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Scenes From an Interview


"Obviously the job requires some pretty serious math skills. As the first-line screener, my job is basically to do a sanity check and make sure that you meet the baseline we're looking for, so that we don't waste our time and your time with further interviews that aren't going anywhere. I see you've got an impressive resume and a lengthy career, so please don't be offended if my questions seem simple; it's not ajudgementon you, but a reflection of the goal here. Any questions? No? Good."

"So here's my first questions: What's one plus one?"

Loser answer number 1:

"Geez… I don't think anybody's asked me to add one and one since elementary school. Is that really something you do? I've been working in this field for twenty years now, and I don't think I've had to know one plus one even once… any competent professional has Excel, or a calculator, or somethingthat will take care of details like that for them. I'd go so far as to say that anybody who's manually adding single digit integers like that probably should be fired."

Loser answer number 2:

"Oh, I remember this one! I haven't actually done one plus one since kindergarten, but I studied up on the basics before this interview, and I remember that the answer is two. Here, let me write a two for you… It's kind of curvy around the top, I think, like this… no, more like… here we are, that's a two."

Loser answer number 3:

"Eleven. Yes, I'm sure. No, there are no problems with my answer. You put the two ones next to each other, and it's eleven. What the hell is wrong with you?"

The humor here's pretty obvious, right? No reasonable person misses the fundamental problem with these answers, I hope. Any yet if you shift the field to computer science, suddenly people think these sorts of shenanigans are reasonable.

Of course nobody would implement ELEMENTARY_DATA_STRUCTURE_1 by hand in this day and age; it's in the standard library on any platform worth dealing with (well… maybe not Cocoa…) and the folks writing the library probably spent a lot more time debugging and optimizing than you'll ever be able to devote. You don't get asked to implement these things because the interviewer's going to steal your code and check it in to source control.

And you also don't get asked because, gosh darn it, we totally need an idiot with an eidetic memory who can vomit code snippets he doesn't understand. We have Google for that! We're not testing your memory, but your ability to understand basic computer science principles and - gasp - write code! If you don't have the code paged into memory right now, from our perspective that's a HUGE WIN. We want to watch you re-derive things from fundamentals, not regurgitate all over Collabedit.

Should've Bought an Xbox


I bought a Playstation 3 a few years back (when I got my HDTV, as I recall) primarily to use as a blu-ray player (at the time it was actually cheaper than a standalone player). As Sony doubtless expected, it entered my home as a shiny black Trojan horse, and I've bought a handful of games since then.

Including, fatefully one from the Playstation Network (link goes to a Flash-only site, because Sony's just in full-on pissing-me-off mode at the moment).

If you're reading this there's roughly a 99% probability that you already know that the PSN has been 'out' for nearly a week, and the latest news from Sony is that it ain't comin' back anytime soon, and oh, by the way, some hackers probably have your credit card numbers.

I know this the same way you do, through the magical collaborative power of the Internet. Not, say, from an email sent to me by Sony warning me that my credit card number had been stolen. Strike one, Sony. You assholes.

But as annoying — and probably actionable — as their failure to proactively warn their customers may be, that's not what really pisses me off.

No, what's really bugging me is that I can't use Netflix on my PS3.

Why? Because Netflix on the PS3 — despite being tied to my totally independent non-Sony Netflix account — requires a PSN login to function. For no reason at all except that Sony are a bunch of goddamned morons.

Thank God for the Apple TV.

The Largest Betamax Selection in Town!


Imagine that video rental shops worked like libraries; there's a whole network of affiliated branches, and if this library doesn't have it, they can get it at the cousin library across town and deliver it for you. And as long as we're imagining, take it a step further: they can get it for you for no extra cost, absolutely instantly.

So that's the way video rentals work, and they all stock VHS cassettes, and that's that. But now a sea change occurs: somebody invents DVDs. All of the video rental shops start building their stock of DVD titles, and while doing so they take advantage of their affiliation network, so if your favored shop doesn't have Joe Dirt on DVD, they can get it from the shop across town.

But one little shop bucks the trend — even though DVD is the future, they decide to stick with VHS. And that works out okay for them, because while the other rental shops are investing heavily in building a DVD library, they're making room by selling off their VHS cassettes, and this little dark-horse shop is gobbling them up like popcorn, and their library is huge.

Now it's ten years later. Every video rental shop around the world has switched to DVD, but this little shop is still on VHS. It's impossible to buy a VHS deck in stores, so this shop rents or sells you a VHS player when you sign up for membership, but that's okay actually — some people find that kind of convenient.

But now something interesting happens — a big, new, hit movie comes out... but only for DVD. This little shop is caught-flat footed, because they simply can't compete here. So what do they do? They advertise!

This shop starts running ads, talking about how the local Blockbuster has a tiny library of titles, and it's absolutely terrible how small their library is. Now, in a sense that's true; any individual Blockbuster may have a small library available, but keep in mind the affiliate network — when you get a DVD at Blockbuster, you may be getting it from any one of dozens of DVD rental places all over the world.


So what does any of that have to do with anything?

Well, VHS is the creaky old CDMA digital cellular technology. DVDs are GSM, the modern cellular network architecture that almost every cellular carrier around the world uses. Our hit DVD is obviously the iPhone.

And the tiny dark-horse video shop, that's Verizon.

Now, don't read this as a defense of AT&T. Personally I haven't had all that much trouble with them, but I know plenty of people who reflexively spit upon hearing those letters, and it's pretty clear that AT&T has been using their iPhone windfall to make money hats rather than investing in their network infrastructure, and that's clearly subpar. But while I dislike incompetence and don't care for spin, I absolutely loathe deception, and that's what Verizon's 'map' ads amount to, in my opinion.

The 'Verizon map' in those ads is, by necessity, a map of Verizon-owned-and-operated coverage zones; they have to be Verizon-owned-and-operated, because nobody else is running CDMA these days, just like nobody's using VHS or Windows 95. The 'AT&T map' to which they compare themselves, meanwhile, is of AT&T-owned-and-operated coverage areas, which is not at all representative because AT&T has reciprocal carriage agreements with GSM carriers throughout the US, and roaming agreements with GSM carriers around the world.

Personally, I can't stand Verizon — they have a policy of installing Verizon-controlled firmware on every phone they support, which tends to cripple the phone by removing built-in features to encourage you to use Verizon's expensive and inferior network-based equivalents. Ever try to copy a ringtone to your Verizon phone using standard Bluetooth file transfer? If you did, I'm betting it didn't go so well. But Verizon does have a lot to offer customers, and if they want to be taken seriously they should compete by explaining the benefits of Verizon rather than deceiving people about the non-deficiencies of their competitors.

iPhone 3GS

The 'S' stands for 'Stupidname'.

I look at that name, and immediately it brings to mind the Apple IIGS (which stank).  That then makes me think of the Apple III, which stank to high heaven.  It's like somebody at Apple said, "hey, I know, let's give it a name evocative of our greatest corporate failures!"

Seriously, the only worse name would've been the "iPhone Performanewton: Centris Edition".  They could pair it with an eWorld membership and give it a built-in GeoPort Telecom Adapter.  

Maybe bundle an AAUI transceiver.

Okay, I'm done.

Twit, Twit, Twit


I 'got' Twitter pretty quickly, because I was actually using it before it existed. I used to carry on lossy low-priority conversations with people via AIM status messages; it was a good way to say stuff that wasn't important enough to warrant a message and also to broadcast things in the vein of "hey, here's a fun link" without needing to directly spam people.

I'm pretty sure this is roughly what the designers of Twitter had in mind, incidentally. If you take a look at the XML or JSON feeds provided by the Twitter API, each individual tweet is actually called a 'status' — the URI for a particular tweet is <username>/status/<some_big_number> — the <OL> element that contains the tweets on Twitter HTML page is of CSS class 'statuses'... the list goes on. Obviously the original intent of the tool doesn't define what the tool is actually used for — I don't think AIM away messages were intended as an out-of-band communications protocol, at least at first — but it's interesting nonetheless.

What's also interesting is that Twitter users seem to fall into two separate and largely non-overlapping groups. Group A are people using it much like I am, as a non-ACKed broadcast medium for random thoughts that aren't important enough for a reliable messaging protocol like IM, email, or a blog post. Group B are the people who see Twitter as a marketing/communication tool that will allow them to get the word out to members of Group A, for whatever value of 'the word' is meaningful to them.

I see three ways this can go: either the two groups diverge completely and group B develops a self-sustaining ecosystem of their own; or group B recognizes that marketing in this context is futile and dwindles and dies; or group B is so persistent in their efforts that group A abandons Twitter and finds a new bicycle.

If you get the 'new bicycle' thing, you're definitely in group A, though not getting it doesn't necessarily relegate you to group B.

But if you know you're in group B and want to understand group A, then you should figure out what it means, why you don't get it, and what you can do to make sure you get to autotune the new new bicycle... and then despair of ever marketing effectively on something like Twitter.

Wikis Are Irish Roadsigns

My family has a running joke that the road signs in Ireland are there to remind you of things you already know rather than to direct you to places you've never been.  If you've never been to Ireland you'll think I'm exaggerating, but the signs really are just a step short of saying "the place where Mary brought that lovely jacket - 12 km".

It's even worse if you stop and ask for directions - "Oh, you'll be wantin' to take that lane just past Brian's house, you know, Brian with the dog!"  It takes about fifteen minutes to convince your erstwhile directioneer that you don't in fact know Brian, having spent the majority of your life on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, and that you'll really need your instructions expressed in a format that doesn't presuppose knowledge of the local geography so intimate as to render directions unnecessary.  At which point you'll be given a confusing array of rights, lefts, and reverses, followed inevitably by "and then it's right up the road, you can't miss it!", which you'll dutifully follow in a large circle before returning, six hours later, to ask the exact same gentleman for directions.

In general he'll pretend to have never before made your acquaintance and eventually (after repeating the previously-rendered fifteen-minute protestation of your non-acquaintance with Brian's dog) give you an entirely new and completely dissimilar set of instructions that will culminate in your accidental arrival in Paris.

I'm not entirely sure how one manages to drive from Ireland to mainland Europe, but it happens, I swear.

But anyhoo, my point is that Irish road signs are designed to remind you of things you already know, or provide you with details about subjects on which you already have high-level understanding.  And Wikis are exactly the same way; they make excellent references, but they're largely terrible as first-order sources or methods of communicating information, primarily because of the structure they inspire - the same disaggregated, freeform organization that makes it possible to deep-dive into related matters as a reference makes it very difficult to arrange information in the sort of cohesive sequence necessary to teach people something new.

Learning something new is akin to recording every lecture in a college course and playing them back in a random sequence - even though every note may be hit, it's not precisely musical.

All of which means precisely nothing, except that I haven't posted in a while and this was the only interesting and non-proprietary thought in my head.

In that it doesn't work and it's pissing me off.

Web rollouts don't always go as planned; this I very much know.  But there comes a point when you hit the rollback plan, take stock of the situation, and try again tomorrow night.  You don't get points for perseverance when your customers are without service.

MacBook Air Meets Blizzard

For the benefit of Google:  The MacBook Air runs Warcraft III just fine, and seems to run World of Warcraft acceptably for my purposes.  Of course I've never been a heavy WoW player, and I suspect serious raiders may find it lacking.
Shiny it is.

Took two tries: first one was a dud with a non-charging battery; took it back the next day and they swapped it out with a minimum of fuss.  Xcode, TextMate, and Clan Lord run well; I'm currently download WoW more out of curiosity than any actual desire to play.

The screen is gorgeous (very bright), the keyboard is very nice thus far -- the gaps between the keys don't impair my touch-typing any and the keys have a nice spring and click to them, and the solid state hard disk is speedy as hell thus far.

The biggest thing I wanted out of the Air was a cool lower case that could be used on my lap without jeopardizing the continuation of the Kerwin name, and on that it has thus far delivered.

So far, it has the Skirwan seal of approval.  Go forth and purchase, my hypothetical legions of nonexistent readers who hang on my every capricious opinion.