Author Archives: Andy Davidson

Seafair is coming!

ACM13256_1_3For those who haven’t been in Seattle in August, know ye that the first weekend in August is the annual Seafair event:

Depending on your interests, this could either be a great weekend to head out to Lake Washington or else a great time to hightail it very far out of town.

The signature events in Seafair are the air show and the hydroplane boat races, both centered on the lake. They are very loud. Loud, as in forget about concentrating on anything else if you are within 15 miles of them kind of loud.

This is a big deal for the hometown of Boeing. OK, Boeing moved their corporate headquarters to Illinois some years ago, which technically means Seattle is not its home town anymore, which is a very sore point for long-time Puget Sound people. But anyway…

The air show features the US Navy’s Blue Angels (all Boeing fighter jets, of course) doing their famous aerobatic flying maneuvers over the I-90 bridge on Lake Washington. Since they go kind of fast, it takes them most of King County to make a u-turn, so they are basically strafing the entire Seattle metro area during these shows. They stay sub-sonic, but it’s still pretty damn fast and they fly about 50 feet over the houses near the lake. OK, there was that one year when they made a small oops and launched a few sonic booms right over Madrona Park, but that was totally just because of some fog inversion thing. Or something like that.

I confess to having a perverse fascination with these beasts, even though they are burning about half of Saudi Arabia’s supply of jet fuel in four days here. Amazing engineering and flying. They close the I-90 bridge between Seattle and Mercer Island during the events and you can walk or bike out on to the bridge to watch the fun (and breathe those fumes) up close. Last year, with all of the budget fracas in Congress, they canceled this taxpayer-funded bread and circus show, but it seems now that we’ve forgotten about (I mean, resolved) the budget crisis, they’ll be back.

The hydroplane races are basically like the Indy 500, but on water. Personally, I can see no redeeming value whatsoever in this event — boats zooming around the lake at ridiculous speeds in endless circles? And since that takes place about 1/2 mile from where I live, it’s really fun.

I know there is skill involved in this, but it’s not six fighter jets zooming towards each other from six different points of the compass 30 miles away at 700 miles per hour all converging precisely over the center of the bridge at exactly the same instant and then pulling up and going straight up in the air a mile or two and looping around in a fleur-de-lis pattern and re-converging at the same spot over the bridge, about ten feet above the water with white contrails streaming.

That’s a little different kind of skill, in my opinion.

These two events are on Saturday and Sunday, but they both have practice runs starting on Thursday, so it’s four days of fun and noise.

Enjoy or ignore (if you can)!

The Joy of Making

Limor Fried, founder and CEO of Adafruit, on the Joy of Making:


click to play YouTube video:

This video is part of “Made with Code,” a Google initiative to “champion creativity, girls, and code.” It aims to inspire and engage girls to try coding, and to sustain their interest in it.

The problem of gender imbalance in technology fields is well-known. Whether initiatives like this can address them remains to be seen.

Reflections Hall of Fame

As a final assignment in most of my classes, I ask students to write a short reflection about their experience and learning in the course. This is nominally a 300–500 word essay, given a few specific prompts about what they accomplished and learned, challenges and surprises they experienced during the course, and how they might make use of what they learned in the future.

Every quarter, I offer the option to apply some creativity in a media-rich version of the same reflection, as long as it satisfies the prompts. Some students always take that option, even though it is undoubtedly more work for them. 

I have accumulated some of my favorite of these alternative reflections and am delighted to show them off in my Reflections Hall of Fame.

The State of Writing


Who knows? It was in the NY Times article by Carr…

I am officially declaring myself a curmudgeonly old fart after reading two articles about the state of writing in our society in the age of rampant social media.

I confess that although I make my living using, embracing, designing for, and teaching about technology, it’s a bit of a love-hate relationship at times.

I read two newspapers every morning, both of which are delivered reliably to my front door on newsprint by someone in a car whom I have never met. I like my magazines in print, and I read lots of books, most of which I check out from the library.

I’m not a Luddite; I embrace online media and even some social media — the latter not nearly as much as my younger colleagues and students, I confess.

But I despair at the seeming, and unseemly, dumbing-down of our culture that comes from the supposed wisdom of the crowd. Granted, there are some wonderful advances and benefits to our culture that come from harnessing the power of the online crowds. Some of my HCDE colleagues are exemplary in developing and leading those efforts.

But when it comes to writing, both for art and journalism, I’m not sure that it’s all for the better.

The business forces at work in these industries are being increasingly driven by the need to appeal to greater numbers of “users,” as they are called now, not even “readers.” That seems to pull the writing down to a lowest common denominator. Authors must develop their “content” (no longer called “work”) with that in mind in order to gain audience share.



Two articles in today’s New York Times (read at the breakfast table) made me very depressed, even with un buon caffè all’italiana.

David Carr’s piece, “Risks Abound as Reporters Play in Traffic” (NY Times, March 23, 2014), reports on how a number of news organizations are incorporating “pay-for-click” models to compensate their journalists. He concludes that: 

Now that metrics are part of the news agenda, all of the sticks are in the air. Just because something is popular does not make it worthy, but ignoring audience engagement is a sure route to irrelevance.

He ends the piece, dripping in irony, with this about the cat photo above:

I’m happy to let the things I write stand on their own merit, and I only include the picture of this cat because it feels germane and somehow important.


James Best Jr. / NY Times

But perhaps even more depressing is another article, which occupied about 50% of the same physical page in the print edition: “Web Fiction, Serialized and Social” (NY Times, March 23, 2014). In this piece, David Streitfeld reports on how an app called “Wattpad” is changing the way fiction is written.

This is all about “fan fiction,” not serious literature, of course. But as an avid reader of contemporary literary fiction, it just made me so sad. I suppose it is the online equivalent of supermarket checkout line paperbacks, and I shouldn’t worry about it. And yet if this is what will drive the business of writing in the future, how will serious literature survive? Streitfeld says:

This is writing reimagined for a mobile world, where attention is fragmentary.

I suppose that is the way the world is going, but I can’t say it makes me want to curl up on the couch with it.

Friday Satire

In a fantastic piece of satire about extreme political “discourse,” Seattle’s The Stranger takes a gleeful poke at their own favorite Socialist City Council member Kshama Sawant in this brilliant “Ask Me Whatever You Want” column.

Greg HampikianOn a more serious note, in another piece of excellent commentary, Boise State Professor of Biology and Criminal Justice Greg Hampikian skewers a recent decision by the Idaho State Legislature to allow guns on Idaho college campuses in this NY Times Op-Ed column: “When May I Shoot a Student?.”

Computer science is a liberal art


Steve Jobs on Computer Science –

“Computer science is a liberal art.” — Steve Jobs

I have heard it argued that in this century, in our society, knowing how to use a computer without understanding how to program one is akin to knowing how to read but not write in the last century.

I don’t think we are at the point yet where computational thinking is a liberal art, but in the meantime, is doing important work towards reaching that goal. Read about the Hour of Code here: Get involved!

The myth of multitasking

Clifford Nass

Photo by Linda Cicero, Stanford News Service (via NY Times)

Clifford Nass, the Stanford professor and researcher who was a pioneer in HCI studies, died last week.

Dr. Nass studied how people dealt with new technologies. He was widely known for his 2009 study of multitasking, in which he demonstrated that people who are constantly juggling many tasks simultaneously are actually terrible at doing that. Conventional wisdom held that these multitaskers, having grown up with rapid advances in technology that made constant task switching second nature, would be highly skilled at switching from task to task.

In fact, the evidence demonstrated just the opposite: people are actually not good at that, despite believing that they are.