Guess I didn't botch it so bad after all...

On the 10th of January, I started working at Surreal Software as a tools engineer. Pretty cool place, great people, high stressload, not much free time at the moment - thus the lack of blog postings.

I guess I didn't botch it so bad after all :)

Surreal is probably best known for the recent game The Suffering, which is a survival/action/horror game in the same vein as the Silent Hill games.

It's good to be here. All I need to do now is figure out how to fit going to the gym for 2 hours a day in with actually sleeping, eating, and going to work and still having time to wind down afterwards. Guess it doesn't help that I started right around a major crunch.

#Surreal Software
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Not Quite Teen Movies

Recent movies which don't exactly fit into the Hughes oeuvre, but which do, oddly, fit into the category of Teen Movies include the wonderful Donnie Darko, Garden State, and the hit/miss Butterfly Effect.

They're kind of like nostalgia teen movies - but instead of a "coming of age", the lesson is that you can't go back to your past - and the memories are never as good as you thought they were.

Often, redemption or reconcilliation are major plot themes.

Donnie Darko, of course, is a complete cipher in that the main loop of the film never actually happens in a real universe. It's all just a move to push Donnie into the position where he can die to close the loop that should never have been started in the first place. The universe goes back on course, and only the resonance of his actions remain.

It's also unlike Garden State and Butterfly Effect in that instead of the character returning to their past, Donnie is unaware that he's returning to anything. Instead, the whole movie is tainted as if looked at through a dark bitter glass. There is mold and mildew on the wallpaper, and the smell is dank, torrid, warm, spongy and wrong. Childhood looked at through a jaded adult's eyes - seeing all the things that you missed back then because you weren't as cynical. That's Donnie Darko. It's foetid. And I love it.


Rules for Writing Classic Teen Movies

This is my own notes from my notebook on the subject. I'd love to know if anyone disagrees with my take on it...

It's not high drama. It's comedy or melodrama. The problems are not life threatening - nor should they be. Suicide is not to be included. Death can be. But on the whole, the movie should be light in tone.

The teens must create the scenario they're in themselves - they drive it all.

Weird Science - the teens create Lisa,
Ferris Bueler's Day Off - he decides to take a day off school and play hookey
Explorers - they build a ship based on their dreams

If it's a fantasy piece, their home life must be equally evil/morbid/bleak/unenjoyable to balance it out.

The factors which make it unenjoyable must be overcome by the end of the movie in a "coming of age" plot.

Their arrogance once they discover they have power must be enough to nearly trip them completely. However, it is kept in check and they learn the error of their ways.

They must be the underdogs. They are not the cool people in school. They are not the desirable ones. They may be bullied. Or they may just be outcasts. Either way, they're not part of the "in-crowd". (In other words, the majority of teens will feel this way and will identify with it).

Similarly, the "in-crowd" must get their comeuppance. People who ostracize them get an equivalent penance. People who bully them get shown to be cowards. The high road or the slapstick one is always taken, as an eye-for-an-eye drags you from comedy to drama.

Conflicts include:

  • The desire to find a girlfriend
  • The desire to have sex / kiss / make out
  • The desire to look cool
  • The desire to be popular / have friends
  • The desire to be talented, or considered to be skilled in some way - special.
  • The desire to have one's dreams come true as a career (science, music, whatever… but the dreams are caricature broad strokes - astronaut / magician / rock star / secret agent - not accountant, scientist, engineer or line cook)
  • The need to have a part time job to get money
  • Access to independence - car, private space/territory, no curfews
  • Restrictions because they're not yet adults or old enough - age limits in bars, voting (becomes more important later, but is still an issue), pornography, sex, drinking, dancing, driving, smoking
  • Ultimately, the importance is that of being able to control one's own destiny, instead of being at the whim of adults.

      The scenario must provide them with things that they dream about. This can include the resolution of any of the above conflicts. However, it doesn't have to come easy. Or it can come easy, but arrives with strings attached. The resolution of these strings or the price that has to be paid drives the majority of the plot.

      Any rules or restrictions which are broken (smoking, drinking, etc) must come with consequences to show why they are rules in the first place. The teens must then deal with the consequences. Eg. drinking = hangover. Smoking = coughing. Partying = the place gets trashed. Driving = the car crashes, or the police chase them for speeding. The resolution can be unlikely or impossible - but they must deal with the consequences of their adult acts and find a way to get rid of the negative effect. The only case where this doesn't happen is sex, which is never committed - it's just not tasteful to admit that teens have sex. Softcore porn and lust? Fine (as long as it's not a teen character getting naked). Kissing? Sure! Go for it. Sleeping in one another's arms, tastefully fully clothed? Absolutely! But no real sex. However, the set up for it can be there...

      The scenario should follow the traditional hero plot curve, except that unlike the major hero arc (eg. Indiana Jones, where the hero does not get what he wants at the end and is thwarted once more), they kids do get what they want - and learn their lesson to boot.

      As part of this, at the end of the film, the teens must be recognized to have gained at least some part of their adulthood. (Ferris Bueller is different in that in this movie, Ferris essentially takes the part of Lisa from Weird Science, or Loki from Greek Mythology - he is the trickster, and he sets up everything for Cameron's journey - not his own. This is also borne out in the fact that Ferris is universally liked by the other students - he is the joker in the class, and not an outcast or outsider).

    #fiction, #script writing, #story
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    Movie Subtext Analysis Quiz

    Essay Question 1.

    In Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Matthew Broderick's character Ferris is the Norse God Loki the trickster. Discuss.

    Yes, I know... some people might consider this to be stretching things a bit, but I'm pretty certain that this is the case. Certainly, Ferris Bueller's Day Off doesn't follow your typical teen "coming of age" style plot - unlike, say, Weird Science or Stand By Me. Although one character does come of age - specifically, Cameron. Ferris, however, is the joker, trickster and liar who puts Cameron into situations he wouldn't ordinarily be in. He's also seemingly immune to twists of fate and doesn't learn anything during the course of the movie. Thus, I posit that he's actually not a real person in the drama at all, but is in fact the embodiment of the archetype of Loki.

    At least, that's my take on it. Not sure who that makes Rooney though.


    Recruiter Incompetency

    I'm finding it very amusing how incompetent some recruiters are. I mean, I know they're doing the whole search engine scattergun thing to find people, and there's so many hours in the day... but please... at least try to pretend that you actually read the resumes you look at before contacting the author of them.

    Recent examples of laziness include:

    Not Reading the Not Willing To Relocate or Full Time Employment Only flags on Monster

    I mark my resume as not willing to relocate. I just bought a house, unless you're willing to throw money at me - and my wife who is quite happy where she lives now - it ain't going to happen. Also, there are only a very few places I'll consider relocating to - SoCal is one of them. NYC is another. Chicago - maybe. Anywhere else? Fuggedaboutit. At least right now anyway. So if you've got a position in Oregon, that's nice - my location is Redmond, Washington.

    Similarly, I'm not interested in contract positions unless I'm a really damn good fit, and you have cash oozing out of your pores. My contract rate is probably too high for you to consider (if you're interested, it has been $150/hr for the past 6 years. It drops if you have your head screwed on, I like you, and you can't afford me). I like full time positions for a reason - I work better in a stable environment (ADHD - membership has its coping strategies). If I don't have that, I charge a lot more for my work.

    The upshot of all of this? Unless I'm going to be a multimillionaire at the end of it, I really don't think I'll be taking a three month contract in Eugene, Oregon.

    Not Reading My Address Info

    My resume clearly states my location - Redmond, WA. If you want to give me a job in the Seattle area, please don't ask me if I'm willing to relocate. I'm already here. If you want me to move all of my belongings into your office space to "improve productivity", frankly, it just ain't going to happen. I'd slit my wrists first and write my resignation letter in my own blood. That, and you'd probably get sick of my cats throwing up hairballs on your tile carpet floors.

    By the way, if you as a recruiter can't keep track of simple details like this (you know, top of 1st page of resume stuff), why would I trust you with my career?

    Wanting me to phone you when I tell you I prefer email

    You email me to ask me to talk to you on the phone.

    Great! You've shown that you have the initiative and the knowledge to use email.

    However, you didn't read my resume. I clearly state that I prefer email contacts - not phone contacts. I ignore recruiters who break this rule. Unless I'm doing a phone screen, I do email pretty much exclusively - I don't need the distraction, and I don't like to hand out my cellphone number to random strangers, which is the only way to get a hold of me during the day.

    If you really need to talk to me on the phone, we can arrange that. At least get the ball rolling by email first. It won't hurt you - and it allows me to organize my thoughts better than I can on the fly on the phone.

    Incorrectly Searched Resumes

    I'm not interested in being a salesperson for Farmers Insurance, thanks. If you'd read the resume, you'd see that it's probably not a good career move for me. Or a good fit at all. I'm a software engineer. Through a strange twist of fate I have people skills (at least I do offline - online I'm a bit rough around the edges). Probably not good enough people skills to become an insurance agent without becoming a raving maniac or an alcoholic.


    Look at my resume. The top line says I'm interested in GUI work mainly. Win32 stuff. Maybe games. Sure, I can do embedded - but I really want to work on consumer apps or games. I'm looking for a new job for a reason - I've spent the last three years working on one specific thing. I don't really feel like continuing down that path. So stop sending me job offers to work on similar things - particularly when I spell out exactly what I want in that whole "Goals" part that people want you to put on the top. I want something new to do.


    No, I will not work for your company if you spam me. There is one recruitment firm at the moment who is spamming me with electronic engineering positions (not a good fit - they must have applied a search engine to my resume, and those keywords fell out) as well as software ones. I have no prior relationship with these guys (they're just after the $10k/person finders fee that applies to most recruited positions). The guys in question are nsi as far as I can tell (I'll update with the next one). I unsubbed from their list over a week ago - no dice. I still get their spammage. I hate these bastards.

    Their offices are near me. If they insist on carrying on, pretty soon they will probably find out what it's like to try to get into offices when the door locks have been superglued. Not that I'm saying I'll be the one doing it, mind you. I have friends who will do such things for me, so I don't have to mess with cyanoacrylic gels.

    Exact Skill Set Matches

    Some software guys who interview are bad at this too.

    My skills don't need to exactly match your problem domain. If I can understand your problem, I can solve it, or pick up the skills so fast you won't notice it took me any time at all.

    So no, I don't have recent 3d games programming experience. But I can get it. Just point me in the direction - I'll go.

    Salary Negotiations

    This is the most bullshit part. Yes. I do want to be paid. Yes I do have a lower limit. Will I work for less? Only if it's as a favor to a very good friend, or there is the potential for HUGE upsides.

    I don't want to barter over salary, but that's how it works. But please - at least tell me the ballpark you're thinking of. It costs me a day's salary (potentially) to come interview with you - don't make me waste that money if you're only going to pay half of what I ask for. Tell me up front, and wecan work on it.

    Inconsiderate Demands on a Person's Time

    Requiring that someone fill out a 5 page essay that requires 4 or 5 hours of their time to do an appropriately considerate job filling it out is an inconsiderate demand.

    This is doubly inconsiderate if you're requiring this before you talk to the person for a phone screen.

    It's triply inconsiderate if you're leading a person on into thinking that it's a really cool position in a really cool team, only to then reveal (after all this work has been done) that it's for a position that most people wouldn't touch with a bargepole. (I have nothing against my brethren in QA - but I've seen how people are treated if they're SDETs - some groups view them as "not good enough to be real SDE's"... which is somewhere above contractors, who themselves are higher than 3rd party vendors).

    On a related note, I don't mind doing programming tests. They're fun. They're puzzles. But for God's sake, please, tell me my score at the end. And tell me the questions I screwed up so that I can make sure I don't make those mistakes again. The only way to learn is through your mistakes, and after you leave college, you don't get tested on it much any more. So it's a rare and important learning opportunity.

    What's more, verification of answers allows for:

    1. The possibility of typos (I'm human, and I have ADHD... there's a reason I got into computers - they tell you when you make mistakes in your code by not working. If you're doing math (for example) instead, you need to get another mathematician to prove you wrong before you can see the easy mistakes). I might have got the wrong column or something transposed. It happens a lot.

    2. The possibility that there was an error made during marking of the test. It does happen.

    3. The possibility that the test itself was wrong.

    (This really does happen. I once did one of the home Mensa tests - multiple choice answers - and found several questions where there was more than one correct answer for each question. Problem: the test was asking for the correct answer. Mensa insisted that their test was correct - because the 3rd party that produces it for them insisted that it was ... well... correct. This is the kind of problem you run into when there is no oversight or verification on tests - you get badly written, plainly wrong, invalid tests).

    In my last programming test, I got 100% in one section, and 96% in another... it was multiple choice, so I can conclude from this that I got one question wrong. One single question. Damnit! I need to know why! Do I need to hit the books on one topic again? Or did I just screw up and put down an A where there should have been a B? For my own sanity, peace of mind, and ability to sleep at night... I need to know! ;-)

    The programming test took three hours by the way. The same place also did phone screens. While I can see the point in doing them, I think that if these guys were paying me at my contract rate for the time spent doing them, they might not have so many hoops to jump through - especially as the programming test didn't seem to have any bearing on the interview process at all. In short, recruiters, please make sure that your hiring process respects the fact that potential candidates have limited time they can take from their day job. So either be flexible and schedule long interviews for Saturdays, or cut down on the amount of red tape and "home work" that candidates need to go through. Optimize the process. It's good for you, and good for the people who will work for you.


    Simon is a pissy boy. No... erm... wait... well, okay. I am. But please guys - I'm doing my job. You do yours. And together we'll have a beautiful relationship.


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