Don’t believe what you read

I’m an atheist. More than that, if I find out that you believe in a higher power there’s a good chance that I will think less of you. I’ve tried not to, really I have, but if I learn that you need to believe in a supernatural being to make sense of the world instead of allowing yourself to see how truly magnificent it all is and how wondrous the rules that govern our Universe are to make it all possible without requiring some bearded engineer in the sky, I can’t help it.

This is why I currently have a problem at work. I work with some of the smartest people I’ve ever met. I’ve thought that before at previous jobs but, no offense to those of you I’ve worked with in the past, they had nothing on the people I interact with every day. Around my offices are whiteboards, presumably meant for collaborative discussions or maybe just for janitors to solve our problems for us, I don’t know. The one nearest me, however, is being used by someone to spread The Word. Missives such as “God is love” and “Jesus loves you” have been appearing daily 1.

So what can I do? I don’t know who’s doing it so I can’t have a chat with them, and even if I did I don’t expect them to understand my offense. I could belittle the comments by adding my own snarky comments, but that’s likely to just create contention rather than making the author understand anything. I could erase them, but it’s not my place to censor others, and in previous days when the board has been erased the author has just re-written them. I have been trying to ignore it but it really gets to me every day that I walk past and see it.

This has come to a head today because the people I sat next to at breakfast said grace before eating. I know, I know, it’s not like they said or did anything deeply offensive in the grand scheme of things, but seeing and hearing that ritual today, in a workplace built on science and rationality, when I’m already on edge thanks to the writings, seemed more than anachronistic; it seemed illicit, even subversive.

It’s entirely possible that I’m massively over-reacting and just need to shake my head and walk on by. However, I wonder what the reaction from others would be if instead of “God” or “Jesus” it said “Allah” or “Mohammed”.

I also realize in writing this that I am somewhat hypocritical, though I can reason my way out of it to protect my ego. A couple of months ago some Buddhist monks were in the building creating and destroying a mandala. I took no offense to their presence and certainly enjoyed the beauty of their creation. Why should I be more offended by Christian messages on a white-board than by a more visible presence of monks performing a multi-day ritual? My reasoning is that what the monks were doing was spiritual to them, but could be seen in non-religious tones by me. The messages on the white-board, however, are clearly an effort to force religion into peoples’ lives.

I think I’m going to continue to do nothing but rant quietly in my corner of the internet.┬áBesides, if I can’t write about this stuff on my blog, where can I write about it?

  1. The most recent one refered to 2012 as “the End”.

Speed: Give me what I need

Do you host your site through dreamhost? If not, you should. They’re fantastic and great.

In fact, they just got even more fantastic: http://blog.dreamhost.com/2010/11/04/mod_pagespeed-now-available/

If you already use them, you should totally go and turn this feature on. Go ahead, I’ll wait here.

To save you reading their blog post: They have enabled mod_pagespeed as an option for domain managers. This module dynamically rewrites pages before they’re served to make them faster to download and faster to render. Why is this good? Well if everyone used it, you could browse twice as many sites with pictures of puppies, kittens, or sugar gliders in the same amount of time.

Full disclaimer: This is one of the projects I work on.

</shameless plug>

So long, LucasArts

I have a lot of things to thank LucasArts for. If it wasn’t for Day of the Tentacle, Monkey Island, X-Wing, Tie Fighter, or the Dark Forces games, I would not have been drawn to programming as a career, and specifically game development.

Without the opportunity they gave me to lead the game development team at Lucasfilm Animation Singapore, I would not have realised how much I want to code rather than manage.

They brought me to the US, and specifically to San Francisco which is the best city I’ve ever lived in, and has rapidly become my home.

They gave me the chance to work on The Force Unleashed II,which was a phenomenal technical challenge and during which I learned a huge amount from some incredibly smart people.

Then, when it was time, they set me free to run wild, and gave me the chance to find a new challenge.

This whole path facilitated by them has led me to today, when I accepted a new job at somewhere I have wanted to work for years: Google.

So long, LucasArts, and thanks for all the fish.

[REDACTED]

As most people know who read this blog, at least two of the three of you, I’m a software engineer working in the games industry. Most software engineers eventually specialise in some field or other, whether it’s gameplay, audio, AI or something else. Somehow, I never have. I’ve remained a generalist; a jack of all trades and master of none, as the saying goes. This has worked pretty well for me over the years as I’ve been able to take on new challenges and figure out what needs to be done, and I’ve always loved researching things so learning new areas of engineering always excites me. Always, that is, except when it comes to my nemesis: Rendering.

Rendering, for those who don’t know, is the bit of technology that makes the things show up on the screen in all their rim-lit, shiny, bumpy glory. I have never been interested in the rendering side of things, and have somehow managed to completely avoid coming into contact with it. Until today. Right now I’m working on [REDACTED] which means that I have to [REDACTED] the [REDACTED] with some other [REDACTED]. Hmm, that doesn’t work. Ok, simply, I have to use the rendering technology do what I want it to and I can’t.

It may seem like bragging, but I don’t normally have this problem. I usually understand enough of the underlying concept of something to pretty quickly get up to speed with a new system, and to figure out any teething problems along the way. The problem this time is that I really have no clue about what might be wrong to fix the problems that I have. So what to do? I took a bold step, if I may say so, and one that I don’t like to take: I asked for help. I know, I know. It’s like Shakespeare asking Marlowe for some tips on Iambic Pentameters. What I didn’t expect was that the person I asked was more than happy to take time out of their extremely busy day to take me through what I was missing. There was no condescension, no frustration that I didn’t know what I was doing, no suggestion that I was less of an engineer, just plain help.

Now yesterday we had an all-company meeting. I expected from previous experience of such meetings at other companies that this would be a painfully dry and tedious affair full of budget information, sales figures and executive staff patting each other soundly on the back and spouting self-congratulatory platitudes. I should have remembered which company I work for. The (often amusing) speeches were broken up with videos of other people in the company talking about how much the company meant to them before they started working here, and the fun times they’ve had since joining the company. It really didn’t matter what else was said, that was a clear message and a powerfully inspirational force.

These two things together have reminded me, and shame on me for needing reminding, that I work for a company that I’ve wanted to work for as long as I can remember.

No, my [REDACTED] still doesn’t do what it should, but I’ll figure it out yet.

I can stop whenever I want

I bet you’d thought I’d forgotten all about you, and was going to continue with lame updates that were just reblogs of other peoples’ far more inspired efforts. Well I didn’t, but I have been incredibly busy.

Playing WoW.

Well not just that, though it was the focus of the weekend. I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me begin just before the weekend…

diddley-doo diddley-doo diddley-doo

So on Friday, one of my new workmates made the wondefully sweet offer of inviting myself and Mrs Dominic to brunch on Sunday with his family at Samovar. It was sweet as he has known me all of a week, and all I’ve done is pester him with inane questions with blindingly obvious answers which has stopped him from getting on with his own work. I also noted that he was playing the aforementioned game at lunchtime, which started us talking.

I thought I’d mentioned this in a previous post, but I can’t find it. Warhammer Online arrived and was played for a couple of weeks, and then just slipped away from me. Part of this was the move, and part of it was that I could, for some reason, only play it on the wife’s laptop, and not on the uber-machine of doom that I traditionally play PC games on. Even the might of EA’s technical support team couldn’t help me! I did want to play it more, and I genuinely like some of the decisions they’ve made in terms of opening up co-operative gaming to a level that WoW just hasn’t, but then I saw WoW being played. And the new expansion came out. Poot.

I didn’t get the new expansion as I don’t have a character that is at a level to enjoy the new content, however I did agree to buy a copy from the chap at work when it arrives, so that he could dash out and get one on launch day. See, I’m nice like that. Completely selfless motivations.

Anyway, Saturday came, and I thought “buggrit”, and reopened my account. I played all day with a new character and had a great time. During this time, the missus was getting gradually sicker and sicker, but thought she’d bounce back. She didn’t.

Sunday morning came, and it was clear we had to cancel brunch. I felt really bad as it was such a great opportunity to connect with someone here in the city, and it was a generous offer to make, but it was a day of nursing. Nursing that involved making sure the wife was well fed with soup, had plenty of aspirin, nasal sprays, vapour rubs and any other remedies I could find, before getting to level 14 before the end of the day.

This does not mean, however, that I will now be spending every waking hour playing. Oh no. I still have those 42000 words to write for my novel in the next 13 days, and I’m living in a brand new city that is clamouring for my attention. In fact, I didn’t play at all today. I spent this morning signing a lease for an awesome apartment — the first one we saw, which doesn’t happen often — before finally applying for my Social Security Number.

The lease signing was fairly uneventful, as those things go. I actually read the contract very carefully this time; something that I always promise myself I’ll do better next time, and always fail to spot the glaring we’re-going-to-keep-all-of-your-money clause. This time, I think I got it. Though watch this space, of course.

Applying for a Social Security Number was also the proverbial slice of pie (apple, I suppose it must be). I expected a nightmare of queues and forms and efficacious little jobsworths shuffling me from one window to the next complaining that my middle names are too long (they don’t fit on the forms. Ever. Thank you, parents) or that they don’t know where Jersey is, or they confuse it with New Jersey and can’t figure out how I’m British, etc, etc. Instead, after waiting for twenty minutes for my number to be called, it took all of 5 minutes and I was out of there. I just keep being impressed by this country, how friendly everyone is, how easy everything is, and how people in service roles, interacting with the public, actually provide a service! It’s unheard of, I know!

Today was also a large milestone in that I finally finished the gauntlet of paperwork thrown down by those bureaucratic vampires in HR and Benefits. Dragging the missus through the small print of health plan schedules when she was drowning in snot does seem a little ironic, in hindsight, but it is now Done.

Tomorrow, I might actually get to do some work at work, instead of paperwork at work. That, and a little levelling, of course. And next weekend, when everyone in the house is back to full health, we shall Brunch and be merry!

And maybe squeeze in a couple of levels.

Finest worksong

Today was the first day of my new job. I’ve posted before about how I felt different about this change of job, as I already knew the people and what was going on at the company, however that really didn’t prepare me for actually being there.

I spent 45 minutes on a bus getting to work. Most people I’ve told this to think that this is an outrageous time to spend on a bus, but compared to the length of commute I regularly made in London, it’s actually quite reasonable. I’m also in the enviable position of having the beginning and the end of my commute be the terminals of the bus route. In other words, I’m pretty much guaranteed a seat.

I settled in, fired up the BBC Radio 4 News Quiz podcast, and enjoyed the ride. I spent much of the time watching San Francisco roll by, and tried my hardest to remember each intersection and my impressions of them to report back once I got home. It’s important to get a good sense of a place when you’re looking for an apartment to live in, and you want to pick the right area.

Once I was at work, I picked up my new pass and waited for orientation to begin. Orientation was much as I expected: Lots of paperwork, a couple of videos that appear to be selling the company to you, when you’ve already signed up for the job, and an attempt to remember every little thing I’ve worked on in my own time to declare as a past invention. The last bit always takes the most time. It was fun to see the videos that I last saw a year and a bit ago when I started in Singapore. Having actually been there and seen it for myself, and worked with the people in the video, I can say that they really need to update the video as the studio has grown dramatically.

A very quick introduction from the IT Service Desk, and it was time for lunch with my new peers. This is always a fun time for a new hire; the people you’re having lunch with are on a free lunch, as are you. And contrary to the popularly held belief, the lunch really is free. For that hour, a new hire will find themselves the most popular member of the team. Hopefully that popularity will continue for some, but it’s certain for the initial lunch.

The food at the Presidio Dining Commons is fairly legendary, as far as work canteens go. It’s an old mess hall, and is furnished in dark wood with beautiful views of the Presidio park and the Palace of Fine Arts. The food itself is fresh, with a selection of salads and sushi to simpler fare such as pizza and burgers. I opted for a rustic-looking veggie burger with a fruit salad on the side. I expected it to be a light lunch, but it knocked me out for the afternoon.

Fortunately, the afternoon consisted of me clearing out three weeks of email from Singapore (my account had been moved over and I’m still on all of the old mailing lists) and ensuring that I had all of the software that I need. A very slow introduction to the job.

Tomorrow, I have a morning of benefits orientation and timecard training, which is sure to be as exciting as it sounds, and then I have to round out the paperwork with an application for a social security number. I should actually start doing some work on Wednesday, and I cannot wait. I’ve been off work for three weeks, which has been great to clear my head of all of the old stuff, but now I have a void which needs filling. I’m dying to get my coding teeth into some new tasks and a new project, and start to find my place in the team.

All in all, today was a little underwhelming. I’m not sure what I expected, certainly not to be dropped in at the deep end, but right now I just feel exhausted. I’m putting this down to being out of shape. Much like an athlete who takes a break and then finds they can’t work out as hard as they could previously, and not that I know that much about that, I feel like my work muscles have wasted away a little. I’m just not used to being in an office environment, and the number of small conversations and interactions that I had today seem to have taken their toll.

At least I should sleep well tonight.

Last day of work

Last time I touched on this subject, I ended up writing more about starting the new job than leaving the old one. I’d like to remedy this by writing now about today: My last day at work.

I suppose my usual feeling when leaving one job to go to another is terror. The anxieties of how the last day will go kick in, as well as the concerns I mentioned previously about the new job.

Again, this time as a transfer between sibling companies, it’s very different. I feel more like I’m going on vacation for a couple of weeks and then going back to a different team rather than a whole new company. I’m truly excited about the future and I don’t feel that I’m leaving my team here behind as I’m sure I’ll still be involved with them at some level.

I’ve written the farewell email ready to send out later. I’ve included the embarassingly long list of contact methods for people (a couple of IM alternatives, social networking sites, email addresses…) and the obligatory Douglas Adams quote. All that is left is to walk out of the door in six hours.

Aaw, now I’ve made myself feel melancholic. Perhaps a lunchtime beer is required…

T-24 days

It is 24 days until I fly out to yet another country to start at a new company. This time, and there have been a few times already, it’s a bit different as this will be an internal transfer.

I’m writing about this now because this week everything has really kicked into gear: The relocation company have contacted me, IT have started arranging the transfer of my email (3Gb of email in one year, and that’s after trimming out things I don’t need to keep for reference) and the flight is finally booked, with room for Oliver.

At this point in the process in the past, I’ve had a similar feeling to when I was looking forward to starting at a new school: What faux-pas will I make on my first day? Will I encounter any cliques? If I make friends, will they be the right friends?

This time, however, I already know many of the people I will be working with and I know how the company functions. I am aware of the internal politics and the political factions that have formed over different issues. I’m left wondering if I will be treated differently by them than if I was starting completely fresh. If so, will it be a more positive experience, or a more ‘constructive’ one?

PS – Squeeeeee! New country, new city, new job!