Keeping Busy

Looking back over the past couple weeks, I realized I haven’t really said a lot about my day-to-day existence here in Washington State.

I’ve pretty much fallen into the groove here. Work typically doesn’t consume much more than eight or nine hours a day; commute chews up almost two hours a day, though. (Coming into work isn’t bad: I leave the house at 7:15 and get in around 7:45. But the return trip always takes forever.)

After hours most days I heat up some leftovers and read, listen to music, or try to teach myself Perl. Sadly, I have become addicted to a few television shows as well, specifically “Whose Line Is It Anyway” and most of the shows on the Food Network.

We interns typically have about one company-sponsored after work event a week. We also generally meet up for dinner and drinks after work on Friday. This weekend we’re doing a barbecue at the swank apartments where a number of the interns are staying (sadly, my digs are a little less elegant).

Which brings me to the point of this little missive: if anyone reading this knows the recipe for Yucca Flats (also known as just yucca), can you call please before 6 pm Pacific time? I’m going to wing it, and I’m terrified I’ll forget something …

The Verdict

On the verdict

There’s been a lot of coverage of the verdict of the Microsoft case today. There were a lot of news trucks in the part of the Seattle area where I work. The web log traffic has been heavy too.

Dave Winer thinks that the decision still contains some really strong teeth against Microsoft and in favor of Independent Software Vendors (ISVs). He thinks “the judges put in writing some basic principles about how platform vendors must deal with independent developers.”

Thomas Madsen-Mygdal has been excerpting the decision of the appellate court, highlighting sections that upheld the ruling of the lower courts.

Slashdot has more than 1000 comments on their reporting of the article.

On the competition

I have some thoughts on how all this will play, but one point I have to make from the Mac-using population: the decision does throw into pretty sharp relief the issues facing the Mac platform. From the case:

The District Court found that consumers would not switch from Windows to Mac OS in response to a substantial price increase because of the costs of acquiring the new hardware needed to run Mac OS (an Apple computer and peripherals)and compatible software applications, as well as because of the effort involved in learning the new system and transferring files to its format.
Findings of Fact ¶ 20.The court also found the Apple system less appealing to consumers because it costs considerably more and supports fewer applications.

I guess that’s the challenge for Steve. He’s got a brand new operating system that has a combined heritage of 17 years of the Mac and more than 30 years in Unix. Is that enough to keep the platform from falling into irrelevancy? I’ll keep using my PowerBook until it’s pried from my fingers (or I upgrade to a new model), but I have to hope that the early burst of activity I’ve seen with new apps for the platform will help reverse some of the trends of the past few years.

The Distance of the Lonely Runner (or something)

My parents are in the process of building a house. This is a pretty big deal, since their previous house, the one in which I grew up, had been their home for almost thirty years (longer, in my Dad’s case). They started the building process late last year, after having moved to my family’s property in western North Carolina when my Dad retired.The house is its own story (and it’s one that Mom and Dad have sent out in numerous emails in the last six months), but the part I want to focus on is (naturally, and myopically, enough) where I fit in. See, I grew up in that house in Virginia. I went to school at the University of Virginia. I worked for six years in Northern Virginia (which is not quite its own separate state, although maybe it should be).

Now, within the course of eight months, I’ve moved to the Boston area for school then to Seattle for a summer job, and my parents have left Virginia for good. Only my sister is still left in the state.

What I’m coming to understand as a result of all of this is something that I never really “got” before. My family’s roots are very strongly geographic, with my Mom’s family from Lancaster County, PA, and my Dad’s from the Asheville area in North Carolina (in fact, if you look at my genealogy, you can see just how far back those roots go). As a result, I think I confused geography with family connections for many, many years. What I’ve come to realize is that there’s a much harder process than building a house that I have to do—it’s continuing to communicate and visit with the family and ensuring that those connections never drop.

It’s a much harder job than designing an enterprise software system. Or building a house. Or writing a book. But a lot of people seem to be able to do it pretty successfully. As a coworker of mine said a bit wistfully this evening, “That’s what air travel is for.” Still, it seems like no matter how far we’ve come in communications, travel, and city design, we’re still faced with the basic fact that distance makes a huge difference in how we live our lives.

Kicking squealing Gucci little piggy

Today’s update is a little disjointed, but I wanted to go ahead and post it rather than try to get it perfect.

One of the benefits of hearing a band live is that sometimes you can understand some of the lyrics to your favorite songs better. The lyric quoted in the title of today’s piece was snarled with great clarity and venom by Radiohead‘s Thom Yorke on Saturday night, during “Paranoid Android” (their “breakthrough” single from 1997’s OK Computer). And Thom did look like a paranoid android — bobbing in front of the microphone like a man possessed. The full context is “Ambition makes you look pretty ugly/Kicking squealing Gucci little piggy/You don’t remember, you don’t remember/Why don’t you remember my name?”

And the audience kind of sat there getting stoned. At least that was what was happening where we were sitting.

The Gorge, near the city of George, Washington, sits in a high natural amphitheatre overlooking the Columbia River. You can see down into the river bed for miles past the band shell. It’s the most sublime location for a concert I’ve ever seen.

Radiohead is a band that makes music that kicks back against the complicity with which we are giving up our humanity. Unfortunately I think most of the crowd on Saturday was too far gone to respond.

The new Radiohead song that won’t leave my head, “Dollars & Cents,” was given a disturbing spin on Saturday. Radiohead have made a career out of defying expectations, and originally I understood “Dollars & Cents” to dramatize pressures that the band felt to be conventional pop artists (“Be constructive with your blues…Quiet down!”). But on Saturday I thought I heard Thom sing

     We are the dollars & cents
     We are the pounds & pence
     We are the marketing men, and yeah
     We're going to crack your little souls

Words of caution to live by for an MBA student.

PS The full lyrics to “Dollars & Cents” can be found at

Well, how did I get here?

…but first, an update on all the boring tech geek stuff from yesterday: If you are a member of the site and want to subscribe to this page by email, click on the new “My Preferences” link in the left navigation area under Membership and make sure that the “Receive email bulletins?” radio button is selected.

So why am I here? I’ve found myself pretty surprised that I’ve been updating this page so frequently. When I called the post for June 11 “Quarterly Update (i)” it was only half tongue in cheek, as I hadn’t done an update before that since October 2000, and before that it was August 2000…

What I think is causing this: I haven’t really written much in a long, long time. I learned how to write in a business style when I worked at “AMS”, but the insidious downside of business writing is that it makes it very difficult to write when you don’t have a business purpose. Business writing, like scientific writing, is a very different set of muscles than writing essays (about non-business topics), poetry, record reviews, or anything else that requires independent thought. I used to write all these things, and one day I hope to do so again.

But the first lesson in writing, and the one lesson I never really learned when I was studying Poetry at Virginia, is that writing is a muscle. If you don’t exercise your ability to write, it atrophies and dies, slowly and horribly. Over the past seven years, I stopped writing poems, reviews, articles, letters, emails (except for very brief and perfunctory ones), and pretty much everything except software code and documentation.

I’m good at writing software, but it’s a very restrictive medium because it has to do something. I like my words to have a chance just to lounge around sometimes. And if they happen to let something interesting out while they’re doing it, so much the better.

So this website is where my words come to hang out. Maybe at some point soon they’ll start exercising a little bit, lose that spare tire (like I need to do), and start surprising me again like they did in college. We’ll see. While I’m waiting for that to happen, though, it’s kind of nice to know that anyone who wants to can read them any way they choose.

P.S. Again, don’t expect an update until sometime on Sunday. Four in a row is pretty good for me right now, and with my wife coming into town I think I’m going to give myself and my words a few days off. –tj

Discussion boards are live!

Just a quick note: For those who want to use the discussion boards, they’re now “live.” You can post feedback on any story, including these front page stories, and start your own discussion topics.

Apologies to all for not finding the badly set site administrative option before now — and thanks to my sister Esta for pointing it out.

So to enter the discussion, you have a couple different paths:

  1. You can click the “Comment on this item” button at the bottom of each day’s page.
  2. You can click the “Recent Discussion” link in the left, which lists all the posted discussion items in the last few days. Choose an item to read or respond to, and a response area will appear in the bottom of the page.
  3. You can click the “List by Topic” to see all the top level topics (including these stories). Clicking through to one of the topics will show you the discussion topic and all its responses, and allow you to respond.
  4. You can click the “Create New Topic” to start your own topic.


What Am I Doing in Seattle?

I’m in Seattle this summer working as a strategic development intern at A Big Software Company in the area. Having been in consulting previously at a firm that did a lot of in-house software development, I kind of wanted to see what the product-only side of the fence was like.

It’s a little more difficult than I had anticipated–for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with the job. For one thing, it’s difficult to be on the other side of the country from one’s family for a week, let alone 10. Non-obvious things get you, like the fact that you aren’t able to make most calls to the east coast past 7 PM for fear of waking someone up–and, given Seattle traffic, I generally don’t get home before 7 pm.

Then there’s that whole issue of family. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder. I haven’t seen my wife since the end of May. She’s coming to visit on Thursday night, so don’t expect any updates until Sunday…

But I’m having fun anyway as much as I can (if the earlier stories about concerts and beer didn’t make that clear). And Seattle is a really cool town. Although I could do without the sun coming up before 5 am–that’s really weird.

Sunburn and Loss

A few quick thoughts today…

  1. Contrary to popular opinion, you do sometimes need sunscreen in Seattle. I was at a beer festival Saturday and at the Fremont Fair on Sunday, and am currently the color of a boiled lobster.
  2. The radio station I listen to out here, KEXP, was playing a tribute this morning to a listener who lost a bout with cancer over the weekend. Nick Cave’s “Death is Not the End” and a cut from Lou Reed’s last really brilliant album, Magic and Loss. Makes me think: what would be your favorite way to be remembered musically? Post your answers in the discussion area.

It’s late…

…so only a quick note.

I went to see Spain tonight. More notes on the show tomorrow. The main points:

I didn’t realize I was so much of an old fogey. Another MBA intern from my company came to the show with me, and his comments were, “Please, another mellow song…” I think I was so sucked in on an emotional level to the music that I didn’t realize the main failing of Spain: if you’re in a crowded room, and Josh Haden’s vocal mic isn’t turned up enough over the mix (or is too muddy to be heard), and if a lot of people are talking in the background, then it just sounds like an extremely well-rehearsed country wedding band.

Which points out a few things:

  • I get far too deep into the music that I listen to;
  • the importance of a good sound man;
  • certain important things are best shared only with a few close friends, no matter how much fun others may be to hang out with under other circumstances.

And with that grammatical awkwardness…

Fun with Streaming

As many of you reading this page know, I’ve been a Mac user for many years, and am also a big music fan (to the tune of about 4 GB of MP3s ripped from my CDs sitting on my Powerbook’s hard drive). So when I started working at my internship this summer, I didn’t want to move all the MP3s to my work computer so I could listen to them. But I don’t have a portable MP3 player either…

I’m definitely also a big Mac OS X fan. The brainstorm I’m currently working on is setting up streaming media services on my Powerbook running OS X so that I can leave my MP3s on my personal machine and listen to them on my work machine (there was already an ethernet hub in the office when I got here, so I can bring my Powerbook in and plug it in for music). Why not just plug headphones into my Powerbook? Well, I’m not exactly in a Mac-friendly organization, so I want to be able to turn off the music from my work computer so I can tuck the Powerbook somewhere inconspicuous. Also, my middle name is “stubborn geek.”

Setting up streaming turns out to be slightly more complicated than I thought, though. There are three programs I’ve looked at so far, and each has its own issues. All the servers have a few problems in common:
(a) All the MP3s have to be the same bit rate. What a pain in the neck. I’ve encoded stuff with a bunch of different settings using multiple different encoders and I have no desire to re-encode my files…
(b) None of the servers support any client-side playlist formats. It’s pretty annoying to have to go back to foldering or some other format for listing MP3s to be played.

MP3 Streamer

This program began life as a Classic Mac OS application and has been “Carbonized” for use on Mac OS X. Its operation is theoretically simple: choose the port on which you want to stream, drop the MP3 files you want to stream into a folder, and click Run. You should then be able to connect with another computer.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get a successful connection from my Windows laptop using either Quicktime or Windows Media Player–lots of errors.


Like MP3 Streamer, this is a Carbonized application with one purpose in life–streaming MP3s. Unfortunately, like MP3 Streamer, it also doesn’t like providing music to Windows clients very much. Plays great on a Mac client pretty well, though. But it does have more serious problems:
(a) It blows up when you drag’n’drop files on top of its playlist pane.
(b) It only allows you to start it up 10 times before registering it. This is especially a problem when combined with (a).

So I moved on to look at

Quicktime Streaming Server

This is the mack daddy of streaming media servers for Mac OS X (and Solaris, and WinNT platforms, and Linux…). It’s pretty industrial strength. It’s also relatively headless–you administer it through a web page, so if you want to go and make changes from another machine, you don’t have to physically sit down at the server to make your configuration changes. However
(a) It only plays QuickTime formats natively. This means that you need to convert your MP3 files to hinted QuickTime movies before you can stream them. I’m pretty sure there’s a quick tool around somewhere to accomplish this, but it’s too bad it can’t handle MP3s natively without additional tweaking.
(b) The web admin interface is buggy, occasionally complaining about having insufficient privileges to execute certain configuration actions.

So it looks like I’ll be learning all about QuickTime movie production if I want to hear my music this summer, unless I find another alternative (Shoutcast server for BSD might be another option). Unfortunately, I also (since I’ll be listening behind a firewall) don’t think it’s going to be possible for anyone else to listen in. Oh, well. Sometimes being a stubborn geek isn’t the most rewarding path.

Of Good Beer and Bad

I make it a point to try beers that I’ve never had before whenever possible. It’s kind of the same principle that makes me want to eat tripe in Florence or beef tongue in London–both of which were pretty darn good, btw. The nice thing about beer is that rarely is even the worst stuff anywhere near as scary as the concept of beef tongue.

Le Mal

One exception was a fine brew made by a former housemate of mine. Those of you who have the misfortune to have a friend, relative, spouse, or close acquaintance with more beery enthusiasm than skill know what’s coming and can skip ahead.

After a day of the 1996 version of the snow “storm of the century,” and being thoroughly unable to move my car, my housemates and I decided to empty the fridge of all drinkables instead. There were a few OK beers, which were passed around for tasting in an early 1970s Polynesian-restaurant tiki glass (now in the possession of Jim Heaney). Then we started hitting the bottles with no labels.

It is indicative of the state of our minds that we took a minute to remember that our former housemate Dina, who had left us in the late summer of 1995, had experimented with making beer with her then-boyfriend, now-husband Ian. Both had pretty impeccable scientific credentials, and with much excitement they put away some beer and some hard cider. There were two bottles of each left in our fridge six months later.

We were lucky and hit the cider first. I say “lucky” because the pure alcohol left in the bottles by the yeast they had never removed prior to bottling numbed our taste buds for what was to come. Then we tried the beer. To this day, I can’t remember what it tasted like, only that it cured my desire to make beer for good.

Le Bien

Fortunately, if the brewers at New Belgium Brewing ever had this experience, they moved past it. Michael Jackson (the beer hunter, not the “king” of pop) isn’t kidding when he says that their Trippel has “a huge, earthy floweriness.” If I hadn’t bought the beer myself I wouldn’t have believed it to be an American brew. Figures I had to go to Seattle to find this Colorado gem.

More beer notes to come after the Washington Brew Fest this weekend.

Quarterly Update (i)

I had planned on updating this page more often than once every nine months, but sometimes school and work seem like a more pressing responsibility than maintaining a web log. See the FAQ for other updates.

Two quick thoughts:

1. OK, so I haven’t visited either of them more than once or twice in the past six months, but I’m still depressed that Suck and Feed are gone. Plastic isn’t really an adequate replacement (though it will be if Polly Esther can continue to write her stuff somewhere else…) See the full story many places online, including The Industry Standard.

2. Listening to Radiohead‘s Amnesiac for the third or fourth time this morning in the car on the way to work in the pouring rain with no coffee and indigestion makes me think of that famous question that the head of Atlantic Records asked of Peter Gabriel on hearing the “melting face” album: “Has Peter been hospitalized?” But bits of it are so pretty. I am more tempted than ever to try to figure out a way to translate the music into something that can be performed by a mixed a cappella group just for the sheer challenge of humanizing it.