The safe in my hotel

I don't know why I find this so funny.

2007-09-29 Elsafe 1

2007-09-29 Elsafe 2


Barbeque in NYC

It's tough to find authenticity in Times Square. Since the big changes in the mid nineties, the place has become a plastic playgound and show case for national brands. In many ways, it's simply a kid-friendly Las Vegas.

Toys R Us, Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, the Hershey Store, and similar businesses make it a destination for thousands of tourists a day. The bright, plastic nature of Time Square can be fun; but it's not entirely trust worthy.

Sure, the fake watch dealers are authentic. And the end of the world prophets are certainly real. Crazy, but real. The stand up comics barking about their upcoming shows and passing out flyers are also authentic with a helpful mix of anger, cynicism, and pure bitterness.

But how authentic is the other stuff? I still wonder if the Naked Cowboy is actually a corporate plant for Hanes. Is the sparkly police station actually about Law Enforcement, or is it for those who never got over the cancellation of Cop Rock?

Which brings me to Virgil's Barbeque. The large, two story restaurant is on 44th ST, just off Broadway. And it is awesome. I've waited up to an hour for a table there, though recently got right in. The ribs are meaty and tender. The wings are spicy hot, large and still have a strong enough flavor to push through the heat. The pulled pork is full of flavor. The mac and cheese is great.

The waitress was refreshingly honest. She specifically discouraged one of the specials, and didn't miss a beat when asked whether the Peanutbutter Pie was better than the Blueberry Cobbler. She recomended the Pie and it was right.

Go there if you get the chance.

It's not the best barbeque I've ever had, but it is definitely up there. I don't know if I can call it real, though. Most Barbeque places (including the legendary Oklahoma Joe's in Kansas City) are classic hole in the wall places. Virgil's can afford Times Square rent.

It's southern food in the middle of Manhattan. On the other hand, excluding hot dogs cooked in 9 year old fetid water, all the food in New York comes from someplace else, and New York is still the greatest food city in the world.

Virgil's isn't a chain, which does lend itself an air of authenticity. However, it is owned by the same restaurant group that operates Carmine's Italian, Artie's Deli, and Gabriela's Mexican.

I don't know if I can call Virgil's real Barbeque in New York. I don't know if I can call it authentic. What I can do is call it good.

I'm going to go lick my fingers now.


Resistance is Futile 02: Out of Memory Error

In the current issue of Wired (15.10), columnist Clive Thompson talks about the recent decline human memory. He suggests that reason people remember less now is because they don't need to.

That reflexive gesture — reaching into your pocket for the answer — tells the story in a nutshell. Mobile phones can store 500 numbers in their memory, so why would you bother trying to cram the same info into your own memory? Younger Americans today are the first generation to grow up with go-everywhere gadgets and services that exist specifically to remember things so that we don't have to: BlackBerrys, phones, thumb drives, Gmail.

But is this a problem?

In The Matrix, when people needed to learn a new skill, they could just have it downloaded into their mind. I'd like to be able to do that. Imagine the possibiliities of having a memory card slot in your head that allowed you to download new information or skills.

I've talked before about adding senses, VR goggles, Modafinil, and other ways the improve on biology. Biology and technology continue to converge.

But in reality, are we alread there? Sure we can't download the information immediately into the brain, but we can get it all on the internet.

It may seem obvious, but the problem is nothing more than an interface one. The Keyboard-Mouse-Ears-Eyes interface between the Internet and the brain is simply too slow and clumsy.

And that's the realm where improvements will come in the next few decades. Either the interface will be improved, or it will be replaced.

To expand the idea even further, at what point does the body itself superflous?

Need Some Cute Today?

Here are a bunch of sleepy and clumsy cats set to Bjork music. When you're done reading about the latest troubles in the news, come back here and watch this again.


Book Review 13: Flow and Gel

Whatever you name these people related problems, they’re more likely to cause you trouble on your next assignment than all the design, implementation, and methodology issues you’ll have to deal with. In fact, that idea is the underlying thesis of this whole book: The major problems of our work are not so much technological as sociological in nature.

Page 4

In December of 2003, while on vacation, I dove into Excel. I sat in an aging recliner, with a notebook in my lap, and wrote macros, built formulae, and taught my self to write in visual basic. The 6 or 7 hours flew by, and by the end of the evening I had turned a detailed weekly reporting system into a beautiful automation tool that would save me an hour or more per week.

Whether it was wise or not to work on vacation I’ll leave to another discussion. But I distinctly recall what a joyful process it was to dive in to Excel and make something.

I had achieved flow.

During single-minded work time, people are ideally in a state that psychologists call flow. Flow is a condition deep, nearly meditative involvement. In this state, there is a gentle sense of euphoria, and one is largely unaware of the passage of time: “I began to work. I looked up, and three hours had passed.” There is no consciousness of effort; the work just seems to, well, flow. You’ve been is this state often, so we don’t have to describe it to you.

Page 63

That wasn’t the first or only time I have hit that flow state. In my job, I often have to drop in to that realm. Fortunately, I have the luxury not going into a corporate cubicle environment.

In Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams (2nd Edition) Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister take modern corporate management to task for the way it destroys productivity in software development. The book is well structured, easy to read, and entertaining. The authors talk about some theory, but much of the discussion is drawn from their own experiences as consultants. The book is filled with actual stories and with tips managers can start using right away to help their developers succeed.

In a modern US economy that celebrates the triumph of the knowledge worker DeMarco and Lister focus on how business treat them like assembly line factory workers. While corporations push their products toward the 21st century, they often mange worker like it’s still the 19th century.

The authors cover a lot of ground in supporting the thesis I mentioned in the introduction, but most of the material focuses on two areas – flow and gel.
They contrast development work with the factory production challenges.

Steady-state production thinking is particularly ill-suited to project work. We tend to forget that a project’s entire purpose is to put itself out of business. The only steady-state in the life of a project is rigor mortis.

Page 10

Everything at a fast food restaurant can be reduced to steps and those steps can be made to maximize efficiency. The equipment can be modified and relocated to maximize efficiency. Workers don’t need special skills because all they need to do is continually execute a set of predefined steps. Management’s role to keep workers focused on task and steps, and workers are as easily replaceable as a damaged fryer.
But that doesn’t work for developers.

These would be reasonable approaches if you were in the fast food business (or any production environment), but you’re not. The “make a cheeseburger, sell a cheeseburger” mentality can be fatal in your development area. It can only serve to damp your people’s spirits and focus their attention away from the real problems at hand. This style of management will be directly at odds with the work.

Page 7

And they have a point. There is a difference between creative work and repeatable work. There is an undertone of elitism in that passage, though, and it continues through the book. They seem to feel software developers are a special breed. They are better, more important, more reliable, and more valuable that other employees.
While I have never been accused of radical egalitarianism, there is something distasteful in the attitude the authors seem to adopt.

But it is forgivable. Their background is in the software development and project management business. They are advocating on behalf of the developers. They believe developers really want to work and produce great products, almost as if it is a calling.

And given the salaries many developers make, corporations should probably treat them that way.

DeMarco and Lister compare the investment in salaries to the investment airlines make in airplanes. An airline only makes money if the planes are in the air. They are loathe to spend millions of dollars on hardware, only to leave it sitting on the tarmac.

The human capital invested in your work force also represents a ton of money. If your company employs a few thousand knowledge-workers, it could easily have enough invested in them to be the equivalent of a modern wide-body aircraft. Wasting the time of that huge investment is money poured down the drain.

Page 221

DeMarco and Lister make a compelling argument that interruptions are the biggest destroyer of productivity in the development world. The state of flow is essential to producing quality work quickly, but flow can’t be achieved on a moments notice. It takes time to drop into that state, and each time a worker is interrupted, they come out of the flow state and lose time dealing with both the interruption and the time required to get back into flow. Hopefully they get there before they face another interruption.

Fragmentation is particularly injurious when two of the tasks involve qualitatively different kinds of work habits. Thus, the mix of a design task (which requires lots of immersion time, relative quiet, and quality interaction time with a small group) with a telephone support task (which requires instant interruptibility, constant availability, quick change of focus) is sure to make progress on the more think-intensive of these tasks virtually impossible. The time wasted continually trying to get restarted is perceived only as frustration by the worker. You may never hears about it, because the people who suffer form this problem are all too likely to blame themselves.

Page 220

The authors heap much of their derision on the ever present telephone.

When electronic mail was first proposed, most of us thought that the great value of it would be the saving in paper. That turns out to be trivial, however, compared to the saving in reimmersion time. The big difference between a phone call and an electronic mail message is that the phone call interrupts and the email does not; the receiver deals with it at his or her own convenience. The amount of traffic going through these systems proves that priority “at the receiver’s convenience” is acceptable for the great majority of business communications.

Page 73

More important than any gimmick you introduce is a change in attitude. People must learn that it’s okay sometimes not to answer their phones, and they must learn that their time – not just the quantity but its quality – is important.

Page 74

It is natural that the telephone should have reshaped somewhat the way we do business, but it ought not to have blinded us to the effects of the interruptions. At the least, managers ought to be alert the effect that interruption can have on their own people who are trying to something done. But often, it’s the manager who is the worst offender. One of the programmers in the 1985 Coding War Games wrote on his environmental survey, “When my boss is out, he has his calls switched to me.” What could the manager have been thinking? What was going on in the mind of the systems department head who wrote this in a memo:

“It has come to my attention that many of you, when you are busy, are letting your phone ring for three rings and thus get switched over to one of the secretaries. With all these interruptions, the secretaries can never get any productive work done. The official policy here is that when you’re at your desk you will answer your phone before the third ring….”

Page 72

The phone is not the only problem, though. They spend a great deal of time talking about modern office furniture. The book is a great indictment of the modern cubicle work space:

Today’s modular cubicle is a masterpiece of compromise: it gives you no meaningful privacy and yet still manages to make you feel isolated. You are poorly protected from noise and disruption; indeed in some cases, sources of noise and disruption are actively piped into your space. You’re isolated because that small lonely space excludes everyone but you (it’s kind of a toilet stall without a toilet). The space makes it difficult to work alone and almost impossible to participate in the social unit that might form around your work.

Page 86

While DeMarco and Lister offer solutions to the ever present flow challenges, they also tackle the other key element of a development project – team cohesion. Their focus is on how to help teams gel.

It may seem contradictory at first. The first part of the book is all about empowering the individual worker to excel by hitting the flow state. Then the second half of the book talks about what it takes to make the developers work together.

The authors do a nice job of blending these concepts. Changes to the office that accommodate flow can also accommodate team work. The key is that workers on a team that gels, or achieves a high level of cohesion end up working together well, and then working by themselves well – on essentially the same schedule.

One of the most valuable sections of the book was the one where they introduce their recommendations for how to prevent teams from gelling. And it really had nothing to do with the main point.

Back to brainstorming mode: we began looking for “Six Things You Can Do to Make Team Formation Possible.” It was still hard. At last, in desperation, we tried a trick called inversion, described in Edward deBono’s Lateral Thinking. When you’re stuck trying to solve a problem, deBono suggest that rather than looking for ways to achieve your goal, look for way to achieve the exact opposite of your goal. This can have the effect of clearing away the brain’s cobwebs that keep you from being creative. So instead of looking for ways to make team formation possible, we began to think of ways to make team formation impossible. That was easy.

Page 133

Inversion is a simple idea with the potential to deliver powerful results. I plan to use the next time I am stuck for ideas.

I don’t agree with everything DeMarco and Lister discuss. They have howl at things like motivational posters.

These motivational accessories, as they are called (including slogan mugs, plaques, pins, key chains, and awards), are a triumph of form over substance. They seem to extol the importance of Quality, Leadership, Creativity, Teamwork, Loyalty, and a host of other organizational virtues. But they do so in such simplistic terms as to send an entirely different message: Management here believes that these virtues can be improved with posters rather than by hard word and managerial talent. Everyone quickly understands that the presence of the posters is a sure sign of the absence of hard work and talent.

Page 178

When I see those things, I don’t get that same impression. While I can see the point DeMarco and Lister are making, I find those tools can be useful for reminding me about the broader context. They are so much about teaching the concepts of Creativity, Teamwork, Loyalty, or Perseverance. The are more of a reminder that it’s not just about the email I’m sending, of the document I’m writing, or the presentation I’m preparing. It’s all about something bigger -- the quest to the job well for the sake of doing the job well. Those motivations accessories become a touch point for deeper thought. They are a reminder to not forget why I work hard.

And it’s possible I see the differently simply because I work in marketing, rather than the software development field DeMarco and Lister are writing about.

In general, the authors feel that effective management is really about getting out of the way:

Sharon knew what all good instinctive managers know: the manager’s function is not to make people work, but to make it possible for people to work.

Page 34

Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams will be most valuable to those managing engineering and development teams. Others will also benefit from the discussions of the work process. It’s a fascinating look at what works and what doesn’t work with knowledge workers today.

If you’re interested in a book of specific how to tips to help people do their work better – and one that is backed up with some theory—this is a great choice. It’s fun, easy to ready, and practical


Too Many Pens

When I was a kid, I tended to pick up pens when I found them. Somehow or other I would end up accumulating most of the pens in the house. It wasn't so much a pointless plot to steal them all, as it was just grabbing one, using it, and not putting it back.

Apparently, I still do this. Which is really weird since most of my writing is electronic.

But when I rebuilt my office last weekend, I was forced to confront this demon. This was my desktop pen caddy:

2007-09-16 Pens (1)a

It was filled with nice pens, cheap pens, and pen like objects. It seems that I no longer pick up pens in the house. Now, I keep grabbing cheap pens from hotel rooms. I had no idea I accumulated so many Embassy Suites and Doubletree pens. It's not like the soaps and shampoos I intentionally acquire.

So I purged the cheap hotel pens.

2007-09-16 Pensa

And now it's much more manageable.

2007-09-16 Pens (2)a


Shatner-Palooza: The Essence of Shatner

For a while I tried to figure out what was the best description of William Shatner. It turns out that all I really need to do is let the man speak for himself.

This is the first paragraph from Star Trek Memories. It's not even in the main text of the book -- it's from the acknowledgments.

I went on a interesting voyage of discovery with this book. I must have been blind twenty-five years ago. Blinded with personal problems, with fatigue and with the necessity of spending those incredibly hard hours shooting Star Trek, the series. I was fairly oblivious to the drama going on around me, oblivious to the people who composed the family of Star Trek, and like some beast of burden, eyes fixed to the furrow, I plowed on -- despite any distraction. And so it was illuminating, twenty-five years later to wend my way back along the path of an experience that I had almost forgotten. It was a joyful passage, and also a sad one.

It's going to be a good book.


New Blog Traffic

The Thin Red Line is a book oriented blog by a Tacoma, WA author. The volume of books he comments on is rather amazing. I discovered The Thin Red Line after he linked to Cromely's World.

Traditionally, that's how blogs have generated more traffic -- linking to one another. But there is a new tool that's gotten quite a bit of buzz over the past couple of weeks. It's a widget call Blog Rush (my custom link). You can find it in my side bar.

Blog Rush works by posting links to other blogs in the widget. The links are supposed to be related to the content you see here. Each time someone visits my blog a link to my blog will appear in the Blog Rush widget in someone else's site.

Additionally, each person who signs up for Blog Rush by clicking on my widget or my Blog Rush link gets me additional credits, or views on other blogs. And this goes one for multiple generations/levels of sign up.

It sounds like a good idea, but I'm not entirely convinced it will bring visitors here. Will other bloggers actually put the widget in a visible place? Will people actually click the links? Will the Blog Rush filters that determine content actually provide relevant links?

Regardless, it can't hurt to give it a shot.

Reality Wired has a great post with links to a bunch of Blog Rush reviews and comments.


Seattle Embarrased Again

Seattle has a history of embarrassing itself with transportation matters. After all this:
  • the Kalackala refurb mess

  • the monorail nightmare (if you hold 5 elections and the monorail wins 4 of the 5, then the monorail loses)

  • the other monorail nightmare (crash and fire)

  • the ongoing Viaduct disaster

  • the pending political disaster of SR520

... you would think they could at least get something simple right. How hard can it be to name a trolley line? For Seattle planners, it's pretty challenging.

From the Seattle PI:

SLUT -- Streetcar's unfortunate acronym seems here to stay


There's a story going around South Lake Union, but a spokeswoman for Vulcan, Paul Allen's development company, says it's just an urban legend.

That aside, the story that the neighborhood's streetcar line now under construction was called the South Lake Union Trolley until the powers that be realized the unfortunate acronym -- SLUT -- seems here to stay.

Officially, it's now the South Lake Union Streetcar. But the trolley name already has caught on, and in the old Cascade neighborhood in South Lake Union, they're waiting for the SLUT.

... More


The Fair at Puyallup Part 03

Draft horses once were as important to the economy as automobiles are today. Now, their main purpose is to deliver Budweiser and appear in Superbowl ads. Nevertheless, this year at the fair they held a demonstration of horse teams.

They brought 6 teams and carriages into an arena. The first team was a single lead horse followed by two others, all pulling the same wagon. Next, there were two 4 horse teams, and then 2 six horse teams. The final team was a wagon pulled by 6 ponies.

They galloped around the area kicking up dirt to the cheers of the crowd. Then they came to the skill demonstration.

Each driver had to drive his team in a circle around each of the three traffic cones. Then, they had to stop the team, get the horses to back up the wagon so it turned 90 degrees, and then stand off to the side. Basically, they had to execute a K-turn. This is was to show what horse trains used to do every day to back a wagon up to a loading dock.

I always though of horse drawn wagons as clumsy contraptions that did their best when going forward. I never knew they could be handled with such precision. At times, different horses actually need to walk in different directions to position the wagon just right.

The 6 horse teams were the most impressive. The managed turns that would challenge a Honda Civic. The backed the wagon up smoothly and perfectly. And they did it quickly.

The drivers showed amazing skill. It's one thing to pop a car in reverse and turn the wheel. These guys got the same results from 6 strong willed animals who could, at any time, decide they wanted to do something else.

It's been said that small companies are much more nimble than big companies. Large organizations are ultimately doomed to failure in the face of spry competition.

But maybe that perception comes from thinking of large companies as though they are trains or oil tankers. Changing direction takes plenty of time and planning. A lone, nimble rider or sailor has much more flexibility.

But if a company structures itself more like a 6 horse wagon team, then perhaps they can survive in a challenging field. Large numbers of independent characters can work together with the right driver and deliver amazing results.

I think there's a motivational poster in there someplace.

The Fair at Puyallup Part 02

I was going to grow some 1,000 pound pumpkins this year, but I don't think my landlord would have approved.





The Fair at Puyallup Part 01

They do this at every fair, but I have to wonder. Is it really a good idea to put this:


Right next to this:



Special Livery

Retro liveries (paint jobs) are one of the ones airlines celebrate milestones and anniversaries.

Today I was lucky enough to see the new paint on the Astrojet (American Airlines 737-800, plane number N951AA) as it pulled into the gate at SNA. She's a great looking bird.

2007-09-14 Astrojet (2)

2007-09-14 Astrojet (1)

2007-09-14 Astrojet

2007-09-14 Astrojet (4)


The best looking volcanoes in the US

No matter how many times I fly out over them, I never get tired of looking out the airplane window and seeing MT Ranier and MT St Helens below.

2007-09-10 MT Ranier

2007-09-10 MT Ranier

2007-09-10 MT St Helens (4)

2007-09-10 MT St Helens (3)

2007-09-10 MT St Helens (5)


Kudos to Horizon Air

For gounding nearly a quarter of their fleet following landing gear incidents in Europe. Horizon too their Q400s with more than 10,000 take off/landing cycles out of service for special inspections even though the FAA hasn't required it. It's nice to know they put safety first.

Here's the notice from the Alaska Air website:

SEATTLE — Today, in response to a Transport Canada airworthiness directive (AD), Horizon Air initiated the inspection of the landing gear of its Bombardier Aerospace Q400 turboprops. To allow sufficient time for the inspection process and the reaccommodation of customers whose travels are being affected, Horizon announced it will be making additional flight cancellations through Friday.

The AD was produced in the wake of two landing gear failure incidents involving SAS-affiliated airlines in Europe. Horizon, which has operated the Canadian-manufactured Q400 since 2001 and now has 33 in its fleet, has never experienced any issues like those SAS recently encountered.

Horizon today canceled 120 flights out of its daily average of 500. Horizon is canceling 127 flights on Thursday, and those will appear in central reservations systems by 5:30 p.m. today.
However, I think the Seattle PI owes them an apology for this article.

The headline is "Horizon flights thrown into chaos." The article actually says:

Each Q-400 airplane holds 74 to 76 passengers. Because of the planes' relatively small size, a Sea-Tac spokesman said, the cancellations did not create mass confusion at the airport.
It seems like the reporter worked really hard to find some upset passengers, but most satisfied with the airline's response. The found only one person who was really upset.

But the 23-year-old, who visited Seattle on vacation, voiced concern that her Horizon ticket agent told her only that flights were canceled -- without giving a reason. Reporters at the airport gave her details.

"Now they're having flight problems?" she said, asking if other Horizon Q-400 aircraft would fly on Wednesday.

"I don't feel comfortable. I think they should explain it to people."

Of course, the other passengers did say the ticket agent explained it.

Book Review 12: Short Stories on a Long Night

Look sir you’re not going to tell me that! Everyone knows stories! I just told you I slept in the same bed as my wife every night for the last fifteen years in the same bedroom of the same flat in the same suburb of Tokyo – and look at all you different people! You just have to tell me how you travel to work every morning in the place where you live and for me it’s a fable! it’s a legend! Sorry I am tired and a little stressed and this is not how I usually talk but I think when you are together like this then stories are what is required.

Page 7

Tokyo Cancelled by Rana Dasgupta is a modern day Canterbury Tales. A group of passengers get snowed in at an unnamed airport, on their way to Tokyo. They hunker down for the night in airport chairs, surrounded by cavernous, vacant halls. To pass the time, they tell stories.

From there, Dasgupta had a choice. He could have taken us into the passengers’ lives. We could have learned about why they were travelling, what was important to them, how they made the right choices or wrong choices in their lives, and how they came to be stuck at that airport. Dasgupta had other ideas, though. The stories the passengers told were modern day fables.

The book is a collection of thirteen of these fables framed in the overall story of being stuck at the airport. They stories are generally magical and filled with unexpected twists. Dasgupta writes clearly and simply, but still has wonderful imagery. Some of the stories have simple plots, and come to a resolution; others end with more questions than they began. The characters in the stories accept a magical world with few questions.

These are not children's fairy tales, though. In many of them, they characters don’t live happily ever after. There may be morality lessons in some of them, but the lessons, if any, are far from clear. Good isn't always rewarded and evil isn't always punished. And in many cases, there is no good or evil -- just a deep gray. And in this book, Dasgupta finds ways to write about nearly all bodily functions at some point. While not jarringly out of context in the stories, the material may not be appropriate for sensitive readers.

That said, it is a great book to read. The stories are fascinating, and Dasgupta does a nice job of pulling the reader in.

When Dasgupta has a point to make, he usually has one character in a story speak it to the main character in that same story.

For example, one character describes the world of organized crime like this:

‘It’s a scintillating world; it’s a pyramid of mercury: and we have to be standing on top.’

Page 159
That’s one of the best descriptions of a treacherous balancing act that I’ve seen in a long time. I can see the poisonous material sliding out from underneath.

We also get this description of the nature of time:

‘For you the present is easy to discern because it is simply where memory stops. Memories hurtle out of the past and come to a halt in the now. The present is the rockface at the end of the tunnel where you gouge away at the future.’

Page 27
The idea that the present is nothing more than where memory stops will keep me starting at my lava lamp for hours.

The point of the book may be that the only time things worthwhile actually happen is when something major completely disrupts people’s lives. They sleep walk through their routines, and big adventure like in the stories, or a simply travel mishap like in the framework may be all it takes to live a different life.

Was it not at times like this, when life malfunctioned, when time found a leak in its pipeline and dripped out into some little pool, that new thoughts happened, new things began? Would they look back at this night and say That is when it started?

Page 255
Dasgupta takes us into the minds of some of the passengers in between stories. In the early emphemeral stages on infatuation, one man looks at the woman sitting next to him. He subtly glances at here and wonders, perhaps naively, if their paths were to convere.

One man followed the patterns in the hair on the forearm of the woman next to him; he stole glances at the curve of her breast, the shape of her lips; he wondered what life lay behind the strange story she had told. Was it his imagination, or did her body creep closer to his as the night progressed? was there not some significance in the way their eyes had met? was it accident or design that made her hand brush his again on the armrest that lay between them? Where was she going? what was she doing in Tokyo?

Page 255
Back in college, I remember working on a paper late at night. The words started to move around on their own. At that point I realized I needed sleep. While I couldn't appreciate it then, over time I grew to understand the beauty that exists in the realm between sleeping and waking -- a beauty that can only be brought on by the tension of tired mind, exhausted body, and stong will tugging against one another. Dasgupta captures that beauty in this passage:

A woman yawned, shifted from her seat to the floor, tried to make herself comfortable, half-lying, half leaning, up against a battered Samsonite cabin bag. It was the dead of night: yesterday seemed weeks ago and tomorrow still many inky aeons in the future. Sleep lapped seductively against the shores of Certainty until its outer reaches crumbled and were submerged in warm, insensible depths. Diminished senses played tricks: were those bats fluttering outside the windows or just the twitching blind spots of minds too slow to render reality in all its detail? A pattern in the brickwork, or the remarkable shape of a shadow, could draw you into a maze of long and ponderous wonderings; and everyone’s face was reminiscent of someone you had known long ago.

Page 293

Here's a quick look at the stories themelves.

The Tailor

This is the most traditional tale and yet it has its own twists. It also nicely frames the rest of the stories with its refernce to the "thirteen levels of meaning prized in the greatest of our writings."

The Memory Editor

A fascinating story on the nature of memory and individuality. Is a person better off without negative memories? Or are those traumas important to who we are? And what happens when we commoditaize them?

The Billionaire’s Sleep

A story that touches on sleep, fertility, appearance, obsession, and wealth.

The House of the Frankfurt Mapmaker

The beginning of the story seems unnecesary, but it is well told. The only problem is I have no idea what was going on at the end. It raised too many questions for me. But it was quite a ride.

The Store on Madison Avenue

The orphaned/rejected child is a common theme in the several stories in the book. This story starts with that and goes on to warn of the perils of greed.

The Flyover

A fairly short story of success, failure, and hope.

The Speed Bump

This is the shortest, least magical, and most straight forward story in the book.

The Doll

One of the longer stories in the book, Dasgupta chose to tag the sections of the story like an outline or business plan. The main character does everything he can to fight his own insecurity.

The Rendezvous in Istanbul

This is a story of love and trust.

The Changeling

What does it mean to fight or accept death? In The Changeling Dasgupta explores that against the backdrop of an epidemic in Paris.

The Bargain in the Dungeon

This long, compelling story is the classic Be Careful What You Wish For tale.

The Lucky Ear Cleaner

Here we have simple, beautiful story about knowing what you want.

The Recycler of Dreams

This is a story in a story in a story. It references several others in the book, and has a recursive structure to it that is easy to get lost in. It all about the nature of dreams and reality.

The book is not perfect. I don't think some of the stories needed to be as graphic at they were.

My other concern is the voice of the story. Each story "sounded" like the same story teller. Even "The Doll", with its innovative layout, had the same language-feel as the others. This would not be a problem for me if it was just a collection of short stories. But Dasgupta chose to have passengers tell the stories. And all the passneger tell their stories the same way.

It's still a great novel, though. Tokyo Cancelled is a rare book that calls for a second reading. It's difficult to get everything out of the early stories without having read the later stories. Each story itself brings its own setting, plot, and characters.

Discussing the deeper meaning of these stories would be great way to pass the time with fellow passengers the next time I find myself stuck in an airport overnight.


Fark Caturday Threads

I mentioned LOL Cats and Fark.Com Caturday threads a few weeks ago.

Here is a list of the recent cat threads.






















2010-10-23 Part II

2010-10-23 Part I















2010-07-10 (Part 2)

2010-07-10 (Part 1)





















2010-02-13 (Part 2)

2010-02-13 (Part 1)






















































2009-02-20 (RIP, Socks)






2009-01-10 Part II

2009-01-10 Part I





































2008-04-12 (Part III)

2008-04-12 (Part II)

2008-04-12 (Part I)










2008-02-16 Part II

2008-02-16 Part I



2008-01-26 Part II



Why 2008-01-12 was cut short (or Fark farks Fark, as one poster put it.)





















2007-09-08 Part II

2007-09-08 Part I
















Trouble walking

Fark Caturday threads aren't just entertaining. They're also educational. The recent thread is where I just learned about cerebellar hypoplasia. It's a motor skills disorder that means animals have trouble walking or moving in a coordinated fashion.

Apparently, the cat is in no pain. And it can live a normal life span. Which makes the following video both educational and amusing.


Thank you,Chris Hansen

These days, if Rian Romoli accidentally bumps into a child, he quickly raises his hands above his shoulders. "I don't want to give even the slightest indication that any inadvertent touching occurred," says Mr. Romoli, an economist in La CaƱada Flintridge, Calif.

Ted Wallis, a doctor in Austin, Texas, recently came upon a lost child in tears in a mall. His first instinct was to help, but he feared people might consider him a predator. He walked away. "Being male," he explains, "I am guilty until proven innocent."


The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article about the lengths men go to avoid false accusations of child abuse.

The media attention on child predators over the last few years has created the specter of a molester on every corner. The overwhelming "caution" that people adopt in response can be frightening.

MSFT Expanding in Seattle

One reason I like to get first class upgrades when I fly is that I work up there. I usually can't type on my notebook when I'm in coach. There's simply no room. Then I am left to reading a book or watching a movie.

That seems like a good deal because I get some extra leisure time on the plane in coach. But the problem is, I still need to do the work, and may have to stay up late to get everything done once I reach my destination.

In other words, if I can work on the plane for 3 hours, I can go to bed 3 hours earlier that night.

It seems Microsoft understands this concept. They made two major announcements in Seattle today. They are expanding in the city of Seattle (as opposed to Redmond), and they are introducing their own bus service for employees.

I find this interesting. Microsoft is expanding in the downtown Seattle area. They will have 1400 jobs to the area over the next few months.

In addition to the new jobs, they are adding space to accommodate Redmond workers who find themselves on this side of the lake.

One goal is to better accommodate Microsoft employees who live in Seattle, Liddell said. In addition to the traditional office space, the company is creating 150 "touch down" spaces in the Westlake/Terry building -- small spots where employees who work in Redmond can sit down, plug in a laptop and work in Seattle for a couple of hours when they have a meeting in the city or want to avoid rush hour.

"The spaces are temporary -- they won't be second offices," Liddell explained. "But they will help relieve some of the pressures and unnecessary back-and-forths currently taking place."
Since much work these days requires simply a notebook computer and an internet connection, workers can have more flexibility.

The main campus is several miles east of Seattle, but it can take anywhere from 25 to 105 minutes to get there depending on traffic. And with Seattle's inability to make any decisions on infrastructure, I don't see that changing.

And MSFT doesn't want employees squandering hours sitting in a stopped car on the SR520 floating bridge. So they are also starting their own bus service.

The 14-bus Microsoft "Connector" system, to debut later this month, was announced as the company unveiled plans to open new offices in Seattle's South Lake Union and Pioneer Square neighborhoods.

At launch, the bus system will handle no more than 1,000 employees a day. That's only a slice of Microsoft's more than 35,000 employees in the region.

But the fact that Microsoft would find it necessary to take such a step added new fuel to the debate over comprehensive regional transportation reform.

The pilot program will include 14 buses, including seven large coaches with bike storage, and electrical outlets at each seat, in addition to Wi-Fi. Seven midsize coaches will be used for neighborhood pickups. There will be multiple runs in the morning and afternoon, Smith said.

Besides reducing traffic congestion and minimizing air pollution, keeping employees out of bumper-to-bumper traffic also keeps them happy.
And with those amenities on the bus, it looks like transit time can more effectively be used as work time. And maybe someone can get to bed an hour or two earlier

For more information about the downtown expansion, click here.

For more information about the new bus service, click here.


The day before the fair

Bumbershoot is a three day music and arts festival that takes place every Labor Day weekend at the Seattle Center. It starts on a Saturday morning.

This year, I didn't go to the event, but I did stop by the Seattle Center on Friday night. Vendors were setting up their booths. Event staff were setting up fences. And the open maw of empty performance stages hungrily awaited their first acts.

There was an air of both anticipation and desolation. People were busy and walking around with energy, but without the thousands of attendees bumping into each other and making it impossible walk anywhere, it had an eerie quiet.

2007-08-31 Bumbershoot the day before it opens (5).jpg

2007-08-31 Bumbershoot the day before it opens (4).jpg

2007-08-31 Bumbershoot the day before it opens (3)

2007-08-31 Bumbershoot the day before it opens (2)

2007-08-31 Bumbershoot the day before it opens (1)

2007-08-31 Bumbershoot the day before it opens


A creative chamber of commerce

From the Seattle Times:

"Tumbleweed Junction" Was Already Taken:

Moses Lake, an Eastern Washington town surrounded by desert, has a new slogan: "Water sports capital of the United States." A Moses Lake spokesman told The Associated Press that the "Water Sports" logo, signs and marketing campaign "would be phased in slowly to allow time for development of water activities and businesses."


Solving the world's problems with geek power

Why, as a country, did we spend so much time, money, and life trying to rescue seven trapped miners in Utah, while that same money could have saved dozens or hundreds of lives around the world? Clive Thompson attempts to answer that question in this month's Wired:

I've been reading the fascinating work of Paul Slovic, a psychologist who runs the social-science think tank Decision Research. He studies a troubling paradox in human empathy: We'll usually race to help a single stranger in dire straits, while ignoring huge numbers of people in precisely the same plight. We'll donate thousands of dollars to bring a single African war orphan to the US for lifesaving surgery, but we don't offer much money or political pressure to stop widespread genocides in Rwanda or Darfur.

You could argue that we're simply callous, or hypocrites. But Slovic doesn't think so. The problem isn't a moral failing: It's a cognitive one. We're very good at processing the plight of tiny groups of people but horrible at conceptualizing the suffering of large ones.

... More

He suggests that Bill Gates attempts to tackle epidemic level problems in Africa because of his geek sensibilities. Thompson suggest that those involved in the details of IT are simply wired differently to process the sheer volume of human despair by looking at the numbers in a way that makes most people go numb.

Which brings me back to Gates. The guy is practically a social cripple, and at times he has seemed to lack human empathy. But he's also a geek, and geeks are incredibly good at thinking concretely about giant numbers. Their imagination can scale up and down the powers of 10 — mega, giga, tera, peta — because their jobs demand it.

So maybe that's why he is able to truly understand mass disease in Africa. We look at the huge numbers and go numb. Gates looks at them and runs the moral algorithm: Preventable death = bad; preventable death x 1 million people = 1 million times as bad.
It's a brief, but intriguing look at just what it may take to solve the big problems of the world.


Movie Review 04: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

On Friday, I saw the latest installment in the Harry Potter series at the IMAX theater.

And surprisingly, it was great.

I went in with low expectations. While I am a huge fan of the books, some of the movies have been lacking. After I saw the last movie, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, I left the theater angry at how badly the director chopped up the story. It's always tough to turn a book into a movie, but the challenge is to preserve the story and the characters. The movie, however, was little more than highlights of the book. They dropped key elements from the book that are improtant to character development and the mythos of the Potter-verse.

Order of the Phoenix was different, though. While they made some changes to the story, and cut a lot of the material, they stayed true to the essence of the tale. The movie flows seamlessly from beginning to end, while balancing dread, humor, special effects, drama, and humanity.

The IMAX is a great theater to see a big movie in. The surround sound is amazing, and the screen is more than 60 feet tall. It costs a couple dollars more than a regular theater, but the immersive experience is spell binding.

If you've read the book already, read on. If not, I guess you probably don't plan to read it, and won't be concerned about what follows. After all, it's been four years. Regardless:

***Spoiler Alert***

The 3D experience starts when Harry, Ron, Hermione, Luna, Neville, and Ginny visit the Department of Mysteries. The disorienting environment of the Department is a natural fit for the 3D glasses. As Sirius, Voldemort, Luscious, the Deatheaters, the Order, and Dumbledore show up, the action and effects get more intense.

I had trouble following a lot of the action in the book, but in the movie, it's perfectly clear what's happening. Without taking a break from the action, we still get a moment to mourn Sirius's death and feel Harry's pain.

The scene in the lobby where Dumbledore fights Voldemort is reminiscent of the scene in the Matrix where Neo and Trinity storm the office building lobby to rescue Morpheus. Except at the Ministry of Magic it's spells flying through the air and smashing walls, unleashing an amazing rain of destruction.

The climax of the scene where Harry fights his internal battle against Voldemort is quick, deep, and highly satisfying.

Action scenes in movies are often a great way to show off special effects. In this sequence, though, the fast paced action took everything further. It showed off the effects, but also told the story and drove it further, gave the characters a chance to grow, and did it all with heart.

Umbridge is as evil in the movie as she is in the book. She still tortures Harry with the "I must not tell lies" punishment. It's surprisingly graphic the way the letters get carved into his skin.

Umbridge's copious proclamations are played for maximum comic effect. And her pink, kitty filled office is utterly creepy.

Sixteen year old Irish actress Evanna Lynch does an amazing job playing Loony Luna Lovegood. She captures the essence of a character who is not quite "there" in the same reality as everyone else. She captures the contradictory dreamy/grounded nature of the character surprisingly well. She is at once both reassuring and slightly creepy.

They cut out most of the Hogsmead visit in the movie, and they take a different approach to resolving the Cho Change story line. It seemed they were mainly looking for a way out of that subplot. And, while they took some time to show Harry and Cho flirting with one another, those scenes were more about Ginny Weasley's reaction.

I was a little disappointed in how they handled the Weasley twins departure from Hogwarts. I'm not sure if they ran low on the effects budget, but a scene that should have been full of Weasley practical jokes and crazy magic, turned into them just flying around setting off fireworks.

I also wish they spent more time on the Grimwauld Place story line. They cut most of that material, and we see Kreacher for maybe a minute. A lot of what happens there is importnat to understanding Sirius's strengths and weaknesses. It's also important for what happens in the rest of the books.

We also saw very little of Privet drive. While the opening Dementor attacks are chilling, they lost an opportunity by having the Dursley's leave when they did.

They also spent very little time on Nagini's attack on Arthur Weasley. The movie didn't take us to Mungo's hospital at all.

They also didn't explain clearly enough what happened to Neville's parents.

Despite those shortcomings, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is true to the soul of the book, and it's a great movie in its own right. It may be the best movie of the franchise.

If you're a fan, and haven't seen it yet, go to the theater today. If you have already seen it, go again. At try to catch the 3D IMAX version.