Thoughts of a geek

4 October 2010

More requests

Filed under: Computers, Electronics, Me, music, thequotebook — Tags: , , , , , — qwandor @ 2:34 am

Continuing on from my last post, here are some more topics people requested me to write about.

xyzzy and Craig both want me to write about working at Google. Hmm. Well it is a fairly good place to work. We get free breakfast, lunch and dinner in the office, Monday–Friday, plus there are microkitchens around the place with snacks and drinks. The food is pretty good too. Typically at lunch in the main cafeteria there will be 2 or 3 choices of meat (at various times we have had roast duck, roast beef or lamb, lamb cutlets, beef steak, various kinds of sausages, sausages wrapped in bacon, chicken, turkey, I think there was even kangaroo steak one time), some choice of fish or other seafood, vegetarian dishes, roast and/or boiled potatoes, rice, a range of cooked vegetables, various salads, sushi, a couple of flavours of soup, bread of various sorts, crackers and cheeses, a hot pudding, cakes or cupcakes or other cold desserts, fruit, and a range of drinks. There is a machine to squeeze oranges into juice which is fun to watch. There is not nearly so much selection for dinner unfortunately, and not so many people stay for it. Breakfast is pretty good though. If you happen to be in London, come for lunch! We get to have up to two social guests to eat at the office each month.

Food aside, the work has been fairly decent. It does take a while to get used to all the systems and technologies, as Google have a lot of internally-developed tools and systems that nobody else uses, and have had to put a lot of work into making everything scale bigger than pretty much anyone else. Writing a web application that could cope with being used by everyone on the Internet, many simultaneously, from all over the world, does pose some challenges over just designing something for a few hundred people. I still have a lot to learn. Unfortunately nothing I have worked on so far has been launched yet, and it is unlikely that any substantial part of it will be launched publicly until sometime next year.

Working at a global company with tens of thousands of employees is certainly rather different to working at a small place with between 10 and 20. The ratio of actual developers to support roles (legal, HR, recruitment, management, sales, facilities, and probably many others that I do not even know about) seems to be quite a bit lower. I am not too sure what differences can be attributed to differences between England and NZ as I have only worked at the one company over here. I guess there are more big companies over here though, being a bigger country. I do find that there is not so much chance to chat with my colleagues about anything outside work, though that may be at least partly due to the fact that I knew about half of the guys at Innaworks already before I started working there, though university and Interface.

As for what skills I use from my studies, the data structures, algorithms and complexity stuff was certainly important in passing the interviews and getting the job, though so far at least it has not been all that important day to day.

I think that answers most of Craig’s questions. xyzzy also wanted to know about “some project you’ve embarked upon in your spare time! your take on what really matters in life!”. Unfortunately I have not been working on any terribly exciting projects in my spare time since I moved here. I did just recently order a Bus Pirate, in the hopes of hooking some sort of I2C devices up to my computer and having a play. That has not yet arrived yet though. It is also not clear whether there are proper drivers for it to let it work with the usual Linux I2C infrastructure, or just userland stuff.

I have made a number of updates to theQuotebook in the last month or so, most notably finally getting the new style ready to launch. I am working on a new feature to allow quotes to be added by email, and Twitter support may also follow if I can work out a good way to design it and find a suitable Twitter username that is not already taken.

I also did some work on a web-based client for Fridge a while ago. It is implemented using GWT, and talks directly to the XML-RPC API that the other clients use, so it supports all the same features, including Interfridge. You can try it out if you have an account on the Memphis fridge or any peered fridge.

So what really matters in life? Probably not Slayer. God, I think, though I am not sure quite how. People seem to be fairly important. I wish I got to spend more time interacting with people constructively, perhaps sociably as well. Finding good community and good friends is hard. Knowledge is also important I think. Do more maths, people. And some science if you like.

Before I stop for the now, Richard asked me (twice!) to write about Slayer, so I guess I should do that. Richard seems to be a little bit obsessed with Slayer, though I am sure he would assure you it is purely in an ironic way. I am afraid I do not now much at all about them, so I will be looking up what I can. last.fm informs me that Slayer are “a thrash metal band from US, formed in 1981 … credited as one of the ‘Big Four’ thrash metal bands, along with Metallica, Anthrax, and Megadeth”. They seem to choose deliberately controversial topics for their songs, which is not uncommon among such bands. I am pretty sure Metallica are better. Perhaps you can tell us more, Richard?

I think that will do for today. Next up: books, culture and language if I can think of anything to write about them, and probably not a vat of hot chocolate.

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18 July 2010

London, part 2

Filed under: Travel — Tags: , , , — qwandor @ 8:30 am

Continuing on from my last blog post, I summarise the last month and a bit over here. As usual photo albums are linked along the way.

While waiting to hear back from Google about whether they would offer me a job, I got offers from two other companies. Google was my first preference, so fortunately I was able to persuade both the others to wait for a few weeks until I got an answer from Google.

Nottingham: Despite the rain we managed to have a look around. I thought this was a pretty cool fountain.

In the meantime, I went up to Nottingham to visit some friends of friends and see the place. A couple whom I know from my church back in Wellington, Kelvin and Caroline, used to live in Nottingham. They moved to Wellington almost a year ago now. Before I left Wellington some of their friends from Nottingham came to visit and they had been very thoughtful to introduce me to Pui, Claire and Guy. So I was able to go up to visit the three of them last month. I took the train up on Wednesday 9th June and stayed with Pui and Claire at first and then Guy later on. We went to see the Nottingham caves (or at least, the small part of them that is open to tourists), the Galleries of Justice (an old prison turned into a tourist attraction, with guides acting as jailers and such), the outside of Nottingham Castle (it did not seem worth paying to go inside), and several pubs. One of them, the Trip to Jerusalem, claims to be the oldest in the country, though it is one of about 20 pubs to make such a claim. Nonetheless it is a cool building, with parts of it being caves carved into the hillside. It has a nice relaxed atmosphere, kind of maze-like. We also went to Sherwood Forest, and saw the Major Oak, which is reputed to have been the hiding place of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. There are quite a few statues of him around the place. Other places I went include Attenborough Nature Reserve (in the rain), Wollaton Park, and the campus of the University of Nottingham. It is a lovely campus, with a large lake and beautiful grounds and buildings. It must be a nice place to study. Guy’s birthday was on Sunday, so he had a small party on the Saturday before. I took the train back to London on the morning of Sunday 13th June. The photos tell a better story than I do, so check them out.

The following Monday I got to catch up with Frith, an acquaintance from Wellington who had been on exchange studying up at Leeds and was on her way back to New Zealand. We went to the Science Museum and had a bit of a look around. That week I also begun my search for a more permanent flat, as I needed to be out of the Peckham flat by the end of June. I contacted various different places and ended up looked at a couple on the Wednesday and Thursday nights. On Thursday I heard back from Google that they would like to offer me a job, which I accepted pretty much immediately. On Friday afternoon I got to catch up with another friend from Wellington, Teresa, who had been in Canada studying for the past year and was also on her way back (indirectly, via Bangladesh and Syria) to NZ. She and her friend came over for what ended up being rather a late lunch. It was great to catch up and to have some company, though a bit hurried due to the limitations of public transport. That Sunday All Saints Peckham had a big combined service with another church focussing on the effects of gang violence in the area and paths to peace, which was interesting.

The following week I had lunch at Google on the Thursday to meet some of my colleagues-to-be and discuss a bit about what I would be working on. I also went three more times to one of the flats I had looked at the previous week, in Earl’s Court, to meet each of the people currently living there, as they were not all available at the same time. It was the landlord who had shown me around the first time, as none of them were around. They seemed quite keen on me, and when I asked they said that they did not have anyone else looking at the flat. They promised to let me know by that Friday, 25th June, whether they would have me in the flat. It was looking fairly likely, and I had very little time left to find somewhere before I had to move out of my first flat. Unfortunately they did not get back to me on Friday, or Saturday, and I could not get in touch with any of them. I finally got a call on Sunday to say that they had found someone else, which was frustrating after the delay and having had to take the time to go all the way there and back 4 times to see the place and talk to them. I immediately set to looking for other flats, and found two potential places, one in Wandsworth and one in Battersea. The Battersea one looked like it might be a better place to live and was also cheaper, but the guy living there was away and so I would not be able to view it until Friday 2nd July at the earliest.

My first day of work was Monday 28th June. I looked at the Wandsworth flat that evening, and it looked like a decent place and certainly in good condition, though quite expensive. I heard back the following Wednesday (I think) that the landlord would have me, so I decided to go for it as I was rather desperate by this stage to find somewhere to live. Fortunately Tracy and Andrew were very kind again to put me up between flats, so I made two trips walking, busing and Tubing with all my luggage out to Colliers Wood on the Wednesday night after work, and managed to carry everything in one trip back to Wandsworth on the Saturday to move in. Straight after moving in and going through the inventory and so on with my landlord I headed out to Kew Gardens to join Tracy and Andrew and a couple of their friends for a picnic. They are nice gardens, but £13.50 does seem like a lot to pay just to visit some botanic gardens. Unfortunately I did not think to bring my proper camera so I only got a few photos with my phone camera.

Kew Gardens: They have a New Zealand section in one of the glasshouses.

So I now have a flat for a little while. I signed a 6 month contract here. My landlord was planning to go back to France for a couple of months for work, and then to somewhere in the USA for 4 months or so, so wanted a couple of people to rent out the place while he is away. A few days after I moved in I was joined by a guy called Jiri who is here from the Czech Republic for a couple of months over the summer to do an internship and work. He seems like a nice guy. Our landlord has been living here as well, I think his plans have changed somewhat though I am not sure quite what is happening as I have not been able to talk to him lately.

London flats: My bedroom in the Wandsworth flat, where I sit writing this.

Last Sunday I went to the evening service at Holy Trinity Clapham, which is fairly close. They have something of a claim to fame as having been the church of William Wilberforce and his Clapham Sect friends, who are well known for their work in abolishing slavery in Britain, among many other things. It seems like a nice friendly church, though the service was rather short and a bit lacking in people around my age. I might go back tomorrow anyway.

I fly to New York on Monday week, rather early in the morning.

8 July 2010

London, part 1

I did say that I was going to write a blog post about London at some point, so here it finally is. I will just try to briefly sum up what I have done here so far. Photos are linked along the way.

First day exploring London: Musical plants at the Tate Modern

I arrived here on Saturday 15th May, flying into London Heathrow airport at around 7:00 pm BST. Tracy and Andrew, who are friends of my dad and moved here several years ago, very kindly picked me up from the airport and let me stay in their spare bedroom for my first week in the country. During that week I was kept fairly busy with interviews at youDevise, Maxeler and Future Platforms on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. I also looked online for a short term flat in which to stay while I was looking for work, and was fortunate to find a place in which I stayed for a little over a month while looking for a job. I also managed to fit in a little bit of touristy stuff. On the first Sunday, the day after I arrived, I saw the Tower of London (from the outside), wandered around the South Bank and visited the Tate Modern, then crossed north again to see some nice buildings. On the Wednesday of that first week, having a day free of job interviews, I wandered around Westminster and saw Trafalgar Square, the Horse Guard, St. James’s Park, Buckingham Palace, Green Park, the Wellington Arch, Hyde Park, Westminster Abbey, the Palace of Westminster, and more in that area. I also had the chance to spend a couple of hours looking around Brighton while down there for the interview at Future Platforms on Friday.

Westminster and surrounds: Trafalgar Square
Brighton: Interesting graffiti

On my second Sunday in London, having settled into my flat, I visited Holy Trinity Brompton for one of their morning services (they have 8 services each day, split between two locations). Afterwards I went to the Natural History Museum for a bit. I found their enormous collection of precious stones and minerals especially interesting. The have a large hall full of perhaps a hundred or so display cabinets, each of them full of all sorts of samples. It is overwhelming, like a lot of things here. It is just so big! The following work I had a couple more interviews: a telephone interview with Google on the Monday, and my second interview at youDevise on the Tuesday. Other than that it was not a particularly eventful week. I did a bit of baking. On Saturday I bought a bike, as cycling seemed like a good way to get around. Unfortunatly I was not able to ride it immediately as I did not get a helmet and lock until the following week.

Natural History Museum: It is a lovely building, like so many here.

That Sunday, the 30th of May, I went to one of the services at All Souls Langham Place in the morning, and then went to another church near my flat called All Saints Peckham in the evening. All Saints was a lot smaller and a lot friendlier than the other two I had visited, so I decided to keep going there at least while I was in the area.

On Tuesday I had my third and longest interview at youDevise, which was about 5 hours long including lunch. After that I visited the British Museum, which was interesting. They have the Rosetta Stone, which was cool to see. They also have a New Zealand collection, which amused me. It is interesting to see how other people see your country.

British Museum: Māori artifacts

The following day I had my in-person interview at Google. They have Douglas Adams’s bath in their foyer, along with a couple of towels. I also enjoyed sampling the food — they serve breakfast, lunch and dinner free for all employees every day. Afterwards I visited the Science Museum, which was (and still is) my favourite so far of the museums I have visited in London. I have been there several more times since, and still want to go at least once more as I have not yet seen everything there.

The next few days were fairly uneventful apart from lots of phone calls to and from my recruiter at Google discussing various details. That takes me up to about a month ago from today, so I think that it is best for me to continue from then in another blog post rather than delay any longer in posting this. I started writing this post several weeks ago, so it really is time that I finished it.

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