Skip to main content

Posts

Don't Trust the Process

Don't Trust the Process Prelude The first thing I did, after signing the offer letter, was to uninstall the Blind app from my phone. My brain needed a long break from that one. The anonymous commentary from tech employees is valuable, but I don't love the picture it paints of us. Next, I cancelled all the five-hour-long "virtual onsite" interviews I had scheduled for early January and closed my in-progress homework assignments. The feeling of liberation from this was palpable. I had finally landed a new job, one that I was very excited about. More on that later. For now, let's delve into the months of misery leading up to it. As is tradition in my field, allow me to lay out a statement of scope. Not in Scope A solution to these problems. If you're someone who thinks that nobody can present complaints without bundling them with a neatly packaged solution, you should probably turn back now. Any treatment of those coming from less advantage
Recent posts

Reflections on working as an election judge

I don't know how to start with this. There are a number of isolated moments that stand out in my mind. Some are poignant, like the woman who, upon hearing we couldn't find her registration in the computer, shook her head and said, her quiet frustration palpable, "I just won't vote, then." She put her driver's license away and calmly walked out of the room. We had already told her about the Voter Verification Hotline, but she didn't seem all that interested in waiting on hold for what promised to be a very long time. So she left without casting her ballot. I tend to personalize negative outcomes in a way that isn't warranted (my wife can attest to this), so I had to acknowledge, then dismiss, the sinking feeling that the situation was somehow my fault. Some moments were joyful, in that primitive "caveman starts fire" sense, like when our one troublesome ePollbook (the custom laptop builds used to check in voters) finally connected to th

Happy Anniversary

There's something you should know about me.  I absolutely dread doing home improvement projects. The scope of the task in question doesn't make any difference.  Even something as simple as hanging up a picture frame fills me with trepidation and angst. It's not that I'm lazy, or unwilling to do the work.  One major problem is that these simple jobs never, ever turn out quite so simple as I'd hoped.  Before I discovered toggle bolts, I mangled several spots in our walls.  But then I became enlightened in the ways of properly hanging objects on plaster and lath walls. So I proceeded with confidence to the next project, now equipped with the correct tools.  But the hole I drilled wasn't big enough to insert the folded wings, so I had to keep widening it.  And since I didn't have a large enough drill bit, and didn't want to spend another hour going to the hardware store, this involved wiggling the drill around in a circular motion and hoping for the best. 

The Limits of Determinism

There is something a little bit magic about writing code. You start with nothing*, and after hacking around for a while, you end up with a set of executable instructions that can make a computer do something useful or interesting. This is even more true in recent years than when I started, with the explosion of cloud based services that give individual developers (or small teams) the ability to distribute applications globally, with few obstacles, and at a downright reasonable price. I don't think there are too many fields where an individual can produce something valuable without needing approval, lots of money or supplies, or even to leave the house. Another aspect to programming that I've grown to appreciate over the course of my career is the deterministic nature of software. Barring some circumstances so rare as to be hardly worth mentioning, a piece of software will perform exactly as its told, repeatedly and without error. Granted, programs rarely do exactly what

Timeline of a Baltimore Snowstorm

Friday, 2:50PM : In spite of its name, AccuWeather.com publishes a story about an upcoming blizzard, which would hit the mid-Atlantic region sometime early next week. The writer draws parallels to the historic Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962, which killed 400 and caused $200 million in non-inflation-adjusted damage. At Constellation Energy headquarters, BGE executives leave work early to avoid the preemptive angry calls that start flooding in. Friday, 3:17PM : The last roll of toilet paper on store shelves within a 35 mile radius of Baltimore is purchased from Giant in Towson. Saturday : Some anonymous jerk on the internet (probably from D.C.) coins the term "Snowquester." National media sources seize upon this and a Twitter frenzy ensues, to the chagrin of everyone. In response, local redditors suggest the term "Bohquester" as an alternative even though that term has absolutely nothing to do with weather. Sunday : Local evening news leads with reporters c

All I Want For Christmas is a Super-Intelligent Public Transit System - Part 1

I was having a friendly debate with another commenter over at Chicagoist, in an article lamenting the latest round of RTA cuts . Upon floating some rough ideas for how Chicago's transit system (or, indeed, any city's transit system) could be made to operate more dynamically, I was rebuked by a solid wall of skepticism. I think my biggest problem--and my problem with most technology--is that I simply don't see the benefit outweighing the expense of implementation coupled with ongoing maintenance. I honestly believe that a simple, fixed route bus system runs about as efficiently as it is possible for a bus system to run. Could it be? That nearly the simplest possible approach to a bus system one can imagine happens to be the most efficient? I find that to be highly unlikely. Many problem domains don't favor simple approaches. Said another way: the universe is complex; deal with it. Take one example from the field of computer science: sorting numbers. Specificall

Homegrown Wisconsin/Simply Wisconsin CSA Weeks 15-21

Week 15: September 23, 2009 Tatsoi, red peppers, radishes, tomatoes, red cippolini onion, eggplant, potatoes, carrots, sweet corn, celery The tatsoi was new to me, but tasted great raw. The carrots tended to be stubby but flavorful. At this point I started donating all my potatoes to my coworker Anand (there will be many more to come). Week 16: September 30, 2009 Broccoli, red and green peppers, potatoes, green cabbage, parsley, radishes, pears, carrots, red/heirloom/roma tomatoes, two dozen eggs The eggs continue to impress, and parsley goes well with them. Heirloom tomatoes are weird but kinda tasty nonetheless. Week 17: October 7, 2009 Butternut squash, kale, leeks, carrots, red bell/lipstick peppers, potatoes, heirloom tomato, green pepper, pears, kale, mizuna, two dozen eggs The greens were good but a surprise (haven't got that many in a while, but it was no challenge to finish them all). I ended up cooking the squash with a pot roast - probably wasn&