Saturday, September 15, 2018

Cord cutting my cable gives me unlimited TV options this fall

Some might think my recent decision to get rid of cable TV for the first time ever is crazy in the midst of the peak-TV era. But I'm super excited to watch as much TV as ever with my simple cord-cutting strategy.

I've got Amazon Prime, Netflix, Sling TV, YouTube, and MLB on my Roku and get to spend about $100 less than I was with Verizon Fios, which I basically never watched and had a big pile of junk on my DVR that I always felt obliged to watch.

After trying a few other apps, Sling TV is clearly the best. I'm paying $45 a month for the channels I want to watch and even have 50 hours of cloud DVR included. And maybe the best thing about Sling compared to cable is that I can watch live or recorded TV anywhere on any of my devices.

Here are some shows I hope to catch this fall and where I'll watch them:


Netflix brings continuing tales like Ozark, and new shows like Maniac, which stars Emma Stone and Justin Theroux in a drug trial gone wrong. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina sounds intriguing as a bit of spinoff from Riverdale and starring Mad Men's Kiernan Shipka as the protagonist.

Amazon's new Forever, starring Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph is being billed as a must-see take on a faltering relationship. And The Romanoffs is producer Matthew Weiner's first return to TV since Mad Men.

Viceland on Sling has The Hunt for the Trump Tapes, with Tom Arnold searching journalist-style for at least a handful of Trump's pre-presidential idiocies. I can't imagine The Cool Kids could be good, but it is co-created by It's Always Sunny's hilarious Charlie Day and I can watch Fox on Sling. I'll probably also continue to give The Good Place a shot on Sling's NBC.

Once the football, college basketball, and baseball seasons end and I can switch up my sports-heavy Sling subscription (you can change it around anytime rather than being locked into a cable contract), I'll subscribe through Sling to Showtime. Jim Carrey is being hyped as a return-to-form Mister Rogers type in Kidding. And Escape at Dannemora, about the recent prison break in upstate New York, looks like true-crime fun.

I might have to splurge for the HBO app at some point too. Not that Lena Dunham's new Camping is the thing that will break me towards doing it, but it won't hurt either.

And of course, like any good cord cutter, I bought an antenna for $20, which allows me to watch the two "networks" I don't get through Sling TV, CBS and PBS. Can't think of a reason besides football that I would ever watch CBS, but the Native America documentary on PBS could help me put that antenna to use.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Stop signs can help us make the world a better place

Originally published at MobilityLab.org.


Americans can take action to slow the decline of civil society simply by focusing on the ubiquitous stop sign.
If you’ve ever ridden a bicycle on city streets, you recognize that there are a ton of people driving while texting. It’s easy to see because a person on a bike can easily see down into people’s cars.
If you’re walking, you know how often people driving won’t stop for you in clearly-marked crosswalks. They either don’t notice you or don’t care, feeling smugly protected in their cages.
Meanwhile, everyone in cars sees people on bikes and foot doing things we deem as reckless (zipping in and out of traffic or not watching what’s in front of them on the sidewalk).
This all fits into a fascinating little brief commentary in the Glendale (Calif.) News-Press that horrifyingly documents the war zone that exists in the vicinity of stop signs.
Do you stop at stop signs? So few drivers do that Glendale posted temporary electronic signs informing drivers to “stop at stop signs.” What’s next: “breathe in and out”?
The other day I pulled up to [a four-way] intersection. Cars were at each of the four stop signs.
To my left was a car making a left turn. The next driver to go was supposed to be me. Just as I released my brake ready to enter the intersection, the car immediately behind the one that made the turn quickly followed right behind so closely that it appeared one car was towing the other.
It was one of those eye-popping “did that just happen” moments. There were at least five other drivers who witnessed that illegal and highly dangerous maneuver.
What was going through the mind of that man behind the wheel? Obviously, he did not give a whit about the rules of the road and was determined to shave off a few seconds from his commute — to hell with everybody else.
In what little research that exists on the matter, there is no correlation between getting moving violations and changing one’s driving habits.
The author goes on to make the suggestion that parents and school systems need to do a better of teaching the increasingly lost art of social responsibilities. Schools are definitely cutting funding for driver’s ed.
That’s one problem. It’s also a sure sign that, if there’s not as much education about how to drive as part of the rules of the road, there is almost certainly not much teaching going on about how young people should operate in an increasingly multimodal society.
Since police forces no longer put much time into ticketing people who run stop signs, one transportation demand management offshoot strategy is to petition local governments for street-calming measures such as speed humps, traffic circles, bike lanes (or, better yet, protected bike lanes), wider sidewalks (or, in many cases, any sidewalks), and many others.
On a hyper-local level, I’m leading a neighborhood charge in my city of Takoma Park, Md. Even though my street already has a nice sidewalk and stop signs that aren’t too far apart, we have noticed more and more of exactly what the journalist in Glendale details. Despite the high prevalence of kids playing and people walking, drivers constantly blow through the stop signs in front of our house. They seemingly don’t care or have lost the muscle memory be able to stop in the name of either the law or human decency.
All my crusade will take is 2/3 of the households on my block and the two adjacent blocks to agree to get the city to install a speed hump in front of my house. That equates to 12 households, which seems like a pretty easy task in the name of perhaps saving the lives of the kids on our street.
Even if my petition fails to get the required signatures, at the very least, I’ve informed my neighbors about the research that shows speed humps are a valuable addition to our transportation spaces.
As always, so much of TDM’s success hinges on getting infrastructure to adapt to new trends. Steps like my petition for speed humps is a perfect example of the importance of TDM, also known as transportation education.


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Living better often means having calmer mobility options

Originally published at Mobility Lab.

It’s great when journalists dig down deeper into the core, fundamental meaning of the issues.
Alex Marshall of GOVERNING does a commendable job of digging deeper down into the word “mobility.” It is an imperfect word, but it actually gets about as close as possible to defining the way people move around.
Despite not giving an explanation as to why he finds the word mobility “pretentious,” the article lands on some pretty insightful conclusions, including this one, which begs to become a tagline for one of the gazillion new mobility startups:
Sometimes the slower you move, the farther you get.
He points out the communities with all the amenities located in a dense space, like his in Brooklyn, N.Y., have a good thing going, and that avoiding most instances of needing to get in a car (except when you just need that refreshing Sunday drive) creates a much better, happier standard of living.
Then he quotes me:
Paul Mackie … points out that we all have different spheres of mobility – including our neighborhood, our city, our region and the world beyond – and they vary in quality. “In your Brooklyn example, you might have great access to everything by foot in your walkable neighborhood, but your ability to access your doctor on the Upper West Side is limited because driving in the city is difficult and the subways are delayed,” he wrote in an email.
Although I find the term “mobility” pretentious, it may have come into favor because it takes in other options besides personal driving for getting around. And having more ways to travel improves your mobility, by my scorecard. “The mobility mix is getting really interesting now with Uber, Lyft, e-bikes, e-scooters, bikeshare, dockless bikeshare, hover boards, autonomous cars, autonomous shuttles, work shuttles,” Mackie wrote, and people are waking up to that. “They’re not simply sleepwalking into the cars in their driveways in the morning.”
Whatever one’s thoughts are about the term mobility, it’s heartening to know that more journalists are starting to get the memo that transportation and mobility aren’t always about driving and flying.
See our recent article on what mobility means.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Waterworld was not Raiders of the Lost Ark because ...

There's a thin line between success and failure in movies.

Take, for example, Kevin Costner's "epic" Waterworld, which I've somehow managed to miss until now. In fact, people have always told me I'm right to have missed it.

But really, there's very little difference between Waterworld and other classic action adventures like Raiders of the Lost Ark. Costner is almost as cool as Harrison Ford, with the gills behind his ears, his webbed feet, and his ability to swim all the way to the bottom of the ocean to see lost cities, kind of like the Statue of Liberty's famous appearance in the original Planet of the Apes.

Where things get dicey is the moment his co-star, Jeanne Tripplehorn, says, "We're going to die here, aren't we?" after Dennis Hopper's gang of Smokers leaves them for dead on Costner's beloved burnt-to-a-crisp ship.

Of course they're not going to die there. Just moments before, Costner had shown Tripplehorn how he can breathe under water for inordinate amounts of time. And still before that he had shown her how he could take her all the way to the bottom of the deep sea with absolutely no problem at all.

Writing and plot-point slips like that keep Waterworld from becoming a classic. Or at the very least a cult classic. It's a damn compelling movie otherwise. The premise is hard to beat when it comes to sci fi: the Earth has been swallowed by the sea and this is what happens many years later for the surviving barbarians.

Even the second-to-last scene, when Costner hilariously (I literally burst out laughing) jumps out of a balloon to pluck the little girl out of the water before she is potentially killed by a bunch of evil knuckleheads on ATVs, couldn't have kept the wack-job film from becoming a classic.

It's no surprise that the two female leads, who suffer from the hands of an earlier time when it was normal for the likes of Costner and Hopper to bat them around like rag dolls again and again, never saw their careers take off like rockets after Waterworld.

Tripplehorn somehow managed to salvage a bit of a career with roles in TV's Big Love and as Jackie Kennedy in Grey Gardens (she does look like Jacqueline O). Tina Majorino as the little girl could have perhaps become a massive star if not for her involvement in Waterworld, with great dabbles of success in Napoleon Dynamite and also a bunch of TV shows, also including Big Love.

I frankly couldn't take my eyes off Waterworld. Like a ship going down. But it did take me three installments of watching over three consecutive nights. I would have hated to be in the movie theater watching it all in one stretch.

2.5 out of 5 stars (mediocre, which is pretty much panning it since it was supposed to be a slam dunk)

Friday, July 6, 2018

Drive-By Truckers bring Southern charm to Yankee territory

Hard to believe it had been nine years since I last saw the Drive-By Truckers, and even longer since I've seen co-leader Patterson Hood, who was out with walking pneumonia for that show.

Also hard to believe, as long as I've been coming to the Adirondacks, that I'd never seen a show at the Saratoga (N.Y.) Performing Arts Center, an outdoor amphitheater. Stanton, Jason, and I scored sweet seats about 15 rows back in the center, thanks to Rachel's grandmother's "patron" status at SPAC.

The sound was a little too muffled for my taste during the Truckers' set (it oddly sounded clearer when I wandered on the lawn out back). Of course, there is never any comparing to D.C.'s 9:30 Club, where I last saw the band and which always has immaculate sound.

The setlist leaned heavy on the American Band LP, which I ranked as the 36th best of 2016. They played "Ramon Casino," "Darkened Flags on the Cusp of Dawn," "Surrender Under Protest," and "Kinky Hypocrite" from that release. All strong mid-tempo chuggers.

Some of the definite highlights were off the Truckers' classic albums, including the Skynyrd-y "Sink Hole" from 2003's Decoration Day, "Let There Be Rock" from 2002's Southern Rock Opera, and Hood's epic slow burners "A Ghost to Most" from 2008's Brighter Than Creations Dark and "Babies in Cages," which obviously couldn't have been more timely, as America currently licks its chops at taking great pride in ripping families apart from each other.

My favorite was "Marry Me," off Decoration Day, which may be their best best, most signature track. Bassist Matt Patton's (formerly of the excellent Dexateens) showcase Ramones' cover "The KKK Took My Baby Away" was my second favorite moment of the night.

Also, I liked openers The Marcus King Band, and headliners Tedeschi Trucks Band was entertaining too, as the place really became electric once the sun went down after the Truckers' set.

Drive-By Truckers: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Stephen King's latest novel captures the zeitgeist of our immigration times

Stephen King's novels often take place in Maine, and could often happen in just about any timeframe.

Some of that could be said for his latest, The Outsider. But it still ends up feeling very much of this time and place. "The outsider" feels like code language for the country's ongoing struggle with what we think immigration means. We as Americans seem to have a very hard time trusting people who aren't quite like us. And King displays how that lack of trust often extends even to the people we think we know intimately well.

Also, the setting is in Oklahoma and Texas (with a little good-old Midwestern Ohio thrown in), places where the immigration debate rages especially strong. Like the epic tale's early protagonist, Terry Maitland, I too studied English and coach baseball. Perhaps that helps me relate especially well.

Maitland is one of Cap City's most loved personalities. But several eyewitnesses catch him kidnapping a young boy who is later found partially eaten and sexually attacked. The townsfolk turn violently against Maitland and his family.

Meanwhile, a second story unfolds through the book's second half, when investigator Holly Gibney comes to town to assist in finding whether Maitland or an imposter who can shape shift into others' faces and bodies is the perpetrator. A group of investigators go on the search to a scary mine shaft in Marysville, Texas, and it's not too much of a spoiler to say some of them won't return.

The Outsider may be the shortest 560-page book I've ever read. That's because it's such a page-turner. Like with many of King's books, this one has so many levels of suspense going on all the time that it becomes painful to have to put down. This is one of several of his books that left me sad that it had to end.

On my list of favorite King books, I put this at #7, right behind Pet Cemetery and in front of Under the Dome.

4.8 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Stephen Malkmus helps Pavement's legacy continue to grow


No matter how many years go by since the demise of my third-favorite band of all time, Pavement's legend just keeps growing because leader Stephen Malkmus just keeps adding so much music to the catalog. (Much like how the combo of Velvet Undergound/Lou Reed maintains its place as my fifth-favorite ever.)

And that huge catalog translates to great shows every time I see Malkmus (like the last time in 2014 and, needless to say, the Pavement reunion show in 2010).

The latest, June 18 at Black Cat in D.C., was no different.

The show began with a great one-two punch of two of my favorite songs from the new album Sparkle Hard. "Cast Off" was the warm up for both the album and the show, followed by the hipster bike-lover showcase of "Bike Lane."

In fact, some of the strongest moments came courtesy of Sparkle Hard: "Solid Silk" is mesmerizingly beautiful. "Refute" is fun, corn-pone goodness (and includes Kim Gordon, formerly of Sonic Youth, on the record).

Two songs off 2005's Face the Truth were definite highlights. "Malediction" is an under-rated happy ditty and "Freeze the Saints" (with just singing and no guitar from Malk), would make any greatest hits collection should there ever be one for his post-Pavement material.

2011's Mirror Traffic also made an appearance with the mellow "No One Is (As I Are Be)" and the soaring "Stick Figures in Love." (Strangely, there were no songs from 2014's Wigout at Jagbags.)

"Dark Wave," although far from the best song on 2003's Pig Lib, was the weirdo tune needed for the middle of the set. The new "Future Suite" kept the loopiness going. Then "Shiggy," also off Sparkle Hard, brought the screamo Pavement-like rock.

The weakest moments of the show were "Brethren" off the new album (the representative of what now seems to be a requirement for every Malkmus album, the one song that sounds like a Grateful Dead outtake) and the new, droning and ProTools-y "Rattler." And I've never been all that crazy about "Baltimore," from 2008's Real Emotional Trash, but it definitely fit well as the guitar-jam for the end of the main set.

The encore couldn't have been more perfect. The best song on the latest release, "Middle America," led into Pavement classics "Shady Lane" and "In the Mouth a Desert" ("when you treat it like an oil well"), at which point Pablo and I got so excited in the 12th row or so that we spilled beer everywhere.

****1/2 out of ***** stars