Wolf 359

Apr. 17th, 2019 05:32 pm
[personal profile] swaldman
I just finished listening to the finale of the Wolf 359 podcast. It's been quite a ride.

61 episodes (plus some minisodes and so forth) over 3.5 years, all of which had finished before I even heard of the show, so I've been listening at my own pace, over perhaps six months. The blurb says,

WOLF 359 is a radio drama in the tradition of Golden Age of Radio shows. Set on board the U.S.S. Hephaestus space station, the dysfunctional crew deals with daily life-or-death emergencies, while searching for signs of alien life and discovering there might be more to their mission than they thought.

Tune into your home away from home... seven and a half light years away from Earth...

That's a reasonable start. It begins as "hapless, lazy protagonist is somehow on a deep space mission" comedy. Slightly cringy, mostly good, reminded me quite a lot of Final Space. It morphed into mystery, and at times horror and psychodrama... it's had entire episodes where the crew are stuck in one room together... and then the stakes increased, and it became more of an adventure tale. And then it reached a conclusion and ended, which is something that I feel Night Vale should have had the courage to do some time ago. And all the while, it maintained a nice sense of humour.

Highly recommended. I'm even considering buying a t-shirt, years after the show stopped actually needing support :-)

Well, that was a shame.

Apr. 17th, 2019 05:15 pm
[personal profile] swaldman
When not househunting, I've been using some of my time to look at e-bikes. I'm hoping to make one my main means of commuting, at least for the summer months. I heard that a local store was having a closing down sale, so I went over to take a look.

The only "normal" bike (not a tandem, not a cargo bike) that they had left was one that I'd been looking at online and was interested in! It had over $1200 taken off the price!

I took it for a test ride, and liked it. Unfortunately... it was also very slightly too big. By maybe an inch, or even less. And it couldn't be adjusted any smaller. I needed the next frame size down. I could ride it, but it wasn't quite right, and I wasn't about to spend $3400 on something that wasn't quite right, even if was a bargin.

So I passed. And I shall go look in other shops once I'm more settled (and, let's face it, once I've had a paycheque or two), and probably spend more, but for something that fits.


Seattle, Days 4 & 5

Apr. 16th, 2019 11:20 am
[personal profile] swaldman
On Sunday (day 4), I looked at four houses. There was a lot of trekking around the city, and now I have blisters! But, I am delighted to be in a city that is mostly navigable by buses and feet. Yesterday, day 5, I looked at a couple more.

I'm at a stage now where I have an order of preference, and I've told my first choice, but I'm waiting for them to figure things out (complicated as they have more than one room to fill), yet I need to start responding to others... it's a bit stressful, but hard to avoid.
I have a few really nice community houses as possibles, and I've also seen a few that simply won't work for me. One of the latter I saw yesterday afternoon, and it had the most amazing view - with the first clear day since I've been here, the mountains had appeared: (excuse the zoomed-in phonecam quality):

View of a lake, with city beyond, and distant mountains beyond that

Today's my last day in this nice hotel, and I plan to mostly use it to catch up on work etc (sure, nobody's paying me, but I still have a paper to review). I'm going to a second viewing / meet the remaining housemates session in the evening.

Apropos of nothing above, but more of what's happening outside my window right now: Hotel balconies are an odd mix of public and private space. They're obviously private, as demonstrated by the woman in the dressing gown having a smoke over there; but they're also extremely publicly visible, as evidenced by the four lane road and busy car park that she's on display to.

Nokia 7.1 : First thoughts

Apr. 16th, 2019 08:20 am
[personal profile] swaldman
I got my first mobile phone in 1999, which made me a moderately late adopter amongst my peers. It was a Motorola in a world of ubiquitous Nokias. That was by chance, but it soon became a "thing" for me - Nokia was the "default phone", so I ended up with something else, and I'd never owned a Nokia - until yesterday. Now, of course, they're no longer the default phone (that would probably be Samsung, or maybe the Moto G series, at least on the Android side), and they're a quirky choice. I don't like to think that I'm driven by that, but I'm also honest enough to admit that there's probably an aspect of that involved....

Anyway. Nokia 7.1, and Android 9.0 Pie, first impressions:
  • After a string of under-£200 phones, this one isn't. But, in many ways it's equivalent. There is a £190 version in the UK, but I paid extra for 4Gb of RAM and a dual SIM version, and (probably most importantly) in the US the Nokia 8.1 hasn't appeared above it in the range to push the 7.1 price's down as it has in Europe - so I paid about $380.
  • It's a pretty phone, in a simple and understated way. It's metal and glass where my last one was plastic. As a result it's chunkier and heavier, but it feels solid and well-built. It's almost exactly the same size, which is a delight in a world where every phone is bigger than the one before. It's a little smaller than the Moto G7, which was one of the deciding factors in choosing it.
  • It still has a headphone port, which is good. It's USB-C, which is bad for me but good for some (all my other USB-charged things still use micro-B. If I had newer and/or more expensive accessories, they'd probably use -C as well and I'd be in favour)
  • It's my first phone with a notch. I'm ambivalent. I don't like being unable to display more than 2 notification icons at once, but I like gaining the space that the notification bar would otherwise take up below the sensors.
  • I'm liking Android 9 so far. Most of the changes seem to be improvements, and there's been a lot of polishing. I tried turning on the new "home button gestures" thing, but after a couple of hours I couldn't see the point so I turned it off again. If the right-hand spot on that bar were used for something else, I'd see the gain; but as it is it's taken the functions of two buttons, put them on one button, and left a space where the other button used to be. I'm not wild about the horizontally-scrolling "recently used apps" view, because without them overlapping it's harder to quickly scroll to something and stop in the right place.
  • Initial setup requires wifi (or a data connection that doesn't mind a gigabyte-scale out-of-the-box update), but can't handle captive portals. I was able to work around it, but this is a problem that really shouldn't exist.
  • The new fixed widget at the top of the Google Launcher seems like it might be a more useful replacement for Google Now - it defaults to showing time, date and weather, but when you have a calender event coming up it switches to that, and is tappable in useful ways. It's already handy, and I think it has a lot of potential to improve (e.g. if the Google Now "time to leave for x" used it as well). Usually I don't like big default widgets (looking at you, HTC), but it's only one row high, it's actually useful, and the screen is huge, so *shrug*.
So far, I like it. I would say "more after I've used it for a while", but from past experience it'll just become part of normal life so I won't mention it again ;-)

Seattle, Day 3 : Space Needle

Apr. 13th, 2019 09:21 pm
[personal profile] swaldman
This morning I put the local SIM card that I've obtained into my phone, and watched as it refused to manage anything better than 2G EDGE. Turns out that "not supporting the right bands for America" is another disadvantage of sub-£200 European phones. So I ordered a new cheapish mobile phone, to be delivered to an Amazon locker in the lobby of an Amazon building. I was amused to see that the fastest delivery option to the Amazon HQ campus is two days - slower than they managed for Orkney sometimes. I guess the size of the US doesn't make cheap next day delivery a realistic proposition.

After that I mostly stayed in my hotel suite today, chilling, writing up blog posts, and doing some paperwork about benefits, health plans, etc., in advance of starting work. After the activity levels of the last two days since I landed, it was probably a good thing.

By late afternoon the sun had appeared, so I grabbed my bag and my Lonely Planet guide and headed off to be a tourist. Obviously, the first tourist thing that one has to do in Seattle is the Space Needle... so I did that. Via the monorail. The view from the top was definitely pretty, and was the first time I'd seen Lake Washington and the first time I'd seen the Sound properly. It was also quite helpful in getting a more intuitive understanding of how the city is laid out - for some reason it sinks in faster from a high-place view than from a map. Reading about the building of the Needle was interesting too, because although we take such structures for granted now, it was really quite daring and innovative back in the day. On the way down I was delighted that the entire ground floor is a gift shop devoted to taking "souvenier tat" to a new level, where it becomes an admirable artform. Unfortunately I don't think they see it that way, but I liked it even so.

After the Needle I consulted Lonely Planet and discovered a truly excellent restaurant that not only served innovative pizzas on communal tables, but is a place in America where they pay the staff well and tipping is not expected. Sadly they still add this onto the bill as an additional 20% charge, rather than rolling it into the menu prices, but I guess it's progress.

Receipt with explanation fo the 20% charge that's added to the bill to provide staff pay and benefits.

Tomorrow, it's back to the house viewings. The first is at 0830......

Seattle, Day 2

Apr. 13th, 2019 11:20 am
[personal profile] swaldman
Up and sending emails at 5am, not 3am. This is a definite improvement!

Continuing to watch TV from time to time, I've noticed one thing that threatens to outnumber the ads for drugs related to penises: ads trying to recruit me to various branches of the US military. I'm not sure what, if anything, that tells us.

This morning I tried an online solution to the "can't buy transport fares using credit cards" inconvenience. I registered my Orca card online, and bought a day pass using the website. Then I boarded a bus, touched my card, and was charged $2.75. Huh?

Since I was travelling to near the transit office anyway, I walked in, explained what had happened, and asked what I had done wrong. They informed me that passes added to cards online take 24-48 hours to be applied. Even the day pass. So I checked my understanding with them: that if you buy a day pass online, it will either apply to the day after you buy it, or to the day after that, and there's no way to tell which. They thought for a moment, and confirmed this understanding to be correct. Apparently nobody had pointed this out before. I.... errrr... I have nothing useful to say about this, except that maybe they should not offer day passes on the website.
I had a wander around the area called "Pioneer Square", which is where the city was founded. After a day of newness it was nice to see some fairly old buildings, with a definite port feel. This is an interesting, and complex, place. It's clearly gentrified by lunchtime and evening, with posh bakeries, outdoor seating areas, comedy clubs, and the like, but in the morning it shows a very different face. There were a lot of homeless people about, packing up and drinking coffee after a night in the area; the abundance of outdoor seating seems to work well for this. I found an area with lines of tents on the pavement - some with their occupants getting ready for the day, some with people still sleeping inside. There were queues of people outside a couple of diners, and a couple of mission buildings.
A random woman, with a big friendly dog, told me that I was from Scotland. Apparently she could tell because I've perfected the accent........

On Day 2 I saw two houses, one of which I liked a lot. I spent much of the day on buses, zooming all over, but I still managed 17,000 steps. I'm starting to get a feel for how public transport works, and even for how some individual bus routes link together.

I also spent some time trying out e-bikes. It's clear that these ones, which I really liked when I tried them in London, would be totally inappropriate for a city as hilly as Seattle. Sadly my current favourites are kinda expensive... but I'm not doing any more on this until I know where I'm living. And possibly until after my first paycheque has cleared ;-)
Doing test rides, I noticed that Seattle road layouts don't always have a lot of markings, which can leave some junctions ambiguous. In the picture below, if one vehicle is approaching from behind the camera on the left, and another is approaching from the right, and both want to go down the slope towards the white truck... who has priority?

Ambiguous road junction.

Seattle, Day 1

Apr. 13th, 2019 10:47 am
swaldman: A zebra (zebra)
[personal profile] swaldman
First full day in Seattle (I'm not counting the day I arrived). I was up at 3am and sending emails. Apparently people find this disconcerting, but when it comes to jet lag my attitude is that if I'm going to be awake, I'd rather use the time than lie in bed feeling frustrated. It probably means I take a little longer to fully adjust, but I'm less miserable until then!

The hotel's breakfasts are impressive. I mean, it's reminded me that the American idea of what constitutes a high-end cooked breakfast is terrible - mostly due to "American bacon" - but the scrambled egg with spinach and parmesan is nice, as are the freshly-baked waffles.

I started the day with two main objectives in my quest log: "Obtain state ID", and "apply for a social security number". A necessary prerequisite was "get an Orca card". That's the equivalent to Oyster in London, except that it isn't sold in hotels... and the woman at the front desk wasn't sure how I could get one, short of paying cash to get to a single office on the opposite side of the city. Fortunately the internet knew better, and I paid cash to ride to a light rail station[1], where I could allegedly buy a new card from a ticket vending machine.

That turned out to be true, but buying anything from a ticket machine with a credit card required me to enter the ZIP code that the card is registered to - which was impossible as I was only allowed to enter numbers[2]. So I started the subquest "go to an ATM and return". I did that; paid $5 for the card, $20 to put that much credit on it, and $8 for an all-day pass for that day (it functions much like Oyster, but there's no daily cap, so you have to figure out how many journeys you'll make that day and buy a pass if you want. Or, just buy a montly pass, which I'll probably do from May - it runs for calendar months, so buying mid-month is poor value).

By this time it was about 9am (jet lag, remember?), and I walked a couple of blocks to join the pre-opening queue outside the state licensing authority ("the DMV"). Such queues are infamous, and known worldwide from sitcoms, but 15 minutes before opening I was 8th in line. I got seen about half an hour later, and established that I can't get state ID until I have proof of residency in the state - and an offer letter from a federal lab in the state doesn't do this for them.

I turned to the other live quest, that for a SSN. I turned up to the federal government building a few blocks away, went through airport-style security, and took a lift to a waiting area on the 9th floor. It was much like the state licensing office except that it was fast and efficient, there were lots of large flags everywhere, and instead of the large, friendly guy called Gary who was supervising everything there was a Very Polite (and actually helpful) young woman of military bearing with a gun. I was seen in ten minutes, and a further quarter hour later my applicaton form had been dispatched and I was told to expect my SSN card within two weeks. Win! Quest completed.

It looked as though most other things that I needed to do were locked behind the gateway quest "find somewhere to live". To that end, in the evening I dosed on caffeine and went to the first viewing I had arranged. Nice people, nice house, but not available until June. They didn't mention that in the advert. Also, at the top of a MASSIVE hill but without a view ;-) I walked down the hill and back to my hotel, capturing this on phone-cam on the way:

Nighttime view of the Seattle skyline, with downtown to the left and the Space Needle to the right.

[1] Not the same as a streetcar station, to my surprise, even though both of them run on streets using basically the same vehicles. It's the same "is it light rail or is it a tram" conundrum that causes nerds to argue, but in this case they seem to be operated by different companies and hence given different names. Seattle seems to have little bit of a lot of different modes of transport, almost as though the city has been testing them out.
[2] People have subsequently given me some suggestions on workarounds.

American TV adverts

Apr. 11th, 2019 01:29 pm
swaldman: A zebra (zebra)
[personal profile] swaldman
It's 5:30 in the morning. I have eight time zones of jet lag. I did have a long, thoughtful, post about my feelings about this trip, how it's different from previous ones, my hopes, etc., etc., which I wrote on the flight. Unfortunately it got eaten by a buggy sync system that may have become confused by time zone changes, so instead you get last nght's observations of a jet-lagged zombie about American TV.

The stories (and my memories of a decade ago) are true. Within half an hour of switching on my hotel TV yesterday evening, I'd seen:
  • Many, many ads for medical treatments, including two for erectile dysfunction.
  • One ad asking me to sign up to a class actoin
The oddest thing about the "Ask your doctor if $drug is right for you" ads is that the majority of the airtime is spent reading out a horrifying list of side-effects, while we look at joyous happy people. Is this actually supposed to sell the product?

I've also discovered that watching movies (or anything that isn't news) on TV is annoying, because of the incessant animated ads in the bottom right corner for something else that is on next/soon/elsechannel. I remember that the BBC tried this once in an episode of Dr Who, and the outcry reached national newspapers...


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