Saturday, August 27, 2016

What I've been up to these days. (Technically Speaking)

Before I answer that question, I must tell you how I got into Computer Engineering in the first place.
Let's go back, way back, late nineties back, I was a young NCO in an infantry battalion in the U.S. Marines, I had these grand plans, I had all my life mapped out. My life goal then was to be the first Venezuelan born USMC General. For real. I had a few things that stood in the way, one, I was not a. U.S. citizen yet, and another minor thing, I didn't have a bachelor's degree, yet. So the plan was for me to get into the MECEP program, anyway, that's a whole other story, but for now I must tell you that back then I was planning on studying law. Yep, I wanted to have a law degree. This was before I totally understood what it meant to go to law school and pass a BAR and all of that. In any case, in the marines we were allowed to take college courses for free (yes, for free) as long as it didn't interfere with your mission, you could do it. You needed permission from the CO, but you could do it. So, I did, I took College Algebra, Intro to Sociology, Intro to Anthropology and Criminal Justice at Park College on board the USS Austin. I bet you didn't know that Navy ships had college courses, yes, we do, or did back when I was in. So in the Criminal Justice course I totally and completely lost my desire to study law. Our Justice system seemed, well, unfair. I just thought that I would be the world's lousiest lawyer. And frankly, I didn't want to go to school for that long.  I just wanted to get a degree so I could be on my way to OCS and become a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps, so school was more of a means to an end. Once I figured that I didn't want to be a lawyer I had to figure out what I was going to do. I took the aptitude exam and got Cop, FBI agent or CIA whatever, I thought the FBI was cool, but I knew in my heart that's not what I really want, that's when I picked up a career guide and saw that engineering was a well paid profession. Could I be an engineer? I thought, I remember my father told me that he started in Mechanical Engineering before dropping out and then going on to study accounting. I remembered how much I liked math, (I actually used to think that I was pretty damn good at math actually) and I also remembered how much I enjoyed programming my first computer, I used to have an old thing running Windows 3. I learned to write BASIC programs in 6th grade. This was the year 2000 and I was completely unaware of all the things going on in Silicon Valley at the time. But I had heard a lot of about Y2K and the .com bust. So I thought it would be cool to be a Computer Engineer, not Computer Scientist because I wanted the title "Engineer" it sounded so, well, professional, serious, rigorous. 

So back to my point, back in the day I thought that Computer Engineering was about building websites, I had effing clue what was coming. I learned about how processors worked, all the way down to the metal, literally. I learned about Circuits and about Discrete Mathematics and some programming in C, and some other neat stuff like Operating Systems and Networking. But I didn't learn anything about the web. I took a course on Network Security, and Cryptography, but I ended up doing an internship at a chip design team, and then I ended up doing embedded firmware after I graduated.

So finally, two years ago, I am in a team doing web services, that's what I've been up to. Yeah, I know it took a long time to get to this, so if you are still with me, thanks for reading (hi mom!)

So yeah, I am now finally doing something that I've been wanting to do for a while. I am doing Ruby on Rails for the most part. Although my team does a bit of everything, really.

In order to get better I've been reading "The Well-Grounded Rubyist" by Black Manning, hands down the best Ruby book I've read.

Another thing I've been working on is how to become a real-life hard-core algorist. For that I am slowly working my way through "The Algorithm Design Manual" by Steven Skiena.

I am still in Chapter 1.

The first chapter talks about the mindset of the algorist (a person skilled in the design of algorithms)
things like finding counter examples, proving correctness of an algorithm and proving things using mathematical induction.

Yeah, about that,

I've been stuck with the concept, yeah, back in school I did all the homework and passed the test back when I took Discrete Mathematics and Stochastic Systems. But, I feel like I just memorized how to work a family of contrived problems and I didn't really, like truly, deeply learned what proving by induction is all about. On the surface it still feels like magic. I mean, Induction seems kind of simple:

Suppose you want to prove that some property about any integer is true,  say, "n times (n+3) is always an even number" you first prove it for a base number 1, then you prove it that if it's true for then it is true for that base number plus 1 then it is true for all the numbers.

What I am still wrestling with is, how in the world do you know it is proven? How do you know you haven't made a mistake? The set of all natural integers is so freaking large, how do you know there isn't a counter case somewhere.

Obviously I still have some work to do. It may seem like this concept is so far removed from the practical world of actually building programs that do things that people find useful and valuable, but indeed it is very much related, here's why:

Induction is Recursion and Software is Recursion.

Yes, that's right, Recursion is just about doing the same step incrementally until you reach the base case. Most problems and algorithms in Software can be modeled as recursive objects.

Permutations? Recursive objects.
Sets and Subsets? Recursion
Graphs? Recursion
Trees? Are you kidding? Recursion
Strings? Delete one element from a string, what do you get? A smaller String. Strings are recursive objects.

So if you understand Induction, you understand recursion, if you understand recursion you know how to model most algorithms.

Monday, April 18, 2016

10 things I love about Seattle and 10 things I don't like about Seattle


1. Scenery: This state is freaking gorgeous. The snow-peaked mountains. The Puget Sound, the rivers, lakes, the parks, Mt Rainier. It's a beautiful area. San Juan Islands, Ferry to Bainbridge, wow, it's overwhelmingly pretty. Specially for me coming from the Tropics, this is very different from what I grew up with. 

2. Coffee: I live within walking distance of Vivaci, Ladro, Torino, Victrola, Vita, not to mention Starbucks Reserve and more. Good stuff

3. Tech Scene: There's competition for hiring the best software engineers, the big companies like Microsoft and Amazon cannot pump people fast enough. There's tons of smaller companies too and all the big players like Google, Facebook and Uber have offices here, if you can code, you work and live here and not have to pay the high cost of living of the Bay Area.

4. UW: The University of Washington is an great organization, the campus is beautiful, and the ties to the tech industries feed the private sector with world-class talent.

5. City Life: Good restaurants, museums, all kinds of cultural festivals in the city center, there's always something to do here. 

6. Pho and Teriyaki. Enough said. 

7. Nerds and Geek Culture. So there's a lot of scientist and engineers here, so, yeah, there's a lot of geek stuff going on, and it's plain awesome. I've never lived in a city where being a geek was the norm. 

8. Dog Friendly City. You can take your dog anywhere. There's a bulldog meetup, there's tons of dogs everywhere, there are more dogs than kids in Seattle

9. Weekend things with the kids: Hiking RattleSnake Ridge, Chilling at GasWorks Park. Going to the IMAX theater at the Pacific Science Center

10. Safeco Field and Century Link: Going to see the Sounders and the Mariners. I heard the Seahawks are good too, I just haven't had a chance to catch an NFL game yet. 

Needs Improvement

1. Traffic. Probably the worst thing about Seattle is it's traffic. I am not one to complain since I don't have a very long commute. (My office is a 2 minute walk) But still, the way the city is structured plus the lack of a solid public transportation infrastructure make Seattle one of the worst places to drive in the United States. 

2. Pacific North West Passive Aggressiveness. Seriously, wtf? People here are the opposite of, say, New Yorkers, they are nice to you and yet cold to you at the same time. This one warrants more in depth analysis. Just know that people here are...different.  We have met many nice people here, but the funny thing about that they are usually other transplants from the East Coast. Our closer friends here are mostly Floridian, although we've met nice people from Utah, California, Oregon and even Australia, but we're yet to be close friends with any native Seattleites, what gives? 

3. The Weather. It doesn't bother me a lot, but I'd be lying if I said that sometimes the constant drizzle doesn't get old. It's one of those things that you don't think about much as you go about your day, but last week when I was driving back from San Francisco, we had nice weather all the way, until we literally crossed the Washington border and bam, that annoying drizzle again. Maybe I am writing this because we had a brutal super rainy winter, but thankfully the weather has been nice lately so it's making up for lost time. When I first moved here a friend told me that locals just pretend like the rain is not there. That trick actually works most of the time. When you've been driving for 10 hours and want to get home safe, the PNW drenching drizzle is the last thing you want to see on the road. 

4. I-5. See traffic, it's so bad it needs its own entry. 

5. Homeless problem. Man, there's a big problem with homelessness in Seattle. You will see a lot of people on the parks, streets, under the highway, every where. 

6. Drug and Crime. It's not Chicago, it's not the Bronx, Hialiah, nothing like that but, there's a lot of car prowling and petty theft.  It's not uncommon to see used syringes laying on the sidewalks or on the public parks. 

7. Anti-tech sentiment: Amazon has transformed South Lake Union into a hub of mid to high rises with a bunch of new office buildings and a bunch of new rental apartments, as a result, rent has gone up and many people resent it, I totally get why people would get upset if their rent goes up, but the way they express it is by lashing out against programmers and transplants, because we must be the cause for everything that's is going wrong in Seattle. It's ironic that the same people who preach about tolerance and understanding and against stereotypes loves to stereotype the typical tech worker as self-absorbed, boring, white, privileged "brogrammer" when in fact, these companies are introducing a lot of diversity to the city. We transplants are helping the economy and are, for the most part, making Seattle a better place. 

8. House Prices: While it's not as bad as the Bay Area, it's getting there. You can still live quite well out of the city, but then you'd have to deal with traffic. See points 1 & 4.

9. Your vote doesn't count as much. We're all liberals here, so what's the point of voting? the vote has been decided already. If you are a conservative here. Good luck with that. 

10. They don't have a Publix here. (This should have been on top of the list)


How does one live a good life?

This is a good question. I don't want to sit here and ramble a long answer. Part of the reason I am forcing myself to write once a day is to improve my communication abilities. 

When it comes to our desires and our feelings there are two different parts that compete for control. There's the "impulsive" brain and then there's the "reflective" brain so to speak. There's a part of you that is concerned about the here and now, it's the part of you that craves to binge-watch netflix, order pizza, sleep, it's the part of the brain that just want to feel good now. It's associated with the primal desires. It wants to eat, sleep, have sex, be entertained. Then there's the part that wants more than that, it wants you to be better, that better can be different things. Maybe you want more money, more fame, more power, or you want a goal that you care deeply about, like building that bike shed, or running that marathon, losing 20 pounds, or helping the needy, or whatever. 

A good life is when you can satisfy both halves, when you can have a good balance between both sides, also, the goals that you pick matter, it turns out that there are things that are not fulfilling, once you have a certain amount of money, more of it won't make you happier, so what does?

It turns out, the old philosophers were right, improving your character makes you happy. Specifically, The 24 character virtues outlined by Martin Seligman: I recommend you take a look.


Saturday, April 16, 2016

Why I had stopped blogging and why I want to start again.

I stopped blogging ironically because I wanted to write better posts. I wanted to share with the world something worth sharing. The problem is, the tasks seemed so daunting that I would just give up before even starting.

I guess I am just giving up on that and just want to just write whatever comes to my head. Is not like that many people read this anyway.

So what would stop me for writing is that I wonder what would I write that people would want to read?

My life is not boring, but it's not really that unique.

So I'll share with you what's important to me. I strive each day to be better than I was before. But what does that mean? Well, I try to be a better father, a better husband, a better engineer and a better person. I am not always successful, but I try not to make the same mistake twice.

So for the past few years I've been working on that, learning what it means to live a good life, and learning what it means to be a better person. There's actually a lot that has been written about that and I maybe I'll get around to listing them.

Another big theme for me has been the quest for being a good software engineer. I have a lot to say that as well.