Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016 Year in Review

I didn't post one damned thing in 2016. Sometimes you're too busy living life to write it down. But this has been a very important year for me. And scrolling back through the facebooks and instagrams has shown me just how little of the important things have been actually captured. I suppose that I always understood how fleeting social media was, but it didn't really hit me how little of what I had been sharing is actually preserved in any meaningful way. (More on that at the very end of this piece.)

So, for 2016's one and only post, I'll try and give a synopsis of what has been one of the most meaningful, wonderful, sometimes difficult, but ultimately the best year of my life... so far...

I started out the year with some serious skiing in January--a sport my girlfriend introduced me to just this last winter...
The lodge is the most important aspect of skiing.
In February, I prepared for my second nose surgery, which was ultimately very successful in returning me to nearly normal status for the first time in 5 years. How did I prepare? By shaving my beard off, ensuring that doctors would think they were operating on the wrong patient.
These are the turbinates you're looking for...
Of course, it didn't feel successful at the time....
In March, I renovated the kitchen in preparation for adventures to come...
Stainless Steel, complete with functional oven light. 
On opening day, April 8th, I drove past the site of the old Tiger Stadium and snapped a photo on my way into the office:
Opening Day in Detroit is a sacred holiday
In the spring as my girlfriend, Stephanie, and I walked Royal Oak, we paid tribute to one of the many celebrities we lost in 2016.
Contrary to popular opinion, I do *not* hate the fuckin' Eag;es, man. 
Other highlights of the spring include visiting a hotel apparently housing a school for mutants.
The Danger Room is around here somewhere...
Summer is finally here, and Stephanie and I start hitting the carnival circuit. Her first prize of the year:
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His name is Steve.
I got to visit with some old friends:
Coincidentally, his name is NOT Steve. But he calls everyone Steve.
Spent a little time on Captain Jacob's boat on Lake St. Claire.
I'm on a BOAT!
I got bike Belle Isle with my Dad on  Father's Day
He's faster than me
In June, I joined Stephanie's family for Sam and Joanna's wedding out in Grand Rapids.
Behold perfect execution of the parade wave
I'm told that I show well...
We spent a lot of time in and around Campus Martius this summer.
This is what we call "foreshadowing"
We got to celebrate Stephanie's birthday and the birth of our nation at the same time:
Happy Birthday!
The end of July marked Maker Faire, and I got to go spend time with my former colleagues at The Henry Ford.
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The first piece of my Iron Man armor in testing...
The Insane Inflatable 5k didn't claim either of us, but I did watch one poor woman totally break her leg. Who knew adult bounce houses were so dangerous.
Behind us is the obstacle they ended up removing because of the danger it posed. 

Seen here without a broken leg

Aunt Vita came up and we got almost all of the cousins into one picture. Only Ashley was missing.
Image may contain: 10 people, people smiling, people standing
Ashley! Where are you?
I got to hang with Dino quite a bit this year. This is at his little brother Teddy's baptism. He has started calling me Uncle Eric, which just makes me giddy. 
He's my buddy
At some point "My new job", just became "my job", and we continued to thrive, working with some of the smartest people I know.
Probably capturing a moment where a very good idea was had
Then the important stuff started happening...

I took Stephanie for a bike ride on Belle Isle...
Renaissance, indeed
Later that evening, we returned downtown for drinks and dinner. After a stop in at The Keep, as we strolled through Campus Martius on the way to Roast for dinner, I asked Stephanie to marry me, and she said yes.

He did NOT go to Jared

We told only a few close family and friends, to keep the phones from blowing up, and spent the rest of the night on the town. Henceforth in this post she will be referred to as "My fiancee, Stephanie," and no longer "My girlfriend, Stephanie".
We're not leaving Greektown until we get something from Astoria
The first thing I did? Get a new ride, which one friend suggests "Now that looks like a vehicle a man could put a carseat in". 
Relax about the carseats, we've only been engaged 5 days

We took the Jeep on a little road trip. I can be seen here celebrating with a very tiny bottle of champagne:

Or perhaps I am a giant

After the engagement, Stephanie's father asked us to gather both families for dinner in order to celebrate. It was perhaps one of the happiest moments of my life so far.
My dad, Ed; Stephanie's dad, Teddy; and myself
My mom, and soon to be mother-in-law. They could be sisters.
Me, Stephanie, and her grandmother and God-parents
Lisa and Dad, Me, and Ted

We scouted some locations for the wedding, and settled on my former place of work, The Henry Ford.
Lovett Hall, people. Not under the DC-3

September arrives, and brings with it the fall harvest from the garden:
This is all basil. Pesto time.
Roma Tomatoes
Cucumber and sweet hungarian peppers
Things are moving fast now that I'm engaged. I begin the work of prepping the house I've lived in for 15 years for sale.

Let the Purge begin!
No ladder needed for ceiling paint

Stephanie and I met up with my old friend Eileen to run a 5k sponsored by the Atwater Brewery downtown.

This is clearly BEFORE the race
U-S-A! U-S-A! In all fairness, Eileen is usually repping the USA in European races
After the race with some dear old friends and professors from Eileen and my days at U of M

As autumn approaches, I take some photos of my oasis - my backyard, garden, pool, and patio. I'm not terribly nostalgic by nature, but I do love personal histories. And I want to remember this place.

Lots of happy summers were spent here
Food. Sunshine. Wine. 

Shaun German got married! And for his bachelor party, we crushed a massive Call of Duty Tournament.

It was rigged.
Meanwhile, at the Den, the Purge kicks into high gear:
You can throw away your whole house!
We got invited to join Stephanie's Sister and Brother-in-Law at their home. The Road Devils put on one hell of a car show.
Swing by for a "little gathering"
Finally, Shaun's wedding day arrives. The German family is on the move!
You can dress them up, but you can't take them anywhere.
It's October now, so me and the boys at Groundwork0 head off to annual pilgrimage to TEDx Detroit.
On foot. Because we can.
Unseasonably warm weather let us pack up the kayaks on the Jeep and hit the Huron River.
It looks even better with kayaks on the roof.
The morning started brisk, but it was in the 70's by mid-day

Stephanie's sisters had a piece in an exhibit in the DIA

We're nearing the holidays, and the house is really shaping up
The music room
The upstairs bedroom
The kitchen

Ella is chill with all the house activities, as long as we don't mess with her spot

The best dog that ever dogged.

Stephanie is ably handling all of the wedding plans (of course!). We need to get some photos together for our Save-the-Date notices. We call up my old friend and former neighbor Josh to meet us in Plymouth. He does an AMAZING job.

We're outta here

She makes me laugh every day
This is look she gives me right before she says "You little shit."
This is the look I get when I see someone walking a puppy nearby

All this "life-on-the-move" takes a toll on my though, I end up with a tweaked Achilles and end up in a boot for a while until it heals.

Sweet kicks, bro
The holidays are upon us, and Stephanie and I decide to "make just one pass" at houses listed for sale until January. Of course, the second house we look at is totally "the one". We make an offer. It's accepted. Game on!

Soon to be Home Sweet Home
But for the time being, my little place in Redford is still home for the holidays, and it gets treated with the proper respect it deserves.

Stephanie and I went down to the end of the street and picked out a Christmas Tree for me.

Dairy Whip Tree Lot. Hoping for a White Christmas soon!

I'm dreaming of a White Christmas

Did I mention that Stephanie is on top of all the wedding plans? Venue, Church, all the details are in place. That woman is amazing. And we even managed to get a preview of the church we're going to be married in when her cousin got married in a gorgeous winter wedding. 

Almost enough gold leaf for my Greek Orthodox side
Stephanie's Great Grandfather's name is in the stained glass. This is the right place.
The reception had a photo booth.

At Christmas dinner, my cousins Mark and Libby surprised us with a tremendous honor: They asked Stephanie and I to be God-parents to their first born, Luna Lucille. 

The Godfather (and Godmother)
Simich Family Christmas

At the Lentine Christmas dinner, the kids were treated to a visit from Santa. 

Totally 100% the actual Kris Kringle
2016 was very good to me, but it did deliver one very difficult blow. Ella, my beloved 14 year-old Chocolate Labrador was found to have very late stage kidney failure at her annual checkup. She went from the happy playful girl I knew to lethargic in a matter of days. I lost her not long after the diagnosis, the day after Christmas.  

The. Best. Dog. Ever.

The. Best. Babysitter. Ever.
The. Best. Lifeguard. Ever.
The. Best. Friend. Ever.

So why did I want to catalog this in a giant blog post, nobody is going to read? Well, first, the aforementioned inability to review my year via all the places I thought I was saving, publishing, and giving these things context. The second was this: just this week I had to help Mom clean up her basement from a failed sump pump. Mercifully, the basement wasn't finished, so there wasn't much damage. However, we did manage to narrowly save some documents we didn't even know were in the basement (or existed, for that matter). We found a treasure trove of official correspondence between my great grandfather and a congressman from Illinois, plane tickets, marriage certificates, applications for visas, and letters detailing the immigration of my grandparents, mother and aunt to the United States. 

Application for Immigrant visa for my mom and her family
My Great-Grandparents Marriage License to get my great-grandmother back into the U.S.  Possibly they were visiting Yugoslavia to attend my Grandparents wedding in 1950.

My Grandfather apparently didn't like doctors, even then.

There before me, in a dusty old trunk, was The Immigrant Story that's been told a thousand times over in America. In glorious old typewritten pages, or teletyped telegrams. I suddenly felt how ephemeral and absent my own story was this year--a year so monumentally important that I want to share someday with my children and grandchildren. Hopefully, someday, one of them discovers this very post and gets some sense for the kind of people Stephanie and I were and the life we led here at the beginning of our journey to starting our own family. If they do, I hope they understand that they came from a pretty impressive lineage of courage, smarts, hard work, and a commitment to family from both sides of their family tree. I sincerely hope those virtues have been instilled in you, and if they have, I hope you pass them on.  

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Why Daylight Savings Time is a Very Good Thing.

OK, daylight savings time is not about the "spring-forward" or "fall-back" days that mildly inconvenience us. I love DST, and here's why:

It's about getting the sun to rise somewhere between 5 AM and 7 AM year round, as best as possible, in every given time zone.

Without it, here in Detroit, we'd have a sunrise on June 21st at 4:55 AM. That's a lot of wasted daylight, but it's not the worst thing in the world. However, we're on the forgiving western edge of a timezone. On the other side of the Eastern Time Zone, Bangor Maine would have a 3:49 AM sunrise on June 21st. Let's all accept this as unacceptable and move along.

So why not just go to DST all year round you might ask?

We on the western edge of a timezone would suffer the most! Over on the east edge of the timezone (Bangor, again), on the solstice, they'd get an 8:00 AM start, and sunset at 4:54 PM. They can muddle through that, I suppose. However, on the western edge, like Detroit, if we were under DST all year, we'd have our latest sunrise (interestingly enough, NOT on the winter solstice) in early January around 9:01 AM, and sunset at 5:59.

Anyone want to be at their desks for an hour BEFORE the sun comes up?

Thus concludes my arguments for the merits of inconveniencing ourselves two days out of the year, to not suffer what would feel like an intolerable timeshift in our circadian rhythms for months on end around the solstices.

Rest easy. Fall back. You're welcome

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Retrospective on a retrospective

I wrote this post 7 years ago in a facebook feature so old that its now deprecated.

I'm posting here for two reasons: it's still relevant and I don't want to lose it.


We've been summoning up the imagery from 9/11/2001 so often over the past seven years, that the events of that day become a sort of abstract reference to itself. Speeches honoring the victims and heroes each year draw us ever further from the visceral experience of that day. 

Of course we've been hearing all about it today, and mostly it just sort of hung around in the back of my head all day, without much impact on me, and certainly no more than any of the previous 5 anniversaries of that day.

I was in class late tonight, so I haven't been around the house much. I walked outside to let the dog back in, and an airplane passed overhead. Then the real memories of September 11th flooded back to me.

I remember around this time of night seven years ago, after a day of silent skies, the first aircraft I had heard in the sky all night were fighter jets flying over my house. I remember first how odd the silence had been all evening (I live under a pretty crowded flight corridor into Metro). Next I remember how the sound startled me, and the image of a flight of fighters overhead, protecting me from who-knows-what, stunned me. 

I remember spending the day worrying about friends in New York and Washington. I remember my relief as their phone calls and e-mails came through to me to tell me they were alright. 

I remember how badly my yearning that day was to simply *not be alone*.

But most of all, I remember how uncertain I felt at that moment about our future, as a nation, as a people, and as a specie. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Libertarian's take on the Detroit Water Project

I recently had dinner with a good friend, who, as it happens, is a fairly staunch liberal. He made a joke at some point in the evening about me being "a conservative." Of course, my political leanings are towards libertarian more than anything else, so to highlight the difference, I explained that he and I shared the same end goals, politically: I'm pro-choice, egalitarian, and against corporatism. I dislike military adventurism. I support equal work for equal pay. So on and so forth.

"The only difference between us", I went on, "is that you think the way to achieve all of these goals, is through government".

In the minds of my more progressive friends, their default instinct to solve any problem is a simple three step process:
1) Voting your conscience is just as good as acting upon it.
2) Tax "the rich"
3) Government will handle the rest.

They're happy to let government act as a proxy for them, allowing someone else to do the work (government programs), and someone else to pay for it (the apocryphal "rich".)

It's not that I think that government doesn't have a good and proper role in our lives, it's only that I feel like it should be our absolute last resort. It's never efficient, rarely effective, and frequently unintentionally harmful. It's best left to those roles that can't be filled by any other form of collective action. And thanks to the internet, there are new forms of collective action taking shape every day to step in. Problems that 25 years ago were only solvable by large monolithic institutions, like corporations or governments, are now solvable through ad-hoc collective action, organizing people via new technology.

Which brings us to the Detroit Water Project.

Here is a true grassroots movement, started by web developer Tiffani Bell and designer Kristy Tillman, to do one simple thing: when the city started shutting off water to homes who were delinquent in their water payments, they stepped in to match willing donors to accounts that were in arrears. Today, my pledge was matched with an overdue account that I could pay off directly for someone in need that I didn't personally know. This is a logistical lift that would have been impossible to recruit for, and impossible to coordinate before the internet. The Detroit Water Project isn't an organization or a foundation. It simply coordinated people who wanted to help, with their own cash, with accounts that needed paying, directly. It's ad-hoc, and low-overhead. Most importantly, the bills got paid, so the people in need are cared for, and the water company got it's due. All parties are satisfied without having an outside authority step in and pick a winner and a loser.

It's important not to overlook the marvel that this is: it's not any form of institution that existed before the internet; it's not a corporation, a church, a government, or a non-profit. It's just a pop-up phenomenon, led by two people who cared enough to gather other caring people to them, and pointed them at the people who needed their help. For the first time in human history, this kind of charity is truly scalable.

This project is a model for the kinds of solutions that are possible in the 21st century--solutions that go beyond the "government vs. corporations" left-right mentality that taints our political discourse, and distorts our options to collectively solve the problems that our society faces. This kind of collective action keeps us directly involved, but still scales to levels that allow real change and broad effect. So few human accomplishments that really matter are individual achievements; collective action is necessary to solve big problems. This is a powerful new way to think about how we can organize ourselves to solve some of our toughest problems, and no matter where you fall in the traditional political spectrum, it satisfies the desire to collectively organize to help those in need, while bypassing the inefficiency and clumsiness of asking the government to go and do it for you.

Thank you Tiffani and Kristy, for your efforts to organize this project. It's an incredible testament to what caring people will do when given the opportunity.


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Net Neutrality: Quick Highlights

Looks like there's a new set of proposals coming regarding Net Neutrality from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. Some details have been leaked, but we'll have to wait until May 15th to see everything. More than a few people have been asking my opinion, so I'm going to dump everything here, and refer back to it.

1) Net Neutrality is a loaded term.
On the surface, I'm a huge proponent of Net Neutrality. But when I say that, I want to see exactly what the TCPIP protocol was built for: best-effort per-packet delivery, end to end. However, I can promise you that if you put any two people in a room, you're going to come up with two different definitions of Net Neutrality. My idea of Net Neutrality, for example, is much different than Netflix's. (Netflix reluctantly signed an agreement this year where they had to pay Comcast to connect to their network in order to get the speeds necessary to make sure your House of Cards marathon didn't stutter. ) [1] In many cases, you don't want your traffic treated neutrally, you want it prioritized. Which brings us to...

2) Paid Peering.
Paid Peering is the process by which, essentially, big content providers host copies of their servers directly adjacent to or within ISPs so the traffic doesn't have to cross the whole internet to get from Netflix/Google/Microsoft to you, the end user. These agreements have never been covered by Net Neutrality, and it appears the new rules won't try and curb them either. This is a good thing. Network congestion scales exponentially over distances (hops), meaning that every hop we can remove between that Microsoft Update and your home PC is bandwidth freed up. Of course, the difference between Paid Peering and simply connecting edge networks directly together is a bit fuzzy, which is why the FCC wants to address complaints on a case-by-case basis, which Net Neutrality advocates are opposed to. I'm pretty much for it, pending some conditions, for example...

3) Transparency and "Reasonable Network Management Practices"
This is the crux of the recent hissy-fit. The 2010 Open Internet Order from the FCC barred "unreasonable discrimination" against traffic; the new (leaked) proposal allows for "commercially reasonable" traffic management. The difference is a fine one, but it should be noted that the first order was struck down largely because of this wording. Thus the proposed changes. The thing I'll be combing through the May 15th release for is protections providing for transparency and disclosure of the network management practices by ISPs and other carriers. Disclosure isn't going to be an absolute necessity. If you recall the evidence that Comcast was holding up BitTorrent traffic purposely on its network was rooted out by everyday Internet users, using free tools. However,anything that promotes sunlight would help. But the most vociferous advocates of Net Neutrality just aren't going to be happy until we have...

Telecom Regulated: the first 80 years

Telecom Deregulated: the last 20 years 

4) Reclassifying Broadband as a Tier II  telecommunication service by the FCC.
This is what most of the online petitions, and carefully crafted outrage by organizations like Free Press and Public Knowledge are really after. How anybody can look at the track record of the FCC ruling the common carriers and think that it's the way forward to innovation on the Internet, I do not know. It's very tough for me to equate the days of Ma Bell, where the Western Electric Model 302 didn't change for 60 years, to 1984's breakup of AT&T created an explosion of new phone technology and the creation of cellular networks and free long distance calls.

When the proposal is made public on the 15th, I'm sure I'll be revisiting the topic. Wheeler wants to get something approved by the end of the year, which would be at light-speed for the FCC. We'll have plenty of time to argue over it, but until then, don't sign any petitions until you really know the details. You may not be getting what you bargain for.

[1]: (4/30/2014): In the Netflix example, Netflix wanted to use Net Neutrality to force Comcast to cover the cost of providing high-speed access from Netflix to Comcast users at no charge to Netflix. This would ultimately mean that non-Netflix-using Comcast customers would foot the bill to subsidize their Netflixing brethren. See how the some interpretations of "Net Neutrality", and their unintended consequences, can get messy fast?

[2]: (2/27/2015): Well, we had to wait a lot longer than until May. In fact, I thought this was a dead issue, until the President revived it. And it pretty much looks like we exactly what I mentioned in #4 above, reclassifying broadband as a Tier II Telecommunication service.