The coming Seattle-area traffic disaster?

Is there something that the Washington State Department of Transportation isn’t telling us?

Simultaneously, there are several large-scale transportation projects in planning or preparation stages: replacement of the 99 viaduct with a tunnel, replacement of the 520 bridge, and construction of the East Link of the light rail project. These projects individually would have significant impacts on traffic during their construction, however there will be many years of overlap between them which will cause a serious traffic nightmare. If you read the WSDOT pages, you don’t see any mention of any of these projects in relation to each other.

The legislature just approved tolling for the 520 bridge, this is a necessary and correct step. It will have the effect of diverting some traffic to 522 and I-90. At some point in the near future, construction will begin on the new 520 bridge further diverting traffic to the alternate routes.

The east link of the new light rail will run in the express lanes of I-90 removing two lanes of traffic in the peak directions. Currently, on many days, I-90 is stop and go even with these extra lanes. Diverting the current express lane traffic into the existing lanes (even with the additional proposed HOV lane in each direction) will already significantly slow down traffic on this corridor. Add to this the extra traffic diverted from 520 and I-90 will be a parking lot for several hours a day for many years.

I-90 feeds a significant amount of traffic to 99. When the viaduct is being replaced over several years, some amount of its traffic will be diverted to I-5. I-5 will also be getting additional traffic from cars diverting around 520 on 522. I-5 is already pretty bad, this will definitely make it ridiculous.

There are no definitive dates yet for a lot of these projects, but we’ll start seeing some of the first effects in the next few months. There doesn’t seem to be any real coordination going on around these projects or any acknowledgment on their cumulative effects to traffic in the short term from the state. If the duration of these projects were months or even a year, this would be somewhat reasonable. However, WSDOT estimates are for these projects to happen over the next 5-10 years. That isn’t reasonable for this to proceed without serious mitigation plans (even if they were to add significantly to the cost or the time lines).

Right now, it just seems like everything is up in the air so WSDOT isn’t addressing the potential issue. That makes it seem more like they just hope that no one notices…

An idle thought on date naming in the new millenium

Let us pretend that you have a yearly festival, Awesome Fest. You’ve been doing it forever. Awesome Fest ’87 was insane, this year’s Awesome Fest ’09 will be crazy.

What do you call next year’s Awesome Fest? Awesome Fest ’10 sounds weird to me. Don’t you need to start using he whole year for a while (eg. Awesome Fest 2010)?

Maybe we’ll come up with something new?

Just a random thought…

Bennett’s Pure Food Bistro

Bennett’s has an interesting concept (from their website):

At Bennett’s we are committed to serving pure, all natural, additive free food. You won’t find artificial preservatives, colors or sweeteners. No flavor enhancers, hydrogenated oils or processed foods. What you will find, are the freshest most authentic ingredients we can offer.

Most of our ingredients are deeply rooted in the Cascadia region – an area extending from northern California to southern Alaska, and the coast to the continental divide, taking in Washington, most of Oregon and Idaho and part of Montana

For the modern foodie, this is very attractive: Slow Food, sourced locally, organically grown. An interesting concept around the quality of the ingredients doesn’t make for an interesting restaurant, however, unless they can back it up with the quality of their cooking. Bennett’s, for the most part, delivers. Our party of four was unanimous on our appetizers and deserts, all quite good. The entrees themselves were somewhat less consistent. I had a razorclam linguine (razorclams being fresh and available that day). The linguine included some cooked greens that were flavorful, but overwhelmed the rest of the plate, the clams themselves contributed little to the dish. Also, it was served luke warm. The rest of my party was happy with their entrees, although the small portion sizes were commented on.

The one serious issue with Bennett’s is that it has a bit of an identity crisis. The environment feels like a nice family restaurant. It has a bar area that runs into the restaurant. On a Saturday night, there were as many families there as there were couples. The ceilings are high and the lights are bright. The room isn’t large, but in tone it feels more like the Five Spot than Rover’s, including the volume of the conversations in the room. This is not a bad thing in itself. As we were there with our infant daughter, it actually felt comfortable, like we didn’t need to worry about disturbing other patrons. The service isn’t formal, although it isn’t completely informal either. The food itself is more formal in presentation, portion-size and pricing. Our 3 course dinner for four including wine came to around $50 per person. So, you have formal food and prices and informal ambiance; hence, identity-crisis. I’m not the first to point this out, this is a consistent issue in their other reviews.

Based on the pricing and the quality of my entree, normally I would suggest avoiding Bennett’s; but I like their concept, and my other courses and the rest of my party’s meals convince me that I shouldn’t judge them too hastily. Another comparison worth making would be Tilth, their ideolical peer in Wallingford. I can’t make that comparison yet, but I hope to soon.

The question is “Is Bennett’s worth the trip?” I’d say, if you like Slow Food without the pretention and you have that kind of money to spend on a good meal (that isn’t a special event), yes. We will be returning. If our food is at least as good next time as it was this time, Bennett’s will certainly be added to our collection of eateries worth visiting.

Bennett's Pure Food Bistro on Urbanspoon

Update – April 18, 2009
We returned to Bennett’s for a brunch last weekend (and a second opinion). Again, I thought the food was a bit uneven: the french toast was amazing; the salmon benedict, less so, but not horrible. The breakfast prices were much more reasonable though, $8-$12 for an entree. The second opinion is about the same as the first. With the more reasonable prices, we will definitely return for brunch and will hope to find other dishes as awesome as the French Toast. We will probably return for another dinner as well, but I don’t know yet if this will become a regular occurrence. We’re still figuring this place out.

Joel Spolsky’s love letter to program management

Joel Spolsky wrote a love letter to program management on his blog. For the most part, it is a pretty reasoned and reasonable description of what a “good” program manager at Microsoft (and Fog Creek) is like. In my career at Microsoft, about 25% of the program managers fit that bill. The problem was that they had too many conflicting roles and required skillsets to be effective. At Microsoft, Program Managers are not only responsible to be user advocates, they are also responsible for functional specifications, user interfaces and schedules. A single person can’t be a user representative, a UI designer/interaction specialist, and a project manager. Combining them into a single role worked for Microsoft initially, but in the modern world each of these roles are full disciplines of their own.

Joel claims that PMs are partners with development and that developers have the upper hand over PMs because they write the code. This might have been true of Microsoft in Joel’s (and my) time, but as MS switched from being an engineering-driven company since Ballmer took over to a program management-driven one, it isn’t true any more. PMs took the upper hand because they had far too much control over the final look and feel of the product and could essentially name themselves the final arbiters. Development and QE were isolated from the customers. PMs dictated the features; meaningless meetings and committees abounded and the products suffered (every MS product in the last 8 years for example).

How to be a program manager – Joel on Software

Writing a functional specification is at the very heart of agile development, because it lets you iterate rapidly over many possible designs before you write code. Compared to code, a written spec is trivial to change. The very act of writing a specification forces you to think through the design you thought you had in your head, and helps you see the flaws in it quickly so that you can iterate and try more designs. Teams that use functional specifications have better designed products, because they had the opportunity to explore more possible solutions quickly. They also write code faster, because they have a clearer picture when they start of what’s going to be needed.

This claim is just wrong, or rather, doing this in the large scale is just wrong. I’ve worked under that system at Microsoft for years and I never saw it be very successful in practice. Maybe for a small part of a product, or a small iteration in a larger cycle it might work; but at the product level it is nearly always a bust. Why? Because you will not anticipate everything in your functional specs. Ever. A competing product will be released with better features. Flange A will not fit Bracket B. User testing will hand you your hat. Beta testers will tell you that it wasn’t really what they needed. And then you are back to the drawing board. Except you are two-thirds of the way through the cycle because you spent a huge amount of time iterating over the spec and then building to that spec. Now everything is screwed up, but QE needs to start testing to the spec RIGHT NOW. So what do you do? You hack. The spec goes out the window and development codes for dear life while program management throws out ideas and changes like pieces of spaghetti against the wall. At the end of the cycle you have a tarball mess of code with incongrous, hacked, features that came crashing onto the deck of the carrier and just caught the last wire. Watefall development is resistant to change, agile development embraces it. Change happens faster in our industry every year, why lock your developers into software methodologies from the 70s?

Is there a role for Program Management? Absolutely. Not for the Microsoft-style Program Manager, but certainly for the jobs that the Microsoft Program Manager has. UI design and look and feel is best managed by professional user interaction specialists working with a project manager and development. The project manager can also be the primary representative of the client, but not the sole conduit. One of the primary jobs of QE is to be a user representative. Isolating development from the users just means that they don’t understand why they are doing what they do. Isolating QE from the users mean that they can’t represent a user of a product in their testing. The Program Manager can also work with development and QE to manage the schedule.

My experience with great program mangers post-Microsoft are folks that coordinate across all the functional groups to make sure that development has what they need, QE understands the user, experience design is delivering on time and all the clients are feeling well represented. In this view, the program manager acts as a lynchpin connecting development, QE and XD to their customers. Do they set the schedule? no. Do they write the specs? Maybe (in a non-agile team, working with the other groups). Is that less fun for the program manager? Maybe, but it produces much better products in my experience.

schadenfreude

today on twitter

kevingoldsmith: I am unreasonably proud of the fact that I just spelled “schadenfreude” correctly without looking it up.

jimhong: @KevinGoldsmith It makes me happy that you were concerned enough that you thought you might have to look it up….. ;-D

kevingoldsmith: @jimhong My style of spelling is to spell it however and let outlook tell me what I messed up, I was expecting squiggles

jimhong: @KevinGoldsmith I guess my attempt @ schadenfreude fell a bit short just now… 😉

kevingoldsmith: @jimhong and I take great pleasure in that! PWN3D!

In retrospect, I think the PWN3D was unncessary. A simple FTW might have surficed.

Creative Destruction in the Newspaper Industry

I saw two things today that somehow connected in my mind. The first was an advert for scholarships for computer programmers to Northwestern’s journalism school (link):
Are you a skilled programmer or Web developer? Are you interested in applying your talents to the challenge of creating a better-informed society? Do you want to learn how to find, analyze and present socially relevant information that engages media audiences? Do you see possibilities for applying technology as a way to connect people and information on the Web or new delivery platforms?

The second item was the announcement that one of Seattle’s two major daily newspapers is up for sale and that it will probably cease as a printed paper no matter what happens:
For sale: The P-I

There are a few things to think about here. A simple one is that the printed newspaper as a product is obviously headed for oblivion. The web is far superior at news delivery, especially extended coverage of breaking news (television isn’t good at the “extended” part). Even the bad part of electronically delivered news (reading off a computer screen) has solutions on the near term horizon (e-book readers). You could say that the journalism school is ahead of the game here, looking to turn programmers into journalists who “get” the future of journalism.

I wonder why anyone would be looking to journalism as a second career at this point though. I can understand that the current upheaval in the computer industry would make a career change attractive, but what we got going in IT ain’t nothin’ compared to the outright carnage happening in journalism.

There is an open question about what is the future of journalism: is it trained journalists researching stories or is it bloggers and “citizen journalists” doing it on their own? I’ve never been one to think that interested amateurs can completely replace experienced professional writers, and I still feel that way. The big stories require real journalists, sniffing out the stories over long periods of time and really getting to the bottom of the issues. However, 95% of professional journalism isn’t that. It’s coverage of city council meetings and the daily reportage that some people care a lot about, some people care a little about and the rest of the people care very little about. Those kinds of things are perfect for the interested and excited amateurs and it is that where the blogging community has been eating away at the journalism community. Without young reporters getting their start on that daily grind kind of stuff, however, I’m not sure how folks become the in-depth-extended-research kinds of reporters.

I honestly don’t think that the future of journalism is going to come from the programmers (even those with masters degrees in journalism). I think it is going to come from the thousands of laid-off reporters being released into the world. I hope that many will start to explore the possibilities and I expect at least one will end up changing what journalism is as we know it.