A favorite poem, a favorite punk song

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
— Wilfred Owen

You’ve got to die
got to die
got die for your government
die for country
that’s shit.
— Anti-flag, 1996

Sony and the cool

I recommend this fine Brooks Review piece on how Sony’s lost their way (it was inspired, in turn, by this excellent Jeff Yang article in the Chronicle). When I was growing up, I loved, loved, loved Sony stuff. My dad owned a Walkman 2 (1981), and it fascinated me. Clunky controls: function over form, the weird selector buttons irregularly sized, paired with dials… and it broke music for me. Cassettes on headphones, with true stereo, and portable, it was a leap I couldn’t believe. I thought that thing was the coolest. For being so tiny, it took a remarkable amount of abuse and kept running. Twenty years later, writing this makes me want to go buy one.

wm-2_2 by nextartist

“wm-2_2 by nextartist, cc-licensed”

My parents bought my brother and I Discmen one Christmas. I feel the almost the same way about the Discman as the Walkman II: it’s a beautiful device, the sound quality was amazing, and I used it for years. I cracked the display in a car accident, but it took ten years of use without complaint. A year or so ago a stereo died on me and I ended up digging it out of my nerd box of components. Ran like a top. I wrote my dad a nice re-thank-you note.

I only bought Sony whenever I had a choice. When someone stole the deck out of the awful Mazda 626 I was driving, I bought the crappiest tape deck Target sold (features included “Auto-Stop”) and went back to using my Discman and an adapter.

I can’t point to where exactly I gave up on brand loyalty, but after being less and less happy with each of my purchases, I went to discontent: one of my receivers died just out of warranty, while on another the display doesn’t work unless you press on the faceplate just right, which is… yeah, it’s a loose connection somewhere that results in a terrible experience every time I need to read it. And then to open frustration: the Playstation 3’s user interface is one of the worst I’ve ever had to wrestle with (and I worked on back-end telecom systems in the 90s). Every time it sends me off to a different random corner of its nested menus, I want to grind my teeth and never have to use it again.

When I could beg the Walkman II off my dad and the batteries ran out, all I could think of was how to get a new set, or milk another five minutes out of another set that wasn’t quite dead. I wanted to use it. Now Sony makes electronics I hate to use.

I miss Sony.

Postcript: fittingly, Sony’s abandoned their “Sony History” pages, which now 404.

Interviewing: so, have you used our product?

Why answering “no” is almost a certain no-hire.

An interview loop is a full day of your time. And the company you’re interviewing at is burning at least six hours of their people’s time not developing features, or answering phones, or building a production infrastructure, to talk to you. Now, I know that not everyone on the loop reads the resume before they go in, but unless I’m tagged in at the last minute (which happens too often, certainly) I’ve spent 10-15m just reading your resume, and after we talk I’ll spend another 10-20m writing up interview feedback. Multiply that by six… You can spend 15 minutes to prepare.

If you’re considering taking a job with a company, you should know why. It can be as simple as “I need a job”. I’m fine with that. But why at the company you’re interviewing at, and not another? Or why do you think you’d be content working on this particular widget, and not another? If you have no interest in where you work, and I really care about what I work on and who I work with, well… it’s going to be hard to bridge that.

If you haven’t used the product… fire up the web site and look around. Download a demo version of the product and play with it. It says a lot of good things about you to say “yes!” and have thoughts about what features you’d add, or an issue you encountered:
– you’re curious and interested
– you’ve given the product some thought
– you can talk about the product
– there’s a reason you’re applying for this particular job

And better still if you can talk about the product compared to others, for instance.

By contrast, the immediate doubt that comes in if you say “no” is that you’ll find the work not to your liking and no one’ll be happy. Or you’ll toil away and leave when you find something you are interested in.

Not having taken a couple minutes to prepare before the loop is akin to showing up in sweats, or being late, in that they all give the people who are taking time out of their day the impression that at best you don’t really care about the interviews, and probably don’t care much about whether you get the job or not. It’s operating at an enormous disadvantage compared to other candidates, too — they’re almost certainly going in prepared and interested.

Do you have any questions about Expedia?

I love interviewing. As much as anything else we do, it’s the chance to help pick the people who determine what the job’s going to be like, and the direction of the company. I’ll volunteer for any loop, I’ll substitute for anyone who is sick or working on a production issue, whatever. So I’m going to write about that for a couple of days.

When I interview people at Expedia, I only get an hour, and I’m pretty good about reserving at least half of it for the candidate’s questions. I want to answer questions about culture, what the roles are like, what we’re working on, and all of that, because
a) I think the answers to those questions provide as a far better argument for why people should work there than the job description or the salary offer or anything else
b) I’m curious what people will ask

One of the most common questions is “what do you like about working at Expedia?” and my answer depends a little about things have been going, but almost every time, I’ll say
a) huge problems to work on
b) my peers are tremendous people

Tomorrow I’m on two interview loops. And on both of them there are at least two other people that I’ve worked with, respect, and would love to have on any project I’m on. I love that I get to say, “the next three people you meet are just awesome”. Which isn’t to say that the people I don’t know aren’t great… I just haven’t worked with them.

As someone on the other side, I’ve found that part of the conversation’s great — I once got all the way through a loop and when I asked a simple question about the group’s culture, discovered there was no way I’d be a fit… and equally, I talked about sense of humor once and the detailed, thoughtful answer made me desperately want to work there.

A lot of candidates don’t have any questions. I don’t hold it against them, especially if I’m interviewer 5 of 6 that day. But I have to wonder — taking a new job’s a huge life change. What are you concerned about? What would make the job more attractive to you, or less, and how do you ask that in a reasonable way?

For instance, think about:
What’s the culture like at ____?
What did you work on yesterday?
What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing as a team? As a company?
What do you like about working here?
What’s interesting about your job?
Why do you work here, and not, say, your competitor?
I’m really interested in ____. Does your company have non-business DLs? Are they active?
I saw you launched feature X. Why did you do Y and not Z?

I can tell you a lot you want to know in thirty minutes if you ask the right questions. Ask! Ask!

How the iPad wants to be used

I saw this by Fraser Speirs excerpted at Daring Fireball:

The iPad is an intensely personal device. In its design intent it is, truly, much more like a “big iPhone” than a “small laptop”. The iPad isn’t something you pass around. It’s not really designed to be a “resource” that many people take advantage of. It’s designed to be owned, configured to your taste, invested in and curated.

Everyone’s experience will vary, sure, but for me, “something you pass around” has been one of the best use cases of the ipad. I do this at least once a day. In meetings where we’re talking about design and how the live site looks, I pull it up and hand the ipad over so someone can look at it. We use a web-based project management program, and when we do our daily huddle I have the day’s tasks in front of me and can show people what they’ve pulled down and should update us on.

I find the ipad’s a far more social device than a laptop, that the barrier to handing it to someone else is so much lower. And I know that it’s not that far off from the size factor of a netbook, and yet if I was using a netbook and had something up, the expectation if I pulled up a web page would be that other people would move their chairs over to me, or I’d project.

I agree entirely that the ipad’s an intensely personal device. Yet there’s also something about the same things that make it personal, from the form factor, the size, the beautiful display, the speed of interactions, that also makes me want to share it. I know that I can hand it to someone and they’ll get it, and be able to look at the design, or the view of the day’s tasks, and use them immediately.

O Vexing Capricious Muse

I spent much of today on the book, and my work process went
– write
– discover I’d been goofing off on Wikipedia for half an hour
– make coffee
– write
– mow lawn
– try to write but actually research something really interesting about city structures
– write
– word count made! have dinner
– sit down with good book
– suddenly realize how the chapter needed to end, and why

Now do I sit back down to finish it out? Or let it go, in the hopes that taking notes and asking the Muse to please keep to a schedule is productive?

iPad week one use

I spent this week trying to keep it near me so I could use it immediately if I thought of something. So far, it’s about 50% “this is a large iPhone” and 50% glee that I’m using a device that feels like it’s straight out of all the science fiction I read and watched for decades.

Things it does well I was hoping it would do well:
– Great for reading on the bus
– Makes a great terminal where a laptop/netbook would be inconvenient (couch)

Things it does well I hadn’t thought of:
– Browsing the web with someone (ie, shopping for gifts on Amazon, or clothes). The big display and lack of keyboard make it great for passing back and forth
– Easy mini-projection (I can pull up one of Expedia’s web pages and show it to a small group without having to muck with projectors, etc)
– Turn the wasted first 5-10 minutes of meetings where you’re waiting for the late people into demo time and an interesting conversation about interaction design.

Things it does way better than I thought it would:
– It’s crazy fast. I could not believe how responsive it was for the first couple of days.
– Video. Stored video looks great. Netflix videos look pretty good considering they’re streaming. The display is tremendously nice.
– Immersion. I don’t know how else to put it. That 50% of the time where I’m grinning and you can see the thought balloon over my head that says “wheee!”
– Battery life is crazy. I’m used to being vaguely aware of how long it’s been since I charged my phone, or my laptop. I don’t care at all about the iPad. I know Kindle users can crow about days on days, but I used it on and off for four days and got to 60% before I plugged it in.
– The news apps from BBC/NPR/Reuters are tremendous.

Things it does worse than I’d expected:
– Sync seems to take forever. The first sync was glacial.
– Typing. The dimensions make it hard to type with my thumbs in portrait, and in landscape I’m either typing one-handed while holding it or struggling.
– Dimensions. It’s sometimes hard to balance it on one leg to type, and not fitting in a pocket means it’s hard to carry around without thinking. It’s the same problem you have with a netbook.
– It’s hard to conceal. If you’re in a meeting with an iPhone, it’s really easy to check email (or whatnot) and not be conspicuous. The iPad… no can do. Even swapping over from taking notes to something else is so obvious I don’t dare try it.
– File sync for iWork documents. It’s there, and it’s cumbersome and annoying. See here, here
– I am so tired of “ha ha I’ll wait for the next one that’s twice as good for $2.” 1. Yes there will be a better version eventually 2. I get that you think Apple’s upgrade cycle sucks. I understand, but 3. Is it cool? Do you like it? Can we talk about that?
– “So it’s just a big iPhone”. Even from iPhone owners. Yes. And your iPhone is just a phone with a touch screen and a pretty interface. Doesn’t your experience with what happened with the iPhone make you even a little curious?
– I didn’t think I’d need the 3G version, but I’ve grown so used to having access almost everywhere that it’s weird to not have it. Fortunately AT&T’s terrible network coverage got me used to flaky data access.
– Oh yeah, the wifi. I’ve had a couple problems with it, when one of my favorite things about my laptop is that it works everywhere with every wifi point I’ve ever encountered.

Things it would to well and doesn’t yet:
– Display extension. One of the developers I work with talked about this, and I totally saw what he was saying: it’d be so great to be able to use it as a second monitor for my other computers. There are apps that are trying to get there, and it doesn’t work yet

Should anyone else buy it?

If you’re as curious as me about computing and application and web site design, absolutely.

If you’re thinking about buying a Kindle or whatnot, and an extra hundred/two hundred dollars is worth it to have a fully, awesomely functional web browser, word processing, and all that good stuff — yes! do it! (unless you seriously go to the beach and don’t do beach things but stare at your computer the whole time)

If you’re not sure what you’d use it for… go play with one. Wrestle it from an owner’s hands for an hour. It’s worth seeing how it works. If you don’t get it, wait until you see it do something that makes your brain light up.

And as the apps get better, the case is going to get stronger and stronger. In six months I’m sure I’ll be able to demo a killer app for whatever your need is.

iPad dumpfest

So here’s Penny Arcade’s Tycho on the iPad:

As an eReader, the iPad doesn’t match a dedicated machine for comfort. The iBooks narrative is strong, “does what iTunes did for music,” but that’s purely aspirational and doesn’t recognize just how late they are to the table. They are like Pink suggesting that the party has not been a party prior to their arrival, they’re wrong, and for a company of their vision and scope it’s embarrassing.

First, and I hate to point this out, this is wrong. It’s just wrong. Here’s Jobs presenting the iPad. You can skip the early stuff where he talks about the whole place they see it occupying and get to 51:30, where he starts talking about the iBooks.

By talking about the Kindle.

And how Amazon’s done a great job, and where they see their ability to make something different.

How is this not acknowledging the party in progress? Or asserting that it doesn’t start until they do?

It’s Steve Jobs! At the announcement! Starting his discussion of the iBooks app by tipping his hat to the Kindle.

I don’t know.

And it’s weird — I’m kind of resigned at this point in life to seeing people do things like this, where there’s some stereotype about smug Apple, strutting about like they’re the first ones to the party, and it’s accepted without further examination. Even among Apple users, like Tycho.

But I would think that someone like Tycho, who knows as a gamer what it’s like to be lumped in with the neeeeeeeeeeeeerds, would be more cautious about this kind of stuff.

Beyond which — Apple’s claim here and with the iPhone’s never been that no one had done those particular things. They never said “we’re the first to do email on a phone” or “first to allow web browsing”. But those experiences were painful to the point of uselessness, and they entered the market when they thought they could do it right.

That’s the iPad. And they’re totally upfront about that. They’ll talk about what they think they can do and why they think it’s awesome. And sure that’s arrogant: it’s saying “we think everyone else did okay, but check this out. But I don’t see why they shouldn’t also get at least the credit for specifically calling out the other players who were there first and did well.

Norwescon Best of 2009 panel notes

Posted quickly for maximum usefulness.

David Hartwell
me, Derek Zumsteg
Bob Kruger

Notes, with some attribution and not a lot of formatting:

Year’s Best 2009 notes

h1. Flash fiction
Brain Harvest (brainharvestmag.com) runs sci-fi/fantasy flash (up to 750 words)
Everyday Fiction runs a lot of speculative flash fiction

Audience suggestion: flashfictiononline.com

Thaumatrope (thaumatrope.com) runs stories and serial via Twitter

h1. Short stories
The big print mags accounted for about a third of the year’s best lists, original anthologies another third, and online sources (particularly semi-pros).

h2. Anthologies:
There were three that dominated the Best of 2009 lists:

New Space Opera 2, edited by Dozois and Strahan
Includes the best short story of the year, “The Island” by Peter Watts. Read it!
Seriously, we went on about this for a while. It’s amazingly good. Watts’ website: www.rifters.com

“Utriusque Cosmi” by Robert Charles Wilson (and a general recommendation for him)
“The Far End of History” John C Wright

Eclipse 3, edited by Strahan
“It Takes Two,” Nicola Griffith
“The Pelican Bar,” Karen Joy Fowler

h2. Other fantasy anthologies:
Clockwork Phoenix 2 had a great story, Saladin Ahmed’s “Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela”
Cat Rambo’s short story anthology
Camille Alexa has a short story collection

Other science fiction anthologies:
Charles Stross’s anthology “Wireless” contains the novella “Palimpsest” which would have made it into year’s best anthologies but for rights issues

Other Earths (ed Jay Lake and Nick Gevers):
“This Peaceable Land; or, The Unbearable Vision of Harriet Beecher Stowe” by Robert Charles Wilson
“Donovan Sent Me” by Gene Wolfe

“Infinities” Vandana Singh was in “The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet”

h2. Magazines:
Asimov’s and Fantasy & Science Fiction produced a ton of great fiction.

Nancy Kress’ “Act One” tremendous novella
+like 90 other good Kress shorts/novellas in Asimov’s in 09

Charles Oberndorf’s novelette ‘Another Life,’
“Blocked” Geoff Ryman
“The Unstrung Zither” Yoon Ha Lee

Analog had James Van Pelt’s “Solace” which was great

Interzone had a great year:
One issue had “Black Static” by Bruce Sterling and “A Clown Escapes From Circus Town” by Will McIntosh, there was another great Domic Green issue.

Also: “Lady of the White-Spired City” by Sarah Edwards

(Interzone: $25 on Fictionwise! Beats paying $1,000 for postage)

h2. Online Zines had a huge year:
Tor.com ran some great stuff. Particularly “Zepplin City” by Michael Swanwick and Eileen Gunn

Subterranean Online
Clarkesworld — Hartwell loved “Spar” by Kij Johnson in particular
Strange Horizons, recommended by Hartwell.
“Bespoke” by Genevieve Valentine

Fantasy Magazine
“Light on the Water” by Genevieve Valentine

Beneath Ceaseless Skies is great, running a lot of extremely good fanatasy

Rudy Rucker’s “Flurb” is pretty awesome

Authors who had good years, generally:
Stephen Baxter was all over the place and they were great. “Formidable Caress” (ran is Asimovs)

Side note: David Hartwell is also a fashion theorist.

More Novellas, from David Hartwell’s Massive Spreadsheet
Hot Rock, by Egan (rights issues prevented it from running in anthologies)
“Wind Blowing, and this tide” by Demien Broderick (ran in Asimov’s)

h1. Novels
Best: Windup Girl, Paulo Bacigalupi.
Implied Spaces, by Walter Jon Williams
The City & The City, China Mieville
VanderMeer’s Finch
Terry Pratchett’s Unseen Academicals
Julian Comstock, by Robert Charles Wilson
Gweneth Jones’ Spirit

Audience suggestion: a “Squid Dog” book which I cannot for the life of me find now that I’m not looking at it. Help!