2.27.2006

A Winner Is You

If you have yet to read The Lottery, I suggest you remedy the situation.

2.20.2006

A Picture Of The Indescribable

Recently, we've been trying to get our 7-month old boy to sleep on his own in the crib. He's used to being fed at night and sleeping with mommy for the last half of the night. We felt that it was about time that he transitioned to sleeping through the night. It's just too tiring to keep this up but convincing a baby to change his sleeping habits is not a trivial task.

We started by no longer picking him up put of his crib to quieten him (what a mistake!), we've eliminating the sleeping with mommy part and now we're no longer staying in the room with him as he falls asleep. He has let us know at each step that it does not meet with his approval. He pulls himself up to the crib bars, standing, and shrieks unless you pick him up. When I say "shriek", imagine the tormented spirits from your nightmares who reside in the anguished depths of Hades. Now, imagine that whenever those tortured souls cried out their infinite agony, a thousand ear-seeking needles flew out of their mouths. Got that? Ok. I would prefer that to the sound my son makes. He not only has the power but the endurance. His record? One hour, forty-five minutes of timpani-shattering, mind-flaying, soul-rending, sleep-eradicating audible death. Ended only by his becoming hoarse. If this were an isolated incident, you could get through it though the memory might haunt your every waking moment. No, this happens everytime he wakes up. And since his routine is disrupted. He wakes up often. I don't recall how many days ago we started all this. A week? Two weeks?

This course of action on his part is totally reasonable. His loving, nuturing parents have abandoned him because of their selfish need for a continuous block of sleep. I don't want to make it sound like we have him sealed in a sound-proof booth while we sleep on a bed of rose petals for three days straight. We've been moving gradually towards our goal (perhaps too gradually?; the second-guessing is but a part of this hellish experience). We started by patting him, rubbing his tummy, rubbing his back, humming to him, giving him white-noise (through shush-ing), staying in the room with him, always careful not to take him out of the crib unless he needed to be changed or fed (we'll wean him off night feedings later). We've slowly been reducing our presence in his room at night, and gradually making it clear that calling for us will only get a visit to check on him.

Last night, we started a routine where if he wakes, we go in to check on him and try to calm him. If he resists calming and wants to fight, we leave and don't return for 5 minutes. We return and try again. If he still fights it, leave and wait 10 minutes. Repeat adding 5 minutes at each step. We had to leave the room for one 5 minute period and then another incident that made it to a 10 minute wait. During this time, our son issues the unholy fury of the devil, cries that pale the trumpeting screeches of a wounded banshee. The pain of hearing your son cry out for you, desperately pleading with you to come and comfort him with you knowing full well that doing so goes against what you're trying to do, cannot even be hinted at by my hyperbole.

For certain, you will find a host of people who will say that this is unneccessary, barbaric, inhumane. There are a myriad of ways to attain that holy grail of a baby that sleeps through the night. We've tried a few but, sadly, this appears to be the most successful. For the first time, last night, our son went to sleep on his own. Ok. He cried himself to sleep because of what we did to him. There is all manner of doubt running through your mind as your child rages into his night-light for his parents's return. We're doing this too early. We're being selfish. We're doing this the wrong way. Our baby, our wonderful baby, is suffering. But at the same time, you know that the line between comforting and indulging is a fine one. Do not be fooled. Babies learn to manipulate very, very quickly.

So, as you lay in bed at 5 am listening, for the fifth time that night, to the opening aria from the opera-of-the-damned, "Infanta Anali (Baby Tears You A New One)", you're at war with yourself because you feel like you're teaching him how to sleep on his own, you're not relenting to his manipulative cries and you're giving him some independence. On the other hand, he is screaming like Luke at the end of Jedi, as though fiery, blue bolts of lightining are coursing through his body, ripping through his brain. Except you're not playing the role of Vader, you're the Emperor. "Now, young Skywalker... you will sleep."

2.14.2006

The Engine That Could

Charles Babbage is a person I greatly admire. The Difference Engine is such an amazing thing to have invented. Back in the days when humans had to calculate by hand reams and reams of tables to allow easy and precise calculation, a machine that could generate these tables without human error would have been invaluable. Which is exactly why Mr. Babbage received tons of money to build such a device. Sadly, the original design was too cumbersome to be built. His revision, the imaginatively named Difference Engine No. 2, was never built because he became enamored, until his death, with his Analytical Engine which could be programmed with punch cards. He died in 1871.

The London Science Museum built his Difference Engine No. 2 (to the tolerances of his time) in 1991 and I saw it in action when I visited it that year. It was astounding. I stared at it for a long, long time.

Ada Lovelace, the only legitimate child of Lord Byron and quite the renaissance woman, was translating notes on the Analytical Engine from an Italian mathematician for Mr. Babbage. Appended to the notes was a method of using the machine to generate Bernoulli numbers. Many people attribute this as the first computer program. Apparently, there is some evidence that Mr. Babbage had written the algorithm and she was simply correcting an error he had made. If that is the case, then I'd say she found the first bug.

2.08.2006

Force x Distance

1) I worked as a Councillor-in-Training over two summers for 25$ a week when I was 13 and 14. I assisted the actual councillor in shepherding about 20 five- and six-year olds for 7 hours a day. It was pretty easy. Play games, go to the park, make sure kid holds rope. They don't give you a lot of responsibility at that age. Good thing. I think that's where I learned to get along with kids. Me likes 'em.

2) I spent two summers working 50+ hours a week at La Ronde doing the games for minimum wage. I was in CEGEP (that's college for you non-Quebecois) and I was 18 and 19 for those two stints. I worked at the games so if you ever need to throw a softball into a titled basket, I'm your man. Everytime someone would win, I'd have to stand on the counter, hold aloft the prize and shout "We have another big, big winner! Nous avons un autre grand, grand gagnant!"My supervisor hit on me twice and girls flirted with me trying to get better prizes. I was impervious to such advances not only because I totally grooved on my girlfriend but also because I am a frikkin' hardcore professional. This is easily, easily the worst job I've ever had.

3) My first physics work term (a co-op university program has 6 course terms and 4 work terms) was at ICI Explosives. From 1995 to 2000, I was legally allowed to work with and enter sites where they stored explosives thanks to my trusty Quebec Explosives Permit. The company developed mining explosives and I assisted in taking out experimental samples to the test pond. We'd have pressure gauges in the water and other equipment to literally see how well we blew stuff up. This is my favourite job to talk about. It does get tiresome after a few months, especially in the brutal heat and humidity of the summer, but c'mon... BLOWING UP STUFF!

4) The next work term saw me at NORDX/CDT doing software testing. Strangely, there are very few jobs available around Montreal for people who are beginning to learn quantum physics so you learn to branch out. This job had the hottest supervisor. She was distractingly hot. But, again, let us recall: I am a frikkin' hardcore professional. This job was pretty boring but it paid the best yet. Money soothes a lot of woes.

5) Work term 3: Nortel in Ottawa. This company used to hire 1 out of every 5 engineering grads in Canada. I don't know how much of that was true but it seemed plausible. The bad part was that I had to live away from my girlfriend. At the time it was tough and we almost broke up but the time apart, in retrospect, gave me some time on my own, something I don't think I would have gotten married without. The work was semi-conductor switching using a Mach-Zender interferometer to enable high switching speeds. This was some pretty high-end tech (for the time). Luckily, I had taken a semi-conductors class and could follow what was going on. Sadly, I learned that Nortel was a terrible match for me. A massive complex of buildings with a rat's nest of cubicles stacked five high in each one, spending as much time in meetings as in the lab and learning the insane bureaucracy required to get anything done. This all adds up to me no wanty to work here when me graduates.

6) Final work term: Nortel in Ottawa. This was the best paying job I had to date. Also, my roomate from the previous work term was also returning so I thought it would be cool to give it another go. It was. The job was utterly forgettable, if not punctuated with moments of coolness. I did learn to set up a computer network, worked with more expensive equipment for any one test than was available in the entire physics department and got a much better feel for actual lab work than my university could provide. The greatest part of this deal, however, were my roommates for this summer. Four guys and one young lady sharing a house. We all became fast friends and still get together to go camping most summers. My memories of this job are of late night games of basketball, Nortel co-op softball (yes, there were enough co-op students to have our own league with 2 divisions), and lots of drinking.

I graduated in 1998 at 22 and got married.

7) Doing my Master's at McGill, I was paid grad student wages (enough for beer and rent, or in my case, magic cards and rent). In return, I supervised 2 lab sessions per week. Each lab was some intro to physics lab with 40 students from out of province who needed to get synched up with Quebec students who do a year less of high school but do two years of college before university (which starts a year later here). The labs were pretty cool. I found I could teach things and I like that moment when you're explaining something to someone and their eyes suddenly light up. I learned that I dislike correcting. But not enough to put me off teaching forever. It's probably something I'd be good at. I got a lot of positive comments on the end-of-term student review sheets. I dunno. I've turned down two CEGEP teaching interviews since graduating. Both came at bad times.

8) Upon graduation, I entered the hottest market for science-y types conceviable. I quickly found a job working in satellite communications that more than doubled my grad student salary. It almost tripled. I got a signing bonus. A five thousand dollar signing bonus. Yes, I'm bragging. I still don't believe it. The way things are now in the job market, I might as well claim I received a deed to the moon, all the tea in China and a fellatio-bot. People were abandoning the larger companies for smaller ones with lures of stock options and mega-salaries. I attended five going-away-parties in my first month with the company. I feel lucky that I lasted at the medium-sized company longer than all the people who left. It was a perfect fit for me. Except the company was run so poorly that after one year I could tell I was going to eventually be laid off. It blew me away that they kept offering me 3-5% raises twice per year just to keep us engineers (I'm not an engineer!) from leaving. All of this for a product so mismanaged, it was comical (well, comical, if not for the fact that I got laid off after 3 years). There were two of us in the QA department. TWO! And we did everything. We did hardware testing, software testing, firmware testing, documentation. We wrote manuals, training lessons. We were flown all over Europe (first-class, nice!) to install satellite dishes, cabling, networks, or sometimes to train customers and even do some CAD stuff which I learned as I was going. I learned some basic FPGA design, RF modulation, satellite tips n tricks, and all sorts of stuff about cables that no one should ever need to learn. Cool! The two junior QA guys had a lot of hats to wear. I learned so very much but not very well since with two people you never actually have the time to do things well. The company treated its employees like royalty which was awesome but the product was always promising and never delivering. After outlasting a dozen or so people, some of them senior to me, I got chopped. I knew I'd never have it this good again. At the same time, I was relieved because the company was moving towards more and more military contracts which bothered me ethically. If I didn't already know I was getting chopped, I'd have thought about leaving (probably not too hard; money soothes many woes). In the end, I was worked pretty hard but rewarded for it as well.

My son was born in 2005. I was 29.

And now I'm working close to home, with flexible hours. Software testing once again. Some C++ is seeping in, Windows and Linux are becoming my servants, client-server design... still learning, still learning.

Of course, I'd prefer to be independently wealthy but that's not an option. With a finite number of waking hours in my lifetime, I choose how to sell them fairly carefully. It's a luxury that I appreciate and cherish. This is the gift I want to give my son.