Uber Bargains

usa-001This essay was published in WBUR Cognoscenti as Driving a Hard Bargain: Calculating the Toll of Uber’s Reduced Fares on 9/23/2014.

A cab ride from my house in Cambridge, Mass., to Logan Airport, a distance of 10 miles, costs $60.00, including tip. It takes 20 minutes without traffic, 40 minutes during rush hour and up to an hour when there’s an accident or construction. For a mere $3.70, the bus and subway get me to the airport in the same time it takes a cab at rush hour. When I have an early morning departure or a late night return, however, the MBTA, which is closed at these times in provincial Boston, can’t get me there. That’s when I have no choice but to take a cab and open my wallet – 60 dollars wide.

Now there’s Uber, the Internet ride service available 24 hours a day. Although it has a variable pricing scheme that relates price to demand, the times I need it for airport runs are among its least expensive periods. The first time I used Uber was for a 1:00 a.m. return trip. A friendly fellow in a clean car picked me up at Logan and deposited me home within half an hour for $28. Less than half the price of a cab seemed like a good deal.

A few weeks later, my housemate was flying out early. Uber had been advertising price cuts, and he got a ride to Logan for $14.00. This seemed like a very good deal; so good that when I did the math, it seemed unsustainable, perhaps exploitative.


Take $14.00. Deduct the $1.25 Mass Pike toll and Uber’s $2.80 (20 percent) fee. The driver received $9.95 for his effort. A fair assumption might be that an Uber driver has a passenger 50 percent (Slate) of the time. At 4:30 a.m., the trip takes only 20 minutes, so let’s assume this trip is equivalent to two-thirds of an hour’s effort. If so, the driver is making $14.93 an hour, just shy of the magic $15.00 minimum living wage many people clamor for these days.

But wait a minute: An Uber driver is not an employee. He is an independent contractor. He has to use and maintain his own car at an estimated rate of $5.60 in gas, maintenance and operating costs for a ten-mile trip. (IRS) He also has to pay for all of his own benefits. On this early morning trip, the driver is netting less than $10.00 per hour.

Every day, we encounter people who make this kind of paltry money — at fast food counters and big box stores, for example. We may wish these people made a living wage in a generalized way, but since our interactions with them are fleeting, we don’t feel individually responsible for their paltry earnings. Taking a private car to the airport before dawn is a personal experience. If the driver is not making a living wage, I feel a more direct responsibility

Uber reports that drivers can make $60,000, even $90,000, a year, but that math is hard to balance (Washington Post). Uber advertises that tipping is not required for their standard cars (Uber). When I offered a tip to one Uber driver, he declined. I had no way to provide a hard currency ‘thank you’ to a particularly good driver.

Uber’s price cuts hurt drivers more than they hurt the company’s bottom line. When lower prices increase demand and market share, Uber’s 20 percent share of reduced fares is offset by the increased number of fares, while each individual driver can only make a finite number of trips per shift.

Uber’s low fares are yet another example of disruptive technology driving market efficiency. By creating direct connections between customers and providers, rideshare services threaten to make taxi companies, with their costly medallions and jurisdictional restrictions designed to protect turf more than provide value, as quaint as bookstores and travel agencies. That may not be good news for taxi drivers, but the concept seems fair.

Unfortunately, we remain a few steps away from a perfect marketplace. Uber is still the middleman, albeit one with speedy apps rather than a dispatch office. Uber tries to increase demand for rideshare services and swell its market share with the same fervor that old-fashioned cab companies protect their designated territory. Uber’s cost for incremental riders is negligible, so cutting fares to the bone to grow demand makes sense.

At some point, there will be a limit to fare cutting. Either Uber will not be able to attract drivers, or the drivers will not maintain their cars, or the service will deteriorate, as cut-rate services tend to do. But when equilibrium is achieved, will an Uber driver’s ability to make a decent living factor into the equation, or will we wind up with more people without traditional employment supports – social security contributions, health benefits, sick time, vacation time – who must rely on our shrinking social safety net to get by?

I’ve had great experience using Uber, and I want the service to succeed. But I also want people to earn a living wage. I hope that Uber and its competitors structure fares to achieve that objective.



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I am an Interior Designer!

vitruvian_man-001Twenty years ago, a so-called friend came into my house and announced, “It is hard to believe an architect lives here. It is impossible to believe a gay architect lives here.” His comments stung, but only a little. I knew that my shabby Victorian with its plywood paneled walls and fluorescent fixtures would be featured in Architectural Disgust before they’d ever grace the pages of Architectural Digest.

Over time I made improvements. The paneling vanished, so too the wood stove and the wagon wheel chandelier. The old place has nice rooms now and a soothing, unified palette. The architect in me brought out its good bones. But as an integrated piece of design, it’s nothing special. I am too fond of found objects, from my dining room table to the rock I dislodged from our RV in the Grand Canyon, to create any sort of unified interior.

That’s all going to change.

This weIMG_0924ek, my long time housemate Paul is selling his house in Vermont and moving his belongings here. For six year’s he’s kept two Spartan rooms, but come Thursday his fine antiques, cut glass, claw-toothed tables, heirloom china, and wingback chairs will spill into the rest of the house. While he packs boxes up north, I have been strolling through my airy spaces imagining how different, and how elegant, our house will be. Many of my curbside finds will go back to where they came from to make room for his finer stuff. I can only hope their next keeper gets as much sturdy, silent service from them as I have.

My reverie has revealed something I never knew before; that there is a strong theme to my home’s interior. That I am in fact, an interior designer, with a style so straightforward it can be described in one word – toys.

IMG_0931Anyone who visits our house knows the obvious toys. My living room has only two furnishings – a pool table and a piano, sentinels to the full range of high-brow/low-brow adult play. But so many more toys have accumulated over the years: the shelves of games that decorate the den; the chinning bar in the back hall that fits between two jig-sawed moldings; the lead soldiers on the living room window sash, ever alert to the non-existent threats of passing Cantabridgians; the in-line skater bendee entwining the kitchen chandelier; and, of course, the wind-up nunzillas that I crank up when I’m stressed.IMG_0934

Over the years, the big, garish, plastic toys have fallen into the basement; Little Tykes has no claim on the living spaces any more. My children’s best art has moved off the refrigerator and into frames, while their lesser oeuvre has settled into flat files IMG_0928(Architects have things like flat files in their houses). The toys in my house have IMG_0929become more refined, but still the place is defined by toys.






I am confident all of Paul’s beautiful objects will fit in our home, although – despite my being a lousy pool player – the pool table is definitely staying put. I’m hoping the other toys will be able to stay as well. With so many more actual treasures, my soldier guards will have to be more vigilant than ever.


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Long Island Wonder

usa-001Long Island is well known for its questionably proportioned architecture, derived from a thirst for consumerism and New York moxie.




But on my first trip to Suffolk County I discovered the beauties of the North Shore in the charming village of Seatucket, which has some distinguished architecture.


A post office that is both dignified and domestic.


And Frank Melville Memorial Park – a tranquil private park in the village center.


The park has beautiful expanses of paths, trees, and ponds


A refreshing bamboo forest


And sunning turtles


The north shore’s beauty cannot be eradicated by the tacky houses, and it is enhanced by Frank Melville’s legacy.


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Brain Health Registry

vitruvian_man-001Please consider joining the Brain Health Registry. If you are interested in participating in Alzheimer’s research or just like to take online tests (as I do), it is a fun activity that helps create a data base to support ongoing research.

It takes about an hour to get set up for the Registry. Once you have filled in the usual passwords and personal history, there is a terrific Cognitive Performance Test that establishes your baseline cognition. It’s basically a bunch of card tricks.

There is deck of cards on your computer screen. When a card flips over, press the ‘K’ key to indicate the card has flipped. Easy. Then, press the ‘K’ key if the card is black and the ‘D’ key if it is red. Still easy. Next, the screen shows a card and you press ‘K’ if you have seen it before, and ‘D’ if you have not seen it before. Not so easy. Actually, very hard. After bruising my ego, and getting eight incorrect, the fourth segment is easier. Just hit ‘K’ if the card displayed is the same as the one just shown, or ‘D’ if it is different. No so difficult.

imagesThe point of the test is to establish a baseline performance. I will be prompted to take the test in six-month intervals to see how consistent I do over time. Think about doing it as well.

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Auxiliary Verbs

usa-001A husky Cambodian pulls his moto across traffic along Battambang Cambodia’s riverside promenade. “Excuse me, do you speak English?” It’s a ridiculous question to ask a tall American and his blond daughter. The man continues before we bother to answer. “I am a teacher and have a grammar question for you.” We step back, seeking escape, but the guy talks fast. “Can you tell me how many auxiliary verbs are contained in the English language?”

His question halts my retreat. I try to remember what auxiliary verbs are, but I cannot. I look to Abby; she shrugs. “Does he mean irregular verbs?”

The moto guy props his foot on the curb and peers up from under his thick hair. “No, auxiliary verbs, as in ‘Do you want to go to the store?”

Abby and I consider options on our fingers. “Could, should would? How, what, where, why?” Clearly, we have no idea.

“Do you have an email address, I’ll see if I can find out for you?” I’m putty in Mr. Moto’s hands, but also curious to refresh my grammar. The guy pulls a brochure from his satchel, The Slarkram English School, and formally introduces himself – Mr. Bunnarath Som – in rapid, florid English. His brochure includes web links, photos, and that oddly constructed English peculiar to Asia. Having visited the school, and if you like what we are trying to do, you may feel inclined to make a small donation to further our work there. Such convoluted sentences would annoy me back home; here they simply enhance the foreign wonder of our afternoon stroll.

Mr. Som pulls out a binder with color photos of him teaching students the world’s power language, distributing certificates, building houses for local farmers, and buying sewing machines for needy widows. His salesmanship drives the hard side of my brain to figure he’s a con artist. I pocket the brochure and we wave goodbye.

The following morning, on the other side of the river, Abby and I walk to breakfast. A guy pulls up on his moto and asks if we speak English. Oops, same guy pestering same tourists. This second encounter strengthens my doubts. I check him out online. If Internet presence confers legitimacy, Mr. Som is everything he claims.

Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 8.11.03 AMSince we are leaving town we cannot visit his school. Still, I make good on my promise and email him that, according to Reference.com, English has 23 auxiliary verbs: is, are, was, were, am, be, been, will, shall, have, has, had, would, could, should, do, does, did, can, may, might, must and seem.

I leave Battambang with a firmer grasp of English grammar and a healthy awe for this man’s clever way of soliciting aid for his efforts. I also find myself using more auxiliary verbs. They induce a lyric cadence to my mother language even as they obfuscate meaning. I am not sure that Mr. Som does teach exactly as he claims, but if he would operate the school as he seems to profess, his students should learn his strategy could help everyone. That awkward sentence contains six auxiliary verbs. It also has that ring of an Asian translation I’ve come to fancy.

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The Music in Our Midst


usa-001Kiyoe Wellington has big hands, calloused fingers, and strong forearms. It takes power to draw music from a double bass. She also has a hoop nose ring and spiky dreadlocks; unruly as the loose horsehair she yanks out of her giant bow. This twenty-one-year-old New England Conservatory student from Hawaii has travelled five time zones to spend Sunday afternoons practicing along Jordan Hall’s gallery of rehearsal rooms; a cacophony of sopranos, violas, clarinets, and basses. Her journey was years in the making. Kiyoe started playing bass at age six, won an international competition at 14 and played Carnegie Hall in high school before coming to Boston to study with Todd Seeber, Boston Symphony Orchestra’s renowned bass.

urlKiyoe is among the more than 5,000 students who attend three neighboring music schools within one square mile, the densest concentration of music students in the world. The New England Conservatory, The Boston Conservatory, and Berklee College of Music coexist in an area roughly bordered by Massachusetts Avenue and The Fenway, Boylston Street and the Orange Line. According to official City of Boston neighborhood designations, this rectangle falls within the Fenway neighborhood, but many people refer to area as Symphony. It’s not uncommon to hear strains of Brahms on Gainsborough Street, Bernstein along Hemenway, and Brubeck on Haviland, with unexpected fusions at the intersections. How this small precinct became a Mecca for music students is a tale of nineteenth century history and twentieth century moxie. How each school will adapt a pedagogical tradition of individual instruction to a world of massive online open courses will influence how the neighborhood evolves in the twenty-first century.

Each school has a different reputation: New England Conservatory is for classical musicians, The Boston Conservatory is for performers, and Berklee is for jazz. Like all generalizations, there’s fact behind these conceptions; like all generalizations, the descriptions are incomplete.

The New England Conservatory is the oldest independent school of music in the United States. Classes began in 1867 at the Boston Music Hall, site of the current Orpheum Theater near Tremont Street. When Henry Higginson created the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1881, all nineteen BSO section leaders were conservatory faculty. That strong connection continues – half of today’s BSO members are faculty or alumni of New England Conservatory.

After the Civil War, Boston’s population expanded, along with its civic pride. Frederick Law Olmstead’s Emerald Necklace channeled the muddy flats into a discrete stream, lined the banks with parks, and created dry land for a new neighborhood. The Fenway became the preferred destination for Boston’s growing cultural institutions. The Christian Science Church, the Museum of Fine Arts, the YMCA, even the Red Sox, built in the new neighborhood.

Iimgresn 1900 the Boston Symphony Orchestra claimed the corner of Mass Ave and Huntington with its new Symphony Hall. Two years later, New England Conservatory moved to Jordan Hall, a block away. These landmark venues affirmed Boston’s commitment to serious music.

The Boston Conservatory of Music dates back nearly as far as New England Conservatory, though it was less encumbered by tradition from the start. In 1873, founder Julius Eichberg’s operetta, The Doctor of Alcontara, was preformed by America’s first African-American opera company. The school moved from downtown to the Fenway in 1928 and purchased additional buildings along The Fenway through the 1960s. (For those perplexed by Boston’s quaint confusions, The Fenway, capital ‘T’, is a picturesque street that winds through the Fenway, small ‘t’, neighborhood.) By 1982 The Boston Conservatory dropped the term ‘music’ from its name, since the school also taught dance and drama.

Although The Boston Conservatory continues to teach every classical instrument, it has become better known for training in popular mediums, particularly musical theater. While it doesn’t share New England Conservatory’s consistent place on top ten lists of music schools, The Boston Conservatory is famous for landing performers on stage – more than a dozen graduates from 2011 joined Broadway shows or national touring companies. Everyone below the rank of Associate Professor calls The Boston Conservatory BoCo, which adds Big Apple bling to the campus’ funky townhouse dorms and classrooms and their back alley shortcuts to their main theater on Hemenway Street. BoCo is not a campus of pastoral lawns that nurture reverie, it’s a hard-edged sliver of the city for students serious about ‘making it.’

Although the New England Conservatory and BoCo have developed different emphases over 140 years, each provides an elite environment for about 800 students immersed in music. Each scours the world seeking outstanding musical ability, while procuring balanced ensembles. An orchestra needs harps and bassoons as well as oboes and violins.

images-1When Lawrence Berk, an MIT-trained engineer as well as pianist, composer, arranger, CBS/NBC radio technician, and devotee of the Russian composer Joseph Schillinger’s mathematical system of musical composition, found Schillinger House along the industrial tail of Newbury Street in 1945, no one could have predicted the phenomenon that is now Berklee College of Music. Berklee was the first U.S. college to teach the popular music of its day and its success mirrors the trajectory of Post World War II American popular culture – casual, cocky, and irreverent. In the 1960s Berklee recognized guitar as a primary instrument; in the 1970s Duke Ellington nabbed the school’s first honorary degree; in the 80s Berklee offered a degree in music synthesis; in the 1990s hip-hop entered the curriculum; and after 2000, Berklee students could study mandolin, banjo, or music scoring for video games. However, not every Berklee student is a headliner; today’s most popular major is music business and management.

The campus has expanded along Mass Ave and gobbled up buildings throughout the Fenway. In 1994 the Berklee Center in Los Angeles opened to foster relationships in the music industry, while in 2011 Berklee opened its first satellite campus in Valencia, Spain.

images-1In just over fifty years Berklee has become the largest music school in the world. With over 4,000 students in Boston, Berklee’s now five times bigger than either of its elder neighbors. But it teaches five times more students – over 20,000 – online. Berklee is leading the exploration of how music education meets the digital age, offering online courses, certificates, and degrees.

From its conception, Berklee turned the traditional approach to higher music education on its head. While the conservatories accepted a small number of students with proven talent, Berklee adopted easier admission criteria. In the early years, when up to 80% of Berklee’s applicants were accepted, but 80% of entering freshmen failed to graduate, Berklee reflected our country’s post World War II shift away from college as an elite experience of intense study to one of individual growth and exploration available to many.

Today, Berklee looks more like a traditional college than it did fifty years ago. It offers sequenced curricula, well-appointed dormitories, and student activity options that rival any college experience. The school enjoys increasing graduation rates, and has become more difficult to attend – only 35% of applicants are accepted. Berklee navigates a precarious juggling act as a respected institution that maintains a counterculture vibe. It’s still famous for its dropouts, such as South Korean rapper PSY and jazz pianist Keith Jarrett. Michael Wartofsky, Professor of Harmony, acknowledges, “the myth that you don’t have to graduate from Berklee, you just have to go for a semester or two and then drop out to become a rock star, may persist for another century.” Berklee would like to put that myth to rest sooner, and highlight its many exceptional graduates, among them Quincy Jones, Melissa Etheridge and Branston Marsalis.
images-1In this decade, each school is transforming its campus to update aging facilities, accommodate growth, and provide enhanced practice, recording, and performance space. Two years ago BoCo renewed Hemenway Street’s vitality with its renovated and expanded theater. This fall they will open a new studio building on Ipswich Street, overlooking the Mass Pike. New England Conservatory has announced plans to build a major dormitory and studio arts building that will link their current facilities along Saint Botolph Street.

imagesMeanwhile, Berklee’s recently completed student commons and dormitory is an eye-popping addition to Mass Ave. As the first new building the college has built in Boston, the 16-story tower proclaims Berklee’s ascendance as a major institution.

For prospective students, there are real differences among these three schools. Many conservatory students establish connections with specific teachers well before college. Kiyoe Wellington met Todd Seeber at a summer music camp in Hawaii. Similarly, New England Conservatory pianist Xiaopei Xu met piano faculty member Hung-Kuan Chen at music camp in Pennsylvania, while Goran Daskalov, a BoCo saxophonist from Macedonia, also met his mentor, Kenneth Radnofsky, during high school.

images-2New England Conservatory reaches promising secondary school students through NEC Prep. Every Saturday throughout the school year 1,400 high school students descend on Jordan Hall for private lessons, group instruction, and youth performances. NEC Prep provides a formal mechanism for high school students to discover the conservatory, while simultaneously giving faculty a close look at fresh talent. Gerald Kearny, viola; and Amit Rogel, trombone; two Brookline high school students who attend, experience a full day of music beginning with morning lessons, theory, and chamber music followed by afternoon band and orchestra. They both plan to apply to New England Conservatory for college, though Gerald is hedging his bets. “My private lesson teacher is Rictor Noren, on the faculty of BoCo. I’d be happy at either.”

Berklee also woos prospective students, in its characteristically freewheeling way. Berklee offers one-day to twelve-week summer workshops for kids as young as twelve. A typical offering promises three days getting “bass lines to groove” with Victor Wooten – no previous experience necessary.

Once accepted and living in Boston, students from the three schools interact through formal channels, informal connections, and geographic proximity.

images-3Berklee and BoCo intersect the most. Each is a member of the Pro Arts Consortium, six Boston-based art schools (Berklee, The Boston Architectural Center, The Boston Conservatory, Emerson, Mass College of Art & Design, and The Museum School) that allows students to cross-register for some classes. Berklee’s and BoCo’s campuses are indistinguishable; along one stretch of The Fenway brownstones alternately belong to BoCo, Berklee, then BoCo again. BoCo dormitory residents take their meals in Berklee’s dining hall, and can perform on Berklee’s Commons Caf stage. Berklee students take movement courses at BoCo, while Berklee musicians often fill out the band for BoCo productions that require rock or jazz musicians.

The New England Conservatory’s links to its sister schools are weaker. NEC is not a member of Pro Arts, though it plans to join in 2015, and its campus is a contiguous group of buildings a few blocks away from the other two. Still, musical connections bind. Classical music students at NEC are familiar with their BoCo counterparts, while students in New England Conservatory’s renowned jazz program attend performances of their Berklee peers, and vice-versa.

Informally, Students from all three institutions often socialize together, sometimes perform together, and occasionally even live together. Relationships are primarily collaborative, until they’re not. Kiyoe Wellington notes, “I haven’t seen too much competition, except maybe when it comes to auditions.”

Faculty and administration of New England Conservatory, BoCo and Berklee also view the three schools as distinct places. Richard Ortner, President of The Boston Conservatory, contrasts the two conservatories with their neighbor. “The principle difference is that at Berklee the education can be very broad and not very deep, while at either of the conservatories, the education is vary narrow but very deep. The kids are of very different kind, and indeed, the faculties are very different from one another. The Berklee faculty, who come from careers as jazz or pop musicians, have been living one kind of life. The Boston Symphony members who comprise much of the faculty at New England Conservatory and The Boston Conservatory, on the other hand, live in a very rarified and very different world.”

images-4Mr. Ortner is keenly aware of the new kid on the block. “With 4,000 students [Berklee] can try a lot of things; it’s a very rich faculty culture, with a lot of faculty development money, more than there is at either The Boston Conservatory or New England Conservatory.” But he sees advantages for everyone in their proximity and the collaboration it offers, whether it be operational, like dovetailing meal service, or artistic, like BoCo teaching dance and movement to Berklee students. Mr. Ortner envisions these affiliations evolving into a musical education model that mirrors how Partners Health links Boston-area hospitals. Each school will maintain its own identity and core curricula; yet share elements that can provide a richer, and more cost effective, experience.

One significant way the conservatories set themselves apart from Berklee reveals itself upon graduation. Since Berklee still suffers from the myth that just a stint may be school enough for stardom, a Bachelor’s from Berklee is usually a terminal degree. This may change, as Berklee recently started a graduate program and more of its alumni will pursue further study. Meanwhile each conservatory has strong, longstanding graduate programs and many of their students seek advanced degrees.

All three schools find greater competition beyond the Fenway. New England Conservatory competes with the most elite institutions: Julliard, Peabody, Yale; while BoCo competes with performance-based schools like Carnegie-Mellon, NYU, and Point Park. Increasingly, BoCo faces competition from state schools, including UMass, where a student can obtain a solid education for a fraction of the cost and, if their interest sustains, attend The Boston Conservatory for graduate school.

imgresBerklee’s singular position among music schools is acknowledged — even envied — by its peers. Richard Ortner waxes like a publicist when he says, “For the last twenty years at least, I can’t think of a single Grammy award that was given where one of the people up on stage wasn’t a Berklee grad. They are the producers. They are all of the people who know how to mix and use the equipment; they are ‘in’ the music industry.” Berklee’s competition isn’t other schools; it’s the rock’n’roll spirit to forego school altogether.

images-5Conservatory students need face time, practice time, and connections to land in orchestras and musicals, while electronic composers can do it all with a laptop. Online education will be part of music education’s future, but it cannot replicate the satisfaction of jamming with your peers or the excitement of discovering music beyond your computer’s bookmarks. Just as the Internet has not obliterated urban life; online learning won’t eliminate college campuses. According to Mr. Ortner, “YouTube is the lingua franca of all of these young people and everything that they do gets up there. It doesn’t matter whether it was produced in their dorm room or on the stage of Symphony Hall, if it’s good, that’s all they care about. But this ten square block area is the bull’s-eye for college-bound students in the United States. You want to be in Boston and you want to be in the thick of it.”

This is good news for Bostonians, who have hundreds of opportunities to enjoy these students’ incredible talent every year. This fall’s calendar at NEC, BoCo, and Berklee include dozens of performances, many free. Kiyoe Wellington and her peers know that quality music can be riffed and shared from a Macbook Air, but they choose to study music in Boston because there are still so many other facets to making music. A Boston Symphony Orchestra audition only comes from years of face time.

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Games of August V: Geography

vitruvian_man-001When researching my master’s thesis, Architecture that Affords Play, back in 1980, I learned that children and adults play for different reasons. Actually, they play for diametrically opposed reasons. Children play in order to gain mastery. Adults play to reinforce what we have already mastered. Therefore, it comes as not surprise that when I decided to end the Games of August series by exploring a new an online game through the search, “Top Internet Games” I bypassed all the games that required shooting, dexterity, or speed; attributes at which I never excelled and that continue to decline as middle-age deepens. Instead I selected a geography game. It was labeled as one of the 13 hardest games on the Internet, but that reflects our society’s ignorance of geography more than the actual difficulty of the game.

The premise of 50 States is simple. A green outline of the United States floats in a sea of blue. Sorry, Canada and Mexico, rising seas have eliminated you. The shape of a state appears above the map. You place your cursor on it and drag it to the correct place. Florida is first. Then Montana, followed by California and Vermont. The initial states all border the blue, which makes them easy to place. South Dakota touches part of Montana, and so it goes. Each state that pops up has some registration with what precedes.   The program tells me how accurate I am in my placement. After locating six states, I am accurate within eight miles. This seems preposterous, considering I am working on a 6”x8” map of a country that is 3,000 miles long. New Hampshire, Nebraska, Oregon. Then I get Missouri. I misplace its connection to Nebraska by a squiggle of the Missouri River, less than 100 miles, but enough to register as an error.

From then on I place every state correctly, and eventually wind up with a 2-mile rate of error.

I feel good about myself, so I play again. This time the computer knows I’m a U.S. geography whiz, so what state do I get first? Kansas. I am 71 miles off. The distance I pedal on a good day’s bike ride. I recover from my snafu and place the rest within five minutes so accurately I wind up with only a 1-mile error deviation.

The third time is the charm. I place all states correctly, and even though I have to aim Wyoming and Missouri without any adjacencies, I have 0-mile placement error. Which proves I am an adult, since when I play, I like to do what I already know.

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 2.56.44 PM

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