My covid

For two-plus years, I have been a model of safety, consistency and restraint in the face of the covid-19 pandemic. I was among the first to stock up on supplies for the lockdowns; one of the first to acquire, and rely on, KN95 masks; one of the most cautious in public spaces. I made my family mask up in the most innocuous of situations and maintained a useful wariness everywhere I went. Everyone in my household was vaccinated and boosted at the earliest eligible moment.

We let our guard down when we could—socializing more during the summer 2021 ebb, throwing my son a mask-free bar mitzvah reception in October (negative tests required)—but to this day I am easily identified as the guy with the mask hanging around his neck, putting it back on as soon as appropriate. Never mind that many people are moving on from masks; never mind that in many parts of the country, covid-19 infection rates are fairly low. Better safe than sorry.

Two weeks ago, when we embarked on eight days of outdoor activity in the national parks of the American Southwest, guess who brought his mask everywhere? Me, that’s who. Stuck on a line? Talking to the hotel concierge? Mask up. My younger son joined me, two lonely beacons of caution in an increasingly carefree world. Covid’s still out there, and we weren’t going to be caught off guard.

Well, guess what.

I woke up Saturday morning in Phoenix with a pesky cough. (I also threw my back out in the shower; I don’t believe it was related, although it made things much more interesting.) I had virtually no appetite but chalked it up to the cough and the backache. I flew home uneventfully, masked in my KN95 all the way.

Sunday morning, my cough was worse, and seemed like a sinus infection was brewing, so I popped across the street to my local urgent care. They took my vitals and swabbed my nose. In came the doctor: “What seems to be the problem today?”

“Well, I sometimes get sinus infections, and I have all the signs of one, so here I am.”

“You don’t have a sinus infection,” he said, with just enough levity, “you have covid.”

The ensuing days have been… tiring. I began isolating immediately, although I’d already spent the evening and morning with my family unawares. Urgent care helpfully pescribed me a course of Paxlovid, which Alto pharmacy unhelpfully delivered three hours late, whereupon I headed to my in-laws’ empty house in suburbia to isolate. Too late: on Monday, my wife tested positive, and on Tuesday, my younger son, he of the diligent masking, got it as well. I brought him out of the city to ride out the virus with me.

It’s Wednesday, and the three of us have experienced a full slate of covid symptoms. I will personally remind you, dear reader, that covid-19 is no joke, no matter how many people tell you it’s “just like the flu” and “not a big deal.” We have coped with fever, chills, achiness, congestion, coughs and substantial amounts of fatigue. I think the Paxlovid made a real difference in reducing my viral load, but it still wiped me out, and I’ve had waves of tiredness all day today, my fifth day of symptoms.

“Covid sucks,” my son keeps saying. He has been a model of perseverance and good-naturedness despite (in adult terms) really feeling like shit. I’m on the mend but there’s a ways to go for us all.

Next week, I look forward to leveraging my brief immunity around New York: I’m going to dine out, get a massage, go to WeWork without unease. But I’ll still have my mask around my neck, ready to wear. Because if the last thing I wanted was to get covid-19, the last thing I want going forward is to get it again.

Sedecordle is the best -rdle

You’ve been playing Wordle the past few months, haven’t you? Who hasn’t? It’s a great little game, a couple of minutes of diversion, deep thought and great satisfaction. I play it almost every day.

To everyone’s delight, Wordle quickly spawned knock-offs, all in the open-source, free-to-play spirit of the original. I play a bunch of them. There are all sorts of variants, from words to maps to songs to movie stills. They all have their charms, and the internet is a little more fun as a result.

As someone who likes word puzzles, I’ve spent most of my -rdle gaming time on the letter games, espeically the spin-offs. Wordle begat Dordle, which is two wordles solved simultaneously; that led to Quordle, and the multiplying went from there: eight, sixteen, thirty-two, sixty-four. Many of them even use the same codebase.

You can play them in order, which is fun, or you can just hit the best ones: Wordle, the original, and Sedecordle.

Wordle is a brain teaser, great for all the well-documented reasons. Sedecordle is a puzzle: 16 words, 22 total guesses, each attempt painting in different parts of each grid. It is part word search, part crossword and part jigsaw puzzle, requiring dexterity and clever construction to find every word in time. It takes a few more minutes than Wordle, but like any good word game, the satisfaction that comes from completing it is great.

Sedecordle is inherently solvable, but not easy. I try to crack it in as few as 18 rounds, but I still lose outright maybe once a week. A word with multiple uncommon options (PATCH, MATCH, WATCH) can quickly undermine the day.

The others? All worthy, just not as satisfying. Dordle is a great little trifle, as is Quordle (although their word choices are much more esoteric). The 32- and 64-word options are noble but more of an endurance exercise than a game; they use every single letter, and with patience it’s just a matter of filling in words. Octordle alludes to the promises of Sedecordle, but the eight word grid is not as compelling as sixteen.

So: sedecordle. Enjoy.

The year in cities 2021

Seventeenth year! Despite not getting on a plane, because 2021, we managed to take half a dozen trips out of town, see several new places, and spend a whopping 58 nights sleeping somewhere besides my apartment. (That’s a remarkably high total for me, and is due largely to our pandemic snowbirding in February.)

Richmond, VA
Palm Beach Gardens, FL *
Savannah, GA
New City, NY *
Pittsfield, MA
Asbury Park, NJ
Newport, RI *
Gloucester, MA *
West Tisbury, MA *

Interesting firsts from this year include: throw my son a triumphal bar mitzvah; drive from New York City to Florida (so NBD we almost did it twice); play tennis on grass, in tennis whites, on the showcase court, at the Tennis Hall of Fame; get an entire new sunroof, headliner and carpet for our car at no cost; work 8-4 with daily tennis or golf for an entire month; run errands on a Citibike e-bike, and on a Revel scooter; bring a dog on the beach at the Jersey shore; eat Rhode Island clam chowder; turn a side hustle into a career opportunity; break 100 on a round of golf (for the first time in several years); find a starfish in a Bass Rocks tide pool (first time in at least 20 years); play paintball (first time in 29 years); get a virus vaccination at the Javits Center (first time ever).

Ring ring ring (ha ha hey)

Basic services are often compromised when living on an island. Living on, say, Nantucket, one probably gets used to losing power or phone service every now and again when the weather gets in the way.

That’s not supposed to happen when the island is Manhattan. So when our phone line went down for two full weeks, without notice or apology from our provider, we decided to switch our service.

This is kind of a big deal in my household. We possess a 212 phone number that we don’t want to lose, so doing a successful number port between service providers is critical. And more notably, until our switch, we still had a phone line served on copper.

I have long espoused maintaining an old fashioned land line. It doesn’t use electricity! In a blackout or an emergency, we can still make calls! (And, yes, tradition.) Heck, even during the signup for VOIP you have to acknowledge that your phone may not work in all circumstances—not true for copper.

And yet, pretty much everyone we call has a cable triple play now, and heck, maybe the police department does, too, not to mention the people and places that dropped their centralized phones entirely, in favor of their cell phones (of which we now have—gah—four. Although the children live on text and video chat, and barely need a number at all, but that’s another blog post).

So we accept the march of progress, and the roughly $700 a year in savings, and we move not-so-boldly into the future. I called Spectrum (with whom I have cable TV and internet service, through a bulk rate building package) and added our phone to it. There was lots of waiting for my rep to cheerfully set me up, then lots of saying “yes” to an automated verification system, then more waiting while Verizon and Spectrum did their number portability dance, and without fanfare, the phone would begin working through the cable modem instead of the copper line.

That led to an additional six weeks of limbo, as Spectrum needed Verizon’s signoff, and Verizon was unsure about our personal signoff, so nothing happened. Secondary prods didn’t help on either side, until we got billed by Spectrum for a month of nonexistent phone service, which prompted an impatient call from me, demanding a refund. That miraculously unclogged the pipes, and two days later, our phone number switched services.

Credit where it’s due, literally: Verizon was helpful after the switch, voiding our last month’s bill, and even sending a $2.93 debit card for a slight overpayment relative to the transition date. Spectrum fixed its extra bill, too.

And now? Our phone seems exactly the same as before, with the added perks of on-screen Caller ID if we’re watching cable TV when the phone rings, and a special ring sequence if the call is from our building lobby. These are not innovations, but they’re new to us, and still amusing. Otherwise, it’s the same old same old.

Until the power goes out, at least.

My career narrative, and some news

“So what do you do?”

I’ve thought about this a lot the past year or so. My career arc has been, from what I’m told over and over again, interesting. I used to be proud of it: “editor, writer, designer, blogger, manager, director, information architect, user experience consultant, marketer, strategist, business developer, and chief executive,” I once wrote, celebrating the variety.

Then I moved from ecommerce marketing and strategy into product management, and from product management into innovation, both in Fortune 500 companies. Suddenly, my resume was opening doors, but my bio left people a little confused. I did my best to refine the narrative—”oh, I build digital experiences, I focus on engagement and retention”—but being in product without a career focused on product was often a blocker.

So I did some analysis, and reflection on my career as a digital native, trying to redefine it: what do I do? I build digital experiences, yes, but what ties together the Kaplan Interactive AOL area and the ESG investing project at Citi? And here’s what I’ve ascertained:

I do what’s coming up next.

Turns out my career lives at the leading edge of the commercialization of the internet. Every few years, I pivot toward a new, important approach to digital communications and business models, with a job title that shifts accordingly. It explains how I wound up at Citibank, as an entrepreneur in residence for Citi Ventures, and looking back, it always has:

1995: the Internet! Interactive websites, America Online, digital publishing, web design, coding. I had an “oh wow” career establishing the online presence of venerable brands, growing sites 10X as people got on the so-called information superhighway, and helping define industry standards while learning what they meant.

2001: user experience. Usability, information architecture, optimization, analytics. I was one of the earliest practitioners and a published author on “website usability,” and I carried that flag for many years. Indeed, it still colors my approach today.

2006: ecommerce. Direct to consumer, acquisition and retention, omnichannel. Selling online was still somewhat novel when I entered the ecommerce arena full time in 2005. I got to champion new arenas to venerable brands again, and I launched one of the earliest DTC presences for a CPG manufacturer.

2013: startup ecosystems. Incubating, accelerating, coaching, advising, mentoring. From a volunteer slot as a “venture mentor” at my alma mater, NYU Stern, I got into startups, helping dozens of founders improve their approaches. I helped one startup win a major competition, joined another for a Techstars accelerator cohort, and continue to work with founders, small business owners and emerging executives.

2019: innovation and validation. Demand testing, in-market experiments, innovation labs. Joining Citibank’s innovation arm, sitting alongside the venture investing team, introduced me to customer-facing new product development. I delighted in the experimentation, and bringing such a strong focus to the customers for whom we were conceiving our products with a Jobs To Be Done approach.

As my residency at Citi wound down, I spent a lot of time thinking about where I’d go next. There were elements of many of my recent roles that I’d enjoyed: building products, putting customers first, exploring new markets, growing businesses and teams. I’m pleased to add another “up next” to this long list:

Supporting independent brands. I have joined the product team at Pantastic, an ecommerce website and growing ecosystem for supporting indie brands. Pantastic’s marketplace showcases hundreds of great brands and their products, and we’re hard at work creating ways to support them with innovative approaches to software and distribution.

Pantastic is also an early-stage startup. After many years working with startups as a coach, mentor and advisor, I’m excited to be in the thick of things, part of a small, growing team with a shared goal and outsize ambitions, where I can leverage many of the different aspects of my experience. I’m already learning a ton—that’s what doing what’s next is all about—and am excited for the ride. Stay tuned.

Twenty years past

Tomorrow is the 20th anniversay of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York. You know this, of course. This weekend, many corners of the internet will be commemorating the occasion.

I have never been one to look back on the event in great detail. Many people do (Anil Dash, for example, every year) and I appreciate their reflections without feeling much need or desire to add my own. I lived it, I wrote down my reactions in real time, and for me, that has been enough.

Speaking of which, my memories of the day and the week were chronicled here on the Ideapad, and I still recommend reading them; the page is both contemplative and raw, and it holds up. Also, for really raw writing about the event, my friend Adam’s firsthand writeup is chastening.

At the newsstand

It was a blazingly hot summer afternoon as I walked the dog. We walked down Broadway, where an electronic sign announced that both interstate lottery jackpots were around a quarter-billion dollars. I felt like daydreaming on my dog walk, so I stopped at the newsstand with the lottery terminal.

“One Mega Millions and one Powerball, please,” I said to the older man working the newsstand.

“One of each?” he said.

“Sure,” I replied, “maybe they’ll both come in.”

He paused a beat while the tickets printed. “One is enough,” he said.

Le Tour 2006

I caught the replay of the end of the 2021 Tour de France on TV today, and remembered that I inadvertently attended the finale of the 2006 tour.

Floyd Landis celebrating his victory.

How does one inadvertently crash the victory lap of the world’s most famous bicycle race? First, one gets sent to Paris on business; then, one flies early, to cope with jet lag and to enjoy an extra day in Paris on the company dime (thanks, Clarins!); then, one chooses to go for a walk on a beautiful summer day, and then starts wondering what all the fuss by the Champs Elysses is about, and keeps walking and watching.

Not speaking any French, I didn’t ask anyone for clarification, I just kept looking around, and I must have spotted a “Le Tour de France” sign that clued me in. I stayed by the Arc de Triomphe for a small parade, then saw the riders do their laps on the Champs Elysses, then meandered with the masses to the main stage, where I was able to see Floyd Landis accept his trophy from a remarkably close distance, maybe 100 feet (30 meters) away from the presentation (albeit from the back, which allowed me to get pretty close, as evidenced here).

It was a pretty wild thing to attend, especially by accident. I’m not a big cycling enthusiast, but I am a bike rider and I know the sport, so I enjoyed this very much, Landis’s subsequent dethroning notwithstanding. I have a hundred or so photos of the afternoon. Who knew?

I liked working for a French company. Nice travel perks. (Usually.)

Hello 1990

Greg Storey: “I got into grunge, but I never bought into MiniDisc.” Ah, MiniDiscs. I never bought into them, either.

That article and blog post brought Greg back to his first listen of Nirvana, which reminded me of my own “Smells Like Teen Spirit” experience, discussed here previously. I still have these moments: a few weeks ago, a car stopped on the corner of 99th and Broadway blasting an amazing jam, and I stopped to Shazam it, and the driver and I shared a moment as my family chuckled at us both. Music serendipity is a favorite ethereal phenomenon of mine.

All the pizza near me

Growing up, my hometown of Livingston, N.J., had 13 pizza parlors for a population of 27,000. Why I knew (and know) this, I’m not sure, save for the fact that I very much enjoy getting a pizza delivered for dinner.

As a New Yorker, I’ve never lacked for pizza options, but my immediate neighborhood is now bursting at the seams with them, so I’m taking stock (because why not). It was recently revealed that Traviata, a good slice joint down in the West 60s, is opening on 106th and Broadway, which will bring the number of pizza parlors within a 10-minute walk of my home to fifteen:

Sal and Carmine—our go-to slice joint, sweet and hearty and delicious. The neon sign in the window that says “LARGE SLICE” is not lying.

Mama’s Too!—the heralded pizza innovator, both interesting and delicious. The pepperoni and the honey-pear slices are our faves.

Mama’s—where the owner of Mama’s Too got his start, a traditional slice place with excellent grandma pies and garlic knots.

La Vera—pretty good slice joint that moved into Two Boots’s space (sigh) a couple of years ago. I wanted to support them but the pizzas are hit or miss.

La Famiglia—you know, that one. Ours makes a pretty solid pie. My younger son likes it the best.

Perfecto Pizza—technically in my 10-minute radius, but we never go there, because it’s terrible. (Their adjacent Greek restaurant seems to do well, though.)

Little Italy Pizza—also in the close-enough-but-not-really range; there is better, closer, but yes.

Broadway Pizza—this was pretty good, then it wasn’t, then it changed owners, but I haven’t been in awhile. They have a good lunch deal.

Cheesy Pizza—eh.

Cafe Viva—vegan and organic pizza with a good reputation, but we’ve never tried it.

Bosino—a brick-oven pizza parlor that seems nice but we have yet to try. Maybe we’ll hit this one next.

Cafe Roma—another one we haven’t tried, over on Amsterdam. Might be kosher (which might be why we haven’t tried it… kosher ≠ pepperoni pizza).

Serafina—not a pizza parlor, per se, but a New York Italian restaurant with a pretty good pizza on the menu. We get it as an appetizer.

Oh, and there’s a Papa John’s up Amsterdam, too. Think we’ll ever get to it?