Monthly Archives: December 2007

Racism for a new generation

Christmas has never been more “concise” than over here. The US know nothing of “boxing day” and so mine was spent in a newly claimed cube. All very disconcerting when you remember the heady days of two week holidays on top of your annual leave. Nonetheless, we are strongly aware of the fact we are new pioneers in a strange land, and this whole “working for satan” thing is temporary.

Christmas here shares many similarities with Christmas in the UK, with the welcome exception of Wizzard. One similarity is that you end up spending a lot of time with extended family members, and once you are familiar enough to be accepted into the clan you may be allowed an insight into some of the more bizarre and creative forms of racism available on the market.

It’s very important to understand the nature of this particular beast before passing judgment, but one sure thing you will realize is that it is definitely bona fide racism, albeit shrouded in some deluded ideals.

When you grow up in a place like Eltham, you end up spending time in pubs, talking to strangers and tenuous acquaintances. Frequently these people will, consciously or unconsciously, vet you to discover your position on racism, or “reason” as they would have it. Once they feel comfortable with you, they slip a word like “coon”, “nigger” or “immigrants” into the conversation. Then it all breaks down. It’s very depressing to realize that you have been invited into this cabal but at least it’s easy to escape.
However, these days the invitation is more subtle. These days you are more likely to be introduced into this vast secret society with one magic word: “overcrowding”. When anyone talks to you about “overcrowding”, please be aware that they are almost certainly not talking about overcrowding. They are almost certainly talking about the number of people with different color skins they encounter on a regular basis these days.

Now, in London I didn’t realize this, mainly because the infrastructure is totally incapable of supporting the current number of residents without serious (ie expensive) reorganization. A part of my brain used to excuse people who talked about overcrowding because…it’s crowded! But this Christmas I heard someone use the same argument about the US…which is clearly insane.

There’s this extended family member, let’s call her/him “Alf”, who we’ve spent some time with recently, and s/he’s come out with some corkers recently. It’s a real pity when it happens because often they seem like nice people. In fact, they probably are nice people most of the time, they just have some fucked-up points of view. Alf’s ideas included:

  1. America is overcrowded.
  2. Where England went wrong is that they should have stopped any further immigration after WW2.
  3. All of the idiots in California who have banned the shooting of black bears will soon be sorry when they come into the city and eat children.
  4. Always drive with your gun on the dashboard to scare criminals away.

Now, these are all obviously insane, but can you imagine how difficult it was not to laugh when he started telling me about the immigration problems in the US and UK. Does he not realize I’m one of them ? He wasn’t happy when I pointed out that America is a nation of immigrants, his argument being that I’m wrong; when his family came here it wasn’t overcrowded and the country needed them. Tell that to the native Americans.

In a nutshell, beware those that speak of overcrowding – it’s not what they mean. Probably obvious, but it’s taken me a while to realize.

Move along now

The demise of our dear Humph shook us up considerably and we’re only now just beginning to handle it. You may think it ridiculous to get so upset over such a small, green, animal, but you can’t measure the love you have for someone by their size, colour, or even species, only by how they affected you; she affected us wholly and she was as important to us as any family member. We made a short tribute montage but I certainly can’t watch it without getting very upset. Miss you Humph.

Having a full-time office job was a surprisingly useful tool in dealing with the loss – gave me a chance to get my head occupied with other stuff. What you probably don’t know is that the small, friendly, clever company I was employed by has now been bought out. Yep – I’m back at MegaCorp. They didn’t tell me who had bought them until I signed the form, the bastards. The borg have already fingerprinted us all (really!) and we’ve got to get another piss test. They’ve already bollocksed up our network infrastructure, caused a sysadmin to leave, and brought a bunch of staff closer to suicide by inflicting their impotent conference-call-culture on them.

As one of the inhuman citi droids was telling us all about the, ironically named, “benefits packages” it suddenly dawned on me that corpofascism was no longer a theory but in place and thriving, and worse, I was walking right into it with open arms. If instead of fingerprinting us, FINRA had insisted we were chipped, would I have complied so easily ? Probably, yes.
You see, when fascism comes, it’s comes slowly and deviously. You don’t realise it’s got you until it’s got you. BTW – smug bastards from the UK should take a look around; I genuinely believe the situation there is as bad, if not worse as the US. There’s one exception: the NHS. When you see what Americans have to deal with here, and what Americans consider to be normal, you just want to violently shake them and point across the Atlantic saying “but it’s so simple! Do it like we did!” There aren’t many British institutions you can say that about. “So how does it work in Britain ?” they ask me.
“When you’re ill, you go to hospital and they treat you” I respond, and they look at me like I’m describing the gold at the end of the rainbow.

It just goes to show that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone – the NHS is a spectacularly beautiful thing and if you (we) let it go, you (we) are doomed. If there’s nothing more you care about, or can be bothered to fight for, please fight to keep the NHS from continuing down the barren, bandit-filled, desert road it’s currently following. Stop whinging about waiting lists and casualty speed and get campaigning.

On the good side, the people I work with seem to be sound, fun, and knowledgeable about many things including the local drinkscape. We laugh a lot.

I’m really missing London, my family and friends. The outrageously straight working practices of the U.S. have ensured that I won’t be able to come back for a while – 1.7 leave days a month…and one single day of leave for Christmas. Come back Goldsmiths, all is forgiven. On second thoughts, no it’s not.


Humphrey, our beloved parakeet, died this morning after overnight ICU at the vets. We don’t know the cause but I suspect it was cancer.
Anyone who knew her will know what a lovely little life she was, and anyone who knows us will know how much she meant to us both.
Please don’t feel you have to write or anything.


Teh internets are a wonderful thing. One thing that I’ve been doing, with all of the tubes, is downloading obsolete TV programmes that can’t even be obtained by legal means. What normally happens is that you watch them and realise that your memories have been enhanced with a heavy rose tint and that they’re nowhere near as good as you remembered.

I’ve just been watching Tucker’s Luck which, when I was 13, was the best programme ever. At the time I thought Tucker was my ultimate hero. Now I’m in my late 30s, I’ve discovered that it really was that brilliant and Tucker really was that cool! In fact I’m tempted to put up a picture of him by my desk at my new job which starts tomorrow…on second thoughts, maybe that isn’t such a good idea.

A wee drop…of piss

Ocean Spray - Straight from the bogAny Brits reading this should take a moment or two to peruse the website of Ocean Spray and enjoy a couple of puerile laughs. You might also want to look at their bog cam.…hehehehe…they said “bog”…hehehehe…

Yesterday, as the next part of my pre-job procedure, I had to go to a lab and piss into a cup. Over here even some of the most benign jobs require that you don’t take illegal drugs. This is, of course, an outrageous state of affairs, but it goes on and I had to comply. Land of the free, my arse.

Anyway we went along to the nearest lab (they are everywhere here) and signed in. Every so often the lady behind the counter announced that “drugs screen people must be able to use the restroom.” This bizarre statement could be interpreted in a number of ways, but it was simply a typically coy way of saying “you will be required to give urine, don’t pee beforehand and maybe drink some water.” Like anyone there didn’t realise why they were there, or what everyone else was doing when they went through the little white door. I hate the fact that over here you can’t discuss a toilet in public – even saying the word “toilet” is considered disgusting. I refuse to say “restroom” because I’m clearly not after a little rest and saying “bathroom” with my accent sounds, to the American ear, like I’m a cross between Hugh Grant and Prince Charles.
Anyway, when it was my turn to micturate, I was called to the window by name which the lady thoughtfully pronounced in an “English” way, to much amusement from the other punters. I was then led to a toilet, given a specimen cup, told “half way” and left alone. Filling those bloody things is tricky as you probably know. Once the level was at the half way mark I suspended my flow and looked for somewhere to put it down while I continued; holding it would have increased the risk of dropping it, which would have been disastrously embarrassing and could have yielded me “out of the running” for this particular day’s piss collection. So, still holding back the tide, I carefully placed the jar on the edge of the sink, where it duly slipped off the edge and sprayed its contents over a wide area of floor. Most annoying, especially as my normal reaction would be to shout some obscenities and kick things; under the current circumstances that could have escalated the disaster. Still clenching the appropriate muscles I managed to pick up the jar, refill it, re-clench, close the lid, put it down and finish the job. I then had to perform a rapid cleaning job without getting messy, which took quite a bit of time. It wasn’t until I left the place that I considered how dodgy that may have appeared: spending a long time giving a specimen for a drugs screen…oh well, we’ll see.

“Are you testing for alcohol ?” I asked the lady afterwards.
“No, just illegal drugs” she replied.
“Good!” I responded.

Makes perfect sense doesn’t it?

To the tune of The Conga

(altogether now)
Veg’s got a new job
Veg’s got a new job
Da daa daa daaa (hey!)
Da daa daa daaa (hey!)

Veg’s got a new job
Veg’s got a new job
Da daa daa daaa (hey!)
Da daa daa daaa (hey!)

Sorry…but after two months of what I can only describe as “pissing about”, getting a concrete offer is really rather comforting.

Weirdly the job isn’t for any of the companies that I have been already involved in “pissing about” with. I had an interview this morning, really liked the company, and got an offer this afternoon! Funny old world.

Humph is looking really sad and ill. We’re very worried but she’s on so many drugs now that there’s not much more we can do. Keep fighting little bird. I want to celebrate the job but the sight of that poor sad little face is really painful.

Pythagoras’ Pizza

The second interview with one of my favourite companies took place this afternoon. Apart from answering the same questions that I’ve had to answer multiple times for each employer so far, I was asked a couple of ‘thought problems’ as well: the problem of Pythagoras’ Pizzas, and the issue of Fibonacci’s recursive staircase.

I’ve no idea how I did today but I feel so exhausted with smiling, answering the same questions time and time again, formulating new questions to ask, and just smiling, that I nearly fell apart. The worry of Humph is also playing on the minds of both Michele and me, and we really could do with many billions of dollars. That way we could just spend our lives fucking about and looking after our dear parrot.

During the interview with one of the tech guys I asked if the company had a canteen. He looked nonplussed. “A restaurant sort of thing” I added, in the hope of quashing any apparent Anglicism. He laughed!

So, while Michele was driving me home, I tried a simple experiment by telling her that “I asked someone whether they had a canteen there.” She laughed hysterically and it was a miracle we didn’t drive into the central reservation.

When we got home we related the, seemingly innocuous, question to her mum. She laughed so much I thought she was going to hurt herself!

What is so funny about the word “canteen” ?

Answers on an e-card please.


Warning: this is technical and potentially quite tedious.

The “technical quiz” I mentioned in the previous post was received on Saturday night. Initially it seemed to be a straightforward, simple, problem solving exercise. I had to write a program that took a couple of files as input, process them, and produce some output. Proper computing! Of course, once I got involved in the task I realised that it was a lot more complex than it appeared and was going to involve difficult sums and everything. It’s been a while since I’ve dabbled with discrete mathematics and so it took some time to acclimatise. To cut a long and extremely tedious story short, I was reminded of why algorithmic complexity matters and how much difference it makes. In a nutshell I initially solved the problem with an O(nn) algorithm. It worked, and produced the correct results, but extending the input set to around 20 made it unfeasible, even on a fast machine:

2020 = 104857600000000000000000000

After some gentle prodding from my inquisitors I realised that there already existed many solutions to the same problem, discovered by some very clever bastards, that solved exactly the same problem in far more efficient ways. The best was in O(n3). This means that running the same 20 set took less than a second:

203 = 8000

What does this mean ? Well to me, it means:

  • Big numbers are confusing, even to smug gits like me who think they understand them.
  • Cryptanalysis is hard.
  • Wizards really do exist, but they call themselves Mathematicians.
  • I will never understand math(s), but I’ll always love it.

This task kept my brain busy and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was like giving my brain a little shower. Now I’ve finished it there’s a big hole in my cerebral process table, and I feel a little bit hollow.

Humph’s health deteriorated this weekend and so today we had to take her for another visit to the vets in Cherry Hill. She’s fighting through it though, like the tough little bird she is. But the worry of that, combined with some sad news from my homeland, and the gap left by the technical problem, are making me feel a little low.

It’ll pass.


Here’s one that will surprise non-Americans: after a job interview in the States it is customary to send “thank you” notes to the people who interviewed you. No really! And they have to sound grateful and excited to the point of obsequiousness. In twenty four hours I had three job interviews and so I’m expected to send three sets of thank you messages. After I sent the first one I felt so ridiculous that I couldn’t bear to send another. Luckily, one of the companies had such tedious requirements for new recruits that I asked my poor recruiter to tell them to get stuffed. Boom – no need for a “thank you” there either. In all honesty I was already irritated with them even before we spoke; they had asked me to answer a bunch of vague questions on paper which took about three times as long to complete than if they’d asked me in person. Nonetheless when they called me for a “technical interview” I was quite pleased; at least it showed they had some idea about employing technical people.
But the technical interview actually consisted of a fifteen minute chat during which I was told they were going to ask me to write some software to prove I knew PHP. He briefly outlined the task during the call and it sounded effectively like a “hello world” type application . But then it all went a bit weird.

“When I was asked to do this task I spent about 30 or 40 hours on it”

he told me. I couldn’t believe what he was suggesting.

“But you don’t have to spend anywhere near as long on it.”

he added redundantly. After further questioning I inferred that rather than being a straightforward problem solving exercise I was supposed to use it as a method of writing an extraordinarily bloated piece of bragware that proved I could write OO/MVC code. He also wanted UML diagrams…of this “hello world” type app.

Let me tell you, if I asked a programmer to produce some code that did something simple like that and he even suggested producing a UML diagram, I would dispatch him from my office with a caterpillar boot lodged in his ringpiece…and then I’d invoice him for the missing shoe.

After the call I seriously considered attempting this pointless task until I realised that in fact he could fucking well fuck off and take his fucking stupid attitude with him. It wasn’t like I was applying to Google! This may sound like an overreaction but there were other things about the company and his attitude that, even given my normal lack of discretion, I hesitate to mention here.

Still – I have a second interview lined up with one of the other companies on Tuesday and a technical quiz to undertake for the other this weekend. I don’t mind proving I know what I claim to know, in fact I prefer it as it demonstrates that the company has a clue. But I do object to being asked to spend several hours (it would probably have take around 4 hours if I’d done a decent job of it) jumping through stupid hoops to prove I can bloat code.

One of the companies has an interest in social networks and so, without thinking it through, I mentioned that I’d written a Facebook app. Obviously, they wanted to see it…so I I showed them…Ploppy…
It was a potentially foolhardy gamble, but I think it paid off; I’m still in the running and the feedback to my recruiter was all positive. Even though they’ve seen that I have a sense of humour on a level with an 11 year old boy.