Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Switcher with second thoughts

I'm a veerrry long-time Mac user.  I had one of the first 128K Macs.  I dropped out of college for a while with some friends to develop one of the first Mac applications.  I  worked at Apple for 6 years.  So I am pretty excited about getting back to Macintosh, after having gone to Windows for the past ten years (after my company was bought by Microsoft).  But now that I'm in my second week as a Switcher, I'm frustrated.  The Mac just isn't as great (compared to Windows) as I had hoped it would be.

I'm using an old Macbook Pro with 2GB, so you can probably start by laying the blame on an older machine.  But here are some of my initial frustrations:

  • Macbook Pro keyboard and trackpad placement are poorly designed: my thumb has to travel very far to get to the mouse click.
  • The mouse seems more critical than on a PC, where nearly everything is easily available with keyboard shortcuts, which I miss. Where's the ALT key?
  • Video capture doesn't work out of the box. I plugged my camcorder into the firewire port but nothing happened. What's this about Final Cut?  Is it not standard on a MacBook Pro?
  • The battery is super hot.  I mean, I can't have it on my lap while I'm wearing shorts.  Ouch!
  • So many things are slooooww.  Safari seems to take forever to load pages, for example.  Maybe this is caused by the lack of RAM, but my Windows laptop is also 2GB.  Is the hard drive speed slow?

I should write up the list of things I like, because there are many of those things too.  I like the built-in video camera, and the super-cool geek factor of having a full-blown Unix machine at my fingertips.  I also love being able to set up my HP printer with absolutely no extra steps -- it just worked! There are no doubt many more things I'll prefer after having a few more weeks at this.  But in spite of a few nice things, I'm sorry that so far I haven't been blown away.  I guess you need to give me a few more weeks to play and ask me again which I prefer.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Summer Hail

It’s the Summer Solstice, longest day of the year, first day of summer and all that…and what do we get?


A hailstorm! The kids and I went for a leisurely bike ride to the new Mercer Island Farmers Market and this is what greeted us on the way home.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

I’m a builder

I was devastated to read, in the latest Atlantic, that one of my favorite female writers, Sandra Tsing Loh, is divorcing.  In an excellent summary of several books she reads while reflecting on the topic, she includes this description of a new one by Helen Fisher.

Why Him? Why Her?: Finding Real Love By Understanding Your Personality Type'>Why Him? Why Her? explains the hormonal forces that trigger humans to be romantically attracted to some people and not to others (a phenomenon also documented in the animal world). Fisher posits that each of us gets dosed in the womb with different levels of hormones that impel us toward one of four basic personality types:

The Explorer—the libidinous, creative adventurer who acts “on the spur of the moment.” Operative neurochemical: dopamine.

The Builder—the much calmer person who has “traditional values.” The Builder also “would rather have loyal friends than interesting friends,” enjoys routines, and places a high priority on taking care of his or her possessions. Operative neurotransmitter: serotonin.

The Director—the “analytical and logical” thinker who enjoys a good argument. The Director wants to discover all the features of his or her new camera or computer. Operative hormone: testosterone.

The Negotiator—the touchy-feely communicator who imagines “both wonderful and horrible things happening” to him- or herself. Operative hormone: estrogen, then oxytocin.

Fisher reviewed personality data from 39,913 members of Explorers made up 26 percent of the sample, Builders 28.6 percent, Directors 16.3 percent, Negotiators 29.1 percent. While Explorers tend to be attracted to Explorers, and Builders tend to be attracted to Builders, Directors are attracted to Negotiators, and vice versa.

Although I love nothing more than cracking out the manuals to discover every feature of my new gadgets (and lord knows, I have a lot of testosterone)  I think I’m more of a Builder than a Director, the only other item on this list that seems to fit me.  I don’t go through friends quickly enough to say that I value “interesting” over “loyal”.  I mean, some of my best friends are people you probably think are pretty boring. 

What do you think?  Which are you?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Politics as entertainment

I know very little about Iran, other than the headlines I read in the mainstream US press. I bet you don't know much more than I do, though like me you are probably cheering for the "underdog" Mousavi to beat that awful Ahmadinejad. But if I reflect honestly, I have to admit that I don't really know what's best for Iran, or even the long-term interests of the United States. I cheer for one side because it's "my" side, and because a lot of people I like are on this side.

This is no different than why people cheer for a particular sports team. A Mariners fan doesn't care about baseball in any purely detached or objective sense. He wants his side to win because it's his side. Although you could imagine an objective standard of "Truth" about which team is ultimately the best, even the most well-informed sports nut -- the guy who can recite statistics all day -- is going to cheer for his team, not because it's the "best" but because it's "his". It's not about truth, it's about entertainment.

Most well-informed political junkies are the same: to them, politics is a form of entertainment. It's not about being "right", it's about cheering for and supporting one side, sometimes for no reason other than to oppose the competing side. Sure, they can recite facts and statistics -- they enjoy it! -- but press them on why, or about the truth of the matter, and it comes back to "because my side says so".

I think entertainment gets in the way of truth. Few of us have the time to dig into each policy decision in the kind of detail necessary to come to a real opinion, so it's nice to delegate our thinking to a political party. But combine that with the natural tendency of Type A people to dominate conversations, and we get cacophony. No real understanding, just a bunch of loudmouths who classify everything as either Republican or Democrat.

I'm trying to think of a good answer for the next time somebody asks me my political party. I find that the question itself is like asking my favorite baseball team: it's not about any serious discussion of Truth or the issues, it's about figuring out which (of presumably only two -- why is that?) team I'm cheering.

Libertarians aren't really a political party as much as a mindset. Ask what matters to me in the current situation with Iran and, without knowing any facts, I'll give you as reasonable an answer as is possible without a lot of research. But, like domestic political issues, why do I have to cheer for one side or another?

Friday, June 05, 2009

Moving to China

I’ve been a little quieter than normal online the past few months.  There were a bunch of changes happening at work that were keeping me busy and it just wasn’t appropriate to go into details until it was final. 

So here’s my news:  my family and I are moving to Beijing!  I’ve received a wonderful offer to work with Microsoft’s Macintosh Business Unit, which it turns out has an important office in China.  It’s not a localization office – it’s a true development org, responsible for many of the core components that go into Macintosh Office.  Specifically, I’ll be working on Mac Excel, which has me especially excited because it’s not only my favorite Office App, but it lets me dust off some of my Apple experience since I’ll be part of a team where everyone uses Macs pretty much exclusively.

Now that the decision has been made, I need to work very quickly on logistics.  Since we plan to be there at least two years, we’ve decided to sell our house (know anybody who wants a well-kept home on Mercer Island?)  We’ll have a big garage sale this weekend (tomorrow!) and then we’ll be selling our cars sometime in July (want to buy a great, slightly-used Prius?).  Meanwhile we have to get visas, do the packing, say goodbye, etc. etc. – it’s going to be a busy few months.

The kids are enrolling in an international school that starts in mid-August, so that’s our big deadline.  Now that the word is out, I hope to be much more active online (I’ll need lots of advice!), so please continue to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and this blog.  See you in China!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Fix your windshield for cheap

Several months ago I found myself behind a gravel truck on the freeway, and before I could maneuver out of the way a tiny pebble flipped onto my windshield and gave me a tiny crack.  It was just big enough to be annoying, but not big enough to justify replacing the entire windshield.  For several months I just lived with it, but it bothered me because I’ve heard that it weakens the glass and can cause more serious problems later if you don’t take care of it.

Fortunately I discovered that there are several cheap solutions, all covered by my auto insurance. will give you a summary of the options in your area, customized to your car make and model.  In my case, there weren’t any locations close enough to bother, but I found that my local Jiffy Lube will do it too, while I wait.

Although the cost is covered by insurance, I was apprehensive about fixing it. Wouldn’t they raise my rates? My insurance company (Amica) said they don’t.  Leaving it unrepaired exposes me to potentially more serious damage later, and besides, the cost to fix it is pretty minimal.

A professional auto glass place will charge everything to insurance, so it’s actually cheaper than Jiffy Lube, which makes me pay $5 as a convenience fee.  But finding an auto glass place and scheduling an appointment is too much hassle, so Jiffy Lube it was.  And it really was fast: they had the glass repaired and I was out of there in 15 minutes.

They don’t actually replace the windshield.  They basically just squirt some special glue into the crack to seal it and prevent further damage.  Although supposedly this makes the glass about as safe as a full replacement, you can still see evidence of a crack, so it’s not a perfect solution.

Here’s how it works: the technician first cleans the hole, by drilling it carefully.  Then he uses a special vise to “pull” the windshield glass in such a way that the crack opens enough to fill it thoroughly with the glue.



The glue is essentially a special transparent resin that seals the glass and prevents further damage.


You can’t use this process for cracks longer than 6 inches, but for marks like mine it seems just perfect.