Santa Barbara … Nope.

Well, that was one of the stranger interview experiences I’ve ever had! Long story short: I’ll not be taking that job in Santa Barbara!

So, I went down to Santa Barbara to interview with this company after having had a few phone interviews, including a technical interview. Before going down it had seemed like things were really going well, like we were a great fit (albeit with a few things I’d have to get used to). I get to the interview at 11:00, we chit chat, go out to lunch, and then settle in for interviews. At this point, I’m expecting to meet people, talk with people – basically, to see what things are like and have them sell me on what a great company they are and how much of a nice place it is. Hahahaha, Nope!

Instead of selling me on them, they proceed to ask me tricky programming questions. Which, OK, fine, yes, people do this. They usually do it earlier in the process, but whatever, I can roll with it. The questions are usually idiotic, so that’s not unusual, even though I thought we were past this point, but hey, not getting hung up on that. Did I expect each of the three different interviewers to demonstrate odd personality traits that I would find distasteful to work with? No, certainly not. Did I expect to be pushed to answer when I had stated that I did not know the answer? Nope. Did I expect someone to mimic my body language? Like, I was fiddling with an earring while thinking about a coding question and the guy goes and tugs on his earlobe? Oh, no, I did not expect this. Nor did I expect them to be rude to other employees (a lady asked to change the thermostat in the conference room, since it was freezing in their space outside the conference room, to which the interviewer responded that he didn’t care).

After this strange day, wherein I sell myself to them and straight up do not respond to complete rudeness, I go back to the hotel basically exhausted and play some mindless games on the phone (frozen bubble is fabulous for not having to think, by the way). As I’m playing, I’m thinking over all the little things, and I’m adding them all up, and I’m reaching the conclusion that these are not nice people, and this is not going to be a nice place to work.

So, we drive home, and I talk it all out with T, and I write the recruiter a politely worded response to say that I don’t think it’s going to be a good fit.

And then I get a call from the hiring manager, wanting to talk it over.

Santa Barbara 82

The hiring manager tells me that these behaviors were intentional. They had intentionally done these things to see how I would react.

Let that sink in for a minute.

A potential employer essentially conducted psychological experimentation with a candidate. Over the course of 6 hours, and by 3 different people, they attempted to see whether I would react negatively to their behavior.

Here’s a little secret, people trying to hire: if you act like someone with whom the candidate would not want to work, that candidate is going to decide that they do not want to work with you. If you later try to tell them it was all a test? Well, that says that you felt entitled to know how the candidate would respond to stressful situations … which says that you intend to subject them to those types of situations, else why subject them to the test? If you do not intend to treat them poorly, why would you need to know how they will react to being treated poorly?

I don’t think there can be any ethical justification of such a test.

In talking with the hiring manager I told him that maybe, if he’d told me what they’d been doing before I left the interview, I might have reached a different decision. Thinking it through, though, I do not think so; I think that even knowing it was a test I would be offended because, again, If you do not intend to treat me that way, Why do you need to know how I will react?

I think I find this especially frustrating because I feel like it was a lie: that I wasted my time going down there because they were not being honest about the purpose of the meeting. Whatever they learned, I hope that they learned that some people react to macho BS by being polite and then removing themselves from the situation as quickly as possible.

I have a few more interviews lined up for the coming weeks, one of which I think looks like it could be quite interesting, the other of which is more “let’s talk more and see what kind of a company you really are.” We’ll see.


Public Service Announcement

This Public Service Announcement brought to you by incompetent web developers. Please note that putting a little sign that says “this site is secure” does not make that site secure.


When I click on the little informational icon to the left of the URL, I can plainly see that the site is NOT secured. Thus, anything entered on the page can be intercepted between my web browser and the server that’s supposed to be collecting the information. And when I try to go to an https:// version of the site, I get told exactly why the site isn’t secure:


That’s right: the site might have been secure, except that the certificates that the web developer tried to use to secure it were not registered to the website, but to some other website. Security doesn’t work that way, folks.

The PSA portion of this post, now: everybody should know to click that little icon, to the left of the URL, any time a website is asking you for information that you wouldn’t want to broadcast to every criminal in the world. And if you get told anything that seems like the site isn’t right, you should leave.

Personally, I contacted the site owner and told them to slap their web developer (literally: I told them that their web developer needs a sharp slap, for trying to play this off as secure when it’s not). In doing so I told them my name and email, but hey, that’s publicly available, so no harm. Other than that, though? Not giving them any of my information, and certainly not giving them my credit card number!

Be careful out there, folks. Just because the website looks slick doesn’t make it trustworthy.


ps: I blacked out the name of the website, because this isn’t about them. I suppose it also serves to protect the incompetent, but hey, I’ve already sent them a nasty note, so there’s no need for public shaming.

“Lived reality is always a muddle.”

It is a truth universally acknowledged among T’s family and friends that D. is “the smart one,” in this relationship, and, in the face of a vast body of evidence, T generally concurs… however, as she has just sent him off to work after a failed attempt to start the car without the key, she would like to herewith state the time-worn truth that it’s a good thing that “cute”… can take one a long way in this world. ::cough::

Oban to Glasgow 9

The big buzz in adult literary circles at present, from Oprah on down, is Colson Whitehead’s THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD. There’s a brilliant New Yorker essay by Kathryn Schulz this month which talks about the actual historical facts of that portion of abolitionist history, and the well-stitched (quilted, even) lies and mythologies which have generally overtaken its history. Whitehead’s novel is kind of a magical realism; the railroad – complete with cars and track – is real, in his point of view, and the novel – which we’ve not read – apparently takes into account who that would work for, and what it would cost them emotionally and physically as well as probably monetarily. Schultz’s essay has some great points about the history, and how Americans tend to view it – and mythologize it – in the general scope of today’s history and politics. Inasmuch as it caused frothing at the mouth for some to consider that slaves even built the White House, it’s obviously easier to recenter the narrative about slavery to the people who helped and healed, rather than who benefited, and to canonize them. We also like to imagine that “had we been there,” we’d have been working shoulder to shoulder with the abolitionists, ever on the side of right.

It’s such a nice fantasy.

The final statement in Schulz’s essay really stuck home:

“One of the biases of retrospection is to believe that the moral crises of the past were clearer than our own—that, had we been alive at the time, we would have recognized them, known what to do about them, and known when the time had come to do so. That is a fantasy. Iniquity is always coercive and insidious and intimidating, and lived reality is always a muddle, and the kind of clarity that leads to action comes not from without but from within. The great virtue of a figurative railroad is that, when someone needs it—and someone always needs it—we don’t have to build it. We are it, if we choose. ♦

Lived reality is always a muddle.

ALWAYS. A. MUDDLE. Oh, for the moral high ground which many people seem to find, and assume that their lives would have been peerless and blameless back in the day. They would have turned away from anything smacking of sexism or racism. THEY would have never kept slaves. THEY would have taken the kids out of the city for a camping trip to Jericho instead of being in Jerusalem the weekend they decided to crucify Christ. Always with the superiority complex, we humans! If it were all that easy, we’d all be swanning around in perfection, perhaps on golden streets. It’s NEVER that easy – life is also coercive, and insidious, and intimidating, full stop. This reminds me to, for the love of God, to give a bit of grace to others in terms of their follies and mistakes in the here-and-now.

We recommend Schulz’s entire essay, “The Perilous Lure of the Underground Railroad” where she considers Whitehead’s novel and Ben Winter’s alternate history novel, Underground Airlines within the context of history, historians, and how it we consider this piece of our collective past today.

Old Code Lives On

Stirling 307Occasionally I remember how old I am. Thinking about how I got into computer programming, I usually tell the story about how I was working doing data entry and got tired of the repetitive nature of the job, so automated a piece of it and ended up drawing the attention of the IT department as a result. (I still keep in contact with that guy, 20 years later.) Thinking about it, though, I realized that my start was a lot earlier than that. I realized this when reading an article on The Law of Accelerating Returns. Something in there struck me as being … well, wrong.

The movie Back to the Future came out in 1985, and “the past” took place in 1955. In the movie, when Michael J. Fox went back to 1955, he was caught off-guard by the newness of TVs, the prices of soda, the lack of love for shrill electric guitar, and the variation in slang. It was a different world, yes—but if the movie were made today and the past took place in 1985, the movie could have had much more fun with much bigger differences. The character would be in a time before personal computers, internet, or cell phones—today’s Marty McFly, a teenager born in the late 90s, would be much more out of place in 1985 than the movie’s Marty McFly was in 1955.

Now, I don’t know about you, but my first DOS-based computer resembled something like the PC3 “LunchBox” Portable Computer, and came to me in something like 1984. Of course, somewhere around the same time we were playing with the Commodore Vic-20 (came out in 1981), Commodore 64 (1982), and the Commodore 128 (1985). So, no, going back to 1985 wouldn’t be all that shocking. Yes, it’d be annoying to have to use a card catalog in order to find something, rather than asking teh interwebs. It’d also be strange not to have call waiting, or cell phones, but I can’t say that it’d be particularly troublesome overall. Nor can I really say the world was all that much different.

Stirling 308I got to thinking about how long I’ve been writing software (this time) because I’d been asked to pull together some screenshots and instructions for a database application I built back in 1998. This application is still running, 18 years later, and still the “system of record” for the company. This and a couple other systems I’ve written are still ticking over in some form or another (this one’s running on a virtual machine just to keep it alive, because nobody can get the software any more, and nobody really knows how to replace it – I had to install an older development tool just to convert it to what it would have been in 2003’s format so that I could convert it to the current format and have a look through things.).

In any event, I think it’s important to point out that yes, the rate of technological change is ever-increasing. On the other hand, there are these bedrock systems which keep on running that nobody is willing to replace because they aren’t broken – they still do their job just fine, and there really is no need to change them. (Have a look at this PCWorld article, for instance.) In parallel with these systems, old code keeps on ticking over, and continues to work (e.g., just about the entire Banking sector of the UK runs on COBOL, or the VA Hospital’s Electronic Medical Records system is .NET wrapped around Java wrapped around Delphi wrapped around a file-based storage system – so, your medical record is just a text file somewhere, when all’s said and done). Other, operating-system type foundations have also not shifted – there really are only 2 operating systems in use today, *NIX and Windows NT – and those have been around for decades – everything added to them is just window-dressing.

It’s only the surface of things which has really shifted – the core remains as it was 20 or even 40 years ago. Yes, computers are much faster. Yes, computers are way smaller, and in seemingly everything. But I just don’t see the level of technological change being all that huge even now, nor do I think it’s changing as rapidly as Kurzweil thinks. Or, rather, I don’t think that the entire ecosystem changes as rapidly as all that – it’s that the outliers are arriving faster, but their adoption depends upon their incorporation into the devices and technologies we already use, which is necessarily slowed by our very humanity.

Dolomites D 300So. Take the time to look back at all the computing you’ve done, and realize how much things haven’t changed, despite the new names and different packages. Ignore the window-dressing and really think about the technology and you may be surprised at how, really, things haven’t changed. Sure, if they implanted teh interwebs into your head you’d be hugely changed – and, yes, they’re working on that somewhere – but do we really see it happening in our lifetimes? I really don’t think so, because I really think that the rate of change is not solely governed by tech, but by the economics of the matter, and by our ability to incorporate that change.


On Academia

Glasgow Uni D 601

Happy 2015, friends. Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated… not by much, but exaggerated. Meanwhile, as I ponder the mysteries of coughs, sinus infections, hives masquerading as chicken pox, and other randomly striking disorders, some thoughts:

When I first considered doing a PhD, I believed that I’d find a place in academia somewhere, either supervising or conducting research, with maybe a little teaching thrown in. I had arrived at this vague notion of getting a PhD as a step towards teaching and mentoring others interested in academic pursuit.

I didn’t get into too many of the details as I was doing it but, years of toil later, as I was nearly finished and ready to start hunting for work as an academic, I learned that pretty much every academic slot would be taken either by someone 20 years my junior, or was already filled by someone who had already held the position for at least 20 years – there just weren’t places for fresh PhD’s. At that point, I could have gone on and done a post-doc (essentially, done research for which someone else would take credit, for very little pay), I could give up on the idea of Academia entirely, or I could teach part-time on the side and treat Academia as little more than a hobby.

I decided to take the latter option, this past year, and taught a few online classes. I have since decided that “Academia” isn’t to be found in online education – at least not with that particular institution – and have given up on the idea of Academia entirely. I could go on about students who can’t even be bothered to spell-check their assignments, or who somehow believe that writing a few sentences of their opinions down should magically grant them an A, but those are just the annoyances of teaching and could be remedied.

What cannot be remedied, though, is that by teaching “in my spare time” I was essentially depressing the wage scale. I didn’t need the money (for a given value of “need” – it’s always nice, but I did have another job that was paying the rent), so didn’t really have any incentive to negotiate a higher wage (what they were paying me amounted to less than $18 / hour). By agreeing to work for that rate, I was essentially pushing someone else out of the market. And it is a market: where I was teaching, each student paid something like $30,000 per year for the privilege of working through some online resources. The total cost in salaries to the university for the entire group of students was something on the order of $18,000, meaning that anything more than 1 student taking a course would be profitable for the university. To state it a bit differently: with a cohort of 20 students, the university’s take was something approaching $600,000, from which they’d subtract some $18,000 in teaching salary.

Yes, yes, there are other costs which have to come out – the servers which run the courseware must be paid for, email software must be maintained, etc. However: teaching salaries represented a cost of only 3% of the amount taken in by that university.

I continue to follow along with The Adjunct Project and articles like this one keep coming through to me.

Working as an adjunct is a bit like working for a charity, I guess: you do it because it makes you feel good, and people donate money thinking that the money will go to help people, but the only good that gets done is by the volunteers and the money goes into the pockets of someone else. That’s adjunct teaching, and the university system in this country.

Which brings me to my conclusion – after five years away, and two years now back and trying to figure out what it all means: I don’t regret the PhD. But I will probably simply keep mentoring people in my community for free, rather than participate in the formal education system. Was it worth the travel? Undoubtedly, yes. The time? The debt? Well… an expensive lesson, if one can afford it. All to do what I’d already been doing – but with those three little letters behind my name (or, actually, eight, since the M. Litt was also earned during our time in Scotland), maybe my mentoring will mean more to someone.


A Wee Rant

Things have been quiet here for awhile, as I’ve been trying to make my final changes to the Ph.D. thesis (or, for those of you in the U.S., “dissertation”). Things are pretty much to the point of being ready to submit, with only a few more paragraphs to add, and the spell-checking having consumed the last several hours. Yes: several hours of spell-checking. Why, you might ask?

I’m required to write using U.K. spelling. The vast majority of my literature comes from authors writing using U.S. spelling. Thus, running a spell-check isn’t a trivial task. For example, these words jump out as being problems, and I need to see whether the word is used in a quotation or if I’m using it in my own writing:

judgement judgment      behavior behaviour
artefacts artifacts      favour favor
organise organize      grey gray
candour candor      centre center
organisation organization      rigour rigor
socialise, computerise, anthropomorphise, conceptualise, polarise, optimise, paralyse… anything ordinarily spelled -ize

Those are just the ones I kept track of, before I gave it up as a bad idea to try to detail all of the words which are spelled (or, ya know, spelt) differently.

Once those last couple of paragraphs are done, though, I can begin to prepare for the viva, and we can start sending out the applications for teaching positions. We’ve still no idea where we’ll end up, but we’re casting the net fairly wide at this point.


{hangin’ on a shoogily peg}

They’ve hung their jackets on a shoogly peg, these people have.

Oh, what? You have no idea what we’re talking about? Let us fill you in.

A gentleman from the old property management firm we rented from, whom we called Lurk – because he did, though he was a nice enough man – called D. today. “Oh, hello, there,” said he. “This is X from Y Housing. Yep, I’m calling about the old place, on Lynedoch. Could you tell us how to reset that boiler? The new renters say it’s been out for two weeks, and we haven’t been able to get someone in…”

Oh. Good. Grief. Hello, inappropriate and ridiculous. How hard would it have been for the owner to have fixed that before insisting that someone new was shuttled in? How hard would it have been for the property management firm to have insisted on a new boiler!? Of all the stupid things! And then to call us — so we can tell yet another generation how to fish around inside a machine capable of blowing them up, with a wooden spoon, feeling around for one small gray switch that you can’t actually see too well, since there’s no light in the boiler closet…??


Oh. About that shoogly thing. It’s a footballer term, which we’re told has nothing to do with the game. As near as we can tell, it’s a trash-talking phrase that means you’re about the get the sack – your job is in jeopardy. (Maybe you don’t have control of the ball anymore?) All we can say is that “Y Housing” never did have the ball, never were on the ball, and if it were up to us, we’d take the jackets of the whole lot of them, plus the owner of the flat and put them on the shoogliest peg we could find.

And then let all the jackets fall on the floor.

Those poor new renters…!

Patent? Copyright? Oh, no you didn’t!

Greenock BW 05

I’m disturbed a bit after having read this article: Read the last paragraph and think upon what it really means for those of us who write code.

When I think about code, I think that, well, I wrote it. Sure, I wrote it when I was employed by XXX company. They have it, they “own” it. But do I not, also, own it? Why is it that copyright / patent law should be able to dictate that my prior employer owns my code exclusively? Can I not also own that code? After all is said and done, they still have that code. They still get the benefit of using that code. Why should it be that they get to slap some other company for using the same concepts?

The next company I work for will need for me to build the same kinds of things that I built for the last company (after all, I focus on companies who need my services and skills, and I’m very skilled in a very narrow area). I’ll no doubt use the same methodology as I used for the previous employer. Am I violating copyright by using the concepts inside my own brain? According to U.S. copright law, well, yes, I am. I’m “stealing” from my previous company.

I wrote the code. I thought of the code. And now I’m “stealing” the code. No – I really don’t think so.

In “the days of old,” coders would bring their code with them. That was one of the reasons people hired old coders: they’d have a wealth of code when they came. Today, though, such things are copyrighted / patented, so that the “old coder” is essentially no different from the “young coder” except that the “old coder” is … well, older, more likely to die, or retire. How is this better for the world? How does this improve things?

Copyright / Patent Law is entirely broken. Its purposes have been subverted for the profit of a few and only serve the interests of those few.

Copy at will.

Creative commons license: attribution, non-commercial, derivatives OK.


Oxford Did WHAT?

As Leila points out, some enfeebled, grammar-deficient numpty has decided that Oxford University no longer requires the Oxford Comma. True, it’s only their “branding” people who have been given the go-ahead to be tumshies, but you’d think that somebody would have at least given it a bit of thought!

I suppose that expecting marketing to actually, oh, consult a grammarian is asking a bit much? The Oxford Comma serves to separate items in a list. Without it, lists become unclear.

There are clearly three items in this list:

The fashionable colors are red, green, and blue.

There may be either two or three items in this list:

The fashionable colors are red, green and blue.

The first example is the “Oxford Comma” – it tells you that the list keeps on going and consists of three items. The “and” in there just makes things flow a bit better, but really is optional; it’s perfectly valid to say:

The fashionable colors are red, green, blue.

True, we may not be accustomed to hearing things spoken without that “and,” but I’ve certainly used sentence constructs without the optional “and” and had them not stand out as awkward – because I was using the Oxford Comma as it’s intended and knew that the silly “and” wasn’t the important bit; the Oxford Comma was!.

This rant isn’t about standards, nor resisting change in standards. This rant is about language as an exact tool, being used to convey an exact meaning. If it ceases to function in that manner – if you’re using finger-paints instead of a drafting pencil – then language becomes even more ambiguous and communication becomes more difficult. Leave out punctuation if you want to be intentionally obtuse, or poetic, or vague; if you want to communicate clearly, learn to use it properly!

What next? Will Oxford perhaps abandon the apostrophe? Will they not see the need to distinguish between plural, singular-posessive, and plural-posessive? I don’t know why I even bother. Numpties.