Places and Spaces

A short tour of small colleges in the Pacific Northwest

My wife, 17-year-old daughter and I toured four colleges in Oregon during her mid-winter break: Reed College, Lewis & Clark College, Linfield College and Willamette University. I wanted to record a few impressions of the different places while the experience is relatively fresh, and decided to post them here, in case they are of use to others ... or in case others might have relevant insights and experiences to share via comments.

In my recent post about positivity, praise, practice and perseverance, I wrote about some of my struggles with respect to projecting my self - and my past - onto my 13-year-old son - and his future. During our college tours, my wife and I - who first met while we were students at Ripon College, a small midwestern liberal arts college - both encountered variations on this struggle with respect to our daughter during our initial college tour with her. Although she has far greater motivation, discipline and achievements in her academic pursuits than either of us had at this age, we both have to remind ourselves - or, more commonly, each other - that we want our daughter to choose the school that she believes is best for her, not the one that we believe is best for her ... or, the one that we might like to believe we would have liked to attend ourselves.

Before sharing some observations about the colleges we visited, I want to provide a little more context. Our daughter is primarily interested in a small liberal arts college within reasonable driving distance - or a short flight - of our home in the Seattle area. As a junior in high school, she does not yet know which subject(s) she wants to major in yet, but is generally interested in Biology, Spanish, International Studies - or, at least, studying abroad - and Psychology. She wants a challenging and supportive learning environment in which she can explore these - and other - interests, and where she can interact with other students who are highly motivated and disciplined in their academic pursuits. Debbie Cossey, of Rainier College Counseling, has been very helpful in helping our daughter (and her parents) identify the most important criteria in her consideration of colleges, as well as proposing a specific list of colleges that best meet those criteria, including the four colleges on this tour.

Finally, I want to note that although we have some money set aside to support education, financial aid provided by institutions will be an important factor in our deliberations, especially given the high costs of many of the schools we're considering, and growing economic uncertainties. It is challenging to figure out how much financial aid would be available to any given student at any given institution; definite calculations of costs will have to wait until applications are made by prospective students, and admission decisions are made by the institutions. One institution on our list of candidates, Pacific Lutheran University - which we did not visit on this tour - doesn't even provide tuition information on it's web site, only noting that "On average, when scholarships, grants and other assistance are factored in, the average PLU student’s yearly total is closer to $11,000". I frankly don't know whether we'd be able to afford any of the colleges on this tour, but we thought it would be good to aim high, at least at the outset. There are several places that we're planning to visit in the future ... some of which are considerably less expensive than the ones we've started out with.

Inquire_within07 Our first stop was Reed College, in the southeast part of Portland, which has an enrollment of 1,464 students. Of the four schools, Reed appears to be the most selective and academically rigorous ... and the most expensive; it also had what I found to be the most inspiring motto: "Inquire within". Reed accepted 34% of applicants to the class of 2012; among those who entered the class of 2012, average high school GPA was 3.9, SAT scores for critical reading and mathematics among the middle 50% of incoming students ranged from 1290-1470 (or 1940-2210, with writing scores included) and 65% of students were ranked in the top 10% of their high school class. Students must complete a senior thesis in order to graduate, which I would expect is helpful preparing the large proportion of students - the third highest of any college in the U.S. - who continue on to graduate study. All of this comes at a price, of course: $39,120 in tuition and fees, $9,920 for room and board, for an annual estimated cost of $49,040.

What impressed me the most during our tour of Reed was the student:faculty relationships. The student:faculty ratio was relatively low (10:1) - as was the average class size (15) - and the quality of relationships seemed relatively high. During our visit to the library, we went to the room where all the senior theses are stored. I picked out a few random volumes, and was struck immediately by the Acknowledgments sections in each one, where people who I inferred were professors were being referenced by their first names. I asked our tour guide about this, and she confirmed that was very much the norm at Reed, and went on to say that professors typically invite their students to dinner each semester, and regularly meet with them for lunch or coffee. There was only one department at Ripon where we commonly addressed professors by their first names (Marty, Seth and Steve in Politics & Government), and I only saw the inside of two of my professors' houses during my four years there ... and never shared a meal or coffee with any of them. The relatively low power distance index may help explain why students seem to be highly empowered and relatively autonomous at Reed. As one example of this, they not only have theme dorms, but the themes are proposed and voted on by the students. The relatively wide variation in styles of dress may be another indicator of high autonomy and independence. I also noticed a surprisingly large number of cigarette smokers on campus.

We stayed overnight at Hotel Lucia in Portland, which has a great location (just south of the Pearl District), very comfortable beds (though they were only double beds), and an intriguing collection of photographs (by David Hume Kennerly), but a rather small bathroom (especially for use by three people). Our daughter was hosted for a dinner on campus by a Reed student, while Amy and I enjoyed a fabulous - and surprisingly inexpensive - dinner at The Farm Cafe. We strolled around the Pearl District for an hour or so, before turning in for the night.

Lclark-card5 The following morning, we visited Lewis & Clark College, in the southwest corner of Portland. Compared with Reed, Lewis & Clark has a larger undergraduate population (1,999), is less selective in its admissions (56% acceptance rate, with an average GPA of 3.69 and middle 50% SAT score ranging from 1200-1380), has a higher student:faculty ratio (13:1) and higher average class size (19), and is less expensive ($33,726 tuition and fees, plus $8,820 room and board, for an estimated annual cost of $42,546). One of the things we find especially appealing is that over 50% of students study abroad at some point in their college experience.

When we reached the campus, we were immediately struck by the grandeur and beauty of the Frank Manor House and its spectacular view out the back toward Mount Hood. Our tours at the other colleges were relatively small - one or two students and their parents, at most - whereas there was an extremely large tour group at Lewis & Clark. Even after breaking up into three subgroups, each with a separate tour guide, I'd estimate that each group had somewhere around ten students each. And I don't know if it was the size of the groups or the personality of the student body, but our group was "acknowledged" far more than anywhere else with a variety of greetings ranging from jeers of "Prospies!" (presumably short for "prospective students") to a student shouting "You should come here, you'll love it!" as he whizzed by on a bike. Other things that stood out for me, especially in comparison to Reed, include a stronger focus on fine arts - they have strong programs in Art, Music and Theater - an NCAA Division III sports program, graduate programs in Education and Counseling and Law, and a policy of not allowing freshman students to have cars (on campus) - the only school we visited that had such a restriction. Like Reed, Lewis & Clark offers theme housing. After the tour, the three subgroups reconvened in an auditorium, where the Associate Dean of Admissions was available to answer any and all questions.

Linfield-sweatshirt After a quick lunch, we headed southwest to visit Linfield College, in McMinnville. Linfield has 1,693 undergraduates, and compared with Lewis & Clark, is less selective in its admissions (80% acceptance rate, with an average GPA of 3.56 and middle 50% SAT scores ranging from 990-1220), has a similar faculty:student ratio (13:1) and average class size (18), and is less expensive ($27,414 in tuition and fees, $7,970 in room and board, for a total cost of $35,384). Although they have no graduate program, as with Lewis & Clark, there is a strong emphasis on study abroad, with nearly 60% of students spending some portion of their college career outside of the U.S. They actually require student majoring in a foreign language to spend a full year studying in a country in which that language is spoken (requirements for a minor include a semester in a foreign country).

Several things impressed us during our tour of the campus, which in many respects seemed like a midwestern campus plunked down in the Pacific Northwest. The mostly brick buildings and the grounds were very well kept, and had a very open, expansive feel to them. Everyone we encountered was extraordinarily friendly, with many students on campus making eye contact and smiling as we passed. We saw more school sweatshirts at Linfield than all the other campuses combined, suggesting a strong school spirit (and, perhaps, a stronger emphasis on sports, though Linfield, like Lewis & Clark is NCAA Division III). During our 1:1 meeting with the Admissions Counselor, we learned about an annual scholarship fair each February, in which prospective students are invited to visit campus to compete for departmental scholarships.

We had an early dinner at McMenamins Pub at Hotel Oregon, where we had great salads, but so-so entrees and average beer; next time we'll try the Golden Valley Brewery & Pub. We then drove down to Salem, where we stayed at the Phoenix Grand Hotel, which offered a more spacious double queen suite than we had the previous night. Everyone was tired, so we didn't take advantage of the hotel location to explore downtown Salem that night.

Startrees The next day, I left early for a business meeting in Corvallis while the women explored a bit of Salem on their walk over to the Willamette University campus. Willamette seems to represent a sort of middle ground among the institutions we visited, with 1,780 undergraduates, a median GPA of 3.74 among the entering class of 2012 (not sure what the mean is) and a median SAT score of 1850 (reading + mathematics + writing). The faculty:student ratio is 10:1, with an average class size of 14, and 57% of students earn credit for study abroad. The university includes graduate programs in Law, Business and Education. Some of the statistics Willamette provides are slightly different in nature than those provided by other institutions (e.g., medians vs. means), so direct comparisons are difficult.

Unfortunately, by the time I returned to Salem, the official tour was over, but I heard that the tour and tour guide were both great. Amy gave me a quick mini-tour, pointing out three highlights of the campus: the open areas within the Olin Science Center in the middle of classrooms, labs and faculty offices where students and faculty can hang out; the student-run on-campus coffeeshop, The Bistro, which seemed to have more energy and activity than coffeeshops we saw on other campuses; and the grove of five giant Sequoias - the "star trees" - in front of Waller Hall, the main administrative building. She also mentioned that there is an Amtrak train station - with service to Seattle - right across the street from the campus.

Seeing the campuses first-hand helped highlight some differences that we hope will ultimately help in selecting the best college, i.e., the institution that provides the best environment to both challenge and support our daughter in her academic pursuits and personal growth, balanced against the cost of attending the institution. The costs of attending the institutions we've visited thus far are pretty high, and we'll be visiting other candidates that are considerably less expensive. Quality:price ratios are much harder to calculate than student:faculty ratios, given the complex array of factors that influence both the benefits and costs of college for any given individual (and family). Our first round of campus visits was helpful in assessing some of the benefits, but ascertaining the actual costs may well have to wait until applications are sent, admission decisions are made, and financial aid packages are offered.

A recent New York Times article on "Colleges fretting over admissions" notes that colleges and universities are also facing challenges in their calculations - who to admit, how many to admit, how much aid to offer, how to increase the probability that admitted students will commit to attending - due to the growing economic uncertainties. These uncertainties may ultimately work in students' (and parents') favor:

For students, the uncertainty could be good news: Colleges will admit more students, offer more generous financial aid and, in some cases, send acceptance letters a few weeks earlier. Then again, it could prolong the agony: some institutions say they will rely more on their waiting lists.

But there is no question, admissions officers say, that this year is more of a students' market.

It's still early in the process for us - early applications aren't due until November, and regular applications aren't due until next February - but I think that visiting the campuses helped make the prospect of college more real for our prospective student. Amy and I were both significantly influenced by our visits to Ripon College (as prospective students), and our visits to these four helped us formulate some relative rankings, and to be better prepared for what to look for - online and offline - during our exploration of other candidate colleges in the future.

[Update, 2010-08-29]

Charley's comment prompts me to post a few notes about subsequent visits and other developments in our exploration of educational institutions in the Pacific Northwest (and California).

After our initial tour of the four colleges listed above, Meg visited the following other colleges and universities:

I only accompanied her on the visit to the University of Puget Sound, and my notes are rather sketchy from that trip. The thing that most stood out - for me - was the emphasis on writing at the school: this was mentioned by our tour guide as well as in other interactions with administrators during our visit. I have always believed that writing is one of the best ways to figure out what and how I really think about something (which is why I blog semi-regularly), and so I saw this as a positive feature. Meg is a very good writer, but I don't believe her enthusiasm for this channel of expression is quite as high as mine.

She eventually applied to and was offered admission to Lewis & Clark College, Willamette University, Linfield College, University of Puget Sound, Western Washington University, Chapman University and Santa Clara University (which she did not visit). Many of the offers included some level of scholarship. We visited Willamette and Linfield again this past February, during her mid-winter break: she stayed overnight at Willamette with a student host at the Kaneko dormitory, and attended two classes the next day; at Linfield, we met with a freshman woman (and her father) who had graduated from Meg's high school the preceding year, and was very positive about her experience at the college thus far.

Another resource that influenced our decision was some information I found (and wrote more extensively about on my Posterous milliblog) about Pacific Northwest College Professors of the Year awards. While I recognize that all awards or rating schemes have implicit and explicit biases, and would not recommend using such awards as the primary criteria for selecting a school, I do believe they represent a dimension worth considering, Among the schools we considered, here is the breakdown of professors who have won the U.S. Professor of the Year Award:

Awards Institution Department(s)
9 Willamette University Chemistry (2), Politics (2), Art History (1), Economics (1), History (1), Physics (1), Psychology (1)
5 University of Puget Sound History (2), Physics and Science, Technology & Society (1), Religion (1), Science & Values (1)
2 Lewis & Clark College French (1), History (1)
2 Reed College Biology (1), Classics & Humanities (1)
1 Linfield College German

Deciding among these schools was challenging, and I think the second trip to Willamette, in particular, was very helpful. Our daughter ultimately decided that Willamette offered the best overall fit for her goals with respect to educational quality, campus life and scholarship. I suspect distance from home was also a factor: far enough away that her parents won't be dropping in unexpectedly, but close enough that she can drive or take the train home for a long weekend if / when she is so inclined. And as might be inferred from my recent posts on a warm welcome at Willamette University Opening Days and the Willamette convocation keynote, Jonah Lehrer's Metacognitive Guide to College, we are all confident that this was a good decision.


The Community Collage at Trabant: a Proactive Display in a Cafe

CoCoAtTrabant We recently deployed a proactive display application at the Trabant Coffee & Chai Lounge in the University District of Seattle. The Community Collage (or CoCo) shows a dynamic collage of content drawn from a pool of photos and quotes uploaded to the CoCo web site by customers and staff. When customers visit the café and use their Trabant loyalty cards, their content gets a higher priority to be selected for insertion into the collage. Anyone can visit the web site to view a chronological stream of content that has been shown on the collage, but only registered users can vote or comment on other users' content, post messages on the site's MessageBoard, or send short text messages directly to the CoCo display.

Sample sketchbook page at TrabantThe owners of Trabant, Tatiana Becker and Mike Gregory, along with the baristas and customers at the coffeehouse, have co-curated a creative community space, and we are delighted to have the opportunity to work with all of them. The art on the walls and the music being performed on Mondays (open mic) and weekends reflects some of this creativity, but one of the strongest markers of the creativity that flows through the space is the sketchbooks Trabant has put out on tables in the coffeehouse that various people have contributed to over the years. The sketchbooks reveal a wide variety of depth and breadth of individual personal introspection and community-oriented social, political and artistic commentary - as well as conversations and connections being formed as people riff on each others' words and pictures across space (pages) and time ... a form of reciprocal self-disclosure. One of our goals in deploying CoCo at Trabant is to offer a new channel for expressing this creativity and revelation to all members of the community.

CoCo-Trabant-CommunityCard Given our goal of situated or place-specific community development, we are restricting the population of users to people who visit Trabant. We have printed up business cards (shown to the left) - or perhaps we should call them "community cards" - with a link to our web page, and an invitation code on the back. Customers can pick one up when they visit, and either create an online profile for themselves during their stay (Trabant offers free WiFi - in addition to great coffee) or at a different time or place. The profile enables users to upload photos explicitly, and/or provide a link to their Flickr photo sharing account (if they have one), in which case their Flickr photos are uploaded implicitly. They can also add any number of inspiring quotes to their profile.

TrabantCoCoGiftCard If CoCo users have a Trabant loyalty card (shown to the right) they can enter the code on the back of that card to their profile, so that whenever they use their loyalty card at Trabant, their profile content will be featured more prominently on the collage. The loyalty card is not required: the collage draws content from all users, but it will give priority to those who have - and use - the loyalty cards. And as noted above, anyone can view the content being shared by members of the Trabant community - on the display or on the web site - but only members who have created profiles can vote or comment on the content, or send messages to the MessageBoard or the display itself.

Introducing a new generation of proactive displaysTicket2Talk-UbiComp2003 We call CoCo a proactive display because it senses and responds to the people in a physical space (in this case, a coffeehouse). Although it has an interactive element - people can indirectly interact with the display via the web site - it's primary mode of operation is proactive, showing content relating to people it senses nearby. Earlier examples of proactive displays have involved the use of infrared badges, RFID tags and Bluetooth phones for sensing people, and have been situated in workplace or conference contexts. This is the first time we've deployed a proactive display "in the wild" - a place where you don't need an ID badge to enter, and where the community (and, presumably, the content) is considerably more diverse. We are currently using the Trabant loyalty cards for sensing who is in the coffeehouse, and we currently require an explicit card swipe by the user, but we plan to incorporate other sensing capabilities and explore better integration with existing practices and systems as we progressively refine the design and development of the application.

CoCo is not the first system designed to augment the social space of a cafe. My friend Elizabeth Churchill and her former colleagues at FXPAL created the eyeCanvas, a large touchscreen display that showed content relating to the Canvas Gallery in San Francisco, the place in which it was deployed for a 4-week pilot, and allowed visitors to contribute "finger scribbles" they could draw on a virtual canvas shown on the display. While the Canvas Gallery owners had a profile, of sorts, other users did not have persistent profiles or the ability to upload images (they could, of course, draw images or handwrite quotes to share); I believe this limitation reflected the preferences of the owners rather than the system designers ... and am glad the owners we're working with are so open about enabling other people to share their stuff, on paper (sketchbooks) and now on the big screen.

Another friend, Sean Savage, created PlaceSite, a place-based community web application that enabled people in a cafe to create and share profiles. Unlike CoCo, PlaceSite did not have an associated large display, and the system was more conservative with respect to privacy and did not allow people outside the cafe to access profiles. PlaceSite was piloted at a few coffeehouses in the San Francisco Bay area in 2005 and 2006, but it's interesting - one might even say synchronistic - to note that Sean started formulating the early designs and site selection criteria for the system during his internship with me at Intel Research Seattle in the summer of 2004. He'd even identified Trabant as a promising site, but for a variety of reasons I've alluded to elsewhere, the local Intel lab was not a conducive place to continue pursuing this kind of work, and he decided to postpone deployment until he returned home to the UC Berkeley iSchool, where he was finishing up his master's degree.

Oldenburg-GreatGoodPlace CoCo, eyeCanvas and PlaceSite are all examples of what we might call situated social software - participatory systems designed to reflect the rich digital lives of the people, by the people and for the people in a shared physical space, and [thereby] to promote conversation, connection and community in a quintessential third place. Unlike mobile social software, which enables people to use their mobile phones to maintain connections with their remote friends regardless of time and place, our goal is to use technology to help people establish new connections - or improve existing ones - with the people with whom they are sharing time and space. A quote by Will Rogers captures the essence of this goal:

A stranger is just a friend I haven't met yet.

Many coffeehouses offer wireless Internet (WiFi) access, which enables people to maintain remote connections to their friends in online social networks such as MySpace and Facebook via their WiFi-enabled laptop computers or smartphones. While these online communities offer great value, the cost of maintaining connection with virtual communities is the consequent disconnection with the physical community. Perhaps this is a new variation on Timothy Leary's famous exhortation, "turn on, tune in, drop out": people turn on their laptops, tune in to their online social networks and virtually drop out of contact with the people, places and things around them in physical space.

James Katz offered a great quote in "The New Oases", a recent article in The Economist, describing the impact of WiFi on some of the coffeehouses that offer it: "physically inhabited but psychologically evacuated". Three years ago, I - and others - wrote about the costs and benefits of WiFi use in coffeehouses, triggered by a report that another local coffeehouse - Victrola - had decided to turn off the WiFi on weekends to encourage people to tune in to the people and other things physically present in the place. Trabant offers full-time WiFi, and while we don't want to prevent people from connecting to their virtual communities or compel them to engage with people in the physical coffeehouse - ambience, glanceability and plausible ignoreability are three important design criteria for the collage, to ensure that coffeehouse visitors can [still] enjoy their aloneness together - we want to offer new opportunities to connect with their proximate community.

I've been spending a great deal of time at Trabant lately, and although I spend some of that time virtually tunneling out through the WiFi, CoCo has already helped me learn new things about - and engage in conversations with - the owners, baristas and other customers ... including my creative colleagues on the Strands Labs Seattle team (three of whom - Richie, Shelly and Yogi - are shown in the photo at the top ... and all of whom are, I should note, primarily responsible for the design, development and deployment of CoCo ... I'm just the "front man"). The mission of Strands is to help people discover things they like and didn't know about; CoCo represents a physicalization of this mission, migrating from the online to the offline world(s). We hope that other members of the Trabant community will find that CoCo helps them discover delightful new dimensions of the people, places and things around them!

[Update, June 2009: we've published a paper - "Supporting Community in Third Places with Situated Social Software" - and gave an associated presentation (embedded below) on the system, now called CoCollage, at the 4th International Conference on Communities and Technologies (C&T 2009). Unfortunately, while CoCollage is no longer deployed at Trabant, it can be found in over 20 other venues around Seattle.]


A Cloveristic Tasting at Trabant Coffee

The coffee tasting class at TrabantI attended my first coffee tasting yesterday, at Trabant Coffee & Chai (the U-District shop). Alexa, one of the baristas at Trabant (at the far left in the photo to the left), led six of us through the multi-sensory educational experience involving words, photos, charts and five different coffees freshly brewed on their Clover machine.

I've attended numerous wine tastings over the years (including the recent, Zinfantastic Zinfandel Festival in San Francisco), and feel like I have a acquired a moderate amount of knowledge about wines, and although I've been drinking coffee longer than I've been drinking wine, I feel like a neophyte with respect to coffee appreciation. The coffee yesterday tasting marks my first steps toward better appreciating some of the finer points of this beverage.

CoffeeTastersFlavorWheel Alexa told us that coffees are typically differentiated based on three primary sets of features: acidity, body and finish (all of which are used in distinguishing wine, as well). There are a number of aromas and flavors that are considered "bad", and a number that are considered "good". She passed around a Coffee Taster's Flavor Wheel, produced by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), that showed a large number of smell and tastes that coffee aficionados look for. Nearly all of them are well beyond my current skills in discrimination, but it was interesting to see them laid out in this format (and I found myself wondering if a similar "wheel" exists for wine).

The current offerings that we tasted were the following (the "notes" are copied from the placard posted next to the Clover - I certainly could not have come up with these descriptors myself):

  • El Salvador Retiro Estate: Balanced notes of strong chocolate and soft lemony acidity. Finishes with amaretto and apricot.
  • Papua New Guinea Kunjun Estate: Strawberry-rhubarb and smoky cedar. Smooth medium body and rich on the finish.
  • Colombia La Planeda Micro-lot: Flavors of jasmine and orange peel. Smooth mouthfeel rounded out by a juicy acidity.
  • Ethiopian Yergacheffe Konga Co-Op (organic): Classic profile of chocolate and citrus paired with an aroma of raspberry lemonade. Creamy and heavy body.
  • Kenya: A strong structured coffee with floral fragrance and tea like qualities. Bright lemon acidity, sweet nectarine and a long fruity finish complete this full-bodied Kenyan.

My favorite of the bunch was the Kenyan, although I think I was in the minority. "Full-bodied" is descriptor that has positive associations for me in everything I drink (coffee, wine, beer, scotch), as is "long finish". Subtlety is lost on me - in nearly every dimension of sensory experience - and so I typically need something that really fills my mouth with powerful flavors to enjoy the experience. I also tend to prefer tannic wines and bitter beers, and so don't typically enjoy milder, smoother flavors. Several of the other coffees were lighter in body, and they seemed to be better appreciated by several of the other participants in the tasting (one of whom has a fabulous web site devoted to coffee appreciation), who detected and shared various "notes" that entirely escaped my notice.

Among the other things I learned at the tasting (and in discussions with other baristas at Trabant this morning) were:

  • Coffee beans grow on plants (that sometimes look like trees), and are, essentially, the seeds inside of berries of those plants.
  • The beans have to be dried after harvest, ideally to a humidity level of 12%; they are laid out on drying patios (reminding me of the process by which the grapes for my favorite wine, Amarone, are prepared for fermentation), and typically tested by a coffee farmer biting into a bean to assess its humidity.
  • The beans are extremely porous, and easily absorb all kinds of external substances; this is part of what gives each coffee variety its unique flavor (e.g., the soil and climate conditions where the plant grows), but is always why great care has to be exercised in handling the beans after they are harvested.
  • There are many different varietals of coffee plants, as there are for grapes used in wine; a great deal of experimentation is going on in coffee growing regions to determine which varietals grow best in which places (sometimes extending to the level of a very small section of a plantation).
  • The Clover machine enables baristas to experiment with the dose (grams of coffee), the water temperature and the steeping time; minor fluctuations in any of the above can have a significant impact on the resulting coffee flavors and aromas. It would be fun to try a tasting where a single coffee was the basis for a series of separate brews that demonstrate the impact each of these.

I discovered an article on the Clover in the current issue of Wired - The Coffee Fix: Can the $11,000 Clover Machine Save Starbucks? - that has additional information about the history, design and future prospects for this machine. It mentions some of the new coffees that are brewed in Clover machines, including Los Delirios, a micro-lot that is located at "13° 22'45.99"N x 86° 28'50.45"W, between 1,050 and 1,450 meters above sea level", and Kopi Luwak, "an Indonesian bean that's eaten by a civet cat, then 'harvested' from the animal's dung" ... and which sells for $100 / cup - or $600 / pound (!).

Coming back to Trabant this morning, I bought a 12 oz. bag of the Kenyan (for a mere $14.95) and will do a little experimentation of my own over the weekend - for example, seeing how this tastes (and smells) when brewed on my $80 Cuisinart DCC-1200 drip coffeemaker at home, vs. the $11,000 Clover machine at Trabant.

[Update, 2008-08-29: Tatiana Becker, co-owner of Trabant, shares some of her views on Starbucks' use of the Clover in a Seattle Times article, Starbucks Launches New Coffees for Clover Machines:

She said she doubts the small-batch Clover coffees, which Starbucks will sell for $2 to $4 a cup, will be feasible on a large scale for the chain.]


James Taylor and Other People's Music: A Concert Review

James Taylor concert @ Chateau Ste. Michelle

James Taylor and his Band of Legends gave a great performance at Chateau Ste. Michelle Monday night. I was particularly impressed with the harmonies provided by his backup vocalists and the rhythm laid down by his bassist, drummer and percussionist, but the entire band was strong ... one might even say "legendary". The legendary JT himself still has plenty of energy and a full vocal range (unlike some other aging performers we've seen in concerts at CSM). And as with other CSM concerts we've attended, the weather was perfect, the setting was beautiful, the food and wine was very good - I enjoyed a tomato basil sausage from The Frankfurter (Amy thought the skin on her Southwestern sausage was a little tough), and we particularly liked the 2006 Chateau Ste. Michelle Cinsault - and the music was enjoyable. However, as with most of the concerts we see there, the music was not quite as good as I'd hoped.

The music was very good - Amy thought it was great - it just didn't move me the way I'd anticipated ("something in the way she moves..."). Many of James Taylor's early songs rate high on my "goose bump" scale, and he did play a few of these songs (Country Road, Mexico, Shower the People, Carolina on my Mind, Your Smiling Face), but most of the songs he played (13 of 25, by my count) - were other people's music. Now, some of these cover songs are also among my favorite JT hits - e.g., You've Got a Friend (written by Carole King, who made a surprise appearance at his July 4 concert and 60th birthday celebration at Tanglewood, where we'd seen him play around the time of his 40th birthday) and Everyday (by Buddy Holly). And, of course, "covering"often works both ways: Steamroller Blues, a JT song, was also recorded by Elvis Presley ... who did not make a surprise appearance on this tour (as far as I know). In any case, the performances on all the songs - originals and covers - were great, it's just that I generally connect more deeply on an emotional level with the JT originals.

As Taylor noted in his introduction to You've Got a Friend, he started performing the song while he and Carole King were both starting out sharing a stage - and a backup band - at the legendary Troubador club in Los Angeles, after he figured it out on guitar (she performs it on piano), but "little did I know that I'd be singing it every night for the next 40 years". He noted that there are far worse "prison sentences" ... but his comment did help provide some context for why he may be performing more of other people's music as time goes by. Meanwhile, I still have my old JT CDs - and I suppose I can get a copy of One Man Band, his new CD of his old music (performed live) - if / when I want to walk on down a country road memory lane.

A number of people came away from the concert with more concrete memories. During the first set, JT autographed someone's guitar between songs, and during the intermission, it looked like he was signing album covers, CD jackets, T-shirts, at least one other guitar, and other assorted writing surfaces. The second set had a larger proportion of JT originals, so I was warming up as the outside temperature cooled down (though it was not nearly as cold as the people who attended his second show at CSM last night). However, unlike the recent Indigo Girls concert we attended at Woodland Park Zoo, where they invited the audience to sing along - on the third verses (!) - of several of their songs, JT missed many opportunities to engage the audience in a sing along ... though many of us in the audience were singing along loud and clear on his classics anyway. He finally invited us to sing along at the end of the encore set, on How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).

All in all, it was a nice evening. We bought reserved seats rather than lawn seats, in large part due to the fact that we got the last two tickets left for either show 45 minutes after they went on sale (and there were no general admission tickets). But we were already considering the reserved seats due to a bad experience on the lawn at Tanglewood the last time we saw him, about 20 years ago, where we were seated next to a bunch of people who seemed more interested in conversation than music appreciation. This time, we got to appreciate the music more directly ... I just wish there'd been more of his music to appreciate.

First set:

  • It's Growing (The Temptations)
  • Get a Job (Silhouettes)
  • Country Road (JT)
  • (I've Got to) Stop Thinkin' 'bout That (JT)
  • Wichita Lineman (Jimmy Webb, popularized by Glen Campbell)
  • Why Baby Why (George Jones)
  • Oh What a Beautiful Morning (Rodgers & Hammerstein, from Oklahoma!)
  • Every Day (Buddy Holly)
  • You've Got a Friend (Carole King)
  • Mexico (JT)
  • Shed a Little Light (JT)

Second set:

  • Hound Dog (Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller, originally recorded by Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton, popularized by Elvis Presley)
  • Only One (JT)
  • Walking Man (JT)
  • Roadrunner (Junior Walker)
  • Sweet Baby James (JT)
  • The Long Way Around (Dixie Chicks)
  • Up on the Roof (Gerry Goffin & Carole King)
  • Steamroller Blues (JT)
  • Carolina In My Mind (JT)
  • Shower the People (JT)
  • Your Smiling Face (JT)

Encore:

  • Midnight Hour (Wilson Pickett)
  • Knock on Wood (Eddie Floyd, popularized by Amii Stewart)
  • How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) (JT)

Richie Hazlewood joins Strands Labs Seattle for the summer

Whazlewo_lRichie Hazlewood arrived a few weeks ago from the School of Informatics at Indiana University to work with us on our next generation proactive display applications this summer. Richie has been working with Yvonne Rogers, Kay Connelly and others at Indiana on a variety of interesting and relevant projects involving ambient information displays, data mining, information visualization, and using handheld devices for collaborating with people and interacting with physical artifacts.

Twitterspace-300x187 Most recently - and relevantly - he has been working on Twitterspaces, an ambient display application that offers a dynamic visualization of "tweets" posted by the Informatics group - though it can be easily customized for any group - on Twitter. Tweets, and thumbnail images of their authors, scroll horizontally, and the vertical access represents hours of the day. I'm including a screenshot to the right (a real-time view can be found by clicking on the image).

In addition to his own work, he is co-organizing the Second Workshop on Ambient Information Systems (which is still accepting submissions thru July 11) to be held at UbiComp 2008 - he was also a co-organizer of the First Ambient Information Systems Workshop at Pervasive 2007 - and [thus] brings a broad range of awareness and interactions about designing and using ambient displays to promote awareness and interactions.

We're delighted to welcome Richie, who helps fill key gaps in the team - and team space - as we move forward on our new applications, about which I'll write more in the near future. Meanwhile, I'll include a couple of recent photos of our space, after Richie's arrival.

Richie joins Strands Labs Seattle Our growing team (and filling space)


The Indigo Girls' Zoo Tunes Concert

IMG_0862 The Indigo Girls gave a concert Sunday night at Woodland Park Zoo's Zoo Tunes 2008 Concert Series that was, note for note, the finest music I've ever seen and heard live. I've attended - and reviewed - a fair number of other great concerts, but all of them have had at least one relative "low spot": one or more songs that just don't inspire or otherwise positively affect me (such low spots, of course, open up opportunities for bio breaks, of course). Last night's concert was just one, long, uplifting set, with no dips whatsoever ... which was fortunate, as I'd heard that lines for the honey buckets can get long at the Zoo Tunes concerts.

The concert was held on the closing day of Seattle PrideFest, and while it was not an official part of that event, it was clear that a large proportion of the audience was made up of gay and lesbian fans. I have a vague recollection of hearing / reading something about Amy Ray and/or Emily Saliers being lesbians, but I guess that sort of thing just doesn't matter to me - connection and alignment with spiritual and/or political views matters far more than sexual preferences, and I was reminded throughout the concert just how strong of an alignment I feel toward the music of the Indigo Girls.

I'm embarrassed to admit that while I've long been a fan of the Indigo Girls, and I recognized most of the songs they played, I didn't know the names of many of their songs (I scratched a few notes on what sounded like key lyrics in each song, and was able to search out the titles in composing the set list below). The rest of the audience, though, clearly knew the lyrics to many of these songs. I was initially surprised at the audacity of inviting the audience to sing along on the third verses (vs. choruses) of at least three songs - how many people know the third verse to, say, America the Beautiful - but the Indigo Girls clearly know their audience, and their audience knows them, as people were singing along loud and strong.

I'm also embarrassed to admit that I hadn't listened closely to many of their songs, but given the opportunity of a warm summer evening to relax and listen attentively, the "goose bumps" were flowing with every song (most significantly during "Galileo" and "Closer to Fine"). I have always enjoyed their music, but in the setting of the concert, I found deep, emotional resonance with nearly all of their lyrics. It dawned on me that by the time the band was producing commercial albums (1988), I had become more immersed in my "professional" vocation - I was a professor of computer science while in grad school to get my Ph.D. in the field - and less attentive to the domain of my early vocation - leader, lead guitarist and songwriter in a band I formed while in high school (two of whose five members are no longer alive). Thus my "use" of music had largely shifted from being a primary focus of attention to a background accompaniment as I read, thought about, taught about, and wrote code for and papers on technology projects. I don't foresee a big shift [back] in the near future, but I have been feeling a growing reconnection with my musical roots over the past several months, since joining Strands.

IMG_0856 Getting back to the concert, Coyote Grace opened for the Indigo Girls, playing a great folksy bluegrass set to warm things up. Unfortunately, Amy (my wife) and I were in the beer garden for most of their 45-minute set, and with a cup of beer in my hand, I did not take any notes on their songs. However, when we got back to our blanket, just before they finished, I was surprised to hear one of the main duo, Joe Stevens, say something about "when I was a young girl" during an introduction to a song. Fortunately, I had my iPhone with me, so I opened up my Safari browser, googled "coyote grace" and read about their tag line - "Girl meets Girl. Girl becomes Boy. Girl and Boy become a band." - and further on, about how Joe is a "transman" (a term I hadn't read or heard before, but could instantly understand given the context).

Brandi Carlile, who has been touring with the Indigo Girls, made several appearances throughout the show, and her entire band, along with Coyote Grace, came out to join the Indigo Girls for their final few songs. Amy and I'd seen her play at Chateau Ste. Michelle a year or two ago, and enjoy her music (though not as much a the Indigo Girls ... and, to be honest, not as much as we enjoyed Coyote Grace, either). I'm not sure why Coyote Grace was the opening act for this particular show - perhaps something about it being PrideFest? - but we were glad to have the opportunity to enjoy some exposure to some great new music.

Before closing with the set list, I wanted to share a few tips for anyone considering attending a concert at Woodland Park Zoo. We parked in the south lot (off NE 50th Street, just west of Stone Way). Parking was easy - in and out - but it was a long walk to the concert grounds, which is at the north end of the zoo grounds. We lined up at 4:00 at the south gate, and were probably among the first 20 people in line. However we did not get very close to the stage, so next time, we'll try parking - and lining up - near the north gate or west gate. We set up near some shade near the back, but the shade shifted ... and we were sitting near a number of people who seemed more interested in talking with each other rather than enjoying the music (as a primary focus of attention). Next time we'll try getting close to the stage and forego the prospect of shade ... and I'm really glad that we have premium seats for the upcoming James Taylor show (one of our worst concert experiences was trying to listen to James Taylor at Tanglewood in the early 80s amid all the gabbing people who paid general admission for a nice summer evening picnic that just happened to have a live performance nearby).

Speaking of James Taylor - who we'll be seeing at Chateau Ste. Michelle in a few weeks - reminds me of one more thing I wanted to mention: rock stars, and how well they "age". We've seen James Taylor three times over the past 25 years, and he has put on fabulous concerts every time. In contrast, we were rather disappointed in the Crosby, Stills and Nash (CSN) concert at Chateau Ste. Michelle in 2004: the vocal range of all three had diminished considerably over time - especially Stephen Stills, still one of my guitar heroes - as had their energy ... and ability to energize me. Fortunately, though, when we saw Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (CSNY) at White River Amphitheatre last year, the addition of Neil Young was a tremendous energy boost, and that concert was great.

There was no visible or audible signs of "wear" in the Indigo Girls - they still have full vocal range and lots of energy ... although they have only been performing (in the large) for half as long as either Taylor or CSN[Y]. One thing I was rather surprised at, though, was the relative absence of politics throughout the concert. The CSNY concert last year was very political - almost uncomfortably so (but I think that was their goal) - and I would have thought the Indigo Girls might also use their podium to promote political causes. They did promote a couple of "get out the vote" organizations, but other than that, they just played their music. We did see a cardboard life-size figure of Barack Obama being carried into the concert, but there were no endorsements of candidates - or causes - during the concert. I suspect that there were few registered Republicans at the concert, and given that the Democratic Party primary is over, perhaps they figured there's no sense preaching to the choir. I do have the audacity to hope, though, that this rather apolitical appearance does not reflect apathy among these voters.

Anyhow, here is the set list, as far as I can make it out:


Snoop: An Investigation into Possessions, Perceptions, Projections and Personalities

SnoopCover Sam Gosling's new book - Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You - blends an engaging and accessible overview of some of the key concepts and research findings in personality psychology and environmental psychology with what amounts to a collection of short detective stories. Snoopology, the art and science of determining "which of your tastes and habits provide particular portals into your personality", attempts to differentiate what our stuff really says about us from what most people might think our stuff says about us.

A snoopologist looks for three basic types of clues to personality - one's "unique pattern of thinking, feeling and behaving that is consistent over time" - in the personal spaces (e.g., bedrooms and bathrooms in the home, and offices or cubicles at work) that we inhabit:

  • identity claims: posters, awards, photos, trinkets and other mementos that make deliberate symbolic statements about how we see ourselves that can be for our benefit (self-directed identity claims) or intended for others (other-directed identity claims)
  • feeling regulators: family photos, keepsakes, music, books and videos that help us manage our emotions and thoughts
  • behavior residue: the physical traces left in the environment by our everyday actions (e.g., objects on our desks, on our floors or in our garbage)

The "big five" personality traits, which I first encountered (and wrote about) in the context of YouJustGetMe, a web site for guessing these traits (and an associated ICWSM 2008 paper on which Sam was co-author), are here enumerated along with well-known icons who exemplify these traits:

  • Openness: Leonardo da Vinci; creative, imaginative, abstract, curious, deep thinkers, inventive and value arts and aesthetic experiences.
  • Conscientiousness: RoboCop; thorough, dependable, reliable, hard-working, task-focused, efficient, good planners.
  • Extraversion: Axel Foley (Beverly Hills Cop); talkative, energetic, enthusiastic, assertive, outgoing, sociable.
  • Agreeableness: Fred Rogers; helpful, selfless, sympathetic, kind, forgiving, trusting, considerate, cooperative.
  • Neuroticism: Woody Allen; anxious, easily ruffled or upset, worried, moody.

In exploring what it really means to know someone, Sam reviews some of the work by Dan McAdams, including McAdams' book, The Stories We Live By: Personal Myths and the Making of the Self, which describes three levels of intimacy:

  • traits: the "big five" dimensions of personality listed above
  • personal concerns: roles, goals, skills and values
  • identity: the thread that ties the experiences of our past, present and future into one narrative

In discussing these levels of intimacy, Sam notes that Arthur Aron has developed a two-person "sharing game" consisting of a sequence of 36 questions that slowly escalate the level of disclosure between two people, enabling them to progress from the first to the second level of intimacy. Unfortunately, the sharing game does not appear to be available online (though a journal paper describing the system is available for a fee),

The "sharing game" reminds me of OneKeyAway, a dating service that adds some new twists to "lock-and-key" parties, in which women are given locks and men are given keys - both worn on lanyards around their necks - and prizes are awarded to couples who find matching locks and keys, offering incentives to both easily engage and disengage throughout the course of a party. I've written an entire blog post about lock-and-key parties and OneKeyAway; here I'll simply note a few relevant items. OneKeyAway introduces two interesting dimensions: a 64-question online questionnaire, which covers topics such as relationship expectations, emotional responsiveness, personal behaviors and habits, hobbies, sexual orientation and preferences, religion and substance; and a MatchLinC keyfob-like device that encodes those responses and is handed out at an event. Participants can "zap" each other - point their MatchLinCs at each other and press a button (vs. inserting a key in a lock), and a red, amber or green light on the device signals their relative compatibility. Couples can, of course, strike up a conversation whether the devices say they are compatible or incompatible (both of which are potentially interesting conversation topics if they find each other attractive). The real power is in the questionnaire, which primes the participants to delve into topic areas that are more likely to lead to progressive disclosure and increasing levels of intimacy.

I don't know whether music is one of the topics in the OneKeyAway questionnaire, but it does frequently rank among the topics that appears to be most conducive to enabling people to connect with and relate to each other. Summarizing a number of related psychological experiments, Sam observes that

music consistently trumps books, clothing, food, memories and television shows in helping people get to know each other.

Elsewhere in the book, he notes that

Web sites are extraordinarily good places to learn about people - perhaps the best of all places.

BlobAnalysis The book includes a handy table (shown right) to indicate just how well we can really learn about people's personality traits through different channels.

These, in turn, reminded me of some earlier ruminations about music and personality, that were inspired by earlier encounters with the work of Sam and his colleagues, and gives me renewed hope that we'll be able to effectively transmute Strands' early core competencies in music recommendation into broader and deeper recommendations that help people discover and enjoy other people, places and things around them (an explicit part of our mini-manifesto for Strands Labs, Seattle).

The sharing game, OneKeyAway and talking about music preferences can help people move from traits to personal concerns, but to really enable people to know each other at the deeper level of identity, McAdams says we have to set the stage for the telling of a story ... their story: "an inner story of the self that integrates the reconstructed past, perceived present and anticipated future to provide a life with unity, purpose and meaning". This dimension reminds me of my experience in The Mankind Project, where we regularly seek to differentiate data, judgments, feelings and wants. One of the tools we use to do this is careful use of language, or as we like to put it, clear, direct, concise and truthful (CDCT) communication. We often preface our remarks with "the story I make up about X" to help us remember that the judgments we have about people - others and ourselves - typically take the form of narratives we construct based on relatively sparse data, filled in with a multitude of judgments, in our relentless effort to make sense of the world. We also emphasize the use of "I" statements - which is consistent with the findings of James Pennebaker reported in the book that a person's use of first-person pronouns is correlated with honesty (and, interestingly, complex thinking).

Rorschachinkblot Philippehalsmanjumpbook Returning to the topic of making sense of people, Gosling reports that the famous Rorschach ink-blot test, in which people describe what they see in ink-blot patterns, is actually not very helpful in assessing personality. A more helpful test is the Picture Story Exercise (PSE) - or Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) - in which people make up a spontaneous story about a random series of pictures, revealing repressed aspects of their personality, especially their motivations and needs for achievement, affiliation and power. Personality seepage can also be effectively captured and analyzed through body movements such as jumping, walking and dancing. Wryly noting that "we sometimes say more with our hips than with our lips", Sam reports on a study by Karl Grammer, at the Ludwig-Boltzmann Institute for Urban Ethology, in which analysis of videotapes and interviews conducted in nightclubs showed that the tightness of a woman's clothing, the amount of skin it reveals, and the "explosiveness" of her movement on the dance floor are all correlated to estrogen levels (indicating fertility, and thus, attractiveness, evolutionarily speaking).

Of course, physiological components of attractiveness are often combined with - or covered up or compensated by - other, more deceptive, dimensions of the outer layers of appearance and behavior we project. This reminds me of some of Judith Donath's insights into the application of signaling theory to social networks, in which she distinguishes among the relative costs and benefits of handicap signals, index signals and conventional signals, and explores how fashion is largely a manifestation of the latter, relatively inexpensive, type of signal.

Fortunately, however, for those of us who are concerned or obsessed with authenticity, Sam claims that our behavioral residue is difficult to consciously manipulate, and underneath whatever appearances we may try to cultivate, our real personalities persistently try to express themselves. This is corroborated by experimental results from Self-Verification Theory, which suggests that people want to be seen as they really are (or at least as they see themselves), even if that means that "negative" aspects of their personalities are seen.

One of the more controversial chapters in the book addresses the issue of stereotypes. Given that we can only perceive narrow aspects of others' personalities, we naturally tend to fill in the gaps of the stories we make up about them with information based on our perceptions others who we judge similar, based on gender, race, or where they live (e.g., with respect to red states and blue states). Unfortunately, for those of politically correct persuasion, many of these stereotypes do have at least a kernel of truth. For example, women tend to score higher in the Big Five trait of neuroticism than men, i.e., they tend to be more anxious, less even-tempered, less laid-back, more emotional and more easily stressed tan men, and it turns out that, generally speaking, conservatives are "neurologically more resistant to change" and liberals are more extroverted.

MusicStereotypes And music stereotypes turn out to be very helpful in forming correct impressions of people, although not all music genres are created equal, with respect to the personality traits their fans inadvertently reveal. For example, affinity for Contemporary Religious music turns out to be much more revealing about personality, values and alcohol and drug use than a love of Soul music or, more surprisingly to me, Rap.

Another dimension that reveals aspects of our personalities is hoarding. Sam notes that we have "an ingrained instinct to collect stuff" (which may be why Amy Jo Kim includes "collections" as one of the five key elements of what makes online games - and online social networking - so addictive). He shares a definition of hoarding as "the repetitive collection of excessive quantities of poorly usable items of little or no value with failure to discard those items over time". With the caveat that "little or no value" is a rather subjective label, I must admit that I tend to hoard books, academic papers and wines. This, in turn, leads to a discussion of what our workspaces say about us ... but I'm going to hold off saying more about that (for now) ... I've been composing this blog in bits and pieces for over a month now, and I want to wrap it up (and if anyone has actually read this far, you may be thinking the same thing). [In fact, given the change in default formatting that TypePad has instituted in the interim, this blog post didn't even get assigned a usable URL, so I've had to repost it :-(]

However, before closing, I will note that in the "What Counts?" column of the May 2008 issue of Conscious Choice, a few interesting statistics - from a TreeHugger article on "Spring Cleaning: '101 Reasons to Get Rid Of It'" - are listed:

  • 1.4 Million: Americans who suffer from hoarding or clutter.
  • 80: Percentage of things Americans own that they never use.

Unfortunately, it's not clear what proportion of the 1.4 million sufferers are the actual hoarders and how many are family, friends and/or coworkers of the hoarders ... for example, I think my wife suffers much more from my hoarding than I do.

Just to come [nearly] full circle again, the issue starts out with a letter from the editor entitled Fire and Rain, that talks about the way that music influences us,

I can’t help but pay special attention to the songs that randomly pop into my head. ... Music has the magical ability to transport and transform us in ways that impress me on a daily basis.

I've just finished - and plan to write another long blog post about - another fabulous book: This is Your Brain On Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, by Daniel Levitin ... in which he talks about how and why some music gets stuck in our heads ... and a variety other aspects of our obsession with music ... and which offers an interesting complement to some of the insights that Sam shares in his book.

Returning to Sam's book, one issue that came up repeatedly (for me) throughout the book was the difference between what our words and actions really say about us, and how others generally interpret what our words and actions say about us. Sam notes a number of scientific experiments that have shown that we often make mistaken assumptions about people. But if most people make the same inferences - however mistaken - about others, won't this have an effect on their interactions with them ... and eventually, on their personalities? As Sam notes in the book:

Attractive people may be treated differently in social interaction, a phenomena that actually leads to differences in how they behave and how they seem themselves.

Theodor Adorno noted a similar phenomena in his 1951 book, Minima Moralia: Reflections from a Damaged Life (which I read about in a recent Wall Street Journal book review, Capitalism and its Malcontent):

The sound of any woman's voice on the telephone tells us whether the speaker is attractive. It reflects back as self-confidence, natural ease and self-attention all the admiring and desirous glances she has ever received.

So if others' assumptions about us affects their behavior toward us, and their behavior affects our behavior, and our behavior over time affects our personalities, won't others' assumptions - however erroneous - affect our personalities? Do we tend to become more of the people others' see us as? I'm reminded of the lyrics from a Lyle Lovett song: "If I were the man that you wanted, I would not be the man that I am" ... but I digress...

I don't mean to say that personality and social psychology does not yield many interesting interesting insights - indeed, Sam's book is one of the most interesting books I've ever read - I just wonder how much impact these insights will have on society. How much does what our behavior really mean matter, in comparison to how others interpret our behavior (and its residue)? Should we be doing more scientific experiments or conducting more polls? Would we rather be right or happy (or popular)?

Of course, if snoopology catches on, perhaps more of us can be right, happy and popular - about and with each other.


New Faces at Strands Labs Seattle

Yogi and I have recently been joined by some wonderful new people at Strands Labs Seattle, and our new office space has some new surfaces that make it increasingly habitable.

SameerAhuja Sameer Ahuja, a graduate student intern from Virginia Tech, arrived May 12, and will be spending the summer with us. Sameer has been working with the Digital Government Research Group under Dr. Manuel A. Pérez-Quiñones and Dr. Andrea Kavanaugh, where they have been researching and developing social software, visualization tools, and content aggregation tools with the purpose of enhancing citizen awareness and promoting greater participation. We are delighted to have him participate in our efforts to research and develop new tools for enhancing awareness and promoting interactions in other contexts.


ShellyFarnham Shelly Farnham, co-founder and Social Architect at Waggle Labs, joined us as a part-time consultant on May 15. Shelly brings a wealth of experience in prototyping, deploying and evaluating social technologies designed to enhance communication, community, social networks, identity, knowledge sharing, and social coordination. Before co-founding Waggle Labs, Shelly was a Researcher with the Social Computing, Community Technologies, and Virtual Worlds Groups at Microsoft Research. She is also an accomplished artist. I've known Shelly - and admired her work - for over 5 years now, and I'm thrilled to have an opportunity to work directly with her.


Frank Kemery, principal at PPM Wireless, LLC, also joined us as a part-time consultant on May 15. Frank brings deep and broad expertise in identifying new market opportunities, strategic planning, business development, alliance building, product planning, development and management in startup and mature environments. Earlier chapters of his career include senior positions at Real Networks, InfoSpace, and Activate (which was acquired by Loudeye (which was acquired by Nokia)). Frank is our point man in addressing one of the principles outlined in our innovation manifesto for Strands Labs Seattle: aligning innovative social technologies with viable business models.

StrandsLabsSeattleSE StrandsLabsSeattleNE StrandsLabsSeattleDeck

In addition to the new people faces, the lab itself also has a new face. The front area, facing University Way, has fresh paint, new carpeting and a new deck overlooking "the Ave". We are still sitting at temporary folding tables, using chairs that will eventually be moved to a conference room, and using 8' x 4' laminated melamine boards propped up against the walls as temporary whiteboards. The main thing, though, is that we have a nice open area with big windows with lots of light ... an increasingly conducive space in which our growing team can effectively collaborate on designing and developing new social technologies that bridge the gap between people - and the places we inhabit - by bridging the gaps between our online life streams and the physical spaces we share with others.

[BTW, speaking of life streams, Strands has a new feed (or lifestream) aggregator in private beta that will likely play a significant role in our projects in Seattle. I'll write more about that once it is publicly available. Meanwhile, as with nearly all major developments in our company, more information can be found on our corporate blog; ReadWriteWeb also has a review ... and a private beta invitation code to give away.]


KT Tunstall @ The Moore, Seattle (a concert review)

Kttunstallatthemooreseattle

KT Tunstall and her band of mostly unplugged musicians gave an energetic performance at The Moore Theatre in Seattle last night. The music was drastically fantastic, and her rapport and repartee with the audience was light-hearted and engaging.

I first discovered her through spam - one of the weekly emails RealNetworks used to send out to everyone who registered a downloaded RealPlayer application had a link to a live solo performance of Black Horse and The Cherry Tree. I loved the music, the words, the energy, and her ingenious use of recording technology to produce an amazingly full sound with just her voice, hands, and guitar.

Eyetothetelescope Drasticfantastic I bought her first album, Eye to the Telescope, immediately thereafter, and it became an instant favorite. It has several "goosebump songs" - songs that evoke a strong visceral reaction every time I hear them [BTW, on a related note, I see that David Huron is scheduled to present a paper on "Music-evoked Frisson: How Music Produces Gooseflesh and Why Listeners Enjoy It" at the Music and the Brain Conference at Stanford next week]. Last night, hearing several of these songs live also brought out the goosebumps.

Her live performance of many songs on her second album, Drastic Fantastic, with which I was initially somewhat disappointed - as I nearly always am for every artist's second album (with the exception of Sheryl Crow) - helped me better appreciate her more recent music ... especially her mesmerizing rendition of "If Only". That said, though, none [yet] qualify as "goosebump songs".

Another dimension of enhanced appreciation is for the drummer / percussionist in her band, Luke Bullen. We were sitting about 20 feet from him, and had a closeup view of the variety of instruments he employed - and how he employed them (often in interesting combinations) - to provide the base for that combination of strong bass beat and nuanced rhythms that characterize so many of her songs.

On the way home, Amy asked whether I thought KT Tunstall is a lesbian - not that this would affect our enjoyment of her or her music. I hadn't picked this up in her music, although upon reflection, I do see there is some potential ambiguity as to the gender of the people she sings about. I also noticed a number of lesbian couples in the audience at the show. In googling around, I discovered a Pink News report that although she enjoys and appreciates her following among the lesbian community, she is not gay ... and her boyfriend - drummer Luke Bullen - also enjoys and appreciates that following ... and this information enabled me to better appreciate how and why they seem to form such a great musical groove on-stage (and in recordings).

It was pretty apparent during the show that she also has a strong following from heterosexual males, and is used to bantering with them from the stage. During the break between the first two songs, one man shouted out "I love you" - to which she responded "Thanks ... I love you too". Shortly thereafter, during another break between songs (which frequently included guitar switches), she introduced her new 12-string guitar, which she picked up in Santa Barbara - and so she named it "Barbara" - after which this same man shouted out "I love your guitar", to which she responded "You stay away from my guitars!".

Another interaction started with her leading us in practicing "the first ever Seattle group body pop" - three moves including "teapot",  "pregnant woman" and "back over the hill". Although some intrepid spirits in the audience participated, as a group, we largely failed ... and in so doing, probably sacrificed our chance to hear her cover The Bangles' song "Walk Like an Egyptian", which I've read she's performed at other stops on the tour. Fortunately, we were later treated to a great cover of Chaka Khan's "Ain't Nobody" (during the encore).

In introducing Black Horse and the Cherry Tree, she noted a family holiday in Port Townsend when she was growing up, fondly remembering the well-to-do hippies selling oddities such as elk piss in the town. She also recounted a whale watch, where every time a baby whale would breach, everyone on the boat would say "Wooooh!" ... which she then parlayed into the "woo hoo ... woo hoo ..." intro to the song. She later noted a "random fact" about ear wax being more prominent in people who are afraid; I've read about other random facts she's inserted into other concerts ... and may try that next time I'm chairing a session at a conference ... though I probably won't bring my guitar.

Anyhow, here is her setlist, as best I can recall:

  • Miniature Disasters
  • Little Favours
  • Hold On
  • Other Side of the World
  • Someday Soon
  • Funnyman
  • Throw Me a Rope
  • Black Horse and the Cherry Tree
  • Ashes
  • Hopeless
  • Under the Weather
  • Beauty of Uncertainty
  • If Only
  • Saving My Face
  • Suddenly I See

Encore:

  • Universe & U
  • Ain’t Nobody (cover of a Chaka Khan song)
  • Stoppin' the Love

This was our first visit to The Moore. After enjoying an early dinner with Yogi and Dawn across the street at the Buenos Aires Grill (though the food itself was not very impressive), we arrived at the theater around 7:40, 20 minutes before the show, and were still able to get seats very close to the stage - second row from the stage in the narrow column of seats at the far left of the stage.

The opening act was Paddy Casey, a singer/songwriter from Dublin, who reminded me of a cross between David Grey and Aztec Two-Step. We enjoyed his music, but often couldn't make out the lyrics very well.

Of course, we sometimes couldn't make out KT's lyrics either, but we've heard her songs before (many times, in some cases) ... and feeling the energy first-hand was a real treat.


Move-in Day for Strands Labs, Seattle

Today we moved into our new office at 4143 University Way NE - right on "the Ave", the heart of Seattle's University District, and literally a stone's throw from the University of Washington.


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We occupy the top floor of a three-story building, with 3400 square feet to grow into, and two (!) decks, one of which overlooks the Ave.

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Yogi and I - and others who will be joining us soon - will work in of one of the back offices while construction continues on the front office area (several interior walls have been removed to open up the space facing the Ave).

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We'll be using a motley collection of furniture until we get some new "system" furniture, which we hope to order by the end of this week ... and which probably won't be delivered and installed until mid-June. In any case, we have plenty of room to grow, and growing the team will be increasing in relative priority as space-related issues are settled.

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We've been finding it rather challenging to determine how to configure a system of furniture that achieves an appropriate balance among occasionally conflicting goals - providing similarly-sized and well-delineated individual workspaces, promoting collaboration and teamwork between workspaces (and the people who occupy them), maximizing the "access" to natural light and offering sufficient storage. We also want to find the right balance between wanting to configure the space that best suits the people and the work in Seattle and not wanting to deviate too far from configurations used in the other Strands offices. A learning and growth opportunity, along several dimensions.

Of course, leasing office space was also a learning opportunity for me. Early on, we decided that being close to the UW campus would offer long-term strategic benefits, enabling us to more easily attend talks and other events on and around campus, and making it easy for UW students and faculty to visit - and perhaps work with - us. Even within the narrowed search space of the University District, there were a number of options available, in various shapes, sizes, locations and prices. This was a pleasant surprise, given recent reports that Seattle is the hottest office market in the country.

Typically, real estate brokers - commercial or residential - operate on a commission basis. Although a prospective tenant may utilize the services of a broker, they are paid by the landlord, based on the lease terms that are negotiated with the tenant. While this may be the usual arrangement, I wanted to have a commercial real estate broker who would be paid by us, to ensure that he would be working solely on our behalf without any conflict of interest. We were very happy with the tenant representation services provided by Tom Baker, of Office Lease, who helped us identify features and evaluate options along dimensions that might not have occurred to us, and ultimately helped us arrive at a decision on a space that we believe will best serve our long-term needs. Dennis Counts, of Yates & Wood, who represented the landlords, was also very helpful throughout the process.

The landlords, Sunny and Sarah Lee, have also been very helpful and accommodating throughout the process. We were grateful for their willingness to reconfigure the front space, and for their ongoing responsiveness as issues have arisen during demolition, reconstruction and refinishing work proceeds in the space. We look forward to a long, happy relationship with them, as well as with our new neighbors downstairs - Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches on the second floor and the Ave Copy Center at street level.

Listening to NPR on my way home this evening, I was reminded that today is May Day, on which some people celebrate International Worker's Day. We did not take a holiday or participate in a demonstration today - in fact, we didn't even have a celebration (we'll have to address that oversight tomorrow)! We are still not quite in a position to work a "regular day" at the office yet - we still have a few connectivity [Yogi has figured out how to alligator clip us into an Internet connection (!)] and logistics issues to work out. But today did mark an important milestone for us, as we set the stage for innovation at Strands Labs, Seattle.