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Sep. 9th, 2014

I made it through the Women of Wonder 5k! And my borrowed headpiece stayed on the whole time! (It was kind of a flower crown with a ton of trailing ribbons, which I borrowed from K. for our team's theme, which was fantasy/faerie.) I ran for the first 20 mins., then waved waterfaery and Emily on and dropped down to alternating walking and running for the rest of it. RunKeeper says my average pace was 14:49. Considering I've been doing the 5k101 training schedule and had only been up to 8-minute intervals before then, I think that was pretty good. Although for the next one, whatever it is, I want to run the whole thing. And by next year I want to be up to running 10k's.

I heard back from the UW's user-centered design certificate program; I've been waitlisted. Considering the packed room at the info session, it's not a shock, but of course it is a bummer. I'm thinking about applying to General Assembly's UX design immersive course, but it's not the perfect fit, because the part I think would be a good fit is research -- and not just for websites and apps; I find behavioral research in general to be really interesting.

What I learned on my summer vacation

We just got back from 5 days traveling: down to Astoria, then the Oregon dunes area, back up to Ocean Shores, and then home. I think the kids had a pretty good time, and it was fun for all of us to walk around on the dunes; but it would have been a much better trip for them if we'd gone somewhere and stayed there instead of spending so much time in the car. Next year, we're just going to Ocean Shores (since it's about a 3.5-hr drive, so minimal car time) and will stay there for a few nights. That way they'll get lots of time on the beach and in the pool, we'll have time to look for the bumper cars, and N. will have time to fly his kite.

Another lesson learned: don't go on a trip the week immediately before school starts, because their sleep schedule will get messed up. Which I suppose is obvious, but when I planned the trip, I was working around what I thought would be my summer school schedule, and the limited availability of the yurts in Oregon state parks. Not that I expect the latter will be an issue again. I failed to communicate in advance the level of rusticity of the yurts and it turns out my spouse and I have different ideas of what 'roughing it' is. Mine is having to pack a trowel, so by that standard the yurts are pretty cushy, but I can understand that not everyone shares that view.

Since we decided to bail on the yurt after the first night, and the drive down to Tugman State Park from Astoria had taxed everyone's patience1, we started making our way back up the coast and stayed at the 'D' Sands Motel, which was surprisingly nice, right on the beach in Lincoln City, OR. It was a great illustration of how much better the Oregon beaches are, because the kids could run around barefoot with no worries. Whereas at Ocean Shores, it's a nice beach but you have to watch out for fireworks debris, horse dung, and other junk when walking, not to mention the cars driving on the sand. When the kids get a bit older and don't mind a slightly longer drive, I'll suggest we switch to Seaside, OR for our beach trips.

Another lesson learned: eating out wastes a lot of time. I've been reading the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, slowly making my way through the nearly 1,000 pages of it, and I found a bit where one reader recommends packing lunches so you don't have to lose time finding an eatery, waiting for a table, waiting for your food, and waiting to pay. I think the lesson is more broadly applicable, especially since most kids would rather be digging in sand or whatever they find fun rather than having to take 2 hours out of their fun time to be bundled off to a restaurant. Most hotels we end up staying at have at least a mini fridge, so it would be easy for me to sandwich fixings and a mylar bag on any overnight trip. (Also, if PB&J is on the menu at the restaurant, that's what they will order anyway.)

1: You can't really drive 55 on U.S. 101, because every time you got up to speed there was another town or a curve so you have to slow down to 35 again.


In light of recent events

Perhaps this link from The Daily Show is relevant:

2nd Amendment Manners Do's and Don'ts, featuring a white man and a black man in hoodies

Also brilliant on the subject of inequality:

Campus Safety Do's and Don'ts (jump to 2:12 in the video)
I saw "Guardians of the Galaxy" at a matinee. I loved individual scenes in it, especially the irreverent bits highlighted in the trailer. But it didn't work for me as a whole: the tone felt all over the place. I think I know why: I saw a different movie than the friends raving about how much fun it was. Pregnancy turned me into the person who tears up at Subaru commercials and Verizon commercials. And I seem to have stuck that way. Anyway, the movie I watched started with a little boy, not much older than my son is now, experiencing a tragedy. And the rest of the movie is filled with visual and auditory reminders of that tragedy. So we'd have fun stuff happening like you see in the trailer, and I'd be having emotional whiplash because I was still searching for a tissue. It's possible that this will be solved by repeat viewings, because I'm sure we'll be getting it on Blu-ray. But maybe not: the damn commercials still make me tear up every time.

Should you go see it? I'd say yes. Nine out of ten people love it and had a lot of fun. Also, I have "Hooked on a Feeling" stuck in my head now. (Reviews that say the soundtrack is a character are not kidding.)


Foiled again: three strikes

Yesterday I had the brilliant idea of taking the kids to have a playdate at a park on Mercer Island while we watched the Blue Angels. Traffic was a lot worse than last year, probably because last year we only had the Patriots, and this year we had both the Patriots and Angels. Anyway, we ended up spending over an hour stuck in traffic on a half-mile stretch of I-90 leading up to the exit. Definitely my worst excursion plan to date. We got there and finally found a parking spot during the last 10 mins. of the air show. At least the kids got their playdate.

Lesson learned: don't go to Mercer Island for the air show. Unless you can get there 3-4 hours before it starts -- which is not such a good idea with small children, so just don't go. I have to find a decent vantage point with less of a bottleneck to get into.

Earlier in the week, all my siblings were in town, so we went with Dad to a beach that we grew up playing at. I knew it was somewhere near Port Hadlock; turns out it's on Indian Island, a few hundred yards past the bridge. Between this trip and the trip about a month ago to Sun Lakes, I feel like we're revisiting some of the greatest hits of my childhood. Another of my plans was foiled there, though. I bought a folding canopy for shade (Coleman instant canopy with sunwall). The siblings helped me put it up and stake it, and then we all enjoyed it for 5 minutes before a gust blew it over and its struts folded backwards like a cheap umbrella. :( I knew that reviews of these types of canopies said they don't last long, and I honestly wouldn't have been surprised if it only lasted for 1 or 2 outings; but 5 minutes was a shock. (And no, there were no gale-force winds that day; just normal beach breeziness.)

Next time, I get the Sport-Brella. I saw a number of them at the Mercer Island park during the airshow, and they get good reviews for standing up to wind on Amazon.

We're having a heat wave here. (I know this is the cue for all of our friends from the East Coast and the Southwest to laugh now, but really, it is weird-weather time -- we have fruit ripe here that wouldn't normally be in season for another month.) There was a one-week respite with cool and cloudy weather, and of course that was when N.'s day camp went to Wild Waves for their field trip. Other than that, for the past month, the house has become intolerably hot by dinnertime. The Man had the excellent idea of getting another portable air conditioner, like we once had, to supplement the rather anemic performance of our ancient whole-house AC. So we got one from Amazon. It worked for two evenings and then the fan stopped working. So we shipped it back and got a replacement. This one doesn't blow any air at all, warm or cool. I think UPS must be beating these things up pretty badly so they get broken in transit.

BTW, I spoke too soon last week about not enjoying the wireframing portion of the HCI class. It turns out Balsamiq is pretty fun, a lot like building and decorating a house in the Sims, except you're decorating a web site or app. And today I built a more detailed prototype with Webflow, which was a little confusing because Webflow doesn't drag-and-drop the way I expect, but still overall pretty quick and easy.

I was going to write something about "Lucy"

(the Luc Besson film starring Scarlett Johansson) but my friend amnesiack described it so perfectly over on Google+:

Watching Lucy is like playing a one shot rules light RPG in the three hour slot at a convention. At first you're really taking your time, establishing scenes, characters, and details and making sure that the established fiction is really respected and built on deliberately. Then you realize you've only got thirty minutes left in the slot, and suddenly you're just rushing to get to the end, ignoring details, and not worrying too much about how things mesh together. Then you've only got five minutes left to play out the climax, and +Gray Pawn is over here describing a giant gun battle while +Jackson Tegu is describing a montage of scenes from history back to the dawn of time, and you're just trying to figure out what happens with the organic supercomputer you established in the previous scene. Then it's all over, and it doesn't really make sense, but the first half was so cool, and now you're really more concerned about where to get food before the next slot starts anyway.

And that really just sums it up.


Construction junction

Since we're now in the dry season in the Pacific Northwest, there are construction projects all over. It seems like most of the critical streets in downtown Bellevue are being ripped up and resurfaced. And Renton's continuing transition from semi-rural to suburban has picked up the pace, with a new 47-lot subdivision proposed one block from our house. Kitty corner from that, there is a smaller development of probably half a dozen homes already underway where one house used to stand. I guess the developers are striking while the land is cheap, because Renton is not experiencing the surge in home prices that the fancier Eastside suburbs are. There are a handful of houses in the surrounding subdivisions that have been for sale for months, and one foreclosure still empty right next to the elementary school. Meanwhile, up in Kirkland, two couples we know sold their houses semi-recently, each in one weekend and for above the asking price.

The HCI class continues with wireframing this week. It's the research portion I find interesting, so this is not my favorite week. I'd love to know if anyone is doing qualitative consumer research in the Seattle area, outside of website UI. Stuff like ethnography of vodka drinkers or studying Febreze users.

I signed up for a 5k and finally bought new running shoes, since my old ones are too tight. I was going to order a half-size larger, but I read reviews that said that the Merrell barefoot shoes have gotten larger. So I went with the same size and they seem to fit! This is great for me because whenever I've had a shoe that fit me really well, it's always been size 9.5 US. I've never experienced such constancy with sizes in anything but shoes: as everyone knows, women's clothing sizes are all over the map, and I have clothing in sizes 12, 14, 10, L, XL, and sometimes M that fits me right now. But a good fit in a shoe is always 9.5 for me. When I have to go up to 10, like I did with the old Merrells, or up to 10.5 like I do with Keen, it's not just a matter of the shoe being sized small; they don't have quite the right shape. (TLDR version: yay new running shoes.)

random update

N. started his day camp last week. He came back sunburned four of the five days. The worst was Thursday, when they went to the water park. I started out the week putting a physical sunscreen, SPF 30, on him (Burnout Eco-Sensitive), then upgraded to another physical, SPF 50 (CeraVe stick). We briefly tried a spray sunscreen, SPF 50 (Walgreens house brand), which both of the kids hate (N. says it burns; K. says it stinks). Then I went to a chemical sunscreen, SPF 70 (Water Babies). Now we're using a chemical sunscreen, SPF 100 (Neutrogena Ultra-Sheer Dry Touch). As you can imagine, I'm really wishing that the FDA, which isn't protecting us from nutritional supplements (see John Oliver clip about Dr. Oz), would stop protecting us from the superior sunscreens you can get in Europe but not here. Anyway, the latest sunscreen seems to be working okay, but today I doubled-dose him (chemical with physical on top) since they're going to the beach.

My human-computer interaction course is more work than I expected for a free MOOC but I feel like I'm learning something, and I find behavioral science fascinating. For the first assignment, I had to observe and interview three participants about some process that involved or could involve technology, with a choice of three themes. (Thanks again to the friends who helped!) I picked behavioral change as the theme. This was the "needfinding" assignment, so we were not supposed to be designing anything, just observing processes and looking for breakdowns or design opportunities. The assignments are peer-graded, so next I had to participate in some grading training exercises. I graded sample assignments and then the web site told me how I'd done relative to what the instructors felt the samples deserved. After three training samples, I was ready to grade five of my peers. And once I had done that, I had to grade myself. I don't think I did as good a job as I could have, but I was a lot more thorough in my observations than the five peers. This week's assignment is storyboarding, which I'm looking forward to.

A few weeks ago I saw "The Edge of Tomorrow", with Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, and I recommend it highly. Humanity is losing a war against aliens, and Cruise's character accidentally gets the "Groundhog Day" ability: every time he gets killed, he finds himself waking up on the day he was forcibly pressed into active duty. Cruise does a fine job as usual in the arc of "jerk who becomes a better guy" (and if you don't like Cruise, there's something for you too: he dies hundreds of times in this movie), but the real reason to watch it is Blunt's character. She is totally committed to the mission of defeating the aliens, she never backs down, and despite the fact that Cruise's character has the supernatural ability and not her, it never makes her any less badass.

Here be minor spoilers about "How to Train Your Dragon 2", "X-Men: Days of Future Past", and "Edge of Tomorrow"Collapse )


I got to test-ride an Electra Townie 3i last week. I stopped by my local bike store to see if they had a blue kid's bike for N. and found that they have a bunch of cruisers and comfort bikes, including some Electras. I thought the Townie 3i was fun but weird: it was easy to oversteer the wide handlebars (which may be operator error -- it's been about a decade since I've been on an upright bicycle), and the one-size-fits-all frame felt too big for me, which was confirmed by my inability to get my feet flat on the ground even with the seat dropped to the lowest possible setting. I was excited about the internal hub because like walkitout I have had my share of "oh crap, had to stop suddenly in an upper gear and now I can't get going again" moments. But the Townie 3i also has coaster brakes, which means that you can't move the pedals backward in order to put them in the right position to get going again. :(

I was hoping to compare the Electra with a Breezer Uptown, but it's out of stock with the local dealers (Performance Bike). It looks like I may have to get myself over to the Dutch Bike Co. or Aaron's to find something to compare with.