Sunday, June 24, 2018

Saying Goodbye to Spunky

Farewell Furry Feline Friend
Spunky was a wonderful cat who lived with my family and me for the last 14 years.  He passed away about two weeks ago. I waited until I felt my memories brought me happiness rather than sadness before posting and sharing the news with friends.
Spunky sleeping at home in 2013
Spunky and his brother Bunky came to live with us at Christmas in 2003, having been born earlier that year in September. My long time cat companion Merlin, who lived to be 18, had passed away that summer and I thought it would be nice to bring more cats into the house and to have our young boys grow up with a connection to them. Merlin had a connection with me. Spunky and Bunky could be connected to us all.
Bunky was shy and calm. He could often be found sleeping in an out of the way spot in the house. Spunky, on the other hand, was always where the actions was, and if there wasn’t any action he’d create it. He’d climb on laps and up onto shoulders and he’d “talk” a lot.
Early in their lives as they got to be outdoor cats, they split the neighborhood with Bunky going up our road and Spunky going down. Bunky’s territory had the busier roads and sadly he was killed by a passing car at just 2 years old. Spunky went on to live a long life with us. He’d often spend 18 hours a day outdoors except for during the coldest parts of winter. While inside he’d eat, sleep, and play with his family. He was very social and very affectionate.
A little over two weeks ago I found him injured and partially paralyzed and took him to the vet. We did x-rays and tests, and tried some obvious therapies, but it wasn’t working out and it was time to accept that the end had come. We said our goodbyes at the vet.
If there’s a cat heaven, I hope Spunky and Bunky are now reunited. Maybe they’ll even get a chance to meet Merlin.
Farewell Spunky, my furry feline friend. I’m still sad that he’s left us but I really do feel able to smile now when I think of him. He was a character and a friend and my life was made better by knowing him.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Election Year Optimism

I’m inclined to believe that there are many things contributing to the dysfunction of the United States Congress these days. Some of them seem almost impossible to address. Big money in politics leads to undue influence as well as near-perpetual campaigning, partisanship is extreme, and the public can often be apathetic and under-informed.

At the same time, every new election is a chance to improve. Incumbents can clarify their positions, and new candidates can infuse new ideas and new energy into the races and eventually the House and Senate. For these reasons, I'm optimistic.

For me, one encouraging thing this year is an increase in the number of women running for office. Many, myself included, believe that more diversity, including more gender diversity, can be good for the US Congress. There is a wave of well qualified women running for office. Still, conditions this year, as compared with a previous strong year for women in politics, 1992, may make some of these races uphill battles

Two of the women running this primary season have particularly caused me to take notice because they are both very tech-savvy, and that’s something else I think we really need. In a world economy increasingly affected by technology, our legislators must be more tech-savvy. When I see some of the long-serving representatives making self-deprecating jokes about their lack of ability and understanding of tech, I cringe. Their jobs now require at least a basic level of technology understanding.

Brianna Wu. Photo Credit: WBUR
The first of the women running in primaries in hopes of eventually winning congressional seats that I wanted to mention is Brianna Wu. Wu is a game developer, entrepreneur, and tech journalist, as well as an advocate for women in technology fields, and she is running in the Massachusetts 8th District. Her solid understanding of important technology issues such as cybersecurity and renewable energy could be a welcome addition to the House of Representatives.

Tracy Mitrano. Photo Credit
The second candidate I wanted to mention is Tracy Mitrano, who is running in the New York 23rd District. Tracy has served as a Chief Privacy Officer at a major university and has a great understanding of a broad range of issues around the Internet including security and privacy, and net neutrality. She'd be a powerful author and supporter of good legislation related to the Internet, which is something we truly need. She has well thought out and articulated positions on a variety of other issues as well.

More than ever, we need intelligent, informed, motivated people who can work within their parties and across the aisle to make progress in the work of government. Whatever the issues that motivate you, and whatever your political leanings, I hope you'll learn about your local races and candidates and vote in the primaries and general elections this year. Democracy depends on us all!


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Sunday, April 29, 2018

New Found Freedom

Buying a new boat

Family, friends, and RapidGroove readers know that I'm an avid boater and salt-water fisherman. Like many fishermen, I prefer fishing from a boat and have come to appreciate the center console design as one that accommodates groups and also allows a fisherman to move around the boat to fight a fish that makes runs in different directions.

Back on October 31st of last year, I posted here in RapidGroove about selling my long time boat, Freedom, a 26' Sailfish center console fishing boat. As I described then, I wanted Freedom to have another life with a new owner who would take good care of her. I was thrilled to find such a buyer and I'm confident that she will make another family happy for years to come.

Once I sold Freedom, I was pretty well committed to buying another boat before the start of the 2018 fishing season. I was still focused on the center console design and had done my research and had a few top boat makers in mind. Having had a 26' for many years, I was thinking of moving up slightly. Perhaps a 28' or even a 30' boat. On the other hand, 26' has been a great size for my family, and as boats get larger, there are more restrictions on where they can be docked.

I've been on many boats and I've seen many more out on the water, so I had a head start on some ideas. I talked to friends and to my mechanic about different boat makes and models, and I spent time on the builders' web sites to compare features. Most importantly, I visited dealers to climb aboard and get a real feel for the boats I was considering. Sometimes my wife Tacey would come along, too. While she doesn't fish much anymore, she does enjoy a sunny day out on the water and I wanted to make sure that whatever boat I picked would have features that she appreciated, too.

Though I admired some of the Boston Whalers and Grady Whites, I wasn't finding late model used boats configured the way I liked and new boats of these brands configured to order were too expensive. I considered Regulator and Everglades boats but there weren't dealers of these boats in the surrounding area where I boat and in any event these are fairly pricey boats. I did find a local dealer I wanted to work with, and he handled at least two lines of boats that I felt good about. Edgewater, a great boat builder at a higher price, and Cobia, a good mid-priced line of boats. I considered some used Edgewater 28' boats, but they had shortcomings for my purposes. I considered a leftover Cobia 30' boat, which would have been a big jump in size for me. I also seriously considered a custom Cobia build, with exactly the features I wanted in a 27' center console model. It's hard to imagine anything better than a boat built exactly to my specs.

On the other hand, the Edgewater boats had a fit and finish that I really liked. From a great tackle prep station to comfortable seating to dry storage in all the right places. The Edgewater line was just a higher quality boat for my purposes, and is one of very few boats rated "unsinkable" by hull design. I began to feel that I would regret going another way. I still couldn't afford a 2018 Edgewater 28', and the used 28' boats coming in to my dealer were not really capturing my heart. Then I found out that there was a leftover 2017 Edgewater 26' center console at my dealer. This was a new boat with all warranties, it was a great configuration, and only a little out of my price range.

In the end, I was able to strike a fair deal on this 2017 Edgewater 262cc and arranged for electronics to my specifications (two Garmin 12" screens with chart plotter, sonar, radar, etc.) and some other smaller additions, such as a longer anchor line, a better anchor, additional fishing rod holders and some canvas covers to match the hull color.

With all of that done, I picked the boat up this past weekend. I spent over an hour on the electronics orientation with a Garmin expert, and then a licensed boat captain gave me an orientation to the boat and accompanied me back to my dock. Along the way we stopped at a nearby marina to fill the 150 gallon gas tank. Just imagine what that cost!

My new boat is now tied up at my dock and looks and rides like a million bucks. I'm really looking forward to the coming season on the best boat I've ever owned. And the name of my new boat? "Freedom" of course. Why change a name that works so well for me?


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Saturday, March 31, 2018

Fishing Islamorada

This one is mostly a photo blog. My son Richie and I fished two days this past week in Islamorada - one offshore day and one day on the flats. Here are a few photos and videos from each of those fun days fishing.

Day 1 was a trip targeting Sailfish offshore.

Captain Charlie (R) and mate Austin (L)

Rods at the ready
VIDEO: But first, we have to "make bait." A net full of ballyhoo.

2 kites go up, holding a total of 4 lines.

VIDEO: Rich fights a sailfish (we each landed one)

Sailfish alongside!

Sailfish alongside!

Sailfish alongside!

VIDEO: Sailfish fight

And we even caught some Mutton Snapper and Yellowtail Snapper for dinner!

Looking for scraps from the cleaning table

Day 2 was a trip targeting Tarpon in the flats.

Back for another day at Bud N' Mary's

This couple sold Swordfish bills, painted or scrimshawed by the man

A wood carving at the docks
Tame tarpon are around all the docks. But we chase the wild ones farther away.

Still, they taunt us. Swimming around the docks.

I'd love to catch one of these 50LB "Silver Kings"

An iguana holds on for dear life

Captain Chris, Richie and me

First catch of the day? A rare sawfish.

We caught several sharks

This bad boy is a bull shark. We also caught a lemon and black tip.

VIDEO: Shark brought up to the boat... but not in!

Back at the marina, it's time for two beers

And some stone crab

We still had some fish from yesterday's catch, so we took them to the famous Fish House and they cooked them for us.

I got Richie on his way home and then headed south to Key West for a day of kicking back

Arriving at Key West with the setting sun

A great couple of days! I look forward to my next visit to the keys. Just a few days can really be a cure for a long winter.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Merging AT&T and Time Warner

A trend toward fewer, larger companies

Image credit: CNN Money
Would consumers ultimately benefit from an AT&T merger with Time Warner? Or would negatives outweigh positives? 

That’s the question that the courts are getting ready to consider. It has been almost a year and a half since AT&T first announced plans to merge with Time Warner – a vertical integration, which involves merging companies whose operations include both communications infrastructure and content and services. Wireless communications, plus home entertainment services, plus content providers like HBO, CNN and TNT.

As the case comes before U.S. District Senior Judge Richard Leon of the District of Columbia, the same judge who cleared the way for the Comcast NBC Universal merger eight years ago, there are predictable arguments being made by stakeholders on both sides. AT&T wants the merger to have the might to compete with the new powers of media – Netflix, Amazon, and even Apple. The Justice Department hopes to block the merger, saying that it would ultimately hurt competition partly through consolidation and partly through the dangers of vertical integration where carriers and transport providers might have a level of control over content delivery that is anti-competitive (see my many blog posts on NetNeutrality for more on this). Some suspect more petty motives.

While they differ in some ways, this proposed merger does seem to have a lot in common with the Comcast + NBC Universal merger in that it is similarly a huge, vertical integration move – and that one was approved. Is that the precedent that is most applicable here?

My expertise is in Internet architecture (which is the "plumbing" on which this stuff depends) and not law, but for my part I believe both mega-mergers should have been denied as anti competitive and risky for consumers. Since we do have the precedent of the Comcast + NBC Universal, perhaps a fair way forward might be to approve this merger and then revisit the appropriate regulatory framework to protect consumers. Let’s not throw out Net Neutrality quite yet, folks. It might still have a very important role to play.

What’s your opinion? Leave a comment and let us know.


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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Early Season Fishing Tackle Shopping

In February each year, once we string together a few days of 50+ degrees Fahrenheit , I start thinking about the coming spring and summer fishing season in the North Atlantic. By April we'll have Winter Flounder, by May and June Striped Bass, and by July we'll have Fluke and Bluefish. March is the time to check rods for any needed repairs to guides and handles and put fresh line on the reels. It's also the time to shop for some tackle.

Most years, I'll clear out any ratty-looking hooks, and sharpen up a few others. I'll replace treble hooks on lures and polish the "tins" or shiny lures. I'll also clean up and sharpen knives. Other equipment like hook removers and pliers are given a once over. Some of them may need replacement. At that point, I get to look at fishing tackle catalogs, online and on paper. What will I need to start the year off right? The companies know that this is the rhythm, so they start sending big paper catalogs at this time of year.

Some of the items on my list every year are the foundational elements. These are the least sexy pieces in the tackle box. They aren't beautiful lures or razor sharp hooks. They are the connector pieces I use so often. I always need more of these as I lose them to broken lines and snags during the season. I need snaps, two-way swivels, and three-way swivels. I need them in multiple sizes, in both black and silver. I also need "fish finder" sliding sinker holders. These items are the core elements of my rigs. Some fisherman avoid them, tying every rig without them. That approach never made sense to me. I want to have ready rigs of different types for the fish I might encounter on any given trip, and I want to be able to change rigs fast. These foundation pieces help make that possible.

As many of my friends know, I'll also start this season with a new boat. I sold my faithful, beloved, 26' center console fishing boat at the end of last year and put a deposit down on a brand new model of the same size over the winter. I launch that boat in late April this year, and anticipate putting all that new tackle to good use.

"Tight lines," as we fishermen say. It's all about being ready, and that's what some early season tackle prep is all about.

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Sunday, January 28, 2018

Apple’s HomePod

The smart speaker space continues to expand and draw attention, with Apple now preparing to ship their new HomePod smart speakers in early February. 
Image Credit:

I first wrote about the original blockbuster smart speaker, the Amazon Echo, way back in November of 2014. Later, in March 2017, I wrote a post called Talking to TechnologyDuring these last few years, Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri, and Google’s Assistant have begun to handle some of our online interactions, moving them from keyboards and mice to natural language. While many online tasks will still be best accomplished with keyboards for the foreseeable future, this really is an important development.

Image Credit:
If we just focus on the “smart speaker” part of the interactive assistant space, we can see the competition for the new HomePod. There are now several devices in the Amazon Echo product line and several in the Google Home product line. A few other companies, including Sonos, also have products in this space. The Verge, in an article that praises the HomePod's sound quality, also mentions that the Sonos One now supports Amazon Alexa integration, and is promising Google Assistant integration later this year. To look at a full range of products in this space, take a look at a nice comparison in a December 2017 piece in PC Magazine.

As Apple enters the space with the HomePod, do they have a value proposition that will shift the market? Apple has a good (but not perfect) track record of entering a product space after it is partially established, and then dominating it by delivering excellence in design, styling, user experience, quality and performance – usually at a premium price. Is that likely to happen now with smart speakers?

Apple says that the HomePod will bring together “Apple Music and Siri to learn your taste in music. It’s also an intelligent home assistant, capable of handling everyday tasks and controlling your smart home.” The promise of smart home control is intriguing, but only time will tell if Apple can deliver.

If the Echo seems like the strongest right now in speech interaction but weakest in audio quality, and the Sonos series seems strongest in audio quality but leaning on Amazon for interactive speech support, can Apple HomePod find a way to be the best (or at least very strong) in both? It needs to be noted that the HomePod sells for $349, which by comparison to competing products is certainly on the higher end.

For those heavily invested in the Apple economy of MacOS and iOS devices, Apple iCloud and Apple Music, and who believe that Apple HomeKit will soon deliver integrated smart home automation with HomePod as the control point, the HomePod seems like it could be a winner. For those not so invested, it might be that the high price tag makes it less attractive than the lower cost smart speakers already well-established in the market.

Are you planning to buy a HomePod? Please leave a comment and tell us why or why not.


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