"maybe it's 'cuz 'cuz
we're all gonna die die"

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Google Maps as madeleine

Google Maps screenshots: I used to live here
Google Maps screenshots: I used to live here
These are the low-level aerial view and the "Street View", from Google Maps, of the area around S. Wilson St. and W. 1st St., in Tempe, AZ. I lived here, in a rickety old house with holes in the floor, for a little over a year, in 1994 and 1995. Not only was there a swamp cooler instead of an air conditioner, there wasn't even a foundation; it stood on -- I kid you not -- a bunch of cinderblocks. How this is physically possible, I'm not really sure, but I am telling you what I saw. There was also a little stand of bamboo in the front that surrounded the stairs to the screened-in porch. Out back was a mesquite tree under which I put an ancient folding table, salvaged from someplace, and a chair found in the trash, and I used this as a writing spot almost every day for a year. Behind that was a seven-foot cinder-block wall, which hid the slow, slow freight trains from view. There was a little cat-door in the wall, consisting of a hole someone had sawed in the boards and a thick piece of transparent plastic nailed over it. Once when I locked myself out I actually managed to squeeze through this thing. I was thinner then. I occupied the house with a rather motley crew of college students, restaurant employees, and heroin addicts, plus a varying number of cats, several of whom died while I lived there. Periodically the landlords would come and flood the entire property with water from a garden hose in the vain hopes of creating a lawn, but the only result was that for the week that followed we would be plagued with mosquitos.

Anyhow, sort of in response to this post from Alan Levine, I idly surfed to Google Maps and had a look at the address from these two vantage points. It's unmistakable, as you surely can see for yourself: the house is gone. It's just dirt, with a couple of containers parked there. Who knows how old these photos are, but I'm guessing they're from this summer. Google Street View seems to get the expensive neighborhoods first, so maybe this area is up-and-coming. Probably a little Web research would tell me, but frankly I don't care. It reminds me of when, about a year and a half ago, my brother sent me this article, then already nine years old, about the closing of one of the shitty old biker bars I used to hang out in, a place called "Six East."

That's it. I felt sick suddenly in my gut seeing this. I don't know why. I didn't love the place. I didn't, and don't, love Arizona. I did a lot of things in that house I'm not particularly proud to remember. But it's weird turning on my computer and seeing that it's in the process of being swallowed up by condo properties, with expensive cars parked on the dirt lots instead of the ancient Subarus that seemed ubiquitous in the Phoenix suburbs in those days. It makes me me sad and angry at the same time, for no good reason. Well, good night, Arizona, and good night, everyone.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The verdict on Utterz.com

Okay, I can officially say: Utterz is amazing. It is a complete mobile blogging platform, and it's very easy and intuitive to use. Using a phone, you can post audio clips, video, photos, or text messages to their site, which, if you wish, then get cross-posted to a variety of other services. Simple. Call their number and leave a message, and it gets posted. Send a photo, video, or text via email, and it gets posted. Here are the features I especially like:

  • Combining voice and multimedia. You can call in and leave a five-minute voice message, then hang up, then send in a photo, video, or text. If you do so within ten minutes or so, your audio and multimedia posts are combined into one "Utter." This is cool. It also has the added benefit of allowing you to give real titles to your voice posts that will show up in a feed or blog (rather than just "Mobile post" or something like that). Not complicated, but it's a feature I've never seen before and it thoughtfully and simply solves an irritating problem.
  • Versatile cross-posting. You can set up any number of "connections" to external sites in your profile. Yes, this means you can set up multiple Blogger blogs; multiple LiveJournal blogs; Twitter; Facebook; Tumblr; whatever; plus several customizable Flash widgets for other sites. You can designate each connection as an "auto-posting" destination or not. When you phone in a post, you have a range of options. You can auto-post to the Utterz site and whatever connections you've designated as auto-post destinations (for me, that's Twitter -- every Utter post goes to Twitter as well). Or you can post to all your sites. Or -- and this is the feature that really makes it a complete platform, in my opinion -- you can have the phone interface read you the names of each connection you've created, one at a time, and you can choose whether to post there or not. This means I can set up Utterz connections to five different blogs plus Twitter, and every time I phone in I can post to a different one. That is handy.
What's missing?
  • An easy way to post from multiple phone numbers. I'd like to be able to phone in a post from any phone and to log in somehow using my regular mobile phone number plus a PIN. Maybe you can do this somehow already but so far I haven't figured it out. This would be great for those of us who are parsimonious about cell phone plan minutes.
  • Better on-site documentation. That's probably on its way. From the way the "connections" set-up looks, it appears there might a way to send in an Utter via email (i.e., a video, text, or photo) and include a keyword to control which connection it's posted to without needing to make a phone call at all. This would be cool, but I don't see how to do it at the moment. It might even be possible to bypass the long phone menus using simple voice shortcuts (e.g., "Where do you want to post this Utter?" "New Findings" -- rather than "Press one to post to New Findings, press two to skip").
  • Very minor: I'd like customizable posting templates. Mainly relevant for Twitter. This could be kind of like Twitterfeed's "Preface each tweet with..." option.
Anyhow ... that's my quick take. A really well-thought-out service -- it does what you want, and it does it without a lot of hassle. It's fun, besides, and there's a very cool little community that has grown up around it. I actually used Utterz to "live-blog" (if that's the right word) my ten-month-old daughter's recent surgery and recovery, since I was spending most of my time at the hospital, didn't have access to a computer, and wanted to keep the rest of the family updated on her status. I got a lot of comments and support, and then there was this ... Amazing, huh? It actually makes me feel a little guilty about not using the site more since Talia came home a week and a half ago. But now that I have a clearer sense of what it can do, I probably will be using it pretty regularly. Here's some links:
  • me on Utterz
  • sample Utter at Utterz.com
  • sample cross-posted tweet (they keep changing the format of these; this is a recent one)
  • sample video cross-post at Blogger (previous post on this blog)
  • sample photo cross-post at Blogger
  • sample video cross-post at Wordpress.com (Wordpress.com is fussy about Flash, so there's just an image-only link; maybe someday they'll add support for Utterz, though)

Just a test of cross-posting

Nothing here to see... Mobile post sent by nathan using Utterz Replies.  mp3

Verizon redirecting navigation errors to its own search service

Verizon redirecting navigation errors to its own search service, posted by Nathan Rein on 6th November, 2007.
I have Verizon FiOS (which I like) and live in southeast Pennsylvania (a little less than an hour from Philadelphia). The other day I mistyped a URL into the address bar and got a screen like the top one here instead of a browser error message. First time I'd ever seen something like that.

Chris Messina recently Twittered about this. He linked to a blog post which linked to an article that described the phenomenon. Seems like a pretty clear net neutrality violation to me. It kind of creeps me out. I guess it shouldn't come as a big surprise though.