10 February 2012

First Grown Up Job?

Go to school to study what you love. After a semester or so, decide to send out hundreds of resumes.

Actually send out about 8. Get a reply from one.

Go to the interview, in borrowed clothes, in a vintage Japanese muscle car, prepared to ace all their tough questions.

They ask no questions. The CTO just wants to show off his neat app, the CEO just wants to know when I can start. Not til June, bomb. Email them - maybe we can work something out? They reply, yes, maybe.


So I'm back at their office, hoping that we will, in fact, work something out. I don't yet know much about this company - they do web design and database management software, as far as I can tell, for other corporations. It looks pretty interesting, actually, and the people seem pretty nice. Standing here, though, the future is foggy and unknown. This could be the start of a 50 year career, or it could be the job that convinces me to take up selling BMWs instead.

24 January 2012

Not Quite Binary Code

One of my classes is called Introduction to Computer Architecture. Don’t ask me to tell you what it’s about, because I haven’t learned that part yet. I’m told we’re getting there.

It’s actually one of my favourite courses, though, mainly due to the amiable, somewhat eccentric British professor who teaches it. I’ve learned more about Douglas Adams and the gospel of open source, than I have the actual coursework, but we’re only two weeks in and we’re getting there.

Anyway, our most recent lab was based on a programming language called CRAPS, which he wrote himself, a modified, simplified version of SPARC. It’s a very low level language - for those not familiar with programming. It’s a language that makes you essentially tell each individual transistor on a computer chip what it should do at any given moment. It isn’t quite binary code (0101010011110010101001010), but it’s only one level up.

To compare, English is a high-level language. It’s way too subtle for computers to understand. Machine code, the lowest level language, is much too simple for humans to understand. So all the levels in between are intended to find a compromise.

The goal of our assignment, as far as I can tell, is just to demonstrate that when you get right down to the transistors and wiring, there is no magic. A computer never does anything other than exactly what you tell it to do.

It was a failure, in my case. I’m still convinced that it’s magic. I definitely didn’t understand the program I was to modify, even after working on it for a week, with the professor holding my hand the whole time. After I finally got it “done” (with much help), I asked, “how can I possibly reproduce this on a test?”. He replied, no, this won’t be on the exam. So I asked, “will I have to reproduce it for an employer at some point?”

He said that in a survey, most employers thought that the Computer Architecture class should be dropped from the curriculum, but they also thought that graduates should possess the knowledge of low level programming that the class teaches. A bit of dichotomy.

So I find that I must have learned/be learning something very important and profound, but no one will ever call me on it. What was the point? I hope, really hope, that in a few months or years I’ll be able to answer that. I can’t now.

21 January 2012

Kill Hollywood

YCombinator wants to kill Hollywood. I'm on board, let's do this.

My idea is a new video game format. Instead of sucking you into 40 hour quests, you get episodes that take half an hour or an hour, so that the game doesn't eat your life. You can play for half an hour and move on.

It may be a dumb idea, but I'm looking for others, and I'll post them up. Even if I don't have the motivation to do it at the moment, ideas are free, and someone else can.


20 January 2012

Job Creation Is A Dumb Idea

I hear a lot of noise about something called “job creation”. Something about the conversation doesn’t ring right to me.

It's as if job creation is an act of charity. A company or a government will allow you to work for them, pounding nails into boards, or whatever, in exchange for wages. They won't just give you the money. They require 8 hours of your day in exchange for it. Even though they will only waste your time, you can’t have it. You must trade your time for money. This is supposed to be better than outright charity, for some reason.

They treat all these human beings as if they are worthless, and their time is worthless. I guess a lot of them are. There was this video the other week from Mike Holmes, about the massive and weird shortage of skilled tradesmen. Every week on Hacker News, I see someone saying “my god, do we ever need more software engineers!” And I guess some cotton fields down south are going unpicked, now that they’ve successfully chased out all the mexicans who picked them before, and they can’t convince any of the many unemployed americans in the area to take the jobs.

So why all the job creation talk? It seems like there are jobs, a lot of them. There just aren’t enough useful people. Or maybe the prices aren’t right. Like, those cotton farms. It’s not worth doing that job, paying 40 bucks for the gas just to get out there, work all day in the hot sun, make barely enough to cover the gas, and then another long drive home before you get any time to yourself. But if the cotton farmers paid the workers a living wage, they wouldn’t be able to make a profit. So then what?

  • Go out of business paying better wages. Someone else, someone smarter, will take over the land and make a profit with something else.

  • Charge more for cotton - another way to go out of business, unless everyone else does the same thing. Maybe that’s happening already? I think probably it is.

  • Or limp along as before, abusing immigrant mexicans, abusing poor americans, charging too little for cotton, and getting away with it. I don’t think it can last.

All I know is I don’t want any part of the whole mess. I don’t want a job someone created for me. If I can’t get work because I’m valuable and in demand, I think I’d rather be a thief, or an anarchist, and try to ruin the system until it falls apart.

17 January 2012

Creating Is Better Than Consuming

I discovered reddit.com in 2008, during the US presidential primaries. I was hunting for election news and kept winding up on reddit. My original goal was to become a more well informed person, and keep track of what was going on in the world. CNN, the Globe and Mail, and Time magazine were my original sources, but someone how reddit was always more attractive.

I’ve learned an awful lot of stuff from reddit: how to prevent acne, how to hold a relationship together and when to let go (from kleinbl00 ), and the events that led up to Arab Spring .

Eventually, I forgot about all the other sites I used to go to before reddit. Seriously, I have no idea what I used to do on the internet. Maybe I just checked my email then turned it off? What a concept.

Last December, I realized that I was going to fail my exams if I didn’t study, and I wouldn’t study if it was possible to flick back to reddit every time I got slightly bored. So I stopped. Reddit turns out to have been my drug of choice. I can’t go back because I don’t trust myself.

Fortunately, there are other ways to feel good besides getting an information hit every 30 seconds or so. Creating is just as rewarding as consuming, but since it takes longer and more effort, you don’t end up doing it if your drug of choice is handy for instant consumption. Since quitting reddit, I’ve built a couple websites, passed my exams with room to spare, and done a couple blog posts. But I still miss it.

The problem I’m facing just now is that reddit made me aware of all the incredibly neat things that people have done. It’s intimidating to do anything. Oh well. I’ll suck in public, I’m big enough.

13 January 2012

Java Programming, as taught by an Army drill sergeant.

This is a teacher who has a very rigorous method of teaching programming. As far as I've seen, it's very effective. He's unusual in that he explicitly tells us not to read textbooks about the subject, not to comment our code, and not to ask stupid questions. It would be easy to find him intimidating. Just now, for instance, I mentioned that I was following along with the code that he was writing on the overhead projector, on my own machine. I got a bunch of error message. He says he's not really interested in talking about my error messages at the moment.

A bit harsh, but on the other hand, many teachers allow students to derail them with inane questions, which slows the class down considerably. This class is very fast paced, and you have no choice but to keep up. It's very tough but you learn very fast.

Two things:

A man who is this sure of himself had better be right all the time. So far, he is.
Second, his style gives him an easy out if a student is having trouble. He can simply say, if you did what I told you, you would have no problems. Go away and don't bother me.

He gets on my nerves. At the moment, I understand why he operates the way he does, and respect that it is very effective. Hopefully I can maintain my calm for the rest of semester.

12 January 2012


I'm pretty hard on teachers, sometimes.

My reasoning goes: I'm about as smart as anyone else taking this class, and I'm working pretty hard. If I don't understand what you're talking about, then you aren't communicating clearly. Try again.

Depending on the day, I may be more or less sure of this statement, though. For one thing, it's pretty arrogant. You'll notice that I chide myself for arrogance pretty often, but I never stop doing it.

It's arrogant, because there are people who are actually less smart than me, but they work much harder, and they get it. Or people who are as smart or smarter than me, who have no problem. Also because I usually get the concept once I stop complaining about it and try reading a bit.

Then again, I think it's fair to hold teachers to a high standard as well. I had an exceptional teacher last semester - Patricia Wrean. Good math teachers, I believe, should be given knighthoods and and millions of dollars, but instead all they get is the same salary as every other teacher. Logically, then, we should hold every teacher to the high standards of exceptionally good teachers.

Now, it's true that the teacher in question is a genuine rocket scientist, but that's not what makes her good. The difference was that she analyzed the performance of past students (using advanced statistical models - she is a math teacher), sought feedback constantly (do you like the colour of the pen I'm using? Is the text big enough? Do you get this concept or should we do another example?) and overhauled her curriculum every year.

Every teacher should do this. Not all of them are smart enough. Not all know how. Not all are willing to make the effort. And I'm pretty sure none of them get paid enough.

Anyway, if I'm hard on teachers, I'm just as hard on myself. They seem to enjoy me, too.

11 January 2012


School is a job, they say. You should give it your full attention. But what I've found is that if you just do what they tell you to do, you won't do very well.

There are plenty of people in my course who tried hard and studied last semester, and squeaked through the assignments and passed the tests, but they didn't like it. They felt overwhelmed and realized, correctly, that they weren't learning very much. Some of them dropped out.

I find that a better approach is to start with the stuff they teach you, then go off and start your own projects with that knowledge. Which doubles your course load, of course, so it's best not to bother unless you're really, really serious about this line of work.

By the way, what am I talking about?

I just spent the last 2 years working in the car wash at a Mercedes dealership. I learned a lot. Things like:
You're not that clever,
You have no idea what hard work means,
And quit being such an arrogant prick.

Having learned these things, I feel that I've gotten as much mileage out of washing cars as I'm ever going to. So I went back to school last September, studying Computer Systems Technology at Camosun College.

The program turns out to be exactly what I've been looking for all of my life, and I've just gotten to the point where I'm mature enough to not make an absolute hash of it.

All the courses are intensely interesting, even if some of the teachers are pretty deadly. And this is where my earlier statement comes in - there's no way to learn from a lecture if you fall asleep in the middle of it. So if the class is that bad, I start working on assignments on my laptop, and by the time we get to the lab I'm already halfway done and have a series of good questions for the teacher. I'm pretty happy with my strategy so far.

Last semester I had a tough time with the web design course, and felt like I hadn't learned enough. So I built two websites over Christmas break. Now I think I'm up to the level I should have been at the end of the course, but I still have a ton to learn. At least I have a starting point - the rest is a matter of hard work and lots of it.

Unfortunately, the same situation is starting with the Database Concepts course - and no one wants to spend their spring break reading about databases. It is literally the most boring subject ever. In this case, paying attention and taking notes seems to be the way to go. Here's me, old enough to employ obvious strategies for success, and not make an absolute hash of it. Will it work?

Well, yeah. Obviously. But I'll have to check in later and see just how well it went.

21 July 2011

Falied Attempts, 3

Step 1: Decide to go on an adventure.

Step 2: Pick a location. Argentina. Like the sound of the word. Okay. Get your passport. Look at a map. What’s in Argentina? Buenos Aires, ah that’s nice. You could go WWOOFing. Get the WWOOF book. Contact a farm. Decide to go to Peru instead. What’s in Peru? Cuzco, Macchu Picchu. Start saving your money. 4000, 5000. How much is a plane ticket? Quite a lot. Decide to Go to Mexico instead. Hey, I could ride my bike, no big deal. Hell, I could get on my bike this minute and start riding…ok, don’t do that, do some planning.

Budget. 5000. 1000 for tickets, 1000 for gear, 3000 for food/booze/snooze. Buy a bike, panniers, some lights and tools. Hardly anything really, well under 1000. Get tickets for the Clipper to Seattle. You know, it would only cost 200 to bus it to San Francisco. Do that as well. How far is Mexico from San Fran? It’s like… a long way… screw it, I’ll just go to LA. That’s pretty far.

Step 3: Start riding.

Step 4: Next time I’m going to goddam Mexico. That wasn’t even hard.

14 July 2011

Failed Attempts, 2

Step 1: Decide to become a famous drummer.

Step 2: Join the middle school orchestra. Decide to play trumpet. Get talked out of it by your mom, who knows that a deaf kid won’t have much luck with a pitched instrument. Take up drums instead. Half-ass your way through 6 years of boring music and mutual-hate relationships with your teachers, never giving up on music because the only other electives are art or business studies (screw that).

Decide to become a roadie instead. Take someone’s suggestion to volunteer at the local community theatre as a whatever. Become an usher. Receive no training that would be useful to a roadie, but meet someone who introduces you to a drum section leader of the local bagpipe band.

Join the bagpipe band. Learn the marches. Drink much beer. Move to Victoria, and join another band there. Drink still more beer. March around, learn more songs. Never practice enough to get any respect. Take up playing the djembe at open mike and jam nights at local bars. Meet cute guys, date them. Wear headphones everywhere you go, and dance in the street. Still don’t practice effectively.

Step 2 still in progress.

Step 3: ???

Step 4: Profit!