• The Old New Thing

    In the Seattle area, people treat you nicer once they learn your last name is Gates


    One of the team members during the days of Windows 95 happens to have the last name Gates, no relation.

    She says that it's surprising how nice salespeople are to you once they learn what your last name is.

    Go figure.

  • The Old New Thing

    I want you to chase your sisters until they throw up


    A friend of mine grew up in a rural area. The family got their water from a well and had to fluoridate it manually with tablets.

    When my friend was a little girl, she was playing around the house with one of her friends (let's call her friend Alice). They got into the kitchen cabinet and found these candy-like things and ate them. When her mother discovered that they had eaten fluoride tablets, she called the poison control center for advice. In addition to telling her to give the girls something-or-other, they instructed her to keep the girls moving until they vomited up the tablets.

    As it happens, my friend's brother and Alice's brother were playing outside. The boys were called inside, informed of what happened, and instructed to keep their sisters moving and try to get them to throw up.

    The boys couldn't believe their ears. You want us to chase our sisters until they throw up? This must be what heaven is like!

    The boys assumed their responsibilities with great enthusiasm, chasing the girls around the yard, putting them in a swing and spinning them around, all the stuff brothers dream of doing to torment their sisters, but this time they could do it without fear of punishment. Fortunately, the story had a happy ending. The girls soon vomited up the tablets and thereby avoided two horrible fates: (1) fluoride poisoning and (2) being forced to endure torture from their brothers in perpetuity.

  • The Old New Thing

    A Venn diagram demonstrating the dining options in one of the new cafeterias


    Back in the early 2000s, a new building opened on the Microsoft main campus, and the food services department tried an experiment: Instead of creating a standard cafeteria, they decided to make the cafeteria in the new building a specialty cafeteria. This new cafeteria was more like a deli, specializing in offerings like antipasto, rotisserie chicken, and grilled panini sandwiches.

    The idea was that the building would generate cross-building foot traffic with the building next door. The food services department figured that people would typically go to the cafeteria in the old building next door, but if they had a hankering for something offered by the specialty cafeteria, they could walk over to the new cafeteria.

    It was an interesting idea, but it didn't work out well in practice because people are lazy and always go to the nearest cafeteria. This meant that the people who worked in the new building wandered into their cafeteria and saw the same specialty offerings every day. And nobody from the other cafeteria ever came to visit the specialty cafeteria.

    One of my colleagues explained the dining options in the new cafeteria with a Venn diagram:


    After a few months, the food services department realized that their plan wasn't working out too well, and they converted the new cafeteria into a more traditional cafeteria.

  • The Old New Thing

    Travel tip: Don't forget your car on the ferry


    One of my colleagues lives on Bainbridge Island and has quite a long commute to work each day. From his house, he walks to the bus stop, then takes the bus to the Winslow ferry terminal, then takes the ferry to the Seattle ferry terminal, then takes the bus to Microsoft. And at the end of the day, he does the trip in reverse.

    One day, for whatever reason, he drove to work instead of taking the bus. He drove to the ferry terminal, took the ferry across, then drove to work. And at the end of the day, he drove to the ferry, but when the ferry arrived at its destination, he forgot that he had driven his car and walked off the boat to the bus.

    While on his way home on the bus, he got a phone call from his wife. "Did you forget your car on the ferry, dear?"


    Now, leaving your car on the ferry is a bad thing not just because your car is now an obstacle on the ferry deck which all the other drivers must maneuver around. When there is an abandoned car on the deck, one of the possibilities that must be investigated is that a passenger has fallen overboard.

    The crew took the ship offline, conducted a search of the vessel, and initiated a search-and-rescue operation along the ferry route, looking for a body floating in the water.

    My colleague had to sheepishly call the ferry authorities and say, "Hello, I believe you're looking for me."

    (Today is Transit Driver Appreciation Day, but I don't think your ferry captain will complain if you thank him/her, too.)

  • The Old New Thing

    Nice job, you got an A minus from Bill


    Bill Gates does not praise lightly.

    Some time ago, a colleague of mine helped to prepared a keynote address for Bill Gates. Afterward, he was informed that Bill rated the presentation an "A minus".

    My colleague thought, "Wow, an A minus. It would be great to get some feedback from Bill about where I could have done better."

    Bill's assistant explained, "Don't worry. That's the highest grade he gives."

  • The Old New Thing

    The 2015/2016 Seattle Symphony subscription season at a glance


    For many years, I've put together a little pocket guide to the Seattle Symphony subscription season for my symphony friends to help them decide which ticket package they want. For the past several years now, we haven't ordered any tickets at all because we all have young children, but I still make this guide out of some sense of obligation.

    So here's the at-a-glance season guide for the 2015/2016 season anyway, again with no comments from me because nobody I know is going to use them to decide which tickets to order. Besides, you can probably preview nearly all of the pieces nowadays (minus the premieres) by searching on YouTube.

    Here is the official brochure for those who want to read the details, and you can see what The Seattle Times thinks of it.

    Week Program 21 13 7A
    7G 4A SU
    Mendelssohn: String Quartet #6
    Beethoven: Symphony #4
    Mahler: Symphony #1



    R. Strauss: Don Quixote
    Brahms: Symphony #3
    Dvořák: A Hero's Song
    Britten: Violin Concerto
    R. Strauss: Also Sprach Zarathustra
    Stravinsky: Symphony in C
    Beethoven: Piano Concerto #1
    Mozart: Symphony #41, "Jupiter"
    Giya Kancheli: World Premiere
    Brahms: Violin Concerto
    Martinů: Symphony #4
    R. Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks
    Bruch: Violin Concerto #1
    Nielsen: Symphony #4, "The Inextinguishable"
    11/19 Mahler: Symphony #10 (Cooke)                
    Debussy: Danses sacrée et profane
    Messiaen: Poèmes pour Mi
    Fauré: Requiem
    Rimsky-Korsakov: Overture to The Tsar's Bride
    Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto #2
    Tchaikovsky: Suite #3 in G
    Mozart: Selections from Idomeneo Ballet Music
    Mozart: Violin Concerto #3
    Haydn: Symphony #104, "London"
    R. Strauss: Don Juan
    Beethoven: Piano Concerto #3
    Berio: Sinfonia (for 8 voices and orchestra)
    Ives: Three Places in New England
    Bartók: Piano Concerto #3
    Beethoven: Symphony #3, "Eroica"
    Haydn: Symphony #88
    Mozart: Piano Concerto #23
    Schoenberg: Transfigured Night
    John Adams: Scheherezade.2, Violin Concerto
    Elgar: Pomp and Circumstance March #3
    Respighi: Pines of Rome

    Glinka: Summer Night in Madrid
    Glazunov: Violin Concerto
    Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherezade
    Mussorgsky: Introduction to Khovanshchina
    Prokofiev: Violin Concerto #2
    Brahms: Symphony #4
    Glinka: Overture to Ruslan and Ludmilla
    Dvořák: Cello Concerto
    Silvestrov: Symphony #5

    Mendelssohn: Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream
    Britten: Nocturne
    Szymanowski: Symphony #3
    Tchaikovsky: Romeo & Juliet Fantasy Overture
    Dutilleux: Timbres, espace, mouvement
    Beethoven: Piano Concerto #4
    Ewald: Symphony for Brass Quintet #3
    Prokofiev: Symphony #7




    Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms
    Shostakovich: Symphony #4
    Fauré: Masques et bergamasques
    Ravel: Piano Concerto in G
    Dvořák: Symphone #9, "New World"
    Anna Clyne: U.S. Premiere
    Gershwin: Concerto in F
    Beethoven: Symphony #7
    Week Program 21 13 7A
    7G 4A SU

    Insider tip: Click a column header to focus on a specific series. (This feature has been around for several years, actually.)


    21Masterworks 21-concert series (Choice of Thursdays or Saturdays)
    13Masterworks 13-concert series (Choice of Thursdays or Saturdays)
    7AMasterworks 7-concert series A (Thursdays)
    7BMasterworks 7-concert series B (Saturdays)
    7CMasterworks 7-concert series C (Thursdays)
    7DMasterworks 7-concert series D (Saturdays)
    7EMasterworks 7-concert series E (Thursdays)
    7FMasterworks 7-concert series F (Saturdays)
    7GMasterworks 7-concert series G (Sunday afternoons)
    4AMasterworks 4-concert series A (Friday afternoons)
    SUSymphony Untuxed (Fridays, reduced program)

    For those not familiar with the Seattle Symphony ticket package line-ups: Most of the ticket packages are named Masterworks nX where n is the number is the number of concerts in the package, and the letter indicates the variation. Ticket packages have been combined if they are identical save for the day of the week. For example, 7C and 7D are the same concerts; the only difference is that 7C is for Thursday nights, while 7D is for Saturday nights.

    This chart doesn't include concert series such as the Distinguished Artists series which share no concerts with any of the Masterworks concerts.

    Notes and changes:

    • The 7[AB], 7[CD], and 7[EF] concert series do not overlap, so you can create your own 14-concert series by taking any two of them, or recreate the 21-concert series by taking all three.
    • The 13-concert series is the same as the 7[CD] and 7[EF] series combined, minus the June 9 concert.
    • The non-Masterworks series line-up continues to be tweaked: Gone are the Mozart series and the The Sunday Untuxed short concerts for families. Two children's series were renamed but otherwise unchanged: Discover Music became Family Concerts, and Soundbridge Presents became Symphony Kids.
    • The long-time Wolfgang club, which targeted adults under age 40, and its accompanying series appear to be gone.
    • A Shakespeare-themed concert in April commemorates the 400th anniversary of his death.

    This is the first season of a two-season cycle of Beethoven symphonies and piano concerti. Although there are no ticket packages specifically for the Beethoven concerts, tickets are available individually so you can make your own festival.

  • The Old New Thing

    Staying cool is one of the skills of a corporate president


    Some time ago, there was a mechanical problem with the heating/cooling system in our part of the building, and one of the senior managers in our group took the opportunity to tell a story of a one-on-one skip-level meeting he had with Steve Sinofsky.

    I'm sitting there in my office with Steve, and there was something wrong with the HVAC, because as the meeting progresses, it gets warmer and warmer, and eventually I'm sitting there sweating profusely, not exactly making the best impression on our group president. Steve, on the other hand, appears to be completely unaffected. It's sweltering in my office, but he's cool as a cucumber.

    It can't be more than five minutes after the meeting is over before a team of technicians swarms into my office to figure out why the heating system has gone berzerk.

    Steve must've whipped out his phone as soon as he left, called the Facilities desk, and said "Dude, there's something seriously wrong with the heating system over in room 1234. It's like an oven in there. You need to check it out." And since the request came from a corporate president, it got dispatched with high priority.

  • The Old New Thing

    Another way to make sure nobody sends you feedback


    I wanted to report an issue about a problem with our building, let's say that the widget frobnicators were not working. I went to the internal Widget Frobnicators Web site, and it was very pretty, with an FAQ about the current supplier of widget frobnicators, where to look up more information about how the widget frobnicators work, how you can buy your own widget frobnicator for home use, and even how you can become a Widget Frobnicator Ambassador for your building. Widget Frobnicator Ambassadors receive additional information about widget frobnicators and get to participate in the widget frobnicator selection process, among other things.

    I didn't find a link on the Widget Frobnicator Web site that let me search for a Widget Frobnicator Ambassador in my building, or even a list of all Widget Frobnicator Ambassadors. However, I did find a link called Contact Us. Awesome. It is a mailto link addressed to the Widget Frobnicator Ambassadors distribution list.

    I composed a message explaining the problem I was observing and hit Send.

    The message was returned as undeliverable.

    "You do not have permission to send messages to this distribution list."

    Nice going, Widget Frobnicator team. Apparently you don't want to be contacted at all. Maybe it's a front for money laundering.

    (I was able to report the problem by other means, and it was resolved later that day, so everything worked out okay in the end, but as far as I can tell, the Widget Frobnicators Web site still provides no way for you to contact them.)

  • The Old New Thing

    Got errands? Now is the time


    This upcoming Sunday is the Super Bowl, the championship game for a sport played only in the United States.¹

    The entire country stops doing anything when the game is on. This makes it a perfect time to get out and run your errands, because the streets will be completely empty.

    Check out this traffic map at the kickoff of the 2014 Super Bowl. For fun, you can go backward in time in 10-minute increments and watch the traffic slowly die out as the start of the game approaches.

    If you're a photographer, it's a good time to go take pictures of public places, because they will all be deserted.

    It's also a good time to go to Costco, though you should wait until the game has started. It takes time for all the people getting last-minute party supplies to drain out.

    ¹ Well, Canada has their own variant. They're so cute, those Canadians.

    Bonus chatter: The American Football League of China is a real thing.

  • The Old New Thing

    Microspeak: landing (redux)


    In a meeting, my colleague Martyn Lovell said, "The plan is shifting and hasn't landed anywhere yet."

    This was generally understood to mean "The plan is shifting and the issue is not yet settled."

    I don't know if this is true Microspeak, or Martyn was just making up a little metaphor on the fly. But I filed it away anyway because of the interesting collision with another Microspeak use of the word landing.

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