As I sit here watching the Capitol Fourth on PBS, I find myself reflecting on the same things I reflect on each Independence Day. This show has a tendency to remind me of all of the ways that my country and fellow citizens disappoint me. I know it is reasonable for the propaganda machine to go full force on the one national holiday, and that doesn't so much bother me - after all, many of the claims in your average patriotic song were at least nominally true at one point. But the patriotic music and the reminders of our nation's history just bring to mind our current shortcomings.
We talk about our soldiers "fighting for freedom", but the reality is our soldiers fighting overseas are fighting for corporate profits for companies like Lockheed, Boeing, and Raytheon. The people fighting against us in the Middle East are fighting for their own freedom against a foreign imperial government, every bit as much as George Washington fought against the British over two hundred years ago. We may not agree with their ideals, but it's disingenuous to claim we're fighting for "freedom", since they pose no threat to us, and if one group is subjugating another, when we're done with them, it'll be the same, just the other way around. The only benefit is in the military contractors who profit from all the war and destruction.
They did a nice little montage of "This Land is Your Land", and another included Miss Piggy dressed as the Statue of Liberty. You may recall the inscription on the statue: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door." I'm embarrassed at the way Americans treat immigrants and all people who want to come here to make a better life for themselves - you sneer at fifteen people living in a small townhouse, who work as day laborers for three dollars an hour, but you have no idea what they came from - huts made of scrap metal and no indoor plumbing. They aren't parasites looking for a handout. They are willing to work hard, to do things that are "beneath" your average self-entitled American, and do it for next to no pay... and then send half of that pay back to their families who couldn't escape the squalor that they were lucky enough to be able to. Americans waste enough food to feed every hungry person on the planet. But Americans scream about "illegals" taking their jobs and lowering wages. They want to build fences, and have mass deportations. The reality is that having people treated as "illegal" opens them up to victimization, since they can't go to the police for protection without fear of deportations - but they certainly pay taxes and allow you to enjoy the low prices you pay for many services. But they don't get any of the basic protections that any human should enjoy. Where would you be, if your family hadn't been welcomed here, or at least tolerated long enough to become safely established?
I love my country - there's no place on Earth that is founded on the liberties that America was founded on. It's just sad that so many people have forgotten where we came from. Peace, equality, tolerance, and opportunities for everyone. Not warmongering, corruption, and hatred. Happy Independence Day.
—Brian (7/5/2014 12:14 AM)
Yesterday was my 52-week anniversary at Google, and today is my calendar year anniversary. I still can't quite believe that I managed to get hired by Google and relocate to Colorado, and I'm even more amazed that after a year at Google, they actually still seem to want me around. It's pretty much everything that the rumors say, and everything that I expected, and pretty much everything that I wanted. About the only down-side is that I'm having a bear of a time getting my friends recruited — come on, guys! How hard is it to program your way through an interview? The one person I successfully recruited actually managed to start before me, so of course, I don't get a referral bonus for that one!
Really, the only disappointment has been that I'm on a team of grown-ups with families who don't party as much as Googlers have a reputation for. I've been told that Boulder Googlers are a bit more restrained than their Mountain View counterparts, and that my group is particularly mature. And while I'd love to party more, it's probably for the best that I don't have as many excuses to be irresponsible.
Here's hoping that Google and I continue to work happily together for many years to come.
—Brian (2/11/2014 4:50 PM)
My good friend, former colleague, and expert software tester, Lena Houser, recently compiled her take on the relationship between testers and developers, drawing from interviews with developers, including me, on traits they'd like to see in software testers.
Personally, I love testers, and as a developer, it is my mission in life to make their job as easy as possible. I never understood how developers could become defensive when a tester finds a problem. If it doesn't work the way the tester expects, then it probably won't work the way the end user expects, either! The biggest challenge is probably poorly specified requirements - the developer had one way of thinking about it and implemented it that way, while the tester had a different interpretation and wanted it to work another way. As all developers and testers know, getting good requirements is a luxury that few actually get. So it is important that developers and testers work together as a team, rather than as adversaries. It's the only way to produce good software, and it goes a long way to preserving sanity, too.
Lena's post goes over some of the other key qualities in the tester/developer relationship, with ideas from a variety of industry veterans.
—Brian (10/24/2013 10:05 AM)
I've been trying to buy an SUV for years, since the Mustang doesn't drive in the snow real well - or if it even looks like it might snow at some point in the near future. But I've always managed to put it off. Of course, now that we're in Colorado, and being reminded that I've already got the Mustang stuck a couple times, I figured it was finally time to actually do it.
We test drove a bunch of cars, and I don't need to go into that drama. But finally, today, we found a used SUV that we both liked, that was fairly cheap, and in great condition, and decided to buy it. So, I went to the bank, withdrew cash to cover the purchase price of the car, and went back to the dealer to do the paperwork.
Imagine my shock when they asked for my social security number. I explained to them that since I was paying cash, there was no need for them to run a credit check. After going through increasing levels of management, a gentleman came out and was able to explain to me (and provide documentation) that the credit check wasn't actually about credit, but rather to verify my identity, and make sure that I'm not on any government watch lists, and that this requirement came about as part of the "Patriot" Act.
That really pissed me off. Of course, it wasn't the dealer's fault. But I pointed out that it was unlikely that the watch lists are archived by social security number, and we all realized this was a two step process - use the credit check to make sure you are who you say you are, and then make sure that the you that you are isn't on the government lists. So I said, how about we verify my identity without checking me credit. So he smugly asked for three forms of government issue picture ID (that'll get him, he thought). Well, I just happened to have three forms of government issue picture ID on me, to his surprise, and he accepted it.
So as usual, when someone insists that you have to give them your social security number, usually that means they just haven't thought about why they need it, and if you waste enough of their time, they'll figure out a (slightly) less intrusive method of doing whatever it is they have to do.
They were also really nice and patient about it all. The truck is great, and we got a great deal. I suppose I should give credit where it's due and recommend Frontier Honda in Longmont. Good guys, particularly Chris Loan (yes that's really his name).
—Brian (10/18/2013 10:34 PM)
This is not a movie I would typically go see. I don't really like comedy, particularly of the stupid juvenile sort that Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson are known for. But, this is a movie about Google, and I figure as a Noogler, I should see the movie, so when people I know ask me about it, I can answer intelligently. Also, Google bought us all tickets for this morning's showing.
The movie has some really great moments, and honestly, it's not a bad story. But it's also got some of those typical Vaughn and Wilson moments that just make me want to exit the theater - like overuse of Alanis Morissette's song Ironic (irony: writing a song called Ironic where none of the situations mentioned are examples of irony).
I liked most of the "hero" characters in the film, and the antagonists, are of course, detestable. The geeks are sufficiently geeky, and there are some truly spectacular moments of nerdiness. The film is decidedly non-technical, but there are plenty of references to Google products. There was one great moment where Owen Wilson interrupts a seminar to ask why they don't change the default editor in Ubuntu from vi to Emacs. Of course, if it had really been a roomful of geeks, that would have resulted in violence as the vi geeks battled it out with the Emacs geeks. And then there was a wonderful scene involving a game of Muggle Quidditch. I want to know why there was no Muggle Quidditch and my Noogler orientation??
Large portions of the film take place at recognizable locations on Google's Mountain View campus, though there were a few significant departures from reality. For example, a character couldn't name any nearby restaurants because she doesn't get out much, but in reality, there's actually no place to eat near Google's campus, and anyway, they serve three meals a day on campus, so no one really bothers to go out anyway. It looks like most of the "going out" in the film ended up in San Francisco - more than an hour away from campus, even in light traffic. Still those are minor nits. The major departure is that this film is some weird combination of Google's internship program, Noogler orientation, and interview candidate's worst nightmare. It just doesn't work that way.
But who cares? That's not the point. They're telling a story. The film has the typical cliché moments of rejection and redemption, and the formula is nothing new. But if you think Google would be your dream job, or you like absurd comedy, then you might get a kick out of it.
—Brian (6/25/2013 5:57 PM)
One of the driving factors in my decision to move to Colorado, is the proximity to snow and mountains and their beautiful child: skiing. I accepted the job here in December, but I didn't actually manage to move here until February, and now here it is March before I managed to make it out onto the slopes here for the first time.
But it was worth the wait! Today, I drove from Boulder, at 5,430 feet above sea level, west to Nederland, at 8,228 feet, and then a tad further west to Eldora Mountain Resort with a base elevation of 9,200 feet, and a top elevation of 10,800 feet. I was able to climb that mile in elevation over the course of twenty miles and about 45 minutes. Yeah, I'm that close to a ski area. Granted, this is a pretty tiny ski resort, as far as Colorado goes. Only 680 acres. But then, you consider that what I'm used to for "big" ski areas are Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia with 244 acres, and Seven Springs in Pennsylvania with 285 acres. Now granted, the vertical at Eldora is only 1,600 feet — barely more than the 1,500 feet at Snowshoe. But Snowshoe was a four hour drive from the house in Virginia!
So needless to say, I was very excited about the ease of getting there, the vast size of the resort (as small as it is, by Colorado standards — Vail has a 3,450 foot vertical and over 5,000 skiable acres), and the overall quality of the snow. While it was 60 degrees in Boulder, today, up on the mountain, it may have reached 40, and the sun was bright, and the snow powdery.
I arrived at the ski area shortly before their opening time of 9:00, and learned that I probably should have left Boulder a half hour earlier than I had. The traffic getting up the mountain was fairly light, but there was traffic. I was able to park fairly close to the Indian Peaks Lodge, where lift tickets and ski rentals are procured. And as "late" as I was, there really wasn't that long of a line or that big of a crowd to get started for the day. If I had to guess, I'd say most of the skiers in the area own their own equipment and have season passes. By next season, I will probably have those as well. Then you just get there, and head up to the lifts.
Speaking of which, from the lodge where you get the rental equipment, you really only have access to the "family zone" of the resort. I took the Sundance lift to the top of that area, and had a couple of warm-up runs, and found the lone blue square run, which shares the name and path of the lift. The conditions were good, and the crowds light, and I was itching to find my way up to the higher peaks. But it turns out, you basically have to hike up to the Challenge Mountain lifts - it doesn't seem like there is any traverse from the top of the beginner area that will drop you off by the upper mountain lifts. So I hiked up, and caught the Challenge lift to the top of the main part of the mountain.
At the bottom of the Challenge lift and it's parallel, Cannonball, there's a big sign that says "No Beginner Terrain". They aren't kidding. From the top of Challenge, you have your choice of blues and blacks. I had been hoping to take La Belle Dame down the top half, and then catch International back to the Challenge lift. But the pretty lady was otherwise engaged with the ski team's race competition. So instead, I found the other blue, Powderhorn, and picked up Sunset to get back to the Challenge lift. I actually skipped the Challenge lift, and took Cannonball, because it seemed to be running a bit faster, and it was.
Shortly after that, I decided to give the other blue slope a try, Windmill, but I took a wrong turn, and ended up skiing down Klondike, a black diamond, and then apparently catching Corona Road, because at the end of a very long run, I found myself at the Corona lift, which services the expert terrain of the Corona Bowl. So this is only my second time skiing this season, and my first time since early December. I'm really out of shape. So when I saw that my wrong turn had dumped me at the base of the expert bowl, I had a brief panic attack. But no sweat. I can ski.
So I took the Corona lift up to the top. The lift follows the ski run of the same name, which is a black diamond, but aside from being really long, it didn't appear that hard. It was groomed. It was at a 45 degree angle, which isn't particularly steep. And it's really wide. No sweat.
It turns out that Corona actually is a pretty easy run. It's just a very long run that doesn't give you a break anywhere... it's the same steep-but-not-too-steep pitch, the whole way down. So about a third of the way, I started to remember that not only am I out of shape, but that I'd added an extra five thousand feet of elevation. I stopped for a break and drank about half my bottle of water. Then I went and did another third. And stopped for another break.
I was carving the mountain fairly aggressively, and I think I was pretty successful. I didn't attempt any of the glades or the trails with bumps. But I did ski from the top to the bottom on some of the steeper terrain throughout the afternoon. I think once I'm back to my regular level of fitness, I'll be able to really have a good time on the trickier terrain.
Did I mention how glad I am to be here?
—Brian (3/2/2013 11:14 PM)
Well, as I predicted, life got interesting. Two weeks ago, Elaine and I moved to Colorado and I started working for Google. How's that for a bombshell? We are currently living in a sketchy corporate apartment in Boulder, but we think we've found a house, and we're just trying to get the details squared away, and then we can move in to our new permanent home. It's a shame to have to sell the rest of my Wizards season tickets (let me know if you need any tickets!), but when an opportunity like this comes up, it's hard to say no (for like the fifth time).
I'm really not supposed to talk about what I do at Google, so I won't, except to say that it's awesome, and that they threw me right into the deep end of the pool, and I checked in my first bug fix on my second day in the office, and if you look carefully, you'll actually be able to see some of my changes going live this week!
Oh, and there's a lot of snow here, and it's awesome. What's also awesome is that Boulder has a working public transit system, which means that when there's snow on the ground, there's a bus I can take to work, so I don't have to drive in the beautiful snow! But I still haven't got to go skiing. I need to correct that problem soon.
Wish us luck!
—Brian (2/24/2013 10:25 PM)
This morning, my mother called me to let me know that my grandfather, Edward Leitner, has passed away. He was born in New York on July 27, 1911, and lived most of his life in Westbrook, Connecticut, where he will be buried sometime next week. At nearly 102, no one could say he didn't live a full life. I know the last couple of years haven't been much fun for him, with his mind as sharp as ever, but his body being less and less cooperative. In the end, at least he went quickly and quietly, rather than after years of convalescence. There are so many things that I wish I'd been able to learn from him. A vast range of knowledge and experience were lost today, and that is a sad thing.
—Brian (1/30/2013 12:02 PM)
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