The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

December 29, 2012

Nowhere to Go But Up

Filed under: Seattle — Brian Lutz @ 12:11 am

It’s not a Stairway to Heaven, but it’s getting pretty close.

Once again, the Holiday season is all but done with at this point, and the long slog of Winter lies in wait.  As it always is, Christmas and the associated festivities that go with it were nice, although they were tempered somewhat by the passing of my Opa about a week and a half before Christmas, and the funeral that went along with it.  On one hand, the passing of a loved one (especially one as respected as my Grandfather and the patriarch of the Vanderhoeven family) is a sad occasion, but on the other hand it did also provide a chance to gather together the family (including some of its farther flung members) and showed just how close the family really is even when separated by distance.  Since I don’t feel particularly qualified to eulogize my Grandfather properly I think I will just link to this post that I wrote nearly three years ago talking about one of the legacies he left our family in the form of his life story in a book, and to the obituary published in the Deseret News.  I can only hope that I will be able to accomplish half as much in my own lifetime as he did in his.

Anyway, adding to the unusual circumstances that have attended this year’s Holiday season is the fact that I have also been in the process of starting a new job, one which puts me much closer to Seattle’s Downtown core than I was over at Amazon.  I am now working on a contract at Airbiquity on a project that involves allowing the use of various data services on automotive navigation systems through a smartphone data connection.  I’ve noted that there are a number of different companies, both in the Seattle metro area and elsewhere, who seem to be working on this type of thing, so I suspect you’ll be hearing a lot more about this type of technology soon.  As a result of this new job, I am now working in a building on Western Avenue in Downtown Seattle, just about a block off the waterfront (and, to be more precise,. roughly across from the Ivar’s.)  If you’re familiar with Downtown Seattle, you’ll know that this is also at the bottom of the hill that most of the Downtown core sits on.

And when you work down at the bottom of the hill, you quickly begin to learn that to get just about anywhere that isn’t right on the waterfront from there, you’ve got to go uphill.  And believe me, there’s no shortage of uphill in Downtown Seattle.  The two large and rather steep stairways you see in the photo above (located at the end of Union street, right next to the Pike Place Market and a few blocks from my new office) are just a couple of the many opportunities that Downtown Seattle offers for gratuitous quantities of vertical elevation gain.  And that big climb only gets you up to First Avenue, (Western Avenue is at the top of the shorter first set of stairs) with plenty more where that came from.  With as steep as some of the slopes are in Downtown Seattle, even the downhill portions of the walk from the bus stop to the office can be tricky.  The closest stop to my office for the 212 bus that I normally ride to work is at Fourth Avenue between Spring and Seneca streets.  This walk ends up being a bit less than 1/3 of a mile, but a quick estimate based on checking relative altitudes in Google Earth shows that there’s roughly a 150-foot difference in elevation between Western Avenue and 4th Avenue at Spring Street.  That’s taller than the building I’m working in (which is roughly 13 stories tall when the condos at the top of the building are accounted for.)  Fortunately to catch a bus out of Seattle at the end of the day I only need to go up to Second Avenue, which is “only” about 70 feet of climbing.  I prefer to think of it less as a walk to the bus stop and more as an intense five-minute Cardio session.  Either that or I just go to the other stop that’s a bit farther out but doesn’t require quite as much climbing.

Of course, if you know where to look, you can usually manage to find some ways to save yourself some climbing, such as this escalator in the Norton Building going from First to  Second Avenue between Columbia and Marion.  The hills actually do start to get significantly less steep as you move southward in Downtown (well, Southeast, given the angle of the streets) but as you can see here, you’re still dealing with a pretty decent amount of climbing anyway.  It’s one of those things that just becomes a fact of life if you live in Downtown Seattle.  Eventually, you start getting to the point where when you go to get lunch or to run some sort of errand you start to think of it less in terms of distance than in terms of how much vertical elevation gain is involved in getting there.

Nonetheless, working in Downtown Seattle, especially on the waterfront, does come with its perks as well, among them the scenery.  Back when I was working over at Motricity it was not uncommon to be treated to some spectacular sunsets from the big conference room in our ninth floor offices during the Winter, and the new office has already provided a couple of nice ones as well during the few weeks I’ve been there.  In addition to this, we also have the ferries to watch as they come in and out of Colman Dock.  The Seattle Waterfront and all its tourist-trappy goodness (or whatever it is they call the stuff these days) also happens to be just next door should we ever feel a sudden urge to go visit Sylvester the Mummy at Ye Olde Curiosity Shop while working on some test cases,  and the Pike Place Market is only a few blocks farther than that.

All in all, I’m pretty sure I can think of plenty of worse places to work than this one.  And I think I’ve been at a few of them too.  If nothing else, at least I should be able to get some exercise out of the deal, right?

December 20, 2012

The 2012 Sledgehammer Last-Minute Christmas Gift Guide: The Thought Only Counts If You Give One

Filed under: Holidays, shopping — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:38 am

Whatever you do, don’t say a word about his purse.

You know, one of these years you’re going to actually get all your Christmas shopping done in a reasonable amount of time.  Or at least that’s what you keep telling yourself.  And yet, once again you’ve found yourself having to shop at the last minute, and naturally, all the good stuff has been taken already.  Naturally, your choices might be a bit limited.  Actually, you’re pretty much doomed at this point, but maybe if you play your cards right, you can end up slightly less doomed than you would be otherwise.  These… are not those gifts.  Think of this as a “what not to do” list of sorts.  After the jump, you’ll find some of this year’s hottest bad gift ideas.

Previous Gift Guides and other Christmas posts:


December 12, 2012

Random Thoughts: Christmas Panic Season Already? I’m Not Done with Thanksgiving Yet!

Filed under: Random Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 12:17 am

With Thanksgiving out of the way, and the long slow descent into Christmas and the New Year well underway, there seems to be a certain obligatory amount of chaos that accompanies this part of the year.  Between all the Christmas shopping, the other assorted pomp and circumstance that accompanies the season, and the general darkening of things that accompanies the early sunsets around this time of the year, there just seems to be a certain hushed sense of urgency to it all.  Even if there isn’t a lot of Christmas shopping to do (I come from a family of people who largely prefer that I not do any Christmas shopping for them) there’s still the sense that there are things that need to be done.  Even though it’s still weeks away at this point, the preparations required for Christmas Eve and Christmas dinner loom large (especially since I don’t have a clue what I’m going to make for either of these.)

In reality, these are all fairly minor things, and it would be easy enough to just put them on the back burner until around a week or so before the actual holiday, but it seems like there are constant reminders in the background.  In particular, the now virtually omnipresent holiday music in the background seems to constantly remind you that there’s only 13 more shopping days until Christmas, even if you don’t happen to have any shopping you need to do for it.  And by now, you’ve been exposed to the same songs for so many years now that whether you ever intended to or not, you probably know all the words to all the songs by now.  This would probably be a bigger deal than it is, except for the fact that there only seems to be around 10 Christmas songs out there these days, and each of those has around 20 different versions that get played over and over to make it sound like something new and novel.

Of course, even a fancy new set of background music can’t hide the fact that you’re listening to the same songs that the Burl Iveses and Bing Crosbys of the world already did to death back in the Fifties and Sixties, and instead it usually happens to make it immediately apparent that you’re listening to a thoroughly butchered version of a song that you’re probably going to get a much better (relatively speaking) version of stuck in your head just by hearing it.  And although I do recognize the fact that occasionally they manage to sneak in a newer song or two to the mix, the fact is that hardly anybody seems to be able to make any new Christmas songs anymore.  There needs to be some sort of “award” handed out each year recognizing the worst butcherings of classic Christmas songs.  Just for the sake of preventing people from deliberately writing terrible new Christmas songs they need to include some sort of requirement that the tune and lyrics need to be at least vaguely recognizable.  Unfortunately, these days it seems that “vaguely recognizable” is about the best a lot of people can seem to manage.

Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal, but there seems to be some sort of unwritten law that you have to fill the air (or deck the halls, as the case may be) with this type of stuff endlessly from the day after Thanksgiving right through the 24th of December, and it doesn’t take long to run out of the “good”  stuff, so before long the stores have to start padding the music roster with all the second-rate crud, and before you know it, you find yourself shopping right in the middle of what sounds like some sort of a highly festive train wreck.  Spend enough time listening to the stuff, and you start to see the appeal of shopping online, preferably somewhere nice and quiet.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, this is all a pretty minor thing anyway, and it’s certainly not the type of thing I would let ruin the Holiday season for me.  One of the things I’ve noted over the years is that my general attitude toward the Holiday season seems to be a pretty direct reflection of my attitude toward life in general at that particular time.  In particular, I can remember a time around three years ago where I just felt really cynical about the whole entire thing.  At the time, I was in what turned out to be the last contract I worked at Microsoft (at least for the foreseeable future) and it was, in retrospect, not a very good experience.  I had involuntarily spent six months off work prior to taking this particular contract, and the work and the pay were both a significant step down from where I had been previously.  Although the people I had been working with at the time seemed reasonably nice, I couldn’t help but sense that the team as a whole was somewhat dysfunctional, and I seemed to be spending a lot 0f time trying to babysit test automation that just plain didn’t seem to work the way it was supposed to in the first place.  Nonetheless, given my overall circumstances at that point in time I was still grateful to be doing something, even if it was far from an ideal situation.

It was just before the end of that year that I was terminated from that job for some vague reason (not to say that I hadn’t considered quitting on my own,) and although I couldn’t have had any sense of it when it happened, getting out of that particular situation was probably the best thing that could have happened to me at that time.  From that point on, it just seems to me that in one way or another, things have worked out for me in ways I couldn’t have possibly imagined.  And even though I do still have long-term goals that I have yet to accomplish  (although I do feel that I am at least heading in the right direction on these), I have been incredibly blessed with some of the opportunities I have had over the past several years.  I will avoid going into too much details on these (this post is probably a good summary of a lot of what’s happened during that time) but at times, even I have been shocked by the way things have worked out in my favor.  As I prepare to move on to a new job starting today, it amazes me not only how things have happened over the past few years, but also just how quickly things happened in this particular case.  It took less than a week after my recent Amazon contract ended before I interviewed for and received an offer on another position (at a different company) that was far too good to pass up.  Even though I feel that I’m past the point in my career development where I’ve “paid my dues” and accumulated the experience that has now qualified me for some of the higher-level positions in my field that I’m working in now, it’s still amazing to me just how much different things are for me now than they were three years ago.  And it’s not just in my career either.  It seems that across the board I’m far closer to a lot of my long-term goals now than I was three years ago, and even though I’m a lot later on some of these than I would have liked to have been back when I was in my Twenties, even some of the big ones now seem to be in sight.

Sure, we may be only  a couple of weeks away from Christmas now, but given the circumstances, perhaps I would be forgiven this year if I happened to think Thanksgiving came a little too early for my liking this year.  Even if I didn’t actually know it at the time.

December 4, 2012

Going for a Laser Guided Spin: My 2012 Ferris Wheel Christmas Ornaments

Filed under: Design, Holidays — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:57 am

As you may know, each year at Thanksgiving my family does an exchange of Christmas ornaments.  Coming from a family where a number of people seem to be big on arts and crafts (to the point that several of my aunts run a crafting business that focuses primarily on home decor items using vinyl lettering) it takes some work to keep up with the creativity, but I think I’ve managed to do a reasonably good job of this.  For the past couple of years, I have taken advantage of the laser cutter available at Metrix Create:Space on Capitol Hill in Seattle for creating my own custom-designed ornaments, and decided to take the same approach once again this year, and the result of this project is the ferris wheel ornament you see above.  Although all that work that may sound intimidating to some people, in reality it isn’t nearly as difficult to do as it sounds, and anyone with the right tools (which are freely available open source software) a reasonable amount of understanding of how to create vector graphics could do 75% of the work it takes to design something like this fairly quickly.  Of course, the devil is always in the details, and it turned out that the last 25% worth of fine tuning to get everything to fit together properly took at least 75% of the time I spent on this project.  After the jump, I will go through the process of creating these, and hopefully I can provide some useful tips to anyone who might try something like this.

My previous laser-cut ornament projects:


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