The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

January 26, 2010

Since I’ve Been Having Trouble Making My Life Seem Interesting Lately…

Filed under: Random Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 10:31 pm

… I thought I’d take a shot at making someone else’s life seem interesting instead.  As part of a service auction being run by my former Singles ward back around Christmas, I volunteered to write a Blog post for someone for a donation to the cause at hand.  This, of course, came with the standard warning that the events depicted in the resulting post may, in fact, be somewhat exaggerated and/or completely fictitious.  More of the latter than the former actually.  Anyway, you can find the results at this page.  Just be sure not to miss the valuable lesson out of al this, otherwise the whole thing becomes just a tad pointless.

As for myself, it seems that my life has indeed gotten a fair bit more interesting over the past couple of weeks.  although that one will have to wait a bit in order to make sure I’m not running afoul of any non-disclosure agreements.  I’ve been finding out a bit of the history behind the building that I’m working in currently, and it turns out to be rather interesting, with strong ties into the Alaska Gold Rush of the 1890s.  I’m also planning to put together an article on that as well, but I need to do a bit more research.  Taking the bus to work each day means that I actually pass by the Seattle Central Library a couple of times a day, but I never seem to have any time to actually go over and pay the place a visit.  Maybe once things settle down a bit I’ll get over there and find out what they’ve got, but for now there’s plenty on the Internet.

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January 22, 2010

A Bit of Temporary Madness

Filed under: Random Stuff, Seattle, Technology — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:33 am

Although for the most part over the last decade or so I’ve been blessed with (mostly) steady employment and the means to achieve and maintan self-sufficiency, when I go back and think of all the various places where I’ve been throughout my career, it always seems to be the shortest jobs that end up being the most interesting ones, at least in terms of the stories that come out of them.  Of course, “interesting” is rarely the first thing to come to mind when you’re manually mapping out all the ports on a PBX system by running your hands through a snake pit of wires or sitting in the middle of an unheated warehouse in January running the same imaging script on 400 computers, but most of the standard-issue 9-to-5 jobs I’ve worked over the years have produced few memorable moments.  After all, I suspect that giant software companies rarely pay people in unmarked envelopes of $1 bills out of the Pepsi machines.  There are always exceptions to this rule (a few jobs that were either particularly interesting or particularly horrible do stand out) but as odd as it sounds, some of the jobs I spent the least time in are the ones I remember most.  And I suspect that the one I’m at right now is no exception. 

This past week, I have found myself in a third-floor loft in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood along Yesler Way, the prototypical Skid Row from which the term originated.  I am currently helping out at a small startup for a couple of weeks as a tester for an iPhone app, although in an office of five people that rather vague description does meet up with a fair bit of scope creep.  With my interest in urban archeology and old stuff, it’s kind of interesting to get a close look at some of these historic buildings.  As most people know, Pioneer Square is where many of the oldest buildings in Seattle are found, with many of the buildings dating as far back as 1889(much of Seattle’s central business district burned down in the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, and a lot of what’s here now was built to replace the burned down buildings) and having seen the Alaska Gold Rush of the late 1890s. 

Stairs:  They sure don’t make them like they used to, and there’s a good reason for that.  I could see someone tumbling headfirst down these stairs to an untimely demise quite easily, and hesitate to try to traverse them without the handrail.  It’s the kind of thing one might regard as adding character to the building, and if that’s the case, there’s no shortage of character in this place.  I’m not trying to say that the place is old and decrepit, but I suspect that it’s seen better days… back in 1905. 

The holes in the floor which allow one to see through to the floor below add a nice touch though (unless, of course, you’re the people down below, but that’s another story.)  Aside from this little startup I’m with, I think half the building is occupied by various Yoga and Pilates studios, with some random garage band using the floor above ours as their practice studio, just for good measure. 

At least when I look out the window I can see the Sound.  At least I can if I manage to look past the much maligned Alaskan Way Viaduct and the barren alley below.  There’s actually a number of ghost ads and signs on the building you see here, but most are too faded to make out much more than the faintest of details.  I suspect the graffiti is of comparatively recent origin, but even that seems to have been around for quite a while by now.

To be honest, there’s a bit of a culture shock that comes with having spent so long in the highly bureaucratic environment of a major software company with at least 30 or 40 people (and usually more) working on any given product and then going to a startup with less than 10 people in the whole company.  After having spent so long as a relatively minor member of some rather large test teams, going to a place like this and finding that I am pretty much the whole QA department (for a while anyway) is a little odd. For one thing, it means that I pretty much have to start from scratch when it comes to testing the product and setting up whatever cases and frameworks need to be used.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  As a tester, there are few times when you feel better about your job than when you get a chance to pick up a new, largely untested program for the first time and go to town finding and filing all the bugs.  Back when I was doing international testing, and got a hold of the first pseudolocalized* build of the rather large piece of enterprise software I was working on at the time, I think I managed to open 100 bugs in one day.  Some people would think that successfully shipping a product would be the time when a software tester would be happiest with their work, but the problem with that is that as no product is perfect, and on just about everything shipped product I’ve ever worked on, I’ve been able to name at least five significant bugs that didn’t get fixed, either for being discovered too late to do much about them or for just not being significant enough to warrant fixing.  It’s a bit of a curse, but you get used to it, and you at least have a reasonably good idea that at least all of the major stuff is working like it should be.  Of course, when you have to go through half a dozen project managers and dev/test leads (collectively, it’s not THAT bureaucratic most of the time) to get approval to have even the most trivial of bugs fixed, you find it hard to be surprised when half the bugs you find get punted back to you.  And don’t even ask what it takes if you try to actually change something in the product.

Of course, the small-team environment does come with its advantages too.  For example, it provides a chance to to something besides sit around and run tests all day.  I’ve even managed to find myself involved actively in the design of various aspects of the product, and generally a lot more involved with it than I would have ever been in some of the big teams I’ve been on previously.  I’m sure I’ll have more details on this once the product I’m working on gets completed, but for now I’ll just say that I’m working on something that’s just about the last thing I would have ever expected to find myself working on.  I also suspect I’ll probably nor exactly be bragging to my mother about this one, but that’s another story.  Oh well, at least it keeps things interesting, right?

*Pseudolocalization is the process used early in the localization of a product to test the ability of the product to be translated into other languages.  This is done byautomatically replacing all of the strings within the product with dummy text that looks similar enough to English to still be readable, but is made of foreign characters.  In addition to this, most of the time the pseudolocalized strings include additional padding characters to show where text strings in the user interface may not be long enough to accomodate their foreign equivalents.  For example, if you have a string like “Never eat grasshoppers while they’re still hopping,” the pseudolocalized version might look something like “[Ñĕɤȩȓ £æƭ ƍ®äšśĥضÞëƦ§ Ŵħìﺄє ҭђӘч`ʁȩ șțɨȴĺ ĥơҏp!ӆϑ!!! !!! !!! !!! !!!]” inside the product.  Sure it looks silly, but you should still be able to read it, and this can tell you a number of things.  For example, if you’re seeing big white boxes in the middle of that, there are characters that either aren’t supported or can’t be handled properly by the product.  If you’re missing the end bracket, then you’re likely to run into truncation problems when you try to put the foreign equivalent to the string in there.  If you’re seeing the string just like it was in the regular version, you’ve got something hardcoded that shouldn’t be.   

January 15, 2010

Then And Now: The Former Downtown Bellevue Albertson’s Store

Filed under: Bellevue, History — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 2:58 pm

 

With as fast as Bellevue has been growing lately, many of the older buildings in Bellevue have fallen to the wrecking ball when they happen to get in the way of one high-rise condo project or another, and as Bellevue continues to grow, others are sure to follow.  In spite of this, there are still a number of older buildings in Bellevue that remain standing.  For a while now, I’ve been meaning to look at some of these older buildings, and share some of what I have been able to find on their history in the course of my newspaper research.  To kick this series (or not, depending on how lazy motivated I am) I would like to highlight the Cost Plus World Market store, located across the street from the Nordstrom side of Bellevue Square.  Although the Bellevue Collection has sought to establish itself as the premier high-end shopping and entertainment destination in the area (albeit with few legitimate challengers, at least until The Bravern opened up last year,) and after a major interior remodel completed about a year ago, it certainly looks the part, and what was once just Bellevue Square has expanded into what is now known as the Bellevue Collection, and includes shopping and entertainment facilities in nearby buildings, with more expansion on the way when the economy begins to recover from the current recession (incidentally, it is for this reason that the old Bellevue Safeway remains standing, at least for the time being.) With all of the construction in the area, it may be a bit of a surprise to learn that a number of older buildings remain relatively unscathed just a block to the North of Bellevue Square.  

In one of these buildings is found this rather unassuming Cost Plus World Market store, purveyors of inexpensive imported furniture (presumably for those people who get sick of looking at all their Ikea stuff, but can’t quite afford much else) and half a zillion different varieties of imported candy (Unfortunately, that doesn’t include King Peppermints from the Netherlands.)  Although this store has been in this location for as long as I have lived in the area (about 14 years now)  we learn from the Eastside Heritage Center’s archives that this store was originally opened as an Albertson’s, and from the newspaper archives we learn that it first opened in 1959, making it even older than even the old Bellevue Safeway, which opened approximately four years later in 1963.  

Bellevue American, May 14th 1959 (click for larger version)

 

 One thing that I’ve noticed in the course of the newspaper research that I’ve done is how quickly things used to be built.  From a May 1959 issue of the Bellevue American, we find this artist’s rendering of the planned store, indicating plans to begin construction of the 23,800 square foot store in early June, with a target date of November 1st for opening the store.  At the time, this was the largest Albertson’s store in the chain, although by the standards of the modern supermarket it would be considered rather small, with typical supermarkets now averaging nearly twice this size (according to this page, the average size of a supermarket in 2008 was 46,755 square feet, which is actually down a bit from a high of 48,750 square feet in 2006.)  Although I haven’t been able to determine an exact opening date for the store, it appears that this was completed ahead of schedule, and the store was already open by early October. 

Bellevue American, October ?? 1959 (Click for larger version)

 

 In the weeks before and after the opening of the store, we find a series of ads highlighting some of the features of the new store, including the full in-store bakery and a number of non-food departments  We also get a number of pictures of the store and some of the departments (although given the arched roofline in the photo above, I’m pretty sure this isn’t the actual store, but one of the arched roof Albertson’s stores common at this time, bearing more than a passing resemblance to the Marina style Safeway stores.  It’s also interesting to note that even though the signs on the building used what is informally known as the “western” logo font that Albertson’s used up until the mid Seventies when their current logo was adopted, the ads used what appears to be an older logo for some time, although I can’t be entirely sure of when the change may have been. 

 

From another of the ads comes this detail of the bakery department.  Unfortunately, most of these photos are limited by the quality of the microfilm, and several of these I couldn’t get good pictures from.  The Eastside Heritage Center has a number of additional color pictures of this store in their collection which were taken in 1969, approximately ten years after the store opened, including one of the front of the store and one showing the store’s street sign.  One interesting thing to note from these photos is the presence of a pylon, another common feature of 1950s supermarkets that has long since faded into oblivion which doesn’t appear in the artist’s rendering above.  To be honest, I’m not sure exactly what function this served unless there is a sign on the other side.  Either way, this seems to have been removed from the building at some point.  

 

Although I can’t be entirely certain of when the Albertson’s store closed in this location, I do know that the store was still open in 1987  (if someone knows this, please feel free to fill in the details.)  In the current Cost Plus store, the distinctive wooden beam construction of the ceiling (a common feature of a number of late Fifties and early Sixties supermarkets) still remains, although there are few other signs of the former store.

January 11, 2010

This Was the Future of Bellevue In 1928.

Filed under: Bellevue, History, Mercer Island — Brian Lutz @ 9:52 pm

Bellevue American, April 15th 1972 (click for larger version)

 

Once again, I apologize for the shortage of posts here recently, I’ve been dealing with a minor crisis or two (specifically, finding myself looking for a job AGAIN, if anyone out there needs an SDET with C# skills and extensive test experience, feel free to let me know) and I’ve been a bit short on material lately.  While I was doing some research on another post you should be seeing soon here, I came across a number of articles in 1972 editions of the Bellevue American regarding what was known as the “701” study, an inventory of some of the City of Bellevue’s characteristics and projections of its future.  Included with an article that contained a number of facts, figures and projections.  One of these predictions suggested that at its then current rate of growth, Bellevue would have a population of somewhere between 100,000 and 140,000 by 1990, a prediction which ultimately proved too high, as the 1990 census showed a population of 86,872 in the 1990 census, and as of 2008 was estimated to be somewhere around 119,000.  The formatting of the article itself will require some messing around to get it into a postable form, so I’ll revisit that later.   Perhaps more interesting than the article itself is this rather odd looking map, which was included with the article. 

This map was devised by a developer by the name of James Ditty, and was intended to show how Bellevue and Mercer Island would look at some point in the future.  Unfortunately, the relatively low quality of the images on the microfilm don’t provide for a whole lot of detail, but there’s still plenty to see.  As tends to happen with most speculation on the future, much of what was predicted here turns out to have been spectacularly wrong.  The first thing that stands out on this particular map is the airports.  It seems that Mr. Ditty felt that Mercer Island alone would require no less than four airports, two on each side of the island.  Bellevue was also given two airports of its own, plus two “landing fields” (presumably for the zeppelins that we were going to all be traveling on back before the Hindenburg developed its little exploding problem in 1937.)  It’s also somewhat difficult to imagine Bellevue without its freeways, but this map doesn’t include any of them.  In fact, the trip across the bridges across Mercer Island to Seattle seems to take some rather pointless detours around the airports and golf courses, because apparently nobody was ever going to need to get to work on time in this future world.  There are also railroad tracks found in roughly the place where they still exist today, but this map seemed to suggest there would eventually be a lot more of them than Bellevue ended up with.  This map did correctly predict the construction of a bridge from Mercer Island to Seattle, but puts it in the wrong spot (although this map puts the bridge in the shortest distance between the two.)  It also adds a second bridge to Mercer Island from the east side of Lake Washington that never got built.  The 520 bridge doesn’t exist here  at all, since apparently you don’t need one if there isn’t any 520 in the first place. 

On the other hand, there are also some things that this map ultimately got correct.  The central business district of Bellevue is in roughly the correct location (although it has begun to grow out of this area in recent years.  The few manufacturing operations in the Midlakes/Bel-Red neighborhoods that did develop in Bellevue were placed relatively close to their ultimate location on this map, and Meydenbauer Bay did eventually become the home to a yacht club and swim beach, as shown on this map.   Even so, much of what was suggested here turns out to have been quite outlandish in retrospect, and bears little resemblance to the Bellevue that we know today.  It’s always fun to speculate though, right?

January 2, 2010

Well, You Did Say You Wanted Screaming Deals

Filed under: Random Stuff, shopping — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 2:28 am

Upon visiting the local Target this afternoon, most of the Christmas merchandise had left the store, and what remained carried 75% off tags (nothing I couldn’t live without, most of what’s left was the decorative stuff they bought a couple truckloads too much of.)  In the spot that the Christmas merchandise had spent the last two months in, I came across this: 

While the folks at Target are no strangers to questionable color schemes in the seasonal department, even by their standards this one is pushing it.  I don’t begrudge them a bit of price slashing here and there; they do plenty of it, but they’re usually quieter about the whole thing.  It’s just that  these signs are, to put it bluntly, obnoxious, almost as though the place got attacked by an Old Navy in the middle of the night.  I’m half-afraid to wander through this department for fear of being ambushed by a used car salesman. 

Between typefaces that look like they were designed primarily to speed up ransom note writing  (complete with  del!berately m!sused exclamat!on marks,) combinations of colors that haven’t belonged anywhere near each other since the Ford administration and the apparent use of plain unmarked cardboard as a decorative element, Target’s designers have managed to put together a design scheme that somehow manages to pull off a rare combination of cheapness AND tackiness that few people will dare to go anywhere near again.

January 1, 2010

Statistical Overview of 2009

Filed under: Site Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:51 pm

Sometime last night while I wasn’t paying attention, 2009 came to an end (in fact, I probably would have missed it entirely if not for the fact that I’ve got a recurring “rent due” reminder on my phone which went off at Midnight.)  Although I don’t usually bother doing much celebrating on New Year’s Day (Not a big fan of dodging drunk drivers) there are a few things that I do on New Year’s Day, like make the usual perfunctory resolution or two that’ll be forgotten a week from now, and putting together a statistical overview post.  To be honest, I do these posts more for my own benefit than anything else, as a way to keep track of the growth of the Blog over time and to get a snapshot of where it happens to be at various points in time.

Once again, I would like to thank everyone who reads this Blog and who contributes to the comments.  I have learned quite a bit from what has been posted in the comments, and although I haven’t had quite as much time as I would like for this lately, I do still plan to continue writing here on a regular basis in 2010, and I would like to spend more time getting back into the local interest and historical posts that I haven’t been able to do much of lately.  Ideally, I would also like to try to move the site off of wordpress.com and onto its own hosting and domain (Although I’ve been mostly satisfied with WordPress itself, the wordpress.com site seems to have quite a few annoying limitations.)  I guess I’ll see how much of that I can actually do, since I also need to spend some time focusing on career development this year.  Nonetheless, thanks to everyone for visiting and hanging around, and I hope you will continue to visit in 2010.

  • Total Number of posts: 393 (including this one)
  • Total Number of comments:  598
  • Total Page Views in 2009:  60, 939
  • Total Page Views in 2008: 50, 219
  • Overall Total Page Views : 116, 825
  • Daily Average for 2009: 167 

 Top 10 most viewed posts in 2009:

Title Views  
Retail Wasteland – A Tour of the Totem Lake Mall 7,726
Malls of the Seattle Area: A Tour of the Factoria Mall 2,622
The Redmond Costco Moves Forward 2,599
Classical Gas – Abandoned Route 66 Gas Stations 2,578
Sampling the Whitman’s Sampler: A Guide to America’s Favorite Box of Enigmatic Chocolates 1,976
A Tour of Crossroads Bellevue – Part 1: The Mall 1,947
My Very Nearly Award-Winning Chili Recipe, and other Deep Dark Secrets 1,495
An Early Look at the New Redmond Center 1,411
Malls of the Seattle Area: A Tour of The Everett Mall 1,207
New Cereal in Old Boxes 805

Top 10 most viewed posts (all time):

Title Views  
Retail Wasteland – A Tour of the Totem Lake Mall 16,605
Malls of the Seattle Area: A Tour of the Factoria Mall 6,109
Classical Gas – Abandoned Route 66 Gas Stations 5,784
A Tour of Crossroads Bellevue – Part 1: The Mall 3,914
My Very Nearly Award-Winning Chili Recipe, and Other Deep Dark Secrets 2,755
The Redmond Costco Moves Forward 2,599
Sampling the Whitman’s Sampler: A Guide to America’s Favorite Box of Enigmatic Chocolates 1,976
Malls of the Seattle Area: A Tour of The Everett Mall 1,814
The Beginning and the End of the Old Bellevue Safeway 1,778
Totem Lake Mall Research Update – A Map of the Lowe Mall from 1973 1,653

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