The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

September 28, 2008

Factoria Mall Redevelopment Update: Moving Things Around

Filed under: Bellevue, Food — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 8:31 pm

Although the intent to redevelop the Factoria Mall into the Marketplacve @ Factoria was announced some time ago, it has taken quite a while for the plan to come into action.  Transforming a mall (even a small one like Factoria) and completely rebuilding significant portions of the property isn’t something that you’d expect to happen overnight, and it seems that with the recent activity at the mall we would have expected to see more visible results by now, but as a shopper, there isn’t a whole lot to see at this point. 

That’s not to say that there isn’t anything going on.  Over the last few weeks, the visible signs of redevelopment have begun to appear, even though it doesn’t appear that any major construction has commenced yet.  Several of the stores from the portion of the mall which is to be opened up to the outside have completed their moves though, and several others are in the process of moving as well.  After the jump, a look at the current state of the Factoria Mall and construction projects going on inside and outside.


September 27, 2008

Are You Looking For Some Hot Stuff?

Filed under: Random Stuff, shopping — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 12:56 am

These days, it’s not particulary unusual to see Halloween stuff on the shelves at most stores by now, and  it’s not particularly unusual anymore to see it show up before August comes to a close (that’s another post though, which will come eventually.)  At the same time, Christmas merchandise is starting to sneak onto whatever unguarded bit of seasonal aisle shelf space it can manage to sneak into.  Eventually, the stuff is going to practically take over the whole store, but for the time being, it seems content to lay low and wait for Halloween to pass, after which it’ll march in unopposed and stake its claim for the next couple of months, ruling over the toy aisles with an iron fist of holiday glee.  There was a time when the Christmas stuff didn’t show up in the stores until after Thanksgiving, but these days we’re used to spending four whole months out of the year navigating through a maze of brightly lit trees and giant inflatable animatronic reindeer (of Doom) when we head out for our weekly shopping run.  Needless to say, the holidays don’t exactly sneak up on us.

The seasons, on the other hand, generally don’t come and go with a whole lot of fanfare.  Sure, each of the individual seasons comes with its own set of trappings and accessories, but for the most part, these come and go without making too much noise.  That is why it can be just a bit jarring to take a trip to Costco to grab a couple of things to restock the pantry and wandering into a whole aisle full of this stuff:

Sure, we can see the signs of Fall advancing upon the landscape.  The yellowing leaves on the trees and the ground are a bit hard to miss, and the strange equilibrium point in between seasons where you end up using the heater and the air conditioning in your car on the same day has now passed, with the heater more often than not winning out over the AC.  Even so, it can still be just a bit jarring to wander into a random aisle of the store and encounter pallet loads of big fluffy blankets, space heaters and not-so-convincing fake fireplaces.  Yeah, I get the point.  It’s going to get freakin’ cold around here in a couple of months, just like it has for, oh, the last few thousand millenia or so.  It was just a couple of weeks ago that we were still getting highs in the eighties, and even today the weather managed to make a reasonable attempt at reaching the mid seventies in the afternoon.   Right now, it’s still occasionally warm enough to get away with wearing shorts outside, and if you don’t mind, I’ll cling on to the last few crumbling fragments of summer for just a bit longer, OK? 

Actually, I don’t really mind this time of year much.  Sure, the temperatures are going down, the darkness comes sooner, and the typical weather patterns around here have reverted to the usual default of rainy and overcast, but these three things I can deal with.  In general, I find that there are a lot more options available to deal with being too cold than there are for being too hot.  I think my internal temperature might run just a bit on the warm anyway, which makes me a bit more tolerant of colder weather than some people (and on the flip side, a bit more uncomfortable in hot weather.)  Even the earlier darkness doesn’t bug me all that much, since I’ve always been something of a night owl anyway (as the usual timestamps on my Blog posts demonstrate.)  Just don’t ask me what I think of the whole thing when the middle of January rolls around, the temperatures are hovering just north of freezing and Spring is still two months away.  I’ll deal with that part later, although I think it might not be a bad idea to start stockpiling my monthly weather complaint post allowance, just in case.

September 23, 2008

Guaranteed to Bring You More Senior Moments or Your Money Back!

Filed under: Random Stuff, shopping — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 6:44 pm

As regular readers of this site know, the weekly dose of mailbox clogging dead tree spam that hits the mailboxes around here on Tuesdays can frequently be a source of odd productsquestionable special offers or just plain ridiculous products offered for sale at some unbelievable bargain-basement price that you just can’t pass up.  I think this one, which showed up in today’s bolus of tremendous savings, might just take the cake:

That pimply-faced drive-thru clerk won’t stand a chance of “accidentally” forgetting your senior discount with this handsome, comfortable, adjustable fit “Don’t Forget My Senior Discount!” hat (of Doom) on your head!  Never mind the fact that the mere appearance of general oldness is usually sufficient to receive such discounts, or the fact that this product is being marketed to a generation which was largely taught that it is impolite to wear a hat indoors, this hat will (theoretically) pay for itself as you reap the benefits of your golden years.  And all this can be yours for the low price of only $9.95* (or $7.95 each if you buy two or more of the things for some inexplicable reason.  You better stock up just in case you manage to outlive the company selling these, right?)  Order yours today!

*Shipping and Handling not included.  Dignity sold separately.

Digging Up Some Dirt in Bellevue

Filed under: Bellevue — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:14 am

No, I have not (yet) decided to fill my blog up with half-baked scandalmongering (although I’ll have to keep that in mind just in case the day job doesn’t work out.)  As part of a church activity, a significant portion of last Saturday morning was spent quite literally digging up some dirt in a median found on the Lake Hills Connector in Bellevue.  This particular patch of ground (between Southeast 8th Street and the railroad bridge that you can see at the top of the picture) had recently been cleared off, and several thousand plants, shrubs and trees awaited transplant.  As you can see, we clearly had our work cut out for us.

Even if planting all that stuff was all we needed to do, that was going to be enough work as is.  Combine this with the fact that the ground was just full of big rocks that we had to either figure out how to dig around or find some way to dig up, and the whole thing becomes even tougher.  Oh, and did I mention the fact that it rained practically the whole time we were out there?  I guess when they say Summer is over, they really mean it this time (although we did get a really nice stretch of weather between Labor Day and last Wednesday or so.)

Not that any of that stopped anyone, of course.  With nearly 70 people from three singles wards in the area participating, the work went a lot quicker than expected, and within the course of three hours, the group managed to plant stuff all the way up to the rail bridge.

Now that looks much better, doesn’t it?  The City of Bellevue Parks Department has plenty of planting that needs to be done, and organizes opportunities to do so on a monthly basis (although more so around Arbor Day and Earth Day.)  If you’d like to get in on the digging, you can find more info on volunteer opportunities here.  They’ll even provide the shovels, gloves and (somewhat) fashionable orange vests.

September 18, 2008

And You Thought You Got Walked All Over

Filed under: Random Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 10:59 pm

In theory, designing household accessories for children shouldn’t be a difficult task.  For the most part, all you really have to do is make the same stuff you make for grown-ups add a few day-glo colors to the manufacturing process, get rid of all the sharp pointy edges (after all, you never know when Mommy and Daddy are going to turn out to be ambulance chasing lawyers) and tell the stores to put the thing somewhere in the kids section of the home decorating aisle.  If you happen to have acquired licensing rights for some popular cartoon character, in theory it makes your job a lot easier.  If you don’t have any flavor-of-the-week movie licenses, things might be a bit trickier though.  You’ll be tempted to come up with your own colorful-yet-non-infringing characters to plaster all over your products, but if you take this approach, it might not be a bad idea to consult someone who knows what they’re doing before proceeding.  Otherwise, you get something like this:

Meet Shorty, a bathroom step stool from the Tuff Lil’ Squirtz line of products from Homz.  By all appearances, it seems that Shorty was designed to exhibit some of that “Attitude” stuff that seems to be all the rage with the preschool set these days, but unfortunately, the effect seems to come off more along the lines of a perpetual migraine and/or anger management issues.  Although Shorty has a set of apparently vestigal toes, the fact that he is made completely out of plastic would indicate that he probably lacks the other necessary biomechanics required to walk, thus rendering him unable to escape from his predicament.  When he’s not being stomped on by tooth-brushing three year olds, he probably spends the rest of his days next to the bathroom sink, quietly cursing the day he was molded.

This particular line of products (PDF link, which also has a photo of this stool without the “goggle” sticker on it) apparently contains a much happier looking shower caddy and a number of items with random faces on them, most of which are too indistinct to see much of in the photos provided.  Generally, if you are in the market for a step stool for the bathroom, I would recommend something that appears at least somewhat less likely than this one to snap and start murdering people for not washing their hands.  On the other hand, there’s still hope for Mr. Shorty here.  If he plays his cards just right, maybe he can land a part in the next Super Mario game…

September 15, 2008

Help Identify This Labelscar at Totem Lake

Filed under: Malls — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:22 am

I’ve been doing a bit of digging through my photo backlog, and I found this one that I meant to post earlier, but forgot about somewhere along the line.  This is a labelscar which I found on the front (the side facing the street) of the building at Totem Lake Mall which currently houses the Trader Joes store.  I can’t really make this out, but I figure someone out there might recognize it.  Based on my research, it appears that this particular building previously housed a General Tire center and an indoor miniature golf course (there’s a bit of an odd combination) when the upper mall first opened, and later on I seem to recall seeing something about this becoming a Les Schwab tire center, but I can’t be certain of that (There’s a Les Schwab a few blocks away in the Totem Lake neighborhood which looks to be a lot more recent than this.)  These look like they could have been garage entrances at one point that later got walled over.  There’s also the enigmatic Turbo Tubes waterslides that I have seen multiple people write about in the comments, but have yet to hear of or see anything about those besides the fact that they existed. 

I’ve been meaning to put together a post on some of the stuff I’ve found on the upper mall so far, but I think I need to go back and get some more stuff off the microfilm before doing so.  In the meantime, anyone care to shed some light on this?

September 14, 2008

Bringing Old News Into the Internet Era

Filed under: History, Technology — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 9:48 pm

In the decade or so since the Internet has made the transition from being the exclusive realm of pocket protector nerds with PhDs to being an everyday part of our lives, we have become used to being able to just type in whatever we’re looking for and have a search engine spit out a simple, easy-to read page of ads with 2 or 3 useful results scattered throughout.  Fir more focused study, Wikipedia provides a simple, easy-to-read summary of questionably accurate information on the subject of their choice (and about half a dozen tangentially related subjects that you probably weren’t interested in, but feel oddly compelled to click through to anyway.)  For the vast majority of subjects these days, it would seem that you would be able to find just about all the info you could possibly need on the Internet. 

In the research that I have done for this site (particularly with regards to local history,) I have found that this simply isn’t the case.  In spite of the best efforts of the local historical societies, the fact remains that there is a huge amount of information out there which has yet to get anywhere near the Internet.  The fact that we average computer today is capable of storing hundreds of gigabytes of data (and rapidly approaching the terabyte mark) and retrieving any of that information within a split second doesn’t do much good if the information doesn’t exist in digital form.

This is one of the large cabinets found at the Regional Library in downtown Bellevue used to store their microforms collection.  Within this cabinet can be found a complete microfilmed archive of the Bellevue American from its establishment in 1935 up to its merger with the East Side Journal (which has archives back to 1918) to form the Daily Journal-American in 1977.  The cabinet also contains an incomplete archive of Redmond’s Sammamish Valley News from 1965 to 1989 (with a big hole between 1971 and 1977.)  In addition, there are also archives of the Lake Washington Reflector (an earlier Bellevue newspaper that ran from 1918 – 1934, as well as early papers from Duvall and the north end of Lake Washington.  The microfilm that all of these old weekly Eastside newspapers are stored on takes up a total of three drawers of this cabinet (the Journal-American, which was a daily paper, takes up a much larger amount of space.)

To people in a time before the Internet era, a huge cabinet full of microfilm like this must have represented an unimaginable quantity of information, and even though the actual amount of time I have spent reading and searching through the old newspapers found in this archive is relatively short, I have still been able to learn all sorts of new and interesting information about the history of the Eastside, much of which I didn’t even know I was looking for.  Of course, with modern technology all of this info could probably be stored on a single hard drive in a typical desktop PC with room to spare, but for the time being, the whole process is strictly analog.  There is a searchable index of the East Side Journal which does help with searching in that paper, but since it tended to be focused primarily on Kirkland it is of limited value when searching for information on Redmond or Bellevue.  For the other papers (primarily the Bellevue American and Sammamish Valley News,) I mostly have to work from approximate dates, and browse around hoping to get some hits (a bit of luck seems to be involved here.)

Even when I do manage to find the info I was looking for (or wasn’t looking for in some cases,) there are still some issues that can complicate the process.  For one thing, microfilm isn’t exactly the most user-friendly medium for storing information.  Some text (especially around the edges) can be blurry or distorted, and items which were colored in the original form tend to become especially difficult to read.  There’s also the matter of getting the information into a usable digital form.  The microfilm readers at the library have the ability to make copies off the microfilm, but these cost ten cents apiece and are only of standard xerox quality, which is fine for text and line art but basically useless for photos. 

The solution that I use, as you can see above, is to take photos of the microfilm reader’s screen with my digital camera.  While I have been able to get useful images out of this, I have found it to be difficult to work with at times.  The main problem with taking photos of the microfilm reader screen is the fact that often with full-page ads in the newspapers, you simply can’t get everything on screen at once.  Sometimes, getting the camera to focus properly can also be an issue, and since you can’t use the flash for this, images can turn out dim at times, especially if the reader has a dim bulb in it.  Incidentally, the photo above shows the front page of an advertising circular for Bellevue Square’s 23rd anniversary sale from a November 1969 edition of the Bellevue American.

In spite of these limitations, I have still been able to get a surprising amount of useful information out of this, as tedious as the process might be at times.  Fortunately, it looks like an alternative to using the microfilm at the library is on the horizon.  Last week, Google announced that they are launching an initiative to digitize historical archives of newspapers going back as far as 200 years.  Immediately after this was announced, Sound Publishing (the publishers of the various local biweekly Reporter newspapers found throughout the area, and IP holder of many of the older Eastside newspapers, including the East Side Journal and Bellevue American) announced that they will be participating in this initiative, which should bring all of these historic newspapers to the web through Google’s News Archive search.  The Google Blog post above has links to an example of how this will work, and although I think the user interface could use a bit of work, it still beats trying to dig through microfilm any day.  Even though my current employment has me working for Google’s competition, I’ll have to tip my proverbial hat to them if they can pull this off.  Putting these old newspapers online will reopen a largely forgotten world of old information to a new generation of history junkies, and will certainly make my job here a lot easier.  Until that happens, it looks like I’ll be digging through the microfiche for a while though…

September 11, 2008

What I’ve Been Working On Lately

Filed under: Personal Stuff, Technology — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:37 am

Aside from a brief mention on the “about” page, I haven’t really talked much about my job here on this site.  Part of this is a matter of keeping some degree of separation between what I do at work and what I do in my own time, and part of this is because unless some disproportionately large portion of the people who read this Blog happen to work in software development, the stuff I do at work would just bore most of you to tears.  I remember several years ago seeing a recruiting poster for some team which worked on particularly low-level development stuff, which bore a tagline of “Because you never want your mother to understand what you do for a living.”  I’d have to say that in the field I work in, this is probably the case.  Then again, I’m not entirely sure that I understand what my mother does for a living, so we’re even, right?

Another reason that I don’t write much about work here is that a lot of the products I’ve worked on over the years have been the type of stuff that most of you out there wouldn’t even know existed.  For most of my professional career, I have worked as a contract software tester at Microsoft.  All in all, it’s not a bad place to work, and I’ve been able to make a comfortable living doing this, but it also has its disadvantages, the most notable of which is the requirement to take 100 days off after you work there for a year before you can return as a contractor.  With careful planning and savings, I have learned to deal with this period without too much difficulty, even though it does tend to leave me with a bit too much time on my hands.  Another effect of this policy is that during the time I have contracted at MS, the longest I have remained with a single team has been 2 1/2 years over three different contracts, and jumping from one team to anoither is a fairly common occurrence.

It was one of these semi-unexpected transitions that landed me on the Zune team a couple of months ago as an SDET (Software Development Engineer in Test, basically a tester who with a focus on programming for test automation.)  Even though I tend to be something of a confessed gadget junkie, the Zune is a product with which I had very little experience at the time.  For that matter, I haven’t ever owned a Zune, an iPod or anything more complex than a semi-ancient MP3 CD player that I stopped using years ago, simply because I haven’t ever really found a need for one.  I rarely listen to music outside of my car (which has a MP3-capable 6 disc CD changer in it) and even with that, I find myself spending a lot more time driving with the radio off than I used to.  This meant that when I joined this team, I wasn’t really up to speed on what these devices are capable of, and actually found myself surprised at some of the stuff that you can do with one of the things.

Fast forward a couple of months, and just this week the stuff that I have been working on has been officially announced, which means that I can talk about it now.  Although there are a couple of new  Zune models that have just been released (a 16GB Flash device and a 120GB hard drive device,) most of the new stuff going on here is found on the software side of things, which is where I have been working.  Perhaps the most notable feature found in the new Zune 3.0 software is the ability to purchase and download music directly from the device while it is connected to a wireless connection, as well as the ability to tag songs you hear on the device’s built-in radio for either immediate or later download.  Even though it was apparently declared officially uncool to listen to the radio sometime back in the late Nineties or so, I still listen to it quite a bit, mostly to relentlessly mock the insipid advertising thereon.  My personal music collection really isn’t all that big (having a big test server full of stuff tends to expand it a bit though) and limited in scope, so the radio usually provides a better selection of music than I’ve got, depending on which station is on.

New features aside, another interesting aspect of working on this team has been the aspect of working on a product that people have not only heard of, but one that get a surprisingly large amount of exposure in the media.  It’s been a particularly interesting experience to go watch commenters over at Gizmodo and Engadget discuss and speculate about the stuff the team has been working on, even if every Zune related comment thread seems to attract about three busloads of Apple fanboys.  Before I joined this particular team, I had spent most of the previous three years working on enterprise management software, which is the type of stuff that generates a fair bit of revenue for a company like MS, but does so with little glamour and with little exposure.  I can’t recall the last time that I saw a comments thread full of Configuration Manager fanboys arguing with the LANDesk fanboys over some obscure bit of functionality, but I’m sure those people are out there somewhere in some forgotten corner of the Internet (if someone knows where, please let me know so I can stay as far away from those places as humanly possible.)  When you spend your days holed up in a dark and drafty test lab on a team like that, you tend to doubt that you’ll ever run into an actual end user of the product you’re working on without attending some obscure trade show.  On the other hand, on a product like this one, there’s at least some chance that you might see someone using the product you worked on out in public.

Anyway, if any of you out there happen to actually have a Zune, enjoy the new features when they show up on the 16th, and feel free to find someone else to blame if the stuff doesn’t work.

September 7, 2008

An Exercise in Cat- er, I Mean, Kid Herding

Filed under: Family — Brian Lutz @ 11:55 pm


Within my immediate and extended family, there has been something of a baby boom going on over the past two or three years as several of my siblings and cousins who have gotten married in that time have begun having children.  Within that time period, my sister Jacki and her husband Terence have become the parents of my two nephews Connor and Cory, my cousin Linda and her husband Mario have two boys of their own (Adam and Tyler), and Jeff and Valerie also have a one year old son named Benjamin, as well as another boy expected to arrive any day now.  And just this month, my cousin Chris and his wife Catbrought the latest addition to the family with their first son, named Logan Dean Sirrine.  My other sister Heather has one on the way as well, although that one is still quite a ways off at this point.  For those of you keeping score, this means that once Jeff and Valerie’s new son arrives, that will be eight straight boys born into the family.  I’m not sure if someone forgot to stock the Vanderhoeven Machine with X chromosomes at some point or something like that, but I can’t recall the last time a girl was born into the family.  Not that I am currently doing much to remedy the situation, but that’s another post for another time.  (Note: Apparently I haven’t been doing a very good job of keeping track of the far-flung portions of the family, as noted in the comments below.) 

As today was the first Fast Sunday since Logan was born, the family gathered down in Federal Way for his baby blessing, followed by a family gathering at Opa’s house afterward.  Since Labor Day, the weather has been quite nice around here, and the afternoon provided a clear sky with temperatures in the upper seventies to lower eighties, making for perfect weather to gather on the back porch for a big family dinner.  After the jump, some photos from the afternoon, showing some of the less-than-successful attempts at taking photos of the recent additions to the family.


September 6, 2008

Would You Like to Pay the Stupid Price, or the Even Stupider Price?

Filed under: Random Stuff, shopping — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 6:17 pm

As I mentioned on the previous post, I tend to make a habit of visiting closeout stores on occasion just to see what interesting things might show up.  Some of the more interesting ones found around here are a chain of stores known as Stupid Prices (That’s supposed to be their website, but the link seems to be 404’d as of the time this is being written.)  Where most of the closeout stores around here deal mostly with clothing and housewares, Stupid Prices deals primarily with furniture and home electronics, and some locations also carry what some might call an “interesting” selection of off-brand food and toys.    A fair bit of the merchandise seems to be leftovers from Costco and other similar stores, and on the rare occasions when you can manage to actually find what you are looking for, you can come up with some pretty good bargains on stuff.  Another nice feature of the place is that sales tax is included in the listed prices, so what you see on the tag is what you pay. 

Of course, given the somewhat random nature of the type of merchandise sold at a place like this, at any given time you can walk into the store and not have a clue what type of stuff you’re going to find.  For example, here’s what was sitting right next to the store entrance when I stopped in this morning:

Just in case driving a Cadillac Escalade on the streets doesn’t make you look flauntingly wealthy enough for your liking, why not make it look like you’re driving one down the fairway of the friendly neighborhood country club?  Unfortunately, the end result of this ends up resembling the results of an unholy union between a golf cart and an overgrown Power Wheels toy.  Aside from a bit of vaguely Escalade like bodywork, there doesn’t appear to be any discernible difference between this and the more conventional golf carts you might expect to find at any given course.  Such is the price you have to pay to make it appear as though you’re cruising the fairways in style, I guess.  Come to think of it, how much DO you pay for this type of “luxury” anyway?

“Buyers remorse,” eh?  You don’t say.  Even if I was rich enough to spend $17,000 (only a few thousand dollars less than I paid for my new car last year, and will probably be paying off for the better part of the next four) on a whim, I’d probably hate myself in the morning after I dropped that much dough on a freakin’ golf cart, especialy one that looked like this.  Based on some Internet searching, it looks like a more conventional golf cart can be had brand new for about $6,000 (give or take a few hundred or so,) which means that whatever “smart” shopper eventually takes this thing off their hands will still be paying a lot more than they have to for one of these things.

When I asked the clerk at the store about this, she said that the person who originally bought this was informed that they would not be allowed to use it at their country club.  I’m not sure if that makes said country club 37% snobbier than usual, or if it suggests that they actually maintain some standards.  For those of you who would like to tool around their friendly neighborhood golf club looking like a tool, but prefer your overgrown Power Wheels toys to be in a different color, feel free to order your own cart here.

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