Monthly Archives: July 2008

Windows XO and Other Stuff

Posted by daniel.j.gallagher on July 26, 2008
Hack/mash/DIY, IT News, Ranting and Raving / No Comments

More Slashdot pickins’:

OLPCnews has an analysis of the Windows XO hype and recent demo. I’m a bit disappointed actually, in that smug and condescending sort of way. Do these engineers understand what it is they’re up against? Have they looked at the Sugar interface? Because my SCOPE team took the same naive approach to running Windows on bare-bones hardware, and our requirements were a lot less stringent than theirs.

With what amounts to a glorified copy-paste of Windows XP Home Edition, they’re hedging their bets on riding the coattails of XO’s hard-won popularity with educators and administrators and politicos. Those people may not understand or value the Open Source difference, but they understand cheap, and they value child-friendly. You want to really impress them? Kill the clutter. I know you hold the patent on folder trees, and you’re proud of it, but that design metaphor has no place in the start menu of a learning machine, and it enables your featureaholism. Tsk.

Also, in IT news, a possible ID on the DNS flaw, and San Fran PD really needs to get its shit together.

Moving Right Along

Posted by daniel.j.gallagher on July 20, 2008
Life Skills, Meta-Everything, Yours Truly / No Comments

So word on the street is, Yours Truly has a new job at a new place. Given that it follows on the heels of several months of vain searching, I must admit I am a little incredulous. Saturday, however, I received a packet in the mail which would appear to confirm that the rumors are true.

I must apologize for being perhaps unnecessarily tight-lipped throughout the process. I don’t know what’s fair to say in times like these when the chicks are not yet hatched, and for some reason it also feels a bit odd talking about all the places I didn’t get an offer from. That being said, here is some food for thought.

Job-hunting and social networking tools are at their most valuable when you’re able to devote time to them exclusively in the narrow niche where they provide the most value: Monster for generating queries from recruiters; LinkedIn for keeping contact info on recruiters, colleagues, and potentially on interviewers at the companies where you enjoyed interviewing; and don’t forget those all important Gmail / Outlook filters, to keep you from seeing all the chaff when you don’t need to.

On the other hand, I would avoid at all cost using LinkedIn to make contact. Do not end a phone conversation with “I’ll look you up on LinkedIn”; at worst, you’ll fail to find them, or at best, you’ll waste money sending “InMail” if you don’t already have their address as proof that you “know” them. LinkedIn makes sense as a business networking tool inasmuch as it is ad-free, clutter-free and appropriately organized; but everybody’s gotta get paid, and theirs is an obnoxious model for doing so.

The recruitment process works a bit differently depending on how skilled the work and where you are looking. In particular, Boston’s tech sector, which demands a range of skill-sets for a wide variety of employers, is well exploited by a number of specialized staffing firms. It’s a win-win-win arrangement, and for a rookie like myself, one that can make all the difference. Interview skills are a huge, huge part of landing any professional job, and while they were ultimately not beyond me to obtain, learning them was not entirely intuitive.

I find that this all-important knowledge has to be acquired in layers, each of which can lend a sophomoric sense of completeness although it is in fact an incremental improvement. For instance: early on I learned to approach interviews as a fun and exciting process of candidate-to-employer fit. This made me less nervous, but sometimes came off as bold and cavalier. Some interviewers played well with this attitude; others seemed to think I wasn’t taking matters seriously and would ask disorienting questions to take me down a peg.

In response, I began to approach interviews with more humility, which made managers a bit less ornery but didn’t improve my rapport or help me answer the open-ended questions. After discovering I had a flair for technical interviews (due largely to freeform reasoning skills acquired at Olin), my problem began to take on a definite shape. It was polarized between my strong rapport with the engineers and weak rapport with managers. I put more effort into having prepared answers to the tough questions they might ask, but it’s hard to be prepared for absolutely anything, and so ultimately not being able to think fast on my feet was a liability.

Between early March and mid-July, I interviewed at maybe a dozen companies, and several times was asked back for a second or third interview. I can’t estimate what fraction of those failed to turn into offers because of interview slip-ups versus there simply being a more qualified candidate; I was, however, able to get specific feedback in many cases from the recruiter working on my behalf. It confirmed that although I was well liked, I often did things, without realizing, that could hurt my chances. I meandered in my responses. I equivocated. I sounded disinterested in parts of the job. I entered “buy mode” without having first successfully “sold”.

A breakthrough came when my agent at Sally Silver, working with me on the Yellow Book case, requested an in-person meeting to help prep for my interview there. Sally herself was kind enough to drop by and lend some insight. After going over a laundry list of common faux-pas, we were able to identify some of the root problems with my interview style:

  1. I spent too much of the interview talking (rather than listening and responding) because I was starting on the defensive. This led to a poor initial impression and drastically increased the surface area of my speech.
  2. I answered questions before I knew exactly what information the interviewer was looking for.
  3. Even when I tried to, I didn’t walk into my interviews with enough stock answers to questions, or enough questions of my own to ask.
  4. I tended to lose energy over the length of an interview.

All of these factors contributed to the muddiness of my responses and increased the risk of saying dumb things. Number three turns out to be the hardest to fix, as it requires some homework. But none of these are unfixable problems of social functioning–they can all be countered with knowledge. Sally made the following suggestions:

  1. Carbohydrates and caffeine do not supply steady energy. Since I only drink water during the interview, I shouldn’t go into it caffeinated, lest I crash. Sally suggested I carry some Powerbars in my pocket, but I’ve found that a few eggs for breakfast is enough to carry me through. Much like lembas, they are most potent when unadulterated.
  2. Balance of discussion is important to how you’re perceived. Trying to answer opening questions like “Tell me about yourself” yields one-sided talk with a lot of “noise”, stuff other than what the interviewer actually wanted to know. These questions are asked for two reasons: the interviewer doesn’t know what to ask, or he just wants to see what you’ll do given the space. Unless your “rocket pitch” is exceptionally strong, it’s good to prompt for a more specific topic. Ask what stands out in the resume as of interest, and take opportunities in your answers to collect more data and keep the dialogue going.

Almost immediately afterward, my fortunes turned for the better. I got two offers, which presented a rather difficult decision, to put it mildly. I made my decision charts, I paced, paced some more, but eventually I just had to get out of the house for some fresh air. I don’t have a lot to recommend about that. It’s hard. Sure felt good to be able to put the choice behind me, though.

I start tomorrow. Not sure how I managed to finagle that, but it’s high time I be back in an office :-) More details will be forthcoming.


Posted by daniel.j.gallagher on July 16, 2008
Discoveries / No Comments

Hot dang.


Posted by daniel.j.gallagher on July 10, 2008
Hack/mash/DIY, Meta-Everything / 4 Comments

To whomever made WeCanBelieveIn:

I <3 you, but your PHP-fu is lacking.

Immunity Watch 2

Posted by daniel.j.gallagher on July 10, 2008
Ranting and Raving / 1 Comment

I meant to post a more complete update after learning the outcome of the vote, but I realized my previous exposition sucked and it was probably best to start over. My apologies for the retread. Here is an improved explanation of what has happened:

California U.S. District Court Justice Vaughn Walker, presiding over most (all?) of the high-profile telecom lawsuits in conjunction with Bush’s warrentless wiretapping program, recently handed down the latest in a series of rulings that flatly contradict Bush’s defense of the program. The administration has repeatedly attempted to both block evidence using the state secrets privilege, and get suits dropped using specious claims about Bush’s wartime powers. Most recently Walker asserted that he will consider these cases–that non-classified evidence can be used to gain standing for classified evidence, and more importantly that Bush at no time had the right to circumvent FISA.

It needs to be understood that Walker is not liberal, much less liberal-activist. He is a Bush appointee. In his ruling, Walker admitted that he had established very stringent rules of evidence, leaving the the Al-Haramain and EFF attourneys with a tough fight ahead. Nonetheless, the decision gave Al-Haramain at least a potential route forward in its suit. This caused blood to drain from the collective pudgy face of congress. It gave credence to the DoJ’s argument that imminent legal actions might punish the “patriotic” actions of the telecoms in helping Bush’s spooks. It is a fear that’s helped shape the ungodly piece of legislation you’ve all been hearing about today.

Billed as a “reform” and “safeguard” legislation, I gather the bill basically reasserts FISA as the proper channel for covert taps, with some small changes to the rules to improve oversight and ensure the spies can get what they need through proper channels. In this regard, it is perhaps an improvement over the current perceived vagueries–I haven’t studied it closely enough to judge whether it makes the FISA court itself more or less broken, and I’m skeptical about Bush suddenly heeding FISA when he didn’t before.

What’s exceptional about the FISA reform bill, however, is the well-publicized amnesty rider it carried. Now that the bill has passed, with this provision in tact, Vaughn Walker’s race against irrelevance is essentially lost. AT&T and other telecoms have been granted a clean slate. The lawsuits against them can now be quashed with a single notice from the justice department, which is sure to be forthcoming.

I was excited by the prospect of a way out, but the numbers show there was little support for the Dodd and Bingaman amendments seeking to strike retroactive amnesty from the bill. The unmodified bill then passed with room to spare. Yes, congress can now be briefed by the Inspectors General, but the chance at real accountability has been removed. Whatever my feelings about the sincerity of Washington’s intent to report honestly on activities that might scandalize it, it’s now clear that there will be no justice unless congress completely reverses itself in 2009.

And while I’m not taking back my support of Obama, I have to point out that Hillary got this one right, while Barack got it wrong. Politically right perhaps, but ethically wrong.

Um, so. Yeah.

Vaughn Walker / Wesley Clark ’08!