Technical odds and ends

The week between Christmas and New Year’s must be the most unloved and unappreciated days of the year. They are especially weird for me this year because my employer, for the first time, is closed for the week. This is the longest vacation I have ever had in my working life (previous record was 11 days) and I’m finding it hard to stay on track. (Looking at my “Last Year’s Posts” widget, I see that this week last year was also underwritten.)

Where computer time is concerned, this is a good time of year to consider ways to do things differently:

Feed readers: I don’t really like them — if you’re going to start up a program so you can read aggregated news feeds, why not just visit the actual websites? I prefer the news ticker approach, where the news is pushed to your desktop, and have found two or three ticker-type (or pop-up) feed readers that do a good job: Tickershock, Feedpopper and Snackr (which requires Adobe Air). Feedpopper and Snackr are particularly good if you find yourself too busy to keep up with feeds every single day – you can program them to show you only what’s been posted at your favorite sites in the past day or two.

Twitter users may also find TweetDeck an interesting program, especially if they have dozens of people they are following (honestly I don’t know how people can keep up with 500 strangers at a time). Twitter has yet to find its true calling, I think. It could be a really useful local news tool (hey, it told me that Wegmans was mobbed the day before Christmas!) but it still is mainly about what other people are eating or watching. That said, it’s still more useful (and interesting) than Facebook as far as I’m concerned.

I also will put in a good word for a strange and low-tech device that came on the market a few months ago: the Peek. All it officially does is mobile e-mail (it does text messaging to phones as well), but it does it without locking you into a phone service contract. (See this recent NYT story about how Big Telecom makes their money on texting.) I got one of these because getting a Blackberry felt like it would be overkill, and my phone needs are served by my prepaid account. I have no idea if the people behind this startup company are making any profits, but their customer service is impeccable (they called me when I had a minor problem), and it was named Wired’s best gadget of the year. Consider it the “anti i-Phone.”

5 thoughts on “Technical odds and ends

  1. sean

    your point about the strange nature of this week correlates somehow to a point i made today on my blog. the growing nature in recent decades of christmas-as-economic-engine (the notion of buying a ton of cheaply-made, overpriced crap put together by exploited workers overseas and somehow saving the economy, which sounds less like salvation than a definition of how we got into this mess) seems to have turned the yuletide into a ‘one-tide,’ an unsatisfying, frantic buildup to christmas day and then vague disappointment in the days after until the flicker of new year’s eve, followed by the emotional desert of another year and january. ack.

    i gotta tell you, and this is the deep upstate native part of me: when i occasionally daydream about retirement (and i never used to daydream about retirement; i used to think i couldn’t imagine life without work, especially since i’m fortunate enough to have a job i love, but i’m starting to sometimes think those little thoughts) i now daydream in particular about the holidays and january and february: i love the idea of getting up with the smell of coffee in the house and just watching the birds at the feeder in the yard and taking the dog out for a walk and then coming home and just reading while the snow piles up outside, the idea of winter as the farmers used to know it: down time, quiet time, slow-moving thinking time. i did an interview once with a couple from florida who retired to oswego, and they said upstaters tend to get it backwards: we go out and drive and push in our ferocious winters during our commuting lives, and when we retire – and could simply shut the door against the winter – we move south into heat and the implicit pressure to DO SOMETHING.

    all of this, of course, is giving you roundabout (in and around the lake) when it comes to the original point. but somehow it seems a shame that these days between christmas and new year’s are no longer a warm and joyous respite, as they seemed to be years ago, and are instead somehow barren.


  2. Ellen

    Regarding the buildup to Christmas: On Monday the 23rd, you couldn’t find Christmas candy for sale any more: some places around here had Valentine’s Day candy out (!). I think that may be a first, and demonstrates how the geniuses behind our consumer economy are spinning their wheels at this time…

    I don’t take my Christmas decorations down before New Year’s, either. It seems a little tacky (“OK, we got our presents! Holiday season over!”) It’s usually done the first weekend after New Year’s Day.

    As for midwinter around-the-house puttering, I also envisioned myself doing that during this work break, but it hasn’t really happened. Maybe it hasn’t snowed hard enough. I think I remember the story about the snowbirds who returned to Oswego. I agree that staying comfortably housebound in the dead of winter should be one of the prerogatives of a peaceful old age. I think people’s resistance to enjoying it probably has something to do with the fear of life’s end.

  3. sean

    it’s 6:45 am, i should go running, and the wind is big and lonesome, and it is dark out there, so this is a good time to stall for 5 minutes or so with a blog response.

    the retirement thing somehow goes back to your great passage from gatsby, doesn’t it? i also remember a passage from tolkien – i think in his letters – where he talked about how every great culture in his books, just before its collapse, became obsessed with death and the fear of death (reflected in an obsessive compulsion to retain youth), generations that became preoccupied with their own end rather than the next generation. you look around right now at the ‘youth generation’ as it rolls into its 60s, and our theaters and television screens are filled with shows about talking dead people and miraculously revived dead people and mutilated dead people and all sorts of serial killers and it’s just kind of generally one big dead people network. and somehow that plays into what you’re saying about notions of retirement.

    well, dammit, i gotta get out there. the deer have been amazingly bold as of late, and this is the time of day when i sometimes bump into them. that’s worth a run in the dark.


  4. Ellen

    Well, I must say that this morning (Wednesday) is perfectly suited for housebound contemplation of life, the universe and everything! Can’t get any whiter or blanker than this…

  5. sean

    yeah, what a great syracuse minute: i go to bed expecting 3-to-5, max, look out the window and don’t appreciate the full deal, then open the door – to what’s got to be at least 10 inches of snow.


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