Category Archives: Personal

Some news from Media Nation world headquarters

I am honored and pleased to report that I have been officially awarded tenure at Northeastern and have been promoted to the rank of associate professor. I’ve been confident this was coming for the past six weeks, but it wasn’t official until I received a letter from the provost’s office Wednesday.

This has literally been a 10-year quest for me — one year as an adjunct, three as visiting faculty and then six on the tenure track. I’m filled with gratitude for all the support and help I received along the way.

Organizing notes for a book project: Your thoughts?

I started down this road last fall and got sidetracked. Now I’ve got to get serious about organizing the notes I’m starting to put together for my next book project.

For my last book, I simply saved everything as Word files. An interview? Word file. An article? Word file. Notes on a book? Word file. Then I entered each of them on an Excel spreadsheet that I could sort and search. I built in a link on each entry to the underlying Word document.

Several people have suggested that I switch to DEVONthink, which has a reputation for being a sophisticated but difficult program. Or Evernote. I haven’t spent enough time with either one to form an opinion. But what is the advantage to using one of those programs over the method I just described? What am I missing?

‘The Wired City’ world tour resumes on Monday

“The Wired City” world tour continues on Monday, as I’ll be speaking at 6:30 p.m. at the Langley-Adams Library in Groveland. I’ll also have for sale a few rare original hardcovers of “Little People.” Hope you can stop by.

Why I won’t miss the Hilltop Steak House

2754777213_de99e027a7_nHere is what I’m going to miss about the Hilltop Steak House, which announced this week that it will soon be closing its doors: driving past it during the holidays and looking at the fiberglass cattle wearing Santa hats. And — well, that’s it.

The demise of an icon is always sad. Once the country’s appetite for huge cuts of steak started to diminish, the Hilltop’s enormous size no doubt worked against it. Maybe it could have continued indefinitely if it had occupied a much smaller, cheaper space.

But unlike another Boston icon, Legal Sea Foods, the Hilltop never made any concessions to the 21st century. Legal has long since moved past broiled schrod and fried shrimp. Its menu is thoroughly modern and up to date. But at the Hilltop it is still the same old thing — salad, baked potato and a large, fresh but rather flavorless slab-o-meat.

The last time I went to the Hilltop was maybe 10 years ago. I brought my son because I thought he’d enjoy the experience; I hadn’t been in ages myself. Neither of us was impressed. My tastes had moved on, and his had never developed in that direction.

My wife and I enjoyed an occasional trip to the Hilltop in the 1980s, when you’d stand in line for a half-hour to an hour before being herded into one of its gigantic, Western-theme dining rooms.

But that was a long time ago.

Photo (cc) by splityard and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Andrew Solomon and “Little People”

Becky and me, back in the day

I’m pretty excited about this. Nine years ago Andrew Solomon, winner of the National Book Award, blurbed my book on dwarfism, “Little People.” He also interviewed me at the 2003 Little People of America conference for his next project — a book about families whose children were different from their parents, whether they be disabled, gay or suffering from mental illness, to name just a few examples.

That project — “Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity” — has just been published, and has been the object of rapturous reviews. The New York Times alone has published two raves (here and here) as well as a feature on Solomon and his own family. And it turns out that I made the cut, as he both quotes from our conversation and cites “Little People” in several spots.

Naturally, I’m trying to figure out how this might benefit “Little People.” Although it’s officially out of print, I sell a high-quality self-published paperback. (You can read about how that came about in a piece I wrote for Nieman Reports.) So far I’ve taken a few small steps: I’ve removed the free online edition (except for the Introduction and Chapter One) and made it easier to buy a copy. As you can see in the right-hand column, I’ve pumped up its presence on Media Nation. And I’m going to try Google ads again, at least through Christmas.

Anyone have any other ideas? Are there any independent bookstores in the area that would be interested in carrying it?

Remembering 9/11

The Manhattan skyline from Hoboken, N.J.

Ten years ago, on a cool and cloudless morning very much like this one, I ran into an old friend on Brookline Avenue in front of the Boston Phoenix. She told me there had been a terrible accident — a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York.

I headed up to the newsroom, and in a few moments, it was clear that there had been no accident. As there was no television set, I barreled home. On NPR, as I was on the loop ramp connecting Storrow Drive with the Tobin Bridge, I heard the shocked description of the first building collapsing. Not long after, I turned on the TV and watched the rest of the day and well into the evening. I stayed up all night and wrote this.

The following April, I was in Hoboken, N.J. — another clear, sunny day, though unseasonably hot and humid. I was early, so I made my way to Frank Sinatra Drive and took in the Manhattan skyline — looking to the right, the south, where the World Trade Center should have been.

That evening, City Council president Anthony Soares, whom I had come to interview for my book “Little People,” told me that Hoboken had been hit unusually hard by the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Indeed, according to this account in the Hudson Reporter, Hoboken lost 57 people — “the most of any ZIP code in the United States.”

Personally, I was very lucky. We lost no family members, no friends. The attack remains the most stunning event of my lifetime. My heart goes out to those who did lose someone on that terrible day.

Photo (cc) by cornfusion and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Looking back at the Hurricane of 1938

My grandfather Elmer Shaw in Onset. Click on image for more photos.

In late September 1938, an enormously destructive storm hit most of the northeastern United States. The Hurricane of 1938 resulted in 564 deaths and more than 1,700 injuries.

The hurricane has also been a matter of family legend. The Shaws, my mother’s side of the family, owned a cottage on the water — “Shawnee” — along East Boulevard in Onset, part of Wareham. I spent many happy summer days there in the 1960s and early ’70s. And I was always told that my grandfather Elmer Shaw had done such a good job of building the cottage that it was the only one along East Boulevard to survive the hurricane.

Here’s how the Boston Globe of Sept. 22 described the impact of the hurricane on Wareham:

Without lights and almost completely inundated in many sections, the town remained on the verge of isolation. No trains arrived and it was utterly impossible to enter the town through the main street.

All stores in the business district were completely under water. The warehouse of the Tremont Nail Company was 10 feet under water.

I seem to recall family members saying that the hurricane came with no warning. If that’s the case, then perhaps they weren’t paying attention. Though the cable-news saturation of 2011 was unimaginable back then, the Globe ran several stories as the storm drew closer, among them “Hurricane Moving Toward the Bahamas” (Sept. 19) and “Hurricane May Spare Florida” (Sept. 20).

Still, if the Globe’s online archives are complete, then the next time the word “hurricane” popped up was on Sept. 22, after the storm had swept through. But people did listen to the radio in the 1930s, and it’s hard to imagine that storm updates weren’t part of news reports.

Recently my cousin Sue discovered a trove of family pictures, including some of Onset and of the Hurricane of 1938. I thought you might enjoy having a look.