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May 31, 2003


I'm sure many of you have heard the rumours of Microsoft employees putting in 80-hour work weeks, neglecting their families and sleeping at their desks. This is a half-truth.

Although it's not uncommon to see people working away at their desks well into the evening, these are usually the same people that take advantage of Microsoft's flex-hour policy and roll into work sometime around noon.

Of course during crunch time (shortly before the end of a product milestone or release) the pressure is higher, but for the most part, no one works themselves into the ground unless they want to.

Microsoft is very concerned with its employees' morale. Since I've started there's been free espresso twice a week and beer bashes every month. I've been saving a lot of money on groceries by staying late and having dinner bought for me. Yesterday was a May's beer bash with free beer, wine, food and raffles (no, I didn't win).

The other companies I've worked at didn't seem to care much about employee morale. There's a reason why I didn't apply for a full-time position at Corel (besides their now penny-stock status and consecutive budgets in the red). Ask me again in a year how my morale is doing. I'd be willing to bet it's still as high as it is now.

00:00 | Work

May 29, 2003

Math Is Sexy

To make my daily bus rides to and from work a little more bearable, I've been reading A Beautiful Mind (the biography, not the movie synopsis). My sister gave it to me for my birthday, and I'm now more than halfway done.

The book paints a completely different picture of Nash than the movie did. The movie made him out to be a brilliant mathematician who was stricken with a horrible disease. The book makes him out to be a brilliant mathematician and complete asshole who was stricken with a horrible disease. I won't turn this post into a John Nash bashing, but I do want to talk about his academic life and how it relates to my experiences.

Nash would have heated debates with some mathematicians about advanced theorems and proofs. I did not. With others, he forged homosexual relationships. I did not (not that there's anything wrong with that). This got me wondering what went on behind the closed doors of my professors' tiny offices.

Heated debates on the fundamentals of mathematics? I never heard anyone raise their voices.

Gay encounters? I never heard any rumours.

I guess either Nash's situation was unique, or we have a lot of pent-up professors at Waterloo.

00:00 | Entertainment

May 28, 2003

The Interns Have Arrived

Today my team acquired an intern. It's weird because up until today, I felt like I was the team's intern. I've heard this feeling isn't uncommon, and it can take months before a new hire starts feeling like he/she actually has a clue what's going on. I've reached my 6 week mark, and I'm hoping to God the new intern doesn't show me up.

I ran into a returning intern from last summer today. He'll be interning this year in my building on some other part of the team. It makes me realize just how much older I am than my peers. Ontario's 5 years of high school, plus Waterloo's 5 years of university (including co-op) put me a good two or three years older than my fellow interns last summer. Most of my new circle of full-time employee friends are younger than me too. I warned them that the first one to call me "Old Man Lyon" will get beaten with my cane.

00:00 | Work

May 27, 2003

Grocery Story

I went grocery shopping the other day. The cashier who rang up my food insisted on giving me her opinion on my choice of sandwich meat.

Cashier: "Whoa! That looks really rare!"
Me: "Uh, yeah, I guess it is."
Cashier: "Hey well, good for you for being able to eat it. I can't even stand the smell of that stuff!"
Me: "It's roast beef."
Cashier: (throwing the bag of meat at the bag boy) "Ew! Get it away!"

Look lady, your job is to ring up my groceries and take my money. Keep the running commentary to yourself.

00:00 | Rant

May 26, 2003

Social Butterfly

One of the big changes to my lifestyle since I moved downtown is a new social life. Andy introduced me to a bunch of his friends at the Puzzle Hunt, so we've been hanging out, playing sports and Halo. It was the first time I had played basketball since my little accident, so I was a bit rusty. I found out that I'm only slightly better at basketball than I am at Halo. Yes, that means I suck.

Last night we stayed up late playing a stupid board game. After five hours we gave up because there was no end in sight.

Today is Memorial Day, a national American holiday. I made up for missing Victoria Day (May Two-Four) in Canada, by sleeping in a lot. Andy and I went to buy the rest of the furniture we needed, but Ikea was out of the one bookshelf I wanted, so I'll be living out of boxes for at least another week.

I'll be spending the rest of the day trying to set up Andy's new stereo and finally tackling the huge pile of boxes left over from my move.

00:00 | Stuff

May 22, 2003

Part Of A Patriotic Breakfast

My roommate went grocery shopping the other day and brought home some cereal. I don't know if he picked up this box of Celebrate America Corn Flakes because he just loves his country so much, or just to annoy me (no the actual flakes aren't coloured red, white and blue).

I've had Americans ask me why Canadians sew Canadian flags on their backpacks when travelling the world. From now on, I'll just point to the cereal aisle in an American grocery store to shut them up.

00:00 | America

May 21, 2003

Drivers Wanted

Today I got my Washington State driver's license. I took the written test last week, and driving test this morning. I didn't blog about it earlier to avoid the shame if I failed.

The written test wasn't difficult. The hardest part was trying to remember all the unposted speeds in miles per hour and distances in feet. I only got one question wrong, but in my opinion, this is one law that should be changed. Let's see how you do.

If you are involved in a collision in which there is a death, injury, and/or over $700 in property damage, how long do you have to file a report with state police?

  1. 48 hours
  2. 4 days
  3. 1 week
  4. 1 month

If you answered "a", like I did, you'd be wrong. The correct answer is "b". Apparently in Washington State, if you kill someone with your car, there's no need to cancel your weekend plans. Take off and have fun. And when you get back, then consider turning yourself in.

The driving test went fine. I screwed up my parallel park, which didn't come as much of a surprise since I hadn't parallel parked since my first driver's test 9 years ago. They issued me a temporary license and invalidated my Ontario one (it's against the law to possess more than one valid license).

Since I don't own a car, I had to rent one for the test. I also had to provide proof of insurance on the car (which luckily, was supplied with the car rental). This got me thinking:

Lucky for me everything worked out because I have an out-of-state license, but I wonder how people without cars (and aren't driving their parents') run into this situation.

00:00 | Seattle

May 19, 2003

Zed's Dead Baby

It's usually after meeting me a few times before most Americans realize I'm not one of them. Whether it be my pronunciation of out, or my adversarial views on America's foreign policy (I don't want to go on a rant here...), there's just something about me that's different.

One of the things that I've noticed is the way a conversation abruptly stops when I say "Zed". If I'm in the middle of a sentence, and that letter comes up (it came up a lot over the weekend trying to solve word puzzles), every American in the room feels the need to interrupt me by exclaiming "Zed?! You mean Zee!", and then I have to take the next few minutes explaining how the US is the only English-speaking nation that pronounces the 26th letter in that way. As a result, the conversation is derailed and my original point (which was undoubtedly important) is lost. So I've found myself pronouncing Z the American way, if for no other reason than to be able to finish a conversation.

And yes, I feel dirty every time I do it.

00:00 | America

May 18, 2003

Penguins Cannot Fly

After 30 hours of sitting in a conference room teasing my brain and eating pizza, I'm finally back home and ready for bed. The Puzzle Hunt was great fun, and as a team we did quite well. Out of the forty teams that participated, our team (inexplicably named "Penguins Cannot Fly") came in seventh. Of the six teams ahead of us, four of them solved the two "meta-puzzles" (puzzles made from the solutions to all the other puzzles).

Somehow I became the team expert on solving cryptic crosswords, despite the fact that before yesterday I had never solved a single cryptic problem in my life. I think now I'm hooked on them.

Brain tired. Work tomorrow. Need sleep.

00:00 | Nerd

May 16, 2003

Gone Hunting

Have a good weekend everyone. I'll be spending mine locked in a conference room on campus pushing my brain cells to their limits trying to win Microsoft's Puzzle Hunt. I'll be sure to tell you all about it, assuming I have enough brainpower left to find my way home.

00:00 | Nerd


It seemed that almost every team at Microsoft was taken out to see The Matrix Reloaded. Our team went at 4:30 yesterday afternoon, and we filled the theatre. I can't say I was terribly impressed with the plot, but the special effects were astounding.

I'll avoid spoiling the movie for anyone who hasn't seen it, but I will tell you what it's like seeing a movie with a theatre full of software employees. There were two parts of the movie when the theatre erupted in laughter. If you were there and are not in the software field, you would wonder what the hell everyone was laughing at, because they weren't jokes. At least they weren't supposed to be.

Besides that, the movie was a lot of fun to watch, and the price was certainly right.

00:00 | Entertainment

May 15, 2003


A recent dialogue with Dave made me realize something about the world of blogs: as a blogger, one has the power to alter history. Granted, for most blogs, the history is limited and affects relatively few people, but because of the "linkable" nature of the WWW, revisions can lead to inconsistencies, and even confusion amongst bloggers. Let me illustrate with an example (my apologies to Dave for putting him on the spot).

Dave's May 13, 2003 post originally read:

Okay- Here are the cities I plan to visit on my trip I'm currently dubbing The Great North American Tour. The problem with the title is that it isn't entirely accurate, as I'm not going to Mexico. Must revise.

He implied, erroneously, that had he planned to visit Mexico, the title would be appropriate. I responded in yesterday's post with a geography lesson. Dave's response was to amend his post --after the fact-- adding "et al" after the word "Mexico".

I'm not bringing this up to point out Dave's perceived geographical shortcomings, rather to show how bloggers can alter history. My comments in yesterday's entry about the number of North American countries no longer make sense to any readers who didn't see Dave's original comment.

So, how and when is it appropriate to amend, correct, or delete content in a weblog? In my opinion, the only changes one should (nay, must) make to previous entries are to correct spelling mistakes and repair (or eliminate) dead links. All other changes should be explicitly marked as additions and/or deletions. So how does one do this? Well, as any self-respecting web designer knows, there are two (semantically correct) HTML tags created for this purpose: <ins> and <del> (I'm currently retrofitting this site with said tags).

But does anyone really care or am I just being particularly anal about this? Any of you who know me personally know the answer. But this certainly affects readers of RSS feeds (yes, I'll eventually join that bandwagon). So to make your feed readers, blog readers and linkers (and most of all me) happy, stop the Orwellian rewriting of history.

00:00 | Blog

May 14, 2003


Keeping with this geographically-oriented post (and to make Matt Goyer happy), I've joined GeoURL. I wonder how many bloggers in the Seattle area don't work at Microsoft.

00:00 | Blog

The Great North American Tour

I'm looking forward to Dav's somewhat inaccurately-named Great North American Tour (there are more than three countries in North America, you know). His second stop is Seattle where he will spend three luxurious nights on the couch in my apartment. Hopefully I'll be better acquainted with the city by then and will have places to take him. We've already decided on hitting up the Seattle jazz club scene, and perhaps a ride on the monorail (you're singing the Simpson's Monorail song, aren't you?).

00:00 | Stuff

May 13, 2003

Birthday Greetz

Happy Birthday to my second-favorite software developer and good friend Ryan.

Ryan wearing turban

Let's hope this birthday is a little more dignified.

00:00 | Stuff

May 12, 2003

Sock It To Me

When I was packing my one suitcase to last me the month before the movers would bring me rest of my belongings, I felt like I had some tough choices to make. Should I pack my gym clothes? What about my suit? Swim trunks?

Eventually I narrowed it down to one week's worth of clothes: seven shirts, three pairs of pants, seven pairs of underwear and seven pairs of socks. That would mean I would have to do laundry once a week, or risk not keeping any friends for more than a week.

After my first week in Redmond, I was shocked to find that three of the seven pairs of socks I had packed had holes in them. So I went and bought three new pairs, and threw the holey ones out (don't worry, this story gets more interesting).

A month later my stuff arrived, including the clothes I left had behind. I found all my old clothes, plus some clothes that once belonged to my late grandfather that my grandmother gave to me before I left. I started unpacking, putting socks and underwear in the top drawer, shirts and sweaters in the bottom ones. To my surprise, the top drawer filled up quicker than the rest, so I moved underwear down a drawer, and kept unpacking. A few minutes later, the top drawer was full again, and I still had socks to unpack. Annoyed, I threw all the socks into one box and counted them.

Just the day before, I was lamenting my lack of footwear, but now I was cursed with 47 pairs of socks. I could now go a month and a half without ever washing socks! Where did all these socks come from? I know I didn't have 20 pairs of my own, and surely my grandfather didn't own 30 himself. I think the movers might have packed my entire family's sock drawers with the rest of my stuff.

I've since spoken to the landlord about paying for extra storage space to house my enormous sock collection.

00:00 | Stuff

May 11, 2003

Baseball Game

I got free mariners tickets from my manager, so Saturday night Andy and I went to see the Mariners lose to the White Sox. Every time I've been to a Major League ball game, the home team always loses. Remember the 1995 Blue Jays? That was my fault.

00:00 | Stuff


On Saturday I spent a few hours with my roommate Andy and ten of his friends preparing for next weekend's Microsoft Puzzle Hunt. It's like a scavenger hunt for Mensa. Teams are given cryptic puzzles to solve, and the first team to solve them all in 48 hours wins.

00:00 | Nerd

May 9, 2003

Regretful Retraction

It was a tough decision for me to make as a weblogger, but after careful consideration I've decided to pull the Microsoft interview questions and advice from this website. I realize would-be Microsoft interviewees make up a significant percentage of my reading audience, so let me explain why I came to this decision.

First of all, I am now a Microsoft employee, and as an employee I have certain responsibilities to the company. Although this is a personal weblog, the interview articles potentially crossed the line into non-disclosure territory. I choose to err on the side of caution and remove the articles.

Secondly, as a Microsoft employee, I will have the chance to be an interviewer myself, and having these articles on my personal site may compromise the interview process. Obviously I wouldn't use the same questions I described in the articles, but as an interviewer, I don't think it would be appropriate to give out advice. No, Microsoft did not request the information be removed, it's a judgment call.

Thirdly, Despite several blog entries, plus an entire article devoted to general interview advice, I continued to get emails asking for specifics. No, I don't know what interviews are like for any position other than the one I was interviewed for. I'm sorry, I can't help you if you're being interviewed for a Software Test Engineer, a Program Manager, a contract employee or cafeteria staff. Also, by asking me questions already answered in my advice article, you are demonstrating that you do not know how to properly conduct research, or value other people's time.

Now I realize I violated the #1 rule in weblogging: don't alienate your audience. I apologize if I seem cold-hearted. I wish all Microsoft interviewees luck and hope they do well, but considering out of the dozen or so people who emailed me for advice, not a single one ever emailed me to let me know if my advice was helpful. I originally put this information up because it was an interesting and frustrating experience I thought people would enjoy. I didn't intend to become the authority on Microsoft interviews. I'm sorry if I mislead any of you.

Again, this rant wasn't intended at anyone in particular, it was mainly to save my own ass. If you disagree with my decision, or think I'm a big jerk and will never read this site again, I invite you to email me and discuss it.

00:00 | Blog

May 8, 2003

No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

Because it's crunch time here, there have been lots of free perks for the team members. Free espresso and snacks twice a week and free dinners every night. I had been enjoying dinner here for a few days, and yesterday was no exception. Indian food was ordered, and we all partook in naan, basmati, korma and various curries. Satiated, and having put in a full day of work, I went home.

At 2:30am I woke up with a terrible stomach ache. At 3:00am, the Indian food, having been plotting its escape from my stomach for the past 7 hours, made a break for it. And again every hour until 7:00am. At 8:30 I phoned my boss and left a message about how I may or may not show up at work today. Microsoft policy states that those infected with a contagious condition stay home. Since I didn't think my experience would influence the Indian food in the stomachs of others, I rolled into work around noon (I was feeling much better at that point).

Between the time I got up and the time I went to work, I felt like crap. Worse than crap. I felt the way crap feels when it has a hangover. Between the nausea and the aching joints, I debated going to work at all. To soothe my aches, I drew myself a hot bath and soaked for a while. This brought back memories of Japan, where I made a habit of soaking in the 40°C furo (Japanese hot tub). I love when I first come out, and it feels like I'm radiating warmth.

The warmth was only temporary. The aches are back, and I'm about ready to call it a day (a very short day, mind you). Strange that no one else seems to have had the sickness I experienced. Maybe I shouldn't have come in to work at all today.

00:00 | Work

May 7, 2003

By Richard Jones

But most people have better ways to spend their time than dreaming up ways to break their tools.

00:00 | Quotes

Knowledge Accessiblity

One of the things I like most about working at Microsoft is how there's a huge human knowledge base. In every building there are managers who dremt up exciting projects, architects who sketched them out, and a ton of developers and testers who made it a reality. The other great thing is how readily they are willing to share this knowledge. Just about every week presentations and seminars are held about different products and emerging technologies, and they're open to every employee (seating is limited, so you need to sign up early).

Today I sat through a presentation about the .NET CLR (the product I'm working on). The speaker was one of the head program managers for the product. Although I already knew most of what was covered (hey, I had to do some research before starting), it was nice to have explained how all the parts fit together.

I think one of Microsoft's strengths is it's ability to recruit some brilliant people (no, I'm not talking about myself), and their willingness to make those people's knowledge accessible to everyone in the company. After all, knowledgeable employees are good employees.

This contrasts sharply with some of the other companies I worked at, where I didn't know what the guy in the cubicle next to me was working on, let alone other teams.

And no, I'm not praising Microsoft simply because they pay me. Although that does help...

00:00 | Work

May 6, 2003

SARS or Squash

Last night I got to spend the evening with a friend and former intern who just interviewed for a full-time position. I told him what had changed at Microsoft since the summer, and he told me what has changed in Toronto since SARS. Hopefully he gets the job so I'll have a squash partner at my skill level (in other words, one that won't annihilate me on the court).

00:00 | Stuff

The Loon That Soared

It seems like the whole time I'm in Canada, the Loonie stays in the gutter, but every time I leave to work outside of Canada, the Loonie soars, and the local currency I'm making falls. Maybe it's no coincidence...

00:00 | Canada

May 4, 2003


I'm a tad annoyed. The mobile phone I got seems to have no signal is downtown Seattle. That make no sense at all, and I'm going to have a stern word tomorrow with the salesman who sold it to me. If I have to drive to the suburbs or wait for the one non-cloudy day a week just to make and receive phone calls, I'm moving back to Canada (well, more realistically, get a different provider).

00:00 | Rant

May 2, 2003

Bowling For Microsoft

I got myself a mobile phone today. It only took AT&T 10 business days to approve my foreign applicant application. I guess they've been getting a lot of foreign Microsoft employees defaulting on their phone bills.

The first time I turned on the phone, I noticed a number in the Missed Calls. Strange. I set up my voice mail, and was even more surprised to find a message, left a mere half hour before I arrived at the store to pick up the phone. The message was left by an annoyed-sounding man who was erroneously given my number to call. He didn't leave a very detailed message, so I don't know what he wanted, only that he called at "precisely 12:33" and needed someone to return the message within the hour. He then left his name and number. The man's name: Michael Moore.

Could this be the infamous Michael Moore of Bowling For Columbine fame? Probably not. Although the prospect of a famous person calling my phone certainly excited me.

I called back, 3 hours too late. I left a message with Michael's brother (does the real Michael Moore have a brother in Washington state?), telling him that Michael had been given the wrong number, and that was that.

Maybe the message was actually for me. Maybe Moore was looking for people to interview for his new documentary about Microsoft.

Heh, not bloody likely.

00:00 | Stuff

May 1, 2003

Moved In

Wow, the move went surprisingly smoothly. I made sure to be in the apartment by 7:30am, just in case. Good thing too because Ikea arrived at 7:50. Ten minutes later they were gone. I got half way through butting my futon together when the movers arrived. Not much to report. They moved my boxes up and left by 9:30. I unpacked most of my stuff and set up the Ikea furniture. I left my books -- the bulk of my shipment -- in boxes until I get a bookcase.

I think I'm going to be happy here. The apartment is big, it's downtown, and there's a Starbucks on every street corner. Who could ask for anything more?

00:00 | Seattle