Here’s an excerpt from a message I sent to my wife on March 13th of this year:

As you know, e-mail is a long-established standard, but there’s one piece missing from it, and that’s a standard way to be notified when new mail arrives. E-mail clients are required to “poll” e-mail servers for new mail periodically. Most polls reveal no new mail to download, and so are a waste of bandwidth and computing time. It’s a negligible waste to a single user, but if you’re an ISP with millions of polls happening every minute, it really adds up. […]

Something similar is true for RSS feeds, which are getting more and more popular. You subscribe to someone’s blog posts, or to a news-clipping service, or whatever, and your feed reader shows you the new articles as they become available. But there again, the feed reader is required to poll all the sites to which you subscribe; there is no standard way for those sites to notify you of when there are new messages available. […]

The arrival of new mail or the appearance of new blog posts are called “asynchronous events,” meaning that they happen without regard to whatever you may be doing at the moment. Most of the time, our computing infrastructure is obliged to use synchronous methods (like polling) to check for whether any asynchronous events have occurred lately. But that doesn’t have to be true. You could arrange for an asynchronous “listener” to be notified of asynchronous events and then take appropriate action. […]

I went on to describe an idea for an Internet-based service that delivers asynchronous events. I started working on a prototype. But that was around the same time that I left my job at Danger and was busy looking for a new one. There was also a birthday party to plan, and a family trip to New York, and another birthday party, plus a consulting gig and the beginning of a new job at Google. My asynchronous-event-delivery service went near the bottom of my priority list.

Then just a few days ago I learned about Gnip, a brand-new venture-funded startup that is the exact same idea, right down to hosting it on Amazon’s cloud-computing infrastructure for scalability. To add insult to injury, their clever name — “ping” spelled backwards (to “ping” a computer on the network is akin to polling it) — could not have been more perfectly chosen if their aim was to highlight my slowness off the mark.

This is not the first time I’ve been beaten to the punch with a clever online business idea. It’s maddening.

Hump year

It’s all downhill from here: according to How long will I live?, a free online life-expectancy calculator, my life expectancy is almost exactly twice my current age. Which means I can now say that I’ve worked myself half to death and mean it literally.


[This post is participating in 12 Grand In Checking’s New York In the Movies Blog-a-thon.]

There are endless numbers of movies in which New York City is the star: New York as we’ve always imagined it; New York as we wish it really was; New York as we fear it actually is or might become. This is not about any of those movies.

I grew up in New York City, and by the time I left it to go to college I had an ample collection of authentic New York experiences under my belt. I explored every nook and cranny of the subway system. I told a cab driver to “step on it” and then hung on for dear life. I ate at Horn & Hardart’s. I outwitted muggers. I hung out at Greenwich Village coffee shops past midnight. I rode my bicycle hell-for-leather through midday traffic. I took my prom date on a horse-and-buggy ride up Sixth Avenue and through Central Park. In the middle of a discussion with my friends of the parallels between The Warriors (a New-York-as-we-fear-it-actually-is movie) and Homer’s Odyssey, a complete stranger joined in and explained that the more apt classical comparison was with a work called Xenophon’s Anabasis.

So when I got to college in Pittsburgh I felt smugly cosmopolitan. Pittsburgh was a podunk backwater by comparison, and the people I met there — the first people I ever knew who weren’t from New York — were country bumpkins sorely in need of being edified by me about the marvels they’d been missing by lacking a big-city upbringing. Honestly, it’s a wonder I made as many friends there as I did. For a time I was insufferably superior about having come from New York.

One day, I made a remark along these lines to my friend Mike, something about how he, being only from Rochester, NY, should take my word about something or other since I was from New York City. It wasn’t the first such remark I’d made, but it finally crossed the line for Mike, and he called me out. I wish I had a transcript of exactly what he said. I remember it both as very perfunctorily putting me in my place and also as encompassing all of the following points:

  • Though New York City may contain many things to see and do, they are still only a small fraction of all the things there are in the world to see and do;
  • Though growing up in New York City may provide a broader perspective on the world than growing up elsewhere, it is still only a single perspective;
  • Though very many people live and work in New York City, it is still only a small fraction of all the people in the world; and
  • Most of the other people in the world don’t go around saying that they know better than everyone else just because of where they’re from.

I don’t know if this was the first time my arrogant attitude was directly challenged, or just the first time that it got through to me. Either way, it had the desired effect, and then some. I recognized the validity of Mike’s criticism and took it to heart. No one ever heard that sort of elitism from me again — an improvement in my personality for which I will be forever grateful to Mike. Moreover, I began to open up to the charms of Pittsburgh. Before long I felt completely at home there, where previously I had only ever measured it against my memories of New York and found it wanting.

All of which is just preamble to the point I want to make about New York. When Mike gave me that much-needed dressing down he made me feel distinctly provincial, which at first struck me as an odd way for someone from The Big Apple to feel. The City That Never Sleeps! Gotham! But I had to admit that my worldview, and that of most of the other New Yorkers I’d left behind, was as insular, as parochial, as uncultured in its way as that from any one-horse hick town.

And that’s when my idea of New York began to change. It wasn’t really the teeming, glitzy metropolis that everyone always claimed, any more than Norma Jean was really Marilyn Monroe. At heart New York City was actually the world’s biggest small town — or rather, the biggest collection of small towns, jammed close together.

It’s hard to nail down just what I mean by that, but that’s where movies come in. Offhand I can think of a few films that capture the Norma Jean face of New York City, so you can see what I mean without my having to strain my writing muscles.

A movie like Woody Allen’s Manhattan does not capture it, because it makes the city bigger than the people in the story. It’s a New-York-as-we’ve-always-imagined-it movie. A movie like the little-seen Rich Kids, on the other hand, does. It can be set in no place other than New York, but not because New York makes the characters be who they are — the characters make New York what it is.

Neil Simon was good at this kind of New York story, and ironically the main characters in his best one, The Goodbye Girl, aren’t even New Yorkers! Marsha Mason’s character is from Cincinatti; Richard Dreyfus’s is from Chicago. But their banter is a big part of what makes New York the city it is. Quinn Cummings, even more so.

Martin Scorsese’s movies almost qualify for inclusion but rely too heavily on the violent (Mean Streets, Taxi Driver) and the bizarre (Taxi Driver, After Hours) to really capture my New York — the real, personal, cozy New York of my youth, the New York made primarily of neighborhood people and not of melodrama. On the other hand, Eyewitness and Dog Day Afternoon do qualify. Even though each contains some melodramatic crime and violence elements, they are both populated by actual New Yorkers: outspoken, ethnic, irritable, big-hearted in spite of everything; people who thoroughly inhabit their own small communities that form the patchwork quilt of the city.

It’s strange: Hero At Large captures my idea of small-town New York, but Turk 182! does not. Both are lighthearted comedies about anonymous heroes whose exploits capture the imagination of the entire city, but it’s instructive to see how Timothy Hutton and Robert Urich, the brothers in Turk 182!, fail to embody the things about New York that I’ve been talking about despite their obvious efforts at characterization, while John Ritter and Anne Archer, whose acting skills are blander, nevertheless succeed in Hero At Large on pure heart.

I’m sure I’ve failed to convey my point very well, but if you watch some of the movies I’ve named, maybe you’ll understand what I mean. Or maybe it’s only possible to understand that feeling about New York if you grew up there in the 1970’s, when giant retail chains did not yet dominate the landscape and perhaps it really was more of a small town than it is today.


I recently started a new job at Google — specifically, at YouTube, which Google owns. Near my desk there is a break room with some musical equipment, including electric guitars, keyboards, and amps. It’s called the Guitar Room. What a stroke of luck — I’ve been wanting to learn the guitar but it’s hard to get practice time at home with the kids always clamoring for attention (and me so willing to give it). I sent mail to my new co-workers asking whether anyone was able to give me lessons during lunch a couple of times a week. Someone suggested, “Why not try some of the ten million ‘Learn to play guitar’ videos on YouTube?” So I found some that look promising and now I’m using YouTube to learn guitar in the YouTube Guitar Room.

The month of no blogging

Historians of the future will wonder why June 2008 was the most miserly month for blog posts here at gee bobg. That is, they’ll wonder about it until they read this post, which will remind them that I’ve just started an exciting but challenging new job, while at the same time also being behind schedule on the side project that was supposed to wrap up before the new job began, but didn’t, so that I am now effectively doing two jobs. This post will further inform them that I’ve been filling much of my scant downtime by playing with my cool new toy: a Sony PlayStation 3 and The Orange Box.

Then, presumably, they’ll stop wondering.

But that won’t stop me from first apologizing for having indulged in the blogger’s loathsome practice of making excuses for a recent dearth of posts, or second from enthusing about “Portal,” one of the games from The Orange Box, which (despite the aforementioned scarcity of downtime) I finished in just a handful of late nights of extremely satisfying puzzle-solving. By the way, historians: the Jonathan Coulton song (“Still Alive”) that plays over the end credits is almost as much fun as the game itself!

Historians of the future will probably have tired of this post by the time I reach the part where I tell how exciting it is now that I’ve finally figured out how to stream music, photos, and video wirelessly from my computer to the PlayStation 3, and will wonder when I’ll shut up about the PlayStation 3 already. That is, they’ll wonder about it until they see that I’m promising to shut up about it right now.

Then, presumably, they’ll stop wondering.

Historians of the future may or may not believe my promise to update this blog more faithfully from now on, but they don’t have to take my word for it; at a glance they can just see whether or not I did. Unlike them, you and I must wait for the future to happen.