Friday, July 24, 2009

Last Few Days of Freedom

My extended vacation is coming to an end. Maybe I'll regale you with my recent experiences. This might be long, but hopefully it's not too boring.

A couple weeks ago I mentioned a difficult decision that I had to make. As many of you already know, my former company had gone bust and ceased its operations. So, for the first time in my life I was unemployed and on the dole.

I didn't sweat it much. My cash situation was totally fine, and the primary financial cost to was the opportunity cost of not actually pulling any salary. I figured I'd take some time off and look for a job in a non-aggressive manner, and there was always the strong possibility that whoever bought the defunct company's IP/assets would pick me up. Anyway, I got bored a month into the jobless life (pretty lame, huh?). I thought that I had better step up my job hunt efforts since the economy and the job market wasn't the best for the unemployed.

Pickings were slim for sure. I'd say that for software, it was nowhere as bad as they were in the crash. Fortunately, I got four interviews through my network and from my own career board postings. One thing that I found interesting was that between all these interviews, there was a good amount of variety. I guess I'll write about each one.

The first one was actually for a longer-term contract position, and this one I flunked. The main reason (in my opinion) was that they were really looking for someone with a specific skill set that I did not have. And, for contract work, you are not really going to have much opportunity learning anything new, since they need someone to produce right away. The interview itself was a bit different than most, as it was me getting bombarded by questions from 4 different interviewers all at once in a conference room. I have interviewed a lot in my life, and I don't think I've ever had this sort of group interview before.

Another interview was for a company in the same space as my former one. They knew a lot about me, and they had recently hired a couple people from my previous company. One of my contacts put me in touch with some of their executives. Though I never actively sought employment with them, I was invited to discuss potential projects and the like. An informal offer was made after we had a good conversation covering my experience and expertise and also what they had planned for their company going forward.

I wasn't too interested mainly because I felt that I needed to branch out and do something new. I've been in the same niche for almost 10 years, and I thought it was time to move on. We've still got our communications channel open, so there might yet be part-time contract work for me if there's mutual interest.

The toughest interview (the one where this question came up) I had was with a smaller office/group of a large parent company that was in a completely different, and much larger, industry. The parent is headquartered out of state, but they have a smaller research/engineering group locally. Anyway, the interview was broken up into two sessions on two different days and lasted a total of roughly 9 hours. It was highly technical and it was difficult by most measures. I came out of each day pretty exhausted and drained. Good thing that it was not for nothing. When I was told that they would be extending an offer, I was seriously excited.

My fourth and final interview came by the way of a friend of mine. We had worked together in the past... maybe some 5 years ago or so. His company was a startup in a similar industry as my former company, but it worked on a different type of product/technology with a completely different target market. Not sure of a good analogy, but maybe something like motorcycles vs. cars or serious periodical vs. teen magazine would be close.

In any case, I had an afternoon of technical interviews in areas where I believe I'm an expert. Everything went very well, and an offer was extended within a few days. Their technology was incredibly cool, and I was quite impressed. I think most people would be as well. One strong selling point was that they had an actual product out there already. So, this wasn't going to be an early-stage startup experience where there was high risk of never getting out of the R&D stage.

Well, it came down to this...

a) Work for a large company, but within a smaller group that was somewhat insulated from the highly corporate environment. The work would be different in every way, and there'd be a reasonably steep learning curve no matter which projects I was put on. Everything would be new to me. Also, commute time would be about half an hour.

b) Work for a medium-sized startup where I know that I could be productive very quickly and possibly shine very early on. My previous experience and my current skill set was a near-perfect match for the position. And, I'd get to work with my friend (who referred me), which would be a nice bonus, not to mention that working on a really cool product that can actually 'wow' you is another benefit. This place was closer, so the commute would be more like 15-20 minutes, so each day I'd save myself about half an hour. Also, there's always the remote chance that you can jackpot if a startup makes it to the big time.

After negotiations, both offer packages were similar and very competitive. So, the decision was not hinged upon which one was better from a financial aspect. I was really torn. It's tough to change... at least for me.

Choice A gives me more breadth and allows me to pick up skills that would likely help me in the future if I wanted to do branch out futher into other industries. As with most new jobs, I would have the initial "Can I really do the work?" fears. And, what if it turns out that I hate this new stuff?

Choice B offers me new things to work on while giving me some additional breadth within my current industry. Additionally, it certainly would provide me with even more depth. It is the obvious safe choice. I would have no fears about being able to do great things and be a real producer. But, having nearly 10 years under my belt in the same industry, if I continued down this path I might be typecasted so to speak, if that hadn't already happened.

In the end, I went with Choice A. It's going to open up a whole world for me; the problems and challenges will all be new to me. Thinking back at what was going through my mind at the time... I figured that this was probably the best opportunity I've gotten outside of my current niche, so I had better take advantage of it. If worse comes to worst, I'd still be in high demand should I ever go back to my old industry. It's certainly not the easier path, but I am hoping that taking it will pay long-term dividends, both financial and erudite.

If you made it this far, I'm impressed. Re-reading what I've written, it sure looks like I rambled a fair bit.

Anyway, I start work on Monday, so my journey begins then. Enjoy the weekend.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Here's a new logic/puzzle game that I just started playing. The rules are pretty simple... you write a program that controls a robot with the goal of picking up all the stars. One neat thing about this game is that there are optimization, recursion, and other coding techniques that are incorporated into many of the puzzles.

Here's a link to the game: Robozzle.

You'll want to play the tutorials and a few of the easy rated puzzles first. I haven't yet attempted any puzzle rated more than 3/5 in difficulty. Here's one that I still can't figure out and it's killing me. Maybe I'll get lucky and someone can figure this one out and give me some help.

I'm clearly missing some fundamental concept/technique. The furthest I can get the robot is past the red square and make the first left turn after it. I just can't figure out how I can get the robot to make the subsequent blue corner turns afterward.

Help Me -- Puzzle 1043: Fermat's Spiral 3

Enjoy the game!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Burritozilla Challenge

In the spirit of continuing with the eating theme, I went over to Iguana's in San Jose and picked up their famed Burritozilla. It's an 18" burrito that weighs in at over 5lbs and will run you $18.75 (tax included).

It came in a large box and when I weighed everything, the scale gave a reading of 5.4lbs.

I gave away two small pieces of the burrito to JC. We estimated that her part was no more than half a pound, but we didn't bother weighing it.

I basically gave myself an hour to eat as much of this beast as I could though I would make sure to stop before I got to the point of being 'sick' full. Here's how it went.

Here's the Burritozilla in all of its glory.

Here's a pic I found on the web that puts into perspective its massiveness.

As expected, the first 15-20 minutes went very smoothly and I was making a good sized dent. Inevitably, my pace slowed considerably, and after half an hour a little more than half the burrito was gone. Here's the clean-cut half that still remained at the half-hour mark.

It was around here that I had to take mini-breaks before resuming this show of gluttony. I chipped away best I could and when the hour was over, here's what was left.

I rewrapped everything and shoved it back into the original box and re-weighed it. The final reading was 1.6lbs. So, I estimate that I put away around 3 1/4 lbs. I could probably keep on eating, but I was getting really close to feeling sick and the hour time limit I had given myself was reached anyhow.

Crazy to think that the professional eaters out there can finish something like this in a very short amount of time.

Here's a video of Joey Chestnut eating the Burritozilla in 3 minutes and 10 seconds. That's just amazing.

Anyway, that's all for now. Enjoy your dinners, everyone.

Monday, July 20, 2009

McNuggets Challenge Results

This is an update to yesterday's post, Beginner Food Challenge: McNuggets.

Now that the challenge is over, I describe the experience. Let me just say one thing... this was not a challenge, it was too easy. I knocked off more than 20 of the McNuggets in the first 5 minutes. Then, I polished off the remaining ones in another 12 for a final time of 17 minutes.

I think that 60 or maybe 80 in an hour would be where the challenge would be considered difficult for a total amateur with a decent appetite (e.g. Me).

The things I noticed during that could add a lot of difficulty if it were for more McNuggets were the chewing (your jaw does start to get tired) and the pure monotony of taste. Mixing sauces can only get you so far. In the end, you're getting the exact same chicken nugget taste over and over again.

I guess that's it... this time I am able to get away with shooting my mouth off.

Anyway, here are some pictures and a video to showcase this rather un-newsworthy achievement.

Here's the video below: YouTube Video

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Beginner Food Challenge: McNuggets

Tomorrow, I will attempt to finish 40 Chicken McNuggets in an hour.  Compared to what true eaters can do, this is weaksauce, but it's a start.  I have a little money on the line, but it's more of a pride thing.

It's not too bad on paper... in terms of calories, we're looking at 1840 total, but I guess one really bad point is the 4000 mg of sodium.  Nothing dangerous, but it can't be good for you.

I've obviously not prepared in advance for any of this, but I think it should be doable.  We'll see.  This all started with me talking out of my ass, so now it's time for me to put up or shut up.

Some pics/video likely to follow.

One last thing.  To put into perspective how weak this challenge is, the world record for 5 minutes is 80 chicken nuggets.

Update: Results Here

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Scumbag Story Time: Lenny Dykstra

Not sure how many of you have been keeping up with the Lenny Dykstra (former baseball player) and his recent woes, but it's fascinating in an accident on the freeway sort of way. He's a serious nutjob and a very shady guy if all that I've read about him is even remotely true. Anyway, if this might entertain you check all of this out.

Two articles that really highlight his really screwed up nature and his current state of financial affairs.

GQ Story
ESPN Story

And, here's a longish (18 minutes) horrible interview on CNBC from a few days ago. Talk about being a delusional train wreck. He claims to be 111-0 in stock picks for starters... wtf? Seriously sad -- not that I feel sorry for him in any way.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Cool Stuff

Just saw these recently, and I thought they were cool enough to share.

Here's a really neat infinite photo mosaic thingy.

And, here are a few videos from Ukraine's Got Talent showcasing Kseniya Simonova's talent, Sand Animation.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Decision Time

Well, I have to make a decision this week that will likely be regarded as an important one when I look back on it years from now. It won't be life-changing, but it will surely dictate my professional life going forward, so I definitely have to think things through.

It's definitely nice to have choices with the economy and job market as bad as they are currently. I can't say I'm a fan of making big decisions, but I'm in a good spot. I don't think any choice will result in a bad outcome, but it is all relative.

I guess this post is sorely lacking in details, but I figure I'll have more to say after I make up my mind and sign on the dotted line.