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Jason McDowell is also known as Little Tiny Fish. He is the Creative Director for OnMilwaukee. Occasionally he freelances. Mostly he rides bikes.

littletinyfish.com is not a cohesive blog, but a repository of musings on an assortment of topics, such as design, art, cycling, Milwaukee, and other personal experiences.

It’s Halloween, so that means my “Flower Bomber” costume from four years ago has found renewed interest. This year’s excitement has been an interview with PBS NewsHour as well as being declared “brilliant” by Buzzfeed (take that for what you will).The reason I’m finally writing something about the costume is that it’s clear that it has become “a thing” and may it be the thing that I am most known for around the world, so I should probably give it some context. It’s been sitting in my Flickr feed for four years without much explanation. Another reason is that my image was also used by Buzzfeed without attributing the source.* The excuse is often “well, you know how the internet is.” The virality of photos and the ease of losing the attribution across the vast Tumblr sea is a problem, but when the Google search is as simple as “Banksy costume” you have to wonder how much effort-to-dollar ratio sites like Buzzfeed are expending. This should hopefully ease the burden of the next wannabe listicle outlet (I’m looking at you, TheChive).

PBS NewsHour and, more specifically, Victoria Fleischer were a classy outlet. They contacted me about the photo, asked me some questions and let me know when the article was posted. Good folks. They left 80% of the interview on the cutting room floor, so I’m just going to post the rest of it here.

Continue reading ›

One of my big endeavors last year was to learn a new language and here I am learning two. I am planning a blog explaining the path I took to dive into both languages, and review a myriad of apps that have helped. But that is for another time. My two new languages, German and Norwegian, have characters that are unique to their languages that we don’t find in English. Instead of switching between two keyboards with two different layouts, you can build an entirely new keyboard with the Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator 1.4.

By far, the easiest way to get the keys you’re looking for is to add languages from your control panel and swap between the layouts you’re looking for. However that may require you to learn a new layout, or your keyboard may be incompatible.

Microsoft does have a free keyboard builder. This can also be useful for people who are learning two languages and require a couple of different character sets. I’m in a unique position of learning two different character sets PLUS I use the Dvorak keyboard layout. So basically all my letters are totally rearranged. I’d like to keep using Dvorak while accessing these unique characters, so that’s where the Keyboard Layout Creator comes into play. Continue reading ›

I had been with Verizon Wireless since I was first given a cell phone back in late 2003 (I was a very late bloomer) but due to recent policy issues (among many other customer service problems) I decided it was time to abandon ship. Sucks for ol’ Verizon, as I was about to upgrade my month–to–month contract in order to get a hip new phone. The phone I was clinging to was at least four years old, always had charger problems, and had just achieved broken screen status.

I did a little research to look for a more tolerable provider a la a Twitter poll and found that just about every wireless provider came up with an even, unenthusiastic “meh”. Those companies who surpassed their competitors in popularity with an explicit “yay” (or, to be more precise, a luke warm “I’ve never really had problems with these guys”) would soon be knocked down by somebody with an explicit “nay.”

I, myself, had been interested in US Cellular who, in June last year, debuted their new mission statement and design strategy, “Believe in something better.” I liked that. Believe in something better. Not a better wireless company. Not a better phone. Justsomething. Inspiring. I also liked their design choices. Their color was like a blue sky just after a storm. A post–melancholic atmosphere. The dawn of a new day. Their fonts were a combination of Matrix Script and Rosewood Fill.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a presentation by their Senior Field Marketing Manager, Jim Wnorowski and several of his associates from the marketing department. The presentation focused on how they tried to appeal to their customers, primarily by focusing on customer service as well as community involvement. The in’store experience was key. So Saturday I canceled my service with Verizon and popped by US Cellular’s Water Street store to put them to the test.

Overall the experience was good. It wasn’t anything mind bogglingly advanced (which, in the wireless industry, might still be worth a few points) but it was overall a pleasant experience. I was greeted immediately and with warmth and was told to sign up for the next available representative. After roaming the store for a few minutes I was able to sit down to learn what was available and things went quite smoothly.

But there were three issues I felt stood in the way of the outstanding customer service I was expecting. I list them here in order of expanding importance, the last being most important (cuz I gotta keep you reading).

Problem #1 – The Old Number

I couldn’t keep my old phone number. My number originated in Iowa and I was getting a new plan with a new company in a new city. For some reason phone companies are still embracing the idea that area codes still exist. I get calls from local friends that come up listed as Boston, Massachusetts, or calls from my parents that are listed as Perry, Iowa, a place they’ve never lived. The phone I bought (the Two Step) even lists this incorrect area information before the caller’s name. And on top of that you have to pay $2 a month for this useless service. These days the area code just states where the phone originated from, and nothing more relevant or useful than that.

I don’t particularly fault the customer service for that, but as users become more and more attached to their numbers (it has almost become a social security number, but more personal) phone companies are going to have to catch up with the ever shrinking world. US Cellular should lead the way, though I’m sure there are miles of paperwork, bureaucracy, technicalities, and legalities that are getting in the way.

Problem #2 – The Paper Bill

When asked at which address I wanted to receive my bill I gave it to them, but stated that I didn’t want to receive paper bills. I asked if we could just set it up e-mail notification right there and get it out of the way. It couldn’t be done. My representative said that I could do it myself, when I got home, but they couldn’t do it there. Now I ask why not? This is an opportune time for US Cellular to step in and please the customer, save the environment, and save some money. It just seems like one of those things that can be ticked off when filing the “paperwork” with all the other information I’ve given them. X number was registered. X plan was selected. X bonuses were added. Paper bills are turned off. Check, check, check, done.

Problem #3 – The most glaring problem: Prorated Bills, Minutes, and Text Messages

When I signed up for the phone they selected a random billing time to start, a few days after I had purchased the phone. In the meantime, they prorated me for the first few days of use, before the billing time started so I had to pay some $5 in advance, which is one of those hidden ways of nickle–and–diming the customer (if everybody is giving US Cellular an additional $5 [or more, depending on their plan] on top of the two–year contract, it adds up).

But the biggest problem I had with this is that they prorated the minutes and the text message package, too! Over the next four days, until my plan “officially“ started I was only given 29 minutes and 25 text messages.

To a phone company, phone time and data are essentially free. It’s less than water. It’s less than air. There is no extra expense to the company if I were to use two minutes or two million. It’s all the same to them. So it baffles me why they don’t offer 1000 free minutes for your prorated time and 1000 free texts (that would expire at the start of your official contract, of course). Heck, offer unlimited minutes and texts. US Cellular should give it’s customers the ability to call up everyone in their phone book and say &ldquoHey, I just dumped that terrible old Verizon and signed up for US Cellular because their customer service is fantastic. They actually seem to care about me. They even gave me unlimited minutes to tell you how awesome they are. Maybe you should join me. After all, what has Verizon done for you lately?”

When I protested (Since I can’t keep my old number, I have a new phone number, so I’ve gotta call everyone in my phone book to let them know) they gave me an additional fifty minutes. Good, but not great. I have a new company. I have a new phone. I want to use it, but I’m limited. Instead of putting my brand new plan to work, I have to use Facebook instead.

I still have faith in the company, though, and I’m excited to see what new ways they’ll compete to keep me happy, but some of these issues seem elementary. Let’s hope from here on out I’m looking at the post–melancholic sky as the storm moves on.

I just got back from vacation in Austin, Texas and I have a few thoughts. Some might be wondering “What? Vacation in March?” Yes. Last time I “wasted” my vacation days towards the end of summer, just visiting my parents and my brother. I don’t want to say wasted per say, because I love my family, but it’s not a very exciting vacation. Also, in the meantime, I had missed two or three Milwaukee events that I wanted to attend, while I was away.

My idea, this time around, was to take vacation at the end of February or beginning of March, when the temperature is equal to the events being planned: zero.

Temperature

The temperature in Austin in mid-March was close to the summer in Milwaukee in mid-July: 70-80 in the day, 30-50 at night. The couch surfing hosts with whom we stayed were quite gracious, but just like I believe air conditioning in Milwaukee is unnecessary, they believe a heater is equally so. Nights got a little cold for us, but the sun helped the temperature bounce back up.

Milwaukee has sub zero streaks in the winter, while Austin tackles 100+ streaks even longer in the summer.

Bike Friendliness

The first thing we did after getting in to Austin was eat, lie in a park, and then check out the city’s Critical Mass. The critical mass in Austin is ten to twenty times more populated than in Milwaukee. Curious, I Googled “Critical Mass Milwaukee” and came up with articles at least three years old. Part of Milwaukee’s participation problems might be because of the lack of information (or the historical tenacity of the police), so I set up CriticalMassMKE.com when I returned from vacation.

Austin’ streets are also more bike friendly. More drivers get out of the way, pull in to the other lane, or just simply let you go first no matter what (which can actually be more confusing and dangerous, but the thought means something). There are bikes attached to every rack and everybody seems to own one, even if just for casual riding. Of course we were very close to downtown, which is also close to the University of Texas’ campus, which naturally means many more pedestrians in general.

Public Transportation

The buses on the main streets run just as regularly as those in Milwaukee, but they appear to be much cleaner and less vandalized. Fares are also significantly cheaper. Just $0.75 per ride, or $1.50 for a 24 hour pass. If you buy a ticket at 9:30 at night you can go to sleep for the night, wake up, run some errands, eat all your meals, walk your dog, go on a dinner date, and still be able to get on the bus by 9:30 the next night and not have to pay an extra cent.

The buses are also equipped with bike racks which are beautifully designed. They fold up when not in use and take only seconds to prepare if one is needed. The only downfall is that they are large enough to fit only two bikes.

The one problem we ran into with the bus system is not realizing how early they shut down on Sundays. An evening movie caused us to miss the last bus by mere seconds at a paltry 9:00pm. We were forced to take a taxi, which more than made up for the amount of fare we saved on their cheap daily passes.

Oh, and the roads, in general, are nigh–immaculate. They don’t have to deal with the cold, the salt trucks, and the plows on a yearly basis.

Vegetarian Food

There were tons and tons of vegetarian and even vegan friendly establishments. Milwaukee has only one totally vegetarian restaurant (the Riverwest Co–Op), while Austin is home to several. We also visited the Wheatsfield Co–op, whose selection was so daunting that I was paralyzed by choice. However, I am certain Austin has no bar/restaurant that can compete with the Palomino.

Overall

There is a lot of great things that Austin has to offer, but it almost feels like a fantasy land where the work is already done. Milwaukee hasn’t reached that point, but over the last 9 years I’ve seen it change for the better. Not only are people moving back into the city, but the city’s structure, neighborhood, and crimes are improving too. Sometimes we have potholes that turn into sink holes, but sometimes we get an expanded bike lane. I feel like Milwaukee needs us. It doesn’t need it’s creative, progressive individuals to move out. It needs them to fight to move the city forward.

Archived Comments

These comments were pulled from the archives after a site failure in mid 2014. Though I no longer accept public comments on my site, I’ve included them for posterity. If you’d like to submit a comment, send one to littletinyfish@littletinyfish.com.

  1. Nice review of the city! I had a lot of the same thoughts after visiting SanFran and Portland last summer. And yes, those cities seem to be lightyears ahead of where Milwaukee is, but I’m starting to see momentum grow for good, local, vegetarian/vegan friendly food, the bike culture getting more inclusive and ever-present, and the neighborhoods are becoming more lovely with every passing season. So, while these other cities look so amazing, I totally agree with your last paragraph. I’m loving Milwaukee and I want to do anything I can to help bring it up to par with the others. People are starting to notice us and we need to snatch all opportunities to shine.

    Sam Dodge · 2009-03-06 17:58 · #

  2. This was a really interesting read. I’ve never been to Austin, but go to Milwaukee often for work. Downtown has a lot of potential and I always wonder why more people are not out and about. Maybe I have unreasonable expectations for bustling streets, coming from Chicago, but Milwaukee’s downtown seems to be under-utilized. You’re the type of person the city needs more of!

    Dottie · 2009-03-15 19:59 · #

  3. I’m in Austin right now. I think I follow in your vacation footsteps, whether that’s Iowa or Texas.

    Tim · 2009-03-16 22:59 · #

A recent acquaintance of mine, Tim Cigelske dropped himself off in Colorado with a bike, a bottle of water, and a few power bars (as well as a kick ass Chipotle jersey) and in currently working his way back up to his home city of Milwaukee.

Having only biked 80 miles to Madison and, more recently 115 miles around Riverwest, this seems like quite the feat.

Now I’m on vacation in Iowa and since I have no significant other traveling with me (unless you count my beagle, Frutiger) I had room in the trunk in which to throw my bike. Half the family I’ve come to visit is gone and most of this morning I was alone. And since I forgot to pack some food for my lovable companion, I thought it would be good to start practicing my distance biking by making a trip out to Target.

From where my parents live, it’s only a mere 7 miles away, but since I’m in the suburbs of Iowa, the city planners only come up with plans for expansion and rarely come to any sense of completion. Roads suddenly end (they’ll put them there soon) or they’ll suddenly turn you down the opposite direction and bike paths suddenly end (you just wait, this place is gonna be great!).

Or maybe those are just my excuses as to why I got lost and overshot my goal by about 13 miles. I went back and forth down a few main roads and just as I was about to give up and find my way home, I was at Target’s front door. When I realized that I was practically feet from it almost a half–an–hour before I felt a little sheepish, but ultimately it was just exciting to take the bike around.

And it rides so much better now that I’ve raised the seat an inch.

I’ve only recently discovered the miles/calories/gas-savings site, Gas Free Commute in which you can input your miles and compete to see how green you are. Most of my trips have lately been to work, which is kinda boring. But today I win.

Archived Comments

These comments were pulled from the archives after a site failure in mid 2014. Though I no longer accept public comments on my site, I’ve included them for posterity. If you’d like to submit a comment, send one to littletinyfish@littletinyfish.com.

  1. Sorry I missed you in Iowa. We may have been biking around the same suburb the same time, crossing bike paths.

    Teecycle Tim · 2008-08-11 14:30 · #