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Google’s new Seattle building

I had a workshop up in Seattle this week at Google’s new Seattle building just south of Lake Union (on Boren). The building just opened up; the first day with occupants was Monday, and the workshop started on Tuesday. The new building is pretty nice, although our new building in Mountain View is more fun. But the location is pretty sweet.

One somewhat strange thing about the building: there are residential units on the floors above Google’s offices. So the terraces have signs up warning Googlers to be careful about what’s on their laptop screens when they’re working outdoors. It’d be a little weird to be sitting out on a terrace getting work done or having a meeting, while residents are sitting outside on their balconies above you.

Previously when I’ve visited Google’s offices in Seattle I’ve been up at the Fremont offices (which are also nice, with a great location on the Ship Canal), so this was my first visit to the south Lake Union area since we moved away at the start of the millennium. Things have totally changed since then; aside from the Center for Wooden Boats (still there!) I barely recognized anything. Now the area is block after block of new condos and apartments mixed with office buildings. Hopefully future visits will bring me back to the area; I’d like to have a chance to explore it more (and see what the waterfront looks like now with the Viaduct torn down!).

Mexican Beef and Tomatillo Stew

Our local farmer’s market has had fresh tomatillos for the last few weeks, and we’ve been taking advantage of them. Last week we made enchiladas verdes (using a Cooks Illustrated recipe we’ve used lots of times before), but this week, thanks to the timely arrival of a new Milk Street Magazine recipe, we decided to try our hand at the Mexican Beef and Tomatillo Stew.

When we formed this plan, the high for today was supposed to be 76, and after several days of 90+ degree weather we figured that would seem cool enough for us to have the oven on for several hours. The actual high was more like 84, so having the oven on that long made things a little toasty in the kitchen. But the recipe is mostly hands-off: throw lots of stuff in a dutch oven, put it in the oven for 2 hours, pull it out and put some more stuff in, then put it back in the oven for another hour and a half. So we could escape to cooler parts of the house.

The stew turned out fairly tasty. My palate has been trained enough by the enchiladas that it kept expecting pepper jack cheese (apparently I now associated it with the flavor of fresh tomatillos), but the dish didn’t need it. The tomatillos provided a bright, clean flavor that contrasted nicely with the earthiness of the beef and potatoes. Definitely worth making again. Too bad it’s harder to find fresh tomatillos in the fall, though; it’s a lot nicer cooking for several hours when the air is cool and crisp, as opposed to hot and dry.

Bicycle as fiddly mechanical system

I got a new bicycle last week, taking advantage of Google’s quarterly bike sale (they work with local dealers to arrange a quarterly sale to encourage employees to bike to work). My old Trek Utopia is around 9 years old and starting to show some of its age, so I thought it was time for something new (and lighter).

While I’m definitely enjoying the new bike (it’s a lot lighter), it has reminded me that, despite all of our technological progress, bikes are still fiddly, mechanical systems. Particularly new bikes, as components settle, cables stretch a bit, etc. Luckily the bike store I got my bike from isn’t far off from my commute route from work (actually, it’s not luck: I chose it in part because it’s easy to get to), so I’ve been able to swing by and ask them to make quick adjustments. But in the last week I’ve had to swing by twice; fingers crossed that things will stabilize now.

The larger lesson is that I need to learn more about bike maintenance and adjustments.

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.