Monthly Archives: December 2006

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Stockings
Yup, I’ve got the biggest stocking, although my sister’s is surprisingly stretchy.

I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday! The best quote from this morning’s present opening came from my mother:

“Yay, a hammer drill! Now I can drill holes in rocks!”

Does anyone else’s mother buy themselves a hammer drill for Christmas?

Seattle or Connecticut Weather?

So here I was looking up the weather forecast for the holiday week where I’ll be visiting my family in New Hartford, CT. The weather looked suspiciously similar to that in Seattle. Between these two forecasts, can you guess which is Connecticut and which is Seattle?

Similar weather
Seattle or Connecticut? Click for the full-size version.

On the Edge of Tastelessness

Every week during the winter months, a pizza place in downtown Seattle, Belltown Pizza hosts a trivia night. 5 rounds, 10 questions each, and 1 of the rounds being a music round (ie. name the song title and artist). Coworkers and friends have gotten into the routine of heading down almost every Monday night to give it our best shot. We’ve won a couple, we’ve miserably lost many more, but in general the teams that we scrape together tend to hold their own.

One of the fun parts of starting the evening is coming up with a team name. We decided we didn’t like to always use the same name like some other teams did, and since our team members are different each week, we started mixing it up. Initiated by my friend Dan and his pals, the new tradition has been to come up with some current events related pun, or joke about the news. I wish I kept track of them all, but we’ve made reference to North Korea, Mark Foley, Bush and Cheney (of course), and we’ve thrown in some good ‘ol spam, “CheapViagraOnline.com”.

This week we were having our brainstorming session and we were about to go with, “My Trees Have Fallen and They Can’t Get Up” in reference to the crazy windstorms that came through Seattle. But then, I offered up: “Snow Cave For Rent“. Tasteless? Yes. The team groaned, but with a quick show of hands, they all voted for the name.

At the end of the first trivia round, the quiz master read through the scores and everyone heard the team names for the first time, “blah, blah… Vast Right Wing Conspiracy had 7 out of 10 …and Snow Cave For Rent… had 8 out of 10…” The restaurant erupted into boos and groans, and we even got a boo from the quiz master. From across the room we heard someone shout, “Too soon!”

It was at that point that I knew… we had picked the right team name.

5 Facts That Not Many People Know About Me

I don’t usually hop on these memes, but I’ve been tagged and certainly don’t want to be the one to break this modern day chain letter. The name of the game is to list 5 interesting/odd/unique things about yourself that most people may not know.

1. I play (or at least know how to play) the bagpipes. I learned at Trinity College, where I joined the Trinity Pipes and Drums in it’s founding year. We performed on campus, hosted a campus Ceilidh, and marched in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Hartford, CT (in the sleet/freezing rain).

2. I have a 1 inch diameter birthmark on the inside of my left ankle. And even after all these years, I can never remember which ankle it’s on without checking.

3. In highschool I took a series of computer art classes, where I did 3D animation on some old Amiga computers. An animation of mine was accepted into SIGGRAPH 97 as part of the Student Poster and Animation Competition and Exhibition. As the only highschool entry in animation, I guess I “won” my category. I didn’t win anything except the honor of having my animation played as part of the collection loop, on a TV at a small booth just outside the exhibition hall. I attended SIGGRAPH 97 in LA (during a heat wave) that summer, and didn’t even get a free admission, although I still had a great time.

4. My parents own a Christmas tree farm in New Hartford, CT. I think it’s about 5 acres, and I spent many a summer with more than enough yard/farm work to keep me busy if I wanted. Worst job ever: Trimming the white pines in August with a heavy machete, wearing long sleeves and pants for protection.

5. Proudest moment from grade school is when I tripped the neighborhood bully as he was walking down the aisle to get off the school bus. He couldn’t catch himself and fell flat on his face in the middle of the bus, with everyone laughing. He got up, shaken, and then turned and punched me in the top of the head. I’m positive it hurt his hand much more than my head. He didn’t bother us quite as much after that.

Well, there you have it. 5 things you may or may not have known. Now it’s your turn. Tag, suckers:

Seattle Windstorm Xtreme 2006

Thursday night we had a little bit of wind here in Seattle. At about 4:15PM the rain started blowing sideways into my office building windows, and the walls were creaking a little more than usual. The high-rise bank of elevators stopped working and fireman arrived with sirens blaring. The bank of elevators for the lower levels (my section of the building) kept working for a while, but they eventually went out at about 5:15PM. I was already out of there and didn’t end up having to take the 16 flights of stairs, like some others.

That night the wind kept blowing, and as all the news stories are saying, more than 1 million people lost power. There were large trees and branches knocked down everywhere. In just a 3-4 block radius from my apartment, there were a number of large trees down. I took a bunch of pictures of the damage and put them up here. One of the big trees that came down crushed the back of a pickup truck right near my bus stop. Another one came down just 50 feet from where I had parked my car. Close call!

Windstorm 2006

I lucked out and didn’t lose power from the Thursday night storm, although my lights flickered a bit. Two days earlier, I did actually lose power in the morning, when the first bit of wind blew through. There were quite a lot of coworkers without power and a lot of them opted to stay home on Friday. I didn’t quite understand the rationale for staying home from work when you don’t have power. I mean, you can’t really do much there, so you might as well come in. Anyway, I hope everyone’s keeping warm and there wasn’t much serious damage. Xtreme!

FILE Magazine Project: Utility Fixtures

Utility Fixture I’m happy to share that my Utility Fixtures photos have been featured as a project on FILE Magazine. You can enter the gallery from the project intro page here. The project gallery is just a subset (with most of my favorites) of my growing collection of 70+ fixtures. There’s also a new Flickr pool for Gas Meters that’s growing quickly. I even recognize a familiar one.

Pet Peeve: E-mail is not Instantaneous

I just received a phone call from an external party that I’ve been working with on a project. It started off like this:

Him: “Hi Chase, do you have a couple minutes to chat?”
Me: “Yeah, sure.”
Him: “OK, excellent. I have a question for you. Here, I’m sending you an e-mail with a couple URLs in it… and… OK, I just sent it.”
Me: [clicking send/receive… clicking send/receive] “While I’m waiting, can you explain what the question is?”

It turns out the question was dead simple, and really didn’t require the supporting URLs to clarify. I answered his question, wrapped up the conversation, and hung up. 30 seconds later his e-mail finally appeared in my inbox.

Aside from my slight annoyance at starting a phone conversation with: “Do you have a couple minutes to chat?” (if I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t have answered the phone), or the sending of the e-mail after the phone call is started… what really bugs me is the common misconception that e-mail is instantaneous. Sure, you can send me an e-mail and most of the time it’ll get delivered pretty quick, but “pretty quick” can range from 30 seconds to minutes, to hours (or to days if there are more serious server issues). Because people have become so used to the more common quick deliveries, they come to expect them and rely on them, and in turn they get frustrated when delivery is delayed. This write-up about e-mail from the University of California, is the first result for a search on “email is not instantaneous” and it covers many other realities of e-mail.

This is really a basic case of taking something for granted. We all do it in various ways, and it’s a particularly interesting issue when it comes to delivering products or services. If my product is only designed to realiably do a task in say, 10 minutes, but it regularly does it faster, then how do I address user complaints when it starts taking the full 10 minutes again? That’s a whole different can of worms about controlling user expectations and properly communicating what “normal” behavior should be. Now that e-mail has become so commonplace, and technology has brought it to near-instantaneous speeds, it would be entirely impractical/obnoxious for e-mail clients to start popping up a dialog box each time I send a message, saying: “This could take an hour or more to send.” Even worse, what if e-mail server technology automatically dialed itself down to the more reliable speeds (I know it could never work with the architechture of the internet). Should we design popular products to only perform as promised? No, that’s certainly not an answer either, and designers that purposefully “cripple” their products in these ways are annoying.

With e-mail, it’s clearly too late to manage expectations. The common misconception/expectataion of e-mail being instantaneous can be frustrating, and is a pet-peeve of mine. Keep in mind that things won’t always behave the way you’re used-to, and the last thing I want is to sit on the phone with you while refreshing my inbox.

Let’s Ignite Seattle

Bridge Building Last night I attended the first Ignite Seattle event, hosted by Make magazine and O’Reilly Radar. I took quite a few photos of the bridge-building contest and there are plenty more photos of the bridges and presentations in the Ignite Flickr pool. There was plenty of hot glue flying and some impressive bridges for a 30-minute time limit.

Speakers
After the bridge contest and a short break, the Ask Later talks began, with the whirlwind format of 5 minute presentations, 20 slides, 15 seconds per slide (not under the speaker’s control). There were some really well organized talks for having to fit in just 5 minutes, and a wide range of topics. This roundup covers some of the highlights better than I can. RealityAllStarz got a good laugh, and many people seemed impressed by the Dorkbot presentation on technological art projects, which got some oohs and aahs from the crowd.

Scott Berkun gave an all-too-brief teaser of his upcoming book about innovation and the myths of innovation, pointing out a couple common misconceptions about famous innovators and “eureka” moments of discovery. I’m anxious to read more. Bre Pettis from Make magazine gave a really funny disjointed presentation on all sorts of random things he’s made, including a bat detecting watch. Damn cool. Buster McLeod from The Robot Co-op and 43 Things also gave an inspiring talk on the currency of motivation, and how motivation of yourself (through others) can help inspire you to tackle larger and larger challenges. He also mentioned his new venture, the McLeod Residence which is an art and technology gallery/bar in downtown Seattle, which sounds interesting. His hand-drawn slides were also great.

By far, the oddest, most confusing presentation was by Kathleen Dollard from GenDotNet. I still don’t know what exactly she was pitching, or whether it was coming from Microsoft or not. It was something (software? service? tool?) called “Workflow” which is designed to help engineers interact with their managers and coworkers better. It was literally a flowchart of “What do I do next?” for people who have zero interpersonal skills whatsoever. Say you e-mail the boss with a question and a) he doesn’t respond, b) he responds this way, c) he responds that way… here’s what you do next. I couldn’t help thinking that the whole thing was a joke, but it really wasn’t. Somebody next to me muttered, “It’s like Office Space the flowchart.” I’m sorry, but if you have individuals in your organization that can’t interact with each other, or their managers, the answer isn’t to give them a flowchart of how to work. I might suggest you instead look at finding some better managers or engineers that can work with each other. I could see a suite of development process flows being helpful to some organizations, but this example seemed like a little too much micromanagement.

Event thoughts
Overall I thought the event was pretty interesting, especially considering I’ve missed the past Seattle Mindcamps. The CHAC Lower Level was a decent venue, although the setup of the main room and the single entrance caused a bottleneck. There was plenty of space in the room for people to stand and sit, but tables blocked people’s way. Also, having a loud DJ start in the bar area when people are still giving presentations was a bit obnoxious.

The presentations themselves were often more on the product/website/group promotion side. I would have liked more of the 5-minute presentations devoted to a single drilled-down topic, or more practical coverage of some subjects rather than the common, “Here’s the business/site I started, isn’t it cool?” Some of the presentations that seemed to work best were the editorializing on a specific area (motivation, innovation, startup funding…) rather than the tip-of-the-iceberg presentations of a really big topic (although it was fun seeing people jam those into 20 slides and 5 minutes).

I’m sure there will be plenty of refining for the next event, and I’m looking forward to see what comes of it. A big thanks to everyone who helped make it happen. I’ll see you next time.

Kicking off the Winter Season

Layers of Lights As if last week’s “perfect storm” wasn’t enough, this past weekend was chock-full of Winter fun. Friday night was my company’s holiday party, which took place at the Space Needle. Cocktail hour on the observation deck, then down to the lower 100′ high Skyline level for dinner, and then back up to the top for more drinks and dancing. Because of the swanky setting, a lot more people attended than last year, and everyone had a great time. Eric posted some great photos of the fog that rolled through the city. During dinner, there were small patches of fog blowing around Seattle Center, and apparently the big bank of fog blew straight through in the course of 15 minutes.

And if celebrating the holidays on the Space Needle wasn’t enough to kick off the winter, some freinds and I went snowboarding on Sunday. This year I took the plunge and bought myself a snowboard and a season pass to Summit at Snoqualmie. I really got into it last year, but I’m still a beginner, so Snoqualmie is just my pace. It’s not the biggest or best around, but it’s a good place to learn and it’s pretty darn easy to drive the 45 minutes from Seattle. Sunday’s conditions were great, and the sun was out for most of the day. I got the hang of things again after a couple runs, and I’m anxious to go again. Here’s hoping for a long winter!

Still feeling like a scrooge? Well, apparently there are 5 different Santa Claus in the country. 307 Jack Frost. One of the 22 last names of Frosty must be a snowman, and maybe one of the 9,000 last names Nicholas will change their first name to Saint. There are even some Elf and Elves out there. There’s plenty of Holiday Spirit to go around.

Irregardless is a Word

In a conversation at work the other day I was making a statement and for some reason my brain just decided to use the word “irregardless” instead of “regardless”. I know that “regardless” is more common, but the “ir-” just popped in there and I spit it out. Two coworkers immediately turned to me and said, “Um, irregardless is not a word, it’s ‘regardless’.” I shrugged and moved on, but it stuck in my head, and I suspected that there was more to the story. At the very least, I like to think that I don’t just make up gramatically incorrect words on the spot.

According to the Merriam-Webster Online entry for irregardless:

Irregardless originated in dialectal American speech in the early 20th century. Its fairly widespread use in speech called it to the attention of usage commentators as early as 1927. The most frequently repeated remark about it is that “there is no such word.” There is such a word, however. It is still used primarily in speech, although it can be found from time to time in edited prose. Its reputation has not risen over the years, and it is still a long way from general acceptance. Use regardless instead.

It is indeed a word. Sure, it’s messy, it’s “still a long way from general acceptance” but it’s one of those words that’s stuck around for whatever reason. I propose we further bastardize this word and add yet another negative prefix. I give you: nonirregardless