Some pictures from our trek up Mt. Rainier from Paradise. Shell gave us the choice of the Nisqually Vista Trail (Easy Difficulty, 1.2 miles, 200′ elevation gain) or the Alta Vista Trail (Moderate Difficulty, 1.75 miles, 600′ elevation gain). However, a funny thing happened on the way to the trails. We changed our minds. Oh no, we ended up doing the Skyline Loop, (Strenuous Difficulty, 5.5 miles, 1700′ elevation gain). It included a walk up the summit…

…and a trek along a sloping glacier (A nice break from an otherwise balmy day)…

…and strolling by two waterfalls.

Enter the microserfs

I met quite a few of Shell’s coworkers today – all bright, all young, and all newly-hired or less than three years in. Joel, an Australian bloke who was hired to be the program manager for some internal DLL stuff, and I got involved in some pretty interesting geek discussions. He used to work at Sun, and mentioned respins.

A respin is when a company has to revise and resend their microchip design prototype back to the chip fabricators, who make the mass quantities of chips and circuit boards in the devices that us consumers ultimately purchase. A respin is essentially the microprocessor version of a sculptor’s mold – if their is something wrong with it, you go back to square one and make another design. As you can imagine, a respin is a costly procedure for the company. Intel generally does two or three respins for its Pentium designs. His source of consternation was that Sun’s SPARC microchips, on average, required fifty respins apiece.

Drove in Shell’s Cavalier rental car. She’s right, it was a piece of shit. She is awaiting the delivery of her Acura 1.7EL with interest.

And, before I began to despair that no women techies were employed at MS, I met Julie, who is responsible for something codenamed Avalon for Longhorn. “Everyone in Seattle is so polite and friendly,” she remarked. When Shell mentioned that she actually thought that the folks here were actually quite rude compared to folks back in Toronto, Julie confessed that she was from Boston, and Seattlites were definitely more courteous than Bostonians.

After a great dinner of overpriced salmon (courtesy of Pike Place) and corn on the cob (courtesy of QFC and their accursed self-serve checkout lanes), the conversation turned to Microsoft interview questions. Microsoft is famous for giving multiple interviews, each one with a different department, in a single day, and packing them with challenging riddles. Aaron, who does smartphones, had several opportunities to interview Microserf hopefuls, and mentions on of his favourite questions is to ask his interviewee to make a binary tree reversal – which is like asking a novice yellow belt to go beat up Jet Li.

Shell got this question: how much money can Bill Gates put into Xbox? Everytime she would start on some form of strategic analysis, the interviewer would cut her off and yell “Irrelevant!” or “That’s BS!” This continued for several grueling minutes, her trying to make an assessment and him interrupting her. At the end of the interview, the interviewer asked her if she had any questions. She asked him, “How much money can Bill Gates spend on Xbox”, whereupon he replied, “How the hell should I know?”

Things learned: One does not need to “pass” every interview to be accepted, however it can take just one well-respected interviewer to say no to poison your chances completely. Plus, they’re not really trying to see if you can be a code Mozart or plan out the business strategy of Xbox in one sitting. They want to see if you know your fundamentals, and how you deal with pressure.

The IE guy gave me a margarita

London Airport has only three major carriers: Air Canada partners, WestJet, and Northwest Airlink. That was good enough. Northwest was the preferred carrier of Microsoft.

If you are already afraid of flying, then you will be absolutely petrified at flying a turboprop. With the decor like that of a worn-down taxi and the crampness of a bus, this small Saab SF98 was to take me to Detroit-Metro for a connector flight on a “real” jet. I forgot to mention: what is known as “turbulence” on a jumbo jet, is what is passed off as “smooth flight” on a turboprop.

Still, I did make it safe and sound to my final destination – Seattle. My goal is to see if my sister had settled in properly. Before last week, my only real knowledge of the city was what I had gleaned from City Confidential, which is an A&E documentary series on a small town and a gruesome murder or murders that had taken place in said small town. But Seattle felt like London but with 2 million people – it was hot in the day, cold in the night, and rainy all the time.

Once landed, I ended up in the apartment of Shell’s friend, surrounded by Microserfs. One of the guys in the Internet Explorer team made me a margarita. I insulted Internet Explorer. It was nice.

Past tense

ROM Chinese Lion

Last weekend, we got a chance to take advantage of the ROM’s very generous Free Friday Nights policy, and take a quick look around (Hey, it was only a short walk from our hotel in Yorkville).

It really got me thinking though: did these ancient civilizations ever imagine their stuff, everything from golden idols to junked clay pots to their own mummified remains, would end up, centuries later, on display on an entirely different continent? Did their wisemen ever contemplated what the future would be like? Futurists from the 1960s envisioned skyscraper-sized computers and flying cars. What did Plato or da Vinci envision?

Surely, many civilizations had their own museums chronicling the lives and downfall of previous civilizations. Did they not realize that one day, their civilization would be nothing but artifacts, documentaries and Sid Meier computer games?

Maybe someday OUR civilization will be in glass cases, everything from pop idol CDs to discarded chocolate bar wrappers to our own cyrogenically frozen remains.

City mouse and country mouse

Last weekend, we went to Toronto to attend Hoss’s wedding in Fonthill. Yes, Fonthill is a small town outside of St. Catherine’s, but we got a ride off Juice from TO to there. Thanks to Silverlotus being caught in the Burlington transformer fire in June and my own grueling 5 hour ride after the Great Blackout just recently, I managed to get some travel credit and get a cheap VIA 1 first class ticket. Sirloin steak, here I come.

So, on Friday we were in the heart of TO’s snooty district at the Marriott Bloor-Yorkville. Yorkville is packed with boutiques and trendy salons. The Marriott’s six floors are actually sandwiched vertically between a Bay department store in the basement and an apartment tower above. “Even the pigeons are jaded here,” Silverlotus quipped, as the birds weaved ambivalently through foot traffic.

Even the street beggars in Yorkville are rich. One played a xylophone. Another had a karaoke machine. A karaoke machine. Our hotel had no pool though. Go figure.

On Saturday we were in a small Presbyterian church in the middle of nowhere. At one point the driving directions said, “Turn left at the Pioneer Gas station at the next light.” The “next light’ turned out to be twenty kilometres away. “I would have stopped at a gas station and asked for directions,” Juice remarked, “but there aren’t any.”

The wedding was great, very romantic. Good to see the ol’ Mac Eng gang again. Some mental notes for my future wedding: a) don’t invite the weird relatives (you know the ones, everyone has them) and b) get a wedding DJ that actually carries wedding-ish music like Olivia Newton-John or Ella Fitzgerald, not “She Bangs” from Ricky Martin.

I wish Hoss all the best.

Open source to the next level

Other than odd short-lived novelties like OpenCola, open source generally means free, collaboratively-made software. MIT introduced the idea of OpenCourseWare last year. However, unlike other distance learning programs, MIT’s courseware, lecture notes even video recordings of lectures are all free. And it’s still going strong.

Budding students in faraway places get invaluable learning materials that enhance their own studies and help them be more educated. Professors can observe MIT learning techniques to help make their own lectures more informative, accurate and most importantly, interesting and engaging.

And MIT? They get massive advertising on a global scale. You still have to attend MIT to get an MIT degree, and now they’ve given the masses a taste of how good of a school they are.


Random phenomena just isn’t as random as you may think – if you think about it, there are so many people on this planet, it would be unusual if the odd person didn’t have a totally unbelieveable event happen to him and her.

The trick is to think logically and rationally, rather than try to attribute such things to conspiracy theories or the paranormal.

On the bookshelf: Dan Simmon’s Endymion. It’s almost like a buddy/roadtrip story than a sci-fi epic, not as good as the first two books of the Hyperion Cantos, and frankly drags on.

Once in a while, you step on a red ant.

Ernie Ball, world-famous guitar-string manufacturer, was a Microsoft shop. Then, in 2000, the BSA raided their premises, found a few dozen unlicensed programs. With legal costs mounting, Ernie Ball settled for $65,000 plus $35,000 legal fees.

But it doesn’t stop there. In a move that would make a mafioso proud, the BSA humiliated Ernie Ball in public, making an example out of them.

But unlike other companies that had been stepped on like ants, CEO Sterling Ball fought back. “I don’t care if we have to buy 10,000 abacuses,” recalled Ball, who recently addressed the LinuxWorld trade show. “We won’t do business with someone who treats us poorly.”

Now running Red Hat, Mozilla, and Open Office, Ball spends less money on hardware and software, and less time chasing down viruses and technical issues. And he’s not looking back.

My new toy.

It arrived…

August 007.jpg

The Sapphire Radeon 9800 Pro Atlantis, with about 18 stamps on it too. The card was very heavy and thick, as it is almost entirely smothered with a gigantic Zalman heatsink-heatpipe system with ramsinks for good measure.

Since it is about as thick as a deli corned beef on kaiser, the manual stated that it would obstruct the PCI slot below the AGP slot. OK, fine. What they didn’t tell me was that the lower heatsink would rest about half a centimetre from the top of my sound card in second PCI slot, exhaling its stale hot air as it flexed its juicy pixel shading muscles.

So, the Audigy had to move to the fourth slot, some wires had to be loosened, and all was well. The internal temp of my PC has shot up about 5 degrees, but I think I’ll wait on the cooling upgrades this time. One the good news, I’m scoring 5226 3DMarks in 3DMark03, and Half Life 2 here I come!

Sunday driver

Finally, after over a year of this curse, I have managed to tame my personal chimera, my shrike, my nemesis. Since March 2002, my laptop’s 3com network driver failed to load in W2K intermittedly. The annoying part was, it didn’t do it all the time; it only did it once out of three boots. But when it did it, no IP is assigned, and trying to get an IP results in crashing ipconfig.

I finally traced it to a…bad network driver. But since 3com’s oh-so-dedicated software department have only released two drivers in the three years this accursed NIC has existed on this earth, I had to revert to a driver created in November 2000.

I’ve tested this new (old) driver for a few weeks, so far the problem has not reappeared. Looks like a keeper, folks. That’s what I get for listening to Windows Update.