Seattle vs. Silicon Valley sillyness

Seattle from near Amazon's headquarters

Ahh, there’s a big debate about which is better, Seattle or Silicon Valley.

There are things to like about both (I’ve lived in both places).

But for me there’s no option: I couldn’t do what I do anywhere else in the world than here (the range and diversity of tech companies is a lot greater here than in Seattle).

Luckily Seattle is only a couple of hours away from here so I can get the best of both worlds.

One thing you shouldn’t miss is the amount of building that Microsoft is doing. Microsoft’s campus is absolutely huge now and getting much bigger. Nothing like it in Silicon Valley. Oh, and the Boeing factory tour is a not to be missed thing. It’s amazing how they build airplanes there.

Are you breathing while emailing or Twittering?

Linda Stone, continuous partial attention researcher

Linda Stone is a former executive who worked at Apple and Microsoft. Has been doing all sorts of research over the years and is probably most famous for coming up with the term “continuous partial attention.” Which, basically, explains our behavior while using Twitter.

Lately she’s been writing about a new problem she noticed: email apnea.

Today we met up where she told me more about her observations on this topic (that’s her in the picture above).

What is it?

Well, she noticed that most people stop breathing when doing email. She explained to me today that that behavior is fascinating her and that she’s theorizing that it causes stress, among other things.

I’m noticing that I stop breathing when blogging. How about you?

She suggested a few things to try.

1. Change your posture. She said that people who compute while standing up breathe more often.
2. Get exercise. She said that those who exercise seem to breathe better in stressful situations.
3. Be aware and check in with yourself to see if you’re breathing normally. She said there are some devices coming soon where you can play a game with yourself to keep your breathing up to a normal rate.

She is now writing for the Huffington Post and in her post about email apnea rambled out a bunch of bad things that can happen to you due to not breathing well.

This is one reason why I made it my life goal to have an interesting conversation every day with someone smart. If I hadn’t made time for Linda I probably would never have thought about this or known about it.

So, are you breathing deeply right now?

Microsoft's cool new research building, a photostory

Microsoft Research

Yesterday Kevin Schofield, blog here, general manager of Microsoft Research, invited Rocky and me over to tour Microsof’s cool new research building which opened three months ago. Building 99. We’ll have a video of this tour up on March 3, as part of the opening of

Kevin Schofield at Microsoft Research

I uploaded a ton of photos, here’s a few of the key notes and photos I made (which are, as always, in the Public Domain so you can do whatever you want with them without giving me credit or money):

Wide open spaces

It feels completely different from any other Microsoft building I’ve ever been in. Has a huge atrium with a coffee shop in it. The atrium has a huge projector and sound system, so they can hold speeches there, or show movies or do other presentations. I think they could get a good wedding business going. Wouldn’t it be cool to say you got married at MIcrosoft Research? I think so!


The building was built with the help of the researchers themselves. One thing they wanted? Tons of collaboration spaces where they could meet, along with surfaces they could write things on. Here’s some equations that were on one such collaboration area. I asked if the shipping date for the next Xbox was up on the whiteboard somewhere and was told that these walls were done by the cryptography group, so it’s quite possible that the shipping date is in code on these walls. A little geek humor.

Andy Wilson, researcher at Microsoft

Andy Wilson, who was the guy who built the prototypes that became Microsoft Surface, the table-top device that you interact with by touching the surface, showed me around his lab. He said he was a lot happier in the new building because he finally had room for all the weird stuff he’s been collecting. Here he hides behind one of the “Minority Report” holographic screens that he’s been playing with.

This conference room is mine!

Each conference room had a little computer in front of it. Want to know if the room is open to use? Just check. Or sign up. It hooks into Microsoft’s Exchange server so other people who are at their desks can see the room is taken.

Anechoic chamber at Microsoft Research, Phil Chou

Microsoft Research is doing a lot of research where they need a completely quiet room, so they built one. Called an anechoic chamber this thing was so quiet I could hear my heart beating. Here Phil Chou gives us a tour and talks to us about the research that he’s doing (which led to a new kind of conferencing system, called RoundTable, which shows video of the person who is speaking around a conference table).

Microsoft Research

The floor is actually elevated so all networking, and air control can be put underneath. The carpet isn’t actually one solid piece, but rather is tiled so that each piece can be lifted off and things underneath can be reconfigured. Kevin said that if a researcher is bothered by the location of the air vent in her office she could have it moved to some other location. He also said that all the interior walls were moveable. So, if a group wanted to change its space they could do so without costing Microsoft a lot of money in rebuilding costs.

Parking is available!

The parking garage tells you what floors have spaces available so you don’t waste time looking.

Lots of book cases

Instead of wasting lots of room building bigger offices so that researchers could have space for book collections, they built book cases into the hallways. That serves to make the building more social and more efficiently use space. Plus it lets researchers show off esoteric books to visitors like me!

The carpet is tiled, so can be lifted off

Wide open spaces make the building more social. I talked with several researchers I knew from my time there and they said it has massively changed how enjoyable it is to work. The theory group even gets together for tea at 3 p.m. every day. Now THAT is a tea that I bet is interesting!

Microsoft Research

One cool thing about Microsoft is its support of the arts. The art team is studying each room, watching how people use it, and putting appropriate art up. This makes for some of the more visually pleasing workspaces at Microsoft.

Open conference rooms

Many of the conference rooms are open to viewing from the atrium. Kevin told me that it takes a while to get used to, but leads to a more inviting work style, reinforces that Microsoft Research openly shares its research with others, and saves power thanks to the natural light that is now able to get into the conference rooms.

Jennifer Chayes and Christian Borgs, Microsoft Researchers

What Microsoft is learning from this new building is being applied to a new research center in New England that these two, Jennifer Chayes and Christian Borgs, are building.

Thanks to Kevin and the other researchers who showed us around this fascinating building. Sure makes me want to visit more often!

No more goofing off

Astute watchers of Scoble’s temple of ego (cute site, by the way, that one of my readers built — it shows everything I do including Twitter, Flickr, Google Reader, and other sites) know that I’ve been goofing off. I haven’t been reading feeds much since early January. Been traveling and hanging out in Switzerland eating too much cheese.

But now we are coming back and the real work begins. On Wednesday Rocky and me are going to Seattle to visit some companies up there for our opening on March 3. Next week? Beverly Hills to visit MySpace. And, yeah, I’ll start reading feeds again, among other things. Anyway, today we’re traveling back to the states and will be back online late Monday, Pacific Time.

Got any questions to ask MySpace next week?

1935 blogging in Swiss chalet

Laurent Haug, the guy who started the LIFT conference in Geneva, invited me up to his friend’s chalet, near Villars, where he proceeded to show my camera some early 1900’s blogging that was written on the ceiling of the chalet.

What was really fun was having raclette cheese dinner with famous author Bruce Sterling. Of course I intruded on the dinner with my cell phone camera. It’s a 40 minute video, where Laurent and Pierre explain raclette. What’s really interesting is that we had people all over the world who were watching us live. At about 9:30 we sit down with Bruce Sterling, famous science fiction author.

It doesn’t get interesting until about 13 minutes when Bruce tells us the difference between a blogger and a novelist.

At 20 minutes in we discover that Yahoo has rejected Microsoft’s bid so you hear our initial opinions.

Is just PR?

Flavio Rump, in this Qik video, asks something very interesting: is the just PR? He’s been kicked off of several social networks for trying to import JUST NAMES into Facebook. Wants to know if any social network is actually changing its behavior when it comes to sharing data. He hasn’t seen any action yet and, in the video, we talk about a raft of dataportability issues. Interesting hallway conversations from LIFT in Geneva, Switzerland.