Archive for February, 2008


February 27, 2008

Some time ago I got an email from a recruiter at google asking me to send a resumé. That was rather flattering. I checked with some computer friends and found that some of them had also received this request — I guess the recruiter did a web search for likely people working on open source projects — or something.

Less flattering.

A couple of months later, after I’d mostly forgotten the original event, I got another email asking if I would set up a phone interview to apply for a job in internationalization.

I don’t know much about internationalization. Come to think of it, I’m not sure that any of my skills would be useful to google. I know nothing about searching, databases, etc. I know the HTT protocol and can frame a request, but doubtless google solved that problem years ago.

I tried to explain this to them, and that I didn’t really want to leave SB. Still it might prove interesting, I’ve made font-editors for 10 years now, perhaps it is time for a change. If a gift job drops in my lap I should at least look it in the mouth, so I gave them a time to call me.

I went through the phone interview. Rather liked the process. The guy interviewing me (an engineer, not a PR drone) asked good questions about what I’d done, and then posed a computer problem for me to solve that proved interesting. At the end he asked if I had any questions.

Well, yes, I had a couple. Most important: What, specifically, was the job? To my amazement, he could not tell me. To me this was an extremely important question. Why should I leave my current work, which I rather enjoy (even if it doesn’t pay) to go do something I don’t think I’m even qualified for? I wanted to say “Convince me that what you are offering me is interesting and worthwhile.” But he couldn’t.

Second question: The job was said to be located in either Zürich or Mountain View, Ca. I don’t speak German (and I gather zürichdeutsch is vastly different from the smattering of German I’ve picked up) any chance the job could be in Geneva (I do speak reasonable French)? The guy I was talking to didn’t seem to think so. Well could I telecommute from Santa Barbara? “Oh,” he said, “We have an office in Irvine, I’m sure you could work there instead.” That’s certainly consoling.

Two weeks later I had another phone interview. Similar procedure. Again the guy I spoke to couldn’t tell me what the job would entail. He told me what he was doing, which sounded quite dull, and said it might be something like that. Eventually he asked me what I would like to do.

This seemed to me the wrong question. I was already doing what I would like to do. I didn’t ask for a job at google, they contacted me. It’s up to them to come up with something interesting if they want to attract me.

Then I did get a call from a PR person who wanted to talk to me about “Google’s interview process.” I wasn’t in the least interested in the interview process. I was slightly annoyed with them too. There was a certain arrogance about them, as if they were doing me a favor in talking to me. Every email I got from them had the title “Google!”, with an exclamation point, as though it were the most amazing thing ever.

But they had said almost nothing which I found interesting. They had given me no reason to work for them.

None-the-less I phoned back. They had twigged to the fact that I wasn’t very interested. And I was told that I’d have to move to Mountain View if I wanted to work for them. I thought I’d made it clear from the start that I didn’t want to do that. I guess not.

The woman said she’d make my resumé inactive.

I keep coming back to the fact that they approached me, yet acted as though I were petitioning them. I can’t understand why they made no effort to convince me that working for them would be better than doing what I currently do. Actually, I find it rather insulting.

An acquaintance who works at google said “You must understand that yours was a special situation and you must make allowances.” Wrong. The “special situation” was caused by google, so they must make the allowances. And since several of my friends have been in the same “special situation”, I do wonder just how “special” it is?

Nothing Hurt

February 24, 2008

For the first time in almost two months: I ran. Nothing hurt.

At first it hurt to walk. Then it hurt to run. Then it hurt after I’d been running for a while. Then it hurt after I’d done the hard stuff. But yesterday I did a Rusty work out, and nothing hurt ever.

Oh, the hip hasn’t healed completely, there’s still the odd twinge, but it doesn’t hurt.

Such pleasure.



February 12, 2008

Last week my PT told me to run a tempo run. I was a little surprised by that, it was faster than I expected, but I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

There was no tempo workout that week, instead Rusty sent us off to the Valentine’s day 4mile race. Now a 4 mile tempo run for me is usually about 6:10~6:20min/mile, but given that I hadn’t done much for a month and a half, and the nature of the course (half trail, with steep ups and downs) I figured a 6:30 pace would be more prudent.

It was a beautiful morning, I got to Goleta Beach just in time to watch the sun rise over the ocean (with some low-lying clouds to the east lit up electric orange). The race went around the UCSB lagoon. Blue heron, snowy egrets, mallards, buffleheads, grebes, coots, comorants, seagulls..

It’s two miles (give or take) around the lagoon, I did one lap as a warm up with some friends (we had hoped to do two, but by the time everyone got out of the bathrooms there was only time for one).

When we started the race I ran at the back of the second pack, that seemed about the right amount of effort. My hip wasn’t bothering me, so either the PT was right or adreneline and endorphins had kicked in. A pleasant pace. As we ran along the ocean I saw Travis out with his surfboard. At the halfway mark I saw I was about 10 seconds faster than I wanted to be, so I slowed (but everyone else I was running with seemed to slow even more on the second lap). With about a 1/4 mile to go, I knew I could catch the guy in front, his breathing was labored and he seemed tired. I sped up a little, and did catch him, but then he sped up — again I was pretty sure I could catch him — but then it wouldn’t be a tempo run. I let him go. Not as easy a decision as it should have been.

As I got near the chute I noted the clock read 25:56. I ran a little further. The clock still read 25:56. It didn’t seem to want to move. I remembered that scene in Holy Grail where Lancelot keeps running over the same stretch of ground again and again and never getting anywhere. And then suddenly he’s at the door. And suddenly I was at the finish, and the time was 25:59.

Now my hip began to ache.

Not really badly, but it let me know it was there. I went twice more around the lagoon as a cool-down and it nagged at me (my hip, Maggie (vocative case), not my friends) . Jim Cochran, the chiropractor, invited me onto his table and cracked it back into alignment.

When I saw the PT yesterday she told me I shouldn’t have run so fast (but that’s my tempo pace, that’s a slow tempo pace) . She has a different idea of a tempo run than I do. She said she meant about 7 min pace. OK. Next time I know better.

But it was fun to run fast again.


February 6, 2008

Today is the new moon.

The Ashtangis will not practice yoga today because the new moon pulls us downward.  On the other hand the full moon pulls us upward.

When my yoga teacher said this, I had to object. At nine in the morning (as it then was), the new moon was well above above the horizon, somewhere near the sun in fact. The new moon pulls us upward during the day time. The full moon, on the other hand is below the horizon during the day and pulls us down. Not only that but the new moon is right near the sun, so the pull of both combines, whereas when the full the moon and the sun pull in opposite directions. The upshot being that we get a stronger upward pull during the new moon than at any other time. Exactly the opposite of what she said.

My teacher tried to talk about tides and fluids, which is completely irrelevant to whether the moon is pulling up or not. Eventually she settled on prana. Which might mean breath, and might mean spirit (yes, I know that spirit used to have the same double meaning). Well, the air molecules in my breath are moving so fast from ambient  heat that the pull of the moon exherts such a slight force that it will not be observable. And anyway it will still be upward during the day at the new moon.

As for my spirit… Personally I’m feeling fairly up-beat. My injury is fading, it isn’t raining, I’m more cheerful than I’ve been in a month. The moon is totally invisible today, but then I don’t see the moon most days. Why is it’s invisibility supposed to affect me?

To me, it just sounds like a lie.

Yoga comes with this huge superstructure of completely made up concepts with, as far as I can tell, no reality outside the imaginations of yogis. What are the nadhis? Can you dissect a body and find a chakra? No.

The night before last a different yoga teacher informed us that our problems are rooted inside ourselves, and if we can transform ourselves we can solve our problems. I could not help wondering what self-transformation could solve global warming.

I love yoga poses. I love striving to find the perfect instantiation of each pose in each moment. I love moving. But I hate the philosophy that comes with it.

The twenty-ninth day

February 4, 2008

When I was in college the text book for my class on population dynamics began with the riddle:

A man has a lily pond in his garden which keeps getting more lily pads in it. Every day the number of pads doubles. The man knows from experience that in 30 days the pond will be full of pads, and he doesn’t like that so he trims it before it gets to that point, say when it gets about half full. So when will it be half full?

The answer, of course, is on the twenty-ninth day. In that last day the pond will increase by as much as it has increased in all days before that.

Our minds do not intuitively accept the dynamics of geometric growth. Somehow it seems reasonable that the pond should be half full on the fifteenth day. We intuitively feel that we will have plenty of time to deal with problems posed by population growth — because, well, we’ve been increasing our population for hundreds of thousands of years, surely we’ll have another hundred thousand or so before things get critical.

But that isn’t the way geometric increase works.

The sad thing about population crashes is that up to the last minute the culture appears to be flourishing. The population will be highest, and the ability to achieve results at its greatest right before the collapse. This is true for fruitflies in a glass bottle. It was true for humans on Easter Island.¹ It is almost certainly true for us now.

There are several ways a population can exceed the carrying capacity of an ecosystem. It can consume more resources than the ecosystem can supply, or it can produce more waste than the ecosystem can dispose of.

Around 1900 farmers were getting worried because the need for organic fertilizer was outstripping the supply. The invention of artificial fertilizer solved this problem — but the artificial fertilizers we make are based on non-renewable resources, and eventually we will run out. In a sense the global human population exceeded the earth’s carrying capacity about 100 years ago. We’ve been living on borrowed time since.

In 1858 the Great Stink almost closed Parlement, and forced London to stop dumping sewage into the Thames, and instead to pipe it into the estuary and the Atlantic Ocean. When our waste overcame the carrying capacity of the area, the solution was to dump it further afield.

As time progresses we find more resources that we absolutely need, and more wastes that we generate. As our population increases we touch more areas of the planet and there is no longer a safe place to dump our waste. Food remains a danger, especially as we now divert food production to biofuels. Energy has become a need, and the growing scarcity of oil is shown in the recent cost increases (and concomitant increases in the price of food as we try to grow more oil — to my mind a silly attempt that will do almost nothing for providing energy while destabilizing nations).

Our plastic throw-aways are destroying boobies on remote islands where man has barely set foot. Mercury is disrupting the ocean food chains. DDT has send many species to the brink of extinction. And we are slowly coming to see just how dangerous global warming will prove.

If there were only 1 billion of us, trying to live with technology of 1900 — and we didn’t increase that — we might survive. If there were only 50 million of us trying to drive modern cars we might survive.

But the horror of geometric increase is that it isn’t clear that there is a problem until it is far too late to do anything about it.

Then after the last day, when things really are unraveling, history suggests we will go to war over the last crumbs of resources, and by our own hands worsen the crisis we have imposed on ourselves.

We just are not willing, any of us, to reduce our consumption, nor to reduce our baby production, nor to commit suicide. Keeping the economy growing is the watchword of politics; even knowledge of contraception is considered immoral by far too many of us, and suicide is a sin.

We don’t know how quickly the damage we have done will destroy us. But there are so many ways we have damaged the world. And we aren’t addressing any of them effectively. Perhaps, as Kornell suggests, only Alaska will be habitable by 2100, or maybe 2050, or maybe 2150. Who knows when.

But soon.

And unavoidably something will collapse.

(I don’t see much point in voting tomorrow; I will, but nothing important can change)


¹See Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed