Monday, November 28, 2005
(unplanned) crazy weekend

I didn't wake up until 11:30 on Thanksgiving Day. Justin, a good friend from college and current Unitarian-Universalist seminarian (and gender role smasher) at the Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley (where else?), had invited me to have dinner with a small group at his house (we're both native Midwesterners stranded in California for Thanksgiving by high ticket prices). I finally made it out the door a bit after one and drove up to Berkeley (fitting in the long-overdue call to mom on the way there).

It was such a nice dinner. Justin loves to cook. I hate to cook. The other guests there and I were amazed by the quantity and quality of the food provided. Justin slaved over a hot stove (what does that say about gender roles?) for hours preparing food for us--all I did was bring beer. You can see the full list on his blog. He even made a tofurky for us two vegetarians present. I was then and am now very impressed and grateful.

Justin and I ended up going to see Jarhead that night (my take: pleasantly and surprisingly good) and got back late enough that I decided to crash on a futon rather than make the drive back home.

The next day, I decided that, as long as I was close to the city, I'd take the trans-bay BART train and finally pay a visit to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (my take: thoroughly enjoyable, though, coincidentally, I had already seen the headlining Chuck Close exhibition when it was at the Met when Dave and I visited New York a year and a half ago).

I got a call from a coworker who lives in San Francisco while I was at the museum. (He's not a blogger, and I don't like to use real names for non-bloggers. We'll call him "Juanito.") Justin went back across the bay to meet friends for dinner. I entertained myself before meeting Juanito for dinner by hanging out at the downtown shops during the Black Friday bustle (it was packed). I, of course, didn't buy anything there, as it was Buy Nothing Day.

Full disclosure: I confess to buying a latte, coffee cake, a museum ticket, a train fare, a movie ticket, dinner, and beer at other points during the day. Oops, sorry. I think a personal boycott of chain-store shopping frenzies is doing my little part, at least.

Juanito and I had dinner with some other Googlers at an Ethiopian restaurant right off of Haight-Ashbury, saw 24 Hours on Craigslist (my take: charming), and then went out for a few beers. It was again too late to drive home (my car was in Berkeley at the time), so I ended up crashing on Juanito's bedroom floor.

The next day, we had breakfast with other Googlers at another Googler's house, went to Golden Gate park for a few hours of frisbee, wandered The Castro for a bit (my take: delightfully flamboyant), and then headed back to Market Street for a little shopping (one discounted shirt at the Banana Republic--yeah, sorry--and two others at H&M). We had dinner at a vegetarian Asian restaurant, and then (yet another) Googler and I took BART back to pick up my car and drove back to Mountain View, getting back around midnight on Saturday night.

All and all, a very fun unplanned trip. I left my house at 1 PM on Thursday afternoon and had expected to get back perhaps six hours later. It probably would have been smart to pack a change of clothes. I spent most of my weekend in a holiday sweater.
Thursday, November 24, 2005
Going up?

Nick's been wanting me to come rock climbing for a while. We finally went last night with two other friends to Planet Granite in Belmont.

I haven't climbed for a while. I used to climb a bit in high school and a few times in college, but I've never been a regular. We got to the gym a few minutes too late to take the belaying class, so Nick was the only one who could technically belay for the other three of us. So, while the other three bouldered (climbed close to the ground horizontally), I memorized the belaying instructions on the wall. I summoned all the knowledge I had from high school and that sheet on wall and, amazingly, passed the belaying test. With two of us belaying, we could belay for the other two in the group and then each other.

I did a number of climbs. I'm told that you can be easily be sore the next day from climbing when you haven't been climbing regularly. Today I haven't been so much sore as getting random, quite painful shooting pains in my left arm. A lot of it's due to the fact that the tendons in my arm are exhausted from the combination of climbing and coding up a storm lately. My officemates were really confused when, every once in a while, I'd grimace, clutch my arm, and swear.

I think I'll be okay, though. Suck it up and plow through it--that's my motto.

Still, my arms were really weak today. The Beta Bowlers (okay, so we're not an official team) made our weekly bowling gig tonight. I bowled horribly. I had to drop down to a 12-pound ball and I felt like I couldn't put any power behind it. So many straight-on rolls left one pin standing (often right in the middle. Nick said it was the lane giving me the finger).

Anyway, it's late. Need to sleep.

For the record, I've been obsessed with my recent purchase, Nashville Skyline. Since watching the Scorsese documentary, I've been revisiting my Dylan albums, moving through chronologically. But I've never really been much past 1966's Blonde on Blonde--really, anything past the 1966 motorcycle crash. Scorsese's film takes four hours just to get to the motorcycle haitus. At the end of the film, the camera lamely pans up during concert footage and then text comes up that reads something along the lines of "and then Bob was in a motorcycle crash and got hurt real bad and he took some time off and didn't perform live for a while and that's pretty much it. We've run out of time. Oh well."

Damn, I really should have explored further years ago. I really loved John Wesley Harding and am similarly enamored with Nashville Skyline. In popular music, there's not as much of an appreciation of post-accident, pre-80's-wasteland Dylan. Maybe it's the country influence that turns off the rock and pop worlds' interest.

Alex's decision to drag me to a Robbie Fulks concert a year an a half ago has affected me musically more that he could have imagined. I've developed, through Fulks, an appreciation of (traditional and neo-traditional) country (for heaven's sake, not contemporary country). This has pushed me into exploring more country and country-rock acts--specifically (and with no respect to time period, obviously) The Band, Johnny Cash, and Wilco. Exploring Dylan's post-pop-stardom work really gives me an better understanding of the development of country rock, and a much better appreciation of Dylan as a Bowie-like genre bender. Next up to explore is through Blood on the Tracks and more into The Band's discography.

Man, I should sleep. I'm gushing like a fanboy. I'll stop now. Night, kids.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Top of the charts, baby
This blog is now the top result on Google for the search "doctor awesome."

Before, it never came up.

That's because I never realized that having the "listing" setting on in your options was tied to having a robots meta tag in your source.

Whoops. Fixed.

Sorry Doctor Awesome, improv comedy group.


That reminds me... I don't know if I ever told the story of the name of this blog. During the Summer of 2004, I was living with Pete (and eight other people) in a house on Saint James Court in Madison. Being that we didn't have air conditioning, the lot of us would frequently spend summer evenings with each other and a case of beer out on the front porch, playing cards or chatting.

One night, the conversation turned to good band names. I made up a story about how, some day, I will have a band called "Doctor Awesome and the Awesomenauts" (I'd imagine my subconscious thought process there was based on Béla Fleck and the Flecktones). The name was the hit of the night. It became an infrequently used alternative moniker for me and eventually made its way to becoming the name of my blog (which, incidentally, was named "My Blog" at the time). This is the third home of that blog, which started life as SERFing in what's coming up as two years now, though I blogged sporadically before that.

It's weird, as if you would have told me four years ago I'd be working in a cube near the Blogger team, I'd have thought you were crazy.
Saturday, November 19, 2005
I'll spend some time with Amazon Prime
I was buying stuff on Amazon yesterday. Specifically, I bought the paperback version of Bob Dylan's Chronicles, Vol. 1 and a copy of Rise Up Singing: The Group Singing Songbook. I've wanted to read the Dylan book for a while (though I bet you it'll be flight-reading fodder when I fly home to Wisconsin next month). The other one I just heard about randomly, reading an invite to a group singalong. I'm not going, but the book seems like a great thing to have around.

Note that the prices of the two books ($15.61 and $9.80) add up to $25.41, just enough to put me into the "super saver free shipping" zone.

I love the songbook name, though ("Rise Up Singing"). It contains a forward by our communist friend Pete Seeger and the description mentions "songs about peace, freedom, labor, and the environment."

Amazon, however, is a darling product of free-market forces. Prices, products, and raw processing power run the system. Taking advantage of economies of scale, the company can offer more books (and thousands of other things) at lower prices than brick-and-mortar stores I can stop by on the way home. And with the mountains of purchase and page-view data they're sitting on, I'm sure the computers are constantly setting prices based on calculated demand elasticities, inventory, and the prices offered by other retailers. Even Amazon's abandoned experiments in differential pricing, though a big PR slip up, were a novel way to get valuable information about demand elasticities.

Really, if it wanted to, Amazon could use its knowledge of your interests and past purchases to price discriminate on the individual level (which, as long as it doesn't discriminate against a protected category like race, religion, or gender, is perfectly legal). It's just a logical extension of senior-citizen discounts, ladies' nights, or Saturday-night stay airline tickets.

This is all simultaneously fascinating and frightening.

Anyway, while checking out, something about my history and information triggered the Amazon system to offer me four free months of Amazon Prime (normally, it's $79 a year for free two-day shipping). A bit of Google blog searching seems to indicate that some people, but not all people are getting this offer. I theorize I got the offer for two reasons. First, I'm a fairly frequent user of Amazon, so they probably see me as somebody might get hooked on Amazon Prime. Second, I bet my location in the Bay Area (I have most of my packages sent to the Googleplex) is probably rather cheap to ship to, as I bet there's a distribution center nearby. This makes providing the Amazon Prime service much cheaper for them than if I was living in northern Wisconsin, so they'll make more money off of me. Geography has a lot to do in this business. Barnes and Noble still does the same-day delivery in Manhattan. Distribution centers are like Akamai for real stuff.

There are two things that make online sales less convenient than traditional stores: shipping cost and shipping speed. Of course, those are two competing goals. Higher shipping costs make the lower prices less attractive, while shipping time really puts the damper on "impulse buy" items. I'll often buy something at Target (hey, I'm a Midwesterner--like I'd shop at Macy's) because I see it, like it, and want it now, even though, if I waited and shipped it, I'd pay less. If they can eliminate (or at least minimize) the apparent shipping cost and time for consumers, consumers are more likely to buy things on a whim. For example, after watching Walk the Line last night (did you catch all the Dylan references?), I bought Dylan's Nashville Skyline off of Amazon. I never would have done that if I knew I had to wait for a week or two to get it.

Additionally, Amazon Prime is similar to Costco and Sam's Club pricing models. Both of those stores require a "membership fee" to shop there, and then have (due to the bulk, wholesale nature of their stores) lower prices than you could get elsewhere. This has the effect of creating a consumer "sunk cost." The membership fee is unrecoverable, so after paying the fee, the consumer's lowest prices will be at that particular store. This reinforces store loyalty. Similarly, since the membership fee is a flat rate, the more you spend at such stores, the better your "bang for your buck" on the membership fee.

In Amazon's case, Amazon Prime is a way to "sink" the shipping costs for the consumer up front. I'm sure they believe this should increase the amount Prime customers end up purchasing--it encourages loyalty. Even if you abuse the system and order massive amounts of stuff, it's still doesn't hurt Amazon very much--that's all business they wouldn't have gotten otherwise. Additionally, it makes all the prices on Amazon that much more attractive as compared to other merchants, as shipping costs (though paid) are zero for every additional item you buy (the marginal shipping cost to the consumer is zero, and the average cost keeps on dropping).

Amazon is smart to do this. For me, it now makes Amazon more convenient than Target (consider the additional time and opportunity costs involved with driving to Target, parking, shopping, checking out, and driving back home). I'm not sure if I'll be paying the $79 in four months, but, of course, I haven't made a decision, and Amazon's doing this to try to change my mind.

Update: Hey Dana, look: They have toothpaste and shampoo. I may never have to go to Target again.
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Google it, you moron.

Someone at work forwarded this to me:

Google It You Moron.

Ironically, this will be incredibly useful for some of the questions I get at work (from other Googlers).
Saturday, November 12, 2005
Happiness is Warm Gum
Some other Googler bloggers blog all the time about Google perks. I don't like doing that--makes me feel snotty. But at cocktail parties (okay, who am I kidding? I don't attend cocktail parties. While drinking beer at social events), non-Googlers will often question and ask about the cafeterias, the ball pit, and the snack bars everywhere. I can't be dishonest--the perks (the food, specifically) attracted me as much as the feel-good PR copy.

But among the best perks? Free gum.

I'm kind of a compulsive gum chewer. I know it's a trait more associated with valley girls than professional software engineers, but gum chewing is two things to me: a nervous habit, and a way to keep my mouth clean and fresh (that "just brushed clean feeling").

At the snack bars, there's always one drawer filled with packs of gum. In my case, it's like putting in a drawer full of cigarettes for nicotine-addicted smokers.

So I was tooling around the Internet this morning and saw this story on CNN:

Army considering combat chewing gum

It's chewing gum that's supposed to help soldiers in the field keep their teeth clean when they don't have access to toothbrushes. But it does sound like it would be great for my civilian life: to chew on during the day between brushings or maybe to take camping. If they'd put it in a drawer here, I could use it to prevent tooth decay from those wonderful, wonderful candy orange slices.
Thursday, November 10, 2005
I'm So Vain
I probably think this blog is about me.

Nathan bowling
I've been posting a lot of photos of myself lately. On one hand, it looks pretty egotistical. On the other, I'm pretty awesome.

Anyway, I dragged some Google coworkers bowling yesterday. Most of them came willingly to the Palo Alto Bowl with me. I really enjoyed myself. I reminded me of late nights bowling at Evergreen Lanes in Nekoosa during high school.

Between the seven of us, I won two of the three games. Of course, my highest game was a 118. We weren't exactly pros.

I'm thinking it'll become a near-weekly event for me. Maybe I'll join a league. Wouldn't a Google team be the coolest thing ever? Four-person teams means we could get bowling shirts: red, yellow, green, and blue.

America rules. Wherever you go, there's a bowling alley that looks like it was built (and decorated) in 1976.

Exercise for the reader: what would be a good name for a Google bowling team?
Monday, November 07, 2005
Quotes of our Lives
I will now recall a recent conversation with a friend (I'll call him "Jim." Names have been changed to protect the innocent).

Jim: *trying to think of a name* What's the name of the girl I pissed off recently?
Me: Jenny?
Jim: No, the other one.
Me: Cindy.
Jim: No, different one.
Me: Ann.
Jim: Yeah, that one.

He pissed off Ann by skipping her birthday party and going hiking with Cindy. He pissed off Cindy by admitting he liked Jenny's roommate, Alyssa. Jenny, of course, liked Jim, and was pissed off that Jim liked Alyssa.

Jim's pretty good with the ladies.
Sunday, November 06, 2005
Back to Nature

(click for the full album)

I've been working way too much. My friend Eric realized this, and to save me from myself, booked a room in a motel outside of Yosemite.

I had been talking about taking a solo weekend off in the woods, telling my officemates (half jokingly) about my plans for a grand vision quest--how I would "find my soul" and bring meaning to my life. I'm fond of being overly dramatic.

Anyway, Eric and I drove out there Saturday morning. I just got back (now, Sunday night). I had no cell phone, no Internet access. We hiked probably about 15 miles of pretty mountainous terrain in that time.

I'm glad I did it. I'm a decently outdoorsy person (though never a big hiker), but I've been too tied to the computer lately. Just walk away. Go for a hike.

I've now gathered that there's probably not a better way to force yourself to face spirituality and search your soul than to climb to the top of Sentinel Dome and slowly spin in a circle.

My National Park Pass has (four months later) paid for itself. I really need to get into this. I'm not a big fan of Silicon Valley on the weekends. What I need to do is go drop some yuppie cash at REI and go camping every weekend.

I have a new goal of scaling Half Dome. Unfortunately, the hiker cables are down for the season, so that'll have to wait. I would like to do a big two-day loop up Yosemite Falls and then all the way along the North Dome trail and then back down by Snow Creek falls into the valley. Maybe that'll be my true solo vision quest. Maybe over Thanksgiving weekend.

It was absolutely depressing to leave Yosemite and pass strip mall after truck stop oasis all the way back to Palo Alto.
Saturday, November 05, 2005
Stay on message
Via Fark (oddly enough):

Q: Hi, Mr. President. Thank you. Did Karl Rove tell you the truth about his role in the CIA leak case? And do you owe the American people an apology for your administration's assertations that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby weren't involved?

THE PRESIDENT: We're going through a very serious investigation. And I will -- have told you before that I'm not going to discuss the investigation until it's completed. And we have got a -- my obligation is to set an agenda, and I've done that. And the agenda is fighting and winning the war on terror, and keeping the economic vitality and growth alive, dealing with the energy problem, nominating people to the Supreme Court that adhere to the philosophy that I can depend on -- Judge Alito being such a person. I noticed today that they've got a date. I'm disappointed in the date, but happy they do have a firm date for his confirmation hearing. We've got to recover from the hurricanes. So I've got a lot to do, and will continue to focus on the people's business.

Source: President's Remarks to the Travel Pool at Summit of the Americas in Argentina
Friday, November 04, 2005
To the moon!
As I'm sure you all care very much, you should know I went as an astronaut for Halloween.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005
"Hey, look over there!"
Paulzy wrote me an e-mail yesterday morning:

Subject: Alito


I, of course, had no idea what Alito was. But by Paulzy's e-mail and the fact that it was Monday and a perfect time to bust out a new Supreme Court nominee, I figured it was a new Supreme Court nominee. confirmed my suspicion.

My e-sponse:
I didn't know who Alito was. I'm west coast, buster. I just woke up.

He looks like a CPA.

I closely followed with:
Second reaction:

Man, I was hoping I would get picked.

By the end of the day, I had gotten enough reading in to send this back:

Seriously. Like, that's so them. In the middle of a quagmire? "Hey, look over there!"

Watch this dominate the news cycles and crowd out everything else.

And then, late that night, I wrote:
Hey! Look over there!

Bush to unveil bird flu strategy

That's pretty much it. Shell game. The White House doesn't like that Scooter Libby, FEMA and Iraq are dominating the news cycle? That Rove's under fire? That Cheney's not looking too trustworthy?

Bird flu. Scary. And the Democrats might filibuster! Obstruction!

"At this moment, there is no pandemic influenza in the United States or the world. But if history is our guide, there is reason to be concerned. In the last century, our country and the world have been hit by three influenza pandemics -- and viruses from birds contributed to all of them. The first, which struck in 1918, killed over half-a-million Americans and more than 20 million people across the globe. One-third of the U.S. population was infected, and life expectancy in our country was reduced by 13 years. The 1918 pandemic was followed by pandemics in 1957 and 1968 which killed tens of thousands of Americans, and millions across the world."
- G-Dub, earlier today

Hey, look over there!

Good job, boys. Keep wagging the dog.

(Of course, Paulzy sent his repsonse, but he's a big boy and has got his own blog).

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