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Baylands

Started: 2018-08-10 20:07:57

Submitted: 2018-08-10 22:28:24

Visibility: World-readable

5 July 2018: In which the intrepid narrator spends one more day on-call for App Engine and visits a cherished site from his childhood

Thursday, 5 July 2018 was my last day as SRE on-call for App Engine serving. It was also a Google holiday in the US, after the Fourth of July the previous day, so I didn't have to go into the office or work, but I still carried both phones and my laptop so I could respond in five minutes if I got paged for my service.

I didn't want to stay cooped up inside, so I took a gamble that I wouldn't get paged and drove to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, around the corner from the Googleplex.

I'd visited the museum before, shortly after moving to San Francisco two years ago and again for a holiday party, but I wanted to visit the museum one more time as part of my very long todo list before leaving San Francisco.

When I entered the museum I went around the corner from the front desk to the demo rooms, starting with the PDP-11, which was sitting there not doing much, then went to the IBM 1401 mainframe in the next room. This machine was running, with an attendant explaining its operation to wide-eyed visitors. I joined them and marveled at the 50-year-old stored-program computer. I used a manual card punch to punch my name into a card, then watched the attendant feed the data cards into the card reader, running the stored program that printed a message greeting me onto a large continuous-feed printer.

Punched card and printout from the Computer History Museum
Punched card and printout from the Computer History Museum

The attendant offered a photo op comparing the giant parallel cable running under the raised floors to connect the various modules of the computer with a modern USB cable -- capable of transferring more data with better reliability than the old cable, at the expense of many orders of magnitude more complexity in the hardware and software that drives it.

Jaeger with an IBM 1401 parallel cable at the Computer History Museum
Jaeger with an IBM 1401 parallel cable at the Computer History Museum

I went through the rest of the museum, which was as I remembered it from two years ago. I couldn't help but notice that the museum's collection drops off around 2000, around the time that I was actually entering the professional workforce making computers my profession not just a hobby. The museum had very little to say about mobile communications (the industry I spent half of my career in), an very little to say about consumer electronics, and only a couple of Palm-centric displays on mobile computing. The only artifact from my old employer Qualcomm was an Omnitracs mounted on the back of a heavily-modified bicycle showing the height of mobile communications in the 1980s. I recognized the distinctive dome immediately and swung around the back of the bike to confirm its identity and get a picture.

Qualcomm Omnitracs at the Computer History Museum
Qualcomm Omnitracs at the Computer History Museum

(My current employer was also poorly-represented but did at least have an old server rack from its early days as an upstart search engine.)

I left the museum (having avoided being paged) and drove to Palo Alto Baylands, bordering San Francisco Bay in front of the eponymous city. This was one of the places I remember visiting as a kid living in the Bay Area on Sabbath afternoons, and I remember falling off the boardwalk into the shallow bay below, requiring my father to fish me out of the water and take me home for a bath.

Duck pond at Palo Alto Baylands
Duck pond at Palo Alto Baylands

I parked at the Duck Pond, where memories from my only other visit to Baylands as an adult six years ago overwhelmed any possible memory of visiting the duck pond as a kid, and walked towards the nature center, heading for the boardwalk leading out into the marshes at this end of the bay.

Boardwalk with the Dumbarton Bridge in the distance
Boardwalk with the Dumbarton Bridge in the distance

Since my last visit six years ago, the boardwalk had collapsed somewhere around the middle, where pickleweed had grown through the gaping hole left in the walkway.

Jaeger at Palo Alto Baylands
Jaeger at Palo Alto Baylands

Even with the boardwalk closed I could see the Dumbarton Bridge, the power lines looming overhead, and the bay stretching towards the horizon below the East Bay hills, now "golden" with dry grass in the summer heat.

Nature center at Palo Alto Baylands
Nature center at Palo Alto Baylands

I walked to the small pier dedicated to human powered boats at the end of the peninsula stretching out in the marsh, currently being used by windsurfers (and filed it away as a potential kayak launch, in the event that I ever find myself looking for a place to launch a kayak in this part of San Francisco Bay).

I was happy to have the opportunity to visit Palo Alto Baylands one last time before I left, connecting my childhood memories with my last visit six years ago.

Boardwalk under power lines
Boardwalk under power lines

My social media posts from the peninsula caught the attention of my former Qualcomm coworker Rahul, who now lives in Mountain View and works at Apple. I drove back to Mountain View to meet him, and ate supper with him and his wife Rachel at Biryaniz, a restaurant serving biryani. We ordered several veg dishes more-or-less at random, which turned out to be quite good, and capped off the evening before driving back home to San Francisco.

My only page on my last day as SRE on-call for App Engine was in the morning, when a flaky prober incorrectly identified an error condition that didn't exist. All I had to do was restart the job and the error went away. (I did take the opportunity to mention the page on the bug tracking the open issue.) When my shift ended at 22:00 I sent my last hand-off e-mail, formally giving my counterpart in London the pager, and took the opportunity to bid my team farewell and wish them luck as they carry on after me.

This place is just a resoivour of useful advise when it comes to dating.
(note the sarcasm in my voice)
- Bitscape, Mass IRC, 24 June 2002