Seattle Webcam

When I imagined myself living downtown with a sweeping view of the city, I figured I would share that view with the world by planting a webcam in my window because that’s what you did 10 years ago when that dream was conceived. Now it’s 2012 and the still-image webcam isn’t exactly cutting-edge, but publishing my slice of the city to the world was somehow still the icing on the cake of my downtown-living goal and the experience just wasn’t complete for me without it. So here it is, updated every 15 mins and featured in the sidebar.

I’m also archiving every image on SmugMug so I can build some cool time lapses later. Here’s a first attempt, capturing a week’s worth of images during a January snowstorm:

On Board, and On The Board

After taking a Seattle Works course last fall about nonprofit board service, I found this great organization in need of board members and agreed to sign on. The mission of Flash Volunteer is to connect organizations and volunteers with high-tech solutions that make it easier for a volunteer to find local events that interest them across many organizations and easier for the organizations to communicate with their neighborhood volunteer community. We believe our combination of great web tools and useful mobile applications plus API integrations with other volunteer networks and event managers will be valuable enough for the Seattle volunteer community that it will be a test case to expand across the US and Canada. It’s an especially interesting project for me as there are a lot of parallels between the Flash Volunteer operating model and the Cobalt one.

The Board of Directors is a great group of people and I’m excited to make some friends who happen to share my passion for Seattle’s grassroots community-building spirit!

Rest In Peace, Steve Jobs

One after another, the giants of online are showing their respect tonight, on the news of Steve’s untimely (but not entirely unexpected) death at only 56. He was truly an inspirational figure – for the employees of Apple, for the consumers enraptured with his company’s innovative ideas, and for all the world’s entrepreneurs. Selfishly, I will always regret never having a chance now to meet him and to shake the hand of someone whose work has so greatly affected my life and the lives of so many others, and not just by building widgets that are bought and sold but by being true to his convictions, living his life with purpose and stretching his imagination – and ours with it.

Media moguls, employees, industry leaders and even the president of the USA have stopped what they were doing tonight to pay their respects. It’s so rare for anyone in the public eye as much as Steve Jobs was to be so well-loved and respected by so many, but Steve seems to break that mold by having been the rare person that was as earnestly ambitious as he was brilliant and humble.

The media world, the tech industry, Silicon Valley, and all of us who aspire to change our little corner of the world with our finite time in this life will all greatly miss you, Steve, and I hope we all honor your memory by accomplishing even a fraction of what you have.

Apple’s homepage tonight:




Tweets from the leaders, CEO’s, politicians, and some of Steve’s fellow world-changers:
Arianna Huffington tweets remembrances of Steve Jobs
Katie Couric tweets remembrances of Steve Jobs
Arnold Schwarzenegger tweets remembrances of Steve Jobs

And the seemingly-endless outpouring of messages tagged #ThankYouSteve tweeted by millions around the world: #ThankYouSteve on Twitter.

Some of Steve Jobs’ inspirational words over the years:

  • “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”
  • “Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.”
  • “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”
  • “Only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work, & only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
  • “Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. ”
  • “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. … Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

P.S.: I read about Steve’s passing on my iPhone and composed this message on my MacBook. Steve – I owe a lot to your genius.

My ‘Starbucks Spelling’ Submission

I’ve been laughing at this site for a while – the noisy line at Starbucks in the morning is apparently the new “telephone game” for caffeine addicts. They usually do OK with me, but yesterday I got a good one worth posting to the tumblr blog.

Maybe someday they will link that to my Starbucks Gold Card so that my name (and maybe my drink preferences!) would automatically populate when I pay. Here’s hoping.

Brian – on starbucks spelling at

Quick Game Review – Portal 2

Why I loved Portal 2: First of all, it’s the tone – weird, dark humor pulled from a made-up-yet-plausible history of creepy scientific research funded by shadowy organizations – and then it’s the setting – a gorgeous, stunning, massive set of worlds that had me stopping to marvel at the epic industrial complexes built in the name of make-believe science and also left my head spinning as I flew across them like a tennis ball in a tumble dryer. The physics match the mood – lighthearted yet challenging – and the goofball characters, both AI and avatar, add to the wacky fun. The puzzles at times are so frustrating it can incite you to controller-throwing violence but the sweet rush of victory when the most obvious solution finally presents itself to you and a level is unlocked more than balance out the earlier vitriol with heady endorphins and sweaty-palmed desire for the next challenge. Played through on single player and co-op, one of the few games I’ve ever finished both ways because it was that engaging.

Portal 2 on GamerDNA

Exploring Belltown

Foursquare quietly added a Lists feature to the service last week, just in time for me to start exploring my new neighborhood in earnest. The last couple weeks of walking to work, as well as trying to find cheap/fun dinner and drinks options, has had me keeping mental track of places I wanted to try, and hoping I’d find a tool to keep me from forgetting the good ones. Foursquare to the rescue, it seems.

I scraped the barrel a little and stretched the boundaries of what’s considered Belltown just a bit to come up with a nice even 100, as one of the Foursquare features is a “number of items completed” progress bar – I’m starting the project with 18 venues under my belt already, so 18% complete. It will probably take a year and some of them will likely close or change ownership before I get to them, but that’s the beauty of electronic lists – they can be changed. 🙂

Fellow Seattleites can tackle the list yourself and track your own progress on the “Explore Belltown” achievement. 100 Places to Eat & Drink in Belltown

My Dotcom Boom Experience

There is a thread on Quora that I subscribed to when I first signed up for the question/answer service asking for personal experiences about Silicon Valley during the dotcom bubble burst, and it somehow crossed my desk again today. While I wasn’t in Silicon Valley at the time I did experience a micro version of the headiness and exhilaration followed by fear and disappointment that marked that period in history. I felt particularly inspired to summarize my experience today and am re-posting it here for posterity, as Quora itself is another investor-funded startup that may not be around to tell its own tale someday. This blog, however, survived the last boom/bust cycle and seemed like a more permanent place for my thoughts. 😉

Original posting here, my comment below. There are many great personal stories in the thread that I recommend perusing, also.

I experienced it only on the fringe, but still appreciate the chance to have felt some of the energy and to have learned from the mistakes.

In the spring of 99 I was still in college, working my way through a BS in Computer Science. Even 4 semesters away from graduation I felt like the hottest commodity in the world, as any warm body that could write a line of code was in massive demand all over the country even without any real-world experience or specialized skills. I visited a friend in Seattle over spring break and was awash in a smaller-scale but still frenzied version of the Bay, literally receiving competing job offers over dinner to forgo the rest of my degree and start immediately. I remember being completely shocked by the personal concierge service – a delivery person on a bicycle brought us 2 pints of Ben & Jerry’s and a 6-pack of beer 11 minutes after we placed an online order – and thinking both “how on earth can they be making money doing this?” and “this is what life is going to be like from now on.”

During the winter and spring of 2000 I barely had time for school as I was too busy entertaining the advances of potential employers. Every company had a sales pitch for young engineers, touting their casual offices, pool tables and arcade games, on-site massage, free food of all kinds, lists of crazy perks. My friends in other fields of study were frequently aghast at the extravagances afforded to me as part of the interview process alone, and even more so at the exorbitant salaries offered even for internships when many of their careers would start with unpaid internships followed by years of ladder-climbing to match my post-graduation earning potential.

I knew I should be skeptical and objective, but it was just so easy and so exciting to feel like a rock star. That’s what everyone was saying – software engineers are the new rock stars, and millionaires could come in any shape but would most likely not be wearing a suit.

It was also easy to let the headiness inflate your confidence beyond a healthy level. I flatly turned down any job offer that wouldn’t let me finish my degree on schedule, or that wasn’t close to adequate downhill skiing; such demands seemed perfectly reasonable to everyone involved. I passed on multiple internship offers at Microsoft and Hewlett Packard because I wanted something smaller and sexier. I leased a brand new car, figuring from this point on my life would be a series of frequent upgrades to my vehicle – along with everything else. I bought frivolous things like giant speakers, treated my friends to dinners and rounds of drinks, and even bought an entire bar drinks one night just because it was fun to see their faces. I was still a full-time college student and only a part-time software intern during all of this, so I hadn’t even begun to indulge in the things I expected to once my degree was complete and I dove fully into the workforce, and yet I was already living a life that solicited envy from friends with respectable, well-paid careers ahead of them in medicine, civil engineering, finance or architecture.

I waited too long. Or rather, the boom didn’t wait for me. By the time I graduated in May 2001, my internship-hosting startup declined to extend me a post-graduation offer, instead issuing layoffs to many of my full-time colleagues. Recruiters that I had been teasing for months were suddenly no longer with the company, and entire headhunting firms disappeared completely or ceased operation of their tech hires divisions. I, too, was glued to FC but for different reasons – desperately hoping that the places I still had active recruiter contacts didn’t make the list. I was still too full of optimism and false confidence to believe that eventually they all would.

Interviewing became my full-time job. I was determined to find something and spent 7 months working 50-60 hours per week entirely at the business of getting hired. I had family near Seattle that generously offered a spare room, and so my efforts were concentrated there but I would have gone anywhere within 2 days’ driving distance of Thanksgiving dinner if anything had materialized. I managed to land several first interviews per week simply by being energetic and obsessively persistent, but the dejected and often terrified recruiters I met with never called me back for second meetings. I was competing for entry-level software jobs with experienced veterans recently departed from hot startups, and frequently in the time elapsed between the job posting hitting and persuading my way into a meeting, the entire department hiring for the role had ceased to exist. Sometimes, the company, too. I remember a particular recruiter at Adobe that had made the mistake of leaving me with a glimmer of hope after an initial meeting; every Monday for the next 4 months I literally stalked him in the Adobe lobby, waiting for him to take a lunch break so I could follow him to his car, inquiring hopefully about any new openings. Eventually he stopped going to lunch… or else perhaps he was laid off, as well.

When I finally gave up on the tech industry (at least for a few years) and accepted a job adjusting insurance claims, I had completely worn out a cheap suit, filled 5 credit cards completely to their limit paying for gas, coffee, and laser printing, and learned more about my own limitations and the challenges of the real world than I ever expected to in my first year out of college. Today I am never intimidated by a job interview and I can tolerate great professional disappointments, as I will never be rejected so much as I was rejected that summer and especially after building such large expectations of success.

Pondering the Westward view

Sitting on the vacant second floor near the office’s west-facing windows in a rare moment of reflection during what is normally a hectic and nonstop workday, I am noticing for the first time what’s actually outside these walls. Across the street is a millwork facility, and behind it a new parking garage built for the Starbucks HQ that I’d never noticed before today. Behind that is the Burlington Northern rail yard and the northernmost reaches of Elliot Bay Harbor where the massive cargo cranes tirelessly juggle shipping containers like a never-ending Lego kit. One such container rolls by in the foreground atop an 18-wheeler’s specially-fitted trailer, the driver snaking his way through the orange cones and steel road plates littered down South 1st Avenue, remnants of a perpetual construction project that currently toils a few blocks further south. Across the sky a small private jet slices through the hanging clouds, descending towards Boeing Field’s southbound runway, and not long behind it a cargo transport flight on a longer approach, its silver fuselage glinting in the waning winter sun. It’s a very raw neighborhood, marred by no attempts to mask the purpose of the sprawling warehouses that are its trademark. Even as SoDo has seen some of its industrial tenants be replaced by stylish warehouse condos and shabby-chic loft workspaces this has only peeled back the neighborhood’s skin and exposed the meat and bones of the heavy industry that first made Seattle a boomtown and the blue-collar workforce that quietly keeps the city running despite a culture largely focused on the pleasures of white-collar life.

As one of those white-collar workers I have enjoyed this office’s proximity to the massive physical scale of America’s industrial machine, and as one of the high-tech laborers pushing the country into an era of electronic accomplishments rather than physical ones the honest tangibility of this largely-bygone impotus to America’s previous-century growth has been a valuable source of perspective.

On my last day in this office – the company is relocating to a more modern (and much more tightly-crowded and “efficient”) space near the financial/legal district and Chinatown – I can’t help but wonder what the next century of industrial revolutions will bring and what the littered past of my industry and the ones that come after it will look like to those that follow us. We won’t leave behind vast warehouses, complex machinery, massive infrastructure or huge environmental change. Just digital records, unfinished ideas, and a smattering of office furniture to show for all our efforts to change the world.

21-Gun Salute

Today I sent an email I’ve been composing in my head for quite a while, telling the members of the NWImports car club that I’m officially disbanding the club. It’s something I’ve known was inevitable but still dreaded doing, and which I’ve discussed laboriously with my trusted advisors at what has surely been agonizing frequency. Even as I’ve been attempting to motivate the dwindling membership, speaking (perhaps aspirationally) of the club to interested potentials, and trying to build a new type of club that was more difficult to outgrow I’ve also been carrying on an internal dialogue wherein I slowly admit to myself that it’s ok to throw in the towel.

When I took over the role of Team President three years ago, it was an act of desperate resurrection. The outgoing leader had exhausted his willingness to battle the apathy, resistance to change and general malaise that eventually sweep through any stagnant organization, even one as informal and self-organized as ours. The group had devolved from ambitious event planners to infrequent attendees, and from a circle of tightly-knit and loyal comrades to a room full of old friends fighting over money. I didn’t then and still don’t blame anyone for choosing other things in their lives, for wanting to save their money for things other than intercoolers and spend their Saturdays elsewhere besides in a parking lot looking under each other’s hoods. I may not have been starting a family or diving into a new career at the time but I fully understand prioritizing precious time and resources for the things and people that matter most. My own job has often been full of tough prioritization decisions and I have learned to evaluate as objectively as I can, choose resolutely and proceed with confidence, trying never to look back and give the ugly monster that is regret a chance to see my face. I do think it’s unfortunate, though, that the group did not persist the way I first encountered it – close friends, constantly together, building and driving their cars, supportive of each other in their common hobby, promoting their team and the local tuner community with ambition, passion and generosity. At its peak, the NWNismo group had begun to earn local fame for being exclusive, respected, organized and well-managed, with members that had well-kept cars and who were respected, experienced members of the local tuner community. Membership was granted with solemnity and great consideration, often after a trial period lasting a full year’s season, and the matching shirts, hats and car-mounted vinyl graphics were a proud advertisement of inclusion in something special, something elite. I arrived to the group late enough to have missed that peak of prosperity, but still early enough to witness sufficient glimpses of it that I shared the group’s anguish at its decline.

The group of friends – split across lines of conflicting loyalties and separated by geography, stages of life and increasingly diverse interests – were in general agreement only that the group’s original mission was no longer being fulfilled. The team name (NWNismo) was an homage to Nissan’s Nismo racing division, and yet less than half the members still owned or had plans to build a Nissan. In my disappointment to see a good thing end – and perhaps my naïveté to the challenges faced by the outgoing leader – I was determined to adapt the structure of the NWNismo team into a less-formal aficionados club that I hoped would be more resilient to the members’ life changes and at the same time more appealing to new recruits, especially ones facing the same perpetuity challenges in their car clubs that we were facing in ours. After many intense evening discussions over mozzarella sticks and Long Island Iced Teas at an Applebees in Lynnwood and with support from a few other determined-not-to-be-former members, I won a consensus from the group and diverted the resources of NWNismo into a new club, NWImports.

On April 8th, 2007, I registered the domain, and soon after called the first meeting of NWImports. With a new charter open to any make of imported car, truck or motorcycle, stylish new logos and promo materials courtesy of an equally-motivated former NWNismo member who is a talented designer by day, and a new camaraderie created by welcoming several non-Nissan members in from the perpetual fringe, we had a new club with what was hopefully all the best from NWNismo and enough newness to rise phoenix-style from the ashes.

It might be that the spirit of NWNismo was not the best foundation on which to build a new club, as perhaps its slowly-deflating end poisoned the new group with skepticism. Where I had hoped the memories of good times past would be a motivational cornerstone around which to build something new, perhaps the disappointing reality of what NWNismo became at the end provided a sandy foundation rather than a granite one. For three summer seasons I fought to find a sustainable balance – between exclusivity and membership growth, between affordable dues and sufficient budget to offer “free” benefits, between planning frequent events and still allowing members to have other priorities without seeming left out.

It wasn’t a balance the group was able to find, as by the third season even my own determination was waning, my ambitions clouded by drudgery and frustration. I knew I didn’t want NWImports to end the way NWNismo had, in a fizzling arc of disagreements and lost friends. The hard work, pride and fond memories of NWNismo had deserved an honorable burial when the club finally met its demise, so it was important to me that the end of NWImports at least be recognized with some degree of formality as a way to also give NWNismo some closure.

It became apparent after a few months of circular discussion that agreeing on the way to end the club would be as difficult as agreeing on the way to operate it. The remainder of the team’s bank account was enough to rent a cabin for a weekend, but planning a weekend event for a group that couldn’t manage to meet in person for an hour per month was too discouraging for any of us to seriously consider. Aside from a half-serious suggestion to triumphantly throw our team shirts into a bonfire, nothing arose that led to a consensus. Finally, somewhat on a whim, we pooled the remains of the team fund with money of our own and filled two overflowing carts in an epic Toys R Us shopping spree for the annual NW Toy Run supporting Toys For Tots. It may not have been a 21-gun salute but I felt satisfied that my final duty as Team President had been fulfilled. This pair of organizations that had nurtured our common hobby, that had been incubators for lifetime friendships, and that had played a role in defining who we have all grown up to be would leave their unspoken legacy at one last parking lot meetup and be one final source of pride for anyone lucky enough to once wear the colors.

Technology Does Sometimes Make Our Lives Better

When you sit down on the carpet at the airport you can see just how dirty it is. I’m sure they clean it every day and by this time every day it’s disgustingly filthy again. I find myself communing with the crumbs and stains and leaves and pebbles because there are no chairs left in the terminal and I decided I’d rather risk being dirty than continue standing up.

I was rebelling against my technology a bit this morning; as much as I ever do, anyway. After a 2-day training last week on the principles of Scrum methodology and Agile Development, I’m considering managing one of my Dev teams with paper notecards, replacing – or perhaps just augmenting – our current Google Docs tracking system. I think the tactile satisfaction of cards may be a valuable incremental improvement in our Dev process, but it seems unnatural to take a step backward in time to something so analog, that does nothing to expand flexibility, ensure data retention or transcend geography. But several things about the approach appeal to me, and for lack of a touchscreen wall ala Minority Report I think paper may have to do.

At the same time, I was on an hour-long phone call using my iPhone and those iconic white headphones which, for the sets that shipped with the iPhone4, include a microphone and are a pretty capable (albeit wired) telephone headset. Four different times people tried to interrupt me, thinking I was just listening to music and was available to talk. As the same device, same headphones and same vacant stare into my computer monitor that indicate I’m on the phone are shared by other tasks, how is the observer supposed to assume any context of availability? Because I use the device for so many things from the very trivial to the mission-critical I feel like I need something more indicative. Perhaps a sign around my neck that says “The doctor is in” / “The doctor is REAL in.”

Behind me just now an incessant buzzing sound that’s been part of the ambient noise of the airport increased suddenly in volume, as the owner of the rogue electric razor triggered inside it’s jostling suitcase discovered the culprit and produced the razor to deactivate it, snapping me back to my present situation. My flight to Oakland was cancelled about 40 minutes ago, and I have never seen a line form so fast as the one that took shape at the ticket counter milliseconds after the cancellation announcement. I was not in that line, as I learned from my Dad – an experienced and astute traveler – that I can almost always fare better in these situations by choosing an alternate route to airline customer service. Standing at the flight status board, iPhone to my ear and iPad in my hand open to the TripIt app containing my detailed itinerary, I was rebooked on the flight to San Jose departing 50 minutes later and my rental car reservations adjusted to a San Jose pickup before the tenth Oakland passenger had been rebooked on tonight’s next Oakland flight. I had re-visited the printer kiosk and held my updated boarding pass before the 20th Oakland passenger knew how they would get out of Seatac tonight.

Flight 328 to San Jose has begun pre-boarding and there is still a significant group of unhappy faces over at the Oakland desk, making me thankful for the bagful of wifi-enabled devices I’ll be stowing in an overhead bin and leading me to reconsider whether I really want to stake the future of my products and business on a stack of paper notecards.