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Mónica Guzmán

Stories at the intersection of tech and life from a boldly connected city.

Category: Seattle
December 14, 2013 at 8:01 PM

Catching up with earlier glimpses of a tech year

Adam Baggett, Adam Wygle, Bryan Zug, Sara McNally and Scott Berkun (crouched) show off We Make Seattle coasters at Pioneer Square letterpress shop Constellation & Co. Thursday, the morning after their project to create a film celebrating Seattle was funded on Kickstarter. (Mónica Guzmán / Seattle Times)

Adam Baggett, Adam Wygle, Bryan Zug, Sara McNally and Scott Berkun (crouched) show off We Make Seattle coasters at Pioneer Square letterpress shop Constellation & Co. Thursday, the morning after their project to create a film celebrating Seattle was funded on Kickstarter. (Mónica Guzmán / Seattle Times)

Tech never stops. As we near the end of 2013, I thought I’d give you an update on some of the stories and habits we talked about this year.

Are you “showrooming”?

“It makes you feel kind of used,” Patti Harriman of Ravenna Third Place Books told me in May about showrooming. That’s the term for a behavior that’s putting local businesses at risk — finding something you want at a store but ordering it from someone else online, usually for less money, and sometimes right there, right from your smartphone.

It presents a conundrum: Do you buy a product at the best price, hurting the store, or do you buy from the store, hurting your wallet?

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Comments | More in Books, Column, Habits, Reactions & Resources, Retail, Seattle

November 24, 2013 at 12:46 AM

Seattle contestants go wild for world’s largest media scavenger hunt

Joy Scott and Kat Selvocki stage a chance meeting at Seattle Center for item #61 of GISHWHES 2013, the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen, in August. Their team, the Vatican Cameos, ranked in the top 10 last year. This was item #61: C.S. Lewis once said, "Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You, too? I thought I was the only one!" Take a picture capturing this exact moment. (Courtesy Vatican Cameos)

Joy Scott and Kat Selvocki stage a costumed chance meeting at Seattle Center for item #61 of GISHWHES, the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen, in August. Their team, the Vatican Cameos, ranked in the top 10 last year. (Courtesy Vatican Cameos). Photo gallery.

Jesse Mazur, a colleague of GISHWHES team member H.B. Siegel, folds clothes in his Storm Trooper costume for item #5 at Ballard's Lunar Laundry. (Courtesy Vatican Cameos)

Jesse Mazur, a colleague of GISHWHES team member H.B. Siegel, folds laundry in his Storm Trooper costume for item #5. (Courtesy Vatican Cameos) Photo gallery.

Update: They did it! They won! Congrats, Vatican Cameos! More on the win here…

If you had walked by Rachael Vaughn’s office at Microsoft on any of three days in August, you might have been confused by the away message on her whiteboard:

“OOF for GISHWHES!”

“OOF” is “out of office.” GISHWHES, pronounced “gish-wes,” is the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen. Yes, it’s a real thing and, yes, Vaughn, an attorney specializing in intellectual-property law, took most of a week off work to do it.

Oh, where to begin.

There was the seated Japanese tea ceremony in the elevator of the apartment building on 12th and Jefferson. The nun who swung from a rope into a river outside Vancouver, B.C.

There was the robot barista who served customers at a San Diego Starbucks, the storm trooper who folded clothes at Ballard’s Lunar Laundry, the woman who collected signatures to “pave all of California’s beaches so we don’t have to get all sandy to go swimming” and that time the guard waved Vaughn into the University of Washington’s Center for Experimental Nuclear Physics and Astrophysics, because she wasn’t the first person that day to show up in a Flash costume and ask to pose with the particle accelerator.

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Comments | More in Art, Column, Entertainment, Seattle

November 16, 2013 at 10:28 PM

Scarecrow Video: How an endangered Seattle icon could win you back

Matt Lynch of Scarecrow Video on Roosevelt. Scarecrow’s video inventory is over 100,000. (GREG GILBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES)

Matt Lynch of Scarecrow Video on Roosevelt. Scarecrow’s video inventory is over 100,000. (GREG GILBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES)

"We don't need to be a viewer's only or even main source of movies, but we feel what we offer can more than comfortably coexist with streaming," Lynch wrote in an email. "It's just that people have forgotten us or don't understand what they're giving up by letting us go."

REWIND YOUR WAYS: “What we offer can more than comfortably coexist with streaming,” Lynch said. “It’s just that people have forgotten us or don’t understand what they’re giving up by letting us go.”

I hadn’t given any thought to Scarecrow Video in months, maybe years, when I heard the news a couple weeks ago.

As you’d expect, Seattle’s world-famous video store is in trouble. Rentals have dropped 40 percent in six years, despite efforts to draw people in with coffee, beer, screenings, all kinds of deals and even bar trivia, and owners are wondering if it’s time to fade to black.

The culprit, of course, is change. Video-store rentals hit their peak, $8.5 billion, in 2001. Last year, we spent as much on those rentals as we did in 1984, a measly $1.2 billion, according to analyst IHS.

Blockbuster Video, founded in 1985, operated 1,700 stores when the company filed for bankruptcy in 2010. This month, parent company Dish Network said it would close the 300 remaining company-owned Blockbuster stores next year.

Scarecrow owners Carl Tostevin and Mickey McDonough put out a call for help in October. Scarecrow is no Blockbuster; it has collected 118,000 titles and a lot of love. The store’s fans will step it up. Supporters of independent businesses will stop in on principle.

But what about the rest of us? I’ve done nothing but rent or stream from Netflix, Amazon.com, Hulu or iTunes for years. Same with most of my friends. I’d love for Scarecrow to stick around, but online convenience rules. Is there something I’m missing?

I went in last week to find out.

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Comments | More in Art, Column, Disruption, Entertainment, Habits, Seattle

October 26, 2013 at 8:01 PM

E-bike enthusiasts spread the gospel of extra power, one pedal at a time

MadBoy E-Bike geeks Maggie Groves and Dan deCordova with their electric pedicab. (Photo by Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times)

MadBoy E-Bike geeks Maggie Groves and Dan deCordova with their electric pedicab. (Photo by Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times)

They seem to fit the profile of new tech that takes off: They make a popular activity faster and easier, and they’re green, to boot.

So why aren’t electric bicycles all over Seattle’s streets?

“Sixty percent of the people who come in here say some version of, ‘I had no idea these things existed,’ ” Daniel deCordova told me last week. We were at MadBoy Electric Vehicles, his shop in Sodo, surrounded by bicycles that do things bicycles don’t do.

Next time you see someone pedaling up a steep hill as if it’s nothing, take a look at the machine. See a round bulge at the center of one wheel? That’s a motor. The thick bar over the back wheel or hooked to the frame? That’s a battery. The e-bike might have a throttle, a display — even, in some models, a key ignition. The rider can pedal a lot, or just a little. It’s not up to physics. It’s up to the rider.

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October 12, 2013 at 8:00 PM

Buried in digital photos? Organizers to the rescue

Molly Bullard teaches the basics of photo organizing to a free class hosted by the Microsoft Store in University Village Wednesday night. (MÓNICA GUZMÁN / SEATTLE TIMES)

Molly Bullard teaches the basics of photo organizing to a free class hosted by the Microsoft Store in University Village Wednesday night. (MÓNICA GUZMÁN / THE SEATTLE TIMES)

At the back of the University Village Microsoft Store last Wednesday, Molly Bullard was teaching a class to seven eager people.

Brian Daniel inherited 40 photo albums when his mother passed away. Gene and Karen Smith have 30 27-gallon tubs of print photos to transfer to a hard drive. Gretchen Sill, who came with her mother, brought her laptop PC and her husband’s MacBook Pro. Both were stuffed with digital images, many of their 2-year-old son.

Bullard, 43, is a full-time photo organizer.

“If you feel you don’t know where to start, you’re not alone,” she told the class. “Everything’s not getting easier. It’s getting harder.”
It’s getting bigger, too. Humans took an estimated 86 billion photos in 2000. In 2012, we took more than 380 billion, all but a fraction of them with digital devices.

I’d go into my external hard drive to tell you how many pictures we have stored in there, but I can’t get up the nerve. That drive is a disaster — unsure, slow to load, a mess of folders with inconsistent titles. I have no idea what’s what. I get anxious just thinking about it.

We’re drowning in photos. And we need help.

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Comments | More in Column, Family, Habits, Nostalgia, Seattle

October 5, 2013 at 8:52 PM

The Age of Context: When technologies understand us, will we understand them?

Author, blogger and tech enthusiast Robert Scoble answers questions about his book while sporting Google Glass over his glasses at a gathering of techies in South Lake Union Wednesday. (MONICA GUZMAN / SEATTLE TIMES)

Author, blogger and tech enthusiast Robert Scoble answers questions about his book while sporting Google Glass over his glasses at a gathering of techies in South Lake Union Wednesday. (MONICA GUZMAN / SEATTLE TIMES)

Clothing stores that know what you like. Self-driving cars that know where you’re going. Sensors that warn you’ll have a heart attack days before you have it. Bars that serve your favorite drink minutes before you sit down.

This isn’t fantasy. It’s the future.

It’s described in “The Age of Context,” the second book by tech enthusiast and former Microsoft evangelist Robert Scoble and business journalist Shel Israel. The book is a parade of newborn technologies and an analysis of trends in mobile, social media, data, sensors and location technology that all lead to one compelling conclusion: The world we’re headed to is a world that knows us. One where commerce, transportation, health care, service and learning are transformed by technologies smart enough to not just meet our needs but anticipate them. It’s a world where we are safer, stronger and more powerful than we ever dreamed.

But there’s a cost: For the world to open up to you, you have to open up to the world. You have to share more and more of all those trackable, quantifiable behaviors we’ve come to call your personal data.

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Comments | More in Column, Disruption, Mobile, Seattle, Tech Devotion

September 28, 2013 at 8:00 PM

4,000 and counting: The handwritten letters of Shoreline’s Charles Morrison

Teacher Charles Morrison pens letters from the back yard of his Shoreline home every day of the year. (GREG GILBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES)

Teacher Charles Morrison pens letters from the back yard of his Shoreline home every day of the year. (GREG GILBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES)

When was the last time you wrote a letter?

Charles Morrison will write four today. He wrote four yesterday. And the day before that. And the day before that. All told he’s penned 4,000 letters to about 110 people in the past 11 years, hardly ever missing a day. They’re nothing grand. Just “letters by a guy of modest intelligence who likes to write,” as the 71-year-old put it. He mailed 150 of them at his Shoreline post office two weeks ago. Each was written with one of 36 calligraphy pens, and each is about something completely different.

I have no idea when I wrote my last letter. I told Morrison as much at Caffe Umbria in Pioneer Square last week. Most of the people walking by on Occidental Avenue South, I guessed out loud, probably wouldn’t know either.

Morrison laughed.

“It’s so easy to get information, give information, dash off an email. The very ease of it makes it so convenient,” he said.

“Convenient,” he added, is not one of his favorite words.

“When everything needs to be convenient, you lose sight of the process, how important the process is,” he said. “It’s just: Get it done.”

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Comments | More in Art, Column, Education, Nostalgia, Seattle, Social

September 21, 2013 at 9:13 PM

Seattle designer turns century old inscription into new digital font

Andrea Leksen, freelance graphic designer and adjunct professor at Seattle Pacific University, is now selling her recently created typeface “Bemis.” (LINDSEY WASSON / THE SEATTLE TIMES)

Andrea Leksen, freelance graphic designer and adjunct professor at Seattle Pacific University, is now selling her recently created typeface “Bemis.” (LINDSEY WASSON / THE SEATTLE TIMES)

The five capital letters are 96 years old. They’re embossed on terra cotta panels mortared into brick on the north face of the historic Bemis building in Sodo, and they’re beautiful. Almost regal.

Andrea Leksen just turned them into a font.

The embossed letters on the Bemis building in Sodo inspired Seattle designer Andrea Leksen to develop the Bemis typeface. (Photo: Andrea Leksen)

The old Bemis building in SODO inspired freelance designer Andrea Leksen’s new font. (Photo: Andrea Leksen)

The 249 letters, numbers and characters in the all-caps Bemis typeface took Leksen, a freelance designer and an adjunct professor at Seattle Pacific University, a year and a half to complete. Bemis is the first typeface she’s ever put up for sale; it was the No. 39 “hot font” on online marketplace myfonts.com Friday. It’s also what’s known as a font “revival,” script from a nondigital past made a part of our technological present.

The Bemis font grew out of a classroom assignment: Draft a font from something old you see in Seattle, Leksen told her Applied Type students last year, then joined them in the hunt.

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September 14, 2013 at 7:36 PM

Still texting while driving? What it’s going to take to make us stop

A Washington woman texts while she drives. Image from video captured by Dr. Beth Ebel's field study of cell phone use from behind the wheel.

A Washington woman texts while she drives. Image from video captured by Dr. Beth Ebel’s field study of cell phone use from behind the wheel.

They weren’t police, but when Beth Ebel and her team of investigators walked up and down intersections in six major counties this year, peering into car windows to count how many drivers were using their phones, some drivers dropped them. Hid them. Pretended they’d never held them.

“We in public health have this fallacy that if we tell people why they shouldn’t do things, they won’t do them,” said Ebel, a trauma doctor and director of the Injury Prevention and Research Center at Harborview Medical Center. “We’ve got to stop that.”

Today, 97.5 percent of the state’s drivers wear seat belts. When Ebel began doing research on seat-belt use in 2001, 83 percent did. One lesson from that hard-won battle: Statistics about risk and death are why we care about a problem. They’re not how we’re going to fix it.

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