Nearly Settled

Another week! Another pile of collapsed boxes! As of today, all we have left to unpack are the art supplies and to hang what mirrors and paintings are going to go up. Everything else is unpacked and has a permanent home and/or is sorted into donation boxes, awaiting pickup on Wednesday. Less clutter = more peace, and that’s really helpful to T getting creative work done. This is a very quiet neighborhood (except when someone gets the odd urge to mow something, or the train blows its whistle), even on the weekends, and the wind whistling through the house works as natural white noise. It makes for good napping conditions – and we are still exhausted enough to take advantage of them. Well, we think about it, anyway…

On D’s work front, his first week at the new job was immensely enjoyable – so much so that he neglected to come home until after seven, occasionally. There’s much to be done, and much chaos to organize, and he’s enjoying the challenge (or the chaos, one or the other. Not clear which just yet).

To those who’ve complained we’ve gone radio silent and feel as far away as we did when we lived in Scotland: apologies! You’ve asked what the house looks like. Here’s part of downstairs. A glimpse of upstairs to come next time.

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Above is what we’ll call “the den,” simply because the living room / dining room is the next space over. As you can see, we’re still sorting a few things, organizing the kitchen space, using a folding table. That table will get tucked away until holidays or some other need, soon.

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If you’re in the den, you’re looking into the kitchen. Yes, those are sticky notes on the cupboards – we had to decide what went where, and haven’t quite gotten it down to memory yet. Things are still shifting around (the flour moved all the way across the kitchen, just last night, to find a home in a cabinet next to the sink, rather than next to the fridge). We’re still trying to get the cupboard space to work well, which is odd, since they’re so narrow and some of them are so deep. As large as the ones next to the fridge are, they’re still too narrow for our largest mixing bowls, so those have had to relocate to the closet next to the garage door.

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We have done our first proper baking here, though, 10 days after moving in (the quiche last weekend doesn’t count, really). A gas oven is miles off from an electric, and there’s an adjustment of all the senses, especially sound (that whoomp as the pilot lights), and smell (that little whiff of gas). Touch is the one sense that doesn’t fare quite as well here… because the oven thermostat is so far off, we had to order an external thermometer. It takes about 45 minutes to get up to close to full heat (set it at 390°F and it’ll get to 350°F in that time), and then gradually slides even hotter, so you have to adjust the temperature down when you put your baking in. We notified the invisible property management people, who report that the owner insists that this is what an oven is supposed to do, and we’re just going to live with it until it falls over.

We are not amused.

At least the bread turned out superbly.

Onward into the new week, with its goals of placing the last mirrors, rugs, and artwork, figuring out the irrigation system and finding a home for the last odds & ends. Until next time,

-D & T

Rivendell, Population 45,812

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Described as “The Last Homely House, East of the Sea,” Rivendell in Tolkien’s Hobbit is our name for the East Bay city of Newark, where the wind turns on like AC every afternoon at 3, the salt smell of the marshes rides the wind, and the occasional giant heron flaps awkwardly by. After dashing to move last Tuesday, we worked straight through to do the remaining sorting on this end. Moving into a smaller place is a blessing, in a way, in that it reminds you to keep your hold on Things light. We did a Store, Toss, Keep, Donate version of unpacking that used up all six days we had to settle in, but here on the eve of D’s first day at the new job, we have actually made enough progress that we have nearly all the boxes flattened and in the garage to be Freecycled, and a date for a donation pickup, which makes T. very glad.

This move has been challenging, mainly because we had to hurry-hurry-hurry, but also because we had to fit into the near-Silicon-Valley culture here; we got this house with an app and signed electronically for it. We never did actually SEE any property managers or owners… they left a (fiiiiiiilthy) empty house and we moved in… unfortunately, the lack of human interaction has been incredibly frustrating, as we have basic questions about the HOA, irrigation system, etc., that have yet to be answered. And the things left behind – other than the 12-year-old whiskey (you’d think someone would miss that), boxes of CDs, and other bits of ephemera, the cooks in this place were frying enthusiasts who didn’t like cleaning, so T discovered that you can indeed spend six hours cleaning a range and still not like how it looks! Thankfully, Goo Gone has a product for cook tops. Who knew!? We’re still not happy with the state of things, but it’s a work in progress…

Meanwhile, we are feeling blessed: it’s a gorgeous house, even beneath the spatters and smudges, a quiet neighborhood, a tiny, sunny yard, a two-minute commute for D. and we have Bay trails less than a mile from our house. What with the scrubbing and sorting, we haven’t had much time to explore, except briefly on Saturday, but the air is heady and cold, even on these hot summer days, and the Bay sparkles. D might start cycling to work, though weighing the exercise against being more of a boss and needing to look a bit more coiffed when arriving may mean we just amble the neighborhood in the evenings and save real workouts for later.

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Happy Week! Cheers as you find your feet and your organizational skills for the tasks ahead.

More On Tech Hiring

Technical interviews have fairly infinite ways of going wrong. The tweets above reminded me of a few interviews I’ve had over the past seven months of job search, looking for a position that will keep me busy and happy for the next several years. I’ve interviewed with some of the big guys, even going so far as to go up to Amazon in Seattle. I’ve interviewed with startups. I’ve interviewed with a variety of different industries, from retail data services to biotech, from health-care to nuclear cleanup. I’ve interviewed in rural Washington State, Seattle, San Francisco, and Reykjavik, Iceland.

Over the course of all of these interviews (and literally hundreds of phone interviews), I’ve seen the extremes, in terms of technical interviews. I’ve had companies try to rattle me into getting angry (the Santa Barbara company – if you’re interviewing for a database company in SB, hit me up for the name, ’cause you don’t wanna work there) and be unable to answer the question they asked me (some vague mumblings about there being a “math” answer doesn’t cut it). I’ve had companies not ask me a single tech question (Reykjavik: I think they’re so desperate for programmers that they’re willing to believe you have the skills you say you do). I’ve had hours of algorithm and data-structure questions (Amazon, and what a waste of all of our time that interview process was, when I told them up front that I basically do everything with a database if I can, and have no interest in the things they do there).

All of these companies did some things better than others, and none of them was what I would call perfect.

I think the thing they all missed out on, or could have emphasized more, was the human dimension. Would I be happy there? Would they have enough meaningful work for me to do? Were they interested in any of the same things in which I’m interested? Would I feel happy in a huge company, or in retail systems, or building parking solutions (cool company, that one – but they’re in down-town SF, and walking over human excrement on the way to work just doesn’t do it for me)? These are things which I had to know about myself, but which they didn’t seem to think were important.

If you’re going to sink $100K into a new hire (when you figure hiring bonus, travel, relocation, training, and the first however-many months it takes them to come up to speed, this is maybe even a low estimate), you should figure out whether that person is going to be happy. Yes, their technical skills matter somewhat, but they’re the least of the factors you should be examining. You should be looking at whether they can learn, and whether they want to learn. You should be getting a feel for them as a person, and what they’re looking for from the deal.

Tech companies tend to focus on either computer-science fundamentals, or they focus on their own narrow set of coding gewgaws. They don’t tend to get the actual human aspects in there except as an afterthought. The problem is, this just isn’t how you build good teams, it isn’t how you get happy employees, and it isn’t how you get people who will stick with you beyond the next project.

The people who form a meaningful connection during the interview process, who feel valued and as if they’d continue to be valued, those are the ones you want to keep. Sure, there may be some phenomenally bright programmer out there – so what? If they can’t be part of the team, contribute towards the team’s goals, support their other team members, then you’ve got nothing worth having. If you want good teams, you have to find good people whose goals align with those of your group. You won’t find out about those goals unless you know your own goals and ask about theirs.


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All Over The Place

Things have been a bit quiet, here at Hobbits. T. has been writing, D. has been continuing his various wee contracts … and also looking for something a bit more than just wee contracts. After much casting about, many false starts (we’re looking at you, Washington State), and lots of places that just weren’t right for whatever reason, D. has taken a position with Revance Therapeutics as “Senior Technical Lead, Enterprise Applications” to start the end of this month.

Which means, The Hobbits are leaving Hobbiton and moving to … well, somewhere not that far outside of The Shire, and not anyplace truly distant, but it’s far enough that we thought Rivendell would be an appropriate name for it. IRL, we’re moving to Newark (no – not New jersey – there’s one right near Silicon Valley). D. will have a 2-minute commute, unless he decides to walk, in which case he might have a 15-minute walk to work – we’ll see whether there’s proper pedestrian access along the way, or if he’ll need to cycle instead.

So, next week, the movers come, and we’re off on another sort-of-adventure!

While things have been quiet here, though, they haven’t been idle

Fresh Turmeric

We ran across some fresh turmeric in the grocery store and thought, “hey, we made a South-Asian kind of Sauerkraut once – let’s use this for it!” So, we duly shredded all the things (cabbage, carrots, turmeric) and added all the spices and salt, packed it into the fermentation crock, and waited a few weeks. Then we found out we were moving, so decided to pull it out to taste, and maybe to give away … and, wow, fresh turmeric Takes Over ALL the things. We ended up throwing the whole batch out, it’s so incredibly not-tasty. All we can conclude is that we used about 10 times too much fresh turmeric, and that you don’t really get a feeling for how it penetrates just by tasting it fresh and raw – turmeric was all we could taste, other than maybe a hint of pickle and some salt. Boo.

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We also made up a nice wee spice blend, using spices from our local bulk herb company plus some orange peels we’d harvested and dried (peel your orange with a vegetable peeler before peeling it to eat & let the peels dry somewhere). Truly yummy spice blend, though we’ll add a bit more black pepper next time, so our spiced tea (aka chai) is a bit spicier. It’s a great all-purpose blend that we end up mixing into banana bread or zucchini bread – very yummy, and handy to have.

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In the past few weeks we had company, so of course broke out the touristy trips. Among other places, we dropped by the Cornerstone Garden Center on our way to visit Sonoma itself – it’s often overlooked (we overlooked it for years) but it’s definitely worth visiting along the way, if only for a wee break. Try it in early spring when everything is gray – even then, beauty. Some imaginative sculpture, a few restaurants, ponds, and of course places to sell you expensive things that you don’t need and would hate yourself for buying (we saw a distressed lawn chair for $450 – not kidding, and that wasn’t a typo, that was four hundred and fifty United States Dollars for a broken-down-looking wooden chair). Aside from the things to trick tourists out of their money, it’s a great place to spend a half hour or so.

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We also made a pilgrimage out to Santa Rosa, to the Charles M. Schulz Museum (a.k.a. the Snoopy Museum). It’s on the smaller size, for museums, but also has a bunch of comics for those who are fans of Snoopy. Definitely worth spending an hour or so, seeing some of the history behind the comics and behind Schulz himself. He was a local resident, there in Santa Rosa, and there’s a fair bit about his life as part of the community. The Empire Ice Arena is across the way with its own mini-museum (Schultz was an avid ice hockey player, and played there for years), and a fab way to pass a sticky summer afternoon is pretending you can figure skate.

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Finally, we visited Vallejo’s Petaluma Adobe. For those who don’t know, Vallejo was an early governor of California, when California was still part of Mexico. We’d driven past Petaluma Adobe literally hundreds of times – every time we came from Santa Rosa to the East Bay area, we drove past it. We’d never stopped in, though, and since we were in the area and had read it was a primo state park and once the home of General Vallejo, we figured we should check it out.

The Adobe itself is basically a mud-brick building in the shape of a squared C, with the only doors being on the inside of the C. The entire structure, on the ground floor, is an extended series of workshops, with looms, a saddlery, food storage and preparation, etc. The structure, on the second floor, is a series of living and sleeping quarters. This is basically an outpost, where people would come for a particular purpose (cattle slaughter, meat and hide preparation) for part of the year only. This is the early-California version of a meat-packing plant / factory except that it operated for months at a time and nobody could leave. What must it have smelled like? The park ranger said that the packed dirt floors were described as being “spotless,” so there were a lot of hands making the place work.

Petaluma Adobe is a California State Park and is in need of visitors. If any of you out there are teachers, they also do an overnight environmental living program for fourth-graders.

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And now, we must be off to take care of the irritating things like electronics recycling, which have been put off for too long.

-D & T

Buying Spices

So, we watched this youtube video the other day on how to make “tuna” sliders out of unripe jackfruit (go – watch it – then come back and let’s talk). It really is an awesome recipe, and we’re nearly ready to make an attempt at it (it’s too hot, and we don’t have Old Bay Seasoning). That’s not what this post is about today, though.

Today, I want to talk about choice. Like, if you go to Amazon, and try to buy Old Bay Seasoning. Go ahead, go over there and drop it into the search box, then come back here and tell me how you found the experience. Did you locate what looked like the best deal? That would be the 24-ounce item that shows up first on the list. Do notice, though, that it is a “Fresh” item (so, you have to join some program or other in order to buy it) or an “add-on” item (which means you have to play grocery-cart bingo and put enough in your cart to actually get it delivered). Also notice that there are just about 100 different things from which to choose.

There’s a thing going on here that I think is important: I think that there is a payoff here on the part of Amazon in that you’re going to have to 1) join some program of theirs (which makes them money) or 2) add more things to your cart than you want to buy or 3) troll through literally 100+ items to figure out which one you can and should buy. I think that this level of product chaos is found in a few different places, and I suspect that there’s some degree of psychological testing going on here, to figure out what drives the most profit. Or perhaps this level of chaos actually accomplishes that, and this is simply the new normal when shopping on Amazon.

In my case, I decided that I really didn’t need the Old Bay and that I’d spend the couple dollars at the grocery store, rather than suffer through the buying process on Amazon. I emptied my cart (including the slippery add-on item which put itself on my “buy later” list, repeatedly) and went to buy the other things I wanted elsewhere. I’m sure I’ll use them for other dishes, and Amazon is perfectly prepared to drive a certain amount of business away in order to maximize revenue. They’re a store – that’s what they do.

This jumble of bad choices is what’s known as a dark pattern: something which drives the user to do something they do not want to do. Once you become familiar with dark patterns, you start to see them, and then start to look for them. In this case, I’m sure that I’ll continue to use Amazon. But I’m also sure that I’ll start paying attention and, if I find myself struggling to actually find the thing that I want, I’ll go elsewhere.

I ended up spending way more money than I’d intended to spend just then, but also bought a whole bunch of things that we needed: I went to the SF Herb Company’s culinary herbs page and simply went down the list, adding 1 of everything on there that we do use and have run out of. Those spices and a stop at the Asian market and we’re done. And some time today we’ll get our delivery and will have the joy of unboxing bulk spices! (below is a previous order)

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Technology Hiring Practices and Diversity

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I would like to talk about hiring practices in the technology field, in particular as those have an impact upon who does and does not get hired to work in technology. This is important because the tech industry talks a lot about limiting racism and sexism in their hiring processes (they’re ignoring age bias for the moment), but then the tech industry also talks about systems designed for interviewing candidates which are designed to result in high rates of false negatives. By “false negatives” they mean that more good candidates will be told that they don’t meet the needs or the requirements of the position – that they will err on the side of not hiring.

There’s fairly solid mathematical reasoning for why hiring this way does not make sense (read the extensive and geeky discussion on Hacker News). So, we have to ask, Why maintain this type of a hiring process if it results in poor organizational outcomes? And, if they’re maintaining this in the face of poor outcomes, we must further ask, What outcomes does this system actually have and are those outcomes the real reason for maintaining this type of a system?

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I believe that this type of a system is designed to allow the bias (“culture”) of the organization to perpetuate. I believe that these hiring practices are designed to systemically discriminate, while pretending to be based upon merit. [side note: People are quite attached to the idea of meritocracy even in the face of proof that meritocracy actually results in worse outcomes for the organization (here’s a paper which proves that random promotions yield better organizational outcomes than merit-based promotions).]

When you design a system which yields false negatives, what you actually accomplish is to normalize the practice of making hiring decisions based upon gut feel and bias rather than upon objective criteria such as whether the applicant is really interested in the position or whether the applicant can do the job. That’s a big statement to make, but I think it’s proved out by the psychology.

Tversky, Amos - Preference, Belief, and Similarity, ch. 24

We can evaluate this in terms of prospect theory and the framing effect, which pretty much describes the landscape of this decision. The framing effect plays a role here because the decision makers approach the interview having been told that it is better to mistakenly pass up a good candidate than it is to mistakenly hire a bad candidate. This framing puts the decision maker into the mindset of loss / risk aversion, which tends to be vastly more conservative than does a mindset of possible gains. When evaluating problems in a risk-averse or uncertain mindset, people attempt to reduce that risk or uncertainty however possible. In this mindset, hiring someone of the same general profile as oneself provides an immediate reduction in risk, so basically guarantees that candidates who are different (diverse) will be excluded.

This is not limited to the tech industry, by any means – I’m certain that these same problems are pervasive in other hiring systems. In tech, though, the big players have all made noises about diversity, and yet have maintained a system of hiring which continues to yield the same problematic hiring decisions. The tech industry is supposed to be the best and brightest – they certainly tell us that they are – yet it cannot seem to figure out how to hire women or blacks or Hispanics (or people aged over 35). This tells me that the noises made by tech are basic cover for not really wanting to solve the problem.

Tech companies are happy being pretty much white (and a few Asian) dudes and do not want to change. Tech companies want to mouth the right words about diversity, to maybe hire diversity officers, but they do not really have any interest in being diverse. They have designed hiring systems which are systematically discriminatory, but subtly so, which is problematic because it is the systemic problems which are hardest to fight.

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I’m sure some of my reasoning in here isn’t as thorough as it could be. I don’t think that my reasoning is wrong, though – I think that the hiring systems of big tech companies essentially guarantee a lack of diversity, and that the companies are either uniformly ignorant of this or are happy for it to remain this way. Before you think that they’re ignorant of this, think about where psychology graduates go if they don’t become professors (hint: big technology companies, which is why everything tech is designed to be addictive).

Glasgow Botanical Gardens – Happy Birthday!

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Glasgow Botanic Gardens is turning 200 years old! It certainly looks like they had a fabulous day for it (their Twitter feed has some video and pictures). On a day like today is supposed to be here in California, we’d probably not have visited the Botanics, as they tend to be much warmer inside than out. In Glasgow’s fog and dreich, though, we’ve loved being inside, looking at all the flowers and statuary.

Enjoy your weekend!

-D & T

No to Seattle

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Well, Seattle isn’t in the cards for the moment. So, D will continue mixing and matching his work from a few different clients here in the Bay Area and we’ll see what else turns up. It could be that we’re just going to end up staying around here, but we’ll see. This job search is more about finding the right place than about finding just any place, and we have the luxury of not having to rush, so we can be a bit choosier than we’ve been in the past.

-D & T

Seathl City

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Seathl is a more approximate spelling of the Duwamish/Suquamish tribal chief’s name.

Seattle has changed a great deal since we were last there for more than a stop at the airport – which was about in 2000, when we were sponsors for a class of Seniors who are now approaching their (mid?) thirties and have kids of their own (sheesh). The picture above is from out the window of our very posh (fireplace, footstool, comfy robes, views, and teddy bear, natch) waterfront hotel, where we saw varying sizes of ferries crossing the Puget Sound every half hour or so, and two cruise ships pull up for servicing – which allowed us then to see a close inspection of the external portholes by burly men on mechanical lifts, and what we assume must have been an inspection of luggage and passenger areas by a gentleman from the DEA and their his chipper, tail-wagging drug sniffer dog.

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Seattle is sometimes… so very Seattle-y, to those visiting. Moreso than our last visit, we noted the man buns, manly beards, and the plaid, oh, the plaid. Also, the ├╝ber-woodsy, hyper-folksy, log-cabinesqueness of the place was not lost on us (What. Is. With. The. Antlers.).Seattle 12 An epic winter has produced more greenery than usual, to the extent that it’s growing out of the tops of buildings, which reminded us a great deal of Glasgow. T. was most amused at the Seattle-ness of being at the posh hotel restaurant and being served, instead of cedar plank salmon, cedar plank tofu and roasted vegetables. (It was okay.) D. was most amused by the Seattle-ness of the canine cavalcade parading past at the big tech company. Pet friendly workplaces, doggy daycare and coffee shops are all over the city, along with microbreweries and [electric] bike shops. Phrases like “Fur Baby” were tossed around … Both childless and petfree, we felt a little left out. (But, not enough to actually get one of either.) We noted that while Northern California at least keeps its bona fides as a place more easily full of health foodies (there were both a surfeit the of spandexed and lots of pastries and doughnuts on offer all over), we did chuckle that every second car was a hybrid, and certainly every Lyft car was, so well done, Pacific Northwest for that.

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Of course it rained during the four days we were there, but there was also a lot of wind and sea and sun. A charming, sprawling green mess of fauna and water, all beauty and art and earnest hipsters, fifty dozen Starbucks stores, loiterers, dog walkers and …traffic. D. was invited to come over for grueling interview (those six hour ‘invitations’ from big companies are a doozy) but T. was looking forward to meeting a blog-friend in person with whom she’d only ever corresponded…. and had the laughable coincidence of dining two nights with her friend, whose husband works for the company with which D was interviewing! Seattle is huge, but the tech world is teensy, in some ways.

Still a great deal up in the air, but it was a nice break from the ordinary.

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Meanwhile, God bless those hipsters.

-D & T

“Oh… that’s why.”

Rarely in life do we get the reasons why behind the way things go. At least, rarely do we get them this clearly. This is a circumstance D was assured, as he interviewed, “never” happened.

We were embarrassed, honestly, when this job – for which we gave away furniture and for which we were halfway packed to leave – didn’t turn out. It shook our faith in our own good sense, for one thing. What did we miss, and how? we kept asking ourselves.

And now we have, if not the answer, AN answer.