Thursday, May 15, 2014

Moon Boggling

Canceling NASA's plans to return to the moon is short-sited and a great loss for all of us.
Why you say? Because returning a presence to the moon would provide the world a vision of something greater than themselves. Just like the original moon landing did in the 1960's and 70's. Its not about priorities. Its not about money. NASA really doesn't spend that much compared to every other government bureaucracy such as the dept of education, environment, health etc.
You say we should focus on solving the problems we have here first. It doesn't matter. The cost of NASA hasn't stopped us from solving anything. If we really wanted to solve our problems we would. This is about where we are going.

The faint light from an international outpost on the moon would be a uniting value that everyone in the world would feel. Imagine growing up being able to see the jeweled lights of cities on the moon. It would inspire the world for a thousand years.

Friday, October 19, 2012

System Design

First saw this when I was at Marriott in 87'. Timeless

Saturday, February 11, 2012

My interview experience with Google

Since everyone seems to be doing it, I figure I will throw my 2 cents into the ring...

In early 2010 I traveled to Mountain View for an onsite interview with Google for a Front End Engineer position.

Google had contacted me, no doubt based on the fact I had worked at Yahoo! for 5 years and I had done some interesting things.

The phone screen was straightforward. Typical algorithmic questions with an emphasis on performance. I am an old time engineer, and it has been a long time since I focused on Big O issues, but I did well enough, sometimes using my own performance nomenclature. He seemed pleased by how I approached each solution, but did comment that I was a little rusty on the vernacular.

The recruiter followed up with the offer to fly in to Mountain View for the full day evaluation. They had a detailed questionnaire I had to fill out, designed to reveal my technology interests and background.

I had expressed interest in a position that would demand 50% C++ and 50% Javascript. Since that had been my experience at Yahoo!, I wanted to go in with my strengths,

The interview would be most of the day,  Four 1 hour segments, 2 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon.

I interviewed with an engineer from
  • Google Maps
  • Google Mail
  • Google Chrome
  • Google Docs
Each interview had a 5 minute getting to know you, 10 minutes of background on a general problem related to the field that engineer worked with, and 30 minutes on the white board working that problem out.

I was impressed with the professionalism and the directness of each engineer. There were no ridiculous questions. Everything asked of me was relevant, strait to the point and leading up to the main point
  • how would you solve this problem?
  • what are the performance implications of your solution
  • write out the code on the whiteboard
Each interview was with a single engineer who at the end would take a snapshot of the whiteboard to share with his teammates for discussion.

The 1st interview was with a Mail Engineer. He asked me to write a GetElementsByClassName implementation. Straight forward enough and done with ample time to spare. I noticed that he would make occasional comments on the coding technique and ask performance related questions about it.

The 2nd interview was with a Maps Engineer. He was a C++ engineer and provided a well prepared problem about mapping, finding the most efficient way through a collection of points and so one. Ultimately (like all the questions), the problem was whittled down to a fairly straightforward algorithmic problem. After I had completed my whiteboard work, the engineer told me there was a bug in my code. I looked back and quickly saw I had forgotten to initialize a ptr. I fixed the error and he seemed satisfied.

We then broke for lunch and I was taken to one of the many free eateries on campus. Without a doubt it was one of the best lunch meals I have ever had.

My host during lunch spoke about his intention to purchase a house (after 10 years of saving). He mentioned it was costing him somewhere close to a million dollars. It wasn't lost on me that even with a great shift in salary that I was unsure of how well I would be able to navigate the inflated markets of Silicon Valley and whether it would actually be a good thing financially. However, my ego would not be denied this opportunity to test my metal.

After lunch it was on to the 3rd interview, a pleasant fellow from the Chrome Team. I was so enamored by the possibility of working on Chrome that I actually told the guy I would kill to get on that team. He smiled with understanding.

He was a C++ engineer and he asked me to solve 2 problems. I don't remember the 1st (it was medium difficulty - but felt good about my solution).  The 2nd was a gift - write an AutoPtr implementation. Easy enough and I wrote it out without so much as a hesitation. I did admit that I was a bit hazy on the issues of protecting the copy constructor and that I wasn't sure if I had gotten that part correct. He seemed satisfied enough and we moved on.

Up to this point I was very pleased with my performance. All through the interviews I was keenly focused, and felt on my game. That was soon to change.

The last interview was with an Engineer from Docs. A cheerful British fellow. He prepped his problem the same as the others. The problem was a navigation issue, something about finding the nearest navigation hop (by keyboard) given a set of links on the page, some within the viewport, some beyond it.

It occurred to me that I had done something like this for Yahoo! back in 2005 when I developed the Yahoo! Music for MediaCenter application (never released). In fact it occurred to me that it was almost the exact problem I had faced years ago and had created some helper classes (Javascript) to solve them. I told the engineer that I had seen this problem before and that I had solved it. He smiled sheepishly.

I got excited. I thought I am going to get this job! All I have to do is do what I did 5 years before. No problem. Just don't screw up. Famous last words. I had let my enthusiasm overwhelm my mind. It broke my concentration, and I was in trouble.

I struggled like a schoolboy with the problem. The code I wrote was terrible (truly). It took the rest of the time I had left to get something down on the whiteboard. I restarted 2x (bad move). Ultimately I felt defeated by it and expressed my own critical view of how bad the code I wrote was.

The engineer was non-plussed and did help me out a bit here and there with key comments that were meant to stimulate my thinking. But it was too late. It was a poor performance. He knew it and I knew it.

After he had walked me out, I felt sort of relieved. It was over. I had done well in 3 of the interviews. But my intuition said the last was probably the team I was interviewing for, and that's what counted most.

It took 2 weeks for Google to get back to me. Yes some of the engineers were pleased with my performance, but some had issues, and it was not to be.

I don't know if I will every try again with Google. They had come to me this time. Would my pride allow me to go back and re-submit for evaluation? So far not yet.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

No Goodwill

Just before we moved out of CA (2002), we decided to get rid of a lot of stuff that we didn't need anymore.

My wife had a large book collection and we went through and put together about 30 boxes of high quality books. Novels, classics, history, philosophy, etc. All were library quality.

I also gathered about 5 pc's that were perfectly good but no longer used. All were 386 or better systems.

I called Goodwill and asked for a pickup.

A few days later, a Goodwill driver shows up with a truck. I told him I had a lot of stuff and had it around the side of the house.

I started bringing the boxes around to the truck. I placed them all on the end of the truck. The driver would not bend down and pick up any of the boxes. All he would do was, using one foot, kick each box to the back of the truck.

As I brought more and more boxes and placed them on the end of the truck, the driver seemed be getting more and more distressed.

After I had stacked about 20 boxes on the truck, there was no more room on the end of the truck so I got in and pushed the boxes to the back myself.

I then went back to get more, I still had about 10 boxes and the computers. I told the guy I would help him, stack the boxes.

I went around the side and picked up 2 more boxes. When I came around I couldn't believe what I saw. The truck driver had taken off, with the truck gate wide open, a few books spilling out the truck as he accelerated away.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Help! the computer is calling the police!

I submitted this story to DailyWTF last year. They published it, but for some reason, rewrote it (badly).

Here is the original (true) story...

In the late 80's, I was lead developer for a large hotel chain. We had 240 hotels running off of 4 big regional minicomputers. Each mini handled 60 or so hotels dedicating 6 ports for terminals, printers, etc. This pushed the hardware we were using considerably, causing occasional system 'burps', bumping all the ports numbers over by one. The front desk staff would see bizarre things such as print jobs dumping to their terminals, and the main menu printing out on the printer.

Each mini also had a single port dedicated to developer dial-in support. In the age of 2400 baud modems, security and hacking were tame issues, met by equally tame preventative measures.

Anyone accidentally stumbling upon the dial-in number would see a typical login page. Enter anything but a secret code of the day, and the would be hacker would be left pondering a message that their break-in had been detected, the line had been traced, and the police were being contacted... It was all fake, but we figured what the hell, try to scare em off.

One day, after a one of those system 'burps', a bizarre support call was received at corporate support. A front desk clerk at one hotel was on the line frantically exclaiming "Help! the computer is calling the police!"

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Day in the Sun

One summer when I was six, I was at a day camp near the beach club we sometimes went to. I really didn't like the camp, but hey, I was six, and didn't have much of a choice.

Anyway, one day we were playing softball. I was the 2nd baseman. Not being much interested in the game, I remember standing in the field, staring at the sky, feeling the awe of the sun and the clouds. Suddenly a whoosh went by my head as the ball whizzed past me. My inattention allowed the batter to get a triple out of it. The first basemen (remember we were six), came storming over and punched me hard in the shoulder while calling me an asshole.

It hurt, and I did kind of deserve it. I actually thought "yeah I guess I was an asshole. I kinda let the team down". Still I continued to stare at the sky and enjoyed a day in the sun.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


This giant moth appeared one morning in 2008, on the front door of the building I worked in. At leat a foot in lenght, it hung out for about an hour and then disappeared. Never saw anything like it before (or since).

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Russian To Judgement

A few years ago, I sold my company to a Pasadena based high tech firm and relocated to the LA area. In the lobby of the building where I worked, there was a little lunch concession, where each day I would run down to order a sandwich and occasionally chat with the Russian immigrant who ran it.

One day I happened to complain about the intelligence of some of my co-workers. I don't remember what I said, but it wasn't too flattering. Something about them being stupid retarded dead heads. But I really don't remember.

So my Russian friend turns to me and says "You mean people on the east coast are different than here?" I smiled, and said "yes, where I came from, the folks around here would be considered lunch."

He thought for a second and then said "you know, I have been here for over 10 years, and I have never been outside of California. I just thought all Americans were idiots."

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Quake Vision

I lived in Moorpark California a few years ago. A small quiet town just north of LA (next to Thousand Oaks).

We had had a couple of 4 ptr earthquakes so I knew what they were. What happened one Sunday afternoon I never could have expected.

I was on the 2nd floor of my house. When suddenly I heard a sort of 'crack'. It was the kind of sound you know immediately, even though I had never heard anything like it before.

The sound was a tiny earthquake, except the ground barely shook and only for a second or two.

I could tell it came from just north of Burbank. And could feel it travel northward. It quickly passed by my area and onward towards Ventura.

The sharpness of the sound was amazing. But what was much more amazing was what it did to my senses.

For about 3/4 of a second, as the wave passed through my area, a new sense appeared to me. I could see into the ground, hundreds of feet down and around. For a split second, I had sonar. It just appeared in my mind. Like a picture of sorts. I could see the strata, the many layers of rock and sediment. It was astonishing.

It made me wonder if there wasn't an opportunity here for a new kind of survey and mining technology where sound waves would be used to give a person a virtual sense of the ground underneath. The potential here would be very lucrative to mining, oil companies etc.

So you heard it here first. All 2 of you that read this anyway. I'll take a modest commission ;)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Your kids are listening

Beware what you say in front of your kids

I was in Giant food one day, in the produce section, when I spied a young family - husband, wife and 3 year old daughter, picking through the cucumbers. The husband turned to his wife, winked and said "I like them long and hard". She gave him a well deserved "smart ass" look.

About 10 minutes later, in another part of the market, I again passed by this family. Suddenly the daughter, sitting in the child seat on the cart, started singing loudly "Daddy likes them long and hard! Daddy likes them long and hard!".

His wife again turned to her husband with the words carved into her face "are you happy now!"

Friday, April 24, 2009

Getting Out Of My Own Way

I was a quarter miler in high school. Did pretty well, won most of my races. There was this one race though, as I came around final turn, barely in the lead, over the last 100 meters, I noticed that as I pushed myself harder I was falling back and the 2nd place person (only a foot or two behind) would move up on me.
As I relaxed and just let my body work, I would pull ahead. As I strained and pushed, I started to fall back. I did this twice during the last 10 seconds of the race with exactly the same results. I was amazed at this. The harder I tried, the slower I went!

Struggling against a strong intuition to push harder, I forced myself to relax, and slowly pulled away to win the race.

I tried to fathom what had just happened. Maybe the strain of exertion actually tensed my muscles making me do more work. Whatever the reason, I learned a valuable lesson about pressing myself in other situations. By allowing my system to work I tended to raise its efficiency. The act of pushing and straining actually gets in the way.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thrilla In Queens

When I was 12, I was at a friend of my parents who had an older son. He was friendly to me and one time offered to teach me how to box.

He showed me how to move, block, and wait for opportunities to punch. It was all done in the kind of playful jousting, but with an undertone of mentoring.

All of a sudden I saw an opening and threw a right. It was going straight into his jaw when he caught my arm and stopped me. He was cordial and calm and took it in stride. I realized that I would have hit him hard if he didn't catch me.

Somehow I saw how he was just teaching, while I, not trying to hurt him, was playing more seriously. His restraint and focused calm taught me much about being within yourself to the point where you are not caught up in the activity you are engaging in.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Day Venus Landed on the Moon

One evening, when I was 14, I read that the moon was going to occult Venus. I had a telescope Through The Looking Glass, where I would peer into the heavens looking for the ultimate vista. Unfortunately it was to be at 4am in the middle of the winter(on Long Island).

I left my telescope outside the night before so the glass would have plenty of time to equalize in temperature to the outside air. If you didn't pay attention to things like this, your results would be disappointing.

Somehow I managed to get up and get myself into the backyard about 30 minutes prior to the occultation. It was a very cool site. The moon, about half full, and Venus also about half full were slowly coming together.

But what was so interesting about this was that they were in the same half full configuration. And Venus is really bright, much brighter (although smaller) than the moon. As I watched them come together, Venus looked liked a domed city landing on the moon!

The picture at top right is photoshop'd, but it looked just like that.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Alien Abduction

When I was attending college, I dreamed I was abducted by aliens. They're were several of them standing around me. The light was so bright I couldn't see. I felt like they were touching me all over. It was very uncomfortable.

Later after I woke up, I attended morning classes. In one class we discussed early life trauma and birth trauma in a psyche class. All of a sudden my dream came back to me and It occurred to me that what I thought was an alien abduction might be a post birth memory of being in the delivery room.

The aliens around me were actually the dr and nurse holding me with their hands, massaging me so I would breath.

I wonder if this could be a source of Alien abduction memories. If so, no wonder so many people think they have been abducted.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Imposter Syndrome

I once had a coworker, who was one of the more competent people I had met up to that time. She was project analyst who engendered a feeling of substantive competence and excellence. She confided in me many times about what she called The Imposter Syndrome. The feeling that if you are not very careful, they will find out that you really don't know anything at all.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Fart Whisperer

When I was young my older brother would come into my room and bother me about all kinds of things. Eventually I would get upset and ask him to leave. This would often escalate into yelling and fighting. Somehow, he always had a parting gift before he left. He would walk out of the room and then say wait I have something for you, stick his ass back through the door and fart. often repeating several times.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Day We Broke Mom

Mom was always a good person. She was the model for all of us to be good. She never cursed, talked bad about other people, etc. With 3 boys to manage, we stressed her, and stressed her. Amazingly, she never broke.

Until one day...

I was 12, and my 2 brothers and I were home on school break. It was one of those days where the fighting between us grew out of control. We were screaming and yelling at each other. I guess, it was all the fights that came before that did it. All the pushing and shoving and yelling and screaming. Something did it. Because in the middle of this was my mom, trying to calm us down. But we were not calm-able that day

All of a sudden she shuddered and said in an out of control manner, F__K!

Silence descended over the house. Something strange had just happened. Something bad had just happened. A word came out of my mothers mouth that never had been uttered before. We were all so shocked that we instantly stopped fighting. I hung my head heavy with the thought "What have we done?". Mom said the F word!. What did we do? We broke Mom.

We all went to our rooms without being told. I think to pray that this could be undone. Mom never said that word again as far as I know. But we were always careful never to push past a certain point. We didn't want to break mom again.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


When I was 11 I saved up $10 and bought a mini Van Der Graaff generator from Edmund Scientific. It was basically a motorized rubber band running through a plastic tube connected to a 4 inch metal ball. It looked cool with the large ball on top.

I would sit in the closet late at night, secretly hoping that the static electricity that flowed between the ball and my hand would charge me up, and that I would be able shoot lightening bolts from my fingers. Try as I might though, I never got single bolt of lightening to come out of my fingers.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Secret Design

We are all enlightened enough to see the obviousness of an evolutionary universe. Of course we are smart enough not to get trapped by the glamour of a personal god. And of course, there is no such thing as magic, ghosts, sorcerers, angels and demons.

right? right?

Well, most of the time anyway.

I mean as long as I don't have to admit that I secretly believe in reincarnation, imagine that god is watching me, that my relatives will greet me when I die, and that if I live a good enough life, that there will be some reward for me. When I'm dead.

Other than that, I am a logical, clear thinker, unfettered by the weight of religious dogma.

right? right?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Through The Looking Glass

As a teenager I had an avid interest in astronomy. Somehow I got my hands on a 6" reflector. Used it almost every night. Often I would point it off in a random direction, hoping to see something interesting.

One evening, it paid off. I spotted something amazing. It was a tight globular cluster. 50,000 suns tightly bound in all by itself, just hanging there in space, little else around it.

I was amazed because as I peered through the scope, I could only imagine the multitudes of planets, life forms, and civilizations that might live there. What their night sky would look like! Not a few thousand stars as we have in our sky, but 50 or a 100 thousand suns, all around like living inside a star itself.

I could only think, I don't know what cluster this is... I'll probably never see it again. I wonder who lives there?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Lights, Camera, Action

I had this dream when I was in college.

I dreamed I was on a tv or movie set. Everyone was very busy, moving things around, getting ready. Sets were being prepared and moved into place. Actors were taking their place. Time was getting close.

Then like a countdown, I heard 5, 4, 3, 2, 1... Action!

And I woke up.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Certified Associates

I was DP Manager at a large real estate franchise back in the mid 80's. Its gone now (starting to give me a complex!).

When we did mailings to our 1000 or so broker offices, we would print out standard mailing labels from the corporate database. The printing software would carefully print the label making sure the name did not overflow. There were some unfortunate casualties like Certified Associates, who would often return the mailing with a not so polite message...

* REALTY WORLD - Certified Ass *
* xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx *
* xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx *

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


When I was 9 (and living on Long Island), my brother and I would often spend our evenings, looking up at the clear starry night. We were both interested in astronomy, and would entertain ourselves talking about the stars, enjoying the night.

One evening, as we stared at the sky, several bursts of colored spots appeared overhead. Each looked like a red, purple and blue bulls eye, ever widening and changing as it expanded.

There were at least 2 distinct regions, each one bigger than the moon.

My brother yelled in a mixture of fear and excitement, Spots!!

We ran inside and got my mother to come to the front door. I was scared and excited. What was this. Was it real? Could it hurt us? As we again looked to the sky, and there were new spots forming. She said "oh my, maybe a planet exploded".

The next day the newspaper was filled with reports of strange phenomena in the sky from the night before. Many were completely off the wall, including ray guns spraying backyards with laser beams.

The military said it was conducting a satellite test in orbit. But nobody believed that.

Monday, March 30, 2009


When I was a little boy, there was this spooky, scary looking house just down the street.It was on stilts with one of those big walk around porches.

The house sat where the road curved and turned towards town. It was on the edge of my neighborhood, where the rest of the world began.

It was also, between me and the local candy store. That wonderful place where nothing could go wrong except perhaps arriving without any money.

I had to pass that house each way on my bicycle. And there was something weird about this place, something that scared me. There was a strange looking thing under the porch. A stocky, other worldly face, with deep crevices. It looked like it was carved into a tree trunk size block, and was kind of tilted, which made it look old and menacing.

I wasn't actually sure what it was. It was kind of dark and always in the shadows, but it looked like an idol or totem or something. All I knew is that it also looked eerily alive, and I didn't want to get too close to it.

I always rode by that house as fast as I could (both ways), trying not to look at it. Trying not to get its attention.

But sometimes, my curiosity would get the better of me and I would look. And I always saw the same thing, a bad, evil thing under the house, waiting for me to get too close and fall into it's trap.

Sometimes, the owner was around. A white haired man with a nice face. I often wondered if he knew what was lurking under his porch.

That place haunted me, from the first time I rode by when I was 6, until I moved away at 9.

About a month before I moved, I decided that I had to face this fear. I had to see exactly what this thing was. I had to prove to myself that it couldn't hurt me.

So one day, I did something I never did. I stopped in front of the house. I got off my bike and slowly walked towards it. I was scared. It was getting bigger and more menacing, but I forced myself to move forward.

As I got close to the porch, it started to change. It began to lose its evil face. Its horns receded. It's fangs seemed to melt away. And I was finally able to face my enemy, my tormenter for all these years.

I could just make out the front... "Scotts Turf Builder"

Thursday, March 26, 2009

If You Read This Kill Yourself

I worked for a company years back, that prided itself in its portfolio of intellectual property. Patents that it used to terrorize a whole industry. They were very successful for a long time. thank goodness they are now gone and forgotten.

One day I was in the CEO's office and i happened to look down at some documents on a side table. My eyesight was still pretty good in those days, so I could read it without picking it up. Good thing, the very top of the document had a paragraph of text that went something like this... If you are reading this and are not authorized stop. If you ignore this warning and continue to read this document you may be subject to fines / imprisonment or both.

I stopped reading right there. didn't even try to read the rest. I can only imagine the next sentence which could have read "OK now you've done it. hands up! you are under arrest for violating the don't read this sentence statute of 1995. please make your way to the nearest police station and turn yourself in"

The only thing that came to mind was a cartoon i had seen many years earlier where 2 ants pass by a sign. One of them says wait here I will up go see what it says. The cartoon followed with several panels showing the ant crossing the printed text which eventually read "keep off this sign". When he returned to his friend he said "your not going to believe this..."

Here is another example from xlcdForm