tempest in a teacup

the pointless musings of a strange recluse

Writers’ block, yet again

Once again I’m finding myself casting around for something to write about. I’ve got a few ideas, but I honestly don’t think that I could do any of the subjects justice.

So I figure I’ll just start writing stuff and see where it goes from here.

Work has been pretty hectic lately – the project that I’ve been working on for about 4 months now had its first production milestone last week and my team was involved in a last-minute scramble to get everything in place. The first milestone is now done, in that my team’s contribution is more or less over, and after my week oncall I’ve shifted over to working on our next milestone. The last few weeks have been pretty hellish because of some mistakes we made early in the project, and I’m doing my best to ensure that we don’t run into the same problems on our second milestone.

As for what sort of project it is, I’m not sure I’m at liberty to say – suffice it to say that it’s a company-wide initiative that will have a pretty big impact on how all the teams in my organization do their jobs.

I actually had a dream last week where I was interviewing with some other team within the company, although for some reason the team worked in an indoor playground. Not going to bother trying to interpret that one…

I’ve started looking at apartment listings, for a number of reasons. Most importantly, Amazon is going to be moving to a new campus downtown, and I’d like to move somewhere closer to the new campus, even if it means I have to commute to work by bus for a few months. On top of that, while my current apartment is really close to work, it’s not particularly close to anything else, meaning that I have to take a bus to do pretty much anything important. And let’s not forget that the effective duopoly on Internet providers in my neighbourhood means that I get to choose between crappy cable and crappy DSL. I currently use the latter, and it’s the #1 reason why I haven’t watched any of the new anime that’s come out in the last…2 years or so. 1.5 Mbps means that even Youtube ends up being a bandwidth hog. Not to mention my pings in TF2 and L4D are awful, even to servers that are relatively close by.

My dad suggested buying an apartment, which is probably not a bad idea seeing how prices seem to be heading lower every day, but I haven’t contacted any realtors yet. Part of me is wondering if buying a property when I’m on a visa that might not be renewed in 2011 is a really good idea or not.

I guess I’ll think about it some more.

On a side note, the CEO of the OnLive service that I talked about in my previous entry has apparently been on the PR warpath, offering interviews to a lot of big gaming sites about why all the naysayers are wrong. Apparently they’ve spent seven years developing a video compression algorithm that can get frame data down to very small sizes, which is great, but that also means the stream is going to have compression artifacts, reducing image quality overall. On top of that you’re apparently locked to 720p or 480p, so if your monitor’s native resolution is something else, you can’t play in full screen mode without blurring the image.

So yeah, it’s not for me. Or for anyone with taste, I’d say.

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Water, water everywhere

The snow stopped just around the time I returned, but instead now it’s raining all the time. This would not normally be an issue (this is Seattle after all) but this rain is accompanied by some pretty strong wind, making walking to and from work a bit of a chore.

Oh well, I suppose I need the exercise.

Somehow it slipped my mind throughout the entire return flight that I was to be on call this week. I literally realised this the day before I returned to work. No matter, though – I find my on call weeks to be a decent break between the usually hectic (and sometimes tedious) pace of everyday development work. Although I am looking forward to what I’ll get to work on next week.

My new laptop is plugged into a power socket right in front of the TV. I’m not sure what I want to use it for just yet, although a Media Center PC seems most likely since it runs Vista and has a convenient HDMI output for my TV. Said HDMI output also lets me play stuff like Outrun 2006 in 1360×768 on a nice big screen. Quite nice, I have to say…pity the graphics card seems to have some issues rendering the game at its proper speed.

Speaking of computer issues, this news has me interested a fair bit. I’m not usually one to install pre-release versions of operating systems, but I’ve heard almost nothing but positive impressions about Windows 7 (as opposed to Vista which was sending mixed signals even when it was in alpha). Kagura is about due for a format anyway, so I think I’ll delete my unused Linux partition and create one for trying out Windows 7.

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In case anyone was wondering where I was yesterday

Monday was a repeat performance of Friday’s “awesomeness” at work (only worse), and I got home just in time for a wind storm to knock out all power for 5 hours.

So yeah, I was a little tied up.

That new 3G iPhone looks awesome, though.


How was your day?

Mine was pretty terrible.

I think I’ll go blow up some random douchebags in Team Fortress 2 to vent.


I really should be used to this by now

A couple of hours ago, after a pretty great Team Fortress 2 session and the ensuing post-game analysis between PenPen and I, I looked at the clock and decided it was time for me to go to bed. I signed off IRC, put my PC in standby mode, got myself a glass of water, stepped into my bedroom…

…and heard my pager go off.

I just got off the conference call a couple of minutes ago, after a good two hours of bleary-eyed log analysis and graph comparision.

I’ve only been working here for ten months, but I don’t recall ever being paged this often during my previous weeks on call…


Oh and one more thing

I got my H-1B visa today.

Just thought you would like to know.

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I r l33t h4x0r

As you might have guessed from the title, this is another geekspeak-heavy post. I’ll try and make it digestible for the less technically inclined, as usual :p

This past week I took part in a course at work, meant to help Amazon employees understand Amazon Web Services (Click here if you don't know what those are). They’re basically a bunch of services that we vend to software developers to use in building applications. Examples of this are the Simple Storage Service (or S3) which is a simple data store which charges users based on how much space they use. There’s also the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) which is a service that lets developers purchase computing time to perform tasks that they can’t do with the resources that they already have (like, say, running complex operations on data sets). In any case, as part of the course, we had to build something using the services that we sell, without access to the internal tools that make our lives easier.

I teamed up with a friend from my team, and we set to work building a system that would allow people to search for MP3 downloads on the Amazon.com MP3 store (shameless plug!) using the lyrics from the song instead of the title or artist name. We did get it working successfully (about half an hour before the deadline), and presented it to the entire class. At the end an award was given out for the best project.

We didn’t win, but it didn’t bother me that much, mainly because of something else I found out from one of the facilitators of the course. Apparently, while testing our code over the weekend, we generated so much traffic to one of the services that the engineer who was on call for the service that week got paged, and had to figure out who or what was creating so many requests to the service.

So, we didn’t win, but we did cause some poor guy to get paged over the weekend.

Sometimes, it’s the little things in life that matter. :D

I’m looking at following and ’s lead and ditching LiveJournal for my own webspace. Not so much because I disagree with their policies, but because I want a lot more control over what I can do with what has essentially become my little corner of the Internet. Does anyone know of any good hosting services? I’m looking at running either WordPress or a Ruby-based content management system called Typo (because Ruby is one of my favourite programming languages). The idea behind running the latter is that I can modify the code if I feel like I need to (I don’t know PHP).

So, any suggestions/recommendations?

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This is a load off my mind

17-month OPT extension for F-1 students with US science degrees

This means that I won't have to travel anywhere this year, although I may have to next year depending on how things work out with my H-1B application. Still, it's one less thing to worry about.

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Not long now…

Amazon's going to be filing for my H-1B visa on Tuesday.

Just for some perspective, there are 65,000 H-1B visas given out every year to foreigners who want to work in the United states. The actual number of applicants is something like ten times that number, so what USCIS ends up doing is running the applicants through a lottery and picking 65,000 names at random.

Yes, whether or not I get to stay in this country will depend on some programmer's implementation of int rand(). You can probably imagine what I think of this process, so I won't vocalise it.

If I fail to get it with this filing, I can only apply next April…and my existing visa expires on July 9th, meaning I'll have to leave the country. I'll have to do this even if I get the visa (since it only takes effect on October 1st) but in the event of a longer delay I'll have to look at the possibility of moving to another Amazon location. Truth be told, the prospect of having to uproot myself from a fairly comfortable existence isn't really doing much for my peace of mind at the moment. It was easy enough to push to the back of my mind when the date was months away, but now it's pretty much all I'm thinking about.

Maybe I'll try to drown it out with caffeine tomorrow morning.

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Just got back about an hour ago.

There was a reorganisation of my group at work about a couple of months ago, and our new boss held an “offsite” for us to get together and discuss possible long-term directions for where we wanted to take our group's products. It was a pretty interesting discussion, although I found that I wasn't quite able to contribute in the capacity that I might have wanted to. Afterwards we went out to dinner at some way-too-expensive restaurant while swapping anecdotes…a good time was had by all.

One of my recent obsessions has been BBC comedy panel shows, particulary Never Mind the Buzzcocks and Qi. The former is a music-themed panel quiz show with new guests every week, and the latter is a show devoted to dispelling “general ignorance,” and is hosted by one of my favourite British actors/comedians, Stephen Fry. Both are hilarious when at their best, and have introduced me to a few more interesting personalities like Bill Bailey and Noel Fielding. Unfortunately, since these shows aren't available through any legal avenues in the US (the BBC does do Region 1 DVD releases, but the most recent show they seem to have is the new series of Doctor Who and Torchwood) I have to watch them though…other means.

It's kind of odd that I find shows like that much more entertaining than most of what shows up on American TV…then again, I haven't owned a television subscription for about a year now, so I probably have no right to make the comparision. I never did watch anything more than Scrubs, Mythbusters and Stewart and Colbert when I did, though. I'm probably missing out, but I really can't give a crap. :P

On a somewhat related note, I looked at the Spring anime season lineup, and there is nothing that looks interesting to me. I might watch Code Geass 2 out of boredom (seeing how I wasn't that impressed with the first season), but that's all. Might be a good idea to go out and get some older series on DVD – I already bought a Vision of Escaflowne boxset, so I might look into other old shows like Cowboy Bebop that are available at a reasonable price.

Watching DVDs on my computer is rather a pain, though.

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