September, 2004


13
Sep 04

Vancouver

Kathy & I spent last weekend in Vancouver, BC for a wedding of Natalya Eliashberg, a friend of ours from her days at MIT. She and her husband Mike worked at and met at a company called Immersion (http://www.immersion.com) here in the Bay Area — started by an HCI classmate of mine from Stanford.

[Aside: Immersion pioneered in a field known as "haptic interfaces" — also known as force feedback interfaces. Joysticks that push back on you, for instance — or more generally input devices for computers that are also output devices — that exert force that you can feel. They’re most widely deployed in gaming technology, but the most interesting thing they’re doing has to do with the medical field — a couple of use cases spring to mind. The first is sinus surgery simulation — they’ve built a system that lets medical trainees practice sinus surgery on dummies — they’ve built tools that make it feel just like you’re operating on a real person. The 2nd is remote surgery — if you can simulate what it feels like to be doing an operation, you can enable a surgeon to do it with video, audio & feeling. Neat.]

Anyway, the wedding was great, and I think Kathy & I both really fell in love with the whole Vancouver area. It’s sort of like Seattle, but really more like its own thing. First, it’s just green, green, green. And blue. Tons of evergreens, tons of water. Very pretty. When we got there, it was a little overcast, but the weekend was otherwise amazing. Leaving the airport on Saturday at lunchtime we drove to the ferry & rode the 90 minute trip to Vancouver Island, where our friends Byron & Lise live (in Sooke). Victoria is the biggest city on Vancouver Island — about 300,000 people — we spent the afternoon there, just watching folks — there were a number of events going on, like a local boatshow. Turns out that Victoria is the provincial capital of BC, and has the buildings that make you think of Canadian capitals (big castle-style buildings with green copper roofs — sort of
like the railroad hotels, too).

On Sunday Kathy & I spent some time walking around downtown Vancouver, which is a very "funky & fashion-forward city," Kathy kept saying. Lots of cool clothes, lots of little coffee shops. And always views of the water. Natalya’s wedding was in the afternoon in a botannical garden (what other types are there?) in South Vancouver, then the reception was in the Pan Pacific Hotel in downtown — the only 5 star hotel in Vancouver, and just beautiful, right on the water. Nice day.

On Monday (Labor Day, even in Canada!) we spent the morning walking around Stanley Park (presumably named after the same Stanley that the Cup is named after) — it’s a very large park right downtown — we walked the 7 mile loop around the park, all of which is right on the water. They were having the Vancouver Triathlon there right at the same time, so it was sort of fun to watch everyone competing. After lunch, we drove up to North Vancouver, to a brunch reception at Mike’s house, then off to the airport & home.

Great trip, and a beautiful place. We’d go back anytime.


8
Sep 04

Little Children, by Tom Perotta

I was excited to read this new book by Tom Perotta, who also wrote Election, which was eventually made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick. The movie was tremendously witty and biting and sharp — and very cynical.

So when I opened up Little Children and noticed right away that it deals basically with other folks that are my own age, dealing with growing up, and having kids, and ambivalence about jobs and all that stuff, I was optimistic. I tend to be a little bit jaded & cynical in my own life, so I found the little descriptions of pretty banal situations uncannily accurate and interesting. At the beginning of the book, I felt the same feeling I did when I read Microserfs — that it was exactly my life. But it started to go off track.

All in all, I find that the book was only okay. The first 100 pages or so is quite good; the last couple of hundred, though, tend to get a little bit repetitious and even more cynical than I was prepared to be. Don’t get me wrong — cynical is great when it’s funny — but when it’s not funny, it’s just sort of mean, and that’s where this book got to eventually.