Sunday, September 30, 2007

2007 Roller Derby Championship

This weekend the eight best roller derby leagues in the nation have sent their all-stars down to Austin, TX for the 2007 WFTDA championship tournament. The contenders:

It's a big tournament for Rat City because Texas was the league that revived roller derby in the 00's, so they've been the dominant league for awhile (they've been skating and scheming for the longest), and they beat Rat City at the Bumberbout last year (on our home turf); but Rat City beat them in the 2007 Dust Devil regional tournament (earning the title 'Best of the West'), and again when Texas' Honky Tonk Heartbreakers played an invitational against our Derby Liberation Front here in Seattle in May. So Rat City has been showing strong and earning their reputation as one of the toughest, fastest leagues in the nation. Now the 2007 Nationals are on Texas' home turf, so we've all been biting our nails wondering what the outcome will be. Several girls from my skating squad have been texting us play-by-plays and news from rinkside.

I'm pleased to announce that, as of a few hours ago, Rat City beat Texas in a neck-and-neck bout, 89 to 79!!! Go Seattle! Lead Jammer has been live-blogging the bouts at Nationals and has a great play-by-play of the RCRG-TXRD bout here (click 'Archive' > 'Bout 6'). Sounds like it was an amazing game, especially since Texas was up by 11 points at halftime. If anyone finds video footage online, please let me know!

A Saturday in Dublin

I've got to say, it's good to be back home. Traveling is exciting but it's also tiring and unfamiliar. Adam and I spent our second week in Dublin in nearly back-to-back trainings, meetings and conferences. We'd originally planned to take Friday off and do a long weekend in Galway, but we ended up staying in the office on Friday just to unwind and have informal chats and follow-up with all the folks we'd been training and talking with all week. Also to raise a pint with a friend to celebrate his imminent return to the US of A. As much fun as it sounds to go traipsing around Ireland, I think the Friday was well-spent, since one of the biggest benefits I got out of this trip was getting to know the Dublin-based Googlers better which has heightened my sense of commitment to them.

I did get to spend Saturday being a tourist, however, before flying back to the US on Sunday. Adam took the train up to Howth, and I stayed in Dublin and just spent the day walking around, mostly in the Temple Bar area. Being in Seville had reminded me that I'm a somewhat abnormal tourist: rather than rushing around to see all "The Sights," I'd rather take my time, check out some places that real people (dare I say locals?) might actually frequent, stop when I want, and just savor the time.

slide-guitar player It was in this sort of spirit that I spent an hour sitting on a street corner listening to this Dublin cowboy playing some of the best slide guitar I've heard in I-don't-know-how-long. I have to admit that the Josh Bell experiment crossed my mind; who cares if I have no idea who the hell he is, if the music is so good it makes me want to stay until my butt's fallen asleep? I also went to an open-air book market, a "fashion" market (clothing and jewelery), and a really fantastic farmer's market in this hidden little square that I just happened to stumble across.

After wandering for awhile, I walked back out toward the river (like most significant European cities, Dublin has a river running through it) and saw crowds of people lined up along the river and on the bridges. One of the onlookers told me that it was the Liffey Swim; apparently once a year hundreds of people jump into the River Liffey and swim a couple miles downstream. It's one of the big events of the outdoor swimming season. And I happened to arrive just a couple minutes before people started launching themselves from the starting line:

Liffey Swim

The swimmers had to go through a decontamination shower when they got out of the river (yum). More photos from the day available in my Picasa web album.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Sojourn in Seville

More notes from my Europe trip... I arrived in Dublin on a Tuesday, and then on Wednesday turned around and flew (along with a bajillion Dublin Googlers—or is that Google Dubliners?) to Seville in a monster double-decker jet. I can't remember ever being on a plane this big. Luckily I was still too sleepy (thanks, jet-lag) to put much energy into worrying about how something that large can fly.

We were all travelling to a Google conference in Seville that lasted for three days and covered a variety of topics specific to our EMEA offices and markets. It was quite interesting for me to hear about our business from that perspective; Google is a global company, but sometimes it's easy for American Googlers to forget about this since we develop our products in English first and most of us aren't too tapped into what's going on in foreign markets.

It was raining and in the 50s when we left Ireland, but sunny and over 100° when we stepped off in Spain. The Dubliners were particularly excited since apparently it had rained in Dublin for the last 60 days straight (!). After checking in to our hotels we wandered around downtown Seville for the rest of the afternoon, meeting Googlers from various offices all over Europe (Seville city center was completely swamped with Googlers, it was kinda other-worldly). I love that all the folks I met were friendly, engaging, and easy to hang out with even though we'd only just met.

narrow Sevillan street

Like many European cities, Seville has its own feel and lots of intriguing architecture and city layout that are unusual to my American eyes. Most of the streets are unbelievably narrow and winding (good luck giving directions in this city!). Even with a map you'll get lost at least 5 times before you make it anywhere. I can't imagine how anyone deals with having a car here. Many of the streets seem not to be wide enough to even fit a car. Lots of building exteriors are painted with the same dusky yellow color:

Sevillan house

While I was in high school I spent a couple weeks in northern Spain (Burgos), but I'd forgotten about the Spanish evening schedule: lunch starts around 2 or 3p, and instead of dinner at 6 or 7, people go out for tapas at that time and then have dinner as late as 10p. As a high schooler I thought it was a great setup (that way you can hang out with your friends all afternoon/evening rather than having to come home at 6 for dinner and then not being able to escape again for the rest of the night); but this time around it just left me wondering how people digest so much fried food so late in the day. The Sevillan specialty dish is apparently frito variado (assorted fried fish), and Adam and I ended up one night with an entire fish, sliced into rings and then fried and then plated in the order that it had been sliced (head and tail and all), so it still looked like a fish, just with some space in between. It was tasty (and this coming from a girl who doesn't like fish), but I don't think I could handle it on a regular basis.

Guadalquivir After the conference was over I stayed the weekend in Seville with a few other Googlers and did some sight-seeing. One of my favourite parts of the city was the river (Guadalquivir) that runs through Seville. Something about it reminded me of the Seine in Paris; probably the wide stone walkways down by the water, and all the people biking and strolling down there. Souvenirs brought back from Spain: a tiny oil panting of a street scene from a street vendor, and a really nasty cough (both of which I still have three weeks later...).

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Big News: I'm Moving Forward

I'm not moving away, I'm not moving out. I'm moving forward. Last week I quit my cushy software development job to strike out on my own. I've been kicking around various snippets of code, design, research, and blogs (not so much blogging actually). All of which I plan to do more of. A lot more of.

Someone who's seen what I've been reading recently might blame The 4 Hour Work Week. But that wouldn't be (completely) correct. I did find it pretty inspirational—who doesn't want a fabulous lifestyle and to work only 4 hours per week? But someone who knows me will tell you that I will never find a 4 hour work week fulfilling.

So what's next for me? I guess I'm still figuring that one out. And frankly, I love that attitude :) I think I'll try that out for a while. I've got a couple of things cooking, and cooking a couple of things on my own is turning out to be pretty complicated. One of the things I'm hoping to do more of is writing, and writing interesting stuff. So stay tuned.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Two weeks in Europe

I just flew in from Dublin, and boy are my arms tired!

Adam and I just got back from two weeks in Europe, most of which was spent in the Google office in Dublin. The Dublin office is completely fascinating (for a language geek like me) because it's very international and anywhere you wander in the office you can hear people speaking to each other in French, German, Turkish, Swedish (often at the same time!)... We've been taking advantage of their international expertise and spent the last couple weeks working to improve our webmaster communication efforts outside the sphere of just the USA or the English-speaking market.

So the single biggest thing that struck me upon arrival in Dublin was (and you're gonna laugh): there are no bugs! I'd forgotten from my time in England that there are no screens on the doors or windows there. You can leave them all open—even when it's dark out, and the lights are on inside—and no bugs come in! It's amazing! I have no idea why this is the case, but it's so.

Actually Ireland reminded me a lot of England in some ways. The driving on the left, of course; but also the styling of their street signs, the storefronts, the architecture of their houses. I was trying to describe what makes the buildings different from in the US, and the best I could come up with (aside from all that classic red-orange brick) is that the building-fronts are very flat.

houses on a typical Dublin street

The neighborhood in which the Google office is located used to be not-so-desirable, but is undergoing a rejuvenation (at least, according to my cab driver). Observe all the cranes:

cranes along the quay

I did do a day of touristing around Dublin [edit: details here], but most of my time was spent in the office at breakneck pace: back-to-back meetings most days, giving presentations, talking one-on-one with people, even answering Q&A on a panel at a conference. It was a fairly overwhelming couple weeks, but definitely worth it. Meeting all of the international Googlers who were there was not only a pleasure (one of them is a fellow Rubik's Cube enthusiast!), but gave me a new perspective on the importance (for Google) of building our international presence. Now my challenge is to synthesize all the information I whirlwinded through and to bring it back in a useful form to my colleagues stateside.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Why Knowledge isn't Lost

It's been a while since we posted. Sorry about that. Big news coming up... Anyway, someone told me recently that he feared that human knowledge is no longer resting within the minds of people. Instead he's afraid that we've become dependent on technologies like the internet. And he sees this as a big problem facing humanity as we move forward. Being part of the internet generation and community, I disagree.

First of all, I don't see knowledge as disappearing from our minds. It may be true that in education we are focusing on more and more advanced topics, leaving out in-depth understanding of the basics. But this just forms the basis of other knowledge which is emerging and which does rest in our minds. The same thing has happened with other paradigm shifts. See this O'Reilly Radar article for more information about what I mean by paradigm shifts, which describes the paradigm of the future as "expertise". I think this notion of "expertise" is a better way to think about the issue.

Second, we're striving for productivity. The human mind is like a sieve. If you read Lifehacker, you know what I mean. Our minds are great at executing on plans, pulling in the necessary information, and synthesizing the desired result. But for storing information it's terrible. Here's a couple more links.

Consider this post by Chris Brogan where he writes: "I try to have a fresh new blog post out every day. And if I’m really motivated, I’ll put up two or three as things land in my head." And check out the very related book "The 4 Hour Work Week" by Tim Ferris (an excellent read).

I'll agree that relying on volatile storage presents some dangers. Some might argue the web/internet/collection of electronic knowledge is volatile storage. It would be interesting to see if this is the case. Surely there are competing effects: introduction of new information, loss of information (due to time?), re-introduction of existing information (reposting, re-synthesis, etc.). But how do these interact, and are we in a steady state? Is more information being lost than gained? Or is it the other way around?