Monday, September 21, 2015

Things I learned while visting Canada - pt. 1

Last year I spent a couple of weeks traveling in Canada, mostly British Columbia and Alberta. I've noticed a number of differences between Canada and the US. To start off these are the things you should and should not bring with you to Canada.

Things to bring to Canada:
  • A passport. A current passport is required to enter Canada and re-enter the US. Takes about 6 weeks to get a new one issued.
  • A driver's license. Again a current one if you are going to drive in Canada
  • Proof of auto insurance.
  • Cash. A couple hundred in either US or Canadian. The Canadian dollar is worth a little less than 1 American dollar. Right now 1 Canadian dollar is worth 75 American cents. So get Canadian money. You can exchange money at most big banks on the American side of the border.
  • An ATM card. Most big American banks have some sort of arrangement with one of the Canadian banks. I bank with Bank Of America and they have a deal worked out with ScotiaBank. A little research will save you a lot of hassle.
  • Credit Cards. Canada's economy is very much like America's and plastic is accepted everywhere.
  •  Your smart phone. Before you arrive in Canada make sure your have gotten an international plan added to your phone other wise the roaming charges are like $2.00 a minute. I had the misfortune of having my smartphone stop working just after I crossed into Canada. No Verizon in Canada, who knew?
  • Smartphone Apps. There are smartphone apps that will make conversion between metric and Imperial or SAE (what we use in the states). Also an app that will do currency conversion.
  • If possible, a laptop. I spent most of my time in Western British Columbia, around Vancouver. There are Starbucks and McDonalds every where, just like here in California. The advantage of Starbucks and McDonalds is they all have free WiFi and with a laptop you can plan your trip, make hotel reservation, get your email, etc.

Things to NOT bring to Canada:
  • Recreational drugs. If you have to be told this you should stay your stupid American ass home. This is not going to end well for you.
  •  Firearms. The Canadians don't have a problem with guns, many own guns and go hunting but the Canadian government likes to have the guns registered, they don't want unregistered guns coming into their country. If you are one of those "They can have my guns when they pry it from my cold dead hands." type then maybe you should continue to exercise your 2nd amendment right at home.
  • Alcohol and tobacco. Not sure what this is about. I guess they really to tax these and don't want untaxed coming into the country. Either way their country, their rules.
  • More than $10,000. What kind of fool travels with that much cash? 
  •  Your bad attitude. Canada is a country of nice friendly people, why spoil their day with you being a shit. Leave it at home.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Watching Downton Abbey

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last couple of year you no doubt have heard of Downton Abbey.  Think of it as an updated "Upstairs Downstairs" except set in the Yorkshire country side instead of the Belgravia neighborhood in London. Produced by the BBC in England it is being re-broadcast here in the States on PBS. As is pretty typical the episodes are first broadcast in the UK on iTV then re-broadcast 4 months later on PBS. My wife and her girl friends have become totally addicted to the series. So, of course, we had to go out and buy the DVDs.

Now comes the interesting bit. Season one and two are available here in the States but the third season has yet to be broadcast, it's scheduled to start January 6th. However the third season has finished it broadcast run in the UK, the DVDs of the third season are already for sale on Amazon's UK site ( At the same time a number of people in the UK has captured all episodes and put them up on their website. The BBC is having great fun trying to get these posts taken down but by now they are discovering a basic rule of the internet; "Once the genie is out of the bottle, he does not go back in." that plus the observation that once you try and suppress a posting many people will start to mirror what you are trying to take down. My wife, who is not technical by any stretch of the imagination, managed to find all eight episodes of the third season using Google, download them and pass them out to her girl friends.  Does this mean that she will not watch the third season when it is broadcast here in the states? Are you kidding? She and her girl friends have already re-arranged their schedules so they can get together and watch the new episodes. And when the DVDs are being offered for sale they will be the first in line. Remember, these are mature, intelligent women who have already seen the third season episodes.

This brings up the whole DVD issue. Almost all DVD are encoded for play in a certain region. North America is region 1 and Europe is region 2. That means that most DVD players sold in North America will only play DVDs sold in North America. A DVD from Europe will not play on a North American DVD player. Plus TV, and by extension DVDs, in North America are encoded with the NTSC scanning scheme while most of Europe is PAL encoded. (It's really complicated, look it up on Wikipedia). This is all fine and groovy but one can very easily find on-line DVD players that will play DVDs from any region and use any scanning encoding scheme and they are not any more expensive that any other DVD player, Generally in the $75.00 to $100.00 range.

The upshot of all this is with the right DVD player I can order DVDs from any where in the world and watch them on my home player. I have a friend who is mad for Chinese soap operas, most of which are not available here in the states, and are encoded for region 6 and PAL/SECAM scanning. With his $100.00 DVD player it does not even slow him down. So I ask you, what is the point of this 4 month wait for Downton Abbey to be broadcast here in the states? Those who wish to watch the third season could have easily seen each episode within in a day of the UK broadcast.  If I had the right DVD player, I'll be buying a new DVD player after the first of the year, I could have the third season sitting on my shelf.

It boils down to this simple fact;the whole region encoding and split broadcast schedule is an archaic holdover from a pre-Internet world. Most people want the content and are willing to pay for it but are uninterested in waiting months for the content to be released in their region / country.  Its time for the broadcast industry to join us in the 21th century.

Job hunting

Well, I have been out of work now for about a month. Things have been pretty slow, first because it's silly season and second because I've come down with a nasty cold so I have been putting people off. No one want to bring someone for an interview and have them coughing on their employees. That being said I have been looking and a few things have come up that I found annoying in the past but they are really getting under my skin. Maybe its the fact that I'm sick or maybe I've just seen this enough that it's reached the point of pissing me off. Either way some of the habits of recruiters are just plain annoying and if they wish to be thought of as professional they need to start acting like it.

  • Read my resume BEFORE you call or email me. Seriously, do you see COBOL or Windows on my resume? No, you did not. That is because I don't have those skills. Just because you have a contract opening for a COBOL programmer does not mean I have the skill. How you can determine this is by READING THE FREAKING RESUME.
  • Do not assume I want to take a job in Newark, NJ or Tulsa, OK. You got my resume off of Dice or some other job posting board. If you notice all of these boards have a profile section which contains a question asking if I will relocate. I checked no. That means I will not be leaving the Bay Area. Again, I don't care if you have a great job in some other city, I like where I live and my wife kinda insists on me being home every night and especially at the rate you just quoted.  Which brings me to...
  • Money. You asked me for my rate and I quoted you two sets of numbers. The first range was an hourly rate for my services on a W2 basis. The second range was a yearly salary as an FTE (Full Time Employee).  The two numbers in both sets represents a floor and a ceiling. The delta between those two numbers is approximately 10%. My rates are based on my experience and skill set in this job market in this area. Since I have been doing this for longer then I care to mention I have a very good idea what a person like me is worth and I always set my rates to be right in the middle of what is considered to be the going rate. Telling me that the client has set a top rate of X and that rate is below my floor is not my problem. If the client can not afford my rate then they can't afford me and no amount of badgering will not get me to drop my rate. Telling me it's a great company with a bright future means nothing to me.  Sorry guy, a "great company with a bright future" does not pay a mortgage.
  • Telephone manners. This really gets on my nerves. I know you speak English what I can't make out is what you are saying. Speak up and stop mumbling. I get some of these guys on the phone and I know they are from India but I can't make out what they are saying. Their speaking volume is so low I wonder if they are even holding the phone to their mouth and they mumble. Come on man! Speak up, Enunciate, Articulate. Generally when I get one of these mumblers on the phone I just hang up. The other one that gets me is the speed talkers. They leave a message on my voicemail and they talk so fast I can't get their the message and phone number they are trying to leave. Again enunciate and articulate. As with the mumblers I just ignore these guys.
  • Time. I assume you went to school and your parents and teachers taught you how to tell time. I'm also sure you were introduced to the concept of a "Time Zone". Most business is conducted between 9am and 5pm Monday through Friday in any given time zone. You may not have noticed this but there is a 3 hour difference between Virginia and California. It might be 9am in Virginia but that means it is 6 am here in California. Calling me a 5:30 am is really bad form. I don't care that it is 8:30 am in Virginia and you are trying to get a jump on the day, I was asleep. I have caller ID and I just wrote down your number because you woke me from a sound sleep and I will never answer you phone calls ever. 
  • References. My references are valuable and I take great care with them When the job search has gotten serious, we have had the first phone screen, the technical phone screen and the in person and they are seriously thinking about bring me on board then I will be happy to provide at least 3 references. I am not going to give you my references before I have even seen the job description.  I don't care that you want to speed up the process. If my references start getting calls from every Tom, Dick or Harry that has a copy of my resume they might not return your calls and then where am I?

In short, you are not selling used cars so stop acting like this is the DotCom and you are working for a body shop. If you wish to be treated like a professional then start acting like one. Then maybe you people will start returning your calls.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Silly Season

So I was working at this startup, Tiny Speck. They were a game company working on their first game, a flash based MMOG called Glitch. I say "were" because as of Tuesday, 13 Nov 2012 they are no more.

It's sad, they were a good people to work for, they treated their employees really well and the game was well engineered. I'm not a gamer so I'm not a good judge of these things but what I saw looked pretty neat. I liked working there and I was learning new things all the time but I guess the one thing the world does not want is another on-line game. Where this leaves me is looking for a job at the beginning of Silly Season.

Silly Season is a term I picked up while I was living and working in Chicago. Basically what it refers to is the period of time between Thanksgiving and New Years. The deal is this; almost no one is hiring during Silly Season. People are taking time off for the holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, etc.) Shopping, taking vacation to burn off their extra PTO hours before they loose them, budgets are exhausted, people who are need to approve a new hire are not around, etc., etc. Generally the process of hiring stalls until after New Years.

When I was living in Chicago, if I happened to have a contract end during Silly Season I would just chill until after New Years. Beating ones head against a wall was never my idea of entertainment. Here is the Bay Area Silly Season is not quite as prevalent but I notice there are less recruiters calling and emailing. So, while I am looking for a job I'm going to chill until the first of year.