Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Busy busy

Hi everyone. In the last couple of weeks, I've been to Silicon Valley and Austin. Now I'm off to Denver on Friday. Get your all-expenses-paid recruiting trips in while you can, space is limited. They all seem like great offers.

I read a cute little book called Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud. It's a deceptively simple book that's a comic about comics; their semantics, their special idioms, their potential, their uniqueness. I loved every minute of it, and even though I can't draw worth beans, it inspired me to put pencil to paper and do a couple of strips. I am certainly fascinated by comics, as my reading list shows, if not enough to become a starving comics artist.

I read a graphic novel (emphasis on graphic) called From Hell on the plane, by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. It's a sprawling black and white about the Jack the Ripper murders, poverty, violence, freemasonry, Victorian England. It's one of the best and one of the most disturbing things I've ever seen and read. Rated a very strong R, if not worse. I don't see how they could make it a movie. Whether it's true or not, who could say.

I also finally finished a book I've been chewing on for months: Database in Depth, by CJ Date. It's a look at the relational model that underlies (or, rather, should underly) virtually all modern databases, and has for decades. My particular background with logic made some of the material more obvious to me. I am in a peculiar position, because I probably have more experience with relational theory than I do with actual database products like Postgres or MySQL, which basically turns the usual order of education inside out and backwards. If you're a computer science dude or a programmer and you've never thought much about data management or relations, I highly recommend it. It is concise, readable, occasionally crotchety and opinionated, and highly illuminating. I was surprised at how interested I became in the topic as time went on.

Yet another couple of plane books. I read Freakonomics, a bestseller about microeconomics with interesting applications, by Stephen Levitt and Stephen Dubner. It showcases datasets that are more interesting than the run-of-the-mill demand curves, and draws out some classic results from economics, with somewhat bizarre human results. For instance, sumo wrestlers have, at times, strong incentives to take a dive on the last match of a tournament, and drug-dealing operations have an org chart not unlike your neighborhood McDonald's.

I also read a cool book on the origins, motivations, and contents of the Microsoft puzzle interview. It's called How Would You Move Mount Fuji?: Microsoft's Cult of the Puzzle -- How the World's Smartest Companies Select the Most Creative Thinkers by William Poundstone. Don't let the title scare you. It's a mind-bending trip through the history of IQ, the trouble with one-hour interviews, and Microsoft, along with answers to some of the worst puzzles. Entertaining even if you are not interested in interviewing at Microsoft. And then there's me, who will interview with just about anyone these days. Mom recommended this one to me. Thanks Mom.

I totally forgot, but I still have Cujo and The Stand to read, so maybe I'll take those on the plane. I also picked up Thomas Pynchon's V on a whim, and Lauren Winner's memoir Girl Meets God. And as for the computer textbooks I've been reviewing with for my interviews... well, the less you know about those the better. If I actually finish one, which is a distinct possibility, I'll let you know.

By the way, have you been watching this US attorney thing blow open? My feed reader is overflowing from all the travel, to the point where I'm thinking about renting a laptop at the hotel just to read for a few hours. People deserve to go to jail for that one. Letting smart, competent attorneys go because they're investigating your corrupt buddies is out of the frying pan, into the firing. I'd be more indignant about it, but I guess the Bush people have managed to saturate my scandal circuits. I mean, screwing with corruption investigations is one thing, but then lying to Congress about it? And they still don't have their stories straight weeks later? If the medium is the message, the history of this administration will be written in feces.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

It's a long way to the top

if you want to get a job.

I'm flying out to Mecca... uh, that is, the Silicon Valley, for the first time today. The company is good. Other interviews and fly-outs are pending.

Sarah is disappointed because it doesn't look like she'll get to fly out with me to Austin in a couple of weeks.

I am still hoping for something in Seattle, and so are my parents, and some of my friends are hoping I can find something here in Utah, but time's a-wasting.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Happy 10th

Buffy the Vampire Slayer first aired ten years ago today. Sarah and I bought seasons 2 and 3 of Angel (the interleaved spin-off) and we've been chain-smoking them for the past few weeks. These are what great television can be: deep, witty, exciting, moving, and character arcs fifty episodes long.

I read the V for Vendetta comics in one sitting yesterday. Excellent. They were different from the movie in some ways, of course, but I think Alan Moore's beef with the remake was really overblown. A lot of the movie was word for word, shot for panel. If anything, some of the cruft was edited out for the movie, like the computer and the LSD trip. The strongest part of the comic, about the twin, entwined nature of democracy and destruction, came through very strongly in the movie too. I was also surprised to find that all of the great stuff with Stephen Fry was only hinted at in the comics, but it was fleshed out really well in the movie.

Inspired by my encounter with Positively Fifth Street, I finished the original great poker memoir, The Biggest Game in Town, by A. Alvarez, a writer for the New Yorker. He wrote this in 1982, chronicling Stu Ungar's second straight win of the World Series of Poker main event.

Like Positively Fifth Street, it went beyond poker into accounts of Las Vegas and the gambling life, and it managed to capture something that I think went missing from the later book. To be a gambler, you have to stop caring about being broke. Being broke happens. You have to risk it all and lose it all to win it all. This means the gambler requires a remarkable resiliency and freedom to fail, and it's one of the many reasons I can't do this for a living. On the other hand, though, David Sklansky, game theorist and gambler extraordinaire, has never been broke...

Set forward your clocks.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Craziest week in a long time

Last Friday, my friends' baby Olivia died. She had congenital heart defects and it finally got to the point where she couldn't recover from either her defects or the operations to fix them. She was four and a half months old. Sarah and I visited her a few weeks ago when she had come home (still on oxygen) and Sarah took some lovely pictures of her.

On Monday, we went to the private viewing for Olivia in a mortuary in Ogden. We saw some friends, which is a strange thing about funerals. For Sarah's father's parents' funerals, there was an air of happiness and togetherness that would have been altogether out of place at Olivia's. I talked to Aaron, her father, and he was taking it about as well as anyone could.

On Tuesday, we went to the funeral and saw more friends. The coffin was tiny and white, with fake handles. The pallbearers wheeled it on a little cart like you might use for an overhead projector. Aaron gave a very moving tribute to her life.

At times like these, I think you wonder, "Where is God?" The platitudes that we share at funerals are unconvincing. It reminds me of The Brothers Karamazov, where Ivan says, suppose we could build heaven on earth, and all we required was the unredeemed suffering of an innocent child. We were with the family at the gravesite too.

On Wednesday, there was a career fair. I dropped off about 15 resumes. The employers seemed impressed with my record. On Thursday I had an interview for a tax software place and on Friday I had an interview with National Instruments. They both seemed like good companies. On Thursday, the HR lady said they'd probably be flying me to Denver for a last interview.

On Friday they said less, but it was still interesting. I did some Electrical Engineering 101 in a question on hardware. What devices would be necessary to measure the temperature of a room? I said you could train a camera on a mercury thermometer, then use image processing techniques to find out where the break is between the mercury and the empty glass. My interviewer said later that no one had ever done it that way before. That's because it would be stupid, he didn't say. But I learned a little bit about how an electrical engineer would think through the problem, measuring voltage and converting the analog signal to digital. It all felt very familiar, object-oriented design like data flow diagrams in UML, just with physical devices I hadn't used before. Even though I sucked at it for my first time, it was actually kind of fun. They also gave me a copy of their flagship software, LabView, and that was fun to mess around with too.

I have a lot of job stuff to do, but mostly I am just tired, tired, tired.