SPUG: Living in Seattle

Ken Meyer kmeyer at blarg.net
Wed Aug 10 12:16:57 PDT 2005

To SPUGgers.  This reply to Jacinta has gotten much longer than I intended,
but I post it to the list as well because it does not endorse all of the
glowing input that has been made to her already, and those who care might
want to be able to take issue with some of my comments.  Replying off-line
might be viewed as being sneaky.  Others can just click the big "X".

Ken M.

Jacinta --

I don't think that we have enough information to be of really significant
help to you.  For one thing, no one who has been to Melbourne or any other
part of Australia has spoken up with a first-hand comparison -- how about
maybe tapping Damian Conway of the Perl world?  Also, we're used to the
status quo here, and it may well be that things we take for granted would be
appalling to you, and maybe vice versa.

I am quite sure that you have been thorough with the Google tool, searching
on all aspects of life in Seattle, scanning the newspapers online and the
restaurant reviews and all that; and that your message to SPUG is just a
matter of leaving no stone unturned (oh, look, under that rock --
spuggies!).  In any event, everything certainly is relative, isn't it?

For instance, Seattle was recently named by Forbes magazine as one of the
most overpriced places in the country.  Of course, that probably in part
reflects their opinion of the desirability of the hinterlands, because the
absolute price of housing, as well as its sparse availability, must
certainly be worse, in absolute terms, in San Francisco, New York, etc.  It
also says something about the desirability of living here, which has made
this a "seller's market" for about everything.

The country, and certainly Seattle, is undergoing a much talked-about "price
bubble" for houses, with 15% increases a year claimed for the swanky 'burbs
and in-city locations.  BUT, though computing employment opportunities are
just beginning to recover from the doldrums, the Lexus, BMW, Mercedes
dealerships are going gang-busters in the land of Amazon and Microsoft,
SUV's with gas tanks the size of swimming pools abound.  Restaurants are
full.  People consistently fill the sports and music events at $40 - $80 and
more per seat.  So, what really matters is how much you are going to make
relative to the cost of living in your accustomed lifestyle -- obviously.  I
suggest that you compile a budget and play it against what you have been
offered.  Would you expect any help with relocation expenses?

Another factor is what your intent is.  Certainly, Australia has an
extremely competent technical industry in which to participate -- even in
the esoteric world of Perl -- but there must be more routes to advance here,
just because of the size of the population.  So, is ultimately living in a
penthouse high on your list of priorities?  Could you see this as a five
year adventure, broadening your horizons and giving you yarns to spin to the
home folks for the rest of your lives?  If you come and go back in due
course, might the experience not enhance your perceived value in the
Australian market?  If you consider this a "once in for all or not at all"
move, it's probably worth the investment for at least one of you to come
over and scope the scene intimately.

Seattle is not at all the place it was when I arrived for the first time in
the late 60's, to say the very least.  Whether you think that having
professional sports teams and freeways is a good deal or not is your choice.
In the past, Seattle was considered by most of the country to be a frontier
town where it rains incessantly.  During one severe downturn in the aircraft
business (now on the upswing again) a billboard stating the rhetorical
question, "Will the last person leaving Seattle please turn-off the lights"
received national notoriety.

Homes and such were relatively inexpensive and the place looked a lot like a
Boeing "company town" from the outside.  Well, events have conspired to
change all of that.  California got so crowded and expensive that the
overflow marched North, bringing the huge proceeds of a California home sale
with them, and due to the tax codes, wanting to reinvest them in a home
here -- resulting in the initial surge in home values here.  Then Windows
struck and the name of Microsoft dragged Seattle into the limelight again.
As for the rain, it does that from time to time, but there have been
nationally televised sports events on days when the weather has been just
heavenly, so many folks have now gotten the opposite impression.  Whatever,
the word is out, so this place is busting at the seams and trying
desperately to be "cosmopolitan".  Also, the opportunities to live in the
sticks and commute rapidly to work are dwindling.

So saying, my son-in-law, who is a lead tech at M$, and daughter just bought
a pretty nice place with acreage and a horse barn about an hour from here.
I think his commute, driving, is about 45 minutes to M$ on a decent day.  I
doubt that there's an acceptable way for him to go by public transport.
Seattle is a city of houses and neighborhoods, with rabid defendants of the
single-family dwelling lifestyle, though condos are more and more prevalent
as the land squeeze gets worse.  In any event, you should be able to find a
place to live that won't aggravate your claustrophobia, if any.  Check the
real estate websites in the area to get an idea.

As for the weather, the total rainfall is not that great, and it does not
rain really hard very often -- I seldom feel it necessary to wear a raincoat
or carry an umbrella.  But it does cloud over seemingly interminably for
weeks, if not months, at a time, usually in the January/February timeframe,
when it also drizzles periodically.  That's when the wry jokes about webbed
feet return, and the fortunate ones get to run off to Arizona or Hawaii to
reconfirm that the sun actually continues to burn hydrogen and that they are
not really terminally depressed.

Winters are a mixed bag.  I think that, here in town, we had no snow at all
last winter.  Usually, even then, you can get to decent skiing in an hour,
but last winter was a bust in the mountains as well, as it rained more than
snowed.  On other years, we can get some cold snaps down into the 15 degree
Fahrenheit range.  We can get snow in town, but seldom more than a foot, and
that tends not to last for long.  With temperatures at those times hovering
around freezing, the daily melt-refreeze cycles tend to make streets icy in
the mornings, with many concomitant fender-benders occurring.  I don't mind
the bad weather that much -- good excuse to light-up the fireplace and read
a good book, and note that the weather is very local, so at times going
inland a few miles and up a couple of hundred feet can make an enormous
difference in the conditions.  Typically, there are weeks of unremittingly
outstanding weather in the summer and/or early fall.  We are in that mode
right now, though the morning overcast has not burned-off yet today.

The hills and water bodies of Seattle create the opportunity for a large
number of extraordinarily good living locations. Wonderful views are much
more prevalent than in flat, land-locked population centers, though as said,
it's getting very pricey in the better places.  But the no-free-lunch
principle demands a corresponding downside, which is that traffic flow is
severely compromised by the impediments of terrain and water, and with the
surge in population and two-career families and kids expecting wheels,
traffic can be absurd.  So, if that is not something you are willing to deal
with, as either a driver or passenger, very careful selection of your home
location with respect to work is critical.  For instance, if you are located
such that your commute is counter to the rush-hour traffic, you may find
that you breeze along at the effective speed limit (typically about 10 mph
above the posted limit), watching the virtual parking lot of cars attempting
to travel in the other direction.  On the other hand, there are some sites
where convergence happens from every possible direction so congestion can't
be avoided entirely.  There are two bridges across Lake Washington, and
either living in town and working at Microsoft, or living in the 'burbs and
working in the city, will result equally in some excruciating days of
commuting, where one minor accident or break-down can have an enormous
effect.  Express lanes for buses or multi-passenger cars exist in some
places and can make travel more palatable.  In fact, kids are often pressed
into service just to ride along to make use of the express lanes legal.

Public transportation quality and frequency depends again on where you live
and where you go.  There are bus lines that will whisk you from here to
downtown in 10 or 15 minutes, but living elsewhere, it can be a real slog,
with transfers required, infrequent service and all that.  Also, the public
transportation is much better in the spoke directions than in the wheel
directions.  Service in and out of downtown is pretty good, but across town
it's the pits, so getting to somewhere on the same latitude line may require
going into downtown and then back out another "spoke".  And it seems to me
that most trips by public transportation, except for the express commute
routes, takes 2 to 3 times what travel by car would under reasonable traffic
conditions, though that's good time for an excuse to read.  Again, go to the
King County Metro site and check-out the bus routes and schedules.

A reasonable number of people here have adapted to getting along without a
car, but personally, I just can't imagine not being about to go to Costco
(big warehouse discount store) and filling the back seat with a month's
supply of grocery essentials.  In cities such as New York, where a garage
may rent for what entire apartments do here, and many folks consequently
either don't have a car or stash it out of town for weekend forays, there is
an expectation that delivery service will be available for most everything,
but that is not yet the norm in Seattle, except for large appliances,
etc. -- or if delivery is available, the cost premium can be significant.

The surge in population has also made it necessary to make plans far in
advance for popular events, whether for attending concerts or reserving a
camping spot at a state park.  Some folks function that way naturally, but I
am more of a spur-of-the-moment guy who likes to keep his options open.  But
the flip-side to that is that there is so much to do, and it is so close at
hand.  Educational opportunities are enormous, entertainment abounds,
medical care is top-notch, geeky groups such as SPUG are numerous, I can get
to huge warehouse discount stores for any sort of product in 5 or 10
minutes, so shopping doesn't have to be planned like a military campaign.
When I first came to Seattle, the Friday entertainment section in the
newspapers was a single double-page spread.  Now, it is an entire tabloid
book of its own.  There are lots of good restaurants around here, and I
think that they cater to any possible taste.  You need to look-up the
listings on the web if you haven't already, to see what you think relative
to your own preferences.  It's just that planning and patience are essential

Personally, on balance, I liked the old Seattle much better.  And of course,
thanks to George W's misadventures, the whole country is in more danger of
attack by "religious extremists" now than prior to 9/11 -- you'd better
believe that.  The ascendancy of self-righteous, sanctimonious religious
values asserting themselves on our lives and the increase in corporate
dominance abetted by the current federal administration frankly turns my
stomach into knots and make me eye a run across the border to the north; but
as Australian citizens, you always have an "out" and are not so committed to
the direction the country is currently taking.  You can just come and enjoy
the "low-hanging fruit".

Politically, Seattle is a very "liberal" place -- I use quotes because my
feeling is that the traditional labels are meaningless today.
"Conservative" used to be associated with a philosophy of smaller government
and less control of the individual, but that's certainly not the case for
the present administration, which is nevertheless categorized as
"conservative".  Any sort of abomination foisted on the public is coated
with allegations of necessity for "national security".

Washington is funny politically speaking, because the state is divided,
physically and philosophically, by the Cascade mountains.  In the mostly
rural, agrarian culture to the east, Republicans, a la George Bush, reign,
and in the west, most elected folks are Democrats.  Usually, the west
outvotes the east, to the extent that some east of the mountains lobby for
becoming another state (stupid, because they benefit from more tax-funded
benefits than they contribute).  In any event, you won't find even most
Democrats advocating for the type of government interventions that you
describe with respect to work conditions in Australia.

Violent crime has decreased in the country over the past few years, but
there are still nightly reports of shootings, drive-by and otherwise, too
close for comfort around here.  Pathological behavior is too much in
evidence -- several people have been killed or maimed by rocks dropped off
freeway overpasses onto their cars.  Of course, the likelihood of being shot
in a random or mistaken event, or meeting a rock coming through your
windshield, is probably less than being struck by lightning or winning the
lottery.  My house has been broken into several times while I was away, but
that's just part of city life, and if you have good insurance, it's an
opportunity to get some new stuff.

So there is my input, attempting to address your areas of apparent
foreboding.  The continuing influx of folks to this area is evidence that it
is, on balance, an exceptional place to live, at least relatively speaking.
>From pictures, I would say the there is a lot of physical resemblance
between this area and New Zealand -- but not so much political congruence
aside from being a so-called democracy.

On the other hand, there is a significant group of folks who become fed-up
with urban difficulties and who bail-out for rural areas.  In the tech
field, many of them can still work via telecommuting, and one executive told
me that he had never met one of his gurus face-to-face, so you might
ultimately find a way to do that.  But those folks trade easy access to so
many things for the equanimity of the countryside.  So if your ambition is
to putz around in your garden, whip up cool code, and be able to say, "We're
not taking any projects for the next two weeks", then you probably have it
made already.  But if you are up for a great adventure and improving your
appreciation of a society that is currently the major influence on the
direction of the planet, for better or worse, come on over.  It's not an
irrevocable commitment -- or at least it shouldn't be.

Of course, all of the above is just how one person feels the elephant.

Ken Meyer

who has lived in New York, New Jersey, Texas, and California, as well as
Seattle, but is still anticipating a trip to Australia.

-----Original Message-----

From: spug-list-bounces at pm.org [mailto:spug-list-bounces at pm.org]On
Behalf Of Jacinta Richardson
Sent: Monday, August 08, 2005 8:15 PM
To: spug-list at pm.org

Subject: SPUG: Living in Seattle

G'day everyone,

I'm visiting this list in hope to ask you for some advice.

My husband and I run a very successful business in Australia (Perl Training
Australia) and have not been looking to work for anyone else.  Our business
allows us great control over what we do, when we do it and how long we spend
on it.  Our commute to work is generally short and life is great.

My husband has just been offered a job (out of the blue) in Seattle which is
loooong way away from Melbourne, Australia.  The company is willing to cover
costs of moving and would provide health insurance as well.  I *presume*
they'd be willing to either provide me a job as well or help me find one.
As my
expertise is similar to my husband's, that shouldn't be too hard.

Any job offer would have to be extremely compelling for us to give up our
wonderful business and life-style, but we're open to considering what
might be.

So... although we currently are thinking that we'd rather not take it, I was
hoping for some general advice on what kind of things we should consider?  I
also have some questions.

What are the living costs in Seattle?

Is there any public transport?  (neither of us drive at the moment).

What kind of living options are there?  At the moment we have a 3 bedroom
with a big back yard, vegie garden and chooks.  Are we likely to find
pent up in a shoebox in Seattle?

Is Seattle vegetarian friendly?  What are restaurant prices like?

What's crime like?  We rarely have drive-by shootings in Australia, and when
they do occur it's the talk of the news for weeks!  In fact, any shooting in
Australia is talked about on the news for weeks.  I know Seattle isn't New
and I presume New York isn't as bad as Law & Order makes it out to be.   But
friendly is Seattle?

If we were to go over there we'd be doing programming work for a big,
company.  I suspect that our current 30 hour weeks would go back to being 60
hours or more.  In Australia a lot of jobs are heavily unionised and
laws ensure things like minimum holiday leave: 20 days/year etc.  What kind
things are granted by law in Seattle?  What would you suggest we make sure
added to our contract?

What's a fair wage for a highly skilled Perl programmer, who is obviously
enough to be brought from overseas?

I've heard that SPUG is very active, so what socialising options are there
Perl programmers in Seattle?

Thankyou for your help.


   ("`-''-/").___..--''"`-._          |  Jacinta Richardson         |
    `6_ 6  )   `-.  (     ).`-.__.`)  |  Perl Training Australia    |
    (_Y_.)'  ._   )  `._ `. ``-..-'   |      +61 3 9354 6001        |
  _..`--'_..-_/  /--'_.' ,'           | contact at perltraining.com.au |
 (il),-''  (li),'  ((!.-'             |   www.perltraining.com.au   |

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