Archive for January, 2004

Apple’s Market Share

January 31, 2004

This month’s MacWorld contains a tribute to the Macintosh for its twentieth anniversary and I found a fantastic quote from Roger Ebert with a unique perspective on Apple’s low market share:

Apple’s market share does provide us with an accurate reading of the percentage of reasonable people in our society.

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GM Goodness

January 28, 2004

This is so innovative and amazing. Stuff it, genetic engineering bashers!

Resumes, Interviews, and Things Careerwise

January 28, 2004

There’s been a lot of buzz surrounding Joel Spolsky‘s recent article on writing résumés, so I thought I’d chime in with my experiences and another article I found.

A few months ago, we went looking for a web developer to help with our online banking redesign project. We wanted a contract-to-hire ASP.NET developer. I was fortunate enough to have had a hand in crafting the job description that went out with the posting and was asked to participate in the final interviews. I took the challenge seriously because whoever was hired was someone that I’d have to work with closely and it would be very difficult to get the person fired if he or she didn’t work out—as some unfortunate experiences with previous co-workers indicated.

First let me address some annoying things I saw in the résumés that were submitted:

  • Try to limit your résumé to a single page or two at the most. One guy, who wasn’t hired, submitted a seven-page beast that went on forever. It was a pain wading through it and it didn’t speak well for a parsimonious mind.
  • Proofread your résumé and have other people proofread it to. Oh, and run it through the spell checker. There were many people who obviously didn’t do that. There were odd capitalizations of technologies aplenty: if you’re applying for an ASP.NET job, don’t capitalize it Asp.Net or Asp.net—it’s a little thing, to be sure, but if you’re deficient on details while trying to get hired then I’m skeptical about what we’ll get if we do hire you.
  • List certifications that are relevant to the job at hand and don’t put them in the most prominent place. You’d think that someone applying for an ASP.NET job would know that we don’t care about your Cisco certification, but people think that they have to put them in there since they went to the trouble of obtaining them. The guy with the seven-page résumé had 29 certifications and he listed them all. Color me not impressed.
  • If a job description emphasizes web application development in an object-oriented model exclusively, don’t apply if you’re a Web designer or procedural coder. You’re wasting our time and we’ll probably be enjoying a laugh at your expense.
  • As a corollary of the above, don’t shovel in every technology that you’ve used, read about, or heard of in an effort to defeat the mythical HR filtering software. We didn’t have anything of the kind and it really came across as unbelievable. If you feel the urge to pile this stuff in, check with the company to see if they use filtering software.

When I participated in the interviews, I came up with a set of ten questions of a general programming nature to try to get a sense of the interviewee’s programming chops. My co-worker’s list consisted of technical questions specific to ASP.NET. By balancing these two areas, we really ran the interviewees through the ringer and I think it worked out pretty well. I’ll post an update tomorrow with the actual questions I asked. That said, here’s some things I encountered during the interviews:

  • Don’t be late.
  • If you’re going to be late, call well in advance and have a good reason. Reschedule if necessary.
  • If you call in advance and notify the interviewers that you’ll be late, don’t be late to that.
  • Don’t bring copies of your 29 certifications to the interview.
  • Listen to the questions asked and answer them. Or ask clarifying questions until you feel you understand what the interviewer is seeking.
  • Appear decisive when answering questions. Don’t hemm and haw or change directions in mid-sentence.
  • Think about your answers if you have to. No one will think ill of you if you ask for a minute to consider the question. No, really. If that’s what it takes to give a representative answer, they’ll thank you for it.
  • If you’re not familiar with some particular programming construct that popped up in a question, don’t pretend like you are and answer with what you think it might do. No, really. Don’t. Say that you’re not familiar with that and that you’d probably check the online help in Visual Studio.NET or do a quick Google search on the construct. Show that you’ve got a plan of how to acquire new knowledge; no one expects you to know everything. Chances are good that the obscurity of the construct was designed to test whether you’re blowing smoke or not.

Well, that’s about all the advice that I accumulated from my recent interviewery. I’m sure there’s more that I’ve forgotten; I’ll post an update if I think of any more.

Amazon Referral Fees Update

January 28, 2004

Thanks to all of you who ordered stuff that I recommended using my Amazon Associates ID! I just got my quarterly report and it was a gangbuster quarter:

  • Total Purchases: $88.17
  • Total Referral Fees: $7.81

Add all of this to my previous to-date fees and I’ve broken the $10 mark!! Only $89.93 to go before I’ll get a check. Hot damn!

Orkut: It’s Not the Risk Country You Could Never Pronounce

January 24, 2004

Google has recently launched its Friendster-killer, Orkut. It’s very similar to Friendster except that it’s invitation-only, lightweight, and not crashy. There has been quite a furor over its elitism, but I got invited.

It looks like a really neat service. If you weren’t invited and you would like to be, drop me a line and I’ll invite you if I know you.

Political Re-Education, American Style

January 21, 2004

Under Communism, political re-education meant torture and brainwashing. In America, it meant Hayek and consumer goods. The contrast is delicious.

Squaw Peak Soon?

January 21, 2004

Apparently, the state legislature is just as unhappy about the political renaming of Squaw Peak as many residents are. They’re working on enacting a law that insulates the state naming board from gubernatorial meddling and that should result in the re-renaming of Piestewa Peak back to Squaw Peak.

For those of you unfamiliar with the controversy (and who don’t feel like clicking on the previous links), our glorious governor, Janet Napolitano, tried to make some political hay out of the death of Private Lori Piestewa in Iraq by renaming a prominent Phoenix mountain and nearby freeway after her. The mountain in question has come under fire repeatedly in the last decade because Indians (or the AIM activists and graduate students among them) found the term “squaw” offensive. This contention is poppycock, of course, and serves to whip people into a frenzy of righteous indignation and (presumably) donation.

The death of Lori Piestewa is unfortunate. I lament the loss of a mother and soldier. Piestewa was in the same Army group as Jessica Lynch and was one of those killed in an ambush. She should definitely be memorialized in an Iraq War monument or at the monument that stands in front of the Arizona capitol building with the names of Arizona war dead. To name an entire mountain and freeway after her in a city that is as far removed from the Indian reservation on which she lived as can be is unfathomable.

There are rules about naming mountains designed to prevent such political machinations by preventing the naming of them until five years after the person’s death. That seems like a reasonable rule to me. Napolitano strong-armed members of the board into sidestepping that rule and generally threw her weight around in a most clumsy manner—though perfectly fitting with Arizona’s gubernatorial history.

I am not racist. If the mountain’s name were truly offensive, then I think it would be fine to rename it. There are many examples of natural landmarks with the word “nigger” in their names and they have been renamed. Squaw is not offensive, except in a very manufactured sense. Let the name stand and move on to the business of balancing the state budget (or even reducing it, can you imagine!).

Heuristics

January 20, 2004

When I was a kid, I loved books about heuristics—rules of thumb, aphoristic laws, and the sort. I’ve still got probably a dozen of those books and I think I probably checked out every other one at my local library.

Edge.org asked famous people for their laws and they’ve got quite a comprehensive collection. I’ve read through a few, but my love of heuristics has slackened over time. Maybe this will be the catalyst that rekindles my affection for them.

Resolution #9

January 20, 2004

The second edition of Learning Python is out and this review of it over at Slashdot makes it sound really great. I’ve read Dive into Python, which I didn’t care for at all, and several other free, online books. None of them really cut the mustard for me, so I’m thinking it might time to add the book to my shopping cart at Amazon.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that my work will get Safari soon enough.

[UPDATE: If you’re not convinced of Python’s utility, then here’s ESR to ‘splain it.]

The New Cold War

January 19, 2004

Reading this speech by Dick Cheney and some color commentary, I can’t help but be a little glum about the future. The Cold War was great in hindsight because it asphyxiated Communism in all but a few small holdouts (okay China is big, but its new style of Communism is more like Sweden than Stalin), but it was a really, really scary thing while it was happening.

I’m lucky to have lived at the end of the Brezhnev era, when the Soviet Union devolved into musical chairs at the premier level. The threat posed by the Soviet Union was very real, to be sure, but there wasn’t any shoe-banging or U2-downing or nuclear war drills in school. The Soviets were embroiled in Afghanistan and only pestered us in Grenada and Angola. By the time I was old enough to realize the difference between Communism and capitalism, the best red-baiting we could muster was Red Dawn and Russkies.

So Cheney’s prognostications don’t fill me with the dread and fear that they might engender in someone one or two generations behind me, but I know enough about the history of the time to manufacture some of my own. The Cold War was costly in a very serious way and it mostly never came down to actual incidents or many lives lost (with the significant exceptions of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, though those weren’t against the Soviet Union). The war on terrorism promises to be both costly in money and lives since the foe is amorphous and willing to attack.

A war of this kind that goes on for several decades will surely have repercussions in the American and global economies. Cheney is already talking up massive military spending and I’m sure that Bush would like to do even more than what he’s let on. The dislocations of such military spending will likely dwarf the significant space-related spending taking place at the same time. And we’re supposed to believe that Bush is a Reagan-esque fiscal conservative?

I am not a peacenik. I don’t believe that we should take the terrorism threat lying down. I just think that we should have a tighter mission with a firmer strategy that seeks to eradicate terrorism in the most efficient manner possible. Perhaps it’s time to outsource the war on terrorism to an entity that knows how to do it (I’m not talking about Halliburton, Dick): Israel.

Seriously. Maybe it’s time to throw a few hundred billion at the Mossad and give them a real simple mission: eliminate al-Qaeda and all of its minions. It’s not like Israel isn’t chomping at that bit and it’s not like they’re worried about bad PR—the Muslim world already hates Israel. I think it’s pretty clear that we’re out of our league with the war on terrorism (or, at least, we’re not willing to do what’s necessary), so let’s contract out that war.