Internet Service in Cohousing Communities

A major conundrum for cohousing and one that warrants a chapter in the next book on building a cohousing community is internet service. To provide it collectively or each to their own? If collectively how to charge, or whether to include in condo fees? Which technology? Who maintains it?

When Takoma Village was conceived in 1998-1999, we had several internet-knowledgeable people who insisted that we install wiring for internet connections. Every unit has at least 4 jacks with telephone, cable TV, and ethernet connections. The 3 and 4 bedrooms have more. Basically one in every room, even the kitchen. (We have connected units, not houses on lots.)

There are routers in the north and south basements and in the common house basement that connect all these wires to modems. For years we only had one modem. Then we upgraded to one modem with business class service, now to two business class service modems from two different companies so we rarely have a total outage because one service is down. Service is just slower when one modem is down.

One modem used to serve the North side and one the South side but one side has more gamers than the other. Unfair advantage to be limited to the same modem. Now the traffic rolls over.

Each device connected to the internet has its own IP address (one for each jack). This has caused a problem with Bluehost, our ISP, because they don’t like our account coming from different IPs all the time. So we have some special connection with them. When I work on the website, that was a problem because my own IP and email is at Bluehost. Even though I have my own account, working on websites is upload intensive and with everyone’s email plus any internet connections to other website also hosted by Bluehost caused traffic jams. So they now run all the connections to Bluehost through a second single IP address.

In addition, when people started using wireless, we installed community wireless connections for people to use. And we use each others. All the passwords are the same.

We have an intranet so people can share music and files, and the teenagers play games with each other. Several units collectively bought an expensive backdrive to share and use the intranet to backup.

The problems are around the routers. One or the other of them blows a port with some regularity. It’s a long process to test the system and isolate the bad ports. We have internal people–one active expert and one that can be called in, and 2-3 who have training. The trained can get on the phone with expert and understand how to follow his instructions. ____Without internal people to manage the network, we couldn’t do this.____

One person who works professionally installing networks recommends purchasing new routers every year. Install the basic reliable inexpensive router and when you replace the next year the most reliable extra features will be built in and you will always have up-to-date technology. And no downtimes. Others think this is wasteful so we have downtimes until someone gets a new router. I think we now always have a backup handy.

Many would like to hire someone who would always be available. Our current expert often goes to remote places to hike. But it would be expensive and no one is always available anyway. (We used to have 3 experts but two moved. We can still call them but the system changes so their knowledge is not always current.)

Some would like an external business class service that is guaranteed to be up 99% of the time. It feels unreasonable to expect neighbors to get up at night to fix things but so many people work from home now they are dependent on the internet. I’m online literally 12-14 hours a day. (I can almost instantly contact the others who are online that much too. A subculture.)

We bought software so the techies can change settings and check the system from their computers, but when it is a hardware problem they still have to go to the basement. Often for several hours.

We used to have huge problems with people moving in and setting up their computers without consulting our techs. They would bring down the whole system and we couldn’t find the problem. And because we have an IP address for each device ( computers, cable system, netflix, blueray, etc.) people have to have the right settings or they throw someone else off the internet. Now the techs contact new people to set them up. Even now when residents buy new equipment they forget that step. Auto detect doesn’t always work correctly. With the wireless, this is less of a problem (I think).

It’s soooo much cheaper than each of us having our own service. And we our service is twice as fast. It’s slower on Friday night when every one seems to be watching movies or playing games. Sometimes on Saturday and Sunday but still not a slow as it would be if each of us had a smaller residential modem for $35 a month. 43x$35=$1,500 a month. Instead we pay $365. Less than 20% for faster service. And if the service to the modem is the problem, the service for business class is same day, usually within hours. Residential can be 3-4 days.

Internet service is included in our condo fee so it is paid at the same rate, with larger units paying more.

When we moved in, less than half our households used the internet at home. Some, not at all. A number used it only at work. Others only on weekends. Whenever we sent out an email with a request it had to be out there over a weekend so people could read at home and over some workdays for those who only read at work. From the beginning, we had a computer in the office for people who didn’t have or need a computer at home. It is now used by people whose own computer is broken or much slower and by guests. And some just like to get out of their units.

When only a few were using the internet at home, it was harder to get attention to the network being down because very few people were dependent on it. Several of us had our own modems because of this.

Now every household has at least one device hooked up. I have four and have my own router to handle them. Some have their own internal intranet so they can share devices. Perhaps a third work at home all the time or a significant part of the time. And that number is growing rapidly. I would guess that most people check work email at home though many companies are now not allowing that for security reasons.

A long history but an important one that I think that Takoma Village has handled at a high level because we had tech savvy people from the beginning who were avid about new technology and foresaw the future–even though it still isn’t perfect. Every community will probably be at some point in this evolutionary process. If anyone is beyond it, please let us know!!!!

Spritz: Reading Revolution?

Spritz ad showing a small screen with their tagline "Reading Reimagined."Spritz is a method of reading based on new research. The finding is that experienced readers focus on a key point in a word and spend most of their time looking back and forth from one word to another. The Spritz method, patented technology, is based on the finding that we supposedly read a word by finding the key point in the middle of a word. Spritz shows one word at a time on the screen, centered appropriately. The speed with which words appear can be adjusted.

Background, FAQ, and an example can be found at the Spritz site.

Does Spritz Work?

It didn’t work for me because I find seeing the whole page or several sentences at a time is important to putting all the ideas together and I read in phrases, not words. Listening to books is not very satisfying because it is too linear.

If the example is an indication, I can probably read faster—I don’t actually know how fast I read. I had to go to 600 words per minute in the example just to keep focused on seeing one word at a time, but not sure how much I remember.

Certainly this would be good for iPhones since it is easier to read on small screens. But who reads on small screens?

Staring at computer screens is thought to be the reason they are not good for the eyes. Not sure if this rates as staring but what I’m doing is reading when I stare at the computer screen. Who knows?

A Critique by Annie Murpy Paul on the Time website, The “Brain App” That’s Better Than Spritz.

Converted Bus: A Home for $9,000 in 15 Weeks

Exterior View of Converted Bus by Architectural Student Hank Buttita

Exterior View of Converted Bus by Architectural Student Hank Buttita

Wonderful idea for converting old buses into a tiny house. My son used to watch out the window on regular trips down the Thruway in New York State to see a large parking lot for school buses, some in service and some not. He would have loved this before he acquired a wife and two children.

I often dream of living in a tiny house but then I measure the square footage my books and crafts supplies take. The whole house.

Architectural student Hank Buttita was tired of designing buildings no one could afford so he bought a bus and converted it to an almost elegant modern-style modular home complete with a kitchen, bathroom, beds, and storage, with a wooden floor from an old gymnasium. He bought the bus for $3,000 on Craig’s List, spent $6,000 on remodeling, less than a semester of graduate school. Most of the work was completed in 15 weeks including 7 weeks of design and prototyping.

He has posted a blog and photos from his 5,000 mile trip around the country to show architecture students what can be accomplished in the tiny house and rehabilitation.

interior View of Converted Bus by Architectural Student.

interior View of Converted Bus by Architectural Student Hank Buttita

Hanks website Hank Bought a Bus has more pictures, descriptions, and a video.

Making Public Transportation Better

I used to commute four hours a day round trip, from New Paltz, NY to Manhattan. My community was the commuters who boarded the same bus every morning at 6:50 and again at 5:50, or sometimes 4:50. When I gave up the car and moved to the city, I had more hours in each day but I also had more energy and more money. The hidden costs of commuting are larger than they seem on paper. You compensate for the inconvenience and boredom by spending extra money for lunch or dinner, etc.

Co-workers of a friend who lived in the city tried to convince her to move out of the city to a small town where she would have a house for what she paid for two-bedroom apartment in the city. She did the math. She would have to buy a car, pay commuting and parking expenses, and maintain the house. And miss all the theater and other advantages of living in the city. In the end it would be a lower quality of living and more expensive.

The Pleasures of Commuting

What made commuting pleasurable was having space to think, quiet alone time but with other people like me. On the bus, everyone chatted for a half an hour or so, and then lapsed into silence napping or reading newspapers, returning to sociability a half an hour from the city. Sometimes I drove just to be alone for 2 hours. Cocooned.

But in the city when I commuted by walking 10 minutes to the office, that wasn’t enough. I needed more space between office and home to unwind. I took the long way around so it was 20 minutes.

For two years I commuted two hours a day from an outer borough in New York in a private van that carried 8 people. There were rules. You could say good morning or report on an expected absence, but otherwise, be quiet. It was the solitude people enjoyed. You could drink coffee but not eat. The smells of everyone’s food was intrusive. As soon as we got into the city and people started getting off and saying goodbye, talking and sharing began.

This led me to thinking about how to make commuting on public transportation, even for relatively short distances, more pleasurable. Spaciousness would be a start. The time to read is a major benefit for me and for many. The Kindle is a great commuting advantage thought I like a book. But even that pleasure would be more attractive with the assurance of having a seat. And uncrowded seat. Assurance of not to having to listen to someone else’s music or phone conversations for an hour or even half an hour.

One way to accomplish this would be more divisions like the old railroad compartments, so you not feel like you are riding in a cattle car.

It Costs Too Much

“It costs too much” is the first objection to making commuting on public transportation more pleasurable, but commuting in private cars also costs too much. We all pay for those roads and decreased air quality and emergency vehicles racing to accidents.

It’s really a question of accounting. If we withdrew support for commuting by car and put those funds directly into shared transportation, urban design, and transit route rehabilitation, we would all be richer.

That’s why I don’t favor making it easier for cars to get through streets and intersections, through tunnels and bridges. Make it safer for pedestrians and clearer for traffic to navigate, but discourage making it easier to commute by car.

Death Over Dinner

Death Over Dinner is another let’s have dinner and talk about death movement like the Death Cafe. The introduction by the  founder, Michael Hebb, begins:

On a beautiful June morning in 2012 I boarded a train traveling from Portland to Seattle, and quickly made my way to the dining car. Within a few minutes I found myself in a lively conversation with two strangers, both doctors, and both very concerned about the state of our health care system. What I learned during that conversation was shocking, and the statistic that broke my heart was this:

Nearly 75% of Americans want to die at home, yet only 25% of them do.

I asked the doctors: Do you think that how we end our lives is the most important and costly conversation America is not having?

They said: Absolutely.

And then I asked them this: If I helped create a national campaign called “Let’s Have Dinner and Talk About Death,” did they think I would find support from doctors, patients, essentially everyone?

They said: Absolutely. You must do this!

Death Over Dinner LogoOne month later he and his graduate students in Communications at the University of Washington had signed up over 30 of the country’s healthcare and wellness leaders as Advisors and TEDMED had asked them to take the main stage at their prestigious conference.

His bio on the TEDMED site is very detailed and interesting. He has been hosting dinners on serious topics since 1997. He was described by the New York Times as an “underground restaurateur, impresario and provocateur.” He believes that the dinner table is one of the most effective (and overlooked) vehicles for changing the world.

Michael’s creative agency One Pot specializes in the technology of the common table, seeking to shift culture by using thoughtful food and discourse-based engagements and happenings. One Pot has worked closely with thought leaders and cultural leaders and many preeminent foundations an institutions including the Republic of Gabon, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative, the X Prize Foundation, the FEED Foundation, Architecture For Humanity, and the Summit Series.

Why Dinner?

The dinner table is the most forgiving place for difficult conversation. The ritual of breaking bread creates warmth and connection, and puts us in touch with our humanity. It offers an environment that is more suitable than the usual places we discuss end of life.

Frustrating Website — Not a Model to Follow

The Death Over Dinner website is incredibly frustrating. It is described as “an interactive digital platform linking UW masters program students with many national healthcare leaders.” What?

If  you use the link on the front page that says, “Get Started” you end up in a long string of screens that force you to make choices from menus about what you want to read, which video you want to watch, and which questions you want to ask. You make random choices to go to the next screen hoping for information. When you’ve gone through a seemingly endless number of screens, however, you are asked to sign up and then wait for a confirmation email that is not instant.  You wait because you want to enter the site and actually read something about death dinners.

When the email arrives, the information that you randomly selected is included in the body of an email that is in the form of a letter. You are supposed to use this letter to invite your friends to a death dinner. It is complete with homework. All that stuff I selected are things my guests are assigned to read and watch before coming to dinner. Educated and ready to talk.

Incredibly dumb in my opinion. I tried but I couldn’t even read the email. Who talks this way to their friends:

I would be honored if you would take the time to join me and [a few guests (or) add specific names] for dinner and to engage in this conversation. The folks at have created a series of three thoughtful conversational prompts for us to explore.

And there is no place to confirm anything. When you go back to the site, if you want to subscribe, you have to register again. And I suspect confirm again. I didn’t try it.

While I waited for the email I finally found the blog. The link is hidden in tiny symbols in the upper right hand corner. A tweet symbol, an envelope, a Facebook symbol, and, oh yes, three parallel lines. That’s the blog. For your benefit, here is the link to the blog:

Finally at the blog, apparently the only information on the site, you are greeted by the usual (and welcome) list of summaries of blog posts. Well enough, until you click through on one. I clicked through on How Doctors Die and was greeted by the same summary. When I clicked the “Keep reading here” link to get to the full post I was instead sent with no warning the New York Times to read an article called How Doctors Die: Showing Others the Way.

A website design that is an example of a noble idea gone awry when implemented by communications majors. The site is beautiful visually but a classic example of incredibly low usability. It reminds me of a Miss Manners request: Could we stop communicating and have a conversation?



Cake Normalizes Things: The Death Cafe Movement

Death Cafe Meeting in New York

Death Cafe Meeting in New York

Well, not blood sugar but it does help with death.

In 2011 John Underwood, a web designer in London, held an informal meeting in his basement to discuss death. His idea was in the European tradition of informal discussion of ideas and based on that of Swiss sociologist, Bernard Crettaz, who organized “café mortels” to encourage more open discussions of death.

Underwood says, “There’s a growing recognition that the way we’ve outsourced death to the medical profession and to funeral directors hasn’t done us any favors,” The Death Cafe is a place where people can discuss death, find meaning, ask profound questions, and reflect on what is important in life.

The basement idea, with its Halloween overtones, one hopes was about convenience. In any event, one thing led to another and death moved upstairs to become the Death Cafe with tea and cake. Why?

“The consumption of food is a life-sustaining process. Cake normalizes things.”

Underwood put up a website. The Death Cafe became a movement, not necessarily in that order. Small groups led by a volunteer professional are now meeting for discussions of death in cafes around the world. In July of 2013 there were 170 around the world. Since an article appeared in the New York Times this morning, there will probably be 17,000 by tomorrow morning.

The website has announcements of meetings and pictures of members with their tea and cake.



Bank Street Bookstore for Children’s Books

Logo for Bank Street BookstoreThe Bank Street Bookstore for Children’s Books at the Bank Street College of Education has an extensive collection of hand-selected quality books and games for sale. When you are looking for research material, just want to read a good book, or need a gift for a child or an adult, this is the place. Many cities do not have independent children’s bookstores and the selections at other bookstores or large retail stores tend to be quick sale books or those that are related to TV programs or movies.

What makes the Bank Street Bookstore website really special is the wonderful list of 125+ subjects in the left side menu. Unless you have a book in  mind, browsing a website can be a daunting experience. If you are looking for examples in a subject area on which you are writing, this is a fast and easy way to find examples.

With no ideas or looking for ideas, you can quickly find a range of topics such as:

  • Autographed Books, New and Notable, Gifts for Grownups, Gift Cards
  • By age group, Board Books, Toddlers & Threes, Picture Books, Novels for ages 8-10, 10-12, etc.
  • Activity Books
  • Adoption
  • African American Characters
  • The Arctic
  • Armchair Detective
  • Autism/Asperger’s Syndrome
  • Biographies
  • Birds
  • Bread
  • Butterflies
  • Chapter Book Series
  • Clouds
  • Gardening
  • Holidays
  • Math Stories
  • New Sibling
  • Ocean
  • Peace and Tolerance
  • Teasing and Bullying
  • Travel Games and Adventures
  • Writing


Broadway and 112th Street (southwest corner)
New York, New York 10025

Online: Bank Street Bookstore Website

Other Resources Include:

About Bank Street College of Education

Bank Street is a private graduate school offering master’s degree programs in education. It was founded in 1916 on Bank Street in Greenwich Village by Lucy Sprague Mitchell as the Bureau of Educational Experiments. The initial focus was on the study of child development and education. In 1918 it opened a nursery school which is now the School for Children. Bank Street began to train teachers, eventually becoming the Bank Street College of Education. In the 1960s, the Bank Street faculty played an important role in creating the federal Head Start program.

By the 1970s the college had outgrown its location and moved uptown to Broadway and 112th Street.