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December 31, 2012

The top 5 stories in my town

Here are five of the top stories of the year according to our local weekly paper, the Brookline Tab. The paper says that these stories are in no particular order, and that another five will follow next week.

  • Styrofoam and plastic bags have been banned.

  • Residents are reporting that a a few of the wild turkeys roaming our streets have been aggressive.

  • A 180-pound black bear was spotted around town. It was tranquilized and transported to a wilder part of the state.

  • After losing a bid to build 271 residential units in Hancock Village, developers filed for permission to build an affordable housing project.

  • A dean at the public high school claimed he was passed over for the headmaster job because he’s African-American. A settlement was reached.


First world problems? What privilege looks like? Sure. But also an occasion to remember how blessed peace is, how wretched anything but peace is, and how fortunate we are that for our town peace is so mundane.

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October 20, 2012

Ye Olde Local Computer Store

Last week I paid a visit to my old PC store, ICG Computers, in Brookline. I hadn’t been there in maybe 5 years because I switched to Macs and thus spend time at the Computer Loft in Brighton. Also, when I was a PC, I was building my own computers out of components, so lots more went wrong (= I did lots more wrong). And, yes, I wish I could compile my own hardware and install the Mac OS on it. (Hackintosh scares me. Someday.) But, my remaining Windows machine crapped out last week, so I carried it to ICG’s small storefront.

Ray greeted me by name. Because no one else was there, we took the opportunity to catch up.

Ray comes from China and runs a quintessential American small business. He’s honest as the day is long, and could teach any bigger company about customer service. But it’s been a lean few years for ICG. Ray says that the recession hurt his primary customer base, small businesses. There haven’t been a lot of new businesses formed, so they’re not coming in to equip their offices. And, of course, the PC business has gotten commoditized. So, ICG relies on repairs and aggressively trying to beat the Internet on prices.

The walls of the store are lined with components. Then there are a few tables of new and used machines. He prices his used machines against eBay, and his new machines against Net low-ballers. As a result, you can get a power-packed laptop for $250 or $300. And you can do so knowing that Ray knows the tech and stands behind what he sells.

ICG is a great place to buy a computer. It’s also a great place to hang out and talk about tech. Ray knows my own level of expertise and talks at that level. No condescension, no salesmanship, no BS. I always learn something talking with Ray. In this case it turns out that my PC needed a new power supply, and the one I’d put in was under-powered. So, yeah, Ray upsold me, but I have complete confidence that he also right-sold me, so to speak.

Bunches of small, locally-owned computer stores have gone out of business here over the past few years. So have most of the larger stores. Remember EggHead? CompUSA? Me neither. And much as I love the Internet, I hate what it’s doing to the Rays of our town, who epitomize the best of small business. ICG is surviving and will continue to serve our community. But I want Ray’s business to do more than that. It seems unfair that honesty, expertise, friendliness, and low, fair prices aren’t enough for a business to go gangbusters.

Am I plugging ICG? Damn straight.

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February 9, 2008

Brookline cares!

It turns out that the turn out of Brookline voters in the Super Tuesday primary was a whopping 63%, twice that of 2004 when that Howard Dean guy was running. No doubt this is in part due to the fact that last time, we were voting after a bunch of other states had had their say. But at least some of the rise has to be due to enthusiasm for the candidates. Doesn’t it?

BTW, Brookline voted for Obama. The handful of Republicans voted for McCain.

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February 7, 2008

Worst. Muni Wifi. Ever

Brookline’s public wifi had so much promise. But tonight, when I was sitting in the high school auditorium trying to connect, I found out that the system is only available by the month, which means that it competes with the local wired Internet providers — the lowest priced plan gets you 1 mps for $20/month — but it doesn’t let you connect for an hour if that’s all you need, or let travelers and guests get online as they need. Weird. And really disappointing.

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Later that same day: I received this in reply to my whining email to the wifi provider:

We do have a few locations throughout Brookline that are free for one hour
per day. They are in Coolidge Corner, Washington Square, and Brookline Village. We are going to be adding other time features in the future, however, currently we only have a month to month service with no contract. If you only need it for a month and are outside of the areas that are free
and/or you need service more than 1 hour per day, I recommend that you sign up with the monthly package.

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On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal reports on the French requiring France Telecom to provide competitors with access to the fiber optic cable its laying. That enables competition, which helps explain why “in Paris you can get 50 Mbps symmetrical broadband service for 30 EUR per month.”

Requiring whoever wins the 700mH auction in the US to act as a wholesaler to other ISPs could bring about the same sort of opening of the bit-floodgates.

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