Places and Spaces

Hanging Loose in Maui: a Whale of a Family Vacation

Polo_beach_club We spent a relaxing mid-winter break in Hawaii last week, staying at the Polo Beach Club in (or near) Wailea on Maui, the same spot where Amy and I honeymooned nearly 20 years ago. This stay was a little different than the last time - I don't want to say the honeymoon is over, but we are no longer newlyweds (or not "just Mauied", in local tourist T-shirt jargon), and staying there with a 16 year old daughter and 12 year old son added an entirely new dimension to the experience.

The area is far more developed than the last time we visited, when it seemed like the Polo Beach Club was the only sign of human habitation in sight (the photo in the top right is from around that time period)... and in some dimensions, I suppose we are more developed - as individuals, as a couple and now a family. After walking, driving and kayaking around the area, I still think this is the best place to stay in Maui, if one wants to get "up close and personal" with the ocean ... and its inhabitants.

Humpback whale breaching off Papawai Point (cropped)Aside from familial changes, one of the key differences this time was seasonal changes, as we were visiting in February rather than August ... whale season (!). We saw hundreds of whales [and we really saw whales this time, unlike the last time I wrote about watching for whales, but [only] seeing what I wanted to see (rather than what really was - or, more specifically, was not - there) during our last family vacation, along the Oregon coast]. I snapped hundreds, but ultimately uploaded only a few dozen, of photos of the humpback whales we saw off Maui to my Flickr account. We saw them from our balcony, we saw them from the beach, we saw them from kayaks, we saw them from our car, we saw them from restaurants and shops ... we saw them nearly everywhere we went.

We could also hear the whales singing when we went snorkeling - sometimes rather loudly. Prompted by a comment by Dana on an earlier post on music and personality, I discovered a transcript from the log of the 5 year Voyage of the Odyssey entitled The Ocean's Elaborate Composers, which offered more information about the whale songs:

A song can be defined as one or more notes that are repeated in a pattern. Technically, the repeated sounds of birds, frogs and even crickets are songs. Yet, it is the song of the Humpback whale that is the most grand and complex in the animal kingdom.

As Roger Payne wrote in his book, Among Whales -

"They are divided into repeating phrases called themes. When the phrase is heard to change (usually after a few minutes), it heralds the start of a new theme. Songs contain from two to nine themes and are strung together without pauses so that a long singing session is an exuberant, uninterrupted river of sound that can flow on for twenty-four hours or longer".

Themes are sung in a deliberate order, with the entire song lasting anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour. Humpbacks even employ rhymes in their songs; perhaps this helps them to remember them, a trick which is also used in human composition. Male humpbacks have been known to sing for hours, even days.

We made recordings of each vocalization throughout the afternoon. Each song lasted an average of seventeen to twenty minutes before the animal surfaced. The whale took only three breaths in quick succession before diving again.

Remarkably, all male humpback whales from the same population sing the same song, while the songs of each population are quite distinct from one another. This means that the structure and content of all of the songs we recorded today are the same, yet different from a whale that may also be singing today in his mating grounds in the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans. As Roger Payne observed "Humpback whales change their songs continually so that after about five years they are singing an entirely new song and apparently do not ever return to the original".

Canonef75300mmiiiusmlens Dakotaeliteweatherproof10x42binocul I was delightfully obsessed with the whales during our stay ... but I'll move on to another obsession: photography. Shortly after starting our Oregon vacation, the scenery was so beautiful along the coast that I went out and bought a Canon EOS 40D / Digital Rebel XTi (my first digital SLR camera). Shortly after starting this vacation, and seeing all the whales, and feeling frustrated with not being able to get closer to them (photographically speaking), I went out and bought a Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III USM Telephoto Zoom Lens - and a Dakota Elite Weatherproof 10x42 Binocular (to watch whales without photographing them) from Ritz Camera. While I was happy to be able to take many more closeup photos of the whales during my stay, upon closer inspection, few of the images were not blurred (one of the reasons I uploaded so few photos to my Flickr account), so I plan to return the lens for one of the Image Stabilization (IS) lenses (perhaps the ultracompact Diffractive Optics (DO) version).

More whale watching on the HinaWe did make attempts to get physically closer to the whales. We enjoyed a two-hour Hawaiian sailing canoe adventure on the Hina (which docks - or I should probably say "beaches" - at the Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel, next door to the Polo Beach Club), during which we learned about the local geography, history, ecology and culture, and saw sea turtles and numerous colorful fish while snorkeling. Unfortunately, although most of the times we saw the Hina from our condo, it was near whales (an example is shown in the photo to the right), we saw no whales from the Hina the day we went out, though we did hear them while we were snorkeling.

Whale watching via kayakSo, another day, we rented two-seater sea kayaks - also at the Fairmont Hotel beach - and set off on our own to get up close and personal with these magnificent mammals. We managed to approach within approximately 100 yards of a few whales - which is, as I understand it, the closest that any boat is supposed to get to a whale - but not nearly as close as some other kayaks seemed to get (an extreme example is shown on the left). However, we got close enough to enough whales that the kids decided that they didn't want to go out on a whale watching boat at the Pacific Whale Foundation. We read about a boat that had gone out two weeks before we arrived that had been the victim of a "whale mugging", where they were stranded in the water for over an hour while whales were swimming around the boat (boats aren't supposed to move when whales are within 100 yards). In retrospect, I think it would have been fun to go out on a whale watch boat the first day, if only to learn more about - and thus be able to better appreciate - the whales we saw (and heard) so much of.

We also went snorkeling in the Ahini-Kinau Preserve, down around the southern tip of the island - well some of us did (Amy, Meg and me ... Evan had a sore ankle that morning). We saw more sea turtles, tropical fish and coral ... and as the preserve volunteers warned us, discovered that "the rocks are alive" - I cut my thumb and finger, and got a sliver of some kind in another finger, while walking on my hands out beyond the shallow, rocky area on the shore. We rented snorkeling gear from Maui Dive Shop - $25/week for the "deluxe" package (which comes with better gear than the $15 "standard" package) - and I think it would have been worthwhile to inquire about and/or invest in gloves, as I saw many other snorkelers wearing. Also, even though we snorkeled in the morning (around 9:30 or 10:00), I got sunburned after only 45 minutes, so wearing sunblock and/or a tee shirt, even before "peak" sunlight hours, would also have been worthwhile ... an aspect for which I could have been better prepared if I'd read up on some snorkeling tips (update: expanded into The Ultimate Guide to Snorkling) before setting out. Fortunately, this happened on our last full day on the island, so it had minimal impact (there).

Family Photo OpBack on terra firma, another obsession I / we indulged during the vacation was gustatory exploration. Among our favorite restaurants from this visit are:

  • Spago (best combination of food, service, decor and view, most romantic ... and most expensive)
  • Sansei (tie for best food and service, with good decor but no view)
  • Mama's Fish House (very good food, service and view)
  • Tommy Bahama (very good food, service, decor and entertainment, but no view)
  • Seawatch (good food and service, very good decor, outstanding view, site of family photo op to the right)
  • Who Cut the Cheese (not a restaurant, per se, but a wine & cheese shop where we picked up an array of fine cheeses - including 5 year old Gouda and Roaring Forties - and a bottle of Hartford 2005 Russian River Zinfandel, which we enjoyed back at the condo)

Full reviews for all of these restaurants - with more details about which menu items and other specific aspects we liked (and didn't like), and several photos I took at each one (with my iPhone, not my Canon telephoto lens) - can be found on my Yelp profile page. I'll simply note that we tried - and enjoyed - Ahi rolls of some kind at nearly all of these establishments ... and include a few sample photos below.

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We ate a lot of fish while on Maui, and Evan was initially interested in indulging a related passion (that isn't quite an obsession ... for him ... yet) - catching fish. We'd gone fishing during earlier vacations to Cabo, Mexico (which was great), and Tampa, Florida (which was not so great), so we looked into possibilities on Maui. I found an excellent web site on Maui sport fishing, created and maintained - I might say "captained" - by Captain Mike Crawford. Captain Mike was very helpful - via telephone and email - in helping us explore the different options regarding harbors, fishing times, days and the age of my son (and my desire to be simply a "rider", as I'm not much of a fisherman). Unfortunately, I didn't contact Mike early enough to find a boat that would fit our schedule - and our desire for a relatively short trip - but maybe next time.

One dimension of potential obsession that we observed but in which we did not indulge was Mustang convertibles. I've never seen so many Mustang convertibles before. I can't remember what kind of car we rented in 1988, but the 1988 Ford Mustang was not a car that I found particularly appealing, and I doubt I would have been willing to pay an upgrade fee to drive one. In 2008, however, I would have gladly paid extra to drive one of the new 2008 Mustang convertibles ... but alas, with four people, and a full load of luggage, that would not have been practical (or even possible, without renting a second car). Instead, we got a free upgrade to a Cadillac, which was fine.

Speaking of car rentals, some of the lessons we learned about traveling to / from / within Maui include the following:

  • The Enterprise Rental Car facility near Kahalui Airport (OGG) closes at 9:00pm. I nearly always use Enterprise wherever I go (I've waxed poetic about my experience of great customer care at Enterprise - and United Airlines - in an earlier blog post), and had a reservation with Enterprise this trip, but when our flight out of Los Angeles was delayed, we were rescheduled to arrive around 10:00pm. Fortunately, although the Hertz counter at OGG [also] closes at 9:00pm, the off-site facility stays open until 11:00pm, so I was able to book a new reservation at Hertz - for a lower rate than I'd gotten many months ago when I originally booked the Enterprise reservation - while we were waiting at LAX.
  • The United Airlines ticket counter at OGG has a priority line for their Premier, 1K, First Class and Global Services members. However, the agents behind the counter did not accord any priority to people in this line (while we were in it). There were only two agents in front of the priority queue, and another five in front of the main queue; when one of the priority queue agents got sidetracked - for at least the half hour we were in line - helping one family, none of the other agents to the right appeared to notice or respond by signaling to people waiting in the priority queue ... and, unfortunately, none of the people ahead of us in the priority queue appeared to be sufficiently assertive to compensate for this lack of agent response (perhaps they were still on "island time") ... until I stepped forward to offer some gentle "prompting". This was all after having the unexpected extra measure of some kind of agriculturally-focused luggage pre-screening, and before the long security lines, which unlike SEA and LAX (and SFO and nearly every other U.S. airport I've been to), did not have a priority queue for frequent fliers with "status". I mention all this because we arrived at the airport with the recommended 90 minutes of lead time for our 10:00pm "red-eye" flight, which I expected was more than enough time, given the priority queues I'm used to elsewhere, and we barely made it through all the lines in time for our flight (which they had intended to have depart early). So, [frequent] flier beware!

Despite the sleep deprivation of the red-eye flight, compounded by a [scheduled] 2+ hour layover in San Francisco on the way back to Seattle, we would still choose this option again - though allotting 2 hours for navigating the queues at OGG - as it allowed us an extra day of sightseeing and whale watching (from shore), culminating with a delicious sunset meal at the beach (at Mama's), a fitting end to a Maui-velous vacation.


Coasting in Oregon: Notes from a Family Vacation along the Oregon Coast

Oregon_washington_coast_map_detaile We spent the first week in August traveling down the Oregon coast, covering 1300 miles in 8 days, stopping in Cannon Beach, Florence and Gold Beach then dipping down into Crescent City, California, before heading inland to Crater Lake, with a stopover in Eugene on the way back home to Woodinville, Washington.

Canon_eos400d The scenery in Cannon Beach was so spectacular that I decided I had to go out and buy a new digital SLR camera (the 10.1 megapixel Canon EOS 400D / Digital Rebel XTi), as my Nokia N95 photos weren't doing full justice to the natural beauty there ... and I knew from a trip along the coast in 1986 (when I also bought some new camera equipment) that we were going to pass through lots of other beautiful places. As a side effect of this purchase, I was taking lots of photos, and the image files are large, so I've upgraded my Flickr account to "professional".  Another side effect is that taking lots of photos with the new camera aggravated my right elbow, for which I underwent a Plasma Rich Platelet treatment a month ago (about which I'll post a separate update on progress - or regress - in the near future).

TripAdvisorYelp_logo Before the trip, I'd made heavy use of TripAdvisor to investigate lodging options. During the trip, I tried to use Yelp to investigate dining and other activity options. TripAdvisor was very helpful; Yelp was [surprisingly] not very helpful (given how useful it's been for assessing options in the Seattle and Palo Alto areas). I decided to post a number of reviews of our lodging, dining and other experiences on both sites. I'm not sure if my reviews on TripAdvisor added much value to TripAdvisor, since my ratings were very closely aligned with the existing averages, and my reviews probably didn't add much new information. My reviews on Yelp may have been more helpful, as I was the first to review several restaurants and a bike shop ... though I suppose I'll leave it to others do decide how valuable those reviews really are are.

Since I've posted so many reviews elsewhere, I'll just briefly review our itinerary here, with 5-point ratings, brief comments and links to the full reviews (by me and others) on the other sites, in case our experience might be valuable to other families planning a similar vacation (the preponderance of favorable ratings is either the result of successful research or low standards ... I like to think it's more likely the former). I'll also include thumbnails and links to a few photos along the way. [A much more comprehensive guide to the Oregon coast can be found at 101 Mile by Mile.]


Africa is the New Black

If I were to highlight one [more] theme that emerged at Foo Camp 2007 (having already noted the themes of passion, privilege, scalability and desirability as well as attention, inattention, appreciation and depreciation), it would be that Africa is the new black, i.e., an area of increasingly popular, perhaps even fashionable, interest. There were three sessions during the weekend explicitly devoted to Africa, and another that is extremely relevant to a continent on which electrical power cannot be taken for granted:

I attended all of these, continuing an inexplicable and nearly inexorable pull I feel toward this area (Rumi's exortation to "let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love" resonates with me ever more strongly ... though I guess I'm not following the silent part so well).

I have never been to Africa, I don't know many people who have even visited there, and the research I do is not any more relevant to Africa than to any other region (in fact, potentially much less so, given the cost consciousness that understandably pervades the region). Still, I have an increasingly strong feeling that there is great potential to do Good - and to do [good] business (not that I would want to suggest there is any necessary contradiction in claiming business is good) - in that region, and that somehow my current position (at Nokia Research Center Palo Alto) may put me in a position to help catalyze efforts in that direction.

Martin Benjamin presented the Kamusi Project (slides), which is building a bilingual dictionary for English and Swahili (a language spoken by 100 million people), which thus far has 70 million entries, 10 million page hits and 600,000 unique visitors per year (though only 10,000 from Africa). Martin emphasized the importance of this project by noting a number of important factors:

  • Language is the key to knowledge – for reading the news, doing your homework, browsing the web
  • Knowledge is the key to prosperity – for getting a job, selling a product, buying a company…
  • Very few Africans can access information technology resources in a language with which they are comfortable
  • IT mastery is a path to prosperity: it works in India (for those who speak English), it works for you (i.e., the fluent English attendees of Foo Camp). How do we make it work in Africa?

When asked about adopting the Wikipedia model, Martin replied that Wikipedia works because it is a police state -  thousands of people watching everyone else - and that Swahili speakers are not online with sufficient numbers, frequencies and durations in order to police each other.

Olpcgen

Toward the end of the hour a second session was started (this was, technically, a joint session), with Colin Bulthaup showing and telling about the Pull-Cord Generator (PCG) he and his colleagues at Potenco have developed to enable people to use human power to generate electricity to power other objects. Colin noted that 2 billion people worldwide have no power (a disproportionate number of whom live in Africa, where 90% of the population has reliable cellular coverage, but only 10% has reliable electricity coverage), and many of these powerless people use kerosene for lighting - which is inefficient, ineffective, expensive and leads to health problems. He then demonstrated his generator, which, after one minute of pulling on the rip cord, generates enough power for the following:

  • 25 minutes of mobile phone use
  • 60 minutes of indoor lighting (LED)
  • 230 minutes of iPod Shuffle play
  • 45 minutes of Nintendo DS play

His session topic was entitled "Human Power" but by the end, I was thinking more in terms of "Human Empowerment".

Scott Hanselman and Evan (Rabble) Henshaw-Plath led a discussion on mobile phones in Africa, a highly participatory session in which many people shared insights and experiences with both problems and [mobile] solutions. Among the solutions mentioned that are or may be applicable to the problems faced in Africa are:

  • Google's Voice Local Search (GOOG411)
  • A web service which accepts queries for words (and phrases?) via SMS, and receive a callback with the wikipedia entry for that word / phrase (which could then be held up to a microphone so that the entry could be heard by an entire class)
  • Mobile4Good (M4G), a Vodafone social franchise project for delivering health, employment and community information via SMS (deployed in Kenya)
  • MSRIndia SMS Toolkit, an SMS service that runs on a [Windows] PC
  • An open source Mobile Toolkit in a box (under development) to be shipped out to NGOs all over Africa
  • Engineers Without Borders, linking engineers with problems in disadvantaged communities
  • Digital Freedom Exposition, showcasing free and open source software in the developing world
  • Voices in Your Hand, [including?] a Philips-sponsored project in Brazil

I also heard about some Nokia anthropologist studying SMS use in Africa, that a quick search suggests is Jan Chipchase's recent report on Shared Phone Practices [clearly, I have some "local" (institutional) homework to do, regarding Nokia's efforts in Africa].

Last, but certainly not least, of the presentations was Joel Selanikio's session on IT and Public Health in Africa and other developing regions, highlighting the information deficit problems that pervade such regions, and severely diminish the prospects for providing effective health care awareness. Noting that only epidemiologists have, at most, 10% of the data that they need to identify and develop solutions for health problems, and 90% of this data is on paper (converting to digital form can take 1-2 years), Joel talked about a tool, EpiSurveyor, that enables a mobile device to be used in the collection of critical health data, which now provides a monthly flow of information from outlying clinics in Kenya. Joel also mentioned that he was working with someone at Nokia (more homework for me).

These three sessions, coupled with numerous informal discussions with other Foo Campers, suggests that the time is ripe for tapping into some of the sociotechnical energy in Silicon Valley (and multi-national companies with a presence there) to develop a more concerted effort to aid the developing world. I've started to formulate a scheme for some kind of two-day symposium this fall that would combine sessions on problems faced by Africa (by those who know them first-hand) with potential technology-enabled solutions to those problems (by those who know the technologies first-hand). I haven't gotten very far in the planning yet, but the spirit is strong ... even if the mind can't quite explain it (yet).

Meanwhile, I welcome any additional input about people, projects and/or organizations that are related to any of this.

[Update: thanks to some early feedback, I now realize that I omitted a few additional items of related work that I already know of; and, perhaps more importantly, didn't really provide much substance for my choice of a rather provocative title. I'll try to address these below.]

Last fall, one of my former colleagues, Charlie Perkins, now a Research Fellow at Nokia Siemens Networks, gave an internal presentation on some of his experiences during a recent tour of Africa, emphasizing a variety of opportunities offered through potential collaborations with local organizations there such as the Meraka Institute

Nathan Eagle, an MIT Research Scientist who is also Visiting Professor at University of Nairobi and Adjunct Professor at GSTIT in Ethiopia, visited our lab a few months ago, and gave an inspiring talk on his work in Kenya on the EPROM (Entrepreneurial Programming and Research on Mobiles) program, which is promoting and supporting the development of applications, research and educational courses based on mobile phones for (and by) people in developing countries.

Gary Marsden, a Professor of Computer Science from the University of Cape Town, gave a CHI 2007 Social Impact Award talk, which I missed, but he was kind enough to visit our lab the day after the conference and share some of his insights into experiences with and opportunities for applying HCI techniques to develop contextually useful mobile applications and services that benefit people in the developing world (he also visited Google, after which they uploaded a video of his talk on "Mobile HCI in Africa"). In his blog post about CHI 2007, Gary mentioned a CHI workshop on User Centered Design and International Development and noted that "Developing World Interaction Design is now on the global radar"  ... so I'm not the only one talking about the trend.

Returning to the trend[iness] of Africa as a focus area for sociotechnically inclined people and organizations in the so-called developed world, I used the phrase "the new black" to signal - perhaps somewhat provocatively - its fashionability. However, simply being fashionable does not necessarily mean that it is superficial or shallow, nor that it will be short-lived. I believe the problems in Africa are deep, and even though I may be a bit behind the fashion curve in recognizing these problems, I hope the growing awareness (by me and others) will be matched by a commitment to solve those problems that is sustainable over the long-term.

[Update, 2007-07-15: BoingBoing posted an excerpt from an op-ed article in today's Washington Post entitled "Stop Trying to 'Save' Africa", by Uzodinma Iweala, the Nigerian author of "Beasts of No Nation", in which he comments on the negative reactions he and other Africans often feel toward celebrities - and others - rallying to the cause (cause celebre) of 'saving' Africa, ending with the following plea:

I hope people will realize Africa doesn't want to be saved. Africa wants the world to acknowledge that through fair partnerships with other members of the global community, we ourselves are capable of unprecedented growth.]


Notes from Florida: Reviews of Tampa Area Attractions, Detractions and Distractions

We went to Florida for a family vacation last week, visiting my mom and stepfather in Clearwater, and engaging in [more common] tourist and consumerist activities. Although I didn't take a vacation from email during the trip, I did take a full vacation from blogging (and I still feel backlogged in both dimensions ... not to mention the much longer-standing Flickr backlog).

We enjoyed seeing Mom and Fred --  even though each had colds of varying strength and duration -- and getting together with some of Fred's family (unfortunately, we did not get to see all of our friends and family in the area ... maybe next time). It was [also] nice to see where they spend about a third of their year (other thirds being spent in suburbs of Cleveland and Hartford ... intermingled with various travels to more distant locales).

Our first day there, we drove down the coast from Clearwater Beach to John's Pass. Our first stop was the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary in Indian Shores, where we saw a wide variety of captive and free birds (e.g., pelicans, herons, hawks, vultures, mockingbirds and even crows). The captive birds were either irreparably injured or indelibly "imprinted" -- we were told that often birds form their self-impressions within the first 24 hours of life, and if the first living being they encounter is a human, then they think they are human ... and are [thus] often unable to survive in the wild. The vast majority of injuries are manmade -- hooked, lined, sinkered, shot and/or poisoned (intentionally or unintentionally). Any birds that can be rehabilitated and released are kept in a separate area where they do not interact (or see) the visitors. The free birds tended to flock to the sanctuary due to its relative safety ... and, I suspect, free food [scraps].

The next stop was John's Pass, where Amy shopped for sandals at Natural Comfort Footwear -- which had the most extensive collection of Teva's and Naot's I've ever encountered -- while I took the kids out parasailing at Jack's Marina (where they offered to give them an 800-foot [length of rope] ride for the price of a 400-foot ride, for $55 vs. $75 ... and I suspect all such offerings are far more negotiable than I normally tend to expect).

We visited Busch Gardens the next day. We did not attend any shows, and only Meg tried the rides -- including Gwazi, Montu and SheiKra -- which I think she enjoyed more than the animals. Unfortunately, the posted wait estimates for rides were often not well synchronized with real wait times, and so we stopped trusting them. If we were to visit again, we would definitely take advantage of some of the up close tours, e.g., the Serengeti Safari, but we found out about them too late to sign up for any that day. The highlight, for me, was seeing the baby gorilla at Myombe Reserve ... the lowlight was seeing the lionness pace back and forth incessantly at the Edge of Africa (I suspect she would have preferred to be elsewhere).

The next day, Evan and I got up early to go "deep sea fishing" at Hubbard's Marina. In the five-hour half-day fising trip, we saw a few people of the 30+ people catch a few fish (I suspect the total catch was less than a dozen). It was a nice day for a boat ride, and it could have been far more crowded, but Evan was disappointed -- he only caught one tiny fish (that we had to throw back), a far cry from his fishing experience off Cabo, Mexico, two years ago. Perhaps the fishing is better at different times of the year, but we both agreed that this was the last time we'd try "deep sea" fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Although we had hoped to feast on our catch for lunch, the silver lining was that Fred took us out for what was the best restaurant meal of the trip, at Guppy's on the Beach (which is not on the beach) in Indian Rocks Beach, a few miles north.

Our next destination was Sea World in Orlando. The highlights there included the killer whale show, Believe (during which I became surprisingly, and [nearly] embarrassingly, emotionally choked up), the sea lion and otter improvisational comedy show, Clyde and Seamore Take Pirate Island (where the mime who "escorted" late arrivals before the show was just as funny, if not funnier, than the main act), and feeding fish to the seals, sea lions and seabirds at Pacific Point Preserve. Much to Meg's delight, Evan decided he liked roller coasters (again), and so she had a buddy with whom to enjoy Kraken ... several times. Among the things I would not do again is see Blue Horizons, a peformance that combined dolphins with birds and humans in a show that seemed too theatrical and not enough animal, and pay the extra $5 for the "preferred parking (which only saved us a few dozen steps).

Our last day there, Mom was feeling well enough to join us for an outing, and we headed up to Tarpon Springs, a largely Greek community that is / was based on sponge diving. On the way there, we stopped at Howard Park, which includes a small island at the end of a causeway with nice beaches and areas for fishing and/or windsurfing. After playing frisbee for a while, we headed into downtown Tarpon Springs and had lunch at Mykonos, purportedly among the best and most authentic Greek restaurants in town (it was OK, I guess, but I'm not really a fan of Greek food anyway). The downtown area was a bit too touristy for my / our tastes, and so we didn't stay long.

That evening, Amy and I went out to dinner at Frenchy's Rockaway Grill (on the beach at Clearwater), enjoying the views of the sunset from a corner spot on the patio -- though not enjoying the smells of cigarette smoke wafting through the air from the nearby bar area (Florida seems to have a much higher proportion of smokers than other states, or at least left coast ones). The food and drinks were reasonably tasty (Amy especially liked the rich and creamy "She Crab Soup"), and very reasonably priced (given the location). Afterward, in a fitting close to the last evening of our trip, we strolled along the beach where, a little over 19 years ago, in another episode of being emotionally choked up, I proposed that Amy marry me ... and her acceptance then -- and now -- has been a source of great joy for me.


Chicago at the Chateau (A Concert Review)

The band Chicago put on a surprisingly strong -- but surprisingly short (one hour, forty minutes) -- show last night at Chateau Ste. Michelle.  Approximately 3,800 people came out to enjoy the music, wine and fabulous weather at the winery.

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I don't think I've attended another concert where so many people were singing so many of the songs -- nearly every song became a sing-along, and during one (Just You 'N' Me), the band stopped singing for a while and just let the audience take it away.

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This audience participation was in no small part due to the band's selection of songs, nearly all of which were from their "early" albums (their debut, Chicago Transit Authority, thru Chicago X) -- what I consider their classic period ... and judging from the demographics of the audience, I suspect many of us grew up during this classic Chicago period.  They played a couple of songs from their latest album (Chicago XXX (!)), and there were a couple of others I didn't recognize that were presumably from either solo efforts or one of the other albums during the Chicago dark ages.  I rather liked one of the Chicago XXX songs (but I can't remember its name), so perhaps they're entering a renaissance.

Chicago played the first concert I ever attended, in 1975, at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, with my mom and my cousin TJ, so a Chicago concert has a special place in my heart, especially an outdoor one.  They were my favorite band thru their first 9 years, but three things happened in 1978 to color my perception of the band: Terry Kath, their amazing founding guitarist, killed himself; their producer, James William Guercio, left; and the Chicago XI album did not measure up to the high standards I expected of them (it was the last Chicago album I bought ... well, except their Chicago Group Portrait CD box set, but box sets don't count).

The band members -- and concert performers -- in 1975 were the seven founders plus the conga player who joined the band for Chicago VII:

  • Peter Cetera: bass, vocals
  • Terry Kath: guitar, percussion, vocals
  • Robert Lamm: keyboards, percussion, vocals
  • Lee Loughnane: trumpet, percussion, vocals
  • James Pankow: trombone, percussion, vocals
  • Walter Parazaider: woodwinds, tenor sax, percussion, vocals
  • Danny Seraphine: drums, percussion, congas, antique bells, timbales, vocals
  • Laudir de Oliveira: percussion

In 2006, the band has four of the original members, but only two were on tour (or at least, at the concert last night):

  • Robert Lamm: piano, Wurlitzer, Hammond organ, vocals
  • Lee Loughnane: trumpet, flugelhorn, piccolo trumpet
  • James Pankow: trombone
  • Walt Parazaider: saxophones, flutes
  • Bill Champlin: Hammond organ, piano, Fender Rhodes, vocals
  • Jason Scheff: bass, vocals
  • Tris Imboden: drums
  • Keith Howland: guitar

I was really impressed by how well the new Chicago was able to recreate the sound of the classic Chicago, with that incredible blend of innovative instrumental jamming and crisp precision.  Even the singing was pretty strong, with Jason Scheff stretching to reach some of the high notes that Peter Cetera used to sing with such ease.  I was a bit disappointed in some of the liberties that Keith Howland took with Terry Kath guitar solos ... the solo for 25 or 6 to 4 was the first one I ever mastered when I was teaching myself guitar, and so his deviations from this classic solo probably bothered me more than most. 

Unlike the recent CSNY concert at White River Amphitheatre, or the CSN concert at Chateau Ste. Michelle in 2004, I did not keep track of the song list for this concert.  This was due, in part, to my hands being full for much of the evening with a glass and/or bottle of wine and/or a plate of food (I was thinking how the food and drink probably diminished the number of people clapping at this and other concerts at Chateau Ste. Michelle).  Anyhow, scanning through the songs listed on my Group Portrait box, I remember them playing the following songs (though not in this order, except for the Make Me Smile ... Colour My World sequence):

  • Beginnings
  • I'm a Man
  • Make Me Smile
  • So Much to Say; So Much to Give
  • Anxiety's Moment
  • West Virginia Fantasies
  • Colour My World
  • 25 or 6 to 4
  • Saturday in the Park
  • Dialogue (Parts 1 and 2)
  • Feelin' Stronger Every Day
  • Just You 'N' Me
  • Call on Me
  • Old Days
  • If You Leave Me Now

[If I can find a song list, I'll post an update.]

Having been energized by the strong protest theme at the CSNY concert (on their aptly named "Freedom of Speech" tour), I was wondering whether there would be a resurgence of some of the protest flavor of early Chicago songs, written during the time of the Vietnam War.  Some of their songs during the period have a strong anti-war message (e.g., It Better End Soon or A Song for Richard and his Friends), but Unlike CSNY, I don't get the sense that Chicago is feeling particularly revolutionary these days.  Fortunately, they did play one of my favorite political songs, Dialogue, which, when I heard it this time, reminded me of some of the dialogues in my favorite political cartoon, This Modern World. I'll finish this post off with the song's inspiring refrain:

We can make it happen
We can change the world now
We can save the children
We can make it better


CSNY vs. GWB at WRA (A Concert Review)

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young rendered a rousing rock and roll revue that combined retrospection with rekindled rebellion at the White River Amphitheatre last night.  While I don't believe U.S. President George W. Bush was physically present at the concert, representations of him -- including his words and actions (and their consequences) -- were front and center through music (from Neil Young's latest album, Living with War) and video and audio clips (interspersing Bush, U.S. soldiers in uniform and in coffins, Iraqi citizens and a tickertape-style list of various statements and statistics regarding Bush and the war in Iraq [aside: Wired recently ran an article about raw videos from Iraq]).

Csnyatwra1_1

This was the third "CSN and sometimes Y" concert Amy and I have seen in the last two decades, including a CSN concert in the mid 80s and CSN at CSM (Chateau Ste. Michelle) two years ago.  Without doubt, it was their most energetic and powerful performance -- they are, at their core, a protest band, and they have more fodder now than in over 30 years.  The music -- old and new -- was inspired and inspiring, and I believe that Neil Young's presence, in addition to the current U.S. administration policies, helped to fire up the band (and the audience).

The music spanned a spectrum, from the heavy, electric, rock and roll guitar thunder of the first set -- punctuated by numerous dueling solos between Stephen Stills and Young -- to softer, more intricate and even exquisite, acoustic guitar and piano-based melodies that predominated much of the second set -- where the different numbers and combinations of singers and harmonies evoked a sense of rapture ("Guinnevere", by David Crosby and Graham Nash, stands out on that count).

One shortcoming in my concert experience was the band's choice not to more thoroughly engage the audience.  The only things they said between songs during the first set were "Hi" and "Thanks for coming", and though they seemed to loosen up a bit in the second set -- starting with Young stopping Nash midway through Our House (after Nash played a bad chord and muttered [something like] "Ack!" in between verses, Young stopped the song, and said "Let's play that song again") -- they still didn't say too much about the stories behind the songs, didn't provide many opportunities for sing-alongs, and didn't try very hard to incite the audience toward action (I was surprised not to see any tables outside the amphitheatre where people could sign up for activism ... and I was also surprised that water bottle caps were confiscated at the entrance, due to concern that people may throw them as projectiles onto stage). 

Of course, CSNY's music itself is tremendously engaging, and some of the songs are pretty inciteful (I'm thinking particularly of "Let's Impeach the President").  Toward the end of the concert, they did invite us to join a sing -- and clap -- along, for "What are Their Names", and after playing the Jimi Hendrix version of the Star Spangled Banner from Woodstock, during which a giant microphone was brought out on stage and a yellow ribbon was tied around it, they tipped the microphone -- dimly shown in the photo below -- toward the audience to encourage us to speak up (against the madness).

Csnyatwra2_2

Another sequence of symbols -- backdrops of different flags at different times in the performance -- was largely lost on us, as we were at the far back [right] corner of the front section, and so couldn't see them (Buzz Person's official concert photos captured many of these flags, as well as better images of the giant microphone ... and everything else, for that matter).  However, being in that corner did enable us to make a quick exit, a tremendous advantage about which I'll say more below.

The playlist for the concert included the following (a modified sequence of what the Minneapolis - St. Paul Star Tribune posted after an earlier concert there):

First set:

  • Flags of Freedom (source: Young, 2006)
  • Carry On (CSNY, 1970)
  • Wooden Ships (CSN, 1969), the first of many Stills / Young dualing guitar solos
  • Long Time Gone (CSN, 1969), one of many CSN[Y] "goosebump" songs for me; Crosby inserted "I'm asking you to speak out against the madness"
  • Military Madness (Nash, 1971), Nash inserted a plea to George Bush: "no more war"
  • After the Garden (Young, 2006), I was wondering whether this is the same garden we had to get ourselves back to in "Woodstock"
  • Living with War (Young, 2006)
  • The Restless Consumer (Young, 2006), "Don't need no lies!"
  • Shock and Awe (Young, 2006), with an amazing horn solo (I wish I knew what kind of horn that was ... a fluegle horn, perhaps? ... reminded me of the horn on Conquistador, by Procol Harem)
  • Wounded World (Stills, 2005)
  • Almost Cut My Hair (CSNY 1970)
  • Immigration Man (C&N, 1972)
  • Families (Young, 2006)
  • Deja Vu (CSNY, 1970), where the dueling guitar solos went on a bit past the point of diminishing returns (for me), and where the band missed an opportunity to explicitly highlight how much of the current situation with respect to George Bush and the war in Iraq harkens back to the era of Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War in which CSNY initially made their mark ... given my perception of the average age of the concertgoers, this may have been obvious to many

Second set

  • Helplessly Hoping (CSN, 1969), with amazing 4-part harmony
  • Our House (CSNY, 1970), 1.5 times, as noted earlier
  • Only Love Can Break Your Heart (Young, 1970), with Young on piano and Crosby and Nash harmonizing
  • Guinnevere (CSN, 1969), the standout of the concert for me, absolutely exquisite
  • Milky Way Tonight (C&N, 2004)
  • Treetop Flyer (Stills, 1991)
  • Roger and Out (Young, 2006)
  • Southbound Train (C&N, 1972)
  • Old Man Trouble (Stills, 2005), wow, can Stills still cranks out the blues!
  • Carry Me (C&N, 1975)
  • Teach Your Children (CSNY, 1970), why no sing-along to this one? :-(
  • Southern Cross (CSN, 1982), I found myself finally warming up to this song
  • Find the Cost of Freedom (CSNY, 1971), and one might ask, who's freedom ... and at what cost?
  • Let's Impeach the President (Young, 2006)
  • For What It's Worth (Buffalo Springfield featuring Stills and Young, 1967)
  • Chicago (Nash, 1971)
  • Ohio (CSNY, 1970)
  • What Are Their Names (Crosby, 1971)
  • Rocking in the Free World (Young, 1989), during his solo, Young somehow managed to tear all the strings on his guitar, in what amounted to a rousing finish

Encore

  • Woodstock (CSNY, 1970), one of my favorite CSNY songs, and yet the most disappointing of the evening ... the singing was flat, no doubt due to the inability of Stills, and perhaps others, to still hit those higher notes.  Fortunately, this disappointment enabled us to make an even quicker getaway from the concert.

Speaking of getaways, this was our first visit to the venue, and we were concerned about some of the things we'd read about transportation to and parking at White River Amphitheatre on blog posts and comments at Pleasing to Remember and LeeLeFever.com.  We followed the directions provided at RiverGiver.com, leaving Woodinville at 4:00, taking SR-520 to I-405 to SR-169 and cutting across SE 400th Street, and arriving around 6:00 (we were stuck in horrendous traffic on 520 and 405, so we would probably take West Lake Sammamish Parkway to I-90 to I-405 next time).  I don't know what time the parking lot opened (the gates opened at 6:30 for an 8:00 show), but we got there early enough to get good parking spaces, and were driving away on SE 400th Street within 10 minutes of the end of the concert, and back home in 1.5 hours.  On a somewhat related note, the selection of wine and beer is surprisingly poor (e.g., cans of Miller Genuine Draft and wines in a box), given my experience at other large venues in the Pacific Northwest (e.g., Safeco Field), and the price is high (around $7), so we didn't buy anything there ... and, in fact, will always plan to eat and drink elsewhere for any events at WRA.

Returning to the initial thread, despite my disappointment over the band's suboptimal overall engagement and specific rendition of Woodstock, this was a great concert, and even though it represented a significant investment of money and time (compared to concerts at Chateau Ste. Michelle, which are only 10 minutes away), it was a rare, and valued, opportunity to see CSNY in full force ... and I hope they (we?) can have as much impact on the political and societal problems of today as [I believe] they did when they first rose to fame, nearly 40 years ago.


Why Wiffiti? Wi Not?

NtwrktruthSean sent me a link to the Wiffiti blog last week, and I was immediately intrigued with this new twist on an interactive display in a "third place".  Users can send text messages to a large plasma display installed in a restaurant or bar via mobile phone (SMS) by specifying the screen identifier.  Real-time approximations of what is showing on the real screens -- the most recent 10 messages (the real screens show the most recent 100 messages, as best they can) -- in four locations are shown at the ntwrk truth site.  One of these locations is local, the Hurricane Cafe, and I decided to test it by sending a message, and after a few minutes, it appeared on the screen (a screenshot from ntwrktruth -- taken today, after I sent "Reality leaves a lot to the imagination", a John Lennon quote -- is shown on the left).  The web site also provides for the capability to "Submit a topic" (not sure what this means) and participate in a web poll (current poll: "Best mode of flirtation? IM / text message / Old school phone call" -- curious that "face-to-face" was omitted).

WiffitiathurricanecafeI wanted to experience Wiffiti in situ, so I went down to the Hurricane for dinner that evening.  There were only about ten people in the restaurant section, where the screen is mounted opposite the counter.  I sat at the counter, ordered the blue cheese burger and waffle fries, and watched the animated display, where the text messages slowly migrate around the screen, presumably to attract attention and prevent "burn-in".  No new messages appeared, so I sent a new one (highlighted in yellow in the photo on the left: "Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time", a Bertrand Russell quote).  No other messages appeared, although most patrons -- individuals and groups -- appeared to be paying regular, if intermittent, attention to the display.

Ntwrktruthhistory The ntwrk truth site includes a capability to see a history of the 100 most recent messages sent to the display, with the times they were posted.  The Hurricane is open 24-hours, and the real-time screenshots do not appear to be adjusted for time zone (e.g., my message was sent at 8:22am PST, but was marked as 1:22am in the history list), and there is no date shown in the history log, so it's hard to know exactly when activity is taking place, or how long the gaps are between messages (minutes, hours, days, weeks?).  However, based on the time codes and the interplay between the contents of some messages, it appears that activity tends to be bursty.  From a perusal of the log, it appears that most of the topics are location-specific -- referencing the Hurricane food, facilities, staff and/or [other] patrons -- though some appear to be location-agnostic -- expressing hopes, fears, dreams and disappointments, along with more mundane observations -- following patterns I've observed in the use of physical graffiti.

Wiffiti is a StreetMessenger application produced by LocaModa, whose intended benefits for site owners include sponsorship and advertising revenue generated via the displays.  The Wall Street Journal has reported on the challenges that MySpace faces in drawing advertisers, due to the sometimes unsavory content posted by MySpace users.  Although Wiffiti appears to have some filtering, there are still implicit and explicit references to people, objects and activities that appear in the history list ... messages that advertisers may not want to be associated with.  This is, of course, one of the reasons that interactive billboards typically don't show text messages sent by users, but rather respond to them in pre-defined, carefully controlled, ways.  Part of the appeal of MySpace -- and Wiffiti -- is that people are relatively free to express themselves. Given the tension between freedom and security, it is not clear that either platform will be able to simultaneously please its users and its [prospective] sponsors ... bringing to mind a quote from Benjamin Franklin:

Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves neither liberty nor security.

I think I'll send this to the Hurricane.


Workspace Personalization: Physical, Digital and In-Between

I've encountered a number of articles lately about organizational and personal aspects of ubiquitous cubicles (UbiCubes?), and these have brought to mind a number of ways that people have explored personalizing their workspaces with atoms and/or bits.

03office_1st_nstallation

Fortune recently posted an article, Cubicles: The Great Mistake, providing an historical overview and future predictions for the use of these open-plan modular units in the workplace.  The original design intention behind cubicles, created in the 1960s by Bob Probst, director of research at Herman Miller, as part of their Action Office initiative, was to boost productivity by providing more surface area for work materials, including multiple desktop surfaces, shelving and partitions.  But a combination of rising real estate costs and new tax incentives added a financial efficiency aspect to the equation, quickly leading to the domination of the cubicle as the office furniture unit of choice for many companies.  Unfortunately, the efficiency gains from the proliferation and packing of cubicles came at the expense of some of the original effectiveness goals:

... what businesses wanted wasn't to give employees a holistic experience. The customers wanted a cheap way to pack workers in.

In another recent article, Why Dilbert is Right, the Gallup Management Journal reported the results of a survey on worker comfort and engagement, and found that

  • "Employees working in a comfortable environment [with respect to temperature and noise] are much more likely to be engaged and to make a positive contribution to the organization's financial success" [this follows an earlier Galllup survey reported on the high cost of employee disengagement]
  • "... the problem might not be the type of workspace that employees are given -- it might be that employees aren't allowed to make that space their own."

Cubicle_img_1716 Cubicle_img_1717 Cubicle_img_1718 Cubicle_img_1722

In some organizations and work sites, people have gone to great lengths to modify their physical spaces in personal and inspirational ways.  Among the most compelling examples I saw of this was in the workspaces inhabited by my former Intel colleagues in the User Centered Design group, where it was sometimes difficult to see any of original surfaces in the designers' cubicle areas.

[Xerox] PARC did some seminal work on Responsive Office Environments in the early 1990s, which enabled office workers to exert a new level of control over their space, and included the capability for an technologically-enhanced office to learn how to adjust the temperature to balance the preferences of office workers and energy conservation goals. 

Bluespace

In the late 1990s, IBM Research worked with Steelcase on a joint research project called BlueSpace, which which offered workers additional dimensions of personalization and control over workspaces:

  • Project: BlueSpace, a next generation workspace solution encompassing multiple software and hardware components that integrate sensors, actuators, displays and wireless networks into architectural elements.
  • Goal: To increase knowledge workers' productivity by deterring unwanted interruptions, improving awareness and fluid communication among team members, and providing greater individual comfort through personalized environmental settings.
    A longer-term goal is to create modular workspace solutions that can be combined in different ways to optimize workspace utilization and worker efficiency.

Ipodisolation

More recently, a Chicago Tribune article lamented iPod Isolation, the increasing tendency of many workers in cube farms to personalize the aural aspect of their individual workspace environment through the use of headphones and digital music players.  Some employers frown upon this practice because it may signify a "personal playground atmosphere" at work, or signal a "do not disturb" status to other employees.  However, another employer noted that music offers an opportunity for employees to learn more about each other, through sharing playlists on a network drive.

Musicfx

If the headphones are removed, additional opportunities for learning about each other may be provided through music in the workplace.  We experimented with this notion through the MusicFX project at Accenture Technology Labs in the late 1990s, where we designed and deployed a system to automatically adapt the music played in a corporate fitness center environment to the preferences of the people working out there at any given time.  One of the unintended consequences of this system -- which was in daily use for over 3 years -- was that the music sometimes changed abruptly upon the arrival of a new person, revealing that person's taste, or distaste, for a certain genre of music to everyone else present ... resulting in new opportunities for people to learn about each other ("Oh, I didn't know you liked 'Hawaiian Music'!" or "What have you got against 'Rap'?").

Adaptiveradiosmall

Dennis Chao and his colleagues at University of New Mexico took this notion a step further with their Adaptive Radio project.  Their system offered a shared music listening opportunity -- again, without headphones -- in the workplace (vs. workout place), and explored whether and how a balance could be achieved between minimizing the need for user input while maximizing the responsiveness of the shared aural environment.

Unicastoutcastgroupcastawarenessmodule

Back at Accenture, we also turned our attention to the workplace, but decided to explore the ways that an office environment could sense and respond to people in the visual domain rather than the aural domain, with what we called ubiquitous peripheral displays.  This project included a a suite of applications illustrating a future wherein video displays will be everywhere, permeating a broad range of physical environments throughout the workplace: inside an individual workspace (UniCast), outside an individual workspace (OutCast) and in a common area adjoining a cluster of workspaces (GroupCast).  All of these applications involved the use of personal profiles containing a range of information sources in which a person was interested -- photos, headlines, weather, and about a dozen other information sources -- and a network of infrared sensors and personnel badges.  [GroupCast was the forerunner of the proactive displays I've written about many times before.]

Googledesktop_sidebar_floating

I recently experienced deja vu when I installed Google Desktop, and discovered that I could park a virtual peripheral display on the right-hand side of my WXGA laptop screen. Although it doesn't allow the level of personalization we incorporated into UniCast, it's nice to once again have a channel offering peripheral awareness of interesting, but not terribly urgent, types of information.  I'm particularly addicted to the Photos pane, which periodically reminds me of the important people and events in my life, and I look forward to experimenting with the "Send to" feature that enables people to share information through their respective News panes.  It would be interesting to conduct a study on the impact of Google Desktop among people in a cube farm ... whether and how the personalization of virtual workspaces that are in close proximity to one another in physical space affects socialization -- and engagement --throughout the larger workplace.

[Update, 10-Apr-2006: a little searching for cubicle psychology in response to Dan's excellent comment turned up a Psychology Today article, Betrayed By Your Desk, which references some very interesting and relevant work by Sam Gosling, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and his colleagues, on the everyday manifestations of personality in a variety of environments:

  • Physical environments (e.g., bedrooms, offices)
  • Virtual environments (e.g., webpages)
  • Aural environments (e.g., music)
  • Social environments (e.g., the places and activities where we spend our time)

This work has resulted in some scales for measuring some important aspects of these environments:

  • Ten Item Personality Measure (TIPI)
  • Short Test Of Music Preferences (STOMP)
  • Personal Living Space Cue Inventory (PLSCI)

I haven't read the papers on this work yet -- beyond some brief skimming -- but I'm delighted to have discovered yet another kindred spirit from a different dimension!]


Bizniking at the BalMar with a Proactive Display

Biznik is "an urban tribe for business, a supportive business network that encourages creativity, radical thinking, and community" ...  The BalMar brings "cocktails, conversation and comfort" together in "a unique space with exceptional service and adventurous food and drink" ...  It's hard to imagine a group or place that could be better aligned with the mission of Interrelativity, which is "helping people relate" by using technology to bring the best of online communities into physical spaces.

Bizniklogo

I first met Biznik co-founder Dan McComb through a comment exchange on a blog post about Social Networks and Emergent, Ad Hoc Collaborations by our mutual friend, Shelly Farnham.  Soon afterward, Dan and I had lunch, and discovered many mutual passions, perspectives and principles, and I was excited about checking out his (and co-founder Lara Feltin's) new business networking group.  I joined Biznik, but until recently, my participation was restricted to the Biznik blog, where Dan regularly posts fabulous profiles about members, and other gems of interest and relevance to a progressive businessperson.  I finally got to last month's Biznik Happy Hour (an event to encourage conversations about "combining business with pleasure in a way that's profitable and fun") -- at the BalMar lounge -- but due to other events I was attending that night (including the Dorkbot Seattle Movie Night), did not stay long.  But I was there long enough to confirm that bizniks embody the Biznik philosophy (i.e., they are creative, radical-thinking and community-oriented) ... and that the BalMar is, as advertised, a unique space for cocktails, conversation and comfort.

Balmar_food

I had an additional motivation for attending that particular Biznik Happy Hour: I really wanted to meet Andrea Martin, co-owner of the BalMar and founder of Space City Mixer, "a Seattle social and networking club that plans fun and engaging events for its [12,000] members" (Dan had mentioned Andrea and Space City Mixer in a blog post about BalMar is so Biznik a couple of weeks earlier).  As synchronicity would have it, Andrea was not at the BalMar that night, but I sent her an email, and we were able to get together the next night to talk about our mutual passions, perspectives and principles ... and as with Dan and Biznik, I felt I had found another kindred spirit in Andrea and Space City Mixer ... and the Balmar (which was reinforced during my experience of the Space City Mixer Lock and Key event I attended a short time later).

So, on Sunday night, when I first read that this month's Biznik Happy Hour was coming up on Wednesday, and being held at the Balmar again, I sent an email to Dan and Andrea about deploying a proactive display at the event, and both were very supportive.  After verifying that my friend, Scott Axworthy, would be available to help out again, and visiting the BalMar Tuesday night to verify the wireless network connectivity, we made it a definite plan ... with less lead time (20 hours) than any previous event.

Balmar_parties

Last month's Biznik Happy Hour was held the back area of the upper level of the BalMar (shown above).  One of the biggest challenges we face in each deployment is where to place the proactive display, and its associated radio frequency identification (RFID) antennas, so that we can find a balance between being in the flow of people without interfering with that flow.  We decided to set things up against the back wall, with the display in the middle, and the antennas in each corner.

Ticket2talkbalmar

Over the course of the evening, I estimate there were about 40 bizniks who attended the event, 32 of whom created Interrelativity profiles.  It seemed like the proactive display was having a positive impact, but I also think that bizniks are generally very effective networkers, and so I'm not sure how much room there was for improvement.  One of the Biznik mantras is radical self-promotion, and so the proactive display -- which provides a new channel for self-promotion by showing contents from a person's online profile on a large plasma display when that person is detected nearby (using RFID tags associated with those profiles inserted into name badges) -- was well received. 

Ticket2talkbiznik

Bizniks are very open and candid about providing feedback, so we learned a lot about people's experiences with the proactive display, and the registration process, during the event.  We'll be conducting a followup survey so that we can better assess the impact the technology had on the people and their interactions, and identify areas for ongoing improvement ... and I'm looking forward to continuing the conversation(s) with Andrea, Dan and other bizniks about possible ways that this kind of social technology can lead to both fun and profit!


The Proper Way to Enjoy an Espresso ... and a Cafe

JonatcafefioreI stopped by the original Caffe Fiore (in north Ballard) yesterday afternoon for a double shot of espresso, and was treated to a double shot of expert advice about the right way to drink an espresso ... and the right way to enjoy a café.  As Jon, the barista, was preparing my drink, he asked whether I wanted to enjoy it "the proper way" as he was reaching for a ceramic espresso cup -- suggesting with a raised eyebrow that a paper "to-go" cup would be improper.  I nodded, and he went on to tell me that there is not only a proper way to make and serve espresso, there is a proper way to drink it -- proper meaning "the way they do it in Italy" -- which is to down it in one shot, 8 to 10 seconds after it is served, when the crema is at its height and the temperature is perfect.

Of course, I wanted to experience the espresso properly, and so I tried this method, and I agree that it was a fabulous taste sensation, with the flavor filling my mouth and lingering long afterward, with the kind of subtle shifting of flavor perception I typically associate only with wine.  I have [in the past] tended to sip my espresso, trying to prolong the experience, and yet I have often recognized that after the first sip or two, the drink cools and the flavor and texture is diminished.  I remember being told as a child that the proper way to eat spaghetti, i.e., the way they do it in Italy, is to use a spoon along with a fork in order to "cup" the pasta as it is twirled into a bite-size ball. So now I have a more proper (or more Italian) way of enjoying both spaghetti and espresso.

Interestingly, Jon's advice is very much in keeping with a review of Caffe Fiore's Sumatra:

When hot, a robust, full-bodied dark roast with a pleasantly rough character: chocolate and wine tones in the aroma, in the cup a hint of fruity ferment and musty earth. As the coffee cools, however, the musty earth tones turn bitter and weigh oppressively on the cup.

After I downed my espresso at the counter (no time to carry it back to the table ... which helps explain the prevalence of espresso bars in Italy), I sat down and opened up my laptop, noting aloud to Jon and another customer who had just walked in that there was an access point labelled "Metro King County".  They told me that some Metro King County buses are now offering WiFi and so I was probably picking up the access point of a passing bus.  This, then, led to a discussion about the use of WiFi in cafes, and both of the conversants expressed disdain for the way that WiFi-enabled laptop users have encroached on the social atmosphere some of their favorite coffeehouses ... including the other Caffe Fiore, recently opened in Queen Anne (the Ballard cafe does not offer WiFi).

I have observed -- and written about -- the social impact of WiFi in cafes, and can see both the costs and the benefits.  Using a laptop does seem to diminish one's approachability more than the reading a book or newspaper, and yet, some people seek out third places such as cafes not for conversation but to enjoy the social experience of being alone in a crowd.  I often seek out cafes expressly for the ability to check my email when I'm traveling between local meetings (and a drip coffee or espresso, depending on the time of day).  The problem seems to be related to the proportion of laptop users ... and, of course, how much time -- and money -- they (er, we) spend.  Trevor, a friend and former colleague -- and also a social person who also enjoys using WiFi in cafes -- once suggested that the ideal ratio of laptop to non-laptop users is approximately 1:2 ... enough so that he doesn't feel awkward being the only laptop user, but not so many that the clickety-clack of the keyboards overcomes the hubbub of conversation.

I did not [eventually] find a web site for Caffe Fiore, but in googling around, I discovered that the Seattle Weekly notes that at the Queen Anne cafe, "free Wi-Fi keeps the low-key corner cafe lousy with laptops and gossip on weekday afternoons" [although I wonder whether this article contains a typographical error, where "lousy" was intended to be "busy", given that another description of Caffe Fiore in Seattle Weekly refers to "the pleasantly chic and relaxing atmosphere" ... and, if it is a typographical error, whether it represents a Freudian slip].  At Seattle WiFi Mug (Caffeinated and Unstrung: A Guide to Seattle's Free Wireless Coffee Shops), the page for the Queene Anne café provides an alternate perspective from a [presumed] WiFi laptop user: "until 8:30 it is wonderfull... From then onwards, there is just droves of very loud talking moms, with even louder children".

All of this is very much in keeping with observations Kristi Heim shared with me just yesterday morning about the sense of community at the original Caffe Fiore, the relative lack of community feeling at the Queen Anne cafe, and the role that WiFi likely plays in that difference.  I had never heard of Caffe Fiore before that, and I find it rather synchronistic that I just happened to come upon the cafe yesterday afternoon, after deciding to take the "northern" route home after a late afternoon meeting at Shilshole Bay Beach Club.  I'm not sure whether there are any coincidences, but when I encounter unexpected confluences and convergences, I like to investigate further, and am usually rewarded ... often in multiple ways.