Archive for January, 2012

Two Quotes

Both of the following quotes are from Josef Škvorecký’s autobiographical essay “I Was Born in Náchod….”

First:

After a brief career as right defence in a soccer minileague, I fell ill with pneumonia. This was before the days of antibiotics, and one could easily die. I very much did not want to die and promised, therefore, to say ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys daily if I survived. As the days, made hazy by fever, dragged on, I kept raising the numbers until I ended up with a burden of about a hundred Our Fathers and Hail Marys per day. In the year that followed my recovery I tried to live up to the promise. For hours I knelt beside my bed, night after night, and in the morning, I looked like a child suffering from a bad hangover. This intense religiosity exhausted me so much that in another year I had another bout with pneumonia. This time I was wiser. I only vowed that, if I recovered, I would– at the age of eighteen–enter a monastery. When the deadline was approaching I postponed the day until twenty-one. A girl– two, in fact–were unwittingly involved in that decision. With my twenty-first birthday closing in on me, I shifted the date once again: to twenty-five. Eventually, it was the Communists who saved me for secular life. When they took over the country, one of their first acts of class justice was the closing down of all monasteries.

Second:

During the first four years of that Götterdämmerung I attended the local Realgymnasium… It was the Nazis who introduced the term “ideology” into our vocabulary; can anyone wonder why, ever since, I have mistrusted that word and all the varying contents it signified?

Sgt. Badass Reporting for Duty

Amazon Silk is Hiring!

By now, my loyal readers should know that I’m a programmer for Amazon. Just over a month ago, I started on the Amazon Silk team. It’s a talented team of hard-working engineers at an amazing company. We’re a team that’s growing quickly, and we’re in desperate need of smart programmers. Here’s why you should apply to Amazon:

  • Excellent compensation and benefits. I have to confess that I have something of a mercenary streak. So I won’t beat around the bush and just say that Amazon pays very, with compensation philosophy that fairly balances cash, stock, and bonus. One of the best aspects of this is that Amazon doesn’t give you stock options. They give you actual stock. I’m basically of the opinion that stock options are an amateur-hour scam, and so I’m happy that when my Amazon stock vests, it’s mine.
  • An unbeatable corporate culture. Many corporations have “Corporate Virtues” or similar. Handy sappy phrases they put in press releases more for PR impact than to act as guiding principles. Amazon is the only company at which I’ve worked where those principles are taken seriously. Amazon has an amazingly customer-centric culture that values ownership and inventiveness and rewards accomplishment.
  • A career path for engineers. Many tech companies has two positions for programmers: Programmer and Senior Programmer. The difference being that the senior programmer threatened to leave at one point. Amazon, on the other hand, is a company that’s been built almost entirely engineers. It’s a company that understand that programmers are craftsmen and they have unique interests, talents, and areas of specialties. They also understand that programmers don’t stop growing at the mythical 5-year mark. So at Amazon, there’s a complete engineering path, going from introductory level SDE I positions all the way up through Distinguished Engineers. Each level is well-defined, without being constraining. The company encourages you to develop your skills and improve your craft, and they reward that improvement with increased responsibility and freedom.
  • Nerf Wars Several of the guys in this video are on Silk now. Work with some of the best Nerf Marksmen in the software industry.
  • Complete mobility. Amazon understands that programmers have diverse interests and tend to appreciate novelty and interesting new problems. Which is why Amazon encourages people to switch teams and job roles on a regular basis. Many programmers switch teams every year or so. I only spent thirteen months on my initial team, and when the chance came to apply to join the Silk team, it was as easy as letting my manager know. Even international transfers are available, as Amazon has developers all across North America, Europe, and Asia.
  • Be the worst person in the band. Pat Metheny, the legendary jazz guitarist, once said that the secret to his success was that he always made sure he was the worst guy in every band he was in. That goes for any art and any craft, programming not excepted. I often feel like I’m the worst guy in the band. I can tell you honestly and without hyperbole that I work with some of the smartest programmers in the world. I’ve learned more in fifteen months at Amazon than I learned in four years of college and four years of diverse industry experience. There’s no better place to learn and sharpen your craft, and to get to know some of the brightest technical minds in the world.
  • Kegerator. Amazon’s official motto is “Work hard. Have fun. Make History.” They definitely take all three parts of it seriously. And part of having fun is things like having a Kegerator in kitchen.
  • No, seriously — Make History. Amazon solves problems that no one else in the world has solved. There aren’t many places in the tech industry where you can do that. On the Silk team, we’re rewriting what it means to have a browser in the era of cloud computing. We’ve had great success so far, but we’re only just getting started. We’re going to make history and we want smart, hard-working engineers to help us do that.

So that’s the hard sell. If you want to learn more feel free to drop me a line in the comments or shoot me an email. If you want to apply, you can email me your resume at aabrown@amazon.com.


Disclosure Notice

Presented Without Comment

Robert Zubrin on Space Safety

Robert Zubrin is one of the most important advocates for space flight we have. His book The Case for Mars is one of the single best pieces of space-related writing I’ve found, and it makes an extremely convincing case for putting human boots on Mars. Moreover, it lays out an excellent sketch of how we might accomplish exactly that. It’s well worth your time and attention.

So I was happy to see Mr. Zubrin has written an excellent article for the next issue of Reason magazine on the topic of space flight safety. It’s available to read online. An excerpt:

Keeping astronauts safe merits significant expenditure. But how much? There is a potentially unlimited set of testing procedures, precursor missions, technological improvements, and other protective measures that could be implemented before allowing human beings to once again try flying to other worlds. Were we to adopt all of them, we would wind up with a human spaceflight program of infinite cost and zero accomplishment. In recent years, the trend has moved in precisely that direction, with NASA’s manned spaceflight effort spending more and more to accomplish less and less. If we are to achieve anything going forward, we have to find some way to strike a balance between human life and mission accomplishment.


Disclosure Notice

So here’s something I never thought I’d say…

This video massively increases my respect for Vanilla Ice:

Via my friend Ann and Stereogum.

Everything’s Better With Glitchy Electronica

Thesis: Take any video and give it a Glitch Mob soundtrack, and the subject matter instantly becomes 112% cooler. Case in point? Manatees:

Sirenia Shadows from Built By Wildman on Vimeo.

Video via io9 and my good friend Ann.

Hear Hear!

I wanted to draw attention to two essays that I think hint at important facets of the debate in libertarianism vs. statism. First, Robert Higgs, writing for The Independent Institute, discusses the problem of burden of proof and the massive status quo bias that crushes and discussion of libertarian politics.

Morally speaking, it would seem that those who opt in favor of coercive arrangements ought to bear the burden of proof. If the state is such a superior arrangement, by comparison with genuine, voluntary self-government, why must the state be propped up by all of its police and armed forces? Why must people be constantly threatened with imprisonment and death in order to bring forth the revenues that support the state’s activities? Walmart does not put a gun to my head to gain my patronage.

He also hits on one fact that I think is crucial to overcoming status quo bias, which is that our modern system of nation states is relatively new and, historically speaking, an aberration. I wished he’d given it more consideration, but he does point out that nation states in their modern form are only a few hundred years old.

My only strong point of contention with Higgs’ essay is that I think he oversteps his case when he lumps science in with politics in his discussion of burdens of proof. The burden of proof does and ought operate differently in the two fields.

Higgs’ essay reminded me of an excellent essay by E. W. Dykes called “Demunicipalize the Garbage Service“. It was originally published in the April, 1968 issue of The Freeman and it’s pretty well known in libertarian circles, but I think it’s worth a read for non-libertarians as well. An excerpt:

War — like many other of to­day’s problems — is the culmina­tion of the breaking of libertarian principles, not once, but thousands of times. We are challenged to jump in at this point and apply our principles to get out of the unholy mess resulting from years and years of errors on errors. The challenge might just as well have been put in terms like this: “You are a second lieutenant. Your platoon is surrounded. Your am­munition is gone. Two of your squad leaders are dead, the third severely wounded. Now, Mr. Lib­ertarian, let’s see you get out of this one with your little semi­nars.”

My answer: “Demunicipalize the garbage service.”

Dykes’ essay isn’t meant to imply the libertarians are inured to war, far from it. Just that asking for a libertarian answer to war on its own is a bit like asking a vegan chef how to avoid burning your steaks. If you really followed the vegan’s advice, the problem never would have come up in the first place.

To me, the modern equivalent of the War question for libertarians is welfare. A lot of people ask me what libertarian policies suggest to people currently dependent on government welfare. And when I admit that, for many of them, a move to a libertarian society would suck, it’s suddenly the libertarian society, not the dependent welfare statism that crowded out private charity and fostered a system of dependence, that is the culprit.

Want to know the libertarian answer to modern welfare? Demunicipalize the garbage service. Asking libertarians to solve problems that are, in part or in whole, the product of statist policies isn’t non-sensical, but it to cast unsatisfactory answers as failures of libertarianism rather than the statism that caused the problem in the first place, is a bit wrong-headed.

After all, in the 20th century, governments killed over 200 million people. Not just in wars, but also in industrialized slaughter. To put this in perspective, about 520,000 people were murdered by private citizens in 2000.

This means that, at year-2000 murder rates, it would take private citizens about 390 years to commit as much carnage as governments did in the hundred years from 1901 to 2000. Put more plainly, the best data available suggests that governments kill about four times as many people in the 20th century as did private violence.

So I guess murder is one area in which government is more efficient than the private sector. Credit where it’s due, I suppose.

I thank that to somehow cast as a libertarian failing our lack of answer to “the war question” misses the point that it’s the Statist system that is actually fighting the wars.

Similarly, the government “War on Poverty” is an abject failure. Poverty rates have been stagnant since its implementation, despite funding for it skyrocketing. The government isn’t solving the poverty problem.

And yet that the libertarians don’t have a ready answer for those already dependent on government handouts is somehow a problem for libertarians, not for the government responsible for the dysfunctional system in the first place.

At any rate, I think both essays are well worth your time, especially if you’re interested in libertarian thought, either pro or con.

And demunicipalize the garbage service.

“I took off into space / from this terrible place”

The most frustrating sort of song is that which is perfect, save for the fact that it’s far too short. This is a fantastic theme, beautifully composed and performed, and then left criminally underdeveloped.

Still: those Fastbacks sure knew how to make a pop tune.

Entitlement is my Anti-Drug

Click for Full-Size

Click for Full-Size

From the always-excellent, oft-disturbing Cyanide & Happiness.

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Magic Blue Smoke

House Rules:

1.) Carry out your own dead.
2.) No opium smoking in the elevators.
3.) In Competitions, during gunfire or while bombs are falling, players may take cover without penalty for ceasing play.
4.) A player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb may play another ball from the same place.
4a.) Penalty one stroke.
5.) Pilsner should be in Roman type, and begin with a capital.
6.) Keep Calm and Kill It with Fire.
7.) Spammers will be fed to the Crabipede.