Greenwood a few days after the explosion

Early on Wednesday morning of this week, my Seattle neighborhood was rocked by a large natural gas explosion which destroyed three local businesses and damaged many other buildings.  This happened at the center of the neighborhood commercial district — a place I go every day.  For these three businesses:  Mr Gyros, Neptune Coffee and Greenwood Quickstop, the destruction was total.

I’d always hear about the change in human and community behavior after a disaster — perhaps most famously in New York after 911 … and while this is surely no 911 (nine firefighters sustained injuries, no one died) I’ve observed the same sort of phenomenon here in our little neighborhood.  More strangers talked to me this week than every before.  People gave money to support the destroyed businesses and employees.  Drank beer to raise money.  Gave more money.  Some school kids at Greenwood Elementary formed themselves into the shape of a heart that was seen by the news helicopters hanging overhead all week.  Here are a few images of what the neighborhood looked like today, two days later, as cleanup began:


Greenwood a few days after the explosion

Coding in prison: Clallam Bay and UnLoop

On Monday I was privileged to join group of technology volunteers to spend the day at Clallam Bay Corrections Center in rural Washington State.  The trip was part of a program sponsored by UnLoop, an organization here in Seattle on a mission to build a pipeline of talent from prison to tech. It makes sense in the abstract right?  There’s a huge unmet labor demand in the technology industry.  At the  same time, we live in a country with almost unbelievable levels of incarceration.

Clallam Bay
Prison is the opposite of an abstraction.  To enter Clallam Bay, our group passed through no less than nine electronically controlled doors. We left the internet, mobile devices, the cloud, social networks and our own complicated virtual lives behind.

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Calibrating the robot
The workshop led by UnLoop was designed as an introduction to programming for students who had never coded before. By that measure, it was clearly a success — coding happened … lots of it.  We divided up into small groups, each a mixture of volunteers and participants from the inside, and hacked away at moving around little robots.  The time sped by.

But for me there was more to it.  While I’d heard about the prison’s programming class before the trip, but what I wasn’t prepared for was meeting its senior students.  These were folks who had spent a year or two of their lives learning to code. Several men had written complex video games from scratch.  Some had mastered non-easy languages like C and C++, and were moving on to C#.  Several had learned entire web stacks without the benefit of Google, Stack Overflow or anything else.

I met several developers inside who — incarceration aside — could walk in to most technology interviews in Seattle and end up getting a fair, stable job offer.  Right now this is clearly still a dream — the barriers to employment are serious and many.  But at least from the industry side, they are artificial.

I went to prison carrying nothing but emerged with a new burden, a new vision.  To build a prison-to-tech pipeline, we need only start judging developers by their ability and desire, and not just their history of incarceration.  We need rational strategies and perhaps new enterprises to build willingness, ensure security and  encourage stability.  We need to do all of this because it’s right and just — this is a problem, and we can solve it.

Most problems are opportunities.  And there a few greater opportunities than an artificially under-utilized resource.  The results of allowing incarcerated or formerly-incarcertaed developers to do what they were clearly put on this planet to do will be not only good, but profitable —  in every sense of that word.   More justice, more stability, less recidivism.  More innovation, more utility, more dedication and yes more profit.

Want to go to prison and see for yourself?  Contact UnLoop.

Coding in prison: Clallam Bay and UnLoop

Mania: a short reading list

My family is no stranger to mania.  It’s killed or threatened at least one of us in the last three generations, and along with a corresponding (and perhaps causally related) tendency towards addiction of various flavors, it’s ruined and altered lives, both of those it has directly affected, and those who have had to live along side the manics of our strange clan.  Here are a few books related (some tangentially, most directly) to mania and its causes.  Each has helped me understand this disease from a slightly different angle.

Kay Jamison, a psychiatrist, found herself descending into mania and depression.  An Unquiet Mind is her story.
Marbles:  Ellen Furney’s amazing graphic novel about her journey with depression and mania.
While the City Slept, Eli Sanders’ book about the murder of Teresa Butz and the undiagnosed wasted life of her killer, Isaiah Kalebu
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Playing the Manic game — it’s an academic paper, but it’s a must read for anyone who loves someone with mania.



Mania: a short reading list

Seattle 10th and Pine February night


I love my city.  I took this photo in the Pike/Pine part of Capitol Hill in Seattle just the other night.  Pike/Pine has become an infamous hive of gentrification these last several years.  It’s pretty much the familiar story — a place that used to house artists, fringe theaters and dingy coffee shops but now serves evermore as a playground for young techies with way too much money and not enough experience.  I took the photo just after passing a huge mob of people outside a club.  Turns out some local guy was playing inside — probably an unannounced gig.  This happens sometimes in Seattle:  we have just enough local bigwigs that some artist-of-national-note will sometimes show up in a medium sized or smaller club and play an impromptu date.  But whatever.  I’m not a huge popular music fan (Same Love aside, I can’t keep it all straight in my own head, and besides most of it is terrible music) but I am a fan of scenes like this:  big mobs of people on the sidewalk … hot-dog man setup in their midst, rain coming down, cold-but-not-freezing.  And by the way, hot dogs in Seattle look like this:

Cream cheese is the Seattle Way
Seattle 10th and Pine February night