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August 2003 Archives

Officially employed!

You know, I knew already, but I somehow just didn't manage to breath a sigh of relief until I got my offer letter via FedEx just now. *whew!* In a couple of weeks, I'll be working at Motorola in a cell phone software group. Well, I guess it's not completely official yet, since they still have to make sure I haven't committed any felonies, and I have to go take a drug test, too. :) I was thinking: You know, there's no way Apple would ever require a drug test for employment. ;)

I think anyone who's job-hunting needs to remember Paul's Law (i.e. what Paul told me last summer, when I was looking for a job in England): "No matter how many times you get turned down, you only need to get lucky once, and you're all set."

On tech jobs moving overseas

I've been jobhunting in a crummy economy, and so there's a lot of talk about the recent surge in Indians on work visas and tech jobs being outsourced outright. China seems like it'll start being a major player next. In the short term, this is obviously bad for tech workers here. I'm an immigrant myself, and I've still felt some anti-immigrant emotions at times. I'm certainly not proud of my gut reaction, and I think that if the tech community isn't careful, serious racist sentiments could start festering against Indians.

Thing is, it's easy to get all indignant about people who are against immigration and so forth when it's not your own job being threatened. When it is, I find that I have to make a conscious effort to keep things in perspective and prevent myself from falling into that hole. My gut instinct is to think of this as a zero-sum game. As Indians and Chinese (in China) win, I lose. But is it?

One interesting exercise was reading this article about MIT's OpenCourseWare initiative.* MIT has been making a lot of course material available online for free, and the article is about how this is making a difference in some third world countries. I'm a big fan of this. It's the academia spirit of openness. In the end, it's all about raising the education level of the world as a whole, and my gut thinks that's a very good thing.

But isn't that exactly what's happening in India? It's a third world country that's becoming more educated. On the whole, isn't having more educated people in the world a good thing? Here, my gut instinct is to think of this as a very non-zero-sum game. Americans may lose some jobs in the short term, but more brains means better (and cheaper) products in the long term for everyone. That's the idea behind a global market, anyway. The reality is probably somewhere in between. In any case, I think this is something we need to keep in mind when we get all pissed off about "Indians stealing our jobs".

Of course, that still doesn't help us in the short term any more than it's helped all the people laid off from other skilled jobs as companies outsourced to cheaper third world countries. And of course the companies benefit in those situations more than consumers, at least in the short term and possibly even in the long term. The exact balance here is a matter of great political debate, and I don't know nearly enough about the issue to have an informed opinion.

So what can we tech workers of the United States do in the short term, aside from moving to India or lobbying against outsourcing? (The former is generally not feasible, and the latter might not be desirable.) Well, we can try to compete, for one thing. That's one way we can help ourselves and help the world at the same time.

The Indian and Chinese tech industries are only just starting to mature, and we have a head start. We can educate ourselves more.. be better programmers.. write better code, and stay ahead. (We love stories about all the crappy code coming out of India right now, but their code will get better over time; it's no reason to be complacent.) We can try to take advantage of our strengths as a culture. Asian countries have more rigid educational structures that are better for some things than others. Americans need to take advantage of the "creativity" that they emphasize so much in our otherwise inferior schools. :)

And here's (an honest, not rhetorical) question: Why is Japan not a major player in the software industry, or Taiwan or Hong Kong, for that matter? Is it simply a matter of population, or are there cultural factors involved?

I expect all this to start being a major topic of discussion in the coming years, once it's progressed beyond the initial shock. Speaking of which, here are the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross stages of facing death:

Anger, Denial, Depression, Bargaining, Acceptance.

Perhaps I've passed beyond Anger, and my rambles about competing are just Denial. :)

I'd love to hear all your thoughts about this, btw. My own thoughts on it are still very unformed and uninformed. :)

* A footnote about that OpenCourseWare article: 6.170 (Software Engineering Lab) is the second most visited course, and I TAed for it, so there are probably bits and pieces of my writing that people see somewhere in there somewhere, however little. Yay! :)

Fox News laughed out of court

Literally!

Summer of Sequels

While jobhunting, I've been watching a few movies a week, on video and in person. So I haven't had the inclination to review them all. I didn't keep a list, so I probably won't even remember them all, but I'll say a word or two about whichever come to mind. :)

First up: Action movies. This has been a great summer for action movies. I don't think I saw any that I didn't at least enjoy, and most of them were sequels, even! Sequels seem to be getting better these days. Oh wow.. I just realized every major action movie this summer has been a sequel of some sort, almost. S.W.A.T. is based on an old 70s TV show, and Pirates was renamed in anticipation of future sequels. :) Sadly, there's only one big action blockbuster left this summer, but it's one I'm rather looking forward to: the sequel to El Mariachi and Desperado, Once Upon a Time in Mexico. (See? Another sequel!) It's due out on September 12, though, which I suppose is technically Fall.

A little menu for ya:

X-Men 2 is as good as or better than the first. The ending is a bit weak, but the characters are really likable and diverse. I especially love what happens to both Magneto and Iceman at the end. They're involved in plot twists, but you understand the characters well enough that both twists seem completely obvious in retrospect. That's how stories should work, no? Characters shouldn't follow the plot; the plot should follow the characters.

I also like how Mystique is a computer hacker and how she exudes an air of intelligence. Her looks seem just a bonus; they didn't define her character. I'm impressed that Rebecca Romijn-Stamos pulls that off so well. From what I've seen in interviews, the actress also seems smarter than what her looks might suggest.

One amusing bit: I watched X2 in Panama, in English with Spanish subtitles. But there's one brief scene in Spanish, and I didn't get any English subtitles for it! :P

Matrix Reloaded shows us that you can try to imitate Matrix effects, but you just can't imitate Matrix style. Unlike some people, I rather like the CG effects in the one hundred Smiths scene. They look plenty real to me! As for the script, I like the random philosophy references more that I did in the first movie. That's partly because cyclical history and meta-simulations and stuff speak to me more than Biblical references. The Oracle's dialogue isn't nearly as well-written this time 'round, but I like how she might be manipulating Neo for her own purposes (which is totally in character, really). My only big complaint about the movie is all the actual dialogue, all that "It is.. YOUR DESTINY!" stuff. :P

T3 is pretty fun too. Just when you thought Matrix: Reloaded ruled out any car chases for the rest of the summer, T3 comes out with giant vehicles smashing stuff for half an hour straight. Sweet! :) And plus with both Terminators being solid metal this time, they take very satisfying crunching noises whenever they throw each other against walls. And throw each other against walls they do. A lot. :) I have two complaints, though:

(1) The bad Terminator is just not menacing enough. The first two movies start with much demonstration of how unstoppable the bad guy is, how lopsided the match is. Here, the T-X just seems like a slightly better version of Arnold. In fact, she doesn't even seem as menacing as the T-1000. In the first two movies, I had a sense of "How are they gonna be able to STOP this thing?" that I don't have here.

(2) I like how the first two movies took themselves seriously, and this one doesn't. It's just a fun action flick with some good jokes. (Arnold is actually quite funny in this movie, which is surprising since he was so not funny while doing promos for it, saying stuff like, "I'm back!" :P) Lightness would be fine except that it doesn't match the tone of the ending. I actually love the ending itself. It meshes very well with what the Terminator films are all about, but I feel like this movie doesn't deserve that ending. Still, I'm looking forward to T4.

2 Fast 2 Furious is everything that its title would make you expect. :) I think you have to watch it in a group, though, so you can make fun of the dialogue afterward. By "dialogue" I mean the "Hey bro!" and "Yeah, bro!" that make of most of what the lead characters say. :) Here are a couple of examples, care of IMDb:

"You still fight like shit, bro!"

"I was made for this, bro!"

Amazingly, 2 Fast 2 Furious actually makes the original seem like it had a plot. :) The original was far more authentic, using real street racers' cars and so forth. This one is more like, "VROOM VROOM!" In fact, I can't even really remember the car chases very well. This movie is so fast and so furious that even the car chases seem irrelevant.

Bad Boys II is exactly what I expected. Pure testosterone-filled glee. In fact, even before the movie started, during the "preshow entertainment", a fight broke out in our theater. :) Really the most appropriate review of this movie comes from Harry Knowles' review:

Does it blow shit up real cool? Yeah, it blows all sorts of shit up, I'm just shocked that one of the many helicopters didn't get blown to hell.

That pretty much sums it up! There's actually a decent car chase in this one, too, amazingly enough. This has been the summer of sequels with cool car chases.

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle doesn't try to be a normal action movie. It's pure form. The first movie pretended to care about plot. This one does not. It's just shamelessly fun. I particularly love all the ridiculous stunts, like how one Angel's motorcycle would get shot in mid-air, and she would do a mid-air cartwheel out of her bike as it blows up and land on the back of another Angel's bike... also in mid-air. Great stuff. :) In fact, this is the only movie here I'd give 4 slices of toast, not because it's better than the others, but because it excels and what it sets out to do.

What's the deal with that guy from Willard, though? He seems completely out of place in this movie. *shrug*

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life. Note that the first Tomb Raider was called "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider", so technically this title should have two colons. :) Anyway, it's a watchable if forgettable movie. I like the globe-trotting, though. The rocky coast of Greece... Riding a motorcycle on the Great Wall... I'm a sucker for anything you could describe as "HIGH ADVENTURE!" :) The downside is that it's not quite good enough to be satisfying, so it mostly makes me really impatient for Indy 4.

S.W.A.T. just does't have enough Michelle Rodriguez, is my main complaint. :P But watching it reminded me to rent Girlfight, her debut as a social outcast living in the projects who learns to box. It was surprisingly well-written and didn't feel preachy about its obvious female empowerment theme. I suppose there's a reason why it tied for the Grand Jury Prize and won for Director at Sundance.

Another interesting thing: In S.W.A.T. and The Fast and the Furious, Rodriguez was quite hot as the "tough chick". In Girlfight, though, I didn't think of her that way at all, since her character is younger and not as confident. Instead, I was totally absorbed by her performance. I hope she'll get more roles where she gets to really act.

Speaking of S.W.A.T., I'm supposed to be reviewing that, aren't I? :) It's okay, probably on par with Tomb Raider 2 in terms of enjoyability. Basically, the plot is a snoozer, but it has plenty of good actors to make up for it. Besides, it's hard to go wrong with guys in Kevlar and headsets running around with guns chasing bad guys. :) I guess my main complaint here is how a big part of the main chase takes place in a subway tunnel, which is a much more boring location for a S.W.A.T. team than an office building.

Pirates can only be reviewed as "Arrrr!" :) Oh, I could mention Johnny Depp's amusing performance which you've no doubt already heard about by now... But I know I watched it because it's about pirates! I mean, we're all familiar with pirate cliches, but there hasn't been a real pirate movie in a long time. :) I like this bit from Ebert's review:

"Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" is "based on" the theme park ride at Disney World, which I have taken many times. It is also inspired (as the ride no doubt was) by the rich tradition of pirate movies, and excels in such departments as buried treasure, pirates' caves, pet parrots and walking the plank, although there is a shortage of eye patches and hooks.

:) If you haven't already seen it, check out this keyboard for pirates. Also the IMDb trivia page has a list of references to the ride.

Is this to be the future, though? "Be sure take the ride before you watch the movie!" After all, this isn't just a one-off thing. I've already seen trailers for The Haunted Mansion. So what's next?

"In a world... that's small......"

Fun with the blackout

The Associate Press went to ask Iraqis for advice on coping without power.

My favorite:

Use foul language. "When the power goes out, I curse everybody," said Emad Helawi, a 63-year-old accountant. "I curse God. I curse Saddam Hussein. And I curse the Americans."

And of course, some people have started saying, "I told you so." Apparently, energy deregulation led to a reduction in transmission line investment, among other things. Hurray again for deregulation!

Update (Aug-17): Here's another article on deregulation and the Bush administrations. (Both of them.)

I just love last week's Onion infographic. The question: "What are voters' complaints about Gray Davis?". My favorite answer:

Davis stood idly by while Republicans deregulated energy industry, leading to blackouts across the state.

Google Calculator

Google now calculates mathematical expressions. It can even give you the answer to life, the Universe, and everything, in binary. Fun stuff. :) Here's an article listing some of the nifty stuff it handles.

Taliban retakes a province, and Arnie a possible consensus-builder?

Without much fanfare in the news, the Taliban has retaken most of the the Zabul province in Afghanistan. What's going to happen there? I have no frickin' clue, because hardly anyone is reporting on Afghanistan any more. *sigh*

In other news, Warren Buffett is now Arnie's economic advisor. Warren Buffett is a Democrat who's supported some Republicans now and then. What's important about this is that Arnie's billed as "socially liberal but fiscally conservative". Well, we know that Buffett, despite being the second richest man in the world, is against shameless tax cuts. (My closet libertarian friend Stephen ;) points out that CEOs are actually one of the most liberal professions, statistically. Interesting, no?)

Between this and his Kennedy-cousin wife, it seems to me that Arnie may have just the connections for getting Democrats and Republicans to cooperate. God help me for thinking this, but he might actually be what our viciously deadlocked state legislature needs! *ducks*

On a related thought, Bustamante's "vote no on the recall but yes for me" strategy makes perfect logical sense, but I wonder if it'll work with voters. I mean, it's just so... sterile... And here you have Arnie refusing all interviews and only accepting photo ops. Is it better to fight fire with fire or with water? All I know is: I very much look forward to all the campaign commercials in the next few months. :)

Who Wants to Be Governor of California? The Debating Game

I kid you not. On October 1, five actual candidates will debate on the Game Show Network with "buzz-in answers and bonus questions". The best part is the award:

The five will compete for a prize of $21,200, the maximum corporate campaign contribution allowed by California law, the channel said. The prize will go to the candidate in the group who receives the most votes in the October 7 recall election.

"If the winning candidate/contestant is actually elected governor, Game Show Network promises not to ask for any political favors in exchange for the money," the channel said.

"Hi"

[Hi Magazine] One of our most effective weapons is our culture, however low-brow people think MTV is. Media companies have been fighting an unintentional culture war every time they expand into a new market. The government may not mind the cultural influence, and it may even encourage it, but now the State Department is taking an active role.

To your right is the cover of Hi, a new Arabic-language "lifestyle magazine" the government is selling in the Middle East. See this Washington Post article for details.

What I wonder is: Will we ever find out how effective this magazine is? Will it actually become a hip thing to read?

I read about it in this CalPundit post.

We're losing track of time!

Here's a problem I didn't realize we were having: We do not have an accepted standard way of keeping time. In one sense, time is defined by the earth's rotation. There are 24 hours in a day. But just how long is a second? We defined it many years ago by the period of radiation of cesium atoms, which is very precise. And thus atomic clocks and International Atomic Time was born.

Unfortunately, unlike cesium radiation, the Earth's rotation is not so stable. It's been slowing down a bit because of the gravitational pull of the moon. (Consider how we only see one side of the moon. That's because the Earth pulls on the near side harder than the far side. The Moon's effect on the Earth is much smaller, but it's noticeable.) Now this causes a problem. If we define time by atomic clocks, days are now a little bit longer than 24 hours. Astronomy requires rather precise correlation of time and the Earth's rotation, so they were annoyed.

Enter Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). Every once in a while, UTC adds a "leap second" to give the Earth time to catch up. I always thought that UTC was pretty much the accepted standard now, and it kind of is, but there's a problem: People don't always know to add those leap seconds. In particular GPS uses all the leap seconds added up to 1980, but none of the leap seconds added since! So now GPS is 13 seconds ahead of UTC, but 19 seconds behind atomic time. When aircraft and ground control use different standards for time, this can be a problem...

What's the solution? Well, people are arguing about it, and that's kind of crazy. I mean.. I didn't realize that time was so controversial. :) (Now just imagine if we had spaceships traveling a relativistic speeds. :P)

And this would be why I put a password on my photos

Behold the Random Personal Picture Finder.

The California Circus

[Recall Candidates]

This is the current CNN top story image. Priceless. :)

Update: I read an interesting bit from the Daily Kos. Here is the California Constitution, Article II:

SEC. 15. (a) An election to determine whether to recall an officer and, if appropriate, to elect a successor shall be called by the Governor and held not less than 60 days nor more than 80 days from the date of certification of sufficient signatures. [emphasis added]

There were petitions to the California Supreme Court to drop the successorship race from the ballot. This clause applies to state officers in general and not just the governor, so one might interpret the "if appropriate" clause to mean that successorship races are for offices without obvious successors. Since the Governor is typically succeeded by the Lt. Governor when he unexpectedly leaves office, one might interpret the law as saying that Bustamante should automatically succeed the Davis if the recall goes through.

However, the Court, which is composed of six Republicans and one Democrat, has chosen not to intervene. I learned that last part as I was typing the earlier bit. I originally wondered if all this ado would be about nothing, but I guess the show will go on.

Shaolin Soccer and artistic integrity

There's this hit Hong Kong movie called Shaolin Soccer that Miramax is going to release in the US. They edited it rather heavily, though, dubbing it, rescoring it, and adding and deleting scenes. They even considered renaming it Kung Fu Soccer. That made me kinda sad. I hadn't seen it yet, and I wanted to see it in theaters in its original form!

Then I read today in Aint It Cool News that Miramax called off the edited version after a failed test screening. They are now going to release it subtitled and without much editing. The article was entitled, Shaolin Soccer to be released unmolested!.

Great news, right? So I then clicked through to the source of the information, an article from a website called Ku Fu Cinema entitled, Miramax Changes Tune on 'Shaolin Soccer'. This site had a slightly different tone:

In the last year, a vocal group of Asian film fans on the internet have increasingly voiced their disapproval of 'MiramAXE,' as they have dubbed the company and their parent entity Disney, over the editing they have performed on previously released films such as Iron Monkey and The Legend of Drunken Master (AKA Drunken Master II). Though both films, which were originally released in the mid-'90s, bore moderate success at the box office, the topic of debate rages over the integrity of the original works and how they are presented to general audiences. It now looks like general audiences will be the real losers of this contest. A limited arthouse release with little advertising dollars spent will make it all the more difficult for the successes this film has had in Asia to be repeated in the U.S. [emphasis added]

I was surprised to realize that I totally haven't been thinking about the other side of the issue! Personally, I prefer it this way, since it doesn't matter much to me how many other people get to see it. However, it seems that the authors themselves were willing to make changes to accomodate a different market. It seems they preferred wider exposure, and so they might actually be sad that the edited version didn't screen well. What a concept! :)

I remain a big fan of artistic integrity, but I guess it's easy to hold on to principles when you've got nothing to gain or lose.

Undercover as a Car Salesman

I've been reading about cars lately on edmunds.com and such. Did you know you can buy cars online through carsdirect.com? Anyway, the really cool thing is how Edmunds sent a writer to work undercover as a car salesman. It's a really interesting article that gives you a picture of how things work on the other side of things, and you'll learn some car-buying tips along the way.

Tooltips

I've just added a feature to the "Recent Comments" list on the left of the front page. If you hover your mouse over them, you'll now get tooltips explaining the article the comment is for. (I've also made them link to the comment popup windows instead of the individual article pages. Note that you can get to the article page through a link at the top of the comment popup.)

The purpose of this is to keep the layout clean and sufficiently informative while providing you with more information if you want it. I tried displaying article titles alongside comment dates and authors, but it just looked ugly no matter what I did. I've also added tooltips to the section links at the top to briefly explain what each section is for. (The astute will notice that these are just the subtitles from the section pages.)

In case you're curious, tooltips are really easy to add to any link or image. You just give the tag a "title" attribute with your preferred text. Note that in the case of images, the "alt" attribute is only meant as replacement text non-graphical browsers, and you should use the "title" attribute for tooltips. This is despite the fact that IE makes tooltips for "alt" text; it's not supposed to.

Audiopad: Minority Report-style interfaces are here

While I was working at the MIT Media Lab, I saw a lot of references to interfaces based on physical objects. There were things like building blocks that communicate with a computer to make different sounds based on their orientation and such. It all looked like typical wacky Media Lab stuff to me.

But I just watched the demo video for Audio Pad, and it is so crazy awesome. It's fundamentally just a couple of blocks that you slide around on a table. The sensing-surface notes where they are and gets a projector to display graphics over the table. All this is used to control tracks of electronic music.

It sounds pretty silly, but I urge you to go watch the video. It totally reminded me of the computers in Minority Report, except not on glass.

Update 2007-05-30: Fixed broken links.

About August 2003

This page contains all entries posted to the klog in August 2003. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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