Later

I bought an apple sport watch, the smaller version, the day it came out, and with the help of a friend, had it shipped to me in the United Arab Emirates. Here are 10 early impressions.

  1. It’s gorgeous and well made. There’s a lot of talk about how this is a 1.0 product and how folks are waiting–but this is a 1.0 product from arguably the world’s best product development company that has been making touch screen devices for almost 10 years. If Daniel Humm makes a new dish, I’d be happy to be at the table.
  2. It reminds me of the most important things on right its face: what time is it, when is my next meeting, where is my next meeting. Added bonus: how hot is it outside (what should I wear.)
  3. Switch it to do not disturb while driving–it presents serious distractions in your line of sight.
  4. Most 3rd party apps seem immature. A happy exception is MusixMatch. Who knew that lyrics on your wrist could be so much fun.
  5. Hands free timers come in very handy while cooking. “Hey Siri, remind me to check the granola in 15 minutes,” (Related: dictation on the watch works well.)
  6. Fitness tracking provides great visuals and it’s easy enough to swipe when sweaty during a run.
  7. I spend much less time looking at my phone. The watch works well enough to let you know if you need to respond and then you can choose the tool that makes the most sense–a simple answer from the watch, a short email from your phone, or a more in depth message later. There’s too much friction for most activities, but that’s good. It promotes engagement with those around you and the real world.
  8. Sometimes notifications are delayed–I have had more than one awkward, “no, I didn’t get that text” conversation, because I missed the tap, tap, or it came an hour later.
  9. I sort of wish there were a running qualifier for messages sent from my watch–pardon the one word or emoji replies…I responded to your text using a pre-defined list of options.
  10. On nine out of 10 days, the battery did not need a recharge until it was bedtime.

More than anything, it’s a watch–and a darn good one. Have one? Want one? Waiting?


The Long, Slow Road to Work

May is bike month in New York City.  Though I commute every fair weather day with my trusty Brompton SL-2  with a serious assist from New Jersey Transit, I have been wanting to ride all the way from home to work since moving out here just over four years ago.  With the help of John Feinberg’s excellent cue sheet,  my GPS-enabled smartphone and some tired legs, I made it from Glen Ridge to Cooper Square in about two hours and forty five minutes.  (This sounds more like a marathon personal record dream time to me, than a bike ride, but I digress.)  

The route primarily traverses residential,  industrial areas and the occasional patch of nature.  Highlights include the now-defunct New York and Greenwood Lake  Short Rail, and the New Jersey Naval Museum, which is home to the USS Ling, a World War II Submarine.  I was surprised to see a loon diving for food in Leonia, and to learn that the south side of the GWB is closed to pedestrian traffic.  The north side is open, but involves what seemed like an interminable number of stairs after the 2 mile climb through Fort Lee.  I don’t think I was ever so happy to see the Hudson.  I thought of hopping on the subway at 181 Street, but savored the decline all the way down the West Side, which was all dressed up for Fleet Week

For those contemplating the trip from Glen Ridge, here’s a link to the modified cue sheet

And the Google Map.

Happy riding! 

First Reflections on Educon 2.2

Educon 2.2 is something of an un-conference.  Instead of presentations, facilitators lead conversations. The conference is hosted at the Science Leadership Academy,
a public charter school in Philadelphia, led by Chris Lehmann.  Over
500 educators from primary and secondary schools, a handful of school
administrators and higher education professionals attended.  Largely,
this group self-selects.  Many pay their own way, all give up a weekend
to be there.  It's one of the best educational gatherings that I've had
a chance to participate in.   

My head is still spinning, but
I'm going to highlight three areas:  1) the overall participatory
environment at SLA and the conference  2) Jeff Han on Multi-touch
interaction experiments and finally, 3) a conversation that I
facilitated about online teaching and learning.  

1) Students
managed all of the logistics from tech support, to checking bags to
helping people find sessions.  They also joined sessions and shared
their experiences.  That students were central to the conference
permeated all of the sessions and made the experience authentic in a
way that few conferences are. Chris Lehmann spoke about how he and his
colleagues create this community on a session he facilitated about
leadership.  I'm a bit in awe of Chris–it's great to hear about it AND
see it in action at SLA.

2) Jeff Han presented Pixel Perfect, a spin off of his "multi-touch interaction research." 

More on Jeff and his work here: 
Jeff was eager to hear from us about how we could imagine the data
visualization tool used in education.  It's worth looking at the videos
of Jeff showing how the touch screen works–but it feels like something
out of a movie, where instead of interacting through a keyboard we
manipulate data with our hands.  At a glance, one might think, oh, it's
an interactive whiteboard–but it's much, much more than that.   Many
people can be on the board at the same time, it's as sensitive as an
iPad's touch screen and it's wicked fast.  Jeff argues that we have
plenty of processing power, but that we're not making enough advances
from the interface side.  He also envisions a day when the technology
is as cheap and ubiquitous as wall paper. From an educational use
perspective, we imagined ideas for collaborative writing projects,
virtual dissections and geographic analysis, but somehow I wished that
we picked a few specific curricular contexts and started with
educational goals.  Nevertheless, it was an amazing conversation.

3) I facilitated a conversation on online teaching and learning best practices
I was struck by the deep and broad interest in online learning as a
means of both student engagement and continued professional development
for educators.  Barbara Treacy, the Director of EdTech Leaders Online
a capacity building program for K-12 organizations, among other
educators, joined in the conversation, along with other teachers who
are designing educational experiences.  Barbara posted their checklist for educators designing their own online courses  as well as basic tips for online facilitation.    Sean Musselman posted a podcast summarizing the session

I am still processing the event, but I am glad that I was able to have conversations with educators about our open Educational Technologist  opportunity, want to check out the mind map that David Warlick posted 
would like to thank all of my peers at Educon for making it such a
wonderful event, to Chris Lehmann, and the teachers, students and
parents at SLA and of course, Kristen Sosulski and the NYU-SCPS for
giving me something to talk about.

Facebook Gets Pushy with Friend Coaching

Has anyone noticed that Facebook's suggestions are becoming more aggressive? Perhaps their new tagline could be "Facebook, your digital friend coach: We help you find friends, provide guidance on how to connect with them and never let you forget a birthday."  Sometimes the reminders have a sad quality about them.  Today, I was prompted to help a friend find more friends–is there something that triggers this prompt?  FriendSuggestions


Then there are the paternal reminders, "you haven't spoken with Jack in a while, send him a message,"  Forget that Jack used to taunt me about my height in high school, "Hey Jack, what up bro?"   And then there's the seamlessly unlimited supply of friend suggestions, and despite how inane they are, I can't resist clicking on them.  I wrote earlier on the Five Phases of Facebook, and I'm still at acceptance.  I am grateful for friends tagging good reads, sharing reactions to the season finale of Dexter, or encouraging folks to support health care reform, or same sex marriage, but I remain perplexed by the stream of quizzes, and Farmville updates.  I'm also struck by the conversations that start here.  My college consitutional law classmate debating with my Parisian neighbor out here in the 'burbs.   Facebook, where worlds collide.    How's your Facebook experience these days?  Love it?  Hate it?  Can't imagine life without it?  

Classical Music Rocks: Zander Explains Why

I’m coming out of the rock and pop closet and declaring my love for classical music. Benjamin Zander, a conductor gave this talk on how classical music speaks to all of us at the Technology, Entertainment and Design Conference. He’s managed to explain how classical music is magic in a way that I’ve never heard before. This talk is as much about leadership and our shared humanity as it is about music–very much worth watching and listening too–as are the other TED talks. They are indeed “ideas worth spreading.”

Innocents Do Good

Robert Strauss, a former Peace Corps Country Director recently opined in the New York Times that “For the Peace Corps, the number of volunteers has always trumped the quality of their work, perhaps because the agency fears that an objective assessment of its impact would reveal that while volunteers generate good will for the United States, they do little or nothing to actually aid development in poor countries. The agency has no comprehensive system for self-evaluation, but rather relies heavily on personal anecdote to demonstrate its worth.” He argued that the Peace Corps sends too many recent college grads who lack the skills to do their jobs. I disagree with Strauss and wrote the following response. Other letters both agreed and disagreed with his assessment. Perhaps it’s not fair to generalize from one’s own experience–which goes for Strauss and me.

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