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Back to Alcatraz

Six years after our initial visit we finally made it back to Alcatraz. My wife’s father was in town, and since he’s interested in all sorts of history we took him to Alcatraz. We still didn’t manage to make it to the island early (our daughter had her first cavity filling, so we couldn’t catch a boat until the afternoon), but with the partial government shutdown I think they’d canceled all the walking tours anyway. Maybe next time (and I still think it’d be fun to do a night tour).

Visiting the island is still fun: history, views of the bay, nature and wildlife. This time my daughter decided to get her own audio guide; last time she didn’t grab one, but then ended up monopolizing my wife’s shortly into the tour. So this time both of them got to enjoy the whole audio tour.

The cost of repairs

My front derailleur cable started to fray last week, so this week I took advantage of Google’s on-site bike repair (they have a couple of providers, and I went through The Bike Doctor because I’ve gotten good service from them before).

I’ve only had to get my bike repaired a few times in the 10+ years I’ve owned it (a few frayed cables, replacing my brakes), and every time I’m reminded that one of the many benefits of riding your bike to work is the cost savings versus driving.

In California it costs me rough $40 to fill up my car with gas. An oil change typically costs $60. A tune-up plus associated small repairs? A couple hundred.

Replacing the cable on my bike and getting a general tune-up in the process? $70 and change. And that’ll pretty much keep me for another year or so, if previous patterns hold.

It’s good to bike to work.

iTunes on Samsung TVs

File this one under “Things I did not see coming”: Apple signed a deal with Samsung to include iTunes on newer Samsung TVs.

Makes sense in retrospect: if Apple is really trying to push Services revenue, allowing people to watch iTunes content on more devices is a logical approach. Still, it’s interesting to see Apple going with a software licensing deal rather than pushing their own hardware; I wonder what the Apple TV team thinks about the move?

Christmas in California

When people think of what Christmas looks like, they invariably think of lots of snow and pine trees. The stereotypical White Christmas. But when you live in California (unless you’re in the mountains), this is more what Christmas looks like: green grass, blue sky, the occasional palm tree.

For Christmas this year we had 60 degree weather, so we ended up going for a bike ride to get out of the house for a bit and enjoy the sun. We biked up the Stevens Creek Trail and then swung over to Google, since it makes a good spot to pause before turning around. There was a bit of a cool breeze, so I ended up being glad I brought my biking jacket. But otherwise the weather was great.

Having grown up in New York, I do occasional miss snow at Christmas. There’s something enjoyable about being surrounded by snow when you can hunker down in a warm, bright house. But I don’t miss traveling in snow (and ice); that just sucks. So I’ll take our warm, sunny winter weather and enjoy how it makes it easy to go places over the break.

Corporate holiday parties

Last night was the Google Platforms & Ecosystem holiday party. Overall it was fun; they held it at the Exploratorium, so there were plenty of activities to keep attendees entertained (the Curious Contraptions exhibit was particularly cool). There was a blues band that was quite good, and the food was tasty (although we’d expected more of it; next time we’ll eat dinner beforehand). The party had a Candyland theme, so there was everything you’d need for a sugar rush. And they very conveniently provided bus transportation from the South Bay, so we didn’t have to worry about fighting traffic or finding parking up in the city.

Holiday party at the Exploratorium

I find it interesting to compare the different holiday parties I’ve been to and what they say about who the company thinks its employees are. The Google P&E party was geared toward engineers and scientists (it was held at the science museum, after all). Samsung Research held its holiday party (the only one they held in my six years there) at the San Jose Art Museum (which was a lot of fun, since it feels more natural to dress up for an art museum than for a science museum, and looking at the art was more of a change of pace then playing with science experiments). Samsung was on a big push to grow its User Experience Center, so it made sense to choose a venue that would appeal to people interested in art and design.

IBM Research’s holiday party, by contrast, was targeted squarely at families with young kids. They held it on a Saturday afternoon, kids could get their picture taken with Santa, and they had balloon artists, face painters, and caricaturists. Plus the kids could decorate cookies, and they usually had a variety of arts and crafts activities. Our daughter always loved it and looked forward to it every year; I was squarely in their expected demographic while I worked there.

While our daughter is old enough now that we can leave her on her own while we attend a holiday party, I’d personally enjoy it if Google’s party became a more family-oriented affair. But my impression of their expected audience is that they’re primarily targeting twenty-somethings who are either single or who don’t have kids, so I’m not holding my breath on that one.

Holiday decorations at Google

The holiday decorations recent went up at Google. There’s a display right by the lobby of my building. Last year’s was somewhat forgettable (it was something with ice and penguins), I must confess that I rather like this year’s. It’s a little snowy forest scene, complete with stuffed animal deer and otters. The best part about the display is that they incorporated the comfy chairs that usually occupy that spot, so that you can kick back and get a little work done while part of your own little winter wonderland.

A decorative holiday scene at Google

IBM sells off Notes

This past week brought news that IBM is selling off Notes. I can’t decide if I’m surprised that IBM finally sold it off or that it took them so long to do so.

When I worked for IBM Research, Notes was arguably the primary focus of HCI research at IBM, since it was essentially the collaboration software at IBM. Of course, even while I was still there (I left in 2012), HCI and collaboration research were definitely in decline (it didn’t help that most of the HCI researchers I knew at IBM left for other companies in the 2010-2014 timeframe). IBM made a half-hearted attempt to create enterprise-focused social software (Connections, which looks like it may continue to exist), but data management and analysis were clearly the company’s primary focus. 

While IBM kept Notes going for a long time, it was a relic from another time. IBMers used to talk about how Notes pre-dated modern email when explaining its idiosyncrasies, as though that somehow justified continuing to stick with it (as opposed to demonstrating that first doesn’t  necessarily mean better). I can still remembering people in meetings claiming they hadn’t received a message yet, and being reminded by other participants to replicate their database (as opposed to check for new mail).

Still, it’s hard not to feel just a little nostalgic. Hopefully those folks I know who are still with IBM find interesting places with interesting work to land.