Thursday, October 25, 2007

Last Word on the Fires

Although fires are still burning, most of the nearby residential areas have been repopulated, Governor Schwarzenegger and President Bush have made their obligatory appearances, and the weather has returned to near normal. Except for some minor wind damage and a pool full of ash we were unaffected. But we do know some folks who were affected significantly, including my wife's boss who lost her house. Some observations:
  • The traditional media are amazingly poor conduits of information. Despite around-the-clock coverage from all the of the local channels, I really had no idea what was going on in my community. A single Google map application was vastly more informative.
  • TV and radio coverage are less about information than about commiseration.
  • If i hear the words "perfect storm" again, i'll wretch.
  • Whether liberal or conservative, people should keep their political views with respect to the fires under wraps until people that matter are out of harm's way.
  • I got messages regarding the fires from Germany, Switzerland, and Brazil.
  • It's getting harder to get by without the Internet.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Latest on the Fires

We returned to our house today, although our neighborhood is still technically among the evacuated areas of our community. Quite a few houses in our town (Poway, CA) were destroyed. The closest are about a mile northeast of our house, but the fires directly to the east made me more nervous. As of Monday morning, i was reasonably certain that the fires would spread to our neighborhood, but amazingly they did not cross the major street that borders our neighborhood on both the north and east after a southward turn.

The air is still filled with smoke, but the winds have diminished and the skies are partially clear now. Schools are closed for the whole week, and both my office and Emily's are officially closed (my office borders one of the worst-hit areas of fire damage). Fortunately, our electrical power has been restored, so we're able to live more or less normally except that we can't really spend much time outside. It sounds as if the weather will be more conducive to fighting the fires tomorrow, but it's likely that there will be areas burning and people evacuated into the weekend.

California Hates You Too, Glenn Beck

I've always thought Glenn Beck is a smug, whiny idiot whose secret ambition is to be Robin to Rush Limbaugh's neocon Batman. Fortunately for me, he saved me the need to prove it to anyone who might be skeptical.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

San Diego County on Fire

This is what the sun looked like at about 4 pm this afternoon from my back yard.

There are currently two fairly large wild fires burning in San Diego's east county. The one responsible for this smoke is east of Ramona along the Highway 78. High Santa Ana winds are making the fires essentially unstoppable, and the fire departments are taking the approach of trying to evacuate the communities most likely in its path. Not sure if it'll get this far west like the big fires back in 2003, but the winds are supposed to continue for the next couple of days.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Reid vs. Google

I was lucky enough to start my career in computer software at a research facility that one of my colleagues described as a "halfway house to the real world". There was a broad cross section of humanity, from recent college grads to world-renowned research scientists. There was one guy who was nearing retirement. Although he was a smart guy, a former nuclear engineer, his skills had atrophied and it was clear that he was just trying to hold on until he could collect a pension.

At the time, i thought it was a little sad but i didn't really imagine myself working as an engineer into my 60s. What i didn't anticipate was that the "old guy" in the IT organization would someday be the 40-something. It's hard to say exactly what the truth is behind this lawsuit, brought against Google by computer scientist Brian Reid, but the implication is clear: experience is not as valuable as the willingness to put the company before your personal interests.

Places like Google, and Microsoft in an earlier era, are unique in the sense that the rewards that can accrue to people with a good idea and no external distractions are very significant. But it does make you wonder if there's room at the elite levels of software development for people with lives. On one hand, i believe that any corporate environment should be a meritocracy. On the other hand, i feel that experience, even if it's only in a non-technology-specific sense should be valued. As the resident old guy in an Internet organization for the last few years, I've experienced the intense frustration of the young and ambitious needlessly repeating the mistakes that we made twenty years ago. It's not simply that experience in software development is undervalued, it's that many software organizations, especially in the Internet space, are culturally conditioned to believe that there situation is novel and not subject to the rules of earlier eras.

You would not believe the insanity i've seen propagated as a result of this. I've seen younger programmers go through the pain of rediscovering what many of us have known about optimization and performance for years. I've seen virtually unbounded arrogance with respect to estimates of how long projects will take, and the inevitable assignment of blame to the naysayers when the death march reaches its logical conclusion. I've seen the rediscovery of ancient technologies given fancy new names. What i have not seen is productivity.

Google's a really cool place with a lot of interesting technology, and i hope this is an isolated case that doesn't really reflect their values. If it does, then they'll eventually end up like Microsoft-- painted into a corner by their inability to learn from their own mistakes.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Back To Work

It was a strange week for a number of reasons, but mostly because i started a new job at Slacker, Inc., a relatively new company in the digital music space that's trying basically to bring personalized music to everywhere. I like the model, which is based on the idea of personalized radio, and also the fact that there's a device component. It's interesting to work next to people with oscilloscopes on their desks.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Gebrselassie Sets Marathon Record

One of the most amazing athletic feats of all time occurred yesterday and you probably didn't even hear about it. Haile Gebrselassie, possibly the greatest distance runner of all time set the world record in the marathon, running 2:04:26. That's nothing short of super-human.