Time Warner Cable canceling Noggin?

I have a full day’s work to do, but I’m home watching my four-year-old. Thus, this morning, Noggin was on.

“Daddy, what’s that black?” my daughter asked, pointing to the TV.

A black crawl eating 20% of the screen announced that Time Warner Cable, New York City’s virtual monopoly cable provider, will stop broadcasting Noggin at midnight tonight.

Comedy Central (home of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show), MTV, and other Viacom-owned channels will also be lost, the crawl said. But as the parent of a child under five, you’re asleep before The Daily Show comes on, and you haven’t cared about MTV since Run DMC walked this way with Aerosmith.

Time Warner Cable can do what it likes where your personal entertainment needs are concerned. But if they stop broadcasting Noggin, your four-year-old won’t shrug it off. It will be like when great grandma died.

Your mission is clear. You have to save Noggin.

The crawl and the websites of the soon-to-be-cancelled channels list a toll-free 800 number where customers can demand that Time Warner Cable keep Noggin on.

When you call the number, Time Warner announces that it cannot take your call due to “technical difficulties” and hangs up on you.

In its way, it’s kind of brilliant. By not answering their customer feedback number, Time Warner can claim not to have heard from their customers.

Although I subscribe to their overpriced service, I’m no fan. Since I described my frustrations with their fast, high-speed access, Time Warner Cable’s RoadRunner Turbo has continued to pile on the incompetence. This month they sent me a new modem and told me I needed to manually replace my old one. Beside the fact that nothing’s wrong with my old one, the new one isn’t compatible with my set-up, which is wireless.

Time Warner set up the wireless network using their wireless modem, and charges a monthly surcharge for the wireless activity they provide. But they sent me a non-wireless modem as a replacement. A two-man shop in Kazakhstan’s smallest town would not send a non-wireless modem to replace a wireless one. But Time Warner Cable does, because they are a monopoly and under no pressure to offer competent service.

And yet, although Time Warner Cable’s uncountable levels of existential suckage could induce vomiting in a giraffe, reality is never as clear-cut as a crawl on Noggin.

It is obvious that Time Warner Cable and Viacom are playing hardball in a price negotiation. Time Warner wants the Viacom channels cheaper than Viacom wants to sell them. Instead of working out a deal like mensches, the companies are taking their impasse to the public, and playing on the anxieties of parents with young children. Indeed, Viacom appears the guiltier company, since it is Viacom that is running crawls on its channels and popups on its websites, using the kind of language and typography more properly reserved for fake terror threat alerts.

Although Time Warner doesn’t answer its customer feedback number, some of the company’s phone numbers still work, and if you loop your way through a sufficient number of audio menus, you soon hear the company’s claim to be negotiating with Viacom.

If it were only about me, both companies could stuff it.

Will no one think of the children?

[tags]Viacom, Time Warner Cable, Noggin, high-speed access[/tags]

Kids say the darnedest things. Say the darnedest things. Say the darnedest things.

“Daddy, let’s play dinosaur. You can be the daddy dinosaur, mommy can be the mommy dinosaur, I can be the baby dinosaur, and doggy can be the doggy dinosaur.”

“Okay.”

“Daddy, let’s play leprechaun. You can be the daddy leprechaun, mommy can be the mommy leprechaun, I can be the baby leprechaun, and doggy can be the doggy leprechaun.”

“Okay.”

“Daddy, let’s play vampire. You can be the daddy vampire, mommy can be the mommy vampire, I can be the baby vampire, and doggy can be the doggy vampire.”

“Okay.”

Parenting a four-year-old is like living with Rain Man.

[tags]myglamorouslife[/tags]

Death

Ava, who is nearly four, is not so bothered about Daddy’s crippling monster toe, but great-grandma’s passing still troubles her.

She has calculated, correctly, that if great-grandma can die, anyone she loves is fair game.

Sometimes Ava defies the inescapable logic. She’ll tell a stranger, “My great-grandma died, but my grandma is never going to die.”

At other times, she plea bargains: “Mama,” she says, cuddling on the couch, “I don’t want you to leave me.”

She knows the happy part is that great-grandma is in heaven, but the sad part is that we don’t get to see her any more. And that she can’t talk. Or write letters. Or go to church. Or anything.

In short, she knows that dead is dead. And while she accepts the heaven part, the consolation is abstract.

Novelist Anne Rice lost her daughter in 1972. From the pain of this infinitely unfolding tragedy, she conceived a series of works about vampires, whom she portrays as god-like, immortal beings. In Rice’s vampire novels, a vampire seeking companionship in the dark night of eternity can confer “the dark gift” of immortality on a mortal by biting them just so. The series resonates in part because it darkly mirrors normal human experience. Life itself is a dark gift: every parent knows their child will suffer and die.

Our daughter is not yet on intimate terms with death, but the two have now met and exchanged a few words.

[tags]ava, family, growing up, death, glamorous, myglamorouslife[/tags]

What happened here

It’s been a month for milestones.

On May 31, my site turned 13 years old.

On June 7, making the previous milestone and all others possible, I had 15 years without a drink or drug.

On Saturday June 28, Carrie and I celebrated five years of marriage by hiring a babysitter, eating a meal, and bumming around the east village.

Between these landmarks came a flight to Pittsburgh and back-to-back train trips from New York to Washington DC, and Boston.

In the last-named burg we put on a two-day design conference for people who make websites.

At home during this same period, our daughter outgrew last month’s clothes, began swimming, got a big-girl bed, attended and graduated summer camp, stopped being even slightly afraid of school, hung out with her grandma, and advanced so much intellectually and emotionally that it would qualify as science fiction if it weren’t the lived experience of ’most everyone who has kids.

Between all that came the usual tumult of client meetings, client projects, and potential new business, giddily intermingled with the publication of two A List Apart issues. Make that three issues as of tomorrow.

Been busy.

If I had to pick an image to symbolize the month, it would be me on a rerouted slow Amtrak train from Boston to New York, using an iPhone and one finger to peck out a strategic response to an 80 page RFP.

That would have been the image, but now there’s a new one. For now there’s today.

On the calendar it is Happy Cog New York’s moving day. Today I pack up what for 18 years was either my apartment or Happy Cog’s New York City headquarters (and was most often both).

I hit bottom in this place. Ended a short-lived, tragically wrong first marriage. Rebuilt my life one cell at a time. Found self. Found love. Became a web designer. Found the love of my life. Married well, had a magical child. Wrote two books. Made money and lost it a couple of times over. Founded a magazine. Co-founded a movement. Worked for others. Freelanced. Founded an agency. Grew it.

It all happened here.

This gently declining space that has been nothing but an office since December and will soon be nothing at all to me, this place I will empty and vacate in the next few hours, has seen everything from drug withdrawal to the first stirrings of childbirth. Happiness, anguish, farting and honeymoons. Everything. Everything but death.

Even after our family moved, the place was never empty. The heiress to an American fine art legacy came here, to this dump, to talk about a potential project. Two gentlemen who make an extraordinary food product came here many times to discuss how their website redesign was going.

When I wasn’t meeting someone for lunch, I went downstairs to this wonderful little place to take away a small soup and a sandwich, which I ate at my desk while reading nytimes.com. Helming the take-away lunch place are three Indian women who are just the sweetest, nicest people ever. The new studio is just far enough away that I will rarely see these ladies any more. I will miss them.

I will miss Josef, the super here, with his big black brush mustache and gruff, gently-East-European-accented voice. He will miss me, too. He just told me so, while we were arranging for the freight elevator. We were kind to him after his heart attack and he has been kind to us since he arrived—the last in a long series of supers caught between an aging building and a rental agent that prefers not to invest in keeping the place up. The doormen and porters, here, too, some of whom I’ve known for nearly twenty years, my God. Can’t think about that.

I will miss being able to hit the gym whenever I feel like it and shower right in my workplace.

And that is all.

This is the death of something but it is the birth of something more. We take everything with us, all our experiences (until age robs us of them one by one, and even then, they are somewhere—during the worst of my mother’s Alzheimer’s, she reacted, however subtly, to Sinatra). We take everything with us. The stink and glory of this place will stay on me even when we are set up in our slick new space. It will be with me long after the landlord’s collection letters have stopped. This place, what happened here, will live until my head cracks like a coconut, and then some.

And now I pre-pack. Adieu, adieu.

[tags]happycog, moves, moving, newyork, NYC, design, webdesign, alistapart, wedding, anniversary, zeldman, zeldman.com, 5years, 13years, 15years[/tags]

Number Nine

Early this morning, in my last deep sleep, I was tormented by a nightmare concerning our three-year-old. In my dream, she was chasing some happy bauble. Call it a big floating bubble filled with sunshine. The bubble blew out of the park. She ran after it. I ran after her.

The bubble floated above a big street filled with speeding cars. I called her name and shouted stop, but she did not hear me or would not listen. Giggling and burbling, all young enthusiasm for the chase, she ran into the street of speeding cars. I ran into it after her.

The pursuit continued, block after block. The oblivious bubble. The excited child, dashing into street after street of speeding cars. Me behind, never able to catch up, never able to protect her, never able to make her stop.

Happy Father’s Day.

[tags]dreams, family, glamorous, parenting[/tags]

SXSW Parents Cooperatives

If I learned one thing at this year’s SXSW Interactive Festival, it was this: you can’t bring your three-year-old to SXSW Interactive and expect to actually participate in SXSW Interactive.

Don’t get me wrong: Trading parenting duties with your spouse enables you to see or contribute to at least some of the show’s panels and parties.

Don’t get me wronger: SXSW Interactive is foremost about the stuff that happens in halls, the chance meetings with your web heroes on Congress, the small gatherings and compressed conversations at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. These mini-gatherings are the best thing at SXSW, and, with the exception of an occasional meal cancelled on account of meltdown, you don’t have to miss out.

Don’t get me wrongest: Traveling with your young child is a privilege, and the memories you make are more precious than the panels you miss.

Still, there is the problem. SXSW Interactive is the annual gathering of the tribes. Many of the tribes now have younguns. Attending a two-day educational conference without your kids is not a huge deal, but SXSW lasts a week. The choices are not good: See the whole show but miss your kids for a week? Bring your kids and miss practically the whole show? Attend for only a couple of days, missing your kids and most of the show?

On the third day I found myself in a costly hotel room across from the conference center, skipping a keynote to play with Barbie dolls, it occurred to me that groups of parents could band together to create a more optimal experience.

Here’s how SXSW Parents Cooperatives could work: You and six other families bring your kids. An Austin nanny provides knowledge of local activities and primary child care. Parents pool their money to pay the nanny. Each day a different parent accompanies the nanny and kids to the playroom or museum or park. (That way there is always one parent present.) Everyone has each other’s mobile phone numbers; there are strict rules about drop-off and pick-up. Each participating parent misses one day of the conference, but gets to attend all the other days without worry or guilt.

It beats missing the conference—or your family.

Variations are possible. Maybe two parents hang with the nanny each day. Maybe one parent does the morning and another does the afternoon.

You start your co-op and I’ll start mine. For reasons of child safety and privacy, we can’t organize our co-ops on public-facing websites. But we can pool our experiences after next year’s show. Maybe several co-ops can start a wiki. Or a bowling tournament. Or a kid-friendly party or two.

Catch you ’round the jungle gym.

SXSW Interactive Video

  • Respect! Panel Excerpt featuring Douglas Bowman of Stopdesign and Google, and Happy Cogs Erin Kissane, Liz Danzico, and Jason Santa Maria. Moderated by Jeffrey Zeldman. The panel’s title gets mangled, and the name “Santa Monica” is shown when I talk, but interesting things are said about getting buy-in on design.
  • Michael Lopp and Jeffrey Zeldman on user interface design and managing design and development teams.

[tags]sxsw, parents, co-ops[/tags]

The SXSW Diet

Last year, a month or two before SXSW, I went on a movie star diet, all tiny portions of unseasoned unsucculent nothingness. I lost five pounds and wanted to murder the world.

This year I decided to skip desserts instead of dieting.

It’s amazing how many sweets you’re exposed to as the parent of a young child. Even if you don’t stuff your own larders with sugary treats, every weekend it’s some kid’s birthday party, where the cakes and ice cream flow like apple juice. In an environment where all that sugar and flour is normal, you partake without thinking.

So I started thinking.

Rejecting dessert soon became second nature. No birthday cake at little Johnny’s birthday bash. No fabulous pear thing when Grandma visited. No red velvet cake at the place in our neighborhood where it’s to die for. No exquisite little French pastries at the business lunch bistro. No little tin bowl of mango raisin coconut whatever at the best little vegetarian Indian place in Curry Hill. None for me, thanks. Not having any. It looks delicious, but no.

Man is a fallen creature and the devil weaves endless snares. I stuck to my no-dessert program through an onslaught of spectacular temptations. And then, like a fool, I succumbed.

Yesterday, the mother of the tot celebrating his third birthday came around with cupcakes baked into ice cream cones. Sugary vanilla frosting, M&M crumble topping, ordinary packaged cake batter, stock stubby cone—not even a sugar cone.

“No thanks,” I said, waving her away, but smiling to show that I appreciated the offer and did not judge anyone.

A minute later she came back, revolving them a few inches from my lips. “I made extras,” she said perkily.

“No thanks—well, okay,” I said, grabbing one of the things.

I wolfed it down. It was entirely as expected: an initial burst of pleasure followed by disappointment and regret. An absolutely ordinary child’s treat. Nothing special. No depth. Dutifully, no longer enjoying, I finished it all, even the dry, frostingless part deep in the little cone’s bottom.

It was like throwing away a marriage over a one-night stand with someone you met at a bus station.

[tags]sxsw, sxswi, parenting, dieting, food, treats[/tags]

Dear anonymous

Dear “New Yorker:”

It is snowing again in New York City. I’ll wait while you verify.

Presently the precipitation is recorded as 0.11 inches. But if you venture out, you may notice snow piles that are several inches high. How can we account for this discrepancy between the recorded height of snowfall and the actual height of some snow piles?

People shovel.

In this city, custodians and superintendents salted and shoveled sidewalks before 7:00 AM.

When people shovel, they push the snow into curbside banks that reach inches or even feet higher than the recorded snowfall level.

To see this, walk outside and look. The fresh air may do you good.

Sometimes after a snowfall, the temperature drops. Then those high banks of snow stick around.

Sometimes it warms just enough to rain into those frozen banks of snow. Then you get cold wetness that can reach into a toddler’s shoes (if she’s not wearing boots). And banks of old snow at the edges of curbs that, combined with freezing rain, can wet a small, bootless child halfway to the knees.

If you spent less time fact-checking other people’s blog posts and more time living, you would know these things about snow, and children, and weather reports.

And even if “halfway up to A—’s knees” were off by an inch or more, a person who is alive would say to themselves, “A father, worried about his child’s exposure to weather, sees conditions as somewhat worse than they are.”

A person who understands people might seek further evidence of hyperbole, and would find it: “My kid looked like she had been swimming in the East River.”

A parent, or a non-parent alive enough to imagine the anxieties of parenting, would recognize that this an exaggeration, intended to convey (and through the catharsis or writing, alleviate) parental guilt and anxiety.

Trying to prove strangers liars is no substitute for lived experience. You missed the point of what I shared, and attacked the reality of my story on petty (and false) grounds.

Let me tell you how your anonymous attack made me feel:

Blessed.

Blessed to have a meaningful life.

Blessed not to have to fill my hours poking around, looking for inaccuracies in other people’s websites, hoping to embarrass strangers.

Whoever you are, I hope your life grows richer than it is today.