Why 2015 Was the Best Year in the US since 2009

Get out your perpetual calendar and look forward to 2020. That’s because in five years, we will experience a similarly awesome year as 2015.

Two thousand fifteen was the best year ever because major US holidays fall on days for maximizing vacation time around the summer and mid-winter holidays.

The colloquial summer season in the United States, when most everyone plans their vacations and such, starts on the Friday before Memorial Day and ends on Labor Day. In 2015, the unofficial summer season was as long as it could be: a full sixteen weeks.

  • Memorial Day is always the last Monday of May. In 2015, Memorial Day was on May 25, which meant that the colloquial summer started on the earliest possible date, Friday, May 22.
  • Labor Day is always the first Monday of September. In 2015, Labor Day was on September 7, which meant that colloquial summer ended on the latest possible date, Monday, September 7.

For fans of summer like me, this was much better than 2014 when summer ended on September 1, and better than 2010 when summer started as late as Friday, May 28. Those years sucked!

It was also great because Independence Day, July 4, occurred on a Saturday. Most everyone I knew observed it on July 3, granting many workers a comfortable three-day weekend.

The winter holidays were similarly charmed. This past year Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, December 24 and December 31, respectively fell on Thursdays while Christmas Day and New Year’s Day fell on Fridays. That allowed many workers to have two successive four-day weekends! Take three days off in between, and you could have had with eleven consecutive days off. Not a bad way to end this great year.

I first noticed this in 2009, and I looked forward to it every year since. Usually, these kind of years occur every seven years or so, but we have two leap years coming: one in 2016 and another one in 2020. That will accelerate the frequency of this kind of year.

It will happen again in four short years: in 2020. That’s plenty of time to plan an extended summer vacation or midwinter getaway. Or both.

Happy new year, everyone!

Back to the Charity Stripe

At the risk of sounding like this guy, it’s worth remembering that this is not only the end of the year and the holiday season, this is also the end of the 2015 tax year. If you itemize your deductions, this would be a good time to evaluate your finances and donate some money to a cause or two. Or more.

Choosing where to donate money is challenging. Not only are there myriad worthy causes out there, there is a lot of pressure from just about every non-profit organization that you have ever patronized. If you subscribed to its email list, liked it on Facebook, or followed it on other social networking sites, you have undoubtedly heard its call for a donation. And since you’re a good person, it’s hard to say no to many of them.

Also, it’s not an exaggeration to say that these fundraising campaigns resemble holiday sales in their year-end “donate now” pleas.

Years ago, I heard an interview with someone who manages a large endowment that donates million of dollars to many causes. If you think your Facebook feed is crowded with pleas for money now, imagine what this this executive gets on a weekly basis. Rather than deciding on a case-by-case basis where to donate the money, she revealed that the endowment only grants money to organizations working on a set of specific, predetermined causes. In other words, they have decided in advance what causes are important to fund and donate only to those. It’s a sane approach for a multibillion-dollar endowment, it’s a sane approach for a millionaire one-percenter, and it’s a sane approach for someone with more limited resources, like you.

My own philanthropy is very limited, but I decided years ago I would focus on two causes very important to our lives: transportation and communication. In my estimation, access to transportation and to communication are human rights.

Some day, I’ll articulate my reasons for my thinking, but for now, I would like to offer my own list of worthy organizations and their Charity Navigator scores. Perhaps you will consider them worthy of a year-end charitable gift, too.

  1. Transportation Alternatives is a New York City–based organization that advocates for bicyclists and pedestrians. Over the last fifteen years, they have helped remake New York City streets from high-speed arteries for automobiles to a more “complete streets” design for a variety of transport modes. They are a big reason why New York City has so many more bike lanes that a decade ago. Motorists at first hate them, but they really shouldn’t because, with a bike lane, bicyclists will stay out of your way.

    Your locality likely has a similar organization advocating for more intelligent uses of roads and other transportation infrastructure. Support it!

    Charity Navigator: 4/4

  2. Electronic Frontier Foundation has been a mensch for computing and the Internet for over twenty-five years. They have been instrumental in the fight against unfair anti-circumvention laws, net neutrality, and many other causes.

    Charity Navigator: 4/4

  3. Wikipedia. Although you know that if everyone reading Jimmy Wales’s plea donated $3, their fundraising needs would be met in an hour. You also know that you’ve been seeing that plea for weeks, meaning that you’re going to have to pick up the slack.

    Charity Navigator: 4/4

  4. Internet Archive aims to be for the world’s largest computer network what the Alexandrine Library was for the ancient world: a collection of all the world’s knowledge. Don’t let a lack of funds do to this valuable resource what the Romans: destroy and cause an irretrievable loss of public knowledge.

    Charity Navigator: Unrated, Private Foundation

  5. Speaking of libraries, your local public library could use some money. Public libraries are not only organs of information for everyone, they provide space for scholars, children, and the inquisitive. The New York Public Library has been actively asking for donations over the last few weeks, but they have close to $700 million of hedge-fund billionaire’s money. Your local library probably doesn’t.

    Charity Navigator: 4/4 for New York Public Library

Incidentally, Charity Navigator is also a non-profit organization and is itself seeking donations.

Digital Estate Planning

At some point last night, someone tried to change the password on my Facebook account. My account has been deactivated since last August, but I learned about this intrusion attempt because I received a notification alerting me to that fact. By the way, it’s well-know that the easiest way to get into someone’s account—Facebook, email, and any other account—is to request a new password, provided you can access your target’s email or know the answer to a challenge question.

As far as I can tell, no one accessed my email or my Facebook account. Nonetheless, I went into my Facebook account to make sure no one did anything fishy. While going over my security settings, I saw that I can assign a trusted Facebook friend to take care of my account after I die, known as a legacy contact. For this bit of digital estate planning, I appointed my brother to act as an executor.

Facebook has a whole process in place to deal with someone’s death, including memorializing the account or permanently deleting it.

Come to think of it, dying might be the only way to ever fully delete your Facebook account. Logging in to my account was really easy, and everything was there just like I remembered it. Having a deactivated account for sixteen months didn’t erase any bit of my presence there.

Take the Internet Health Test

The Attorney General of New York, Eric Schneiderman, has been on a populist mission lately. Not only has he essentially banned the daily fantasy sports sites from New York state, he was also been an advocate for access the Internet. Earlier this year, he hired Timothy Wu—the professor at the Columbia School of Law, coiner of the phrase “network neutrality,” disenchanted United Airlines passenger, and author of one of my favorite books on media technologies—as a special advisor on “technology, competition, and internet policy and legal issues.”

The New York Attorney General’s office is asking the public to test its broadband speeds to determine whether customers are getting the advertised speeds to all network services.

The test measures the connection to several different CDNs to determine whether those connections are “healthy” enough to be considered “network neutral.” If a connection to a particular CDN is consistently too fast (or too slow), it could lead investigators to learn whether an ISP is deliberately accelerating traffic to its partners or debilitating the throughput as an anti-competitive measure.

Unlike voting, you are encouraged to take this test frequently to help provide the AG’s office with more data on the health of those connections.

Take the Internet Health Test

Movies that are Marginally About Christmas, Explained

There are favorites, no doubt: Elf, Scrooged, A Christmas Story, and It’s a Wonderful Life. But it’s not easy to remember that the following films were Christmas movies, even if they weren’t Christmas movies..

  1. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang probably because it was a neo-noir set in Los Angeles, where balmy temperatures belie what is supposed to Christmas in movies.
  2. The Ref probably because the hostage situation and really dark comedy lack the usual warmth of Christmas.
  3. Eyes Wide Shut probably because it was Kubrick’s final film and the chilling masquerade party scene is anything but…

By the way, the latter is playing this week at IFC Center, in Greenwich Village, until Thursday, as part of their Naughty and Nice film series.

Not quite two years ago, Time ran a listicle about such movies that I found while researching this post, which reminded me about Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and lists other not-Christmas, Christmas films.

The above links to Amazon are affiliate links. Shopping through those links will kick back a referral fee to me. Thanks for your support!

Kaffeologie is Now a Coffee Roaster and a Delivery Service

Remember Tonx?

Tonx was a coffee-subscription service started by Tony Konecny, where he roasted a coffee each fortnight and shipped to your home within a few days. It was a great way to sample a bunch of different coffees, and each gently roasted, single-origin selection was consistently some of the best coffee I ever drank. Part of my regard for the coffee was because it was sooo easy to open the box, grind and brew the freshly roasted coffee, and sip a cup until I exhausted each twelve-ounce bag. My Tonx would last about nine-to-ten days, which meant I consistently had to scavenge for coffee to make it to the next delivery. In the end, I cancelled my subscription when Tonx was acquired by Blue (“Booooo”) Bottle.

Today at noon, Kaffeologie has entered the coffee delivery service that appears a lot like Tonx (and countless other third-wave, single-origin services). Previously, Kaffeologie designed and manufactured mesh filters for a French Press pot and a permanent, steel filter for Aeropress. Pivotting to this new business, they will roast each Monday in time to ship on Tuesday, which should reach customers by the weekend.

For their first roast, occurring on Monday, December 14, they are offering five single-origin coffees on their own and three blends made from those five coffees.

  1. La Maria Colombia + Deri Kochoha Ethiopia = Dear Diary
  2. Oreti Estate Kenya + Cheri Station Ethiopia = It’s Your Birthday
  3. La Maria Colombia + Oreti Estate Kenya = Diner Booth

You can also buy a “flight” of three coffees consisting of each blend plus the two single-origin coffees that comprise each, for a few bucks more.

The pricing is also similar to Tonx. Tonx charged $19 per 12-ounce bag, including shipping and handling. Kaffeologie is charging between $18 and $21 for what appears to be a similar quantity. (The site doesn’t indicate how much coffee you’ll actually receive, other than explaining that it’s enough for a cup a day over two weeks. Also, a twelve-ounce bag is a standard quantity for a “fussy coffee” like their offerings)

Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to try out Kaffeologie as they roll out. I recently bought a lot of coffee from Sweetleaf, a roaster that is few hundred paces from my bed, and it will take me a while to exhaust my supply.

A Ton of Coffee, Literally

A Ton of Coffee, Literally

I didn’t buy a full ton, as is depicted in the above photo, but I did get a five-pound bag. That’s enough to distribute in small bags as Christmas gifts to friends and colleagues and to fill my own cup each morning over a few weeks.

But once I exhaust all that Rio Vista Guatemala from Sweetleaf, I’ll sample a Kaffeologie flight and report my experience.

World War II, Cognitive Dissonance, and Binge Watching

Last fall, I was itching to watch the Ken Burns–produced, seven-part series The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. Alas, last fall was a distracting time, and I never got around to watching the series while it aired on the local PBS station or during the short, seven-day window it was available via the PBS mobile apps.

Now that it is streaming on Amazon Prime, there has been some measure of cognitive dissonance watching the fifth and sixth episodes of The Roosevelts and the recent Amazon-original adaptation of Phillip K. Dick’s novel The Man in the High Castle.

In the documentary, the Allied Powers undertook a number of offensive attacks against the Axis Powers of Germany and Japan while FDR kept the country’s spirits, its military, and its industrial output focused on victory. In the Amazon series, on the other hand, things go much different. It is 1962, and the Axis powers have vanquished the American, British, and Soviet forces to conquer the US into parts of the German Reich and Japanese Empire.

Binge watching can do strange things to the mind.

The above links to iTunes and Amazon are affiliate links. Shopping through those links will kick back a referral fee to me. Thanks for your support!

World AIDS Day, Noted and Remembered

Memory can be horribly unreliable. A long time ago, back when I used to watch MTV in the early 1990s, I remember hearing on MTV News (or some similar program) that World AIDS Day was observed on December 1, as that was the day in 1981 that the New York Times first published an article on a “strange cancer” afflicting gay men in the city. It turns out that I was wrong on two counts:

  1. The New York Times actually published its famous article, “Rare Cancer Seen In 41 Homosexuals”, several months earlier on July 3, 1981.
  2. The first World AIDS Day was held on December 1, 1988 for strategic reasons: to hold people’s attention after the US Presidential Election of 1988 and before much of the western world commemorated the midwinter holidays, such as Christmas.

Nonetheless, I noted yesterday that today, December 1, is World AIDS Day. I was biking home last night at 11:30 PM, along the East River Waterfront, and noticed that the Empire State Building was illuminated in red.

Seeing the all-red lights atop the Empire State Building reminded me of the day and began a rabbit hole of reading about the AIDS epidemic in its early days. Here are some notable findings:

  • AIDS in New York: A Biography. Back in the summer of 2006, New York Magazine published a list of significant events concerning the emergence of AIDS in New York City. Though it is less a biography than a timeline and is peppered with typographical errors, it is an informative reminder of how the city—and the world at large—struggled to make sense of the disease, particularly in its early days.
  • Timeline of HIV/AIDS. Similar to the New York Magazine timeline, Wikipedia has a more comprehensive list of events as it covers developments throughout the world outside of New York City. It also cites some other great sources.
  • “The man who transformed how The New York Times covers the gay community”. Journalism professor Samuel Freedman recounts how working with Jeff Schmalz, a New York Times editor, both endured the disease and the silent homophobia of the New York Times newsroom in the 1980s to ultimately change the way the venerable paper covered AIDS and gays.
  • “Getting Closer to a Cure, Perhaps”. And just in time for World AIDS Day, HBO will be premiering an episode of the VICE News series on recent, promising developments in finding a cure for HIV and AIDS. As a grumpy old man, I have a distrust of VICE, not of their journalistic accuracy, but of their opportunism…perhaps. As Media Life‘s Louisa Ada Seltzer notes, airing the program tonight “could boost viewership tonight, at a time when the Vice media group is eager for extra exposure…. Vice aims to launch [a] new channel early next year.”

Although it still afflicts millions of people, many of whom don’t have access to live-saving treatments, it’s remarkable how our collective understanding of AIDS has changed. Looking through the timeline reminded me of how overmatched we were by the disease: we had no idea how to medically treat the disease nor how to socially treat its early sufferers, particularly the alliteratively named populations of homosexual men, Haitians, and hemophiliacs.

It’s remarkable to see how we have basically eradicated the imminent death sentence that an HIV diagnosis was a generation ago. In the mid-1980s, we would have given anything to get where we are today, where we didn’t have to helplessly watch its sufferers waste and die. Or, at least, that’s how I remember it.

Back from the Tombs

On July 29, 2006, at Southpaw, a now-defunct music venue in Park Slope, Brooklyn, my friend Adam invited me to see Rocket from the Tombs. He had met a girl at his sister’s birthday party a few weeks earlier. Named for a season of the year, she was a pretty girl with pale-skin, dark hair trimmed with bangs, and thick-framed black plastic glasses. He was interested in going to the show as I presumed he was trying to bone up on the kind of music she liked. Had he not jumped the queue, I probably would have talked to her first. Oh well: bros before… am I right?

Rocket from the Tombs was a short-lived Cleveland band that formed in the mid-1970s. Their sound, commonly referred to as “proto-punk,” was very heavy, loud and simple, especially compared to flair and multitrack ornamentation of album-oriented rock that populated FM radio during the same period. Though Rocket from the Tombs would only record a few songs, they would influence countless future punk bands and themselves split into two well-regarded bands of the 1980s: Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys.

I’m not sure if Adam and Autumn/Summer confused this band with Rocket from the Crypt, a 1990s San Diego band that enjoyed much greater financial and mainstream success than Rocket from the Tombs ever did, but joining him for this show was one of the best concert decisions I ever made. Having re-formed and despite looking more like jam band than a bunch of “punk,” they absolutely kicked ass and sounded like they had been playing together continuously with aplomb since 1975.

Rocket from the Tombs will return to the New York City area this weekend. They will be at Monty Hall on Saturday, December 5 in Jersey City and at Baby’s All Right on Sunday, December 6 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Not quite ten years later, I look forward to seeing them again.

The above links to Ticketfly are affiliate links. Shopping through those links will kick back a referral fee to me. Thanks for your support!

Review and Review, Reviewed

One of the better television comedy programs in recent memory is Review.

Review is a program within a television program. Featuring Andy Daly as “life critic” Forrest McNeil, each episode consists of three reviews on some aspect of life, as requested by a viewer of the fictional television program via email, video message, or Twitter.

An episode from the first season that had me in stitches was “Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes.”

In this episode, he submits to a viewer’s request to learn what it is like to eat fifteen pancakes as that’s the minimum yield according to the printed recipe on the pancake-mix box. Although he didn’t regard finishing fifteen pancakes very highly, he later celebrates eating thirty pancakes, as a subsequent viewer requests for the third review. He changes his opinion about eating twices as many pancakes only after sinking to an emotional low following his divorce, which he only undertook after a viewer asked what it would be like to get a divorce.

Having revisited the series recently, I learned that the Andy Daly series is based on an Australian television series from 2008–2010, also called Review with Myles Barlow. There a lot of similarities between the two. For example, in the two versions, each reviewer divorces his wife for the sake of a review, and consequently, each is emotionally crippled in subsequent episodes.

The Australian version, however, has a much darker sensibility. For example, in the first episode of the Aussie series, he reviews what it is like to murder someone.

And, in this episode, he also tests out divorce to learn that it is worth only one star.

The entire run of the Australian series and the first season of the American series are available on Hulu. (The preceding link is a referral link that will earn me some Hulu credit if you subscribe.)

Review and Review
Both series put each host/reviewer in some unbelievably hilarious situations, share a humorously dark situations, and, because of its seriality, make for some great binge watching.