Results tagged “Silicon Valley” from kwc blog

Book: Microserfs

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I read this book because I figured it was one of those must reads. Software engineering simply isn't one of those professions used in popular media, with a few exceptions like Office Space that come close, so given the opportunity to read a book that is not only about software engineers but also about the culture, the zeitgeist of the early .com boom as well as Microsoft, I knew I had to.

I've worked at Xerox PARC and a startup, and I've lived in the Bay Area for many years; I've never been to Seattle nor worked for Microsoft. Does it make me biased then that I liked the early Microsoft/Seattle portions of the book but started losing interest as soon as the book moved to the .com environment of the Peninsula? I would say so, except I've talked to someone else who read the book that is more familiar with Microsoft/Seattle, and she too had the same opinion.

In Seattle the book feels like it's accurately capturing and spinning the culture, from group homes of Microsoft employees to the Cult of Bill, which probably isn't all that different from the Cult of Steve. Once the book moved to the Peninsula, I no longer felt in touch with the story: the characters seemed less and less believable, the Peninsula culture seemed slightly off, and the story just never really went anywhere. I had minor geographical quibbles such as how they seemed to go far out of their way to drive past Xerox PARC or find Starbucks that I can't, but more important was the startup-of-friends experience didn't resemble my startup-of-friends experience -- when we had a startup, and everything was on the line, we ate, slept, and drank the startup, had trouble speaking of anything else because your life entirely was sucked into the effort, and I even dreamed in code; in Microserfs, the startup seems almost incidental to the relationships in the book and it only really there to move the characters around. From what I've seen of other startups, the experience sways more in my direction. I could be wrong, and the book does take place it a time slightly earlier than mine, but I had a strong feeling throughout the book that the Microsoft portion of the book was a closer revelation of software engineering culture, and besides Fry's, Apple, and mystique of PARC, very little else of it felt captured to me. This is one engineer's opinion of course: Philip Greenspun, MIT professor and ousted founder of the ArsDigita startup, left a glowing review of the Microserfs cultural mirror.

I've reviewed mostly the cultural/zeitgeist elements of the book rather than the story, but that's largely because I felt that there really wasn't any story; the book was meant to be about capturing a cultural tableaux. Then again, if it's merely a book about zeitgeist, you could also argue then that reading a 400 page compilation of Wired's Wired/Tired/Expired would make a wonderful read. Thus, I'm conflicted. If it was about story, I'd be terribly disappointed and have to give this book one star. Instead, I give it maybe a three-out-of-five with the caveat that you should end it whenever you like.

What are these blue spots?

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I was playing around with Wikimapia, which seems to be a fun site because people have annotated a Google Map so that you can find out various things like apartment complex names, bike path entrances, sites of former dumps, etc... One of the best features of the site is that you can easily select a region of the map to post to your blog, like I did above.

The area above is the entrace to the Dish loop off of Junipero Serra -- anyone know what those blue spots are?

And speaking of maps: I hope to see the Old Maps group of Flickr grow.

Wireless Caltrain?

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Caltrain has successfully tested a proof of concept for wireless Internet on its trains. I'm a bit torn over this, but not too much. In the past I've felt that I'm much more productive while programming on Caltrain because I don't have Internet connectivity -- I can focus on programming instead of answering e-mail or surfing the Web; however, my Caltrain trips are pretty short now, so I don't work on the train anymore.

Instead, I treat the train as my 15 minutes of morning entertainment and 15 minutes of cooldown after work, long enough for a podcast or a chapter of a relatively easy book. Without wireless, I would have to make sure that I 'sync' anything that I might want, i.e. plugin the iPod/PSP or get the right book off the bookshelf. But sometimes I get on the train and find that I'm too tired to read the book I selected or I forgot to put the latest Daily Show on my PSP. Wireless on the train would allow for "just in time entertainment": go straight to the train station and stream whatever content I want directly to my laptop or PSP. I imagine I could even try and figure out how to play some multiplayer Nintendo DS on the train. Hopefully others will find this announcement exciting, as Caltrain could use some stronger ridership -- but not too strong, because I don't want a bunch of people hogging my bandwidth ;).

Caltrain Wireless FAQ

I'm covered

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Google has a map of the Mountain View wifi access points they've put up. They've also marked areas that aren't yet covered -- most areas are, and I'm glad to see that most places I generally go with laptop are in the green.

Stop rain, stop!

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It won't stop raining here. SF just eclipsed its record for most rainy days in March set in 1903 and apparently it's causing the Devil's Slide to slide (portion of the Pacific Coast Highway near Pacifica): Album: Devil's Slide on the move. It's good to know that CalTrans has sensors to detect PCH splittig in half. via

Brrr

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Just so you non-Bay-Area folks are aware. It frickin' cold here. There's snow on the hills around here. Every store on 4th Street in Berkeley has a sign on its front door: "We're open. It's just cold outside." We're not used to having to keep the front door closed to keep out the cold. We don't have Metro stations to hide in. We usually stick up a heat lamp outside a restaurant and redeclare that patch of land "summer." We see frozen little ice balls coming down and have to pause to think of what the right word for it is.

My parents called me from Virginia to tell me how it's 70 degrees outside and perfect for yard work. This arctic cold front must have flipped its compass because I think this ball of hail was meant for you, East Coast.

Almost useful Caltrain site

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iamcaltrain is an attractive mashup of Yahoo maps, Flickr, and the Caltrain schedule. I've posted my own Caltrain hacks before (Caltrain vis, Caltrain tags), so anything that makes my commute easier is bound to catch my attention. iamcaltrain almost did it, but it needs a couple of tweaks:

  • I can get a station-to-station schedule, but I can't bookmark it
  • Reloading clears the schedule I'm looking at
  • Bug: To get from Mountain View to Menlo Park leaving right now it gave me the option of taking the next train to Menlo Park (15 minutes) or taking the same train all the way to San Bruno and catch a train back (1 hour 24 minutes).
  • Bug: If I type the name of a station in the start or end boxes, it assumes I'm typing an address

Free-Fi

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Our little city of Mountain View is going to be the first city to receieve free city-wide Google wireless. Just think, I could convert my R/C to run off of 802.11.

Yahoo Maps (beta) and Local Events

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The Local Events Browser mashup is a nice demo of the new Yahoo Maps beta. It helped me find out about the "Gross, Gruesome, and Gothic" exhibit (10/1 - 3/12) over at the Cartoon Art Museum (I keep meaning to go there sometime). It is also a good visualization of how lame Peninsula life can be: zoom out a bit and the Peninsula looks like the eye of the hurricane, the perfect nothing calm surrounded by the torrent of SF, Berkeley, Oakland, and even San Jose.

Living in the SV

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Screw the O.C., this is the S.V.

UBERNRD

Update: this is the day for S.V. license plates. ln m spotted 3DSTUD and honeyfields spotted GOTMAYA. Also, back in the archives there's good ole KILLAOL.

F--- Atherton!

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... well, their Caltrain stop at least. Caltrain has put up a proposed service schedule that is, IMHO, pretty awesome, though it will require a lot more planning to make sure I catch the right train. The major improvements are: * you can now sleep in an hour or two later and still catch a Bullet train * for half-peninsula commutes, the Limiteds are now very similar in speed to the Bullets there is a new-style of Limited that is designed to shot you from San Jose to the mid-Peninsula quickly and vice versa * They got rid of the Atherton, Broadway, College Park, and Paul stations.

For my particular BART-Millbrae-Caltrain commute, where my Caltrain stop is a second tier stop (Hillsdale, SM, MP, SC) the philosophy appears to be that they stack two Caltrains for your stop within 15 minutes of each other -- i.e. if you miss the first train, then another, similarly fast train will be along in 12-15 minutes -- but if you miss the second train, you will have a long wait (~50 minutes). In my experience, BART will be more than 15 minutes late on a regular basis, so I will have to figure out how to properly buffer my schedule and yet still take advantage of the faster service.

Of course, just as happened last time, there will be long, drawn-out community meetings in which this schedule will get modified; in particular, Atherton and Broadway might be able to get themselves back on the schedule.

Caltrain tags

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This little lifehack has saved me a bit of time and kept me on the right Caltrain. Caltrain gives out yellow tags to put on your bike that you label with the station that you are getting on/off. An unintended use is that they are also handy for writing down the Caltrain schedule as they are small, waterproof, durable, and easy-to-read. They also attach as easily to a bag as they do a bike -- if I'm not using my bike I keep the tag on my work bag so that I always have it with me.

caltrain_tags.jpg

Robonexus

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Posted some photos from Robonexus onto my flickr page. Some samples are below, but there are more. Robonexus was interesting, though I think that for staring at cool robots doing stuff Roboolympics was a bit better, even if it was a bit smaller. Robonexus had better robots, but for the most part they were sitting there doing absolutely nothing (there were scheduled demos, but they were often packed). What Robonexus was good for was finding out where to buy robot parts and other toys from. I really want to get one of the RF-controlled flying saucers that Robot Store was showing off, but it's not listed on their site yet.

Centibots
SRI's own Centibots looking for the pink box.

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Swarm
Swarm robots from iRobot

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Flying saucer
Definitely gonna get one of these. I wonder if it's possible to get a very light camera attached?

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Robots!

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I'm going to RoboNexus in Santa Clara on Oct. 23 to stare at cool robots. Anybody else interested? Expo passes are $15 free if you contact me early (I should be able to get a couple extras).

Why the Millbrae station is failing

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I read an article in the Palo Alto Daily News awhile back about how the Millbrae BART/Caltrain station isn't doing as well as planned. Let me elucidate my reasons for why I think it sucks with an example. I have aligned the schedules for the two systems side-by-side for riding into San Francisco in the afternoon/evening. As a reminder, you ride the Caltrain to the Millbrae station, and then switch over to the BART to ride into the city.

BART 5:18 Caltrain 5:20
BART 5:33
BART 5:48 Caltrain 5:50
BART 6:03 Caltrain 6:06
BART 6:18 Caltrain 6:35
BART 6:48 Caltrain 6:45 <- We have a winner!
BART 7:03 Caltrain 7:04

Does anyone else see this as downright malicious?

Updated to my transit511 rant

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After my previous rant about how Transit 511 took over Caltrain's schedule and made it completely unusable, there's finally been some improvements. I claim no causality between my rant and the change, but I would like to believe that a chorus of similarly peeved individuals led to the change.

You can once again select and start and end station and view the schedule for just those two stations, a feature that existed on the Caltrain site before Transit 511 took over.
[Here's an example with Mountain View and San Mateo][sched].

<newrant>From the example, you can see that they are still really stupid and stick the schedule inside of an embedded frame, which makes it really hard to print. Interestingly enough, if you click on "accessible version" or "printable version," it gets rid of this stupid embedded frame. It's not that they don't have a usable version, it's just that you have to request it specially.

They also don't have the old feature that allowed you to select a start/end time so that you don't have to view the schedule for the 5am trains you'll be sleeping during.</newrant> [sched]: http://transit.511.org/schedules/detail.asp?cid=CT&rte=5081&day=1&dir=NO&fst=12%2CCALTRAIN STATION - MOUNTAIN VIEW&mc=stops&tst=23%2CCALTRAIN STATION - SAN MATEO&image1.x=15&image1.y=9

Homeless

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This is what happens when you try to move out to the Bay Area during the housing crush of 2000. The initial plan was for me to come out a couple weeks early and search for housing while crashing at Dave's. Jay and the rest (5 of us in total) would arrive at the beginning of June, with everything setup for us to have a kickass apartment. Similar plans had worked for Jay and I in '98, so we thought we'd stick with what we knew.

We were foolish, of course. Instead of me finding an apartment immediately, I spent the end of May and most of June on the phone, futile-y trying to find a free apartment. As this continued to produce failure, we rented an RV to get some steadiness, and when we finally broke down, we paid over $4K/mo for a 2 bedroom apartment in Menlo Park.

This is a log of our summer.

5/20-5-31: Dave's
5/31-6/1: Matt's
6/2: Comfort Inn, Sunnyvale
6/3: Sunnyvale Inn & Suites (Jay arrives)
6/4-6/5: Matt's
6/6: San Antonio Inn with "Coyote" (did laundry at Stanford)
6/7: Sj/Sarah's (spent the night driving around to try and find another air mattress)
6/8: Pacific Inn ("jacuzzi")
6/9: Sj/Sarah's (after being screwed over by Silicon Valley Inn)
6/10: RV at New Brighton State Beach
6/11-6/14: RV back in Sunnyvale in the Trimble parking lot
6/15: Fly down to Burbank, end up staying there after Hawaii flight cancelled
6/16-6/20: Make it to Hawaii and stay at the Aston Waikiki Sunset
6/21: Dave's (using a shirt as my only sheet)
6/22: Finally move into Menlo Park apartment, but there's no furniture
7/6-8: In Atlanta for Randy's wedding. Stayed at Randy's the first night, then at the Wingate, which is a story in its own right.

There are some cryptic notes and inside jokes in the paper version of these notes, but even I no longer recognize the meaning of some of them.

Silicon Valley Optimism

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I saved this e-mail that J sent b/c it's a wonderful of how much unbounded optimism we had about living in the Silicon Valley, unbounded optimism/naivete that was smashed by having to move around hotels for three weeks, an RV for one week, and then paying through the nose (~4k/month) for a mid-range apartment. The summer was still a lot of fun, but we got a firsthand lesson in Bay Area housing shortage.