Archives : November 1999

1999 November 3

Caught up in the avalanche

Whoa. Okay, what's happened in the week plus since my last entry? More than I could possibly have time to write down. This is definitely a problem with the journal format -- the more interesting my life is, the less time I have to write it down. Poor readers get stuck with navel-gazing passages written in the boring times.

. . .

I've accepted the job at revbox. I met with the guys at both revbox and aD San Francisco (Oakland at the moment, actually) on Tuesday, and decided Wednesday morning. I think what decided me was something like this: revbox just seemed more exciting, even if it does mean I wind up working in an office full of bankers instead of hackers. In a way, it felt like my choice of major as an undergrad all over again. Then I considered computer science but went with physics because I couldn't quite bring myself to think of programming as an end in itself, but as a means to an end. I think ArsDigita reminded me of nothing quite so much as CS grad school with better pay, and you have to produce stuff that works once in a while.

Put another way, when I visited aD, Karl Goldstein was working on some silly site called, and was jazzed by the nifty dynamic content system he'd written to support it. I have to agree that his scheme was pretty cool, but I think I'd get depressed quickly working on sites like PogoPet.

Why is that different from working on revbox? Basically here I'm going to wind up caring more about the code than about Extended Service Contracts, too, but it seems different for some reason. I think in fact it may be because I'm not going to be kicking it out the door in a month or two, so it is worth my getting a bit invested in.

. . .

Anyway, revbox is cool. In San Francisco there's currently ten people working out of the CEO's apartment, which is in a nifty new building overlooking Golden Gate park. The work room has a whole wall of south-facing windows, which actually makes it uncomfortably warm on sunny days but I'm not complaining. We're still working on getting all kinds of stuff sorted out, like getting my visa through so I can actually legally work there. I'm also currently winding up using Jonathan's computer most of the time -- we've ordered more hardware, but for the moment there isn't enough.

Monday we officially launched the site. It's at a sort of minimally functional level, but we've got a lot more work to do. I can't say I've really done much yet to contribute to the first launched version of the site, but I was here. Yesterday they got a cake from Just Desserts to celebrate, and Jim brought out a couple of bottles of champagne. And we all got t-shirts.

. . .

I went to a pretty cool Halloween party Saturday, at Emily's prompting. Among many other things, they had a Darth Maul pinata.

1999 November 7

Specialisation is for insects

I've had a busy week and I don't know what to write about it. I'll be flying back to Boston next Friday to spend a week working in person with the rest of revbox's technical team, and on the way will stop in Toronto to get a new work visa so that revbox can start actually paying me. This would be a good thing. In Toronto I hope also to be able to visit my brother, but haven't been able to make any plans because right now he's in Cuba with his girlfriend.

I'm having a great time at revbox so far. One thing about working at a start-up is that nobody can afford to be rigid or overspecialised, and when something needs to be done nobody says, "that's not my job." I think that's cool, even if it does leave me having to troubleshoot networking problems and Microsoft software, when it randomly stops working. (Previously, it had been our CEO getting stuck with this stuff, since nobody else in the SF office knows diddly about computers.)

I'm looking forward to the arrival of my own workstation, so I can stop having to use Windows. On Thursday, they managed to find a decent monitor for me -- a huge improvement -- but things are still pretty chaotic.

. . .

Thursday evening I hung out at a bar with Emily's history grad student student friends. Had a great time talking to _______ and _______ (crap, I forget their names) about the comparative ethical value of Indiana Jones vs Star Wars, and with Holly about the modern history of Eastern Europe. Didn't see much of Emily, though. The woman seems to be a natural social director, and she had a big gathering to organise.

. . .

Today I have to finally finish editing the paper I wrote last August. The referee's report was generally favourable, but he wanted some changes. I've got some other business to close up with Stanford as well -- we'll see what I can get done this afternoon. I'm going down to Dave and Karen's tonight for a round of Settlers.

1999 November 8

I'm going soft

Okay, it rained yesterday evening. It just rained. It wasn't cold; it wasn't even windy. It was just dark and wet.

God help me, I caught myself thinking of it as ``bad weather''.

I've only been here a year, and I'm going soft already.

1999 November 9

Reading for detail

I was paying some bills tonight, including my home insurance renewal. I am somewhat dismayed to discover that my property is not insured against ``discharge of a nuclear weapon . . . even if accidental.''

Insurance companies are more forward-thinking than you might expect.

1999 November 21

November means football playoffs

I am on the plane again, getting back from a week in Boston, where I lived revbox for a week. revbox has this sort of awkward structure where the main office is in SF, but all the techies but me are in Boston -- accident of history -- and so the purpose of my visit was to get to know the people I'm working for and with. To this end, I learned that Steve (our CTO) loves to play Santa Claus and can easily be tempted into an impromptu lecture on Fourier analysis; that HB (my team leader, I suppose you would call him) has a keen sense of obligation and a honed expertise at Starcraft; and that the people I'm working with are pretty sharp generally. It was a good week.

. . .

I met Michael and Nomi for dinner while I was in Boston, and afterward we browsed a bookstore for a bit. I found what has to be the perfect book: The Complete Idiot's Guide to: Being Psychic.

. . .

I visited Mark last night, stopping off in Toronto on my way back from Boston to SF. We wound up watching a couple of football games -- a CIAU semi-final yesterday (Laval beat Saskatchewan), and the CFL Eastern Final today (Hamilton beat Montreal). Two really good games.

It was interesting to see the Canadian game again, after many years of nothing but American football. It's much more of a big-play game -- the field is ten yards longer, ten or fifteen wider, the end zones are twenty or twenty-five yards deep, and there's only one extra player on the field to cover all this space. At the same time, you get only three downs, not four, which means drives either charge forward quickly or not at all. I like the rhythm -- at least, I like it when teams are playing well, like they were this weekend.

That, and I get a nostalgic kick out of hearing penalty calls like "illegal procedure" (ie, offensive offside) and "no yards" (failure to give the punt receiver room to catch the ball -- there's no wussy "fair catch" rule in Canadian football).

The CFL seems to be doing better these days. The weird story is that just maybe a U2 concert saved Canadian football. A couple of years ago, after the Alouettes first returned to Montreal, they made the playoffs, and somehow failed to have reserved Olympic Stadium for the date of the game: U2 was playing. So instead they moved up the hill and played the game in the open air on top of Mount Royal in the McGill university stadium -- and so instead of playing to a crowd of maybe 15,000 in a cavernously half-empty arena, they played to 12,000 in a sold-out, jam-packed one. They haven't gone back to Olympic Stadium since, and Montreal has gone from being the sick man of Canadian football to the best venue in the league, and now Toronto and Vancouver are considering similar moves. Funny how things change.

Time management

Sheesh. I've been meaning to write this journal entry for ages (or three weeks, whichever comes first). It's not even really the job that's stopping me, but the fact that I had a very interesting weekend at LosCon over Thanksgiving and wanted to write it up properly, but could never seem to find time for the kind of essay that required, so I haven't gotten around to writing anything at all. It's perverse.

That, and I've gotten seriously addicted to Alpha Centauri. That hasn't helped. I'd also probably have gotten over this damn cold a lot faster if I hadn't stayed up til 4 am every night this weekend.

I'm going to be on the plane this Saturday going to Boston, and I'll have a laptop with me. I'll try to catch up properly then. And in the meantime, I'm going to stop letting vague obligation stop me from writing shorter entries on other topics.

I'm sure you're all glad to know that.