Adventures of An American Whovian, Part 1

In case you are not aware, November 23, 2013 will mark the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. There are a lot of articles out there commemorating the occasion, but I wanted to do something different. This article series is about my experience of growing up as a Doctor Who fan in America in the 80s and 90s. It was definitely an interesting experience being a foreign fan of something that is so British and watching it go from being a cult weirdo thing to a celebrated part of modern geek culture.

Doctor Who is, at its core, a television show about one man’s adventures traveling through time and space. If you are unfamiliar with Doctor Who, I suggest you read a primer I wrote about the program.

Or, if you like, watch this vintage PBS telethon documentary:

Once you are up to speed, I will now take you on an adventure in time and space. First, we will go back to…

December 23rd, 2012 A.D. Newbury Comics, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

It was a crisp December 23rd in Harvard Square, which is located just outside the grounds of Harvard University. It is full of interesting shops, bars and restaurants and I spent quite a lot of time there when I was growing up down the road in Watertown. I now live in Seattle with my wife and daughter and we had come back to visit my parents for Christmas. I had just seen some old friends for lunch while my wife was in Boston exploring the Museum of Fine Arts. I took advantage of the after-lunch opportunity to get a couple of small Christmas presents.

I went with my friend A.J. into Newbury Comics. Newbury Comics is a Boston institution. It started out as a comic book and punk rock record store on Newbury Street in downtown Boston and expanded across the region. Their music selection can’t be beat and has long been one of those stores where its clientele, most of whom are under 30, can get “cool” stuff.

When we went in there, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
There was a massive section of the store given over to Doctor Who merchandise- TARDIS tchotchkes, action figures, talking Daleks, and Doctor Who-themed knee socks.
“Where were the girls traipsing about in TARDIS knee socks when I was in high school?” I somewhat jokingly lamented to A.J.

Nearly all of the merchandise was Eleventh Doctor-related. The last time I had been in the store, which had been about 2 years previously, they also had Doctor Who stuff, but it was a couple of rows of action figures and some sonic screwdrivers in a corner. But this display- this was pretty huge was angled so it could be seen by anyone who entered the store.

Then it hit me. Doctor Who was…cool? This was one of those things that I thought I would never see. I have been a Doctor Who fan since I was a young child and experienced a lot of teasing, ribbing and joshing over the years for liking such a strange TV show. The last thing I ever thought it would be was “cool.” Given the evidence in front of my eyes, it was definitely cool enough amongst the kids of today for the managers of this particular Newbury Comics to devote a large amount of floorspace to Doctor Who merchandise.

Doctor Who is celebrating its 50th anniversary in November 2013, and it is as popular worldwide as it has ever been. The original series was on the air from 1963-89. It was started up again in 2005 with a much larger special effects budget and has received much critical acclaim. It has become so popular now that the 50th anniversary episode has been filmed in 3D and will be shown in theatres across the world. I already have two tickets to a screening in Seattle, but nobody to go with me yet, which sort of sums up my experience of Doctor Who fandom.

Doctor Who has meant a lot to me over the years, but it has been, for the most part, a private devotion. That’s not to say I haven’t tried to share it, but it is something that is, most certainly, an acquired taste for most people. Let’s put it this way- just about everyone I know thinks that Doctor Who is really weird. For me, it was just something that I have loved for as long as I can remember…

Early 1980s, Watertown, Massachusetts, USA

It was 7:00 PM on a weekday evening, and my father and I (presumably at least 4-5 years of age) were sitting on the floor in the living room in front of the TV, which was tuned to WGBH Channel 2, the Boston PBS station. My father is a sci-fi fan himself, so I don’t know if he intended to watch it that night with me or not, but Episode 1 of “The Ark in Space” appeared on the screen…

It was the awesomest, coolest, scariest thing that I had ever seen on TV and I was forever hooked. Doctor Who’s format during the original run of the series (1963-89) was a single story broken into 25-minute episodes with a cliffhanger at the end. Most of the stories were broken into 4 or 6 episodes. In England, they were shown on Saturday evenings, but when they were re-run on Channel 2 in the late 1970s-late 1980s, they showed one episode every weeknight. Needless to say, if you come in during the middle of a story, it can be a bit confusing. “The Ark in Space” finds the Doctor (played by Tom Baker, the Fourth Doctor) and his friends landing on what seems to be an abandoned space station…

While Doctor Who has a rich history in England, it gained a foothold in the US in the early 1980s when PBS stations played the Tom Baker episodes over and over and over again. Before the new series began, if you asked an American if they knew who Doctor Who was, they would mention something about the guy with the long scarf and the afro and the song: “Wooo-eeee-ooo!”

As a child, I found the episdoes featuring the Tom Baker Doctor scary, weird and funny- exactly what you want out of a TV show character at that time in your life. The special effects of the original series have always been rightly derided (you try to make 14-45 episodes of sci-fi TV/year on a TV channel funded by taxpayers look realistic without the aid of computers!), but to a kid who was willing to suspend his disbelief, they were absolutely perfect.

There were times though where I got a bit too scared and stopped watching for awhile. Once, when I got the courage to watch it again, I got the surprise of my life when I found that they had started showing episodes featuring a completely different actor playing the Doctor!

The only clues that I had to prove it was the same show were the theme song, the name of the show of course, and the “Tartus” (AKA the TARDIS, the Doctor’s blue box) appearing in the background.

Right away I found the new Doctor with the ruffled shirt (the “Third Doctor,” played by Jon Pertwee) was better than the “Scarf Doctor.” For one thing, it was just as scary and exciting, but there was more action- the Doctor even would get in fights once in a while (I am an American, after all)!

Then, inexplicably, Sarah Jane Smith, who had travelled with the Scarf Doctor showed up! Then the Ruffled Shirt Doctor went to the “Planet of the Spiders” and died and then came back to life- as the Scarf Doctor! I was totally confused, but pressed on nonetheless.

Eventually, they started showing new Scarf Doctor episodes that I had never seen before. Then, the Master, the Doctor’s archenemy from the Ruffled Shirt days, came back but another actor was playing the part. He and the Scarf Doctor fought and then Scarf Doctor died and came back as a young blonde guy!

Even though I was ready for the change but it was still pretty jarring. I quickly grew to love the Blonde Doctor (the “Fifth Doctor,” played by Peter Davison) as much as I loved the others- what was even cooler was the realization that these were brand new episodes- they were still making Doctor Who in England!

Fall 1985, Downtown Crossing, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

By the time I saw the Blonde Doctor episodes, I had been watching Doctor Who for at least half my life at that point, but I knew very little about it. About this time I started going with my mother into downtown Boston on the T (Boston’s subway) for shopping trips to Filene’s and Jordan Marsh department stores.

On one of these trips, out of the corner of my eye, I saw pictures of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk in a random third-story window. I begged and begged my mother to take me up there. Despite my mother’s fear that we were going to be mugged in the stairwell going up to the third floor, she took me into Superhero Universe, my first comic store.

Having been used to comic racks at drugstores, I was completely blown away that there was an entire store that sold only comic books. I have always been more of a Marvel comics fan, and I had noticed in my reading that they were advertising a Doctor Who comic book but I could never find it on the racks. I asked the Comic Book Guy if he had any issues, and he had all of them! I got a forward on my allowance to pick up Doctor Who #15, which featured the first part of a new story with the Blonde Doctor. As if that wasn’t awesome enough, the back of the comic had articles about Doctor Who! It was like a message in the bottle for me. Up to this point, I had no idea that Doctor Who was anything other than a TV show. A whole new world was about to open up for me…

Find out the exciting conclusion in Part 2 of Adventures of an American Whovian!

GORUCK Challenge #733: An After Action Review

“No citizen has a right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training…what a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” -Socrates

It was a beautiful August night at the bottom of the Space Needle in Seattle. Tourists were taking in the sights of Seattle Center, but I had come here to meet a bunch of strangers there who had all signed up to do the GORUCK Challenge.

Waiting For The Fun To Begin

1. Waiting For The Fun To Begin

I knew I had found them when I saw 20-30 people gathered by the Space Needle entrance with athletic clothes on and heavy backpacks at their feet. What followed in the next 8-10+ hours was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I’m writing this article to share my experiences as well as my training plan leading up to that night and perhaps inspire someone to challenge themselves.

The GORUCK Challenge is an 8-12 hour, 15-20 mile “guided tour” of a city led by a veteran of one of the branches of the United States Special Forces who is referred to as the Cadre. All you have to do to come along (besides registering) is bring along a backpack, or ruck, with six bricks/30 lbs. of weight in it (if you are over 150 lbs., 4 bricks/20 lbs. if you are under 150), and be ready for the “challenges” that the Cadre has in store for the team. GORUCK the company was started by Jason McCarthy, a Special Forces veteran who wanted to create gear for everyone that was tough enough to be used in the field and events to both test the gear and the people who were up for it under their training conditions.

I heard about the GORUCK Challenge in January 2013 after reading a review of it by Brett McKay at one of my favorite blogs on the Internet, The Art of Manliness. After reading the article, I knew that I wanted to do this. While cleaning my room, I found an old fitness journal with the Socrates quote and it had really gotten in my head. In high school, I had been on the varsity soccer team, but I had never really challenged myself physically since then. Over the years, I would exercise, but with no real goal in mind. In the previous year or so, I had started to pay attention to my health more than ever before, but I didn’t want to just get fit for the sake of it- I wanted to develop an all-around practical type of fitness. After reading Brett’s review, I realized the GORUCK was exactly the type of test I needed to prove to myself that I had attained that level of fitness Socrates was describing. I hadn’t signed up, but I began training for it.

A few weeks into training, we discovered that my wife was pregnant with our first child, which gave me an extra level of motivation.

I began to do research on the GORUCK Challenge and discovered that while there were some articles out there, those who complete it are somewhat vague as to what it actually entails in order to keep it a mystery for those who are doing it for the first time. It is hard to know exactly what to train for because no one (and that will now include myself) is forthcoming with the specifics in order to keep the mystery of the Challenge alive. People, however, are usually forthcoming about their training program.

In my mind, there are three phases to getting ready for the GORUCK Challenge. The first phase is to get in what you consider to be in good shape through proper exercise and nutrition. This post is not about this first phase and there are a lot of resources out there to help you if you’re in that stage. It really helps to have a goal to focus your efforts like doing the GORUCK. The second phase is to take your good shape and bring it to the next level so you can begin even thinking about training hard for the Challenge. This second phase took me six months. The third phase is actually training for it.

For about a year before I discovered the GORUCK Challenge, I had been going to Sgt. Mike’s Boot Camp. Sgt. Mike Lawson is originally from the Boston area (just like me) and besides being a great coach, is a wicked charactah. His classes are held in parks around the Seattle area and emphasize calisthenics, bodyweight exercises and running/cardio drills. It is the kind of practical, all-around fitness training that I had been looking for. Sgt. Mike’s classes had gotten me fitter than I had been in a long time and training for the GORUCK Challenge seemed like a great way to build on that. In addition, about eight months before the Challenge I began using a weightlifting program called Stronglifts 5X5 that Brett McKay used when he was training. Developed by a guy named Mehdi from Belgium, Stronglifts 5X5 in its first phase is a series of two short alternating workouts filled with traditional weightlifting exercises that always start with squats. Each workout, you add 5 pounds until suddenly you realize you have made some big gains. I alternated this with Sgt. Mike’s Bootcamp, with its emphasis on bodyweight and cardio, which gave me a great all-around workout.

After training for a few months like this, I decided that I was serious about doing GORUCK and signed up in mid-April for the 8/16/13 challenge in Seattle. Right after that I bought some bricks, wrapped them, and started using a backpack I already had for some training. I put all 6 bricks in the pack to see what would happen and it nearly ripped apart. After that, I decided to go ahead and get a GORUCK pack.

When I received the bag, I was totally impressed. It was just as awesome as the photos on their website make it look. The 26-liter GR1 packs are hand-made in Bozeman, MT out of Cordura fabric and was designed to be tough enough to handle the stress of having loads like the wrapped bricks inside. Not only that, it is attractive enough (once you clean off all of the mud!) to take to work. Now that I had a pack that was able to handle the bricks I started going on hikes, steadily increasing the amount of bricks that I was using. In addition, I did Boot Camp classes while wearing a weight vest.

As the Challenge date drew closer, I began to follow GORUCK’s six-week Challenge training plan. Their program walks you through a comprehensive and sensible training regimen that has you practice the types of activities that may occur during a Challenge while putting progressively more weight in the pack. I also started just wearing the pack around while I was doing my normal activities so I could get used to the weight.

Despite all the training that I had been putting in over the course of nearly eight months, as the date of the Challenge approached, the doubts began to swirl around. Had I trained hard enough? Had I trained for the right activities? All I knew was that I didn’t want to be a liability to the other people on my team. The only way to do that was to kick the negative thoughts out of my head by continually visualizing as much of the Challenge as I could (including finishing) and resolving to finish it while helping out my teammates along the way.

Space Needle

2. Space Needle

Then, 9:00 PM on Friday, August 16th, 2013 arrived. We stopped goofing off and lined up in front of the Space Needle as Cadre Michael inspected our packs. Once he explained the parameters, we began marching through the streets past absolutely stunned and confused (and increasingly belligerent drunk) people to Seattle Fire Station #2, where we honored the firefighters by doing our first round of calisthenics while being hosed down by Cadre Michael. This was when it became real. I was going to not only reach deep inside but lean on the strength of these people if we were going to survive this thing we had signed up for.

The Fun Begins at Seattle Fire Station 2

3. The Fun Begins

After this, we marched through South Lake Union to Lake Union Park. Cadre Michael ordered us into the not-so-lovely waters of Lake Union where we began the Welcome Party, a long series of calisthenics that could have lasted for an hour, three hours, I couldn’t tell you. All I can say for sure is that doing calisthenics in the water in the middle of the night with 40-50 pounds on your back certainly makes one focus on the present.

The Welcome Party- in Lake Union

4. The Welcome Party- in Lake Union

There were points during the Welcome Party where I wasn’t sure I could do it. Then I noticed that some of my teammates were having more trouble than I was. I forgot about what was going on in my head and started giving them encouragement and trying to help them. Now that I had gotten out of my head, I realized how badly I wanted him and everyone on my team to make it. We had all busted our asses and pushed ourselves to the limit to get here and now Cadre Michael was pushing us way, way past that. If we were all going to make it, we all had to “embrace the suck” and make it together. A bunch of strangers who had prepared for a physical challenge were forged into Class #733 in the nasty waters of Lake Union.

After the Welcome Party was over, we proceeded to march up Queen Anne Hill (which is the tallest and steepest hill in a city full of them) to another park where we got our next assignment. Partner 1 had to bear crawl with Partner 2 on the ground, their pack on their chest, holding onto Partner 1’s neck.

Once we got to the end of the first leg, we had to switch roles. Here is where I realized that my size and weight were now the business of one of my teammates now that my partner had to drag my ass up a small hill, for which he deserves a ton of credit. He was a large man himself, and we both just had to engage Beast Mode to make it through.

Beast Mode Engaged As Cadre Michael Observes

5. Beast Mode Engaged As Cadre Michael Observes

Before we left the park, we discovered our next assignment- a drone had been shot down and we had to bring the “pieces-“ AKA several large logs- back to the extraction point at Green Lake. We made our way down the other side of Queen Anne Hill and up Aurora Avenue in the middle of the night. Another teammate and I took one of the logs across the entire Aurora Bridge. I had never been on the bridge so late at night as a pedestrian. It was eerily calm and beautiful as we all made it across the bridge and stopped to meet the Fremont Troll who lives underneath the north side.

A visit with the Fremont Troll

6. A visit with the Fremont Troll

After we visited the Troll, we crossed underneath the bridge to the other side of the street as we made our way to the “extraction point” at Green Lake. At this point, Cadre Michael told us he had received an order that we were supposed to find a “douche canoe.” The “douche canoe” ended up being part of a trashed bookshelf left by the side of a store on Aurora Ave. in which most of the logs except for the biggest one were placed.

We made it to Woodland Park (which is right next to Green Lake) when we discovered a pedestrian walking sign that had been defaced to make the walking man into a walking bear instead. In keeping with the adaptive nature of the GORUCK Challenge, this prompted a bear crawl across the street into the park.

The sign says to Bear Crawl!

7. The sign says to Bear Crawl!

When we got into Woodland Park, it was a bit surreal for me. I not only live nearby and did a ton of training for the Challenge here, but most of Sgt. Mike’s Boot Camp classes take place in Woodland Park and around Green Lake. Now, here I was, just before sunrise hauling the douche canoe with my teammates over the moguls in the BMX dirtbike course that I had run by hundreds of times. It was both surreal and fitting.

Transporting the "Douche Canoe"

8. Transporting the “Douche Canoe”

After we made it over the dirtbike-turned-obstacle course with the douche canoe, the entire team had to make it back over the course in a certain time and if anyone didn’t make it over the jumps, they would be considered “casualties” that we would have to carry over. We made the time by three seconds.

As the sun began to rise over Seattle, we hiked the rest of the way to the East Beach on the other side of Green Lake. This time, however, we started racking up “casualties” and some of the team members had to be carried the rest of the way.

Once we got to the Green Lake Beach, it was back in the water for more calisthenics and then a simulation of a beach landing. It was tough to see people drinking their Starbucks after staying up all night. Whereas the beach at Lake Union was full of pea gravel, while the beach at Green Lake was just sand. We got out of Green Lake and low-crawled over the sand and then “camouflaged” ourselves by chucking sand all over ourselves. Wet and covered in sand, we began walking up Ravenna Blvd. towards the University of Washington.

9. The Author Covered In Sand

9. The Author Covered In Sand

This was one of the longest hikes we did but we made good time and we were all in good spirits. When we got to UW, the original intent was to have us jump into the fountain, but once Cadre Michael saw it was at least a five foot drop into the fountain (plus being full of goose poop and feathers), he decided against it and we did some more calisthenics by the UW Medical Center.

10. Cadre Michael

10. Cadre Michael

After this round of calisthenics, we started the last leg of the journey back to Seattle Center. We ran all the way back to the beach where we had our Welcome Party.

11. GRC Team #733's "baptism" in Lake Union

11. GRC Team #733’s “baptism” in Lake Union

After a “baptism” of Class 733 in the not-so-pure waters of Lake Union, Cadre Michael presented each of us with our GORUCK Tough patches. Every one of the people on the team who started the Challenge had completed it, including myself.

It was a real feeling of accomplishment that I can’t even begin to describe. It had been a long, eight-month journey to get to that moment, and now here I was. battered, bruised, scuffed-up and dehydrated, but I somehow made it. The best part, however, was that everyone who began GORUCK Challenge #733 completed it. We had done it together.

GORUCK Challenge Team #733

12. GORUCK Challenge Team #733

It’s important to be part of a team once in a while that is trying to accomplish a completely unreasonable goal together. Team #733 accomplished something that August night, and I was a part of it. Every step of the way to accomplishing that goal there were people who inspired me, trained with me, and that night, Cadre Michael and the people of Team #733 were there to help me get through the Challenge.

Training for and completing GORUCK Challenge #733 has changed me for the better. For once, I had a physical training goal and I pushed my body and my mind about as far as it has ever been pushed and I made it to the other side. I am no longer an amateur in the matter of my physical training but my mental training as well. While being physically fit really matters, a large amount of what will get you through an event like the Challenge, an emergency situation or just everyday life is mental toughness. You need to relentlessly train not only your body but your mind as well in order to take that proverbial “one more step.” I have found that both the physical and mental training I did has benefited me in all areas of my life. The best part is that I will never truly be done with the GORUCK Challenge as participating in it also gave me a whole new list of improvements that I need to make. Not only that, but the urge to sign up again is always there.

If challenging yourself physically and mentally like this sounds like a great time to you, sign up for the GORUCK Challenge or any of their other events. GORUCK is a veteran-owned business that produces great products hand-made in the USA and puts on events like the Challenge that end up changing minds, changing bodies, and changing lives. This is the kind of truly awesome, inspirational American success story companies that everyone needs to know about. Check out GORUCK, or better yet, become a part of it.

The comments section is closed due to spam overload. If you have any comments about the article, please email me at brian (((at))) Thanks!

Special Thanks to David Thomas and Derek Veldkamp for not only tagging along, but for taking such great pictures! David took 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 10 and 12 while Derek took 1, 5, 7, 8, and 11. All rights reserved to the respective photographers.

Arsenal Mall Slated For Terraforming

Future Site of Hipster Mecca?

Future Site of Hipster Mecca?

Yesterday, I checked my Facebook and saw that an old friend who grew up a few blocks away from me in the East End of Watertown had reposted an article by the Watertown Patch blog that said the Arsenal Mall was going to be redeveloped into a “tech,hipster mecca.”

The Patch article cited a Boston Globe story from July 1st, 2013 that had more details. Jonathan Bush, CEO of Athenahealth (and cousin of George W. Bush) is teaming with two real estate development firms, Boylston Properties and the Wilder Company to purchase the Arsenal Mall, the Home Depot/Golfsmith building (aka the Ann and Hope for all you old Watertownies out there) and the Harvard Vanguard Building. These three buildings comprise the entire Arsenal Mall complex. In addition, Boylston Properties has purchased the former Charles River SAAB dealership on the other side of Arsenal Street and plans to develop the property into a hotel.

Athenahealth, a medical records company, purchased the Arsenal on the Charles property as their corporate headquarters (which is a separate entity from the Arsenal Mall) from Harvard University for $168.5 million. The deal was finalized in May 2013. Athenahealth sounds like they sincerely want to make the Arsenal their home base and recently got a huge tax break from the Commonwealth in return for adding more jobs in Watertown.

Harvard University purchased the Arsenal on the Charles in 2001 for $162.6 million. Everyone expected Harvard to do something big but after they took a big hit during the “Great Recession” nothing was really done there except to rent out space to other tenants.

The Arsenal back in the day

The Arsenal back in the day

The Arsenal was a U.S. Army base from 1816-1995. For the most part, the Arsenal produced guns, artillery, and other weapons. From World War I to World War II, the Arsenal expanded rapidly. In the post-WWII years, activities at the Arsenal included building an early nuclear reactor as well as depleted uranium testing, which required that it be listed as a Superfund site from 1994-2006. A link to the Superfund site material is available here. For some decent online overviews of the Arsenal’s history, check out the Wikipedia page, the Cold War-MA page, or

Once I got over the initial shock of the news- especially the part in the Globe article that referred to the Arsenal Mall as “a scruffy stretch of East Watertown” and Bush referring to it as “a black hole-” it began to sink in. Everyone has known this day was going to come at least since 1968, when the eastern parcel of the Arsenal was sold to Watertown. Rumor has it that the University of Massachusetts wanted to build a campus there, but the parcel wasn’t redeveloped until the Arsenal Mall was opened in 1983.

The Arsenal on the Charles is 29 acres and at it’s largest extent, the Arsenal property was nearly 100 acres, which has to make it one of the larger parcels of land still available for development in the Boston area.

If this plan to turn the Arsenal Mall complex into a “tech, hipster mecca” comes to fruition, it will drastically change the culture of the East End. Right now, it is a quiet middle class neighborhood best known worldwide as either being an Armenian enclave or .

All I can say for certain is that the East End will never quite be the same. Hopefully it will be for the better, especially in terms of tax revenue for the town. The Arsenal army base generated no tax revenue for the town for around 175 years and as an educational institution, Harvard didn’t contribute much either. Was developing the eastern parcel into the Arsenal Mall the best use of that space? Probably not, but it has been there most of my life.

I grew up in the East End and my parents (soon to be grandparents) still live there. Even though I have lived in Seattle for a long time and love it out here, you can’t take Watertown out of me. I have spent many years studying Watertown history with a concentration in the East End and conducting amateur environmental archaeology surveys of the area, including one on Sawin’s Pond. Needless to say I am taking a keen, opinionated interest in this subject and hope that my expertise in the history of the area will come in handy as things develop.

21st Century Viking: Goodbye, Viking Tavern!

The Viking Tavern, Ballard, WA: 1950-2013

The Viking Tavern, Ballard, WA: 1950-2013

My latest article for the Ballard News-Tribune is a farewell to the awesome Viking Tavern. Despite the loss of this great bar, I encourage Ballardites to have sisu, and remind everyone that there are many nanobreweries such as Populuxe Brewing that are popping up in Ballard.

21st Century Viking: What Would Joseph Coolidge Say?

Photo by Kristin Jones (CC/Flickr)

My latest article for the Ballard News-Tribune was published a few hours after I posted the second part of my watertown_4.19.13 series. I submitted the editorial under a different title but it turned out that both the post and the editorial for the Ballard News-Tribune were given the same name.

They are, however, different pieces.

The Ballard News-Tribune article is a little shorter, gives a bit more background on Watertown and ask the reader to imagine a similar scenario unfolding in Ballard.

The blog post is longer and goes more into depth in some areas, particularly with Joseph Coolidge.

Both pieces, however, invoke the name of Joseph Coolidge and his importance to Watertown and American history as the starting point of my discussion. I have a feeling that the Spirit of Joseph Coolidge will continue to be invoked as the watertown_4.19.13 project evolves.

Watertown_4.19.13, Part II: What Would Joseph Coolidge Say?

Image of Joseph Coolidge’s grave, Old Burying Ground, Watertown, MA. Image from
I will upload my own photo of this soon. -Brian

On April 19th, 1775, Joseph Coolidge of Watertown, MA died at the Battle of Lexington. According to an account by one of his descendants, Austin J. Coolidge:
“When the alarm came on April 19, 1775, he is said to have unyoked his team from the plow, told his wife where he had buried the town’s money, taken his gun and powder horn, and joined a dozen or so Minute Men from Needham, guiding them to Lexington. He fell, mortally wounded, near the lower part of Lexington, his body pierced by three British bullets.”
(From the website of the Joseph Coolidge (Watertown) Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution)

Joseph Coolidge was not only a resident of the East End, he was a Minuteman and a long-time patriot, as evidenced by the fact that he was one of the participants in the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773.

On April 19th, 2013, 238 years later, brothers Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev, the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings were confronted in the East End of Watertown, MA. Tamerlan was killed in the initial confrontation with police and later that day Dzhokar was found hiding in a boat about six blocks away from the scene and arrested. In the meantime, the East End of Watertown was put on lockdown and all the streets within a 20-block radius were subjected to an intense search by hundreds of police.

It took me a little bit longer to start writing about what happened in Watertown that day because these events were so personal to me. I grew up in the East End. The shootout and the hiding place of the suspect were all within a several block radius of where my parents live. My parents’ property was searched (but not their house), the property and house of the parents of my friend was thoroughly searched. There were many others in the neighborhood whose property and/or houses were searched as well.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution states:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

While some homeowners and residents were asked by police if they could conduct searches, videos such as this one have surfaced showing people being taken out of their homes at gunpoint:

Thankfully, the police managed to apprehend Tsarnaev alive and without anyone else being hurt. I have heard lots of commentators speak of their concern over whether Tsarnaev was read his Miranda rights. I am glad that he is being tried in a Federal court and not being treated as an enemy combatant. As an American, he is entitled to due process and to have his day in court.

There is another question that is just as, if not more important that needs to be respectfully asked: Were the Constitutional rights of the residents of the East End of Watertown violated during the manhunt for Dzokhar Tsarnaev?

After seeing the above video, ask yourself- was the police response proportional? Was it necessary for armed SWAT teams and Humvees to put the East End under lockdown, which looked very much to me like a temporary imposition of martial law? What was the legal reasoning that was used to justify the manhunt and these searches? As far as I know at the time I publish this, none of the residents of the houses were presented with a search warrant.

I used the phrase “respectfully ask” because I am balancing my desire to know with the reality that the police who searched the property kept my parents and the residents of the East End safe. The Boston Marathon bombings were a horrific crime and it saddens me to think of the people who died or were maimed as well as the officer who they killed. I am glad that at least one of them will stand trial and have to answer for the crimes they have been accused of, yet it is nearly overshadowed for me by how he was arrested.

As I write this on April 29th, 2013, the story is 10 days old. I refrained from writing much about it for the past few days because I wanted to really think on it instead of just reacting emotionally. It was a huge shock to see hundreds of police and the media of the world descend on the neighborhood I grew up in. After a few days, as the relief that my parents were safe and the shock of it all started to drain away a little, my thoughts kept turning to Joseph Coolidge.

Joseph Coolidge’s grave is marked by an obelisk in the center of the Old Burying Ground at the corner of Mt. Auburn and Arlington Streets. Watertown was founded in 1630 (the same year as Boston) and the cemetery dates from that time. For my Eagle Scout project, my fellow Boy Scouts in Troop 30 cleaned up the cemetery and I attempted to get it registered as a Historic Place.

Many of the police that responded to the call and the that reported on the events probably sped by the Old Burying Ground on their way into the East End. In addition, I am fairly certain that Tsarnaev’s ambulance passed by it as well on the way to the hospital. Joseph Coolidge died at the Battle of Lexington so that his fellow Americans would not have to live under tyranny. What would Joseph Coolidge have had to say if he saw what happened that day on the land that he died for?

Watertown_4.19.13, Part I

Police in front of Porcini's Restaurant, School St. looking towards Mt. Auburn St. 4/19/13

Police in front of Porcini’s Restaurant, School St. looking towards Mt. Auburn St. 4/19/13. Screenshot of WBZ Boston’s Live Coverage

The capture of one of the suspects in the Boston Marathon Bombings (and the death of the other) has focused the attention of the world on the East End neighborhood of Watertown, Massachusetts. The gunfight in the early hours of Friday morning, April 19, 2013 and the capture of the suspect inside a boat occurred within a few blocks of the house that I grew up in and where my parents still live. It is my intention to use my subject matter expertise to report in depth on the Watertown part of the Boston Marathon Bombing story.

I will admit up front to not being a disinterested party- this is the neighborhood I grew up in, after all. The goal of this series of posts is to give you my perspective on what happened and find out the truth of what occurred. I have been thinking about this and reading articles from all different perspectives over the past week and it is time to enter the fray. Hopefully what I end up writing will be a positive contribution to the discussion.

Sunset Bowl Article Picked Up By Crosscut!

I just discovered that my recent article on the fate of Sunset Bowl was picked up that day by Crosscut’s “Daily Troll” column!

Zachariah Bryan, the Ballard News-Tribune’s editor told me that the piece got over 1,200 views after the mention in the Daily Troll, which is pretty cool if you ask me!

21st Century Viking: What Happened to the Sunset Bowl?

A small piece of Sunset Bowl history

My latest opinion piece for the Ballard News-Tribune is about the demise of Sunset Bowl, Ballard’s beloved bowling alley. I also talk about the challenge of building community in a neighborhood undergoing rapid change.

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Visualizing A Taxonomy Using Tree Testing

In the summer of 2012, I worked with Matt Turpin and the wonderful folks at the Seattle-based UX Design firm Fell Swoop on a taxonomy redesign of the FAQ pages on a client’s website.

We conducted user testing in the form of a closed card sort and multiple tree tests using Optimal Workshop’s awesome tools. Not only did the results of the card sort and tree testing inform the taxonomy redesign, but Optimal Workshop’s OptimalSort and Treejack created great visual deliverables that we used to show the client how we were progressing and the improvements that we were making.

As a taxonomist and information architect, it was a revelation to not only incorporate user testing into a taxonomy project, but have compelling metrics and visual deliverables instead of just a spreadsheet to present to the client.

I wrote an article about the project that was recently posted on the Fell Swoop blog.

X-posted on my Infogration Consulting blog.