"Tacoma isn't cool."

Recently, I listened to an episode of the Move to Tacoma podcast where Tacoma author/wise-guy—just kidding—Erik Hanberg mentioned that Tacoma is not cool. More specifically, that Tacoma should stop attempting to beat Portland and Seattle at their own games (to paraphrase, he mentioned that Tacoma is not Portland of the north.) The podcast touched on these themes briefly before moving on to talk about what is great about Tacoma—affordability, accessibility, etc. The Move to Tacoma podcast certainly has an agenda behind it, but the information it has covered thus far has been enlightening.

For instance, I recently ventured into a part of town that even I have bad mouthed in the past—the east side—to embark on a mission to try Tacoma's best nachos. They were certainly the best nachos I have ever eaten, and the Top of Tacoma bar can probably advertise they have the best nachos in town at this point. (I should know, I'm a nacho expert.) On that same episode, podcast host Marguerite and guest Marty Campbell mentioned that Tacoma needs to start loving itself more. (It may have been another episode, actually..but I can't be made to research it.) There is no reason why the east side should be the stereotypical Tacoma for Tacomans—it doesn't smell, it isn't riddled with gangs and crime, and it certainly doesn't suck. So why do we as Tacomans feel this way about some of the great parts of our city? We are lazy and we care too much about what others think of us.

Tacoma has great neighborhoods. Neighborhoods where the streets are lined with trees, the houses aren't neglected and people care about their yards, and too often when defending our city we bring up these neighborhoods and discredit the rest. The east side and south end are very easy to throw under the proverbial bus, but they shouldn't be cast aside. Tacomans need to stop crediting tired stereotypes with the argument "my neighborhood isn't like that, but this other one is a crack den." We have all done it, myself included. Tacoma is great and all of us are Tacomans, not just the residents of the north end and downtown.

So why isn't Tacoma cool? Because we are trying too hard. Outside communities have already made up their minds about Tacoma, and the more Tacoma tries to change them the more ridiculous we look. We don't need to convince the naysayers that we are just as good as—if not better than—they are because we can exist on our own. If somebody turns their nose up at you when you tell them where you're from, you don't need to waste your time with them. That person is a dick-face, and they can stay in their city with all of their friends who think the same.

Tacoma only needs Tacoma.

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How to destroy municipal broadband in 60 days!

A) Strongly Agree. B) More or Less Agree. C) Really Agree D) Enough Already! - By RR Anderson

The above Tacomic, by Tacoma's RR Anderson, illustrates the absurdity of the entire proposed plan to lease Tacoma's Click! network out to Wave, a Kirkland based for-profit telecommunications company, for 40 years. In his own words, RR Anderson writes

Crybaby Tacoma Public Utilities (TPU) says CLICK! needs upgrades and oh by the way is losing tons of money because yeah Cable TV sucks a big one and nobody wants to pay for an outhouse full of channels they never watch... SOLUTION?! Sell control for FORTY GOD DAMN YEARS to some Kirkland, WASH. ding dongs that customers hate just as much as Comcast? So dumb. Yeah maybe sell off cable TV, who cares? But INTERNETS should stay with the city. While we're at it, why not sell INTERNETS CLICK! DIRECT? Why must we deal with these idiot ISPs like dumb middle man Advance Stream, dumb Rainier Connect and The other dumb one? WHY!? EVEN SO, this cartoon is an illustrated TRUE STORY of a CLICK! public comment news tribune story.

I honestly couldn't say it better myself, but because this is a blog and that's why you're here, I'm certainly going to attempt it.

Tacoma isn't the only City in the country that offers broadband internet and cable TV to its residents on a municipally owned network, and it certainly doesn't offer the fastest service. Tacoma's Click! isn't even the cheapest option all of the time, as the field starts to narrow when you approach higher speed tiers. While Click! is showing its age and could probably use some upgrades, using potential upgrades to pressure a city into making a 40 year decision in 60 days is insulting and ridiculous.

Click! has problems. It is currently being pillaged by fees from content providers for the television portion of its business model, and this is unsustainable. While the numbers provided by Tacoma Public Utilities are likely inflated, the fact of the matter is that Click! is being subsidized by power subscribers—this isn't good, but what can they do?

The answer, and solution, to that question is not simple. There is no way to solve the problem without first hurting someone's feelings. Do we drop television service entirely while keeping internet for the masses? Or, do we lease our network to Wave and reap the benefits of upgrades promised under a lease agreement that won't actually benefit Tacoma for another 40 years?

The cable industry is changing. Television service for all cable providers has been losing subscribers for a few years now, and it is showing in the huge increases of fees placed upon the cable networks. People are "cutting the cord", so to speak, and the networks are hurting. But do we need to hurt with them? Of course we don't. If Tacoma cannot compete with them, then Tacoma should not try. Tacoma doesn't have the same budget as Comcast, or Wave and never will—we cannot afford to provide television service on the backs of our power subscribers, so we should't.

Click! should move entirely to an internet model. Click! should use the money it is hemorrhaging on television to make the upgrades it's broadband network needs, and upgrade speeds for all Tacoma residents. Tacoma is never going to get nice things, if Tacoma doesn't furnish itself with them. We are a hard working city, but we are tired of working hard to get the service we deserve from large for-profit telecommunications companies. If Tacoma signs this deal with Wave, we will be going backwards in time. Cities around the world are moving towards municipally owned broadband and there is a good reason for it. People need affordable internet service to succeed in 2015—Click! can be that service, Tacoma just needs to stop its bitching and find a real solution to its funding issue.

If our mayor can propose a plan to raise 500 million dollars to fix streets, why isn't she strong enough to find a way to fix Tacoma's biggest asset? Click! sets Tacoma apart. Google is never going to come save us from Comcast or Wave, so we have to save ourselves. Why isn't anybody pointing out that Wave and Comcast have almost no overlap in their service areas?1 What kind of agreements does Wave have with Comcast to prevent them from providing service in lucrative areas around the state? What will Wave's relationship with Comcast do to Wave in Tacoma? How can we be sure Wave will actually compete in our area, instead of just bending over for Comcast—an already established provider in the area—to protect its monopoly over a large swath of the Seattle area?

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We're Number One!

Recently I read a statistic about property crime in Washington vs other states in the U.S.—we're number one! And as Tacoma has the highest crime rate in the state of Washington, that very likely puts us near the top of the list for property crime in the country. I don't like reading statistics like this, as they make me feel like I'm not living in a safe place. Sometimes these statistics can be hard to ignore.

Graffiti at Chinese Reconciliation Park

Living in a neighborhood that is on the upswing, has its benefits—but it also has its drawbacks. My husband and I moved to Hilltop in the Fall about two years ago, and we recently bought our home here. Since moving into our home, we have had only one item stolen from us—an electric timer for the bistro lights on our front porch. At the time, I thought nothing of it—but looking back on it, I realize I should have reported the theft. If it isn't reported it may as well have never happened.

Crime is a sensitive subject for Tacoma, and Hilltop especially. Tacoma is known locally as a smelly uneducated crack-den with no character. As a Tacoman I know better, and love the city, but it always stings a little when somebody labels my street "the hood." I've made a lot of accomplishments in my life, buying my first home is one of them and I am proud of it. I can almost excuse some of the misinformation that floats around about Tacoma. The very neighborhood I live in was once one of the most dangerous on the west coast. The alley behind my home has long since been closed on one end to combat drug movement and other seedy behavior. A little girl was once abducted from that same alley, her home—a beautiful old Dutch Colonial—stands right behind my house.

Tacoma has changed, and is still changing. People tend to look at Tacoma like it is at a stand still, but Tacoma isn't standing still. Tacoma is rising from the negative image that once plagued us. Tacoma is defining itself and growing and what I see is beautiful and inspiring. Tacoma is my home. When people used to ask me where I'm from, I used to say "40 minutes south of Seattle" but now I proudly tell them I live in Tacoma. I no longer need to define myself with Seattle, and neither does Tacoma. They're two different cities, that have a lot to offer—Tacoma does not need Seattle, and Seattle does not need Tacoma—we're all just as good as each other.

Tacoma's story has always been about change—though not always positive. Tacoma was once a proud city, positioned to take many titles. At one point Tacoma—a city larger than Seattle—boasted a lot of successes. It was chosen as the western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad, which fed development in the city. Eventually, Seattle did overtake Tacoma, and many years of neglect have left Tacoma crumbling and clawing out of a pit of filth.

Tacoma today is rediscovering the pride it once felt. Crime rates are on the way down, the downtown parking lots are on their way out, and the city is doing everything it can to improve the quality of life for its residents. What we have today is a beautiful, character rich city, that most people may never experience as they've already made up their minds about it. I was once one of those people, but I let myself see the beauty in a blighted city. I let myself believe in change.

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Growing Pains

Murray Morgan Bridge - Tacoma Washington

My family moved to the south Puget Sound when I was very young—aside from a few scattered memories of previous homes, I essentially grew up here. When I was five, we moved to Parkland, and while I tell people I grew up in Tacoma it wasn't until I was 22 that my husband and I got our first apartment in the city. I still remember the very moment I fell in love with the city. It was the summer I got my drivers license, shortly after turning 18—a friend and I were driving around exploring, and I wanted to see where Pacific Avenue went beyond 56th street.

As we came over the hill, I remember thinking "what is that?" (At this point I imagine that anybody familiar with the city of Tacoma knows exactly what I am referring to—downtown.) I was so excited as I got to the bottom of the hill, as we passed the high rises, the museums, the historic store fronts—I didn't realize something like this existed outside of Seattle.

Over the next few years, I explored Tacoma. I made it my home. I take a great sense of pride in knowing that I get to experience the city as it develops its own identity. I love watching the differentiation of different neighborhoods, and following the blogs documenting the growth of the city. I love transit, and I love public art. (And I won't lie, the occasional smell has grown on me.)

City of Tacoma - Illustration of Warhol Flower on Tacoma Dome

One thing I don't love, is when the conservative background of Pierce County rears its ugly head and influences design in the city. For instance, when the city approves for a private group to pursue installing a gigantic piece of art on the Tacoma Dome and people shit all over it. Or when the County Council approves a building that is equal parts huge, and inoffensive. Or when public transportation is being held back in the city by voters in towns that don't need it.

I feel a lot of Tacoma's problems come forth from its history of being second best. Sometimes I feel the citizens of this city are afraid to embrace its developing personality. They're afraid to let go of the dusty old image of a working class city that doesn't innovate—the city that let its downtown become a parking lot.

Tacoma isn't that city anymore. Tacoma isn't a city that needs to defend itself. Tacoma isn't a city that needs other cities to validate its existence. Tacoma isn't a city that should keep settling for second best.

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"Why not now?" or, how to improve your life by not leaving things for later.

A few months ago I read a sentence in a blog post somewhere on the internet where the author had set something on the stairs to put away later. The author then looked at the mess and asked herself, why not now? That one little line in an otherwise unrelated blog post really had me thinking about all of the things in life that I put off until later.

Sometimes I think that people do themselves a huge disservice by putting things off. I know I catch myself doing it all of the time—telling myself that I'll have time later, or worse that I am too busy now. Inevitably, after I have told myself to put something off, I really am too busy later—what starts as a few books tucked away on the stairs, ends up becoming a pile that is threatening to take me out with it when it falls.

OK. That last statement is an exaggeration of sorts, but wouldn't it be better if we all simply started addressing our problems now—instead of later? It is a philosophy that I have silently embraced in my life at home. When I see something, I try to pick it up. When there is a dish in the sink, I do my best to put it in the dishwasher. If something is broken, or could be improved, I just let myself fix it.

Now that I have been letting myself clean, and put things away, I have been happier. Life is simpler when things are clean, organized, and put away. Obviously the house still has its problem areas—like the muddy mud room, or the room with the litter box in it—but when life is simpler, it is easier to be happy and to let yourself relax. Taking care of the problems now keeps them from bothering you later.

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Speed, Your Blog, and Why it is So Important.

Recently I blogged about switching to a new blogging platform. In this post I mentioned how fast the new platform was, and how I had reduced the amount of working parts in the system significantly. The act of switching from WordPress to Ghost sped up my blog, which is more important than a lot of bloggers realize.

As bloggers, one of the most important things we try to do is engage new readers. We do this through networking with other bloggers, link exchanges, and writing posts with content that has staying power. (People aren't going to be googling and finding us for what we had for lunch that day because most of us aren't famous and most people don't care.) Writing relevant content for what people are searching for is the most important part of getting visitors from search engines, but something people don't realize is that content isn't the only important aspect of search rankings.

We have all seen it before—that one blog that has many flashy aspects, moving parts, and a style sheet to be envied, but here is one problem though, it is slow. Website speed is also considered when a search engine like Google is choosing what to display first. You may have content that is relevant, but Google isn't going to show it near the top if your website is slow to load—or even worse, your website fails to load at all. We all know that if you aren't on the first page for a keyword, you may as well not be in the results at all, but what can you do?

Switching to a new blogging platform probably isn't the best way to speed up your blog while also increasing your page views. When I switched to Ghost, my blog actually dropped off of Google entirely. The reason for this is that my content URLs were no longer the same and all of my pages were throwing out errors. While I knew this would happen, and I was OK with it, if you're already running a high traffic website you either need to be more careful or you need to seek out other options.

There was a lot of great ways to lower your page load times.

  • Use a CDN like CloudFlare for static content
  • Enable server-side compression
  • Lower the amount of WordPress plugins you're using
  • Move render blocking scripts to the end of the template
  • Compress your images
  • Move to a webhost that isn't egregiously slow

Not only will increasing page speed help increase your search ranking results, but it will also stop people from giving up on your website after they've already arrived. Nobody likes a slow web page, and even if you're actually interesting your visitors probably don't have time to wait around. The technology bloggers have available to them now is excellent, but we need to cut out the fat in order to retain and grow our readership.

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"How to Twitter" or Why you need to forget your misconceptions.

Regularly, I see some opinions that irk me. "Twitter is stupid." "I don't understand the point of Twitter." "I already have Facebook, why do I need Twitter..." As an avid Twitter user, I find these thoughts off-putting.

When Twitter first came onto the scene, a lot of people brushed it off as silly. Facebook had already launched, and was quickly becoming the new "MySpace"—that is, the one social network that would dominate the industry over the next decade. While Facebook was taking over the social networking space, Twitter was developing into something else.

Twitter quickly became to be described as a "microblogging" service—kind of like a super short form Tumblr of sorts. (Fun fact, Twitter shortly after launch wasn't alone in the "microblog" market like it is now. A few competing services launched but have since fizzled out.) I think that this description is where a lot of misconceptions about Twitter began. Twitter is not just a Facebook wall, and it isn't a great way to chronicle your life like a blog—but it doesn't need to be. Twitter is a tool, and there isn't another one like it anywhere.

I like to think of Twitter as a conversation. It's dynamic and shifting. No day on Twitter is ever the same. If you have an opinion, simply voice it—it will be heard. Following someone doesn't imply any kind of social contract like friendship—it only implicates interest. Connections are fleeting, and that is OK. Best of all, strangers don't think it is weird when you chime in on their conversations.

I firmly believe that most of the troubles people have when rationalizing Twitter arise when they try to treat it like Facebook. Twitter isn't and will never be Facebook. What Twitter is is a valuable, unique, and multigenerational soap box—anybody can step up and contribute. When people treat Twitter like its competitors, they're opening themselves up for failure.

Twitter doesn't care about your lunch, and that's what makes it great.

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Ghost

For a long time I have been looking at different options for a blog backend. I have tried many different services from Squarespace to Tumblr. I've experimented with entire theme platforms on WordPress as well as free and paid themes. Nothing felt right. Some services were too complicated, while others were simply too simple. I needed something that allowed me to tinker with my server while at the same time not feel like it was being held together by the skin of the proverbial teeth.

After what has literally been years of testing, experimenting, poking and prodding I think I have found the right mix of simplicity, polish, stability and nerd. It isn't a simple shared cPanel host, or Tumblr, or a dedicated server or even WordPress. It's Ghost, running on my virtual server. Some of my fellow bloggers probably don't know what ghost is, and most of them probably don't care. What works for them works for them—but I am not them.

For the better part of two I have been running my blog on WordPress exclusively. WordPress is a bit of a resource hog, and therefore I always served it with Nginx instead of Apache. (I have a small virtual server, I need to be able to maintain stability during times of heavy load.) What I ended up with was a good portion of a working WordPress install that would frequently throw out random errors while composing posts. On top of that, WordPress itself was just not very intuitive.

The solution I settled on is called Ghost. Ghost is a blogging platform—that's it. It isn't for people who want to run a florist's site and a blog or a community and a blog—it's just for blogging, and it is sleek in the process. Instead of a clunky and bloated writing interface, we get an awesome two paned Markdown editor. (I've blogged about Markdown in the past, it's fantastic. You should try it.) Instead of a shitty convoluted theme system, Ghost provides a templating system similar to what was offered on early blog systems like Greymatter. The end result is a system that isn't bloated, and is easily customizable by anyone with knowledge of HTML.

All things considered, Ghost isn't for everyone. It runs on Node.js. There is no PHP here. The majority of webhosts simply do not support it, but since I manage my own server this wasn't an issue. I installed the software I needed, trounced through some configuration files and had it up and running in about an hour, with it being fully configured in less than a day. (Mind you, I already had a fully configured Nginx install serving my WordPress blog, so the install and configuration step was a bit easier.)

The system is fast—ridiculously so. The amount of working parts was reduced from five to two, creating an even faster setup than existed before. It's a win for me. Now all I need to do is find something better than Disqus for the comments.

Also, it's fucking cool.

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I used to blog.

I used to blog.

I used to blog with such grace and fervor bitches were all like “damn, this motherfucker is majestic.” (That may be a slight exaggeration.) I don’t blog much anymore. One might look at the archives and see that I haven’t blogged in almost a year. One might be overly critical. One might also be a unicorn, and if one is a unicorn please write. That shit is fabulous.

I have some mostly OK reasons for the silence.

First, I’m a grown ass man and I do what I want. Second, the amount of negativity that blogging over the last year would have sent forth into the world would have been an insurmountable deluge of filth. With the combination of the loss of loved ones, family tensions, and really uncomfortable shoes I found it best to just take a break. Nobody wants to read my dirty laundry, I am not that delusional. (I am however self absorbed enough to think maybe one or two people might have liked it. We all have our demons.)

Third, too much has been going on for me to just sit down and write about it all. I started a new job. We bought a house. I received a lateral promotion in aforementioned job from part time to full time. We got a new dog, and fed the old one to it.

Just kidding.

Jokes aside, it has been a really exciting and stressful year that can probably be summed up in one word: Fuck.

IMG_20140628_112746_nopm_-2

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Splash

Today I brought my car in to get a bunch of work done I’d been putting off. (Break and transmission fluids, coolant, timing belt, and the fuel system service.) The time estimate was about 7 hours, so I left the dealership and bussed back downtown. (It was cold so I hopped on the link and read my book for an hour or two. I love trains, deal with it.) When I was finished doing that I hopped on a bus again and rode it to get some froyo, because I love froyo. At about three in the afternoon I rode the bus back to the dealership where I waited for my car, naturally it wasn’t going to be finished on time so I went to go ride the bus back home.

On my walk to the bus stop, trouble struck. Actually it was a puddle of water, and by struck I mean an asshole bus driver ran right over it as I was walking by. I was soaked. Normally I’d have just shrugged it off, except that the bus was driving on the shoulder. It didn’t even stop at the next stop. So the driver wasn’t paying attention.

I called the dealership and asked if they could get me a rental and they did. I didn’t want to wait at the bus stop covered in dirty road water. In the cold.

The rental agency gave me a Nissan Altima. It’s huge, ugly and has too many buttons.

I want my car back. Fortunately I won’t have to wait much longer, it should be done by ten tomorrow.

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