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Rain? Weird.

You know you’ve lived in the Bay Area for awhile when you find it weird to get rain in May. We’ve had rain for four of the last five days (Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and today), and I think the last time we got this much rain late in May might have been the year we moved here. When everyone exclaimed how weird it was to get lots of rain in late May, and we (moving from Atlanta) wondered what the heck they were talking about. But it is unusual; this could very well be the last rain we get until September or October.

The rain today has been a series of showers; every time I think it’s finally stopped and cleared up, another shower seems to roll in. I did manage to sneak my run in during a break, but it started raining again just as I came indoors (I’ll confess to feeling pleased at my timing). And in fact it’s sprinkling again now; clearly we’re still not out of the rain bands.

We did take advantage of the cool, rainy day to do lots of cooking. Kate made chili and soup, and I made carne adovada using Milk Street’s recipe. We’ve made it once before and it’s quite tasty (and makes a ton of food), but it requires over 5 hours of cooking time (granted lots of that time isn’t active; it’s soaking the chiles for 30 minutes, marinating the pork for an hour, cooking for almost four hours, etc.). That makes it perfect for a day when you mainly want to stay indoors and kick back with your oven making your kitchen nice and toasty. Like today.

Monet exhibit at the DeYoung

This weekend we caught the Monet: The Late Years exhibit at the DeYoung. It includes paintings from the latter part of his career, roughly 1913-1926. While the majority of the paintings are of water lilies (or other flowering plants from his gardens), and they are quite lovely, I found paintings of some of his other subjects more interesting. That might be because his water lily paintings are so well known, but I think it’s also because it’s easier to compare his paintings that are part of a series when the subjects are a little more fixed in space.

In his paintings of the path under his rose arches, you can really contrast the different lighting and colors. The painting on the left feels to me like.a bright sunny day, with its bright colors and warm light. The painting on the right feels like a cloudier day with its cooler and darker colors.

The exhibit only runs through May 27, but it’s worth catching if you have the opportunity.

Pixelbook vs. Macbook Pro

Last year I picked up a Pixelbook as an experiment to see if it would simplify business travel by allowing me to bring a single device I could use for both work and personal tasks (previously when I’ve traveled for business I’ve generally brought my work laptop and a personal tablet). I haven’t had many opportunities to try out that idea yet (although I have a couple coming up soon), but I have been splitting my time between the two, so I do have a few thoughts about the two.

First, I found that I missed Mac apps less than I expected. Good Android applications for tablets are still sadly pretty scarce (and the relative scarcity of good Android tablets isn’t helping), but most services I use have a good web equivalent, so there isn’t too much I’ve missed. Heck, even iCloud has a pretty good website, so I can still access my Apple email and calendar on my Pixelbook. I think the application I miss the most is Things, since it doesn’t sync to Android or have a web app. And I haven’t found a service that works across iOS and Android that I like as much.

Second, I greatly prefer the Pixelbook keyboard to the MBP keyboard. I don’t buy Apple’s excuse that they needed to ruin their keyboard in the name of thinness; the Pixelbook is really thin and yet manages to have a really good keyboard.

Third, it’s really useful to be able to access both personal and work accounts on the Pixelbook. There have been a few times where I’ve worked from home using it, and between Linux support and Chrome Remote Desktop I’m nearly set for work tasks. As soon as they add support for adb support over a USB connection I’ll be able to do pretty much everything I need.

The one thing I really don’t like about the Pixelbook is that its battery drains noticeably even when off. I can turn the device off and come back to it in a few days to discover it’s lost ~20% of its charge. Contrast that to the MBP, which might lose a few percent.

My suspicion is that the drain is related to the processing that the Pixelbook is doing to allow you to check the battery level even when it’s powered off: you can double tap on the sides or top to show the current power level. Because they need to be able to respond to taps, they need to continuously sample and process the device accelerometer. Hence continuous power drain.

If that is the reason for the steady drain when powered off, then it’s reflective of really poor decision-making by the device team. I have used that feature exactly never, so would trade it for NOT draining power when I’ve turned the device off in a heartbeat. Heck, if the device didn’t slowly lose power when off then there’d be less need to check the power level in the first place.

The Pixelbook does charge pretty quickly, and if you’re using it daily then the drain isn’t that big a deal. Still, it reflects a trade-off that I don’t think the team should have made.

If I had to get just one, which one would I get? Well, working at Google makes the Pixelbook arguably more versatile than the Macbook Pro, since I can easily use it for both work and personal tasks. If I didn’t work at Google and couldn’t leverage that capability, though, I’d probably go with the Macbook Pro. As with all things, the best choice depends on your preferences and your particular situation.

And my aging Jetta

And as long as I’m talking about aging things, I’m reminded that my Jetta is now roughly 16 years old (I got my smog inspection today, and I was pleased / vaguely surprised it passed with flying colors). Part of the reason it’s survived this long is that I put very little mileage on it these days since I bike to work. For awhile now weekly trips to the local Farmer’s Market have been all that I’ve really done with it. As a result, it’s not too far above 100,000 miles (despite a few years working for IBM Research when I was commuting 40 miles a day with it). It’s definitely starting to get a bit worn, though. The trunk lock broke awhile back and I haven’t had a chance to get it fixed, one of the door locks tends to stick, and the upholstery isn’t as tight as it used to be.

On the bright side, it’s survived long enough that we’re using it to teach our daughter how to drive. I suspect she’s not totally pleased, though, since it’s a manual transmission. She’ll definitely be happy to know how to drive stick once she’s good at it, but she’s not exactly enjoying the learning process a ton. Driving is certainly easier if you don’t have to worry about stalling your vehicle. Luckily the South Bay area is pretty flat, so she doesn’t have to worry too much about starting on hills.

My aging Tab S2 8.0

I have a Tab S2 8.0 that I use nearly every day for reading (I also have a Kindle, but unless I’m reading outside I tend to prefer the tablet because I can do the occasional other task with it, and it’s a lot more responsive if I want to search the book text or refer back to something). The tablet is almost 3 years old now, and the battery is starting to show its age. Sadly there isn’t a good small Android tablet to replace it with; a quick survey of currently available tablets shows that the latest Android OS for any of them appears to be Nougat, which is pretty dang old (for those keeping score at home, Android 10 is dropping this year). And those tablets that are available don’t tend to be premium devices; the display and build qualities tend to be fairly low.

Unless something changes, I may end up replacing it when the battery finally goes with an iPad mini 4. Apple finally updated it this year, so while the physical design didn’t change (those bezels are enormous), at least it’s got an up-to-date processor inside and runs the latest OS (something Apple is better at in general anyway). That wouldn’t be the worst thing, but I do like to support the home team when I can.

San Juans: vacation part two

When I was a grad student I spent a summer interning at Microsoft Research. At that time Microsoft gave interns $300 to buy a bike to encourage us to bike to work instead of driving, so many of us had bikes. One of the interns also had a pickup truck, so one weekend a bunch of us threw our bikes in the back of his truck and headed to Anacortes to catch a ferry to the San Juan Islands. We biked around Orcas Island for the day, and then caught an inter-island ferry to poke around Friday Harbor on San Juan Island before heading back to the mainland. I really enjoyed the day; I like spending time on the ocean, and I find the outdoors in the Pacific Northwest lovely, so it hit two of my favorites.

I’ve always wanted to go back, but a good opportunity never really presented itself until this year. When considering how we might spend our daughter’s spring break, I brought up the possibility of visiting the San Juans and combining it with visiting another city. We’d just visited Vancouver last summer, so that was out. Seattle was a possibility (we lived there for awhile and could visit with old friends), but in the end Victoria won out.

After spending several days in Victoria, we caught a ride to Sidney and boarded a Washington State Ferry to Friday Harbor. The ferry was a total blast from the past; I don’t think they’ve update the interiors since I visited the San Juans in the 90s. The linoleum floors and fluorescent lighting really made my nostalgic for that previous visit.

I don’t think Washington has updated the interiors of these ferries since the 90s
The San Juan Islands: still pretty

The ride to Friday Harbor took a bit over an hour, with pretty scenery all the way. Friday Harbor hadn’t changed too much from what I remembered; there were a few more buildings and many had been updated, but otherwise the downtown looked much the same.

Downtown Friday Harbor

We’d opted to stay at the Bird Rock Hotel right in downtown. It turned out to be a good choice: centrally located, nicely appointed, free breakfast, and we got a suite so that our daughter could have her own room (increasingly important as she gets older).

Our first day we just wandered around town and then kicked back and read at a coffee shop right on the water. The next day turned out to be drizzly on and off (our only day of stereotypically drizzly Pacific Northwest weather), so we started out by visiting the Whale Museum. After that we opted to hop on the inter-island ferry and ride it between the islands (Orcas, Shaw, Lopez, and then back to Friday Harbor). Since the inter-land ferry is free for walk-on passengers, it was a free 3 hour boat tour of the islands.

Riding the inter-island ferry on a drizzly day
A ferry in the distance heads back to Anacortes

The next day the weather cleared right up, so we borrowed three of our hotel’s bikes (they have beach cruisers for guests to use), bought sandwiches from the Spring Street Deli, and rode the Pear Point Loop. The ride was roughly 6 miles and relatively flat, although we missed having gears on a few of the hills (why do people like fixies so much?). We stopped off on Jackson Beach for lunch, and we periodically pulled off the road to enjoy the scenery.

One of the things I often wonder when visiting a place on vacation is whether I could live there full time. I really like the San Juans; they’re a lovely place to visit. And I could totally see myself spending a few months there: spending time outdoors, relaxing and writing, writing a bit of code with a view of the ocean. But I’m not sure I could live there for a sustained period; after awhile the smallness of whatever island I was on would probably get to me. And then there’s the need to hop a ferry anytime you actually want to go anywhere.

But even if I couldn’t really imagine living there full-time, the San Juan Islands are a lovely place to visit.

Friday Harbor at sunset

Victoria: vacation part one

Our daughter had her spring break this past week, and this year we opted to head to the Pacific Northwest. We started in Victoria, where we rented an apartment in downtown via Airbnb. It was in a great location: easy walks to different points around downtown, and lots of tasty restaurants nearby.

I’d visited Victoria once before when UIST was held there in 2009. I didn’t have a lot of time to look around, though, so I was happy to visit it again. One of our daughter’s friends is Canadian, so she came with a list of things she had to do: eat poutine, get a farmer’s wrap and timbits from Tim Horton’s, drink some iced tea, buy some ketchup chips, and visit Roots.

Victoria strikes me as a smaller version of Seattle or Vancouver; it still has that Pacific Northwest vibe, but it’s a lot smaller than both cities. The inner harbor is more intimate, it’s easier to walk most places you’d want to go, and you aren’t overwhelmed with possible things to do (which has both upsides and downsides).

We started our first full day by walking around the harbor, checking out the BC Parliament building, and visiting the Royal BC Museum. The museum had a nice display of First Nations art, as well as displays on the environment in British Columbia and the European settlement of the area. The latter two exhibits were interesting; they made heavy use of immersive spaces to try to communicate what it was like to visit an area or live during a particular era. I enjoyed them; it was a bit like a cross between a more conventional static display and a Disney-esque recreation (some of the areas were even scented to enhance the illusion.

An exhibit on BC coastal climates
The Victoria era in the Royal BC Museum

After lunch (the fish and chips at Red Fish Blue Fish are amazing) and a little shopping on Government St (our daughter got her Roots visit in), Kate and I walked down to Beacon Hill Park. The park was pretty and it was a nice day. Parts of it reminded me of Central Park in New York, which probably isn’t surprising since the designers apparently drew inspiration from it.

Beacon Hill Park

The next day we visited Craigdarroch Castle, a mansion built by coal baron Robert Dunsmuir. It wasn’t actually a castle; it apparently acquired the nickname because of it’s prominent turret. It was fun to explore, though, and the sitting areas on each level of the tower seemed like they’d be great areas to sit and read.

Craigdarroch Castle
Two sitting areas in the tower off the main stair

After the castle we stopped by the Victoria Public Market. It was essentially a food hall, like those that have become trendy in other cities. It’s clearly targeted at a lunchtime crowd; most places seemed to close at 5, which was unfortunately (otherwise we totally would have come back for dinner).

Then we walked over to Victoria’s Chinatown, which is the oldest in Canada and the second oldest in North America (after San Francisco’s). It was nicer than Vancouver’s (which surprisingly seemed to be a rather sketchy area), but fairly small; San Francisco’s is a lot bigger and more interesting.

While we didn’t see everything (lacking a car we opted to skip Butchart Gardens), with two full days and a partial day we caught the things we wanted to see. Victoria is small enough that three days seemed to be just about right. On our fourth day we headed to Sidney and caught the Washington State Ferry to the San Juans.