Breaking my vow of silence


I haven't posted in nearly 4 years, last post was Nov. 26 2004, but I just wanted to say how happy I am that Barrack Obama won.  Thanks to Livejournal, I have undeniable proof that I have been rooting for him to be president since the 2004 democratic convention:  http://billtsalamander.livejournal.com/10340.html   HooooooorrrrrAAAAAAYYYYY!!!!!  My guy finally won!!!!



And boo on prop 8.  Luckily, it can be undone with another vote in 2 years.  I believe this will go to the highest court in the nation, but not until after several justices retire and Obama installs new ones. 

Barrack Obama 2012!

"She doesn't have enough ... excess courage." "You mean she needs to yell louder?" "Yeah"

After a week of adventure in the lands of LA and San Diego, I'm back just in time for turkey. This was my third trip to SD since may, but I needed to go because after tuesday I will have three weeks vacation per year with my new job. The last hurrah in a sense.
At this point most of my SD friends have graduated and have either gone on to become working stiffs, gone to graduate school, or at least attempted some combination of the two. All of the girls have run away to LA while all of the the guys have stuck around SD (or have come up to the bay area but, needless to say, I wasn't visiting them). The LA portion of the trip was a dense packing of visits, 4 beautiful girls in two days; it would have been five girls but coordinating commuting was a little too complicated. Karen picked me up at the airport, we went out to lunch, and then checked out her house before she had to dump me off before her work. I then road the rails down to Long Beach to see Dana. The plan was for me to come back from long beach that night and stay at my aunt and uncle's in hollywood, but plans changed such that I'd crash at Dana's that night so we could hang out more. Little did I know she snores like a backfiring chainsaw, but I still love her.
The following day I arrived at my aunt's, some funky little film was being made across the street, and slept until almost 2pm, catching up on the sleep I'd missed the night before. My uncle, discovering I was in the house, seized the opportunity to draft me as a hiking buddy. We hiked up past the observatory and the HOLLYWOOD sign to what I'm sure would have been an indescribable view before the invention of smog. That evening I met up with 'Bel and Steph for dinner. We had had dreams of going to some nice place Bel knows in Van Nuys, but they'd already driven from UCLA to Hollywood and were about to explode. We ended up at an "Original Tommy's", which, ironically enough, was not the Original Tommy's, because that is several miles away from where we were. Tommy's claim to fame is taking perfectly benign fast food and dumping copious amounts of spicy chili on top. Chili burgers, chili dogs, chili fries, and of course chili, are the most popular items on the 4 item menu. This was deemed satisfactory, amazingly enough, and so we dug in, having fun pointing at the dudes three tables over hastily chowing down with their filming equipment in hand.
The begining of my trip to SD was fairly exciting. I went to an Eijitsu (I'd be shocked if I spelled that right) competition. 6 hours of many muscular guys, and one muscular woman, brutally slashing apart defenseless straw mats. My favorite part of the competition was watching how people demonstrated their "excess courage". The idea in any event was for the competitor to build up all of his energy, release it through some very precise sword cutting movement, and then release the "excess courage". I quickly learned that this meant yelling ... very loudly. They had all converged on specific yells that came in a particular sequence. I managed to make Mark have a fit of giggles as I added comments to peoples' demonstrations, treating the yells as responses. "Hey dude?" "AAAYYYYY????" "Want a beer?" "YAAAAAAAA!!!" That day ended with a fantastic night of dancing with the dance club where I got to see a whole lot of my friends that I thought would have all moved away.
Another event in the week was the meeting of many of the nerds of Dan's website. We hit a near-critical mass of shear dorkitude as we met at the glorious Summit cafeteria in order to accomodate fellow nerds working there. We discussed such topics as belch machines, undergrad TA-ships, band competitions, puppets, cheesy independent films and our associations with them, and robots designed to hit people in the crotch. These debates frequently drew furtive glances from people at neighboring tables which were returned with smiles and nods. Good times were had by all.
The rest of my week consisted of extended trips to the beach, visits around campus, and visits with my old roomates, except Peter because he's up here. I'm happy to say that the working world has not made Dan or Brian any more normal than they ever were. Weirdness is still a well-honed skill at their house as it was at the apartment, though filth has not overtaken the house to the point of becoming an elaborate interior decorating style as it did in our apartment ... yet. There is some possibility that my job will give me the opportunity for business trips to La Jolla, so I'll be keeping tabs on their progress.
I move in to my new apartment this weekend and start work on tuesday. I am very excited, nervous, and generally distracted by the thought of it. I'll have news about it soon.

"Do you believe in ghosts, eh?" - Undead hobo (Polar Express)

Well, not much has been going on in the past week for me. This coming week I'm going to visit LA and San Diego. I will be at the dance on Sunday, so everybody be there! And anybody in LA who wants to see me but hasn't heard from me, I still want to see you. Given that I have no big news from my life, I'm just gonna post my review of the Polar Express, which I also posted on Dan's website.
Today Peter and I witnessed what is sure to represent the future of all cinema: The Polar Express (The IMAX 3D Experience). Reportedly costing 270 million dollars, or roughly $2000 per frame ($1000 per frame if you count the double images for 3D IMAX), this was definitely a visual experience. In this film Tom Hanks plays a train conductor, a small boy, Santa, an undead hobo, and a demonic marionette puppet.
Based on the book of the same name published in 1985, the film holds true to the book ... so much as the book had content, the other 100 minutes were filler. I was only 5 when I was first, and possibly last, read the book so I can't remember much to the story, but I would have thought I would have remembered endless rollercoasters. The four rollercoaster scenes I remember are, in order, a swooping flight through mountains and canyons following a young child's train ticket in the wind, a young child and an undead hobo skiing on top of the train, two children and the conductor strapped to the cow-catcher on the front of the train as it falls down a "170 percent grade" (which would be inverted by my mental math, am I wrong?), and two normal children and a creepy autistic kid sliding through the endless tunnels and tubes of Santa's workshop (A la Toy Story 2's airport backage system or Monsters Inc's closet door warehouse). In their defense, while cheap, repetitive, and unimaginative, these scenes were absolutely stunning in 3D on an IMAX screen.
Much has been said of the motion capture system used for the film. Being the effects nerd that I am, this made me hypersensitive to facial expressions and gestures that I probably would have cut the film slack for otherwise. Most of the characters were beautifully emotive, subtle nuances came through very well. Given this quality in several characters, it was apparently decided that most characters would not need to be expressive in any way whatsoever. Peter didn't notice these guys, but I was downright frightened of the waiters on the train. In one sensory overload dance number these characters danced wildly. Fantastic gestures and body movements were captured, but their faces were cold, dead, and lifeless. They didn't move or change at all, like holloween masks or something.
Another bizarre technical decision for the motion capture system was to track the facial expressions exactly. Given that Hanks played everything from Santa to an 8 year old boy to a demonic marionette, the shapes of the characters faces was going to vary significantly. To aid the motion capture, I'm discerning from the credits, they put Hanks in prosthetic makeup. That's absolutely brilliant, because we all know how every nuance of an actors facial expressions translates out through foam and latex.
The elves were ... numerous. In addition to building Santa's toys, they also man the spy cameras watching all the sleeping children, execute expert skydiving stunts, and perform rescue missions with bungee cords. Oh, and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith has a cameo in the movie as a rock-singer elf. And Peter wanted me to mention that none of the elves in the movie (and there were thousands) were female, yet once Steven Tyler began singing magically half of the elves had grown boobs and were now dancing with the elves that had not metamorphosized. I guess elves are like frogs, able to change their gender if the balance in the population becomes too one-sided.
Oh, and the elves speak yiddish. I was the only person in the theater who found this hilarious.

Is it worth seeing? If you can see it in 3D on an IMAX screen, hell yes.

Did it reinvigorate my Christmas spirit? Let me tell ya, when Santa motioned to the boy to come sit on the sleigh, just before he gives the boy the bell, the darling little girl behind Peter and me expressed the exact emotion I'm sure we were all feeling. "Why?!", she cried, sounding distressed, as Santa's 3D mittened hand extended out of the screen and motioned us all towards him.

Will it become a timeless classic? Well, the most developped, expressive, and interesting character in the film is an undead hobo that skis on top of the train while drinking a disturbingly viscous "Cup o' Joe", so you be the judge.

I already done did my business and I don' need anybody to help me do it - A Floridean

Back again, I have been having exciting weeks filled with planning and preparation. My writing is at its most prolific when I have no news and not much to say, which is when I have enough time to process little things and find them silly. Things are really quite well with me, which has led to much running around with no news.
Firstly, though least importantly, I've completed a journal article with a friend of mine at Cal. The irony in the situation, of course, is that I finished my degree at UC Berkeley in August. The further irony is that the paper is to be published in a computer science journal. None of my degrees are in computer science. I won't even try to go into what the paper was about because 1)its kinda boring, and 2) even a rocket scientist would find it confusing when described in less than 8 pages (I know because I asked one to read it). My friend and his advisor both came down with wrist injuries from waiting until the last minute on posters for a conference over the summer, so they asked me to help out, at the last minute of course, coding and writing for them because they were both "crippled by [their] hands." It was a fun project, involved using really really awsome graphics cards donated by NVidia. We could have been playing some seriously awsome video games with those things, but sadly we were running Linux. The stuff we made looked really pretty, though. This project took up much of my life for several weeks and came to a thrilling conclusion at 10:30pm last monday, an hour and a half shy of the final deadline.
Secondly, and actually of importance, I have a accepted a job with Lockheed Martin designing and testing robots for construction of space stations in outer space. The project is affiliated with NASA, and JPL too I think, so its like I actually got the job I interviewed for many months ago, except I won't have to move to LA to do it. This is a non-military project, non-classified, so I won't have to worry about polygraphs or risk being tried for treason for telling anyone about my job (I'm dead serious). I like that fact. That and the project and people seem very very cool.
I'll be moving to Palo Alto within a couple weeks so everybody should come visit me. Well, my job is in Palo Alto, basically across the street from Stanford, but I'll technically be living in Sunnyvale. I'm moving into an apartment that is reasonably priced by La Jolla standards. I'm paying over 50% more than Darrick in Portland for an apartment that's half the size. But that's ok, I'm in the huppiest complex in town, though most definitely not the most expensive. The apartments are in a redwood grove, there are 3 swimming pools, 4 tennis courts, two large ponds, a theater, a billiard hall, and a large hot-tub.
I actually know very little about the job except that it looks cool. I know the robots are cool, I saw those. I don't really know what my job is though. I'm gonna be in the lab "being hands-on", but I'm also gonna be behind a desk doing "analysis". Analysis of what? I don't know. I think I'm gonna get my own office, everyone I saw in my lab had his own office. Yes "his", no women anywhere that I saw. But my cousin does ballet at Stanford so I should be able to interact with women my age one way or another.
Its all very exciting, scary, and very very distracting. I should have more news as it comes along.

I broke the Phantom arm.

Well, in case anyone has wondered if I died in the past two weeks, I didn't. I have become deeply entrenched in the world of job interviews. Let me say again in case people haven't heard me say it, career fairs work. They really really work. They work so well that you can find yourself having an interview of some sort, phone or in person, nearly every day for over two weeks. But, so that I don't jinx any of these interviews, I'm not going to be saying anything about them. Actually that's bull, I'm just tired of telling the stories and would rather wait until I know what all my offers are to tell more on that topic. Instead I wish to recount the tale RoboNexus!
RoboNexus, http://www.robonexus.com/ , at a first glance appears to be a business conference for the world of robotics, but it is so much more! Well, actually that's about all it is, but apparently craploads of people thought it would be something more. Apparently the conference was presented on television as being a really really cool event perfect for small children by the illustrious KRON4, the local news show which otherwise covers such gripping stories as indian casino updates and squirrel sightings. Lets get one thing straight, robots are only cool to a very small audience, not the general public. The families that arrived expecting lots of exciting things to see were sadly misinformed; only nerds like me would really want to go to anything like this.
Robots are slow, ponderous, and generally uninteresting. iRobot's vacuum cleaner is cool from an algorithm perspective, very cool algorithms for spatial mapping, but most people don't understand or care about that. Otherwise its a what you'd get if a hoover and a remote control car mated, strange to look at and dancing the line between practical and interesting, yet being neither. To watch the Roomba navigate around a room is a lot like watching my aunt's blind dog navigate a room; it goes in a straight line until it bumps into something, lurches backwards and shakes awkwardly while regaining its bearings, turns, and then continues. In the event that any food crumbs are found on the floor, they will be sucked up with great haste and then an odd search of the nearby area for precious more crumbs ensues. There is a robot lawnmower out there too with similar object avoidance ability. Basically it cruises on the lawn until it bumps into a dog turd, nagivates around the turd, and then continues. Within several days you are left with a putting-green lawn with random high grass tufts, each marking the location of a unique "present" from little fluffy.
One of the main events of the conference was the hourly performance of HRP-2, http://www.kawada.co.jp/global/ams/hrp_2.html . HRP-2 is an incredibly impressive machine. She stands about 5 feet tall and walks almost as well as my ninety year old grandfather. While she may not be the best walker out there, she beats me at yoga. Her apparent claim to fame is the ability to take punch to the gut, fall on her butt, and then get up. Remembering elementary school, I know that last part is a difficult challenge. In the event that someone has placed a "kick me" sign on her butt and she has fallen face down, she first assumes the yoga pose "downward dog", transitions into a squat, and then lifts from the knees. After about ten minutes she needs a 45 minute battery recharge. I'm so glad we progressed to the point where we don't need to push over and bully nerds for entertainment, we now have robots we can do that to instead.
Another big event of the day was the Tetsujin Bionic Weight Lifting competition. The basic concept is to build a machine which will aid an individual in a standard weight lifting competition. While incredibly slow as competitions go, roughly 30 minutes to set up each lift, this had many of the most exciting moments of the conference. Since Battlebots got canceled from Comedy Central there have been many nerds left with no outlet for their nerdliness. Tetsujin is where many have gone for their fix. One group, who I recall having built that weird yellow claw/double hammer/wedge thing for Battlebots, brought this nifty, though poorly balanced, motorized scissor-jack device. The team decided to start with a modest 650 pounds to lift. The human lifter got the bar a good 4 feet off the ground before there was heard a disconcerting "clunk", the bar came slamming to the ground, and the lifter was physically hurled out of his suit as it swung forward from the force of the falling weights. The team decided that that was a definite success and upped the weight to 850lbs, resulting in similar success. Later in the day I believe a team lifted 1000lbs, though I couldn't hear well from where I was in the convention center. All I know is I saw a significant amount of smoke coming off of the power packs on the lifter's back, and then heard a delightful crash of falling weights.
All in all I had a pretty good day. It was exactly my kind of fun. There were many parents with small kids there that seemed confused and out of place, but that's ok. The parents are lost, but the children are our future.

"... or blackmailable sexual activity ... " Lockhead Martin polygraph release

I will be in San Jose for a day and a half interview with Lockhead tomorrow and then, hopefully, in LA on monday for an interview with Disney. Disney has been rescheduled once so maybe that will get postponed. Lockhead has sent me over 10 reminder letters, emails, and phone calls about their interview so I'm pretty sure that one is gonna happen as scheduled. I'll give a complete update after I come back.

Good thing I will have done something by then, 'cause I haven't been doing squat in the past week.

Would you be willing to take a polygraph? - Lockhead representative

Job hunting is very very strange. Its much stranger than I ever imagined. Basically you wait around for months thinking that nobody but nobody gives a flying turd about you and your fancy-shmancy "resume" and then suddenly everyone decides to call you at the exact same time and always on your cellphone.
"Hi is this Greg Burton? I'm adbfasdf ghfuogjio from asldfasdfui, glad I could reach you. Is this a good time?"
"Gah, well, um, I'm in my car driving down the freeway with coffee in my hand steering with my left knee, but sure this is a good time."
And then they ask you questions which you're never prepared for despite having heard them 50 times.
"So, Greg, would you say you prefer working in large groups, working in small groups, or do you prefer working by yourself avoiding all those other annoying people?"
"Well, um, that depends, um. By 'large' do you mean bigger than a bread box?"
Sometimes you get really energetic interviewers that would make latrine cleaning sound like an awsome job, and sometimes you get people that really seem like they need a hug desparately. I interviewed at one company this week that had really boomed big in the dotcom boom and they busted equally big during the dotcom bust. What once was a company of 300 employees is now a recovering company of 50. Each of my three interviewers felt a need, whether I told them I'd heard the story already or not, to drift off into a 15 minute stroll down memory lane only to trip and drown in the river of dispair. Eventually some look from me would bring them back to the present, always with the phrase "yeah ... but we really think things are picking up again. ... So, tell me a little about yourself."
Similar to the cellphone issue is the strange timing of onsite interviews. Its always "Well, you know what? We're definitely gonna wanna bring you in for an onsite interview. I'll have my secretary contact you in a couple days and probably bring you in sometime in the next two weeks or so" and then an email or phone call the next day with "Hi, Greg, would 2pm tomorrow be good for you?"
Disney Imagineering HR was startled by my reaction "You want me in Glendale tomorrow?" "What? No no, this will be a phone interview. We wouldn't give you that little notice on an onsite interview." To which I have to say, "Oh good, glad to hear it. I have had companies do that to me, though, give me one day notice." But its too late, now you sound retarded.
My current status is I'm interviewing with a company 5 minutes from my house (yes its 8 times closer than Cal is to my house), a company in Alberquerue, one in Livermore, and two in LA. The berkeley company is in semiconductors, the LA ones are animatronic characters for film and theme parks, and the other two are into advanced weaponry, not limited to nuclear weapons. Needless to say, I'm hoping for the animatronics companies. One has told me that I'm "definitely one of the people [they] want to have" but that they are still negotiating contracts before they do any hiring. The other is flying me in for an interview.

Well, as I said I had written a whole long update but it got ate by my computer. I swear that one was funny, this one didn't turn out to be so much, but I've been called in for two more interviews since then. Career fairs really work people. Its all so weird.

You should probably study up on this before we call you again. -Disney Imagineering

Ok, so I'm hopefully gonna kill that political conversation of my previous post by writing a new inane one. I hate this administration, but I hate political discussions more. Its not because I dislike hearing different points of view, you can't learn and shouldn't believe anything that comes from only one point of view. Its that thinking about this crap gets me really frustrated and emotional; simply put it makes me sick to my stomach and ruins my mood. In case anyone was surprised by my politics, have I failed to mention that I live in Berkeley? I mean seriously, I live in the home of MoveOn.org.
But moving off those topics, what in the world did I mean by that weird "Elevate your Game" picture two posts ago? That apparently is how Qualcomm is trying to entice new recruits. I know this because they tried to recruit me at Cal's latest CAREER FAIR! I like how people at career fairs see my GPA only and don't worry whether my brains actually match those for the job. I bet this is how smart women with huge boobs feel, or maybe its completely different I really don't know.
It seems the most important thing at Qualcomm now is making a 3D graphics-capable cellphone to compete with the Nokia NGage Ear-Taco. I happen to have three inside informants at Qualcomm, but to keep their identities secret I shall only refer to them by aliases.

My informants are, respectively, Sensitive Boy, Bad Boy, and that Other Boy. Bad Boy, as you probably assumed, is the leader of the game project; he basically bosses the Other Boy around for kicks. Sensitive Boy generally hides out in a corner making McDonalds-themed ringtones, nobody knows why.
Two things intrigue me about this DF3G, Digital Force 3rd Generation. The first is that it apparently has no buttons or speaker. I mean sure, taking those things away means you can have a much larger screen, but still... I'm just saying that if my phone has no buttons or speaker I might as well be using my telepathic powers, which really have been atrophying lately.
The second intriguing thing is how cool the program on the screen looks. Sure its just cheap Poser models, but I'm still impressed. My various informants have been telling me so far that the only programs currently running on the phone are a dancing peanut in a pink-spandex jumpsuit, and a shooting gallery game written by Other Boy in which you try to shoot at a bouncing picture of Bad Boy's face. So Qualcomm has my resume, meaning that possibly all but Pretty Boy could end up being employed there. We can only hope that Pretty Boy, like that one dude from N'Sync, will be squashed into a spacesuit and blasted off into space bound for a Lonely Planet.
So what else was at the fair? Pens! Oh so many pens. And novelty tape measures. Glossy folders. More Pens! And of course, the prerequisite at all career fairs, the Benjamin Franklin bobble-head dolls. I understand the pens, I can almost understand the tape measures, but I just can't comprehend the Ben Franklin bobble-heads. Only Ratheon had these and the dude manning the booth was disturbingly excited to give them away. And people took them! Why? What? Huh? I understand being a freak for shwag, but seriously, who wants a Ben Franklin bobble-head? And what does he have to do with Ratheon? I wish I knew but he wouldn't talk to me unless I took one, and I sure wasn't gonna take one. The mystery will live on.
I also talked to Sandia National Labs. They were so excited by me that they set me up to have an "interview" the next morning. Turned out it was basically a phone-interview except in person, meaning I had to wear pants but otherwise nothing different. Because of security clearances etc. they weren't at liberty to even tell me what the job is that I am apparently applying to. At the end of the interview, though, the interviewer suddenly got really serious and asked "Do you have any reservations of any kind about working in a facility doing research and design of nuclear weapons?" That's generally not the kind of question that I expect to get when I go in for an interview. Oh how sweet and naive I still am.

Are you fucking kidding me?!

What the fuck is going on in the country?! I mean holy shit what the fuck is going on?! http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&ncid=762&e=1&u=/nm/20040922/en_nm/security_stevens_dc
Yeah right, Cat Stevens is a terrorist and funds terrorism. Bullshit! The man that wrote this, http://www.allspirit.co.uk/peacetrain.html , is an america-hating terrorist. No he's not you fucking assholes! He was outspoken against vietnam and his songs were part of the young peoples' rallying cry against the war! We've created a second vietnam in Iraq and the fuckwads in this administration, the hypocritical draft-dodging shits, are still pissed off at all the people that were against the first one. By doing this the administration has proven, though it was already pretty clear just from the people in Guantanamo Bay, that its not above McCarthyism either.
Honest to God, this upcomming election matters. It matters more than any election in our lifetimes. The US economy, healthcare, the world environment, and the prospect of war without end are at stake. Remember 1999 when we were all rich, improving evironmental standards, and the biggest controversy we had to think about was that a politician got a blowjob? Think about why that was, think about what kind of people were in office. This election is an intelligence test, don't fuck up.