Archive for the ‘Just text’ category

Comic con

January 26th, 2009

My good friend Diana invited me to go up to Phoenix this weekend to the comic con. I’m not the hugest fan of dead tree comic books (although I do read my share of online ones), but I’m not one to say no to a unique opportunity like that. So I went, and it was a lot of fun.

Even though I don’t read tons of comics, I’m still a colossal nerd. Or at least, I thought I was… but really I’ve got nothin’ on these folks. It nearly brought a tear to my eye to see my fellow geeks dressed as various comic book characters, mostly Japanese. *sniff* It definitely brought tears to my eyes to walk behind one or two rather pungent individuals who NEED SHOWERS BADLY. But it was all fun, mostly because I enjoy people watching in all its forms. These folks weren’t just dressed up, they were literally clad in glee. You couldn’t help but get the vibe that these people were coming together for an almost spiritual communion of sorts, a temporary graphic-novel Mecca.

I tagged along with Diana and her cast of characters to various panels and exhibits. Some of them were artists or writers talking about their work, which was interesting to listen to even if you hadn’t seen or heard their work (and yeah I was probably the only one… but I did buy the first book in a series that came highly recommended by everyone in the party and got it signed). Others were a little bit more interesting, like the body art seminar labeled ominously “18 and older”, which involved watching an artist apply paint to two very attractive women each wearing nothing but a thong. I’ll never think of the phrase “airbrushed models” the same way again.

Of course there was cool swag, like the Star Trek posters they were giving out, and the free DVD of “Death Race” I somehow acquired. And it was cool to go say hello to Wil Wheaton and thank him for his promotion of Child’s Play (he’s well-known for his role as Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation, but of course moved on to other things like books and voice acting by now). He’s become this sort of cornerstone geek icon recently, mainly by just being a normal guy with geekish interests like games and comics, who amazingly hasn’t tried to overplay his celebrity or let it go to his head. That’s pretty commendable I think.

I should post about my new RA position, but I’ll let it wait until I actually go in to see the lab on Wednesday.

This Old House

January 15th, 2009

Things have been hectic the past few days as I’ve been applying to graduate school and applying to graduate school, and registering for classes, and applying to graduate school. (I think there are several different departments which all have to be informed of your desire to apply to graduate school.) And of course, there’s getting money, and finding a place to live.

I’d planned on moving into a little pink house not a mile from the university earlier this month, but either communications broke down or they decided to ignore my phone calls, email, and the little note I slipped under the door. So last Friday after applying to graduate school (parts 3a and 401.7.lambda?) I took a look at a pair of share homes in the general vicinity of the university. I kinda fell in love with the second place, a beautiful 1920s era home with an eclectic owner. Tons of artwork, antiques, and knickknacks adorn the place. Sure, it has its flaws, chief among them substandard 1920s wiring (with no bathroom outlets, and no ground, ick), pipes that sometimes bleed orange if they haven’t been used, and no central heating/cooling. But its creaky wood floors and curved plaster walls give it a charm that modern cookie-cutter white square houses just can’t match. And not only do I have a bedroom, but also an attached study, complete with a 50s RCA Victor tube radio. All of this less than 2 minutes from campus by bike.

So I moved in the important stuff on Tuesday, hooked up the computer to a wireless network, and have been spending most of my time making the place look shipshape. It helps that my desk sits adjacent to an antique steamer trunk from an ocean liner.

How not to post a job opening

November 8th, 2008

Job hunting is a pain in the butt. Most companies have their own application areas that require you to manually copy your resume information into their web forms, and most job descriptions aren’t descriptive at all. Supposedly professional job-hunting websites don’t really make things any easier– for some reason, a simple search for “computer engineer” turns up jobs in sales, tech support, and mechanical engineering. And heaven help you if you want to sort by something useful such as required experience or salary.

Job applicants are expected to follow certain conventions when writing a resume or cover letter. I think expecting HR and management to follow similar rules isn’t out of the question. If you want to be taken seriously, be professional and follow these simple rules:

Don’t waste applicants’ time. This is the cardinal rule. Filling out a job application takes a lot more time than it should, and yours isn’t the only company I’m applying for. I know you want to sort by experience and have things in a neat nice database, and I know you’ve got a computer to sort through the garbage, but I’ve already written a resume with the information on it. Respect my time by requesting a resume file first and then using it to pre-fill those forms as much as possible. (I’ve seen exactly one application site that did this, and it shows the company pays attention to its hiring process.) Don’t ask for information that isn’t computer sortable, because it’s all in the resume already. If your application process respects my time, I’ll take your job offer much more seriously.

Write a descriptive job description. I’ve slogged through job descriptions that left me scratching my head afterward. “Assists senior project leads in achieving project goals.” Yes, but what is it that you actually DO? Most managers are good at mentioning the skills they want their applicants to have, and I may have a clear idea of the type of things your company does, but if you don’t describe specific duties and projects it’s hard to get excited about the position. Give specific examples if you can. Linking to the project page or Wikipedia is even better. Finally, don’t use terms that don’t apply. For example, using the title “Sales Engineer” to refer to a sales position is despicable. It clutters up every engineering listing, and just pisses off all of us who have real engineering degrees. You wouldn’t stick the word “Marketing” in an engineering position.

-Money talks. If you think your offer is truly reasonable, provide a salary range. Give me numbers, not the words “competitive salary”. Feel free to mention your fantastic benefits package somewhere, but if I’m going to spend time filling out your web form and flying out to your interview I need to know about how much you’re going to pay. Not disclosing this information implies that you know your competitors will pay more and your company is trying to rip me off.

Sort your positions by experience. It’s extremely tough to find job offers for engineers with less than a year of experience, and senior staff don’t want to waste their time looking at junior positions. Why is it that I haven’t found a single site that lets me enter “Computer engineer” and sort by expected years of experience? I’d even settle for one that lets me post a resume, enter in the years of experience I have, and actually provides me with jobs that I’m qualified for, automatically excluding the ones I can’t take (no Master’s or PhD, for example). “We have job openings in every state” sounds great until you realize that the openings in your state are all for Senior Aviation Defrosting Technicians. “There are entry-level marketing positions available in California, New Mexico, Ohio, and Florida” is useful information. Your potential applicant might say, Hey, I never thought about it but Albuquerque sounds nice. I’ll apply for that job.

Make sure your site works. General Dynamics has a professional-looking website, but clicking a referral link to a specific job doesn’t work. Searching by the reference number kicks back an error page saying I don’t have cookies enabled (I do). I had to open it up in Internet Explorer for the search to work properly, and then it required me to log in before even seeing the job description. Intel’s site won’t let you open up and compare several job offers in tabs, complaining that you need to close other windows from their site first. An unprofessional job site design reflects poorly on your company. Qualified job hunters will go elsewhere.

Don’t list entry-level positions under “recent college grads”. Some people switch careers, some shift from one sub-specialty to another, and some have taken a break for one reason or another. Quite a few of these people are still highly qualified. Some might even be better at broad-discipline skills such as teamwork and presentations than those right out of university. These people aren’t college grads, nor are they “experienced professionals”. Rename your “college grads” link to “entry level positions”, and watch the unique resumes roll in.

Back home, done with JET

July 30th, 2008

Just a quick note to let everyone know I got back OK.

A few memorable notes from my trip back from Seoul through Japan and Los Angeles and finally back home…

A situation of much gravity
After parting with my Seoul traveling companion, I went around to collect the luggage I’d stored and the one piece I’d shipped, and went to check in. Since the layover was so long, I had an hour and a half before check-in was even supposed to start, so I found a seat next to one of the entrances and pulled out my DS. Soon, a crowd of people with press badges and cameras started crowding around the doors. Soon a minivan pulled up and a big guy in traditional Japanese wear got out. After much shuffling and popping of flashbulbs, four sumo wrestlers walked into Narita Airport. I didn’t find out who it was until I was standing directly behind him in the customs line. In an amusing twist, one of the workers there, a petite young woman, tried to get his attention to ask if he wanted to bypass the lines. But another line immediately opened up, and he went to the front. Hey, I wasn’t gonna argue with the guy.

The next person who brings a baby on a trans-Pacific flight gets keelhauled
The flight back on Singapore Airlines was fantastic, even better than the Japanese airlines if possible. My scale goes something like this:

American carriers : meat cargo :: Japanese carriers : human beings :: Singapore Airlines : royal family

Of course you get alcoholic beverages without being nickle-and-dimed to death (oh I do hope you have exact change on United) but the staff was also dressed to the nines in suits and dresses. Movies included the standard almost-new fare with shitty headphones, but they also had quite a few older but good movies, and more quantity than most airlines– I stopped counting at 25 and there were still some left. A few things are unavoidable on a Boeing aircraft, such as the movie controls being easily bumped (hope you like fast-forwarding) and screaming-baby syndrome, but for the most part the flight was more pleasant than I remember.

Under renovation my ass
Los Angeles was another story. Despite being “under renovation” for the past 5 years, the whole place still looks and smells like an industrial art fair reject. Picking up a customs form required marching to a single table tucked away into the far end of the immigrations area. Half the area around the luggage carousel was blocked off and used for the customs lines, and the three or four flights of people that arrived with us had to filter through a grand total of two customs agents. LAX still has no signs or maps to tell you where the terminals are– their idea of a substitute is allowing people to basically panhandle outside the arrival gates in exchange for information. If there was a free shuttle I didn’t see it. The oft-used international terminal is still about a mile walk from the most popular local terminal, Southwest. (I remember passing Lufthansa and Air Cathay and quite a few airlines I’d never heard of.) And of course there are still the ridiculous hoops of dragging your luggage to the Southwest check-in counter, weighing it, and hauling it back to a separate security point. Apparently LAX staff haven’t discovered the technological marvel of “conveyor belts”. Insufficient seating in the gate area and a lack of power outlets made a long wait even worse, and as hot as it was I’m certain the A/C wasn’t functioning. These posters were plastered around the area. Lax expectations, indeed. They’d do the city a service to demolish the whole place and start over.

Things learned:

  • A Honda minivan can comfortably seat four sumo, and can even move while doing so.
  • The reputation of Singapore Airlines is rightly earned.
  • Avoid LAX like the plague.

Chang chang, changety-chang che-bop

July 26th, 2008

Went back to the electronics market in Yongsan to buy a lens for my camera: an 85mm f/1.8 lens. It’s my first “prime” lens, and it’s a bit tough to shoot with it when I’m so used to being able to zoom in and out. But the sheer amount of light I can get in made it possible to take photos in half to a quarter of the light I’d normally need. And I got a pretty good deal on it too. I was going to buy the 50mm f/1.4 prime as well, but as I already have a kit zoom in that range and not much room left in my suitcase (and had insufficient cash for the purchase) I figured I can always get one after I get back.

We went next to Changdeokgung, a World Heritage site that used to be the king’s personal retreat. The site is only accessible on official tours led three times a day, and the tour guide was impossible to hear or understand. On top of that, it’s impossible to take decent pictures with fifty other idiots wandering into your shot with bright umbrellas. So Ashley and I lagged behind, and then got conveniently “lost” before wandering around and eventually stumbling into a Korean language tour. It was quite fortunate that we got left behind, because otherwise we would never have seen the hidden garden. Yes, the tour guide had skipped the best part of the whole place entirely.

I started with the stock 18-55mm zoom, and swapped out to the 85mm lens about halfway through. Wow. It was simply astounding how much light I was able to get into the camera. Even in cloudy weather, I was able to shoot at lower ISO modes. I took some portraits of my traveling companion before swapping back to the zoom for the landscapes.

I’ll post some photos when I get back.

P.S. Ashley and I, after finishing our palace tour, crossed the street toward a convenience store. A little girl walking with her mother, maybe 5 years old, looked right at me with a huge smile and said, “Hello! Welcome to Korea!” I was so stunned by this spontaneous use of English that I could only gasp out a “hello” in return.

Back to Korea

July 25th, 2008

Met up with Ashley no problem and arrived in Seoul last night.

There was apparently a big earthquake in northern Iwate prefecture that closed the Tohoku Shinkansen (bullet train) on the morning I would have flown out. This happened to be the same day my visa expired. I wouldn’t have made it to the airport on time if I hadn’t had the amazing psychic foresight to spend the night before in Tokyo.

So I’m here. Had a little trouble finding the youth hostel (the same one I’d stayed at 3 years ago) but an elderly gentleman helped us out.

Today I have no idea what we’re gonna do. Maybe just bum around, eat, and drink. We shall see.


July 20th, 2008

I’m running in circles. Four days left until I have to move out of my apartment, four days until I leave the country, and eight days until I arrive back home. Cleaning, packing, making arrangements to say my goodbyes to everyone. That last one has become more and more difficult, to the point where I have scheduled each one of my lunches and dinners for the past few days.

On top of that, I’m trying to do the following, all at once:

  • Buy parts for a new computer, through a credit card company and retailer in another country
  • Cancel my phone, internet (both ISP and physical line), gas, electricity, water, and bank account
  • Send all that money home
  • Pack 2 boxes for sending clothes and stuff home
  • Send said boxes
  • Figure out how to stuff everything else into my 2 suitcases
  • Clean the entire apartment tip to tail
  • Sneeze madly while doing the above, from the toxic amounts of dislodged dust
  • Get rid of all the excess junk I’ve accumulated over the years, along with several pieces of junk which were here when I arrived
  • Make arrangements to ship one of the boxes to be picked up after I come back from Korea, but before I have to board my flight home
  • Sell my car
  • Not forget important things like my camera, laptop, passport, or towel
This work by Jeff Hiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported.