Chinese Buffet

I ate dinner with a teacher from China who spent a year living with my parents during an exchange program. He took a break from his usual job of teaching English in China to come here and teach Mandarin to Americans (while improving his English skills by immersion). That was 4 years ago, and I hadn’t seen him since.

As I learned over dinner, he had arranged this summer to be a chaperone for a group of students from his school in China, who were all coming to the summer program in intensive English at Green River Community College.

The college advertises its programs via partnering high schools in China, in order to attract hundreds of new Chinese student each academic year. According to the website, most students in the language program subsequently matriculate into an Associates degree program, many planning to follow the international student University Transfer Pathway program, which provides them a conditional guarantee of acceptance to a 4-year university upon completion. Thus GRCC acts as a complete pipeline from zero English literacy to a bachelor’s degree from a major university … for anyone who can afford the tuition.

Anecdotally, at Green River and similar institutions across the country, that means a mostly Asian and largely Chinese student population, acquiring skills and credentials that they hope will do them well when they return home … and escaping a system where education supply has not kept up with demand.

On the scale of college education, it’s not even really about money. I hope these students are getting their time‘s worth.

One

I invited about 40 people to a picnic today. I got 3 positive RSVPs, which (plus me) seemed like enough, especially if anyone else showed up without responding. I planned it for a nearby park, although I’d never been there before, and picked up some snacks at the farmer’s market yesterday.

One of the three backed out a few hours before. The second e-mailed me part way through to say that he was in the park but couldn’t find me. I e-mailed back but we never managed to find each other. The third, I never heard from at all.

So in the end it was just me, in Volunteer Park, with a baguette, a cucumber, some squeaky cheese, a jug of apple cider, and a bunch of big bold nametags identifying me to anyone who happened to wander by. After about two hours I left, and walked back a few miles to my apartment.

Having a picnic by yourself is kind of lonely, but it could have been worse. I had expected the park to be mostly empty (the better for finding people), but in fact there was a hippie folk rock show going on at the nearby bandstand, under the amusing name of “Peace and Just Us”.

Important lessons have been learned about generating support for an event … and removing all ambiguity from the place and time.

Stereotype

I came to Seattle without much in the way of good stereotypes, but I am quickly forming some. This morning I ran into some friends from Boston on the way to the university-district farmers’ market, held in the parking lot of the unwieldily named University Heights Center for the Community Association. In addition to the expected misshapen carrots and radishes, and large quantities of kale, there were duck eggs, fresh salmon caught by a part-time anthropologist, a variety of competing raw milk cheeses, locally brewed ginger ale, cider, and wines, bottled kombucha, a whole booth of only hazelnuts, and probably a dozen other things that were too odd to pique my curiosity. In addition to the official band, there were also at least three other guitar- and ukelele-ists busking. There were two hot food stalls off to one side. At one, two white guys were serving up tandoori chicken on naan. At the other, an older white lady was serving her home-made empanadas.

Everything was about double the price you’d pay for the equivalent (if less fresh and hifalutin) item in the upscale grocery store next door.

Cafe Mox

I spent the evening at a Seattle establishment that serves beers (bottled and on tap), coffees (brewed, espresso, and probably everything in between), food (I paid $6 for a PB+J) … and board games. It’s attached to a board (and card) games shop, but the games are free to borrow while you eat and drink.

Closes at midnight, though.

EDIT: Typo in title. Grr.

Gym

I made my first foray into Google’s office gym today. It’s not cavernous like the ones in Mountain View, but it’s definitely the most upscale gym I’ve ever had the opportunity to use. The electronic weight machines that monitor range of motion are especially nifty, but my favorite part is marble surfaces in the locker room.

It’s all actually brilliant, of course. Gyms that are both more awesome and more pleasant are likely to get more use, which is by far the hardest thing for gyms to get … especially among engineers.

Public Service Advisory

DO NOT see Car Talk the Musical.

While watching No Room for Wishing with my girlfriend in June, I spotted an advertisement for the Musical, which was playing in the playhouse’s other theater. I mentioned that I was something of a Car Talk fan, and with the show’s impending finale it seemed like it might be fun to see. I imagine songs about auto repair, maybe a mnemonic for proper fluid change intervals or a lament for the end of owner-repairability. Sarah surprised me with tickets to the show for my birthday, and so we went.

It was a highly professional production. The lights were exuberant. The costumes were extensive. The set was detailed and dynamic. The arrangements were solid, and the orchestra was flawless. The cast seemed to be composed entirely of top-notch actors who were also vocal recording artists, trained ballerinas, and tango instructors on the side. It was like Broadway on a small stage in Central Square.

The script, however, was an unmitigated disaster, including (maybe especially) the songs. Plot, characters, lines, and lyrics were, with rare exception, cliche, repetitive, nonsensical, offensive, and forced, all at the same time. The occasional joke that might have been funny was quickly beaten to death by repetition and exclamation points. The playwrights clearly had no more knowledge of auto mechanics than the average driver, and probably less interest in the subject. Instead, the show was wall-to-wall in-jokey references to famous Broadway musicals. Even through their excellent acting the cast seemed resigned to their fate, and the audience trudged out of the performance in silence. The lack of an intermission seemed distinctly strategic in retrospect.

The script and production were on totally different levels, as if an amateur student production had somehow been transposed onto a professional cast. Actually, it turns out that that’s exactly what happened. The show was originally written by a professor (of drama, not engineering) at Suffolk University, and performed by the student theatre group.

I suspect that this play, even at lower production value, would have seemed thoroughly impressive as a student production, but context is everything. In a professional theater, quite the opposite.

Unusually, this means that I disagree with the Globe, and concur with the Boston Herald.

Car

This morning, as I was walking to the bus stop, a bird crapped on my head. I went back to my apartment and grabbed a washcloth and spent a few minutes getting myself back in order.

As I was approaching the bus stop after this delay, I saw my route driving down. I ran for it, and caught it … but although it was stopped, it was 20 feet down the street from the proper stop, and the driver refused to open the door.

The next bus on that route wasn’t for another half an hour, so I had to take a different route.

On the way back, I misread the bus number, got on the wrong bus, and didn’t notice until I was all the way to Microsoft. It was just as I was about to get on my third bus leg home that I realized I’d left my house keys on my desk at work … something that’s hard to do if you drive a car*.

I just paid the deposit to have my car shipped out. Enough.

*(or ride a bicycle)

First patch

Today I got my first patch approved, and submitted. It’s completely trivial; I chose the problem mostly as an exercise to learn how the tools and process work. That was a good decision; it took 4 rounds of review and about 7 specific requested changes to get to the final patch. It was certainly interesting, and surprising, to see how many improvements there were to be found, and how committed people here are to high code quality.

Nonetheless, now it’s in, and some tiniest sliver of Google’s code is now my code.

Bonus points: like most of what I’m likely to write for the next few years, it’s BSD licensed and should become public … as soon as I figure out how that process works.

Kit

On my first day, awaiting my arrival on the filing cabinet next to my desk, there sat a basic black backpack with the Google logo silk-screened on in full color. It seemed like a small welcome present, until I tried to lift it. It was full.

Inside there were respiratory masks, disposable gloves, work gloves, a wind-up flashlight+radio, duct tape, a whistle, and more miscellaneous stuff. I blinked at the contents in bewilderment.

A helpful coworker caught my expression and explained. “You’re from the East coast? Me too.”, he said. “All the companies here give these out. You should take it home. This is your earthquake preparedness kit.”

Friends

When I was maybe 9 years old, a new kid moved into town. He lived just down the block, which where I grew up meant about a mile. A perfect pair of budding nerds, we read science fiction, played Magic, wrote childish computer programs, attempted to establish a BBS, and occasionally lit things on fire that should probably have been left unlit.

Within two years he had moved away, off to the West coast, and I never saw him again. Until today.

Through the magic of the Internet, we had managed to get back in touch, and as it turned out he lives in the Seattle area … and now so do I. I spent the afternoon on his girlfriend’s cozy, beautiful powerboat, cruising Lake Washington on a clear, warm, gorgeous summer day.

We estimate it’s been about 16 years since we last spoke to each other. In 15 minutes it was as if we’d been in touch the whole time.