Technology

Little Printer Lives!

Back in late 2014, I bought a Little Printer on the cheap.  I’d always wanted one – it was cheerful and tactile and whimsical in a moment when most tech… wasn’t. Skeuomorphism was on the skids, back then; ‘flat’ and faceless experiences like iOS7 and Metro ascendant.

I got a steal on Little Printer because the product was already end-of-life’d.  Berg, the tiny UK firm producing it, had folded a couple months prior, and while a skeleton crew kept Berg’s servers running, my Little (and very-Bergcloud-dependent) Printer was never meant to last.

the longest Little Printer roll ever!

But, boy, did Tam love the thing while it worked.

The flashing light that indicated there was news to print was a big excitement.  She liked the feed from the ‘Little Men’ books.  She particularly adored one feed that dished up Daily Cats.  

For a while, she was obsessed with creating the longest-possible uncut Little Printer feed.  Just because. 

And then, alas, they shut it all down.

I followed along for a bit as one of the founders worked to spin up an open-source version of the Bergcloud servers, but it was fairly gnarly at the start, and frankly, beyond my technical ken.  From an end-user perspective, the old cheer and charm seemed permanently out of reach.

Fast-forward, then, four years, when I stumble across this headline:  Little Printer returns as an open-source messaging device

The article tells the story, but in short, a small UK consultancy re-built the client side of the equation, going so far as to release an iOS app, and most importantly, a fairly straightforward guide on how to get up and running.  A nice little side project for the company portfolio and PR efforts.

It was enough to get me interested.  And to attempt late-night open-heart surgery on the circuit board inside Little Printer’s bridge, using a USB-to-TTL cable, old-school SSH, and some very careful copy-and-pasting of commands in terminal windows.

It worked.

And here we are in 2019, with our Little Friend back in the kitchen.

 

 

Family SoCal

The end of 2018

 

I’ll give 2018 this much: it ended well.

Not that it was particularly bad or difficult year, for our family — we have far too much to be thankful for.  Gratitude is due, and given.

 

And yet.

If years were U2 albums, well, 2018 wasn’t exactly “The Joshua Tree”, was it?

“No Line On The Horizon” —  yeah, that’s another U2 album, one so forgettable I had to look it up just now — seems a more appropriate match for 2018.  Amorphous. Directionless. Interstitial.

Generally unloved.

 

And yet…

2018 ended with color and joy.  Sunset on a beach called Silver Strand, in the unexpected company of old friends and their offspring.

It was a low-key New Year’s Eve in the very best of ways; effortless, comfortable, and fun.  Kids exhausted themselves early, playing tag on the beach in the dark, and we had everybody tucked in at a Residence Inn well before midnight.  I stayed awake —  waiting, in a pitch-dark hotel room, for 12:00 fireworks to appear on my Apple Watch — and went to sleep completely happy.

 

And so:

I woke with high hopes for 2019.  An unanticipated spirit for embracing the year ahead, that, three days later, I still haven’t managed to shake.

Maybe it’s because we have European summer adventures on the books, already; maybe it’s a gut awareness that change and reinvention are coming.  All I know is that 2019 deserves a rallying cry, and I’m rolling with one that could be a caution, or a warning… but let’s carry the musical metaphor, and call it a goal:

“Achtung, Baby!”

Cambridge Days Excursions Elsewhere

Back and There Again

Can’t really call a place “an old haunt” until you’re back and weirdly lingering around, and yeah, that’s us now on Day 3 of travels.

We’re in Cambridge, and whoah, what a difference a decade makes: our first steps out of the train station felt unexpectedly foreign, jolted by the phalanx of new real-estate developments that loom over the tracks. It took a couple good blocks of pulling suitcases for Cambridge to start feeling like Cambridge, again, familiar row houses and all.

We’ve spent all of five hours back in the old neighborhood, and I’m already set to make snap judgements: the Cambridge Blue lost its indie charm (and former owner, I presume), Mill Road’s gained none (not sure I’d ever want it to), and most importantly, the mystery of Roll On Blank Tapes persists.

Roll On Blank Tapes, Gwydir street

Seriously. While the faded mural for Hot Numbers Records on Kingston St. has gone so far as to be restored, like a valued fresco from days of yore, just a couple blocks away, there sits an empty shopfront that’s got TDK MiniDisc and Top Tape adverts plastered to the windows, still. Each one every bit as sun-faded and dust-covered as they were in 2004, when we first arrived.

I’m told there’s a connection to H. Gee, another temporally-resistant shopfront which mysteriously endures on Mill Road. I bought ~50p of fuse wire there, once, years ago, and even then, had the strong sense mine would be the only transaction of the day.  I say “endures”, but it might be “endured” — right now, the window stock looks worryingly sparse.

Can’t help but think there’s a strange synchronicity, beyond just the shape of the name, between H. Gee and E. Buk, that odd Manhattan shop window that appeared in Pattern Recognition (and my own serendipitous wanderings through SoHo, once).  E. Buk’s window so artfully curated, H. Gee so bizarrely random; one like ikebana, the other like jetsam, yet both so arresting.

H. Gee shopfront, Mill Rd, Cambridge

Anyhow. Turns out while Hot Numbers may not be slinging vinyl anymore, there is a sweet coffee shop here that’s resurrected the name, dutifully spinning records and giving me just enough pricey coffee and free wifi needed to hit [POST].

Excursions Elsewhere

Unarchive, Edit, Recompile, Run

Like an old and broken pickup truck, this blog mostly just sits on blocks.  Bits and bytes weather the elements, one season to the next, while the odds its engine will turn over decay each day.

But the batteries — if you’ll indulge my metaphor — apparently still hold a charge, and from time to time I do manage to take this thing out for a spin.  It rarely lasts.

Nevertheless, I’m tinkering under the hood, again. The CMS engine is sputtering in fits and starts as I flush the bit-rot and rebuild the broken pieces: crufty MovableType backups, a half-busted Tumblr migration, ancient Blogger exports,  inconsistently-applied Markdown syntax.  It’s a strange return to a bunch of unfashionably-longform posts written in a voice that’s familiar, but definitely not mine, not me, not anymore.

Still, it’s a labor of love. And behind lock and key of a [ LOG IN ] link, I’ve finally managed to un-archive and republish a hundred-odd private posts I wrote for friends and family when our first child was born abroad. The archived timestamps remain accurate to the minute, but damn if it doesn’t all just feel so long ago when I read those posts now.

Anyhow.  A decade of parenting provides enough wry perspective to know how niche the readership for such material is — but it was a much-needed connection to family, then, and there’s two precious kids reading those posts for the first time, now, and I reckon that’s all the audience that really matters.

But enough of the past, neh?

I’ve got the engine running. And the weather suddenly feels right for writing. We have Big Travel back on our itinerary, after so many years, and I can’t wait — our little family’s about to hit the road for a good stretch.

Let’s see if this old blog can do the same.

"Big Job" fire truck in the woods

Salish Sea

Outbound

Another week, another turn of the crank.  I’m outbound, and more so than usual, going from ferries to flights to freeways for a busy week in California.

Non-stop motion seems to be the way of things, though, at least for the moment – our family made our intra-island move to our long-term home here on the 1st, started school 48 hours later, and then piled into a small flotilla of boats for an all-school trip to Orcas and San Juan.

“All-school” was 9 kids.  And ‘field trip’ was 3 days of camping, cooking and curriculum.  Marine Studies are a core theme for the semester; we started one day assembling a whale skeleton in The Whale Museum, and ended by spotting a humpback whale surface at sunset.  Bit of luck with that last bit, sure, but what mattered to me was seeing firsthand how these teachers really can work a one-room-schoolhouse class, tailoring the instruction and the work across such a range of ability.  That part was all skill.

The marine studies continued over the weekend (in my absence, alas) as the school gathered by the county dock for a seine.  I watched vicariously through video and pics from Azure – Em got lucky and found a sculpin, which was neat, albeit not so pretty in person as on Ballast Point bottles.

* * *

And now it’s Tuesday afternoon.  Which means my kids must be in the water, again, earning their PE credits sailing and kayaking.

I’m on an Amtrak.  Peeling slowly out of Union Station, and accelerating south, past graffiti walls and empty aqueducts.  Used to really like staring at this stuff out the car window, when I was a kid.

Still do.

Non-stop motion!

amtrak departing union station, la

Salish Sea

Why

Once people hear where, the next question so often is, “Why?

I try to answer, but sense that I never do a particularly great job of it.

There is an answer, obviously, but it’s a jumbled mix of signals from head, heart, and gut.  A need adventure in one sense, a want for an anchoring in another; it’s a litany of little desires, or maybe it’s about big bold change.  Any sincere response wades out of casual-conversation territory pretty fast.

But fundamentally it’s for the kids.  Since kindergarten, Em has said that she wanted to go to school on the island.  “Yes, wouldn’t that be nice, we’ll do that someday, the whole family”, we’d say, and next thing you know, the kid is suddenly a fifth-grader.

Some windows don’t stay open forever…

As for Tamsin, she’s the more change-averse.  Prefers to maintain a well-defended comfort zone.  Was happy enough talking about the potential move to here, just so long as it didn’t necessitate a move from where she was.

When we arrived a few weeks back, she refused to touch her bike.  Too hard, she’d say, too many rocks, too scary.  But Azure cajoled her, under protest each time, into some short but ever-increasing cycling forays.

And then: belief.  Like with so many other things, Tamsin flipped polarity from her amplified self-doubt to a stubborn self-confidence.  Meanwhile I’m back in Seattle, doing a quick 2 day turn at MSFT, settling into a notably empty house, and Azure texts me a pic.

It’s Tam.  Who’s now apparently refused to even get into the car after a late dinner with friends, instead insistent on leading the way by bike, furiously pedaling home through woods and dirt and darkness.

Why did we move here?

Because this:

IMG_2958

 

Salish Sea

Begin Again

It’s been a long time since I blogged.  A decade-plus in which even the word “blog” seemingly went bankrupt, losing the pre-Facebook relevance and riches it so confidently owned, back in the Noughties.  It’s 2015, now, a punchy, Lomo-filtered landscape where thought and expression require just a press of a ‘Like’, maybe 140-characters at most, and it’s all so much simpler and easier, now…

And yet.

I think I miss it.  The writing.  The regular rhythm.  The blogging.

Plus, I have time, now.  And not just any old time, but the longest-lasting, heaviest-duty, most second-stretching kind of Time they make, namely, commute time.

When I blogged Emmie’s first days, we were living in England, and I ran a grueling 90-minute daily commute from Cambridge to London.  Boredom became the mother of creation, for a bit.  And this time the commute is longer:  Seattle to the San Juan Islands, and one of the more remote ones, at that.

It’s a two hour drive, an hour+ on a ferry, then 30 minutes on a 26’ SeaSport, just to get to the county dock.  Of course, it goes the other way ‘round, sometimes, all direction-dependent, you-see, but the long and the short is that there’s now suddenly lots of time; time enough to think, and time enough to write.

I hope.

Let’s see.