My Sister was on the Price is Right!

Sometime in the mid 90’s my sister Stephanie was on the Price is Right!! Bob Barker was was known to sick kids across america as the Penicillin of day time television & I was soo excited to see her on the TV. In a recent clean out of old boxes I had all my old media digitized including this gem of my beautiful sister running down to contestants row!! GO STEPH GO!!

 

Pendelton Woolen Mills

I have always been a fan of Pendleton Woolen Mills and their high quality products. After developing the theme for the Automattic 2014 holiday package “comfort and joy” I immediately thought of the Merino wool blankets from Pendleton.

Pendleton is known for their lightweight, luxurious 100% pure virgin wool clothing. A family-owned business for 150 years, and for the past 104 of those years they’ve been weaving world-class woolens in their Northwest Mills.

In August I had an initial meeting with them, learned about the process, and what it would take to get Automattic’s colors and branding on one of their products. A big thanks to Dave Whitley, Mel Choyce, Thianh Lu & David Opel for making sure everything looked crisp and all bills were paid on time.

In October when the blankets were on the loom I traveled to Washougal, WA to meet the facilities manager and capture the production process. Below please find photos and videos from raw wool entering the factory, to washing, dying, spooling, and ultimately looming.

Most of the production is still running on 100+ year old machines, and it was an amazing experience to see all of this machinery still in action!

If you happen to have one of these blankets please post a picture of yours in your home on the comments. Would be thrilled to see them in use in your home!

Automattic order posted to the board

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Raw Wool is processed

Dyed Wool

Spools

Spinning Webs

Code Library

Setup Weaving

Soldiers Marching

Weaving in Color

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What it’s Like to Ride the $900 AAA Discounted Amtrak Sleeper on the Sunset Limited

Inspired by Derek Low’s account of What It’s like to Fly the $23,000 Singapore Airlines Suites Class, I humbly offer my First Class travel experience on the Sunset Limited powered by Amtrak. 

In 1894, Southern Pacific Railroad Company introduced service from New Orleans to San Francisco by way of Los Angeles on the Sunset Express. It was the most luxurious class of travel at the time and was outfitted exclusively with Pullman sleeper cars, no coaches.

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In 1971, Amtrak took over servicing this route and renamed it the Sunset Limited. The train now begins in New Orleans and ends in Los Angeles with two classes of service.

Reserved Coach:

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“First Class” with three different room configurations. Below is the “Roomette” which we booked:

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We started our ride on Saturday, December 27th @ 9am in New Orleans. We booked a ticket from New Orleans to Tucson, Arizona set to arrive @ 7:45 pm on Sunday, December 28th. Here are some photos, videos and tidbits of information from our trip.

NOLA Amtrak Station

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Holiday Decorations

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Upon our arrival at the station we quickly made our way toward the First Class waiting area and prepared for our morning Tea & Crumpets.

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Sadly, it was closed for remodeling. It did not appear as if any “remodeling” was underway, but I will give them the benefit of the doubt.

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I was, however, able to make a collect call on one of the last working pay phones in America.

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We Embarked from Track # 3 on time @ 9am.

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Our Cabin Steward, Brian, greeted us & showed us to our Roomette.

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My seat for the next 36 hours

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Shared seat for the next 36 hours

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Shower Anyone?

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There is only one electrical plug per cabin & it has a “thermostat” knob positioned right above it. My 85w Mac charger didn’t fit. Thankfully Rachel had the smaller 45w charger that sort of fit. 

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Our first lunch in the dining car was fantastic. Don’t mind the prices, as all your meals are included in the price of your First Class ticket on Amtrak (alcohol not included). I had for the Black Bean Veggie Burger & Rachel had the Cesar Salad per the dining car steward’s recommendation.

Alan & Emily, the dining car stewards, in full holiday cheer!

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The train is a social place & people have plenty of time to sit, chat & relax. Seating at meals is communal so you are paired with new folks at every meal. For our first dinner we were seated with a nice couple from Fullerton, CA. They were both music recording artists whom had gone to New Orleans for Christmas & took the train both ways!!

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The Observation car is where the action is. The seats are first come first serve and the only rules are NO sleeping, NO outside alcohol & you MUST wear shoes. This is where the really interesting conversations happen. We met several great folks including a couple from South Carolina on their way to the Rose Bowl and an exciting duo that taught us a new card game and offered to save our souls. We declined.

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View from the train

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After dinner (sorry forgot to take photo, I had the chicken) Its time for bed. Brian, our car steward, converted the cabin from two captains chairs into a bed, and folded down a top bunk to make a cozy set of bunk beds.

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(Goodnight!!)

We went to sleep somewhere between Houston & San Antonio & woke up in West Texas. Here the train hugs the Mexican border for a couple hundred miles.

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We took a later breakfast reservation so we could enjoy the sunrise from our room. When we did sit down for breakfast, I went all out and had the Omelet w/ all the fixings. 

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We took the opportunity to stretch our legs in Alpine, Texas where there was a light dusting of snow.

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Shared a couple of laughs w/our cabin mates.

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Back on the rails, we passed some old Union Pacific freight cars.

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Visiting the Snack Car (items here not included in price of First Class ticket).

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And here is why they call it the Sunset Limited.

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At 7:15 pm on Sunday, December 28th we arrived in Tucson Arizona 30 minutes ahead of schedule. 

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While in the observation car I overheard a man, whom was circumnavigating the lower 48, sum up train travel perfectly: “What could be better than this? I have a great seat, good people and a picture window to keep me occupied”. I agree wholeheartedly. Train travel is not for everyone, and certainly has a time and place for me, but if you are looking to see some beautiful countryside, relax into a book or two, and meet some folks you might not come across in your regular day I say: All aboard!!

What to optimize for. The story of the new Jetpack battery pack.

When developing anything there are always tradeoffs: speed, stability, size, design, etc.

This year I was tasked to choose and develop the new version of Automattic’s Power bank external battery packs. A big thanks to my whole team for their contributions to making this project a success.

The main goals were:

  • Enough battery power (mah) to charge an Iphone or similar 3x between charges.
  • Fit in the front pocket of a pair of jeans.
  • Promote our Jetpack product.
  • Produce a product we are proud to have our name on.

At Automattic external power is extremely important due to the number of devices we carry which require power. Since we are distributed and often on the move due to meetups it is important to keep all the tools of the trade up and running.

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Externally the power banks provide our users and our potential users freedom from a wall outlet :). At conferences, in airports, on vacation, truthfully anywhere that your batteries could be running out of juice we determined this was a great opportunity to create a positive brand association with our constituents.

With these goals as a starting point we started to look at a lot of different units. Big ones, small ones, weird ones, silly ones. We even printed a few versions with different branding on them.

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Several months into the design process I was frustrated as nothing seemed quite right. A conversation with George Ng changed everything. I had asked George to take home one of the prototypes and let me know his thoughts. A week later he came back and said the charger was “fine” but it was really slow to charge itself and others. Like a bolt of lighting, I realized I was not optimizing for the right thing: speed. After a bit of research I learned that all USB circuits are not created equal, and that the quality of this circuity plays a critical role in how fast the batteries themselves charged, and how quickly they recharge other batteries.

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(George moonlighting as sommelier)

I purchased: http://www.amazon.com/AboveTEK%C2%AE-Voltage-Tester-Current-Monitor/dp/B00HTAH3KY to conduct our own non scientific tests, with the help of Mr. Ng.

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The results were interesting; expensive models underperformed, and cheap models were mixed.

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In the end we landed on a co-branded version w/Jackery. Great performance, custom packaging, and the high quality construction of their product made it the right choice for us.

In summary, continue to define what you are optimizing for by asking for feedback, always do your own testing, and keep pushing to make your product better all the time.