Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Adventures in Transportation

At some point, I just snapped. I decided I could no longer stand parking in the city.

Actually, it wasn't "some" point. I know when it was. It was driving around the International District for over half an hour, looking for a spot, and even being willing to pay, but not having the right cash, and then finally finding a tiny spot, barely big enough, and squeezing into it with Shauna outside the car watching to make sure I didn't bump the adjacent cars, but the guy behind accusing me of bumping his car anyway because there was already a smudge on his bumper. And this not long after spending nigh on an hour one Saturday evening looking for parking in Capitol Hill. And seeing typical "event parking" for $20 a pop.

So, yeah, 'nuff parkin' in the city.

Thus it was fortunate timing that the weather is getting lovely, and I am more inclined to experiment with biking and busing around. So, I've been biking to work most days, and have now three times (ooooo) bused into the city. Maybe that doesn't sound like much, but after I moved out of California the first time, I swore I would never rely on public transit again, for such was my loathing of it.

And, looking back, I've analyzed what it is I objected to so much, since in theory I think public transit would be a good idea. First, there was the time: driving from Hayward to San Jose might take 20 minutes; by BART and bus it was two hours, and it wasn't even two hours I could zone out since it involved a couple of transfers. Not acceptable. But, here, busing to Fremont at rush hour is *faster* than driving, due to the insane wicked nasty traffic. Thus, today, I left work at 5:30, rode the bus for half an hour (read a chapter of a book on javascript and had a lovely view of Lake Wash), had another lovely half hour of bike riding, and got to Fremont a little after 6:30 (I might still have been trying to get across the bridge by then if I'd driven). Exercise and time to read... better than repeatedly shifting in and out of first gear on the 520.

The tough part for me about not taking a car, though, is the insecurity. This is not imagined, either: I just barely caught an 11:00pm bus from downtown back to Redmond last week, and had I missed it, it would have been an hour until the next one. I think faced with the prospect of an hour in downtown Seattle at near midnight, I would have either called a taxi or slept on Shauna's floor (assuming there was even a reasonable way to get up to Eastlake - but that is easier by bus from downtown). If you miss the bus, you're stuck. Your car always waits for you (unless you get towed or it breaks down, but those can mostly be avoided by reasonable precautions). You're not stranded if you remember the wrong time to leave. So that is a real concern, but it, like the problem of taking longer, is easily fixed by just having more buses/trains/lines/whatever.

Beyond that, though, I just really have an irrational hangup about public transit. I'll take it, and rationally there's nothing to object to, but I'm still terribly uncomfortable a lot of times, and sometimes almost panicked. What am I so worked up about? Missing my stop? In most places the most that means is walking a few extra blocks, and if I'm on a bike (like I was today), it's trivial. Is it fear of weird people? (You know, like the ones who have a short conversation with you, and then the same conversation again a few minutes later because it sure seems like they just forgot the first one happened? Possibly because they're really stoned?) Well, there are a few around, but mostly there seem to be enough other people (and rule-enforcement-types) that that's not really what I'm worried about. It's closer to the insecurity issue, but no, there's still some irrational fear, even if I know nothing really bad will happen. I'm hoping it will go away if I just keep not taking my car. And bugger it, I'm not going to let that stop me.


Realization About City Planning

Imagine a really bad piece of code. Not just little stupid things (like 'if (x == true) return true; else return false;'), but big design problems that prevent it from being changed to work in the ways that you need it to work now, that has a tangled web of dependencies and versioning and redundancy problems, and that is arcane and fragile and different parts are built on totally different infrastructures. Thin facades protect you, but you know that underneath be dragons.

Now, picture that... in concrete.

Ouch. Now I feel sorry for city planners. My discovery of how much work it is when the program managers want all my components to work differently must be nothing compared to, say, realizing your city needs to support mass transit.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Problem With Options

You'd think giving people a choice would be a good thing. If you have complete freedom of choices, you should be able to get exactly what you want, right? Somehow, this never works out, and I've been thinking lately about why.

I've seen a lot of this problem lately. First, I discovered it with scheduling (parties or anything else involving a bunch of people): never ask people when they want to meet. If you do, you will wind up with complete chaos, and people still won't be happy with any choice that comes out of it. Propose a time, and if too many people really can't make it, then propose an alternative.

Then, there's design. Like, for websites. If you tell people they can choose one of A, B, or C, and one of 1, 2, or 3, they'll tell you they want some of A with a few aspects of C, plus 2 with the colors from 1. Show a committee every button you could add, and they'll try to add all of them, and wind up in a catfight over it. It just doesn't work.

This comes up in all kinds of products. Let people customize every parameter of their bike, and they'll be left with this permanent lingering feeling that it doesn't quite fit right. Have a shoe custom made for your foot with your own colors and materials, and you'll always think it looks and feels just a little bit off.

Yes, I'm overgeneralizing and making these cases out badly, but bear with me. You know you've seen examples of this. But, do you notice a pattern? Why are people unhappy after they are offered choices? For one, since you had a choice, you feel like you should have gotten just what you wanted - and not only that, if it doesn't seem right after you've chosen, you feel like maybe you should go back and choose something different. Beyond that, though, I think there's a bigger problem: people don't know what they want. This is a far more insidious problem than you might at first think. This is why usability is so hard. It's so easy to see when a program "just does the right thing", but it's amazingly hard to know before you see that right thing. It's why ergonomic design is so hard - why is it only in the past couple of decades we figured out that having lumbar support is comfortable? If you don't know what you want - what will look good, what will be comfortable after you've been sitting on it for a few hours - you don't have much hope of making a good choice for yourself.

If you want a much better and longer piece on how hard it is to evaluate things and people (with lots of good research to back it up), read Blink by Malcolm Gladwell - fascinating book, quickly becoming one of my most highly recommended (right behind Hackers and Painters and Freakonomics).


Sunday, May 20, 2007


Hall of Shame

Unsurpringly, full of phone companies. And Bank of America.

Customer Service Hall of Shame


Washington Cell Phone Driving Law

Takes effect 1 Jan 2008:

$101 Fine For Handheld Cell While Driving

One interesting caveat:
But it will be considered a secondary infraction, meaning drivers can be cited only if they are pulled over for another offense, such as speeding or reckless driving.


Go Portland!

I knew it was a cool city.

Portland Bike Commuter Act


Random Thoughts

I spend time wondering about things I know I shouldn't wonder about. Like, if you blow your nose on a piece of toilet paper, is it more ecologically friendly to throw it in the trash or flush it? I decided it's probably the former (maybe just because I've been around a lot of old fragile plumbing), but it probably doesn't make much difference.

Or, if I bike to work, I have to wash an extra set of clothing vs driving. Hmm, let's see: electricity, water, and soap to do a fraction of a load of laundry, or gasoline to pull two tons of metal for 9 miles? I think we have a winner there.


The modern world has all sorts of problems we never anticipated. Our cell phones, for example, are pretty close to a Star Trek communicator, but you never saw Kirk going "Um, Spock, could you buzz my communicator? I don't know where I put it."


Parking around my buildings has been a problem for a while, as it has been around most of the main campus. Either the parking garages are only a couple levels deep and there aren't enough spaces, or they are deep enough... and there's a Balrog on the bottom level.

That being said, we do actually have plenty of parking now. The building next to us, which is under construction, isn't finished - but its parking garage is, and while it's a little farther than our own garage, it beats the valet (sometimes blocked in, have to get your key back from security if you're there late) or the old Eddie Bauer lot (almost half a mile away). 'Tis a most beautiful sight to the Seattle-ite: a broad open expanse of empty parking spaces.

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Seattle Shows: Jacinta!

This is the artist who does "Destination" and "Can't Keep It A Secret". I may go even if I have to go by myself.

Jacinta, PURR Night Club, Jun 22, 2007, 10:00 PM


Monday, May 07, 2007

Links Galore

I decided my blog sidebar was as good a place as any to compile a list of things to do around Seattle. In the process I made a few minor tweaks to my blog template, like making the title of a post also be a permalink to the post.

Can you see a theme? Live theatre, live music, and electronica.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Seattle Shows: David Sedaris (again!), Loreena, Lewis Black, Russell Peters, Rent, Spamalot

Quite a bunch I found lately....

Edward Scissorhands, thru May 13, 5th Ave Theatre, $22-73

Loreena McKennitt! Seattle (May 14) and Bellingham (May 15) are probably the only feasible shows. Sold out; look on craigslist (expect $50+ per ticket).

Rent, May 8-12, Paramount Theatre, $21-55

West Side Story, June, 5th Avenue Theatre, May 26 - June 17, $20-62

Russell Peters, just played in Seattle, but in Vancouver June 21-23.

Lewis Black, Sat June 23, Paramount Theatre, $37-43

Norah Jones, Fri June 29, McCaw Hall, $46-58

Carmina Burana, 7/12 - 7/14, Benaroya Hall, $20-90

David Sedaris, Fri Oct 26, Benaroya Hall, $29-36 (on sale 8/1) (I didn't get to see him in Tacoma, but maybe with more notice, in Seattle in August...)

Spamalot! October 10 - 28 at the Paramount Theatre.

Trader Joe's Silent Movie Mondays, Paramount Theatre, ongoing - every Monday night, $12


Saturday, May 05, 2007

Best. Error. Ever.

It's an error message on an error message. A meta-error. Yes, I got this at work.

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Boat Festival

I've gone from saying "so people don't think I'm insane" to "so fewer people notice I'm insane."


Written Wednesday:

Last night I was at Jazz Alley (great venue, BTW), and I couldn't help but notice the loops on the ceiling fans looked just like handles. We were sitting on these perch seats right below the ceiling, so we were actually looking down at the fans. I kept thinking how fun it would be to leap off the balcony and catch the fan handles and swing around. Yeah... mind of a five year old hiding in the body of a twenty six year old.


Sometimes I get sick of being a weirdo. I'm contrary enough that I often try to go against whatever people say usually is the case, but sometimes I get really tired of being the exception to everything. Especially things like, "this usually works well for people." I really wish it did.


Latest source of amusement: making events up, and then attributing other things to them. For instance, toward the end of this week, Shauna and I were driving into Seattle through this awful traffic, and noticed many, many boats out - lines of them out into Lake Washington near Montlake, Portage Bay packed to the gills. In speculating what this was, I said, "maybe there's a Seattle Boat Festival," which sounds reasonable, since hey, if any city is going to have a boat festival, it would be Seattle, right? So we had a good laugh. Further on, Shauna made some further comment wondering about the cause of the awful traffic, and I said, "Mmm, must be the Boat Festival."

So, turns out it's just opening day of boating season. That's almost a Boat Festival.

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