Friday, March 20, 2015

San Francisco Has a Vibe

I love this city. There's a vibe here. I don't feel I can quite explain it in words, but this is one of the places on Earth which resonates with my soul. San Francisco. Like Seattle, Maui and Edinburgh, too. It's mysterious to me, but I somehow feel more alive when I am in one of these places. There's a combination of factors, the lighting, the atmosphere, the proximity to water, the hills and mountains, the typical weather, the aromas of the types of food around, the coffee, the bustle or complete lack thereof. Geographic love. The feeling of not wanting to go back. The desire for change of pace.

This trip, I got to re-connect with an old friend thanks to the simultaneously best and worst thing which has ever happened to mankind, this here beast you're reading this on: The Internet. It would have been extremely unlikely I think, for me to have taken the opportunity to reach out to a few of my old friends, to let them know I'd be here for a few days, without the advent of email and Twitter and Facebook.

Thankfully, however, I mentioned to two friends (and more) I'd be in SF to demo my company's work near a trade show. Andrew took me up on the invitation and came to see what I've been working on for the past two years. And I am so glad he took the time to come hang with me for an evening and grab some dinner. It was great to catch up in person after 20 or so years, and shoot the breeze about school days, friends, biking, work, kids. All the stuffs.

We talked about our kids, as parents are wont to do, and of course, the "best and worst thing" came up. How can you be a good parent if you allow unfettered, uncensored access to all the (disturbing, pornographic, senseless, racist, homophobic, myriad-other-pejorative-adjectives) bullshit available on all the servers Google crawls? Let alone just letting them connect with their own questionable peers on Facebook or its ilk. And yet, how can you be a good parent if you deny access to all the (wonderful, literate, scientific, artistic, factual, reasonable) content of the world wide web? And their own friends! The www both rules and drools at the very same time. Parenting is becoming more difficult as time goes on, because keeping our kids from knowing things "too soon" is harder than it used to be.

Used to be you could rely on the librarian to let you know if your kid was checking out (or even just checking out) a book of questionable morals... Now, there ain't no librarian between clicking the search button and instantly seeing the top 100 images on any topic 13 year olds can imagine. Access to knowledge is a great thing, but access to certain knowledge before you're ready for it is just not the best thing for kids sometimes. Parents: take good care of your babies, and help them figure it out when they are inevitably exposed too soon to something they weren't quite yet ready for.

Dinner dinner dinner. Ah, Thirsty Bear, my old friend. As I order my second beer, while he's still half done with his first, I'm reminded I can (fortunately? unfortunately?) handle more alcohol than my friends of Asian descent who weigh less than me. More sorry for them than anything really. ;-)

We talked about biking, and racing bikes, and commuting by bike. He far exceeds my own feeble attempts at bike commuting. My commute is flat and 10 miles one way. His is through the hills surrounding the San Francisco Bay Area and 25 or 30 miles one way. I do an average of 27 miles a week. He does 200. He races. I do not. But hey, I commute by bike 1 or 2 or 3 days a week, and I'm loving it. And he tells me "every ride is a good ride." I couldn't agree more.

And... since he works for Synaptics, I took the opportunity to ask him "why the fheck does my Dell trackpad suck, but my old MacBook Air trackpad rocked?" And, as it turns out, there's actually a reason for it. It's not just "all in my head." Most PC manufacturers still connect the trackpad via the old school PS2 mouse/keyboard hardware interface because they don't want to sacrifice a USB port to have a higher speed connection between the trackpad and the motherboard. But Apple, oh Apple, paragon of producing engineered consumer delight, once again trumps every other company on the planet by designing a custom interface from the trackpad itself to the board. Their higher speed interface allows them to produce the infinitely better experience of actually tracking my fingers across the trackpad accurately. I remember fondly the days when I could actually click and drag on my trackpad. Oh, to work on a MacBook again. What I wouldn't give.

As it turns out, my friend Andrew is listed as one of the inventors on something which Apple, somehow, mysteriously, after some of them saw a demo of it in action, "invented independently" very shortly thereafter. Or something like that. Wouldn't it be cool if you could have a touch-based trackpad, but like a clear one, so you could put it on top of an LCD screen and make, oh, I don't know, a touchscreen cell phone or tablet?

(Note the dates, and recall, if you will, the first iPhone went up for sale in 2007.)

Despite the obvious use of the patented technology, which, you know, could have been an independent simultaneous invention, Andrew tells me he's grateful every day for Apple and their iPhone explosion around the world. Since they won't sell their parts to anybody else, all the other cell phone manufacturers look to Synaptics to get their transparent touch screens for their phones, which turn out to have quite a high market demand these days... Thanks, in large measure, to Apple. Moral of this particular story: if Apple wants to steal something from you... Let them!

Last time I was here was about four years ago, in 2011. I attended Apple's WWDC that year, the last year Steve Jobs was alive and spoke to the conference attendees. I do hope I get to visit again sooner than four years from now. My honey's got a conference lined up out here for July. Hopefully I'll get to go with.

San Francisco has a vibe. It resonates with my very being. And I love it.