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The Surf

I was reading an article on why DRM has always been a bad idea, with mounting evidence to show it when the following came to mind:

Spread out your arms to stop the waves
From crashing into your lovely little sand castle
And be vanquished by its might

Or swim out into the unknown waters
Tussle with the ever changing unmarked currents
Fight to stay afloat in these tides

And then turn shorewards once more
Rush in with the swell and the implacable force of nature
Ride in on a wave of victory

Voila.

Tough interview questions? Bring it and wing it!

Some interviewers hit hard with their questions, and ask real puzzlers. I was once asked, “How many bicycle tyres do you think are sold in China per year?” Wow. But it’s not to see if you know the Right Answer (most of the time, there is none) – you’re basically being asked to reason the question out loud, or demonstrate a bit of your character.

The Guardian just published a few of Glassdoor’s top 25, and I’m surprised to find that they all have scope for some reasoned entertainment. Below I am going to answer each off pretty much the top of my head (please allow that I am typing, slower than talking, and that might give me time to think a bit more…)

• “If your friend was seriously injured and you had to get him to a hospital, would you speed and go through a red light?” – Asked at Barlow Lyde & Gilbert (trainee solicitor candidate)

This one is fairly pragmatic. It asks whether you are willing to make exceptions to rules if a life is in danger. Well. Not really. It reveals whether you think things out before giving an answer. The red light is not just a rule – it’s a safety precaution. Speed through the red light on a busy road, and you’re likely to a) injure more people; b) kill your friend. Then, if you wait at the light, your friend is slowly dying. The crux of the question is another question: why are you driving in the first place? The worst case scenario is that you’re somewhere unknown/hard to get to and you can’t direct the ambulance service easily. Probably in the countryside.

My answer: call the emergencies service, and agree to meet at the nearest crowded place/well known location if needs be. This done, if on the country road there’s a red light and great visibility, and no oncoming vehicles, then maybe at that point I’d expect to be overlooked a transgression for an emergency…

• “Would you rather fight a horse-sized duck or 100 duck sized horses?” – Asked at BHP Billiton (dry bulk marketer candidate)

I love this one.

A) Ducks can be vicious little buggers. Their necks can reach right round to their backs, and then some; they can fly; they are not afraid of chasing a full-grown human; and they can deal nasty bites. Bring that to horse size and what you’ve got is a flying raptor — the famous intelligent killing machines of the Cretaceous, given wings.

B) Horses are fairly docile by human standards. They’d rather flee than fight. In a stampede, if they see something large, they’ll work around it. I have yet to come across accounts of aggressive horses that aren’t actually defending anything you can’t distance yourself from.

The question essentially then becomes: would you rather face the fastest fabled killing machine known to science, or manage a flock of 100 scared puppy-like animals?

• “How many ways can you get a needle out of a haystack?” – Asked at Macquarie bank (senior Java developer candidate)

A perennial favourite and one that I answer thus:

Do you wish to keep the haystack in the form of a haystack? If you do, you’ll find it very difficult. Even just sifting through the haystack upsets it some, but if you can get past it being dismantled, sift, sift and sift again.

If not:

1) Why not try spreading it over a pool? The hay floats, the needle drops, use a strong magnet to get it out.

2) If you don’t even care about the integrity of the haystack…. trial by literal fire. Sifting becomes much, much easier.

Eventually, the answer becomes: two. Dismantle the haystack, or remove the haystack completely.

• “What makes you happy about work on a Friday evening?” – Asked at Tesco (international deployment manager candidate)

This is a more serious question. From my own experience, Friday evenings (read: after hours) at work are not usually my idea of a fun time, however when I know I have a solution to a problem, or I can see what steps need to be taken to resolve it, or I can guarantee that with a bit of brute-force man-hours the job will be done and dusted and 100% complete, then you can bet your bottom dollar that, provided I have enough tea and noodles, I’m there all night.

In the end I would look at the question as, under what circumstances would you face a Friday evening at the office with energy?

• “Why is 99% not good enough?” – Asked at Parcelforce Worldwide (delivery and collection manager candidate)

This one looks on the face of it as a measure of commitment. “I always want to deliver 100% or it’s not worth it” kind of thing. I’d beware of saying anything anywhere remotely associated with that line. What if it’s certain that there will be problems along the way? What if it’s uncertain the rest of your organisation will be behind you? If you don’t deliver 100%, what will you do, how will you take it? And what if you achieve far less than 99%?

99% is not good enough if that’s where you set the bar up front. 100% is your target. “Good enough” here to me implies that that is a goal. “If we only deliver the basic features but leave out the bells and whistles we’re fine” kind of attitude. This kind of approach wins no prizes.

To put emphasis on this, I would actually put this forward: if a project is handed over to you, and it is clear you can’t make 100% because of whatever business reasons (as they happen in the real world) what do you do?

If it is impossible to reach the original 100%, and you must be very, very clear on why, then it is your onus to bring this out to stakeholders immediately and renegotiate a new 100%.

There are doubtless thousands of variations on this topic, and it could probably fill a PhD report. Single out some key ideas, and let your thoughts run with it.

My answer is: because it means you didn’t deliver what you truly could.

• “In a fight between a lion and a tiger, who would win and why?” – Asked at Capco (associate consultant candidate)

We’ll assume no knowledge of the combat abilities of a lion and a tiger in the wild, nor how or why they got there. We’ll assume they have to fight, no other choice. A pit or something. Which one wins?

Well, to be honest, I think a majority would agree that there’s a 50-50 chance of either one winning. But that’s too short an answer.

Let’s perhaps talk about Apple and Microsoft (I’m a techie, but use analogies from your own field at will). Each has assets, each has advantages, each has disadvantages, each has aspirations, plans, markets, user bases, loyalties and so on and so forth. What is true is that they are pretty much maintained at a nice little status quo where Apple has a very powerful niche whilst Microsoft is powerfully serving the masses. Linux has joined the fray, but that’s like adding a leopard to our big cat combat — agile but not powerful.

Or without diverting the conversation, just state plainly that each has their own abilities and that perhaps in certain conditions, one is better favoured than the other, and may gain an advantage. Concluding form the start that there is an evident winner is a disadvantage.

Then, if you have good knowledge of big cats, here’s your chance. May the gods help you.

• “How would you explain Facebook to your Grandma?” – Asked at Huddle (sales executive candidate)

Imagine the town square, and everyone sets up a stall, with all their photos and home videos on display, voicing their opinions at the top of their lungs, or boasting how great their lives are.

Imagine the town square where Mrs Jones discusses with Mrs Smith the subject of Mr Brown’s favourite pair of trousers — through megaphones.

Imagine then a salesman roaming this town square, where everything is said out in the open, hawking his wares to anyone he overhears talking about something he can sell to them.

Imagine James Bond’s colleagues gathered around, looking and sounding like everyone else, but taping everything and sending it all back to HQ.

That’s what Facebook is like. With the exception that people love it, as if they were living a Monty Python sketch in real life.

The Dinner Table is the Bedrock of Social Stability

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“There’s a tradition [in our dorm], where we have a hot pot party for anything special. Last year, we only had two or three; but this year we kept having more and more. Before we knew it, we were having one every week. When we were all together around the hot pot, it made me

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Kara – by Quantic Dream Aside from the technological capabilities of the PS3 (Sony does it again – w00t), this video is very interesting from a more… philosophical standpoint. I’m what one would call a “fan” of Ghost in the Shell, a Japanese anime series, iconic in the world of robotics geeks and cybernetics nuts.

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A reason behind religion

In the course of trying to plan out a novel, I am trying to create and document a religious form for its inhabitants. Originally this was supposed to take a non-mythological form, all based around rational thinking. But the more I reflected on it (and this is the domain of theological psychology; my thoughts being further prompted by a printed article in The Economist: http://www.economist.com/science/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10875666), the more I realized that without the dogmatism of something unquestionnable, such as the Will of God for example, there is an inherent possibility to throw each and every rule out the window at any given point. This can be for the better or the worse, but the point is not there.

A “faith” based in the scientific methods cannot form a religious community: it forms a democratic one, in which the majority voice of the people wins it over the rules their predecessors have laid down; whereas in a properly religious community, any decision of what is right or wrong can be deferred to the Supreme Being(s).

Up the Faction Ladder

As a community grows larger it becomes harder to moderate the interactions between the disparate groups within (which I will call factions). The larger the community, the more sparse any interaction between an individual and any other becomes. There are a select few who will be the most frequently contacted, and this grouping around any one individual becomes a faction. Whilst within a faction, a level of mutual and self-initiated respect is upheld by each and every individual, this becomes less so as the group grows.

As such, each faction appoints (or is appointed) a leader (implicitly, the leader in a group of friends is the most popular person), and each collection of factions elects a leader to the rank above (think from community to neighbourhood representative), to moderate at different levels the interactions between the now dispersed entities. This deference of responsibility goes up and up, until we reach a point where we need an authority that everyone agrees cannot be questioned. That authority is “God” or “the gods” or “the Natural Order”. The interpretation of how to behave in the light of such Truth is the basis of our sense of morality, the practical derivative which we use to guide us through our actions, and keep the group as a whole running relatively smoothly, with the idea (and system) of justice present to smooth out the creases.

In a religious society, the morals are defined and passed down through the generations as truths not to be questioned, rules not to be broken. They are firmly engrained into our belief system (thanks or due to our parents) and as per this definition, anything that is different is a “wrong” way of doing something. This exclusiveness is what has allowed small communities to develop through time into vast states, even Empires, united under a relatively homogenous way of thinking (at a very broad level mind you). It is, as anyone should be quick to point out, also the source of many woes.

On the other hand, science allows for the questioning of the model at hand, which is constantly updated with the latest information, refactored to take into account as many facts of the world around us as can be perceived, and also allows us to infer new possibilities that can reside hidden in the cosmos, attainable only by the power of our minds.

The argument against a faith based on science

So, to come back to the original problem: why can there not be a religion based on scientific principles?

Democracy is based on the aforementioned ideal of encompassing every known truth about the state of the world, by deciding that the desire that is expressed most widely is the one to adopt at any given time. Bis repetita placent. The problem here is that each person has their own reality, their own values derived through the ancestors to its current form and influenced by the world around us. As each person evolves socially and experiences the world around them differently, each person therefore splits back into their factions, leaving a heterogenous, divided collective of factions, decreasingly united by the number shared of moral values as we zoom out to the larger communities; values which, by the nature of their not being scientifically quantifiable, can only in social analysis carry equal weight.

The result is that no one set of moral values can be applied to a group of people, short of creating a dogmatic rule – one solution is religion, which speaks to the heart, another is political system, which speaks to the mind; and whilst any leader in a political system may be questioned by virtue of their being merely human, the Supreme Being(s) itself/themselves/Himself cannot. The closest a person can come to this is by becoming a dictator, and even that person cannot keep the illusion of the divine for long.

In both cases, such ruling dogma can be seen as a tool for a purpose: to maintain cohesiveness amongst a large group of free-radicals who would otherwise be in a state of chaos; and as a tool it can be wielded for both beneficial and degenerative purposes. The ideal would be a benevolent dictator: one who would remain unquestioned – not merely by the awesomeness of their power, but also in the belief that what they are doing is truly and sincerely in the interest of all.

Such a belief is maintained in a religious community. Those who hold faith in their religion do not question, because they earnestly believe in the benevolence of their Supreme. In a political system? I do not believe there can be such an individual, because it would be hard for all people to believe in a powerful human being’s earnest good will, since it would require a purity unheard of to hold out against the temptation to abuse such power.

In conclusion, and to wrap up with Apalmia once more, I am going to have to give the Apalmians some supernatural Supreme Beings at some point, if only for the sake of being able to give them a certain level of homogenous identity which would not be short of drone-like had there not been some deity involved.