MAYBE LATER

I might have an interesting post to make later, so I will save it until then. What could it be? A salad for lunch? A nickel I found on the ground? My testicles finally descended? Stay tuned.

NETFLIX

In Canada, we recently got the Netflix service. I’m using it via Xbox Live, some of you might be using the other devices to access it. I’ve been using it for about three weeks as part of their one month free trial. It’ll be $8 a month after that. At the beginning it sounded like an awesome deal. Eight dollar a month for unlimited access to movies and TV shows. Given that there was a one month free trial, it was easy for me to decide to give it a try.

Once I signed up and began browsing the selection on my Xbox 360, it was quickly evident that perhaps $8 wasn’t that awesome of deal. Simply put, the selection of films and TV shows on Netflix in Canada sucks compared to American Netflix. On Canadian Netflix, don’t even bother looking for any movies that were released in the last year or so. The newest set of movies appears to be mostly from 2008. There is the rare movie or two that’s available from 2009 but those are the exceptions rather than the rule. For example, one of the latest “new releases” in the movies section was Jennifer’s Body, which I admit was released in 2009, but isn’t exactly a cinematic masterpiece. Most of their selection appears to be from 2008 and older, sometimes much older. Another problem is that most of their movies aren’t that good. You’d expect to see any of the Lord of the Rings movies available but they are not. There seem to be a ton of B-movies that are of dubious entertainment value.

The selection of TV shows is a bit better and that’s where I’ve done most of my viewing. Again though, you can’t expect to see the latest shows on Netflix. You’d think that shows from last season would be online by now but most of them are not. Some shows aren’t even available at all, even if there are several years old. I’d love to see all the episodes of 30 Rock from season one on but that show isn’t available. Strangely, the last season of Saturday Night Live is though. I was able to enjoy all the episodes of Hoarders in season one. I also watched a few episodes of American Chopper from 2003.

My one month free trial is coming to an end this week and I’m still undecided if I’m going to continue my subscription and start paying. Have I watched more than $8 worth of entertainment so far? If I were to compare how much I’d have to spent at the video store to get access to the same amount of shows and movies I watched, then the answer would be yes. The convenience alone was probably worth $8 and some of the shows I viewed probably wouldn’t even be at my local video store. Now here’s the interesting thing, I could have downloaded everything I watched using torrents for the price of free. Now I admit Netflix was more convenient and saved me time. Instant streaming is much easier than having to search for a torrent and then download it, not knowing how many seeders and peers might be out there. Again, perhaps $8 is a small price to pay for convenience.

In the end, there really wouldn’t be that much of a debate if the selection was a bit better. Netflix Canada is great for anyone who was in a coma from 2000 to 2006 and then woke up and wanted to watch really average movies. For those who have US Netflix, I envy you!

HOARDERS

About two days ago I started watching the TV show Hoarders off Netflix. As you might imagine the show is about people who have a problem with hoarding. I’ve watched about five episodes and I definitely have noticed some interesting things. At least on a personal level, I think some hoarders are more fascinating to observe than others. I found the episodes where people hoard food or animals to be way more entertaining. It’s because both food and animals, when hoarded, lead to way more shocking discoveries. In one episode, a woman who hoarded food had an unimaginably dirty and filthy home. Rotting food littered her house. They discovered some meat had gone bad and had liquefied into this black liquid in the fridge. That discovery cleared out the house and caused people to nearly vomit. Another hoarder took in cats. When the show brought in people to clean out the house, they found dead cats by the dozens hidden and lost among all the mounds of refuse. They showed kittens who had died just a few short days before. Other cats were left as skeletons, where their fur and flesh had gone could only be guessed at. Other dead cats were mummified, leathery skin stretched over bones in whatever pose they had died in. The kittens were the most shocking part. There was was so much refuse in the house that the cat lady was oblivious to the fact that a new litter of kittens were even in her home.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that there probably is a very fine line that separates people who have the mental illness that causes hoarding and “regular” people. Hoarders often can’t stand to throw away things because of either attachment or some other reason that they rationalize in their head. I’m not a hoarder myself but I can sorta understand their thinking, even if it’s disastrous thinking. I can understand why a hoarder might save a ticket stub to a concert because I’ll do that too. The problem is a hoarder will save the same emotional attachment to a bottle of water they bought at the corner store.

The show also taught me that you can actually get certified as a professional organizer. It wasn’t a surprise when the show brought on psychologists because I expected that as it’s a mental health and behavioural problem. It was a surprise, however, that there is a method to get accreditation as a professional organizer. I bet it helps legitimize the profession of being a full-time organizer.

Lastly, I think anyone who watches the show tries to compare their own lives with those who are on the show. Am I a hoarder? Could I turn into a hoarder? For myself, my apartment gets messy or dirty at times but that can be rectified by myself and in less than two hours. I’ve lived in my apartment for about a year and a half and I’m actually surprised at how very little “stuff” I’ve accumulated. It’s still very sparsely furnished in here and spartan. It’s certainly not fold up chairs and a picnic table in here but there’s no way I’d lose a kitten and let it die in the corner either.

INTERVIEWS

In the last year, I’ve been through at least four job interviews. Since all the jobs that I applied for were software engineering positions, the interviews usually follow the same sort of process. There’s always a technical component and then some project manager types try to assess how well I would do in a team environment. No matter where I go, the interview is always lengthy. The interview that was the shortest in length this year was just over an hour and I was shocked how little time the company spent on interviewing their candidates. The average time I’ve spent during an interview is about three hours.

When it’s a three hour process, the first hour is usually spent with two engineers. The second hour is spent with another set of two engineers. The third hour is reserved for project managers and if applicable, designers or artists. For me, talking with the engineers is the part that always stresses me out. When they ask me what I’ve done on other games, I’m ok with that. When they ask me technical questions that I can answer in a sentence or two, I’m also cool with that. It’s when they ask me to go to a white board and get me to solve a problem while watching me is the part that is the toughest. Literally thinking on your feet while solving a technical problem is not easy to begin with but imagine doing that while two people are watching you, waiting for you to write something on the board. Situations like this are stressful. Some companies skip the whiteboard questions and instead get you to write a written test. I was once put in a room alone with the test and a crappy pencil that kept breaking on me. They told me I had one hour to do as best as I could. I think spent more time watching the lead breaking on me than actually writing down answers.

The part when I have to talk to project managers and designers is much easier for me. I think I have fairly good communication skills so I just do my best to answer their questions about the “process” of making games and working in a dynamic team environment. I have a friend who is also a software engineer working in the games industry and curiously enough, he has the exact opposite feelings about the different parts of an interview. He is never stressed out by the technical aspects of an interview but he finds it much tougher to talk to the project managers and other non-tech types.

When the interview is over, especially the three plus hour ones, I usually find myself feeling exhausted and I’m always, without fail, hungry for food right afterwards. From a physical standpoint, I haven’t really done much during the time but I just feel mentally drained. Once, I just came home, ate a whole bunch of chicken wings and feel asleep on my sofa. From a company’s perspective, I can understand why they make candidates go through the rather lengthy process. I just remembered that some companies won’t even ask you to come in for the three hour interview until you’ve passed two separate phone interviews. EA was like that when I applied in 2006. Choosing to take on a new employee is a considerable investment and possibly a risk for a company. Beyond the obvious salary commitment, there is an investment in time and training. The risk is that the employee doesn’t work out like that they had hoped and that can have ramifications on the quality of the game and/or when the game is delivered.

I’m curious as to what the interview process is like for your job type. How did you get your current job? I’m a bit envious of those of you who are able to get a job by just meeting with one person and talking about your past work history and not being grilled with hard questions.

OH HEY, IT’S ME

Earlier this evening I checked visitor logs for my site and saw that I had over double the number of visitors for yesterday. Most, if not all the visits came from or near the University of Manchester. It turns out one of my namesakes had posted a link to my blog. No, it wasn’t the dentist, it was another one, this guy. I’m only aware of three namesakes, the dentist, and two other ones (including this guy). The non-dentist ones are younger than I am. I wonder if they think I’m some old man who’s not hip and is so out of touch with the modern world than he only has a blog and not a Twitter account.

You know if I were rich and carefree, I’d spent money to gather all my namesakes from across the world so that we could meet once a year at some exotic location so we could meet and catch up. Imagine having a wicked party at the Chuck E. Cheese in Monaco one year and then next year having a bash at the Olive Garden in Ibiza, Spain. That would be awesome! It’s a shame, nay almost a crime, that I’m not rich.

My fellow namesakes, if I ever win the lottery, you better start brushing up on your skee ball skills.

DONKEY BALLS IT’S COLD

It’s the most cliched topic in Vancouver right now but it’s certainly not going to stop me from writing about it. It’s bone-chilling, ass-breaking cold right now. The app on my phone currently tells me it’s minus seven degrees Celsius. For Vancouver, that’s bitterly and unfairly cold.

I had to venture outside today and I gave no second thought to breaking out my winter coat for the first time this season. I did my best not to be exposed to the outside extremes for more than five minutes as it became quite uncomfortable after that. Anyone having to battle the cold and the wind today was in for an unpleasant time.

Once I got home, things only got marginally better. Because I’m stupidly clinging onto my desire to not turn on the heat in my apartment, it’s not exactly home sweet home here. I’m guessing the temperature in here is anywhere between 6-8 degrees Celsius. I have two pairs of socks on but that’s the only additional clothes I’ve put on. The funny thing is, it’s actually warmer in my hallway than my apartment. I propped open my front door for a few minutes to let some heat in.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to be homeless right now. I certainly hope for their sake, they take advantage of all the open shelters around the city right now. If I could, I fill my own apartment with homeless dudes if I could. Not sure how much warmer they’d find it though.

Seeing as how I have no job and a little bit of money, I should be somewhere else warm right now.

MISCELLANY

It snowed in the Greater Vancouver area over the weekend and temperatures dropped below freezing the last several nights. I live near some water so there was less snow in my area but it still has been quite cold. For second year in the row, I’ll be participating in my own “Winter Heat Challenge”, where I try not to turn on the heat for the entire winter. It’s nights like this where it’d be nice to turn on the some heat. Instead, I just put on extra layers and use a reverse Snuggie that doesn’t have any arms.

I’m still very much enjoying my time as an unemployed bum. I can’t remember the last time I woke up before noon. It’s quite a treat to be playing video games at 3am and see that you’re the only one who can still be online. I have plenty of other things I’d like to do with my time off. Let’s hope I get to them all before I get another job, I’d like to finish knitting that scarf for Mr. Giggles.

On Saturday, I saw a scene being filmed for the movie This Means War starring Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, and Reese Witherspoon. It appeared to be second unit stuff as I’m not sure if I saw any of the main actors. They were filming in a parkade about two blocks from my apartment. A Jeep was being chased by a Suburban at high speeds and people were shooting weapons from both vehicles. What ever blanks they used were quite loud and made for an entertaining way to spend the last bit of a Saturday afternoon.

Well, I hope everyone enjoys their Monday or as I call it, “another day where I don’t go to work”.

NO BIG DEAL

In an earlier post, I wrote that the money I received as part of my severance package had not been subject to tax deductions yet. I was informed of this via e-mail and at the time, I was not aware of the total amount of money that would have to go towards taxes.

This morning, I received another e-mail which actually did state how much money had to return. It turns out I only need to send back less than $200 to the government. My severance money was divided into mainly two sums, one very large one and another small one. Taxes were only not withheld on the small amount which explains why it’s such a small amount. It’s a very reasonable amount to return so I’m quite pleased.

This is the go-ahead I’ve been looking for to buy swampland in Florida.

OH YEAH, I DON’T HAVE A JOB

I’ve been out with friends and former co-workers two nights in a row. I also went grocery shopping yesterday. All of these events have me spending money in amounts that perhaps I should not be. Now you might think buying groceries is necessary. Yes, that is true but I don’t think I’m buying smart. I need to start buying stuff that makes my dollars go farther. I should be buying stuff like Hamburger Helper that will last me more than a day. Pasta is cheap and ground beef is relatively cheap, both of those things together will help me draw out my money a bit further. Who knows how long I’ll be unemployed?

Hey, if I dropped by your homes, would you give me some canned food?

PAYROLL WHOOPS

So as I wrote earlier this week, I had my severance package deposited into my account as a lump sum on Friday. This was a substantial chunk of change and I was taking suggestions as to how best allocate the money. I had come to the conclusion that as a first step I should probably move some of that money into a savings account that earns “high” interest. Mostly due to laziness, I haven’t moved the money yet.

Sometime this afternoon, I received an interesting e-mail from an HR representative at EA. It turns out that the payroll company that EA employs to handle paying the employees made a big boo-boo when they processed the severance package payouts. The payroll company neglected to deduct income tax from all the lump sum payments. So some of the money that was given to me and well over a hundred other people belongs to the government. The problem is that if you count the weekend, there was four whole days where people could have done anything with that money. With online services now, people could have even used the weekend to buy who knows what with the money they got.

The e-mail I received did not mention the exact the details in which the error would be corrected. I’m guessing they just figured out what went wrong and wanted to tell us as soon as possible so that we could cancel all our orders of booze and hookers. For each laid off employee, they’ll need to calculate how much tax needs to be deducted and then figure out how to get that tax money back from us. Do we give the money directly to the government? Will the money be electronically transferred out from our accounts? I am sure they’ll come up with some clever solution quite quickly.

It’s a good thing I didn’t do anything foolish with that money!