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Looking forward to Google I/O this week

I’m looking forward to Google I/O this week. I’ve been to I/O in the past as an attendee, but this is my first time seeing it from the other side of the fence. There’s obviously a lot of prep work that goes into it; colleagues have been heads down recently getting things ready and applying the last bit of polish. As you might be able to tell from the announced session line-up Google has some interesting things to share; I’m very curious to see how things are perceived and received.

It’s also to see some of the logistics of holding I/O at Shoreline. Google’s Mountain View campus and Shoreline are stick in a bit of a cul-de-sac; there are limited ways in and out, so things can go to hell when there’s a lot of traffic. We actually got email this week asking folks not to drive in before 10 to help alleviate some of the morning (and pre-conference) rush. I bike to work, so it won’t affect me (and Bike to Work Day in the Bay Area is Thursday, so that should help too), but it’ll be interesting to see how the roads look (as I breeze by in the bike lane). I will note that there will be bike parking at I/O, so if you’re attending you might consider biking too (the Stevens Creek Trail makes it really easy to get to Shoreline, the weather is supposed to be lovely this week).

I’m also curious to see what traffic on campus is going to be like. The Shoreline Amphitheater is actually a bit away from campus, but I’m sure we’re going to get a fair number of people wandering over to look around. We get a fair number of tourists who stop by to take pictures of the buildings, the Android statues, and themselves riding the Google bikes (which drives security nuts; I suspect it’s a liability issue). Will we get an order of magnitude more this week? It’ll be interesting to find out.

The fun kicks off on Tuesday.

Let’s go A’s

When we first moved to the Bay Area we decided to become fans of the Oakland Athletics, rather than the San Francisco Giants. There were several reasons for it:

  • Giants fans take themselves way too seriously. The Giants have been relatively good over the last 15 years (winning a couple of World Series and all), and as a result Giants fans seem to expect the team to do well and get all bent of out shape when they don’t. By contrast, the A’s have been lousy for quite awhile, so no one minds that much if they lose (and are always pleasantly surprised when they win).
  • A’s tickets are way cheaper than Giant’s tickets. That’s partly due to the relative track records of the teams and the relative quality of the stadiums (although the brutalism of the Coliseum does have a certain retro charm now), but I suspect it’s also due to the fact that San Francisco has a lot more money than Oakland. Cheap tickets made it easier to catch more games, and since we started going to games when our daughter was still young it didn’t make a lot of sense to pay more for tickets when she didn’t really care who was playing.
  • It’s more fun to root for the underdog. This one’s just a personal preference; your mileage may vary.

As our daughter has gotten older we’ve stuck with the A’s. They’re still not that good, but the tickets are still pretty cheap, and they’re still fun to root for. The hardest part is accepting that you can’t get too attached to any particular player, because if they start doing well the A’s will trade them away.

This weekend we caught our first A’s game of the season, motivated in part by a desire to catch a game while Matt Chapman is still with the team (he’s been doing great at 3rd, although he’s in a bit of a batting slump at the moment). Plus they were playing the Orioles, who are even worse than the A’s this year, so they had a decent chance of winning. Overall the game was fun. It was a defensive battle: we reached the end of the 9th inning still tied 0-0, with the A’s having only gotten 2 hits and the Oriole’s 5. Extra baseball for our baseball dollar.

The 10th and 11th remained scoreless (the Oriole’s starting pitcher lasted the full 9 innings, and their first reliever was similarly killing us). But in the bottom of the 12th Jed Lowrie got a single, followed by Khris Davis (so stereotypically) knocking in a walk-off home run. It’s frankly surprising Davis is still with the team; the A’s would usually have traded him at least a year or two ago now. The team management has made some rumblings about stopping the trading of all of their good players, so maybe it’s a sign of change. Or maybe they’re just waiting for the right offer (my personal bet).

Regardless, the game was a fun way to spend a Saturday evening outside in nice weather. And hey, we got Black Panther bobbleheads too!

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NYC trip with the Pixel 2 XL

This week is the first long trip I’ve taken with the the Pixel 2 XL (after the short trip to Santa Cruz in February. Previously I’d always relied on my iPhone while traveling, since it always took better pictures than whatever Samsung phone I was using at the time. But time with the Pixel camera convinced me it was just as good as the iPhone camera, so this time I opted to bring the Pixel (it admittedly helped that I was traveling to a Google conference at a Google office).

View from the 14th floor of Google NYC

The Pixel performed great on the trip. As usual I got some great shots (the picture shows the view from the 14th floor of Google’s NYC office). Battery life was awesome; I don’t think I ever used more then 33% of my battery on any day, even when not spending time at Google NYC ((I still regularly get 4 days at home, although that’s helped by the amount of time I spend with Wifi access). Project Fi coverage was fast and comprehensive. I discovered a new feature in Chrome on the trip: it automatically saved the page with my boarding pass for offline access, so that I didn’t have to worry about it being bumped out of the cache or spotty network access at airport security.

And of course it was invaluable having access to the usual suite of Google apps. What would I do if I couldn’t quickly check what the various cafes were serving in order to choose where to have breakfast?

So overall the Pixel performed spotlessly on the trip, and I’ll likely be bringing it as the default on future trips (particularly for International travel; the international data access on Project Fi is another big benefit).

UXE conf at Google NYC

This week I attended the 2nd annual UXE (UX Engineer) conference. The UXE role is still fairly new at Google; there are only around 250-300 of us overall. So the conference was a chance to meet other UXEs (although the Bay Area has the largest concentration, there are lots of folks in other areas) and learn a bit about what they’re doing. It was also a chance to see the Google NYC offices. I have to say they are quite nice. It helps that earthquakes aren’t really an issue on the East Coast, so they can (and have) build taller. But it also feels a bit like other locations try a bit harder to provide luster to the space; Mountain View may not try as hard since they have some default luster from being the primary location. I could definitely seeing myself exploring the possibility of working at the NYC offices a few years down the road.

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A view from the 11th floor of Google’s 111 8th Ave office.

Overall the conference was worthwhile. I met a bunch of new people and learned about some tools that might be useful in my own work. The most valuable part of the conference, however, might have been the one day workshop exploring how to grow the UXE role. Lots of good discussion and ideas bounced around.

California’s National Parks

I finished my first pass through Treasured Lands today, and I’ve already identified several new National Parks I’d like to visit (adding to the existing set of those I already knew I wanted to see). Looking through the book also reminded me how much I’ve enjoyed previous visits to National Parks, and in particularly how lucky we are in the West to have relatively easy access to some truly spectacular parks. One of the great things about living in the Bay Area is that some of my favorite parks are within a day’s drive.

Yosemite is hands-down my favorite park. Most people just spend a day in the park, driving around the valley and making a few stops. But to really appreciate the park you need to stay for several days and go for some of the longer hikes. Walking along the valley in the morning or evening, hiking up to the top of Yosemite falls, hiking up the Mist Trail to Vernal (and then on to Nevada) Falls, and hiking down from Glacier Point to Illilouette Falls all provide amazing views of the valley and the surrounding mountains. And that’s just listing a few possibilities within the valley itself.

View of Half Dome and falls from Glacier Point


Sequoia National Park, farther south along the Sierra Nevadas, is impressive as well, although for slightly different reasons. While it also provides some amazing views of the surrounding mountains and the foothills leading to the Central Valley, the sequoia trees are more of the draw. We’ve only been to Sequoia once, but with just a few days we went on multiple hikes with amazing (and quite varied) views. Sequoia is proximate to Kings Canyon National Park, but we spent minimal time in that park on our trip. Our plan is that on our next visit we’ll concentrate on exploring that park.

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Joshua Tree is also a favorite, but in a very different way. While both Yosemite and Sequoia are very lush and green (except when California is undergoing yet another drought), Joshua Tree is beautiful in a much more sparse, desolate way. The rock formations are beautiful in the morning and evening light, and the Joshua trees and other native vegetation stand out by virtue of the empty landscape. I suspect I wouldn’t find it nearly as enjoyable in the summer, but in the spring the park is amazing to visit.

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We’ve also visited Pinnacles National Park, the Point Reyes National Seashore, and driven through Death Valley. One day I’d like to catch the spring wildflower blooms in Death Valley, but after looking through Treasured Lands I’m leaning toward visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park next (well, after Kings Canyon). The landscapes look amazing, and it draws fewer people than the more prominent parks in California.

Fridays and Talks at Google

Fridays are my favorite day at Google. Lots of Googlers work from home on Friday (to the extent that I’m occasionally tempted to send out a WFO email to counterbalance all the WFH emails: “I’ll be working from the office today and attending meetings in person. Available via all the usual means.”), so it’s nice and quiet, and it’s really easy to get into a groove and be really productive. Plus Google has great spaces to work outdoors, so with the warmer weather you can grab a table in the shade and enjoy the fresh air. Samsung Research had nice buildings, but they didn’t really have any good places to work outside (it didn’t help that their campus is right near 101 across from Moffett).

I also really enjoy the Talks at Google series; they aren’t kidding when they call it one of Google’s most beloved perks.Today Niall Ferguson gave a very enjoyable talk on his most recent book The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook. Given the recent controversy around the influence of social networks on the 2016 election and subsequent developments, I found the talk interesting enough that I grabbed a copy of his book in order to read further.

Last week Kyle Van Houtan gave a talk on the new Ocean Memory Lab at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, discussing various approaches they’ve taken to better understand our oceans by coming up with new ways to fill in the gaps in historical data (for example, using isotope analysis of seabird feathers from museum collections to explore how seabird diets have changed over time, which provides clues as to how fish populations have changed over time).

And I’m still sad that I had to miss QT Luong’s talk on his book Treasured Lands two weeks ago (I had a schedule conflict with a meeting I needed to attend). Just looking at his book online was enough for me to buy up a copy: the pictures of the National Parks are gorgeous. I intend to use it as a sort of “shopping guide” to figure out which National Parks to visit next (Great Basin is a strong contender: it looks beautiful, and it’s one of the least visited parks). Luckily Google posts most of the talks to YouTube, and I fully intend to watch his talk once it’s online.

So today was a fun day. And that’s not even considering it as the gateway to the weekend.

The Route Six Pannier from North St Bags

One of best things about living in the Bay Area is that I can bike to work almost every day. When I chose to move to Google from Samsung Research, the ability to keep biking was an important factor (in fact, my route is nearly the same: I head up the Stevens Creek trail and turn left instead of right). For the past few years I’ve been using a pannier instead of a backpack; particularly in the warm summer months, it’s nice not to have something trapping heat on your back. I initially chose the pannier I use, the Route Six from North St Bags, because I saw them at Renegade SF and their bags looked nice.

After several years of using them, I can definitively say that their bags not only look great, but they’re also great to use. They’re easy to load up, and you can customize what pockets the bag has when you order it. Plus the pockets velcro in, so you can change what’s in the bag based on your particular needs that day. You can also get a shoulder strap for the bag as well, which has been extremely useful now that I’m at Google. On days when it rains I take the Google Bus instead of driving, and it’s extremely convenient to just use the bag as a messenger bag on rainy days without needing to transfer everything to a different bag (and inevitably forget something). I was initially a little concerned about the bungee cord + hook on the back catching on my clothes, but I’ve had zero problems with it: when carried over your shoulder the hook falls (at least for me) away from my body. If you’re concerned about it, you can also get a pannier that converts to a backpack and features a removable cord + hook.

If you’re interested in switching to panniers or are looking for a pannier that’s also easy to carry off your bike, I strongly recommend the Route Route from North St.