EMP revisited

David Bowie by Mick Rock, in the Museum of Pop Culture, Seattle

I couldn’t let my visit to Seattle end without revisiting a few familiar haunts, and I’m glad I did. While the name of the Museum of Pop Culture is new to me, the facility isn’t—it’s the new name of the Experience Music Project, now incorporating the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame as well.

And the exhibits were spectacular. Who knew I needed to hear slightly abstract mixes of early 1970s Bowie while looking at Mick Rock’s spectacular photos of him (above) and watching video loops of him on rebuilt vintage televisions? Or to see early production sketches for the Muppets alongside the actual puppets themselves?

Or, better yet, the starring Gelflings and urRu (one hesitates to call them Muppets) from The Dark Crystal?

Then there was the Star Trek and science fiction stuff, which could take a post of its own. It was a spectacular visit.


I’m traveling in Seattle this week for the first time in a while (like, over ten years). Also for the first time in a while, I have a rental car rather than relying on ridesharing to get around. So when I stepped into the rental Chevy that Avis provided, I was expecting another ho-hum vehicular experience.

The car is, indeed, ho-hum, from the perspective of moving me from one place to another—though pushbutton start is something I didn’t expect to find in an American midsize car. What was seriously surprising was what happened when I found the USB jack and plugged my phone in to charge. My phone prompted me to install an app from the App Store, which is behavior I’ve seen before; I declined. And then it started CarPlay.

Apple’s CarPlay is, as promised, a simplified OS for your car’s entertainment display that rapidly did the following for me as I got ready to drive:

  1. Brought up my Apple Maps destination on the big screen, saving me the problem of driving while consulting a non-mounted phone. Safer and more convenient.
  2. Offered to read me (not show me) my text messages when new ones came in. Safer.
  3. Let the radio (which I had tuned to KEXP) play, but also offered touchscreen access to my iTunes library and to Overcast, the app I use for podcast listening. Cool, especially when the afternoon KEXP DJ threw on a set I didn’t want to listen to.

Because I didn’t install the car’s app, a few things were slightly jarring, like switching audio between FM radio and my phone’s audio. But everything else just worked. And I didn’t even play with in-car Siri yet.

Looks like CarPlay is currently supported on almost every model of car that I’d consider for my next purchase. Looking forward to it. I didn’t realize how poor the in-dash experience of my 2012 VW GTI was until I tried this.

RIP, Anita Rowland

Sad news from BoingBoing this morning: Anita Rowland, the blogmother of the Seattle blog meetups and a longtime Internet presence, has passed away at the age of 51. Her cancer finally overcame her indomitable personal strength.

I’ll always remember Anita for putting out a welcoming hand when I first started trying to find my way in the greater Seattle community outside Microsoft. I can only hope that she’s welcomed upstairs with half the hospitality she offered everyone who met her.

If you ever met Anita, or if you ever knew anyone who had cancer and no health insurance, please consider making a contribution to her medical fund as a memorial.

There are worse fates

Early start to the morning today, with a presentation that ran from 8 to noon Pacific time (I have been in Seattle for a business trip since yesterday afternoon). And then? Driving back into Seattle with KEXP on the car radio. A relatively leisurely afternoon spent checking email, working on proposals, catching up on status with the home office. And, um, lunch (rock shrimp tacos!) with a beer or two at the Hilltop Ale House.

Now at SeaTac (viva!) after making my way through an absurdly long security line, waiting for my red-eye flight back. And sitting at (drumroll) an Anthony’s, just the other side of aforementioned absurdly long security line, with a Deschutes Black Butte Porter and a plate of oysters on the way.

As a very wise man once said, who can say I am not/the happy genius of my household?

Heading back

This was an amazingly quick trip; we landed at SeaTac (Viva SeaTac!) at 12 and were at our customer’s site in Tacoma at 1:30; headed to dinner at 5; watched Tennessee lose to Ohio State (sorry, Kelsey); and now I’m up, listening to the KEXP stream and sipping French press coffee in my room and getting ready to drive back to SeaTac (Viva SeaTac!).

We had dinner last night, at the recommendation of our prospect, at the Anthony’s Seafood at Federal Way. It’s closer in decor to the Anthony’s Homeport in Kirkland than the one at Pier 66, but the food was excellent. I steered the table in the direction of some fresh-caught Alaskan halibut, then had a moment of indecision and ended up getting salmon with a fresh Dungeness crab cake. The salmon was just OK—not really the right season for it’but the crab cake was nirvana. We also had some oysters, which I could have made a meal of by themselves given a free hand with the expenses.

Hotel 1000 turned out to be fairly amazing. My sales director came down blinking after dropping his things off in his room last night, saying that it was just like some of the boutique hotels he had stayed in in New York. For my part, the shower was amazing; the wired Ethernet was great (and included in the room price, as it should be); the aforementioned French press coffee a small bit of nirvana. My only complaint is that the wireless was too slow… and that we had to leave so soon. Ah well.

Old stomping grounds

I’m back in the air today. On the agenda: a meeting in Tacoma. It will be the first time I’ve been back in the Puget Sound area since I left on my cross country trip in 2004.

I’m looking forward to our overnight stay at Hotel 1000 in Seattle. I never spent much time near Pioneer Square, but I know the area around the hotel and it should be entertaining to introduce my coworkers to the sight of the Lusty Lady sitting cheek by jowl with all the other more family-friendly attractions in that part of town.

The entropy heat death of Starbucks?

Synchronicity is coffee related blog posts from both Doc Searls and Blogorelli arriving in one’s aggregator on the same day. Granted, it was Tuesday; I’m a little behind.

Anyway: first Doc Searls pointed out Howard Schultz’s mail to his troops about how Starbucks’s growth has endangered the customer experience in its stores. Doc further opines that the “milking down” of the experience has endangered the core product.

I would concur: I thought the chain was in trouble from a soul perspective ever since, in the late 1990s, it started heavily promoting Frappucinos. Why? Because a Frappucino is a lot of ice, sugar, and milk with coffee flavoring; it’s not really a coffee drink. I believe at the time it was a creative response to a short term supply constraint (there was a big spike in coffee prices at the time), but over time the milk has drowned the coffee. Nasty-ass flavored lattés are just the logical evolution.

Still, there’s part of me that pauses when I read Doc’s recommendations. One is to “go back to real commercial espresso machines. Too many Starbucks now feature automated machines that any idiot can use. I don’t know what you call these things, but they are made to move customers through faster…” I pause when I read this, because I’m the guy who gets nervous when there are more than two people ahead of him in line at Starbucks and the line is not moving. Yesterday in the airport, in fact, there were two “baristas” (neither of whom would last a second in Seattle), who were each taking and then filling their own orders—no division of labor, no checking ahead to get drinks for the next person in line—and it took forever to get through and get my coffee. Why can’t that be sped up?

Because, of course, if you want quick coffee you don’t get to cavil about the quality of the preparation experience, or ask for the company to put in slower machines. But if you want fast coffee, why not just get McDonalds to do it? The answer is, of course, we all want to feel special, like we have a personal relationship with our coffee. What’s the best thing about going to Starbucks regularly? That the barista knows who you are and starts making your drink when you walk in the door. That is such the opposite of the mass market experience. So is the fact that I expect Starbucks to be clean, the employees to be intelligent and lively, and the other customers to be professionals. So maybe my expectations for Starbucks are classist?

Something else comes into the mix, of course: Blogorelli points to the newest East Coast trend of high service espresso bars, featuring ristretto shots, freshly roasted beans, and (most visibly) foam art on the lattes. (The article doesn’t mention it, but really good baristas can do a leaf pattern in the crema on top of a plain espresso shot even without any cream.) Having experienced this in Seattle four years ago, I can say it’s a pretty amazing difference from Starbucks and is clearly where the leading edge customer is going. So the question is, can Starbucks follow this customer?

Put another way, there are two markets for coffee drinkers: those who love coffee, and everyone else. Can Starbucks really continue to try to serve both? Or will its efforts continue to disorder its brand until it loses all momentum and is overtaken by another competitor?

The sanitation of the Starbucks mermaid

If your first introduction to Starbucks was in the last few years, you may not realize that the woman in the logo is a mermaid—or that she’s holding her tails wide open in a fertility gesture. Dead Programmer traces the evolution of the logo from 15th century fertility symbol to 21st century corporate logo and explains how it has morphed over the years.

What he leaves unexplained is what happened when the first radical leap occurred, from the brown “coffee, tea, spices” logo to the green more stylized mermaid. As I recall reading in a print article about ten years ago, this happened as part of a general brand refresh (or first brand design) that also ushered in the use of subtle “steam” graphics in the packaging, the introduction of earth-toned paints in the graphics and the stores, and just about everything you think of as the modern Starbucks iconography. This all happened about the time Starbucks made the shift from mail order coffee into retail and began to appear on the East Coast. I think the article appeared in How magazine. (I can’t find the article online, but there was a recent article about the work of the in-house Starbucks design team that does appear on the How site.)

Original link via BoingBoing.

Can you IM me now? Good!

Boing Boing: Space Needle to be converted to WiFi antenna. According to this KOMO TV story, Speakeasy (and two other firms) are teaming up to create a city-wide WiMax network that will eventually be available to individuals as well as businesses. Though I disagree with Boing Boing’s assertion that the Space Needle is a “white elephant” (the only other places with an equally cool Seattle views are Pike Place Market and Anthony’s Pier 66, and both of those have bay views rather than the incredibly cool Lake Union views), I can’t argue with the following:

Quinn Norton first observed that looking at some big weird chunk of metal (say, a Stanford radio-telescope) and saying “That would make a great WiFi antenna” is the twenty-first century equivalent of pointing at every hollow object and opining “that would make a great bong.”

Crossing paths

Dave has moved to Seattle just as I moved back to Boston. Come on, man, cut it out! This is twice now we’ve crossed paths

He asks for advice today about places to eat in the market. Here’s my comment, reposted from his blog and annotated with past experiences from mine:

I like the Pike Place Brewery—their beers are outstanding and the pub cuisine is good. For fish, honestly just go to the Market Grill and get a salmon sandwich—spicy. It’s hot sitting at the grill and you have to wait a while but it’s outstanding.

For the best sunset and happy hour appetizers, Maximilien’s has a great view of the sound and an assortment of fantastic $2.50 plates, including really excellent mussels and pate.

Outside the market I like Etta’s—next block over, great seafood creatively done—and Anthony’s Pier 66, down on the waterfront.

Heh. I thought I had more links than that. I never once wrote about Pike Place Brewery or Maximilien’s… To make up for it, here are bits about some restaurants I didn’t mention in the comments: Zoë and Wasabi Bistro.

Hitting the road

Unveiling time: I’m moving back to Boston. Starting Saturday, I’ll be doing a cross-country drive from the Seattle suburbs to the Boston suburbs (with a several day layover with my inlaws in New Jersey).

This has been in the works for a while, but for various reasons I didn’t think the time was appropriate to break the news. Now I’m packing up from my temporary digs; I got the car checked out; and I have my Triptik and my copy of Roadfood. I’m ready to go.

Returning to Boston is a little bit of a dream come true for Lisa and me, because it’s much closer to both our parents and my extended family, and because quite frankly we love the town. Plus we like Dunkin Donuts and heavy snow.

Finally, I have to point out the irony that I’m moving back to Boston just as Dave Winer has finished his stint at Harvard and is looking for a new gig elsewhere, since Dave moved to Boston just a few months after I left. I’m not stalking you, Dave, honest. I’m actually stalking David Weinberger. (Joke, folks. Laugh.)

What I did on the hottest day of the year

loback meat co. quality always

I spent what I can only hope will be Seattle’s hottest day this year touching base with some old tourist landmarks, beginning with the Pike Place Market. I came away with four good photos to reward my Saturday sweat.

The a cappella quartet in front of the original Starbucks in the first picture should be publicly acknowledged Seattle treasures. I first saw them in 2001 when Lisa and I went to our first Mariners’ game, and they can be found alongside Pike’s Place most summer weekends, even when it’s hotter than a red-assed bee outside. I especially like the Asian tourist with the Burberry hat and purse peering through the window behind the quartet. As I snapped this picture, the lead singer (leftmost) was calling out “Even at Starbucks Coffee Tea and Spices, I’m gonna let it shine.”

Loback Meat Company: Quality Always in the second picture. I always wanted to get a good clear photo of this. I didn’t want to use a flash, so I had to steady my hand to adjust for the slower shutter speed, and took three or four pictures propped against a nearby pillar. I like the backsplash of the red neon on the ceiling paint, and there’s something thematically appropriate about the steady sign contrasting with the blurred faces below.

Next is today’s silly phonecam picture, taken outside SAM (where I had just seen the Van Gogh to Mondrian exhibit). I wanted to contrast the big Borofsky sculpture with the shorts-clad tourists. (Also good in the museum this time: the two oversized Joseph Cornell hommages by Curtis Steiner and Galen Lowe; discussed at the bottom of this article on the untold story exhibition.)

Finally, the old barefoot guy in shorts. I liked this man’s face, and the baby being pulled up the hill next to him.


raped at disneyland?

Just got back from the Seattle Weblog Meetup. Lots of old familiar faces there tonight—Anita has the full list. I was bummed not to see Jake there, but I got to meet Samantha, Chaz, Ian and Mary. —Yes, Ian as in Ian Spiers of BrownEqualsTerrorist.com fame. We all had a lot of fun taking pictures of each other and then asking each other for ID as a result. (That’s a picture of Ian to the right.) Ian described his feelings of wandering around the Ballard Locks watching other tourists happily snap photos after his encounter with The Man as feeling as though he had been “raped at Disneyland”; we promptly decided that that phrase would have made a much better title for his blog.

I also met Manuel, who actually road-tripped down to LA for the opening of the SENT exhibition. I tried not to mention the exhibition, feeling somewhat photographically overshadowed with tyd, Tara, Jeff, and Flipdingo there, but Jeff was kind about the photo. Manuel and I got into a conversation about the experience at the exhibition. (In a word: alienating unless you’re in the right crowd. And no matter how tall you think Xeni is, she’s apparently taller.)

All in all, it was a pretty good time for my last Seattle weblog meetup. But that’s a story for another time.