2016 Year in Review: Scott's favorite movie theater

Alamo

This Christmas I spent a few days in Austin with Marisa's family celebrating Christmas. One of my father-in-law's presents was a night out to see Rogue One (with myself and Marisa, of course!).

Being in Austin I wanted to check out an Alamo Drafthouse since I've heard many good things about this, and I wasn't disappointed. It is clear that the folks who run this chain love movies.

Instead of a bunch of inane ads before the previews they played old Star Wars toy commercials and YouTube videos. The seats were comfy, and you could order booze/food (I had a pretzel).

Thumbs up, Alamo Drafthouse.

The one bad thing I can say about this particular movie watching experience is that the sound was turned up a little too much. It was super loud, which I didn't mind myself but Marisa had to cover her ears a couple of times.



Bb2016This year has sucked, but it hasn't been all bad.

I'm writing a post per day for the rest of 2016 talking about some of my favorite things this year. Find the rest of the posts in this series here.



2016 in Review: Scott's favorite cheap iPhone 7 Plus Case

Iphonecase

This year I got myself an iPhone 7 Plus, which meant I needed to retire my super cool iPhone 6 Plus Lego case (man, that case is awesome). I am holding out hope that a new iPhone 7 Plus Lego case will appear at some point, so I didn't want to spend too much money on a case.

That's when Lex tweeted about the AmazonBasics Slim Case for iPhone. For $10 it seemed worth a try. I'm still using the blue one I bought, and it is perfect. Even better? It costs $2 less now.

This case isn't going to garner any compliments from anyone, frankly, but it is a cheap, well made case.

Bb2016This year has sucked, but it hasn't been all bad.

I'm writing a post per day for the rest of 2016 talking about some of my favorite things this year. Find the rest of the posts in this series here.


2016 in Review: Scott's favorite way to pay for the trolley

We're Getting There

SEPTA is a word that triggers strong reactions from Philadelphians and Pennsylvanians in general. People outside of Philly are annoyed that they have to help pay for public transportation for folks in a city they don't live in (Thanks, PA!). Philadelphians aren't thrilled with SEPTA's general lack of... being good.

I don't envy SEPTA though. The system is pretty large and has a puzzling array of options including:

  • Trollies
  • Buses
  • Commuter Rail (which we call the Regional Rail)
  • Subway

I, as it happen, am a nearly daily trolley rider. I've been on the trolley almost every weekday for the last decade. And for the last decade nothing about the experience has really changed. Sometimes you get on the Christmas Trolley, but that's about it.

I've been buying, and using, tokens to get on the trolley for ages. I even have a cup on my desk full of tokens, just so I don't forget to grab 'em on my way out (though I do often forget to reorder them when my supply dwindles).

SEPTA has slowly been rolling out a card based payment system called SEPTA Key. When I heard that there was a brief beta period where one could get a SEPTA Key with Travel Wallet (i.e. load up a card with money and use it instead of tokens) I got me to the SEPTA retail location and bought one.

SeptaKEY

This thing is both great and not so great, but I still really like it. The Key card is contactless, so you just hold it up to the fare reader, it beeps, and you get on the trolley. Simple? Yes. Fast? No. The readers on the trolley seem to be pretty slow... so I always hold up the line a little bit as I wait for the approval bing.

I do like that I can just pop the card in my wallet and I don't need a pocket full of tokens. Plus, when I reload the card I just tap it at a pay station, select how much I want to put on it, and pay with my Apple Watch. Very nice.

At the moment you can only pay for one ride with a Key card, so if you are looking to pay for multiple people on one ride you'll still need dumb old tokens.

Bb2016This year has sucked, but it hasn't been all bad.

I'm writing a post per day for the rest of 2016 talking about some of my favorite things this year. Find the rest of the posts in this series here.


2016 in Review: Scott's top 5 Star Trek episodes viewed this year

RandomtrekiconHere's a fun fact about me: I have a podcast that's all about Star Trek. It is called Random Trek, and I think it is pretty fun. iTunes reviews say, "Great concept that doesn't really pay off!"

Thanks to the podcast I get to talk to lots of people about Star Trek AND watch a bunch of Star Trek. In honor of my podcast I'm going to list my 5 favorite episodes of Star Trek that I watched for Random Trek. Now, this doesn't mean that these are my favorite episodes of Random Trek: I love all Random Trek episodes equally.

Here's the list, in no particular order:

  • “The Wire” (DS9) - Garak is the best. And this season 2 episode is a great Garak story.
  • “Parallels” (TNG) - So many Worfs, so much cake! Also, the kookiest TNG opening ever.
  • “Future Imperfect” (TNG) - A lonely alien just wants Riker to be his friend. Don't we all?
  • “The City on the Edge of Forever” (TOS) - Let's face it, this is the best episode of Star Trek no matter what the series. Edith Keeler must die!
  • “The Inner Light” (TNG) - Picard lives an entire life in 40 minutes... and it pretty much has no impact on him as a person, other than he learns how to play the flute.

That's a lot of great Star Trek!

Now, I know I said I didn't have favorite episodes of Random Trek, but if I did I think I would have to pick Episode 100. That was a special episode in which I had listeners submit questions. It was great to hear from people who enjoy the podcast.



Bb2016This year has sucked, but it hasn't been all bad.


I'm writing a post per day for the rest of 2016 talking about some of my favorite things this year. Find the rest of the posts in this series here.


The wire is part of the design

AirpodsnarkMy buddy Jason Snell has written a great review of the Apple AirPods. You know, the Bluetooth earbuds that are totally wireless, not even a wire to connect the two to one another.

He likes them, and says:

Fundamentally, earbuds deserved to be treated as individual objects, not tethered together. That’s the premise of the AirPods as well as several other wireless earbuds of this type. Each earbud is its own separate entity, so you can stick one or both in your ears and truly say goodbye to dangling wires.

I haven't used the AirPods, but based on my usage of my current set of Bluetooth earbuds (a pair of discontinued Jaybirds)this fundamental idea behind the product means I won't ever be buying a pair for myself.


Jaybird

That wire between the two buds allows me to rip them out of my ears and just drop them. They dangle from my neck without me having to worry about putting them somewhere.

"But, Scott, how often do you actually do that?"

Everytime I use the darned things! Generally, I'm rocking the JayBirds when I'm working out. I get super sweaty and at the end of the workout I just want the damned earbuds out of my ears where they are acting like tiny dams for the sweat that has dripped all over my ears (gross, right? But it is the truth!).

That wire is a feature, not a bug. Oh, and the little control lozenge on the wire allows for me to change the volume of my iPhone even when I don't have a network connection (the AirPods rely on Siri to do this, and if you don't have a network connection Siri doesn't work). Magic!

So I won't be buying AirPods, because they don't meet my needs. And that's ok, not every product is designed for my use cases (if they were a lot more things would be available with orange as a color option).


Newgrange - News about a 5,000 year old structure

I write about Newgrange being my favorite stop on our trip and suddenly everyone is talking about it! First Jane Smiley visits and now some archeologists are saying that the most distinctive feature of Newgrange (the whole light/solstice thing) might only be 50 years old (i.e. it was created during the reconstruction of the site).

Here's a link to the full academic paper, which I plan to read at some point. Also, how cool is it that there's a journal devoted to Ireland's Celtic past?

As a bonus I've embedded a 3D model of the passage/tomb of Newgrange so you can pretend that you've visited.


2016 in Review: Scott's favorite wifi router - Orbi

Orbi

When it became clear that my Airport Extreme was on the way out (RIP, Airport Extreme) I had to decide if I should just get another one or opt for a different WiFi router. Being the clever consumer that I am I sensed Apple's lack of commitment to their AirPort (and I was right!) so I went for something new and exciting.

I did what I always do and went to the Wirecutter and bought the WiFi router they recommended for most people. For whatever reason, when I set that router up half of my devices stopped working. So I returned it and bought the router the they recommended if you wanted all the bells and whistles (assuming that it was the lack of bells and/or whistles that was the stumbling block). Sadly, that router also ended up creating a network that some devices wouldn't connect to (though different devices this time). I should point out that I don't think the Wirecutter is wrong to recommend these routers; I have my network configured in a slightly odd way which I am sure is the real culprit.

After I returned the second router, and set the AirPort Extreme back up, I decided to go with Netgear's Orbi. At this point I had read a lot about it, but it wasn't actually available for purchase.

As soon as it became available I bought an Orbi (well, two Orbis in one package) and I am very very happy with it. I plugged it in, rebooted my Comcast router and everything worked right off the bat.

Sure, it is a little expensive but this router is easy to set up, it is super fast, and best of all both Orbis sport ethernet ports.

Now, this isn't a highly technical review or anything like that. I just like the Orbi and it is doing a great job!

I suppose I should explain what the heck the Orbi is. It is one of a new generation of WiFi routers that use a mesh network to create one wifi network using a few routers that you place throughout your house. The mesh network allows the routers to talk to one another, and make sure that your entire house is bathed in sweet, sweet WiFi.

The main reason I went with the Orbi is not only does the main Orbi (the one you connect to your internet connection like a traditional router) sport 4 ethernet ports (a WAN port for plugging in your internet and 3 LAN ports for ethernet cables to your stuff) but the satellite Orbi (the one you place in a different room to extend the network further) also has 4 ethernet ports. This allowed me to simplify my home network by getting rid of an ethernet cable I had running into the den and a few dumb switches to boot.

At this point I should say that Netgear did have an issue where some of their routers had a serious vulnerability. They've released an update, but the Orbi didn't have this vulnerability. And best of all the Orbi automatically updates its firmware, so you don't have to try and remember to do it manually (as if anyone does that!).

Orbiports

The web admin interface is pretty nice too:

Orbiadmin

It seems I have 23 devices on my network at this moment:

Orbidevices

But is it fast? I ran a couple of speed tests from my MacBook and it is pretty darned fast.

Speedtest by Ookla says:


Ookla

The Xfinity speedtest reports:

Xfinityspeedtest

And Fast.com (Netflix's speed test) agrees:


Fasttest

There are other mesh WiFi routers that offer more software features, but I'm glad I went with the Orbi because all I wanted was a network that was easy to setup and fast enough for all our streaming needs. The Orbi covers that easily.

And just to close the loop, The Wirecutter agrees with me! What a nice little coda, huh?

Bb2016This year has sucked, but it hasn't been all bad.

I'm writing a post per day for the rest of 2016 talking about some of my favorite things this year. Find the rest of the posts in this series here.


Jane Smiley on Newgrange

It seems as though I'm not the only writer who visited Newgrange this year. Jane Smiley, a better and more successful writer, did as well and wrote about it for the New York Times (I just wrote about it for my blog):


Newgrange is a popular destination, and tickets are first come first served. It is called a “passage mound” or “passage tomb,” but what is it really? If we are lucky, what we get when we visit an ancient site is a sense of the intelligence that designed and built the structure even if we might not understand what belief system they were acting under. Indeed, perhaps Newgrange is a giant calendar, a giant clock, a giant belief system, built without mortar, lost and present at the same time.


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2016 in Review: Scott's top books

I've read 73 books so far this year, and I'm hoping to squeeze in a couple more to hit 75 which would make this year my most productive reading year since I've been keeping track.

How exciting for me!

But I know what you're thinking: what's in this for me? I'm glad I had you ask that, rhetorical reader. I'd like to share with you some of my favorite reads of 2016.


2016bookcovers

Uprooted by Naomi Novik is a fairy tale of sorts with a wizard unwittingly getting wrapped up with a girl who is more than she seems. Based on that sentence alone you probably aren't running off to buy this book but let me know you this: it is great. Very well written with an interesting world and characters that feel real this book is a must read.


The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers is a scifi novel in which not too much happens, but it is a fun ride. Space ships, lots of aliens, peril, and AIs are sprinkled throughout. I'm reading the sequel now and it is just as much fun.


Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard by Lawrence M. Schoen is just the book for you if you ever thought to yourself "I wonder what would happen if animals evolved into spacefaring races, populated the galaxy, and discriminated against Fants (elephants that is) because they don't have fur. The answer is a compelling story with a dash of spiritualism.


A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles details what happens when your country changes around you and you become a drift in a history you helped to create but can't understand. The entire story happens over the course of decades in a hotel in Moscow. Sounds thrilling, right? But it is very compelling. In fact, I devoured this entire book in 2 sittings.


Zero K by Don DeLillo doesn't really have a story. The characters aren't fully realized, but the relationship between the two main characters is like a character itself. And DeLillo is just a damned fine writer. Perhaps the greatest living American writer, and this novel is beautiful.


The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley feature a mechanical octopus. Need I say anything more? It also plays with the narrative, which I enjoy, and is well written.


Yard

Scotland Yard's Murder Squad by Alex Grecian is one of those series that just sucked me in. I read all 5 books in a row over the course of a month. Now, I do think that the cover style for the last two novels is unfortunate, but don't judge these books by their covers!



Bb2016This year has sucked, but it hasn't been all bad.


I'm writing a post per day for the rest of 2016 talking about some of my favorite things this year. Find the rest of the posts in this series here.


2016 in Review: Scott's favorite stop in Ireland - Newgrange

IMG_0374

Marisa and I had the good fortune of being able to spend a little over a week in Ireland this October and it was a fantastic trip. We ate well, stayed at very nice hotels, and saw a number of very cool things.

One stood out to me though: Newgrange (seen above).

I hadn't heard of Newgrange until I started researching places to visit near Dublin (we only spend one night in Dublin so I figured we should see something on the way out and Newgrange was it, though it is about an hour outside of Dublin). Newgrange is a passage tomb, and they think that neolithic man used it to store the ashes of people and to perform certain rituals on the solstice. In fact, it is constructed in such a way that the chamber inside this massive mound is in complete darkness all year except for the solstice. At dawn the sun slowly creeps up the passage and lights the chamber. You can enter a lottery to actually experience it, though they don't guarantee a cloud free day!

IMG_0388

While we were in Dublin Marisa and I marveled at all the buildings that are older than our country. Living in Philadelphia one gets used to living with history, but visit any European country and you realize just how new to the scene the US is.

All of that pales in comparison to the feeling one gets when you're standing in a chamber that people created 5,200 years ago.

IMG_0384

While we didn't visit during the solstice, they do simulate it for each tour. You squeeze/crouch your way into the chamber. Gather around with 15 or so folks and the tour guide asks, "Is anyone afraid of the dark?"

She then turns off the lights and you're in complete darkness, surrounded by tons of dirt and stone and the quiet breathing of a few other people. Slowly, the "sun," or in this case an LED light, dawns and light edges into the chamber. More and more of it is revealed in the simulated solstice light and you're transported back 5,000 years. It was quite the experience.

IMG_0386

Bb2016This year has sucked, but it hasn't been all bad.

I'm writing a post per day for the rest of 2016 talking about some of my favorite things this year. Find the rest of the posts in this series here.


2016 in Review: Scott's Top Headphones - Bose QuietComfort 35

BoseQC35The Bose QuietComfort 35 bluetooth headphones are fantastic, and if you've read any stories about the best noise cancelling headphones you already know this.

I mention that because I'm not breaking ground here with this opinion, but these things are really good. How do I know that? I bought a pair for myself and when they arrived I let Marisa try them out. She immediately said, "where's my pair?" and that's how I ended up buying 2 pairs of these expensive headphones this year.

Setup is easy, the noise cancelling really works, and they sound good. They sound good to me, I should say. I'm not an audiophile, but if you are chances are you aren't using bluetooth headphones anyway!

If you fly often you should really buy yourself a pair of these things. We took them on our flights to and back from Ireland and they were a dream.

Bb2016This year has sucked, but it hasn't been all bad.

I'm writing a post per day for the rest of 2016 talking about some of my favorite things this year. Find the rest of the posts in this series here.


2016 Year in Review: Scott's Top Tablet - Amazon Fire HD 8

FireHD8

I'm going to tell you a little secret: I buy a lot of tablets but I haven't really figured out where they fit into my tech life.

The Amazon Fire HD 8 has solved the dilemma: tablets are for watching TV shows at the gym. This Fire is fast, pretty sturdy, and best of all: cheap. Whenever I brought an iPad to the gym I worried about dropping it and breaking it. With the Fire if I break it, I can just get another. They're cheap!

If you have Amazon Prime and are looking for a speedy tablet to watch Prime Video on (I download shows to my Fire so I don't have to depend on my gym's spotty wifi) then the Fire is for you

Bb2016This year has sucked, but it hasn't been all bad.

I'm writing a post per day for the rest of 2016 talking about some of my favorite things this year. Find the rest of the posts in this series here.


Which Kindle should I buy as a gift this holiday season?

PaperwhiteYou'd be surprised at how often I'm asked which Kindle people should buy for their loved ones. The answer is simple: the Paperwhite (without ads).

Why the Paperwhite?

Because:

  • The only thing that really matters is the screen, and the Paperwhite has the same screen as found in the two pricier Kindles (the Voyage and the Oasis).
  • The screen lights up. Any reader will love this feature.
  • It feels sturdy and good in your hand, which is important for a device you're going to be holding for awhile.

But what if I'm a big spender and I want to impress my loved one?

If you're looking to splurge I'd say the Oasis is your best bet. The screen is just like the Paperwhite and the Voyage, but this thing is super light. I mean, like crazy light (especially without the battery cover). It lasts forever, and the cover is fun to click on and off.

All that's great, but the biggest reason to get the Oasis over the Voyager has a big impact on the reading experience: page turn buttons. The Voyage has areas that are kind of like buttons. You squeeze them and the page turns. They're better than not having any buttons but the Oasis' actual buttons are far superior.

What if my loved one hates Amazon but loves ePubs?

Then the Kindle is right out, isn't it? This seems like an edge case, but if that's the edge your loved one lives on get them a Kobo aura H20.

I like many of Kobo's interface touches more than what you'll find on any Kindle (shocking, I know), and being able to take a bath with your ereader without putting it in a plastic bag is pretty great.

Why don't I recommend a Kobo over the Kindle if I love it so much? Getting books on the darn thing isn't hard, exactly, but it is much harder than the process on the Kindle.

Should I get someone a nook?

No.

I had high hopes for the nook line, and I actually quite like the Nook Glowlight Plus, but I can't recommend them as gifts. Why? Because I get the feeling that Barnes and Noble isn't going to be keeping them around for much longer. I could be wrong, but I wouldn't want to saddle anyone with an eReader without a store.


Who amongst us hasn't done this?


From the NY Time's article "Civil Rights Groups Call on Trump to Denounce Racism of Alt-Right:"

Asked on Monday about the comments, Mr. Spencer said he had gotten caught up in his passion for the alt-right cause.

“My talk certainly was strident, and it definitely was about getting a rise out of people and expressing excitement,” he said. “There’s a lot of cheekiness going on and exuberance.”

Of the salute that is synonymous with anti-Semitism, he said, “That was a rhetorical flourish.”

I sometimes get excited about something but that has never led me to done a Nazi salute... not even a little goosestep!

Now, I don't believe that all Trump supporters are racists like many of those in the Alt-Right, but I do think that if you are a racist you're probably a Trump supporter. And that should give the people who are supporting Trump because they are sick of politics as usual pause.

Also, I might have to add a Politics category to this blog. What is happening in the world?!


This is not normal

Trump won the election, and now he has to deal with people actually paying attention to what he says and does (seems a bit late, but hey we're doing it now!).

Ryan Pizza at the New Yorker examines Trump's first week as President-Elect and it ain't pretty. This passage stuck out to me as being particularly unpresidential (though I suppose we'll have to change what that means after the Trump presidency):

On Saturday, Trump made no appearances and no public statements, save for a single tweet in the morning: “This will prove to be a great time in the lives of ALL Americans. We will unite and we will win, win, win!”

On Sunday, Trump woke up and attacked the press:

9:16 a.m.: Wow, the @nytimes is losing thousands of subscribers because of their very poor and highly inaccurate coverage of the “Trump phenomena”

9:43 a.m.: The @nytimes sent a letter to their subscribers apologizing for their BAD coverage of me. I wonder if it will change – doubt it?

11:03 a.m. The @nytimes states today that DJT believes “more countries should acquire nuclear weapons.” How dishonest are they. I never said this!


Walking as therapy

After the election I, like many folks, spiraled into all sorts of worst case scenario thinking. I have hope that Pres. Trump isn't going to be as bad as I fear, though early indications aren't making me feel confident in that hope.

Marisa is away this weekend, and so I decided I wanted to keep this weekend politics free. Needing to clear my head yesterday I did what I so often do: went for a walk.

I've always been a walker, but after college I found myself not walking much. I missed the wanders I used to take and a FitBit gave me reason to pick up the habit again (and I just realized I've been FitBitting for 5 years!).

I headed out with one goal: walk 5000 steps in one direction and 5000 back.

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On my walk I came across Independence Hall and it reminded me that this country was born out of great strife in a troubled time.

As I continued my walk I passed the Second National Bank, a building I've walked past countless times:

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I've often wondered what it looks like inside, but I had no idea it housed a Portrait Gallery called "People of Independence!" I thought maybe this was a new thing, but it has been there since the 1970's. I went in and spent a good long time reading about every portrait in the place.

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As you might expect, it was mostly white dudes who were involved with America's independence (along with a smattering of women and black folks). It made me feel better knowing that when times are tough there are people, maybe just a few but still, that stand up for what's right.

I don't know if I'm as brave as the people in that gallery, but I do know that I'll do my part in making sure that this president doesn't ruin all the work that has gone before.


Open office plans - awful

Apple is building a fancy new HQ (they do have all the money in the world, so why not?). This Bloomberg article offers up this:


The new building features open floor plans and few traditional offices. While some of Apple’s senior vice presidents are expected to see their offices move over to the new campus -- less than a five minute drive from the current headquarters -- management must be at a vice president level or above to get a formal office, one of the people said. Previous plans included office space for senior directors, who report to vice presidents.


Man, open offices suck. And this comes from someone who works in an open office at the moment. It is difficult to concentrate, I feel like I have to leave to have any phone conversations (work or personal!), and cubicles just feel like pens for people.

Not a fan.

During my time at Comcast I had an office, and it was wonderful. I miss few things about working at Comcast, but that office tops the list.

What? You want to see the whole list? OK:

  • My office.
  • The 3 minute walk to work.
  • Free cable.
  • The vanilla cupcakes at Ralph's (the cafeteria).
  • Bonuses.

Not cool, Hillary

Unsub

I'm not very political but I think Donald Trump represents a danger for the country, so I donated a few bucks to Hillary for President.

Now I am getting a ton of email from Hillary, which I understand. However, I think the fact that the unsubscribe link is buried in a block of text at the bottom of the email AND ISN'T UNDERLINED like the rest of the links is just not cool.

I'm still with Her, but I am giving her email people the side-eye.


MacOS Sierra, a not review

I've installed the latest and greatest MacOS on both my MacBook and my iMac (that's Sierra for you folks keeping score). This update continues the trend of MacOS updates which seemingly offer few new features that I either notice or use.

Honestly, I've only noticed two new things (yes, I know there are more than that). Here are my thoughts on them:

Siri

SiriI like the Siri icon, but Siri on Sierra just gives more places on which to not use Siri.

My first attempt to use Siri on my Mac (to find images of kittens dresses as puppies) failed. And when I tried to find the current temperature using Siri on my iMac it told me I had to turn on WiFi first (so Siri could determine where I was).

I know Siri can do many things, I just don't want to talk to my computer. Call me crazy!

I do, however, want to talk to black cylinders so I'll just continue to ask Alexa. I even bought one of them fancy new Dots for the den (where my iMac is) for this very reason.


Stand up, Volume changer, you're on the job!

Badsierra

The only other thing I've noticed is the new horizontal orientation for the volume slider. This is a minor change and I hate it very much.

In Summary

Sierra is pretty much like the last few OS updates: it continues to do what I need to do without much fuss and it adds features I have little to no need for. It is a free update though, so I don't mind.


Planet of the Apps: Shark Tank, but for Apps

Planet of the Apps

That's how I imagine whoever pitched the show that Apple is co-producing called, cringingly enough, "Planet of the Apps."

I do have a soft spot for these business-y shows, even though I have very little interest in business. I've been know to get sucked into a marathon of Shark Tank, and I have a TiVo season pass to The Profit (he believes in three things!) and Hotel Impossible so I might enjoy this show. But that name. Oh, that name.


Delays by protesters will be annoying

But isn't the right to protest things a big part of why this country was founded? I am very hopeful that the Philly DNC protests will be peaceful and that both protesters and police a like make sure everyone is safe and heard.

This bit from the NY Times makes me think this will be the case:

Last month, Mayor Jim Kenney signed a bill decriminalizing nuisance offenses in the city, including disorderly conduct, failure to disperse and public drunkenness. The policy was part of a larger effort to decrease the incarceration rate in the city, but the mayor has also said that no one will be arrested solely for protesting without a permit during the convention.