Tuesday, January 31, 2006

In which my potential capitalist overlords demonstrate their hip and irreverent solicitousness

So, this morning, the U.S. Postal Service knocked on my apartment door and left a package from Kiki's.

The card revealed that the basket came courtesy of the company that offered me a job recently. The strange thing is, I didn't remember giving this company my home address. Hmmm.

I subsequently emailed the recruiter, thanking her for the basket, and alluding to my confusion, whereupon she explained that my home address was on the physical, pen-and-paper employment application I'd filled out during my face-to-face interview. The story suddenly became much less funny/cool/sinister than it would have been, particularly given the company concerned. Oh well.

Being the export of a hip Bay Area confectioner, the candy basket contains, of course, not only the standard-issue Raisinets, Smarties, etc., and not only a company-logo moon pie and T-shirt, but also some items that allude to the social practices of the local fauna.

Plus candy cigarettes, which I have not seen since I was about 12 years old. These remind me of the fact that my interview hotel offered a yo-yo, Slinky, etc. inside a little "kiddie-toy minibar" in the desk. All part of the careful cultivation of juvenile play behavior endemic to Bay Area geekdom. I could, at this point, work up some kind of cultural commentary on the relationship between play, creativity, immaturity, and geek culture, but Douglas Coupland already did that about a decade ago.

Monday, January 30, 2006


Warning: navel-gazing metablogging ahead. Skip if you value your time.

Grrlscientist has suggested that I participate in a meme wherein one finds the 23rd post on one's blog and posts the 5th sentence. Although I am not a huge fan of blog-memes in general, I'm game for this one, mostly because it provides an excuse to clear out some other metablogging that's been sitting in my drafts for some time. So, to wit...

  • First metablogging item: Here's the 23rd post on this blog, and as you can see it has only two sentences. Hey, that was easy. Perhaps it's slightly more interesting to note that this blog started out as a link blog --- basically, a way of cleaning out my web browser's enormous bookmark file --- as inspection of the first two weeks will reveal. My narcissistic love/hate relationship with my own inner voice soon prevailed, however, and I started writing longer, essaylike entries. And now that I've started using del.icio.us, I rarely post bare links at all. I suppose there's some kind of nugget of wisdom in there about the relationship between a medium of expression and its technological context and so on, but I'm too busy staring at my navel right now to conjure up anything thoughtful to say.

  • Second metablogging item: Speaking of del.icio.us, you will notice that this blog's sidebar now contains not only a link to my del.icio.us page, but excerpts from one of my del.icio.us tags, specifically music-recommendations. This list is courtesy of the very cool, highly customizable linkrolls feature of del.icio.us, which I recommend heartily to anybody with both a website (bloggish or non-) and a del.icio.us account.

    (Incidentally, my music-recommendations are exactly that: music I recommend because I think it's truly excellent. If you feel like snooping around in all the music I've bought recently, then you might poke your nose into my musiclog. Obviously, when I buy music, it's because I enjoy it (yay for emusic.com and its streaming music samples), but not all such music is good enough that I'd single it out for public approval.)

    (Anybody curious about my reading habits may also wish to consider my booklog. Actually, I doubt anybody's curious about my reading habits, but I do think that people might want to copy this model of del.icio.us usage.)

  • Third metablogging item: Wampum's posted a long list of potential nominees for the 2005 Koufax Awards' lefty blogs "Most Deserving of Wider Recognition" award. Almost 300 blogs! Hours of procrastination fodder! As it happens, this blog made the list. However, as my handful of regular readers know, I have a pretty ambivalent relationship to attention, so I'm not in any way encouraging people to nominate this blog for said award.

  • Final metablogging item: I recently discovered, much to my amazement/chagrin, that BlogPulse's top 25 posts of 2005 included my post about Intelligent Design (though they got the permalink slightly wrong). Um, right. I have no clue what BlogPulse's criteria were, but I will say that spleen appears to sell. But then, I already knew that.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Some scattered thoughts on interviews, Jorge Cham, computer science, and grad student hardship

So, I'm back from my first academic interview. Oddly enough, I had a great time. People tell me that this level of enjoyment fades after you've been to a dozen. Fortunately or unfortunately, I probably won't have that problem, because I probably won't have a dozen in-person interviews. I will also say that having a nice industry job offer in your back pocket makes these things much less stressful.

Which is all in the way of remarking that I saw Jorge Cham speak, not long ago, as part of his lecture tour on the travails of being a fledgling academic.

Jorge Cham --- or at least the lecture persona known as Jorge Cham --- is a brilliantly funny, smart, and compassionate guy, and I don't doubt that his strip and lecture tour are doing worlds of good for struggling grad students all over the country.

On the other hand, as a computer science grad student, I couldn't help but think: could it be possible that a grad student at Stanford computer science really had it that bad? In particular, Jorge's statements about the economic insecurity of grad students struck me as strange. Computer science is one of the few branches of academia for which the implicit bargain --- sacrifice now, and you'll get a good job later --- still holds. Now, that job may not be an academic job, but if you go to a good grad school in computer science and cannot land an academic job of some sort, then chances are that you weren't cut out for academia anyway.

Jorge --- like, for that matter, Cecilia and Nameless and Mike Slackenerny --- could get a very well-paying job in industry, at almost any time of his choosing, simply by walking away from the academic game. And this economic reality has consequences throughout the grad student experience --- at "good" schools (which certainly includes Stanford), we get paid a livable wage, and we're largely given the infrastructure we need to be productive, and we get decent support in our job search. Because we can walk away.

I understand that Jorge's speaking, in some sense, for all grad students, not just computer scientists. And I also understand that grad school poses emotional challenges that all the economic security in the world wouldn't fix. However, if I were in Jorge's place, I'd have confessed, in my lectures, that my deal was much sweeter than the average grad student's. I mean, I'd be slightly uneasy, coming from my current situation, laying claim to the full measure of grad student hardship.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Lectures on "aggressive policies" for detention and interrogation

I've linked previously to a bunch of lectures from the Cybersecurity and Homeland Security course I attended last quarter, but I haven't yet linked to a couple of the most important and disturbing. On November 30, the course organizers persuaded speakers from the U.S. Dept. of Defense to speak. The two principal lecturers were an historian in the employ of the Pentagon and a U.S. Army interrogator respectively.

Lecture links (as usual, you'll want WebViewer for an optimal experience, but you can also page through the slides manually):

Brian Del Monte, "Detention Operations Policy & the Global War on Terrorism":
PowerPoint slides, Windows Media video, streaming WebViewer, downloadable WebViewer archive
Christina Filarowski Sheaks, "Interrogation Policy & the Global War on Terrorism":
PowerPoint slides, Windows Media video, streaming WebViewer, downloadable WebViewer archive

By and large, the first lecture's infuriating, and the second lecture's chilling and surreal, a quality that is not mitigated by the fact that Ms. Sheaks, the United States Army field interrogator, is a soft-spoken woman wearing a low-cut dress.

I don't have a whole lot more to say --- the lectures almost speak for themselves --- except that it's worth noting how careful the speakers are to emphasize that they're speaking for the Department of Defense only, and (in Ms. Sheaks's case) addressing interrogation policy only. This leaves two elephants in the room. First, most of the recent "aggressive interrogation" incidents were allegedly performed by the CIA, which isn't part of the DoD. Second, the abuses at Abu Ghraib were not, in fact, performed as part of interrogation procedures --- they were performed, as far as we can tell, for no purpose at all.

Friday, January 06, 2006

New Year's roundup: resolutions, NYC tourism, and Friday (friend's) cat blogging

(Warning: Navel-gazing ahead. I'm sitting home sick on a Friday night, and so I blog. Pity me, world!)

Resolutions, briefly:

  1. Will finish my proofs, defend, and graduate.
  2. Will donate a greater fraction of income to charity, keeping a monthly running tally. (Renewed from last year, with greater specificity this time.)
  3. Will read at least one non-"genre" novel per month. (I never thought I'd need this sort of resolution, but I recently did my tally for last year and found, to my surprise, that I had read fewer than a dozen novels over the entire year.)
  4. Will write one complete work of non-blog prose greater than 50,000 words in length.
  5. Will hike eight trails I have never hiked before.

Next, here are some pictures from my holiday trips into NYC, the city where my heart is buried. I played the tourist through and through, because I realized recently that I didn't have any of my own (copyright-unencumbered) images of most NYC sights. Most of these should be readily identifiable...

Lastly, my first-ever Friday cat blogging, wherein I commandeer the cats of my NYC friends PM and JW:

"The surly one"

"The friendly one"

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

KOrganizer bug alert: Grid layout broken

Attention KOrganizer users: Please be warned that if you set your "hour size" in the view configuration small enough (for me, 8 or fewer pixels, but this varies depending on your screen resolution) then the labels on your hours grid will not display accurately:

[KOrganizer hours grid screenshot]

As you can see, the appointment's set for 9:30, but from the label it appears to be 10:00. What's the cause of this bug? Well, here's the bottom of the grid, which may give you a hint:

[KOrganizer hours grid end screenshot]

Wow. The programmers never tested what happens when the user sets the grid size small enough so that more than 24 hours fit onto the screen. I like to have a view of all 24 hours of the day in my planner (it helps to track late-night or early-morning flights and submission deadlines), so I've had it configured this way for a long time. Older versions of KOrganizer worked fine --- it would intelligently detect when the grid was too small, and adjust the size so that it just filled the screen --- but code for labeling the grid was tweaked in 3.5, and I guess this got broken.

I actually missed a job interview call because of this bug, and of course I am pissed, mostly at myself for relying on software too much, but also slightly at the programmers. I can't be too pissed, because they wrote a very useful piece of software that's free, and that I use all the time. Nevertheless, it seems like this sort of thing simply should not happen. The very first thing I'd do, after writing code like this, is to test the boundary conditions: what happens when you set the pixel height to a tiny value? A large value? This sort of thing should be almost reflexive.