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December 2007 Archives

December 6, 2007

In the Bay Area

I've been in California this week, catching up on new assignments at work: meeting new team-members, hatching plans, updating sprints and generally staying pretty busy. Which is good, because if I paused to think of how much I miss my little boy Edison? Let's just say I'd get weepy.

On Friday, I'll be putting in a couple of hours at Citizen Space, a coworking facility in San Francisco. (Preceded by breakfast with my friend Bradley at Dottie's in the Tenderloin. Can't wait.)

So there you have it!

December 7, 2007


One of my biggest frustrations in telecommuting for Yahoo! is this: I miss a lot of amazing speakers. A lot. Technologists, entrepreneurs, social scientists, Nobel-prize winners (no lie!) have come through Yahoo's campus since I started work more than a year ago, and—usually—I miss 'em all. (Some, I'm not so choked up about.)

Of course, many of the sessions are webcast internally, so I could dial in and follow along but that's usually fraught with peril. Video that falls out of sync with the audio, or slides that don't come across the 'cast. Or a speaker that steps away from the immobile camera and leaves me watching a blank whiteboard for 3/4 of the talk. Let's just say that it's not quite the same as being there.

Which is why it was a particular treat today to see Michael Rubin speak. I could not have timed a better visit to Sunnyvale. Rubin, (who's now a Director of Product Management at Netflix) was present during the formative years at Lucasfilm, and has written what looks to be a wonderful book, Droidmaker: George Lucas and the Digital Revolution. His talk was a delight, on several levels.

First of all, Rubin is an ENGAGING speaker and his talk is well-practiced—polished, almost to a sheen. (Nice visuals—large images, great photos of young Lucas and Francis Ford Copolla and their surrounding cast of characters, film-making tools of the pre-digital era, etc.) Rubin peppered the talk with beat-perfect jokes and asides. It was truly a fun hour.

Adding to the specialness? There were some pretty auspicious guests in the audience. Right down in the front row, in fact. Chip Morningstar, Doug Crockford, and Randy Farmer are all themselves graybeard veterans of the early Lucasfilm days. (And all are Yahoos now.) Rubin quipped that “the only time I've been more nervous to give this presentation was when I did it at Pixar.”

The talk was built on a framework of the stuff you probably already know: Lucas's early days at UCLA film school; the friendship with Copolla (while observing Finian's Rainbow) ; the American Zoetrope days and the unexpected runaway success of American Graffiti. And, yes, Star Wars, the founding of ILM, the building of the Ranch.

But hanging off of that framework of the familiar was an enthralling exploration of the technology of making movies—and not just the modern technology, but the ugly realities of what Lucas and his generation started with: the tattered hand-me-down remnants of the Big Studio era. Moviolas and film-editing synchronizers. Romantic-looking devices—in their own way—to be sure. But painful to use, from Rubin's vivid descriptions. Duping, synchronizing and managing those multivariate data sources was, as he put it, “basically a database problem.”

But these devices led to painful cost overruns on the Star Wars and Empire films, and convinced Lucas that there had to be a better way. Over the next hour, Rubin's talk dashed through a rapid succession of early Lucas hires (Ed Catmull, Alvy Ray Smith and the like) and—almost casually—rattled off the list of graphics and audio innovations that they were responsible for (some before joining up with Lucas): texture-mapping, fractal landscapes, video-editing timelines and some amazing-for-the-time direct manipulation interfaces. I had no idea that this fertile creative group at the Lucas Ranch was such a generative force in Silicon Valley at the time (the early 80s.) To hear Rubin tell it, Sun Microsystems was practically the House that George built. (I'm exaggerating somewhat but not by much.)

There's so much more to talk about here. Unfortunately, I had to leave Rubin's talk a bit early (for a meeting. Sigh.) But the book truly sounds wonderful. (And it sounds like a treasure-trove of Pixar- and Disney-ana as well.)

On his blog, Rubin has toyed with the idea of making the book available for free as a PDF download. Which would be wonderful. Even more wonderful would be owning a copy of Droidmaker for yourself. (And while you're at it, why don't you buy me a copy as well?)

Before the talk, Randy Farmer was kind enough to introduce my friend Matt and me to Mr. Rubin and I was glad I got to thank him for coming before we had to rush off later. The presentation was—no lie—amongst the most enjoyable I've ever attended. I'd love to see it again, and in toto.

December 8, 2007

Sandbox Suites

Being out in the Bay Area this week for work, I decided early on that I wanted to take advantage of Friday (when ~3/4 of my team works from home anyway) and try to put in some hours at a coworking location in San Francisco. As chronicled here, I and some others have been exploring the idea of starting a coworking space in Columbus, so I really wanted to ask some questions and see a functioning space.

Originally, I'd planned on visiting Citizen Space but—the morning of—I couldn't get anyone on the house phone there. Fortunately, however, Roman at Sandbox Suites picked up on the first ring! So... a visit to Sandbox Suites instead.

My friend Bradley drove me down around Noon, and we caught some non-interesting-but-at-least-nourishing Indian buffet nearby before parting ways. Afterward, I dropped in at Sandbox, and met this guy…

Roman from Sandbox Suites

Roman Gelfer is the co-founder of Sandbox Suites (with his fiancée Sasha, who was not there when I visited.) Roman was kind enough to show me around, then sit with me for awhile and answer some questions about the space and the early-stage planning and decisions that went into it.

Sandbox has only been open for several weeks so—right now—the space feels a little underutilized. But, of course, this'll change as word gets out: Roman and Sasha have built a fantastic, flexible space in a nicely-accessible location. It's an easy walk from the Civic Center BART station, and street-parking is actually not that bad in the area. (I know, I know—I thought it was bad everywhere in SF, too.)

The space is rather large ( > 4,000sq.ft, I think Roman said.) More than double what we've been talking about for a Columbus space. But all of that extra room affords some nice amenities: particularly, I'm thinking about the 3 comfortably-sized conference rooms. Roman said that conference-room fees have, so far, been one of the biggest (read: most lucrative) surprises since they've opened. They already have several standing clients who are renting rooms for whole-day or multi-hour blocks of time. So… note to us, as we begin our space explorations: don't underestimate conference room needs. I know I'd been thinking about one conference room—now I wonder… is that enough?

The flip side of that advice is: don't overestimate the number of daily/'drop in' clients you'll see—at least not early on. In fact, my $20 for a half-day of coworking made me, according to Roman, their first drop-in! (This is something of an honor for me—I really admire what they're doing at Sandbox Suites, and now I can boast that I was there when it all started. ;-)

Other tidbits: they did a 2-week 'beta cycle' with 4 members, when the space still wasn't completely finished. That seems like a good idea—it helped them iron out some simple operational kinks that they might not've otherwise caught. (And 2 of those beta members have gone on to become paying fulltimers...)

Also, Roman said that—though it was sheer luck and not really a requirement going in—he feels really fortunate that Sandbox has a storefront presence on 10th street (and isn't buried further back in some office building.) That it really helps the visibility and identity of the space. I have to agree—I was very pleasantly surprised to spot it easily from Bradley's car as we looked for parking. Plus, it's really nice to be able to see the street that well from inside (check out the view from the second-floor conference room.)

Being at street-level with a storefront really makes Sandbox Suites more connected to the surrounding community, and—hey—that's a large part of what I'd want from a Columbus coworking site.

Finally, there's a lot to be said for the dual-level layout of the space, and the flexibility that it affords. For example, during evening events on the ground floor, they can ask members to move their work upstairs, allowing them to honor their 24/7 access commitment. (That full access is only for certain, higher-tier members, btw, and is provided by biometric 'fingerprint' locks on the doors.)

I also put in a couple hours of work at the Suites. And… I gotta say… it's a great environment to get things done! Here's what I had to work with:
My Workspace, Downstairs

And, of course, access to whatever amenities I might've needed: printing, bathroom, snacks and coffee, etc. The desk I used was in was a row of desks downstairs that are flexible use. (The slightly nicer desks upstairs are available too, I believe, but they can be reserved for paying regular members.) There was only one other person working downstairs with me. We chatted a bit, but it was really hard to hear him—the building ventilation cycled on right as I introduced myself. Dude if you see this: I'm not an idiot! (I just play one on TV.)

I had some fairly mundane busywork to get done that afternoon (capturing use-cases on a Twiki) so I popped in the headphones, listened to some Crooked Fingers, and got it done! Thanks, Sandbox Suites, for opening your arms to me. I'll definitely avail myself of your services again.

See all my pictures from Sandbox Suites here…

December 10, 2007

Me and the Boy

Photo by my friend Gary.

From a couple weeks back. I dunno why Edison's so excited, but… me? Holding him always makes me feel like that.

December 16, 2007

Edison's First Snow

First Snow, originally uploaded by soldierant.

We got just a bit of snow today (nothing like what's hitting most of the Midwest.) There was just enough to take our little snow-bear out and get his first impressions. Contrary to this shot, his reaction was mostly positive.

See more of Edison's wintry contemplation…

December 17, 2007

Cool in Columbus: The Sho'Nuff

Psst. I'm on a campaign to rechristen Columbus' Short North District. Pass it along.

December 22, 2007

Hulu, OpenHulu and WKRP

I've been sitting on a beta invite to Hulu for a couple weeks now, and just barely peeked inside. (I don't find myself with a lot of free time on my hands lately, and it's all the wife and I can do fit in our nightly episode of Doctor Who (Series 1 DVDs that she bought on Amazon.)

But I've been pretty impressed from what little I've seen. Decent selection, for a beta: everything from Heroes to Doogie Howser, M.D. to old episodes of Emergency! (It's a Randy Mantooth Renaissance, I tell ya.)

Talking with my friend Steve on the phone tonight who is (believe it or not, they exist) an absolute WKRP aficionado, he reminded me that is surpassingly rare—nay, all but impossible—to experience WKRP in the format that the shows originally aired in any more. He actually has old VHS recordings that he's lovingly preserved and revisits from time to time, but everywhere else that episodes air (including Hulu and syndication and boxed DVDs, VHS, etc. etc.) you're getting a neutered and artistically compromised version of the show.

Why? (I'm sure you've guessed it already.) The prohibitive costs of licensing the music. Or, rather, the fact that CBS's rights to the original rock songs licensed by the show didn't extend down through the years and couple of times that the distribution rights have exchanged corporate hands. (This is explained with much greater clarity over here.)

At the time, it was an incredibly bold move to soundtrack WKRP with music from Bob Seger, The Rolling Stones, The Doors. But today, you can only get lame nondescript "rock track" stand-ins. So instead of Dr. Johnny Fever's historical format-changing blowout (originally accompanied by a blast of Ted Nugent), we get this… ahem… perfectly competent blast of studio surf guitar?!?

Perhaps even more egregious than the music substitutions are the dialog substitutions: yep, WKRPs original dialog was liberally sprinkled with hip lyrical references to the songs of the day. All of those bits had to go.

Or sometimes, the words merely refer to the songs being played (Arthur Carlson enters the deejay booth to the strains of Pink Floyd's Dogs: "Do you hear dogs barking?"—Fever: "I do.") Once the original tracks were excised, then entire sequences no longer make sense. So they gotta go.

I'm not gonna get my Cory Doctorow on here, but you gotta admit—it is kinda lame how this affects our experience of the culture, subverts the intended context of the show.

Also… until you can get a Hulu pass, you can watch 'em all on OpenHulu. (Until that's cease-and-desisted out of existence.)

December 23, 2007

Batman's Christmas List

Comics fans, you really owe it to yourself to catch up on J. Caleb Mozzocco's ongoing series Batman's Christmas List. (I would say that non-comics fans should give it a go, too, but—after re-reading 'em myself, I realize that there's a level of sophistication in the humor here that makes them... well, downright awesome if you've got the right frame of reference to appreciate 'em. If you don't have that frame or reference? I dunno—they probably seem kinda.. meh.)

About December 2007

This page contains all entries posted to Soldier Ant in December 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

November 2007 is the previous archive.

January 2008 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.


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