Thursday, October 26, 2006

Goings on

Sarah and I watched two great animated movies yesterday and today: Over the Hedge and Monster House. The voice talent in these things is unbelievable. If I had to pick, I would recommend Monster House first. It is genuinely fear-inducing and funny, and doesn't talk down to you. I almost want to say it wasn't aimed at kids. The animations of humans (I guess this one was mostly motion-capture like Polar Express) were pretty amazing too. Over the Hedge is pretty funny, if not as ingenious.

We just finished the first season (six episodes) of 30 Days. It's by Morgan Spurlock, who did Super Size Me, where he spent a whole month eating nothing but McDonald's: experience a lifestyle foreign to you for 30 days. He lived on the minimum wage for a month, then did shows on a Christian dude who lives as a Muslim in Dearborn, a concerned mom who spends a month binge drinking like her coed daughter, DJs who live as hippies in an eco-friendly commune, and so on. They are thought-provoking and eye-opening shows, more so than their cousins, like Wife Swap. One interesting thing I didn't expect was that the thirty-day length of the experience really gives the subjects time to settle in and for the situation to evolve. These fantasy camp visits to another life turn into something else by the end.

I bought a book at the USU library along the same lines: it's called The Genesee Diary, by Henri Nouwen. It's an account of the 7 months he spent as a Trappist monk. I've never read a Henri Nouwen book all the way through, but I have wanted to for some time now. Cost to me: 25 cents. At the same stock-retirement sale, I bought a hardcover copy of The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (I read and liked his Foucault's Pendulum a while back). Cost to me: $1.

There was a Tech Expo at the university today. I got a few leads, but the most positive one was the guy from the NSA. There were two guys at the booth, so I picked the scruffy one instead of the one in the suit. His name was Jack. His last name began with a J too, I think. One of those nondescript names They want you to forget.

The first words out of my mouth were name, degree (MS in Computer Science), and thesis topic (image steganography). He was surprised. He looked over my resume and said I would be a great fit. We talked about the unlimited resources of the agency, its ability to do blue-sky research because it's not in the private sector, the large number of research groups, and so on. He looked over my resume and recommended I get it online immediately, concentrating on expanding my list of computer skills so I pop up right away in their resume search engines. The background checks take 8 months, so I'd better saddle up if I want a job for next year.

As I explained to a friend later, it sounds like an ideal job for me, as long as I'm not spying on Americans.

I've followed that FISA stuff pretty closely, and I'm as sure as a lay person can be that the President essentially ordered the NSA to break the law with fig-leaf legal justifications, and then they did it. Not everyone at NSA, but enough of them, in collusion with AT&T and other carriers, to spy on ungodly amounts of internet and telephone traffic that should have been hands-off according to our surveillance laws.

I didn't bring all this up in my short conversation with Jack. It didn't seem polite. But I'm sure if I apply and they do background checks on me, it'll be pretty easy for them to find all the stuff I've written about them on this blog. Like I told my friend, I hardly know whether to teach people to hide from the NSA and encrypt their email, or to help the NSA spy on America's very real enemies (with proper legal safeguards, like warrants, firmly in place). My hope is that I can make a more informed opinion as I move through the hiring process (or get turned down early, whichever).

Research appeals to me more than software development. I'm not sure yet if a PhD is for me, but I am definitely looking at the companies like IBM, MS, and Google that have a place for research. My thesis process has been frustrating at times, but fabulous when it's working. I enjoy taking the problems one step deeper and gaining insight.

Vote on November 7.

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