Welcome Home, Tex!

Welcome To Texas

I got the most wonderful email this morning that said, Welcome Home, Tex!  OK, so it didn’t really call me Tex, but I really did recieve a “welcome home” email.

It’s an email I’ve been anticipating for the last few days, and was an invitation to move to Texas.

Not many knew that I had traveled to Austin, TX just before Thanksgiving for a quick interview, but I took a quick trip with a connecting flight through Dallas.

It wasn’t my first interview, but it is my last.  I took the job.

It was a fun trip to Austin, but it was cold. It was expected to snow when I landed in Dallas.  I never saw any snow in Texas, but they said that flights were cancelling because Dallas isn’t equipped to handle large amounts of plane de-icing.

I figured it was just a warm welcome for a Coloradoan… just wish they understood that I was really more interested in the warmth they had to offer.  :)

The interview was interesting. It was a mixture of friendly and interrogatory at the same time. A lot of calculated questions and answers to vett each other to make sure I was a good fit for them and vice-versa.

The interview was split into two sessions. The first was with management, and was designed to make sure I had a good personality, and would be a good culture fit for the team. Ironically, this was the easy part of the interview, which is usually the really hard part for techies like myself.

The second part was the technical portion. There were four guys that had a series of tests and questions to make sure I would be able to handle things.  And oh boy did they grill me. I passed, but I sure was sweating bullets. They are a challenging group of individuals, and weren’t about to accept just anybody.  I had to prove myself.

So in the coming months and years, I will be writing here about my experiences with this new company, what I do for them, and what they do for businesses.

Oh, and the company that hired me?  Rackspace.

Don’t worry if you’ve not heard of them, I’ll fill you in over time on what they do :)  Just know that they are a great company, are growing by leaps and bounds, and will be taking great care of me.

So for all my Grand Junction friends, colleagues and clients, this is goodbye. I will miss you all dearly, and I’m thankful that the Internet exists, and all the apps and services like Facebook and email to keep us connected, even halfway across the country.

Be safe, and have fun.  I know I will.

PS – As I’m finishing up this article, it’s about to snow something fierce, and is likely the beginning of our cold inversion settling in.  I’ll write up a story about me traveling and snow storms in a future article, but just know that when I travel, the weather has always gotten really active.

 

My Favorite Book

Harper Collins Mathematics Dictionary

Yes, this is a math dictionary.  And yes, it’s my favorite book.

OK, this may sound a bit strange to some, quite normal to others, and hopefully intriguing to a few others

So it started out in college, while I was working on my computer science degree.  I had a few extra curricular credits to use up, so decided to minor in math as well.  It only makes sense because computer science is so math heavy anyhow, that a few extra classes are good on the resume, and a good dose of Alzheimer’s prevention.

What I didn’t know is that along the way, I’d have things thrown at me that were completely over my head, and so I did the most embarrassing thing in my life – I got a math dictionary.

And it turned out to be the best $19 investment ever.

My classmates were always borrowing my book because they had questions too, that were easily, and precisely answered.  I can honestly say that this book saved my GPA.

So I then moved on to Raytheon, where I was a software engineer programming satellites, and we were using math that was never taught in school!!  So yet again, my math dictionary came to the rescue.  And I’d have colleagues come from all over campus, just to borrow my book.

Sure they could have gone out and gotten there own, but geeks need some social time too, so it was a good excuse to drop by and say hi!

Now I use it as a reference for my high school son, to show him what the teacher is talking about, to reinforce points, and to double check definitions that he doesn’t have handy.

And as my other children grow up, they too will benefit from this handy little book.

I know, a math dictionary isn’t for everyone, but it’s been a handy resource, and a social talking piece as well.

What can I say, I’m unique – just like everyone else.

I Cannot Teach Anybody Anything

Cannot Teach, Only Think

I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.  ~ Socrates

 

I found this quoted image on Facebook this morning, and it really resonated true with me this morning.

Having a son who is a junior in high school, where they teach classical education and use Socratic discussions freely, it sunk in this morning why our discussions are so powerful.  Not because I’m teaching, or he’s being taught at school, but because questions are posed that allow him to think.

This thinking is what he uses to teach himself, and with any luck, he’s learning the power of teaching others to think, through the power of questions.

 

Puzzle Number Four

Yodle Application Options

So I’ve been submitting my resume for techie jobs in the Austin, TX area for a while now, when I came across a listing in Dice that had TWO options to apply… the standard “Apply Now” and a “QA Challenge” that purports to put me on the top of the stack.

Well, if you know me, I’m not one that likes to be lost in the crowd with these things.  I like to stand out and shine.  So in my mind, the gloves were off, and challenge accepted!

I remember hearing about how Google would advertise jobs on bill boards with fun puzzles, where the solutions was a phone number to call  or a website to visit to apply.  This “QA Challenge” had the same feel.  It made me feel like I was applying for an exclusive job, that few would muster the brain power to attempt – let alone complete.

Now, I’m not going to give away any answers ( to keep things fair for current applicants that come across this post ), but I will describe a bit about the process, the anticipation, and the hidden challenge that was bestowed upon me after the third puzzle.

The Application Notice

My first set of instructions, with a fun and welcoming disclaimer.  I just have to solve THREE puzzles, and I’ll have their attention… OK, I can do this.

yodel-puzzle-intro

 

 Puzzle One:  Main Floor Challenge

OK, so it reads:

My elevator can go sideways, long ways, slant ways and any other ways you can think of.  You just press any button, and, whoosh, you’re off.

So I thought about it for a while, made my selection, and…

yodle-first-challenge

I was congratulated with this screen to move on on complete the next two levels…

yodel-puzzle-one-complete

 Puzzle Two:  Second Floor Challenge

This one is a pretty easy one for anyone that deals in MD5 checksums on a regular basis.  Just a matter of finding the file in question, and running an MD5 checksum, and submitting the result.  Not a challenge really, more like a test that you you are paying attention.

yodle-2nd-puzzle

Puzzle Three:  Third Floor Challenge

OK, this one had me for a bit… it’s a javascript driven page that has five light switch indicators that need to be flipped simultaneously.  They have a 200ms delay to return to the off position, which is just short enough that you can’t reasonably turn them all off at the same time without them turning themselves back on.

I was pretty excited to have this solved, and be moved up the stack, I mean, how many people are going to take the time to solve this, right?

Well after some clever maneuvering, I was able to get all five switches to turn on, with the flick of a switch ;)  Yeah, mission complete, right?

 

yodle-third-challenge

Success!   … sort of

Whoa!  I completed the task, but I was presented with an oppotunity to give up, or move on… what the?  I thought I was done.

I mean, the first screen says I’ll be moved up the stack, but now they’re saying that if I’m REALLY interested in moving to the front of the line, they have a much harder challenge for me.

They’re saying I can stop here and get there attention… really?  I don’t think so…

I think they want to see

  1. Who’s willing to start the challenge, and
  2. Who’s willing to go all the way.

And if you know me, I’m an all the way kind of guy – so I pressed the button to “Continue to the Fourth Floor Puzzle”…

I mean, how hard could it be, right?  The others took a few minutes each… couldn’t take much longer then that, right?

Yodle-final-challenge

 

Puzzle Four:  Fourth Floor Challenge

Well, the fourth puzzle is different… in fact, it requires me to pull out my pen and paper… no wait, I’m going to need to program this one… oh no, I think I’m going to need to brush up on my algorithm skills…

yodle-fourth_floor-challenge

 

So how do we go about solving this?

Well, there are a variety of ways, but overall, the process is pretty straightforward.  In fact, I presented it to my son, who is a junior in high school, and even without programming skills, he was able to break apart the problem into specific sub-tasks – which is always the name of the game with these types of puzzles.

The text of the fourth puzzle goes like this:

You are in the kitchen with a product manager. He mentions his cousin recently rebuilt a vending machine from the early Roman Republic.  Apparently minting coins was labor intensive, so the designers tried to develop a change return mechanism that would return the fewest number of coins necessary to meet the desired change. They did this by always dispensing the largest denomination coin that was equal or less than the remaining change first, and then repeating the process on the remaining change amount.

While this works for U.S. currency, it would sometimes fail for certain amounts of Roman Currency ( i.e. return a greater number of coins than necessary ), because the denominations that the machine would use as change were 1,4,5 and 9 cents.

 If you tested, the machine by requesting change in amounts of 0 to 1000 cents ( inclusively ) – in how many cases would the change machine return more coins than necessary?

And in the sidebar are a few examples of what certain coins should be delivered as change, and where the vending machine works, and an example of where it breaks.

It turns out that the vending machine uses an algorithm called a “greedy algorithm“, and is one that approximates very well, and perfectly in some cases like the American coin set, and is typically very fast.  But it’s not perfect for all cases.

The way to find a perfect, or optimized solution set, involved using a dynamic programming algorithm that tested more possibilities, and looked for the lower and upper bounds of the solution set, and returning the best answer of all the solutions it’s worked out.

The dynamic programming algorithm is a bit slower, but it’s guaranteed to be the smallest set of coins returned.  There is no guarantees on the types of coins returned, and there are often multiple correct answers, including the greedy algorithm solution that the vending machine uses.

So the optimal solution set is the “control set”, of which I then compared to the vending machine solution, and found the number of differences, and that is the solution.

I do believe I’ve found the right answer, but I’m not spilling the beans on the solution, so that anyone working this problem can’t just copy an answer…

So how long did it take me?  Well, the better part of three days.  Yup, that’s how I spend my weekends :)

Why so long?  Well, I was brushing up on some skills, researching the problem, doing my diligence on the accuracy of the output, input, and making sure I actually understood the question fully.  I actually went through about 4 different dynamic programming algorithms before I was satisfied that I was getting the correct solutions for the optimized problem sets.

So where to from here?  Hurry up and wait for a phone call ;)

 

Rocket Boosters and Horse Butts

Horse Chariot

Editors Note:  I published this on my blog in about October of 2011 on another blog I maintained.  I’ve chosen to keep it around for it’s comical and educational value. 
There was an amazing story that was was passed around around 2000 that I always found fascinating .  There are several slight variations to the story, so I picked one, and edited for clarity, but left the original intent intact.

The U.S. standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches – an exceedingly odd number. Why was that gauge used?

Because that is the way they built them in England, and the U.S. railroads were built by English expatriates.

Why did the English people build them like that?

Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that’s the gauge they used.

Why did they use that gauge then?

Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing. Okay!

Why did the wagons use that odd wheel spacing?

Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagons would break on some of the old long-distance roads because that is the spacing of the old wheel ruts.

So, who built those old-rutted roads?

The first long-distance roads in Europe were built by Imperial Rome for the benefit of their legions. The roads have been used ever since.

And the ruts?

The initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagons, were first made by Roman war chariots. Since the chariots were made for or by Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing.

So, why did the Romans pick that spacing?

Because the Imperial Roman chariots were made to be just wide enough to accommodate the backends of two horses.

How this effected the space shuttle program :

The engineers who designed the solid rocket boosters, or SRBs, wanted to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line to the factory runs through a tunnel in the mountains. The SRBs had to fit through that tunnel.

The tunnel is slightly wider than a railroad track, and the railroad track is about as wide as two horses’ behinds.

So,in summary, a major design feature of the world’s most advanced transportation system was determined by the width of two horses’ behinds!!

It has been suggested that this story is both true and false, but in general, considered to be true in the sense that tracks and roads are always going to be built to the size of the transportation vehicle using it.

What I find most fascninating about this is not that a horse’s butt was the guage used for the shuttle’s rocket boosters, but that this represents a pattern in life that can be quite frustrating.

A recent example is the LED bulb, that can use the standard socket we have today, but it’s far from optimal from doing it.  They had to be specially fitted with fins, and the original designs all had differerent socket plans that had to be nixed in favor of using the existing infrastructure.

Anyhow, I hope you got a kick out of the horses butt story – true or not!

Placeholder Post

Well this post is a bit odd, at best.  I’m switching over from highlighting my resume, to using this domain as a family blog / what ever I want to talk about blog.  I don’t really have anything to say right now, but as I’m gearing things up, I’m removing the navigation bar ( I’ll replace it with tags / categories eventually), and my resume is still technically on here, but for all intents, I’m hiding it from public purview at this point.

Anyhow, this particular post can be safely ignored, but it’s just a shot across the bow for the next post ;)