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February 26, 2007

Last week, Kim and I took a 4-day vacation in Seattle. It's a fun town, and there's beautiful scenery, and some really cool people. But the weather in February really does track with the things people say about Seattle: cold, rainy, depressing. You might say "Duh, Jamie! It's north of Fargo, Chicago, Buffalo... what did you expect?" And you would be right to say so. Well, I guess I expected it to be sunny sometimes, rainy sometimes. Instead it was cloudy one day (defined as "can see past the clouds to the sky), overcast sometimes (defined as "can't see past the entirely gray cloud cover"), rainy sometimes, and chilly the whole time. We should go back sometime when it's sunny and warm, or at least more likely to be sunny and warm.

We stayed near the U-dub campus, which is a really big school. The surrounding area is very much dominated by the needs of college students, so there are all sorts of things to do there. We bought coffee at the trendy hipster coffee house called Trabant Chai Lounge, and actually mine was nicely spiced with ginger and nutmeg. I'm used to an inverse relationship between pretense and flavor, and Trabant bucked the trend. There's a pretty nice upscale mall near our hotel, called University Village, which is a bit fancier than I'd expect for something next to a university. Most of the other stuff in the UW area is more funky and earthy, like the Sidecar for Pigs Peace store, Pizza Pi, and the ultra yummy Mighty O Donuts, all of which were high points of the trip. Probably the best meal of the trip was at Araya Vegetarian Place, which is a 100% vegan Thai restaurant, which has a drink menu provided by Nanung Cafe next door. My thai latte (with turbinado sugar, I think!) was one of the best I've ever had, and the asparagus curry (a house special) was fantastic. Kim's pineapple and (veg) ham curry came in a pineapple shaped bowl, which we found hilariously appropriate, especially combined with her pineapple smoothie.

Strangely, the places I expected to enjoy most were not all that great. The Microsoft Visitor Center was basically one big room with a hallway, not much bigger than our apartment, and was full of exhibits that didn't make sense and, not surprisingly, had all sorts of bizarre usability issues. They obviously spent a bunch of money on it, but it really doesn't seem to have a purpose, and except for the very impressive floor to ceiling plaques listing the names of every single product Microsoft has shipped ever (there are a lot of them), it generally fails to capture the immense importance and reach of Microsoft throughout the computer industry. In my opinion they should charge admission (at least $5), show off more of their own product improvements, and feature things like a comparison of computers' capabilities over time and the things that Microsoft makes that provide them (like a 1985 computer with DOS that you can fiddle with, or at least a summary of it) so you can really see the progress that has been made in what PCs with Microsoft software on them can do.

The Experience Music Project was basically an overpriced bore. Worth mentioning is the hideously ugly Frank Gehry designed building; here are EMP photos on Flickr. Here are some local reactions to the building, and the general pricey lameness of EMP. There was a fairly large, decent exhibit dedicated to Jimi Hendrix, and another fairly large, not very good exhibit dedicated to the music of Disney. They had an exhibit dedicated to disco, another to the history of hip-hop, and a history of guitars with dozens of guitars on display. It was OK, but not really much better than just watching a couple of 1 hour documentaries on the History Channel or VH-1.

Pike Place Market was okay, probably less wonderful for us than we expected because it's largely a seafood market and neither of us eats seafood. There were some nice stores, though, including the original Starbucks, and the super yummy Cinnamon Works. If I were shopping for seafood, fresh fish, or a nice fishy dinner on the water, though, this place would be awesome.

The places that really were the best were the places I had not even thought of visiting at all before we got there. Archie McPhee is the coolest random-stuff store ever. I think if you brought an 8 year old into this store, his or her head would explode with delight. Create-a-Commie art kit? Frogmen vs. Radioactive Octopus action figure set? Or perhaps a bacon wallet? They have everything you absolutely don't need, and a wide assortment of very odd items that you might need, such as (when we were there) a French paratrooper parachute and a bin full of some kind of soap siphoning apparatuses that looked like they used to cost $19.95 each on some TV commercial.

The other unexpectedly awesome activity was the Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour. From the signage in the parking lot to the building to the tour and gift shop, they have the whole visitor experience completely nailed. It's $15 per person and completely worth it. Even the ticket availability system (that tells you how many tour tickets are available at each tour time, in real time) is excellent. The factory is just astonishing. Boeing gets to use a whole lot of superlatives: largest building in the world, for example, which is where the tour takes place. Just standing in that building is awe inspiring, but seeing the way they have carefully constructed unique and custom tooling and cranes and parts and ladders and bins and... it's just amazing. If you're in Seattle, I highly recommend the factory tour.

Anyway, now we're back in cold rainy San Francisco, which somehow is much nicer than cold rainy Seattle, probably because we live here. I liked Seattle generally speaking, but the weather was a major downer, and the first full day was a disappoinment cuz of all the stuff we saw and did that turned out to be Not Actually That Good. But it got better after that. The people are nice, the restaurants kick ass, and there are plenty of fun things to do, especially if you like boats, lakes, seafood, vegan restaurants, college, skiing, planes, Microsoft, or some combination of those things.

February 20, 2007

I've been working a lot on my new startup project lately. After 2 months, the business strategy and design work is mostly done, and now it's time to start building a prototype.

My MacBook Pro laptop has some kind of video hardware problem that causes it to freeze up whenever I have a second display attached (which is almost 100% of the time) and I use it for a few hours. Last week it got to the point where it was freezing four times a day. I figured out that the display was frozen but the software underneath was still alive, so it was possible to somewhat gracefully shut down and restart by memorizing the right keyboard shortcuts, like rebooting blindfolded. Still, it's really irritating, so I ran the Apple Hardware Test which found that there was indeed a problem. It's covered under warranty for another 2 1/3 years so this is just a time waster, not a big repair expense.

In the meantime I'm stuck using a seven year old computer: a Power Macintosh G4 400MHz a.k.a. "sawtooth". I spent most of Saturday migrating all my stuff to it, and making sure my laptop was super duper ultra definitely backed up on 2 different disks before erasing the hard disk and sending it in for repair. The old G4 tower I'm using now is slow, but not tragically slow. It was tragically slow until I hit Craigslist and found not one not two but three people selling PC100 256MB SDRAM DIMMs for $25 or less each. I got 3 of 'em for $60, so now I have 1GB, which is adequate. Now the CPU is the bottleneck, which is a problem I don't feel like fixing since the laptop should be back pretty soon. The first guy I called didn't call back until I had already bought the RAM from someone else, and he was as surprised as I was that at 9pm on a Saturday night, I was able to purchase exactly the computer hardware that I needed, used, from someome 20 minutes away. "Man, isn't Craigslist great? Wow!" he said, even though I called him back to tell him I wasn't going to buy his RAM. Yup, it's great. Now I have a usable, if pokey, computer.