A Strange Test

Published at 15:49 on 30 August 2015

It’s not unusual for programming jobs to have programming tests as part of the interview process. What is strange is for a job that was advertised as being back-end coding having its biggest, toughest question being to code an AJAX web page.

After six slow hours, I’ve gotten the thing to satisfy two of the three requirements, and I think that’s about it for me on this one. Six hours with Javascript is about five hours too many for me, and if doing such things is really pertinent for that job, I don’t want it anyhow.

But really, if front-end stuff is that important to you as an employer, why not simply advertise the job that way? (Would an orchestra advertise for a tuba player if they really wanted a violinist?)

Mission Accomplished

Published at 18:48 on 27 August 2015

A month after I got laid off in the midst of having some work done on my home, I finished the work today by completing the painting of my bedroom. Actually I spent under a month on finishing the work myself, because the first week post-layoff was spent taking a break and decompressing.

Now I’m ready for another break, of sorts: I’ve done very little hiking in the past month, because I’ve been preoccupied with playing home handyman. Right on cue, it looks like we’re heading into a rainy spell, which may well end up being the end of the summer dry season. Oh, well; so it goes. Hope the early rain makes for a good mushroom season (last time we had a lot of rain in early September, it was epic).

More Drywall Secrets

Published at 14:01 on 24 August 2015

  1. Homax (the main brand aerosol texturing compound) is very touchy stuff. Changes in temperature or the pressure of the propellant in the can radically affect the texture you get. This means: a) always do a test coat on cardboard before using it; just because you got the nozzle adjusted properly yesterday doesn’t mean you will get the same texture on the same setting today; b) because of all the test coats you make, don’t expect to get anywhere near the patching coverage advertised on the can, c) you’ll have to throw out the can before it’s empty, because it will get to the stage where pressure is ramping down so fast that you can’t get consistent results even on a small patch.
  2. All the above said, it’s still much cheaper to texture your own patches than to pay someone else to do it.
  3. The water-based texturing compound is to be preferred. Not only does it stink far less, it dries slower. If you get a nasty surprise, it can be scraped off before it dries with relative ease.
  4. Premixed mud is easier to use than trying to get all the lumps out of some powder you have to mix with water.
  5. That said, there’s reasons to fiddle with the powder. For openers, quick-setting “hot mud” is only available in powder form. I just bought a bag of it to do the last two patches in my house. Reason: they’re high up, and I had to rent a large step ladder to reach them. Thus, the bother of mixing my own and the expense of buying another kind of mud (when I still have plenty of premixed left) pays for itself because I’ll be able to return the ladder far earlier.
  6. Hot mud is quick-setting but not quick-drying. I.e. when it first sets it will still be damp, and you won’t be able to sand it without your sandpaper quickly clogging. It still takes 24 to 36 hours for hot mud to dry. The solution is to use a drywall knife or paint scraper to shave excess mud off. Save sanding for the final step, after it’s all dry.
  7. Be sure the mud you buy has the words “lite,” “light,” or “easy sanding” in it, particularly if it’s hot mud (which is notorious for setting up as hard as a rock otherwise).
  8. Hot mud comes in various set times, from 5 minutes up to 90 or more. I chose 45 as a compromise between being able to mix it and work with it without feeling rushed and rapid turnaround for the next stage.
  9. To the best of my knowledge, hot mud is only available in ridiculously large batches. I had to buy 18 lbs of powder, of which I will use only a fraction. (But, to reiterate, that expense still paid for itself.)

Some Secrets to Patching Drywall

Published at 10:35 on 20 August 2015

I’ve actually had pretty good luck doing my own drywall patching so far. I’ve learnt three significant secrets:

  1. If you’re not a pro, you have the choice between doing a slow job or a bad job. Naturally, the former is by far the better choice. So expect it to take a while. Applying the mud isn’t easy and will take some time for each coat. Often, you’ll botch it right near the end and basically have to start over. That’s OK, you’re not a pro. Just try again. Moreover, don’t think you’ll get things finish-ready after feathering out three or four coats; expect several more touch-up stages. Expect to do a fair amount of sanding. It’s taken over a week for me to complete each patch (largely because I have to wait at least 24 hours for the mud to dry between each stage).
  2. With practice, you can learn to remove mud and leave a decently-neat surface. By contrast, it’s virtually impossible to apply mud neatly. Even the pros don’t attempt that. If you watch a video of someone finishing a drywall patch on YouTube, you’ll see that what they do is apply significantly more mud than is needed at each stage, then carefully remove the excess to leave a neat surface.
  3. One of the most difficult patches is an interior 45-degree corner. Unlike 90-degree corners, they tend to be gradual and not sharp. Not only are there no tools out there to directly form such corners, trying to form one freehand with a straight knife is (by contrast with a sharp corner, which is tricky but doable) virtually impossible. The solution is to make your own tool. I used a piece of thin, stiff polystyrene cut from a salad mix container lid. I took care to cut one edge as straight as possible, then curled the plastic as I held it, making a gradually-curved edge to use to smooth the mud and make it match the existing corner curvature.
  4. It’s also exceedingly difficult to match texture. It’s noteworthy that many pros don’t really attempt to: their solution to patching a textured wall is to sand and retexture the entire wall. But I took it slow and blew a good chunk of my can of texturing compound just fine-tuning both the texture setting and my technique (I textured scrap cardboard cut from old boxes). While my two completed patches don’t match perfectly they do match closely enough that I basically have to know where the patch is and get a foot away from the wall to discern the difference. That’s good enough for me.

The NYT Amazon Article

Published at 22:32 on 19 August 2015

In case you’ve been living under a rock the past week, it’s here. Basically, it’s nothing I don’t already know.

I actually applied for a few Amazon jobs once, and got phone-screened. It was clear from the phone screen it was basically the sort of place described in the article, and that was the end of my interest in working there.

Moreover, I live in Seattle and work in the high-tech field (when not between jobs, as presently). As such, I’ve had the chance to meet many ex-Amazon employees. They’ve all described it as basically the sort of place the NYT described.

There’s been some talk that like it or not, this makes Amazon the workplace of the future. Maybe. First, nothing is set in stone. Many people hate workplaces like that. It’s therefore likely that persisting in treating people that way will produce some sort of blowback.

Maybe it will be legal, via the political system (stricter overtime and leave laws). Maybe it will be via private actors legally exerting their pressure (e.g. worker choosing to organize a union). Maybe it will involve illegal but nonviolent actions, like sick-outs, blockades, or sabotage. Maybe it will be both violent and illegal (a workplace shooting or three). Maybe one or more of the above.

Second, the more it happens, and the more unstoppable it at first appears, the more it will radicalize people, because the more it will prove the old claim that capitalism cannot be reformed and naturally wants to revert to its sweatshop ways. I.e., the longer the blowback takes to appear, and the more frustrated it initially is, the more likely it is to become vigorous and militant.

Requiring people to give up their lives for a company that doesn’t much care about them and is set on mercilessly weeding them out is fundamentally inhuman and degrades the worth of the individual. It is at variance with centuries of post-Enlightenment progress in the other direction, towards greater valuation of individual worth.

Amazon should, in other words, expect resistance.

Pondering a New Feature: Sleazy Recruiters

Published at 10:55 on 19 August 2015

I’m seriously pondering adding a new category and recurring feature for sleazy recruiters to this blog. It would be restricted to obviously sleazy recruiters. Even though my experience indicates it’s generally a sleazy crowd, an individual recruiter would have to demonstrate actual sleaze to be listed.

Examples would include:

  • Misrepresenting a job to me (in the rare case where I follow up and am in a position to learn this),
  • Misrepresenting me to an employer (again in the rare case when I follow up),
  • Spamming me about a job that in no way relates to my experience,
  • Spamming me about systems administration jobs in reference to résumés which explicitly rule such things out (as some of mine do).
  • Spamming me about jobs that are not in the Seattle area, despite all of my résumés indicating I am not willing to relocate.

I’m still pondering it, but leaning towards actually doing it. I plan on naming names, both firms and the people at them who spam me. So long as I report accurately, this is not libel (which has to be both false and disparaging, mere disparagement does not count).

Because, if you don’t want people to make disparaging speech about your business, you shouldn’t act in ways which, if accurately reported, harm it.

I Have My Office Back

Published at 18:47 on 17 August 2015

I am once again typing into my computer from my home office.

Saturday evening, my that room basically got shut down in preparation for painting. It was a task I expected to finish Sunday, but which stretched into most of Monday.

The issue: Edging, edging, edging, and more edging. The room has four windows and a closet in addition to an entry door. There’s so little unbroken expanse of wall, in fact, that it wasn’t worth my time to dirty a 9″ roller to paint it; the time saved over just using the 4″ roller on the one side with significant expanse of wall wouldn’t have paid back the extra time spent cleaning the 9″ roller.

The second time ’round took two hours less than the first, so at least I do seem to be learning how to paint faster. I also plan on painting my bedroom this summer. Although larger, I expect that to go quicker than this room; it has only one window, and the 9″ roller will let me really speed through the extra expanse of wall.

A Very Welcome Storm

Published at 20:49 on 14 August 2015

It’s been a hot and very dry summer. It’s been very unsettling how dry and dusty the woods have been. Sword ferns and salmonberry bushes are withering and dying. I have never seen that happen before in the quarter-century I have lived in the Pacific Northwest.

At 3:00 AM this morning I was awoken by a thunderstorm. It passed, then another one woke me. And another, and another. By daybreak, four thunderstorms had passed. This is an approximate count, because I eventually incorporated the thunder into my dreams, dreaming of a day on the island with multiple thunderstorms. And in my half-awake state, it was hard to distinguish dreams from reality.

Alas, the rainfall from those four storms didn’t amount to much: only .10 inches.

Shortly after noon, Thunderstorm No. 5 announced its presence in the distance with low rumbles. The rumbles grew louder and the sky darker. Checking the NWS radar showed a large blob of echoes slowly (very slowly) working its way in my direction. Would it make it here, or would it fizzle first?

I was not to be disappointed. It took tantalizingly long, but the rain progressed from just lightly spitting to light rain to moderate to heavy at times. The thunder and lightning kept up for over two hours straight, and then the rain lasted for at least three more hours, gradually diminishing as the storm shifted direction, gradually weakened and moved its way west.

Final total for the day: 1.30 inches. The woods are fresh and moist again. All in all, one of the most satisfying rain storms I can remember.

It’s not enough to end the drought, but it did cut the summer dry spell in half, which I believe will really ease the impact on the struggling vegetation.

WTF, Australia?

Published at 09:11 on 13 August 2015

Arresting one of your own because he wants to volunteer to fight against terrorism? Mainstream news article here, anarchist news article here.

To make matters even worse, he could potentially face life in prison.

Well, that Ended Quick

Published at 09:18 on 5 August 2015

Just had a phone screen with a Seattle employer that lasted all but a minute or so.

Reason was the second question asked, which had nothing to do with technical competence. It had to do with a (very conservative, East Coast-ish dress code), which is something of a surprise to run into on the West Coast.

And no, I am not interested in such things. First, I find such garb physically uncomfortable. If I’m distracted by (lack of) physical comfort, my concentration and thus my job are negatively affected. Why would I want to limit myself like that?

Second, such apparel is expensive. Expensive to purchase, and expensive to maintain (dry cleaning doesn’t come cheap). So such a requirement basically amounts to an additional tax on my salary.

It’s not just me, either. I don’t abide by many stereotypes of software geeks but the above sentiments would probably be echoed exactly by the vast majority of software professionals.

Which brings up a third, yet more insidious reason to avoid the place. There’s basically two kinds of people that such dress codes screen for:

  1. People who enjoy dressing up like that.
  2. People who put up with dressing like that because it means getting a job of a sort they otherwise couldn’t.

Those in category one are basically harmless. So Joe or Jane Programmer enjoys dressing up in business suits? So what? If it makes them happy and they do their job better as a result, fine. Dress codes are something of a plus for this crowd as it lets them work on the West Coast, enjoy dressing up, and yet avoid this problem.

Those in category two are the problem. They’re at the place with the dress code because a huge chunk of everybody else in the programming field is not, thus removing more technically-competent competition from the picture.

Prevailing attitudes amongst software geeks mean this crowd probably ends up being in the majority. That my interviewer ended up asking this question very early in the process indicates it’s a show-stopper for many candidates, which validates my suspicion.

Why would I want to limit myself by working with subpar talent?