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Free as in loader

One of the discussions in the software community is around the different meanings of free: is that free as in beer, or free as in speech? But there’s another type of free that also relates to many of software’s users: free as in loader. That’s the group of users that complains how a $2 app is overpriced, and they’d never pay that much.

It’s trendy at the moment to complain about software that adopts the freemium (particularly the pay to play) model or relies on advertising for income. But guess what: if you refuse to pay for apps, those are the models that you’re driving developers to use. Developers need to make a living too; they’re not writing all that amazing software just out of the goodness of their hearts. Developers would largely be more than happy to just charge a one-time price that gives them a fair profit. But if you refuse to pay for apps, then developers must find other ways to make money. Hence freemium and ads.

So the next time you’re ready to complain about how if you’re not the customer you’re the product, consider why you aren’t the customer. If it’s because you don’t want to pay but still want to use the service, what exactly did you expect to happen?

Book choices based on travel

When I was younger I used to go through books at a rapid clip (and my wife still does), but between work and family life I no longer have as much time to read. Often I’m choosing what to read from an accumulated backlog of things I decided to read at some point and just haven’t gotten to yet. But the book I just finished and the book I’m reading now are recent choices based on summer travel.

When we were finishing up our Paris vacation, Amazon had a Kindle Daily Deal for The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure, and on a whim I picked it up (it was, after all, roughly the same price as the baguette I bought from the boulangerie across the street). It was enjoyable, if not particularly deep. A good summer read, I would say.

And then on a work trip to Hong Kong in July I happened to remember James Clavell’s Asian Saga, much of which I read as a teenager. In particular, I remembered that Tai-Pan took place during the founding of Hong Kong. While only loosely based on actual history, I decided it might be a fun re-read (although to be honest, it’s been long enough since I read it that at this point it’s almost like reading it afresh; I barely remember any of the details). So far it’s been enjoyable, but then I’ve only just started to get into it. I’m curious how my perception of it will differ, if at all, now that I’ve actually visited Hong Kong.

Our annual Aquarium sleepover

I mentioned last year that sleeping over at the Monterey Aquarium was an annual tradition for my daughter and me. This weekend we upheld that tradition once again, for what might have been the 10th time (we haven’t kept strict track, but I think we’re somewhere around there). We did shake things up in one way: we changed our sleeping location.

Last year the Aquarium moved to reservations for the different sleeping areas (which I still think was a good idea). This year by the time I got tickets the area we’ve always slept (the Open Seas exhibit) was full, so we opted for the Ocean’s Edge instead (it’s the area on the 1st floor with the Kelp Forest and the exhibits of sea life around Monterey itself).

Overall I liked the new location. We didn’t get the bubble wall and the big fish zooming by our heads, but we did end up in a nice nook by the big Monterey exhibit, so we still got plenty of fish viewing. And the area was noticeably quieter than the Open Seas (which has a fair amount of light and white noise from the big exhibit).

Indian-Spiced Pork Burgers

Between our vacation in Europe and my business trip to Hong Kong, we haven’t tackled many new recipes recently. Today we finally made some time to try out one of the Tuesday Night recipes from our latest issue of Milk Street Magazine: Indian-spiced pork burgers.

We admittedly weren’t sure whether we were going to like them or not. The idea of applying Indian spices (primarily a combination of garam masala, paprika, and cumin) to a burger seemed like it go either way: tasty or downright scary. They actually ended up on the tasty side, particularly when served with a little yogurt, mint, and tomato for topping. And they’re relatively easy to make as well (in the spirit of a Tuesday Night recipe): mix the spices into a paste, work it into the ground pork, rest the patties in the fridge for 15 minutes, and then cook ’em.


We spent the rest of our two weeks in Europe in Paris (a bonus of visiting Paris after Switzerland: it makes Paris seem cheap). We again rented an apartment (in the 7th) via Airbnb; I’ve grown to prefer staying in homes and apartments on vacations because it gives us access to a kitchen. That means that we don’t have to eat every meal out at a restaurant, and it allows us to relax over a cup of coffee without needing to first make ourselves presentable. Our apartment in Paris had a view of the Eiffel Tower and Les Invalides, it had a small grocery store on the same block, and there was a tasty boulangerie across the street (score!).

We did all the usual touristy things, since it was our daughter’s first trip to Paris and only my second: visit the Louvre, walking through the Tuilleries, see lots of churches (St. Chapelle, Notre Dame – the outside at least, Sacre Couer, St. Sulpice), visit the Pantheon, walk through the a bit of the Jardin du Luxembourg), visit Shakespeare & Co., etc.

You can’t visit Paris and not see the Louvre

The parts that I enjoyed the most (well, aside from the always tasty food) were those that were new to me. On my previous trip I didn’t get a chance to visit the Eiffel Tower, but this time we were within walking distance, so we visited it and the Champ de Mars a couple of times, as well as actually going up the tower.

The Eiffel Tower at sunset

While stereotypically touristy, we did a lunch boat ride along the Seine with Bateaux Parisiens that was a lot of fun (and the food was very tasty). After all the walking around we did, it was also very nice to just sit and relax and enjoy seeing the city without having to move.

Our lunch cruise along the Seine

We also caught a train to visit Versailles. While the palace was impressive, I actually found the grounds more interesting. They were immense; I personally thought the grounds did a better job communicating the power of the king than the palace did. If we go back, next time we’ll have to skip the palace and rent bikes to explore more of the grounds; even walking through them for several hours we only saw a small fraction of them. I’d also like to catch the gardens when they have the fountains turned on (to save water they only turn the fountains on during certain days).

Looking out into the gardens at Versailles

While the weather was cooler in Paris (we only caught the tail end of the heat wave: it was 100 the day we arrived, but otherwise it was mostly in the upper 70s and lower 80s), the next time we visit Paris I’d like to do it in the fall or spring to enjoy some crisp, cool days (and escape some of the crush of tourists). UIST was in Paris in 2002 (apparently the theme of this vacation was revisiting prior UIST locations) at the end of October, and the weather was great (or at least that’s how I remember it), so maybe that’s the timeframe we should aim for (once our daughter goes off to college, of course).


In 2006 UIST (one of the big HCI research conferences) was held in Montreux. I thought the area was gorgeous, and I’ve always wanted to revisit the area. This year for our summer vacation we spent 2 weeks in Europe, and we spent part of that time in Lausanne.

We rented an apartment via Airbnb in Ouchy, the waterfront district. We had a great view from our apartment of the lake and the mountains beyond in France. It was conveniently located, too; the Ouchy metro stop was roughly a block away, there was grocery store two blocks away, the ferry stop was roughly three blocks away, and there were plenty of restaurants around.

Our view

We spent a lot of time exploring along the lake and relaxing, but we also made time to hit some of the sights. We spent a day exploring the old city center, including the cathedral and some old town squares. We had a lengthy and tasty lunch, got in some walking, and did a little shopping.

We also caught a ferry down south of Montreux to explore Castle Chillon. I’d been there during UIST in Montreux (we had a visit to the castle one evening), but we were only able to explore part of the castle then. It was nice to be able to look around it in more detail and to learn more about the castle’s history. Plus the castle was quite cool (all that stone), which was particularly nice since our trip to Switzerland coincided with a big heat wave in Europe (it was near 90 most days we were in Switzerland).

Castle Chillon

The ferry ride was very enjoyable as well. The breeze on the lake kept us cool, and we enjoyed views of Montreux (I saw the hotel I stayed in for UIST), the other towns and cities along the lake, and the Lavaux vineyards (a UNESCO World Heritage site).

A view of Montreux from our ferry

The next day we caught a train to Chexbres (I really enjoy train travel in Europe; they do public transportation so much better than we do in the US) and hiked down through the vineyards to St. Saphorin. It was extremely hot; I’m glad we chose to hike down the hill instead of up! But the views of the lake, the vines, and the mountains beyond were amazing, and St. Saphorin was a picturesque little village right on the lake. We stopped for lunch at the Cafe le Raisin, which was very tasty (the only drawback to visiting Switzerland is that it has a well-deserved reputation for being expensive; lunch for three at a small cafe would routinely cost us US$150-160).

Hiking down through the Lavaux vineyards

Overall the trip to Lausanne was amazing, and I’d love to go back to explore more of the region. But next time I’d like to visit in the fall, to beat some of the summer heat and enjoy the views when the air isn’t so hazy.

Visiting Hong Kong

I’m visiting Hong Kong for work, and I think the best thing I’ve done so far is the Star Ferry ride from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island at sunset. Ridiculously cheap (something like US$0.25), and great views of both sides of the bay.