Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Yes, it snows in Seattle.

When I was planning our move to Seattle, I did some research on the actual amount of rainfall in Seattle. According to the historical data, Seattle averages 36 inches of rainfall per year, less than Washington DC (39 inches) and New York (40 inches). So, I was perplexed: where did this reputation for "Rain City" come from? Well, it didn't take long to find out: this November has brought rain just about every day, resulting in over 15 inches of rain in this month alone.

It all gets more interesting when a really cold front moves in; that rain quickly becomes snow. Which, in a city that is somewhat hilly and not used to snow, does seem like it could create some serious complications.

Nevertheless, as I prepared to drive my brother to the airport last night, I thought: how bad could it be? The temperature was barely below freezing, and I figured the road crews had had all day to salt and sand the interstates. So we left from Kirkland just after 7:30, which seemed like plenty of time to make a 10:30 PM flight.

As we moved quickly down 405 South past Factoria, it looked like we would be way early. It was only 8:00 and we had just a dozen miles to go. Sure, traffic on 405 North was heavy - but we had been hearing on the radio that locations north of the city were very icy, so this was unsurprising. We passed Exit 9 for Newcastle - and everything stopped.

Not to worry, I thought - there must be a lane closed up ahead, and once we get past the bottleneck, it'll be smooth sailing. After all, we had plenty of time.

But 9:00 came around, and we had barely moved 3 miles. My brother called the airport and found out the flight had been delayed until 11:00 PM. Get there before 10:00, they said, and you'll be fine. But as the snow fell harder and started to accumulate, I began to feel not so fine. Where was the salt and the sand? We started to see cars abandoned on the side of the road.

It was just before 10:00 when we came to a small incline on 405 South between exits 4 and 2. Cars were scattered all over the roadway, pointing in all directions, flashers on, not moving. Curiously, nobody seemed to be doing anything about it. Traffic split into 3 streams, as it was possible for a car to get by on the left shoulder, the right shoulder, or through the center of the stuck vehicles. I chose the left shoulder. Bad choice! The shoulder was completely ice, and as we tried to squeeze by a stuck SUV, the lateral grade of the road sent us sliding toward it. After stopping just inches from the SUV, we were too close to attempt any further forward maneuvers. It was now 10:10 and we were still at least 5 miles from the airport; things were looking quite grim. I threw it in reverse and created some space. A kind person then let us into the center stream of traffic, and we threaded between the SUV and another car oriented in an odd direction.

That mess allowed just a few cars to eke their way through every minute, so the road ahead was mostly empty. Snow was still falling and there was a fair amount of built-up ice on the road, but it was possible to stay in the tracks of the car we were following and maintain a reasonable speed (20 mph). Another call to the airport revealed that we had been given another 10 minutes, with the flight now leaving at 11:10. There was still hope...

We pressed on and exited toward the airport just after 10:30. The road here was less clear, with the pavement visible in only one lane. We slowed slightly as we followed the sign for Departures.

At last, we arrived at the Delta terminal at 10:38. I dropped my brother at the checkin desk and headed for the parking garage in case our efforts had been in vain. I climbed the stairs to the top of the garage to take a look at the roads back home (picture above). Unfortunately, there were brake lights as far as I could see - and hundreds of people waiting for taxis at the empty taxi stand. I resigned myself to the fact that I was going to be sleeping at the airport.

Fortunately, my brother made his flight (barely). And I learned a valuable tip - if you need to sleep at Sea-Tac, head for the children's play area, located near the security checkpoint for B/C gates. There are soft, detachable mats around the playset that double nicely as a mattress, along with electrical outlets to charge your phone/computer. The nearby walls also protect you from chilly drafts from the outside (still, you'll want to wear a coat and hat). Far better than trying to get comfortable in one of those airport chairs...

Monday, November 27, 2006

Tour of Google's Kirkland office

Robert Scoble (professional blogger, formerly at Microsoft) stopped by the Google office here in Kirkland, and we were nice enough to show him around. Watch the video at ScobleShow.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Interesting statistic...

I took my Jetta in to the dealer the other day for a warranty issue, and while I was waiting in the showroom I noticed one of the Jettas on the floor was covered with various stickers. The stickers were all of the form "VW owners are XX% more/less likely to ___________", with the "more likely"s being generally positive things (e.g. work out, read a book) and the "less likely"s being negative things. Apparently VW surveyed its owners and created a marketing campaign around the results.

One particular sticker (above) grabbed my attention. Some other related "more likely"s:
"72% more likely to chat online" and "102% more likely to have watched video online".

Of course, this is a marketing campaign, so who knows how carefully the survey was conducted. Nevertheless, if you find factoids about VW users interesting, there is a version of the survey on the Web at http://thejettareport.com.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Google Maps adds "Click-to-call"

Now, when you do a search for a business (in the US), the search results display a call link next to the phone number of the business. Clicking this link brings up a field where you can enter in your own phone number. When you click the "Connect for free" button, Google will ring your phone at the number you supplied, and your (free) call will be connected. No microphone, no software needed - it uses your existing phone. Your phone number will also be saved so that you won't need to enter it again the next time.

Here's a search for pizza restaurants in Kirkland... click, click, and order!

For more info, see the announcement on the official Google blog.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

orkut + talk

Google's orkut social networking site is now integrated with Google Talk. When you log into orkut, you'll see presence information for each of your orkut friends, and can launch an IM window by clicking on them. You'll also receive notifications when people leave scraps (comments) on your orkut page. And if you choose the "Automatically include all orkut friends" option (the default), your Google Talk friends will be kept in sync with your orkut friends.

Here's my (admittedly boring) orkut page.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Offline messages in Google Talk

Yesterday, the Google Talk team turned on offline messages on the Talk service. It works pretty much how you would expect - if you send a message to someone who is marked as Offline in your Friends list, they will receive that message the next time they log in to Google Talk, or in their Gmail inbox. There is one restriction - in order to receive offline messages, the recipient must have chat history archiving enabled, and not be off-the-record. If this is not the case, you will get the typical error " is offline and can't receive messages right now" when trying to send the message.

For XMPP clients using the Google Talk network, this feature is implemented in accordance with XEP-0160 (Best Practices for Handling Offline Messages).

You can read more about using the offline messaging feature at this help page.