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Some January rants

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Spire at Etretat

It's been a kind of productive morning, this Monday morning, and also one filled with rantable episodes. So, no technical stuff this time, just some general topics.

Selling my 'other' car

I sold my other car on Saturday, the one I'd bought in Washington for commuting to Microsoft. MS have this internal classified ads site and I used it at the time to try and find a nice pre-owned commute car (in the end I went to Acura of Bellevue and bought one there). I learned one thing from this internal site: photos and an accurate detailed description are an excellent tool for selling your car (or anything else for that matter).

So, that's what I did last week: I put a small ad in the local rag — 6 lines for 10 days was $23 — with a small amount of description and a URL to a page on my site, and then I then took a number of photos, wrote a description of the car (and why I was selling it), and published the page on my site. I also bought the CARFAX report for the car to show that it's history was all above-board and made that available on the page as well.

Bloody marvelous idea, I tell you. I was able to see how many people looked at the page (it had a slightly different address than the link from my home page), how long they looked, on which thumbnail photos they clicked, and so on. Funnily enough, it also acted as a filter: the people who phoned up had read the page and were already interested and vested in making the test-drive work. It also showed that I was bona fide: the entire web site personalized me to some extent (I was an actual human being, with some kind of reputation) ensuring that any sale would be less problematic. In the end, I sold it to the first person to come and see it — thanks, Joe!.

And he was only just in time. Another person came by just minutes after closing the deal and was also extremely interested, to the extent of making hints that they might have paid a better price.

Driving in Colorado Springs

So this morning I drove to the bank to cash the check from the car sale. On the way there and back I had cause to reflect on drivers in Colorado Springs. The first thing is the number of drivers who don't understand the English word yield, especially when printed on a road sign. Hey people, yield means "give way" (in fact, this is what is written on similar signs in England). It does not mean "I'm traveling fast enough to merge right in front of this guy in his new RSX-S, he'll stamp on his brakes and swerve if he has to." Another one is the complete and utter waste of time that is the 4-way stop. I wish somebody in the road planning department would work out that roundabouts are a more efficient and equitable way of arranging things at a junction that has no traffic lights, but Colorado Springs doesn't seem to like them. Instead we get the aggressive SUV driver who thinks that 4-way stop means "they all stop for me".

My neighbors

...are trying to sell their house and have been doing so for a while, for about three or four months or so. Now, selling a house involves keeping it clean and tidy — obviously — and also means suffering through Open House days (they've had a ten or so Sundays doing this). It is, all in all, a right royal pain in the neck. But you do it, you make your best effort to present your house in the best light all the time. You become ace salesmen and marketers.

Since both of my neighbors work, they have to ensure that things are left presentable even more than usual, since a realtor may pop by at any time during the day while they're away. There's no dashing back home to quickly tidy up.

Well, last night we had about an inch of snow. I was up at 7 this morning, shoveling our driveway and the sidewalk in front of our house. A 5 to 10 minute job, but, bloody hell, it was cold though: 10°F. Now the sun is up both driveway and sidewalk are dry and snow-free (oh, the joys of a south-facing house). The people on the other side of my house-selling neighbors have done the same thing, with the same result. My neighbors though? No, they hardly ever shovel snow.

So a realtor has just been by with some clients, and they had to pick their way up the driveway on the tire tracks left by their cars. Nice first impression.

Bye-bye CompuServe

I'm on a cost-saving kick at the moment (I go though these every now and then). This morning I finally decided to cancel my CompuServe e-mail account. This cost-cutting exercise was a little harder than most: I'd had it for something like 12 years or so, and it was hard to let go of that little bit of the Bucknall history. I used it for the CompuServe forums of old: I used to help out in the Borland and TurboPower forums (my work in the former made me a TeamB member for a while, and my work in the latter got me my job at TurboPower nearly 11 years ago). As it happens, I must have been debating this particular cut for a while, a good year or so.

But, in the end, making the cut was easy. It boiled down to three reasons: I didn't really use it any more (in fact, the last time I changed hard drives, I didn't reinstall the CompuServe e-mail program); it was prone to some MAJOR spam (spammers have an easy time spoofing and guessing CompuServe accounts since they're numeric); and, finally, their Customer Service sucked.

Three years ago, I decided to try CompuServe 2000 (don't ask me why, I must have been delirious at the time) as they were marketing a "get x months free if you swap" plan. I tried it for about 2 days. It was terrible. The new interface was just dreadful; it had much less functionality than the old (you couldn't sort messages by clicking on columns, for example). It was targeted at part-time e-mail users, not for people who wanted to organize, search, and generally analyze their e-mail messages. So, I phoned up to cancel it and asked to be returned to my old account.

Except, they didn't. They screwed it up. Instead I started getting charged for every minute I was online using the service. So, I phoned and complained. They gave me a refund covering all of the extra charges and assured me that my account was now reset properly. Except it wasn't, and I continued to get the online charges. So I just stopped using it.

And, guess what? Customer Service still hasn't changed. This morning I phoned up their cancellation line. I was on hold for 25 minutes waiting for a human operator (do they have that many people canceling at once?) and finally got someone who was marginally more alive than a rock. He answered, he put me on hold, he asked me my name and what I wanted to do, he put me on hold, he asked me my name again, he asked me again what I wanted to do — just cancel this damn account, goddammit — he put me on hold, he asked me why I wanted to cancel, he tried to sell me on the new services they offer for spam. Finally, get this, he told me that my account was still the upgraded CompuServe 2000 and not the old-style CompuServe. My account had never been reset. To which I said, just kill the account, I no longer want it, this is exactly one of the main reasons I want out of CompuServe. Finally, after 15 minutes with him, the deed was done.

Thank you, CompuServe Customer Service; any residual feelings of nostalgia I had were blown away by your ineptitude.

Joel Spolsky on résumés

Finally, a bit of a laugh. Joel Spolsky, of Joel on Software fame, posted one of his occasional articles this morning, this time on the appalling state of résumés and cover letters.

I must admit I agree with everything he said. I too am appalled at the level of spelling and grammar evinced by software developers, especially with regard to their résumés. A résumé is the first and only shot you'll have at getting a particular job and it's just dreadful how many people do a shoddy job of writing or producing it. In my time I've seen spelling mistakes (not only my name, but my company's name, and even technology terms like 'Delphi'), grammatical and punctuation errors, typographical and layout errors, and so on. What does it say about you? 'Hello, I'm a developer who doesn't notice or take care of the details as you can see by the state of my résumé."

And another thing. It's résumé, not resume. Resume is a verb meaning to start anew, to go on again. Résumé is a French word we've appropriated, that means summary. (Aside: it's weird how the summary of one's career has been named by non-English phrases or words, curriculum vitae and résumé.)

Mind you, Joel is ranting about the résumés he's getting for the intern job they have available this summer. The first requirement was "Excellent command of written and spoken English", and it's amazing the number of cover letters and résumés that failed his most basic requirement.

The last time I did this kind of thing, I used to divide up the résumés into three piles: the must follow up pile; might follow up pile, especially if the first pile gets exhausted quickly; and the no way, Jose, pile. Into the last pile went the obviously unsuited and unsuitable applications, together with the seriously attention-to-detail-challenged ones. The middle pile were those who didn't quite have the right stuff, together with the auto-transmitted résumés from monster.com (which we used to use for posting our jobs). The top pile were the people to phone and to court.

So, in essence, if your résumé wasn't up to snuff, you didn't get a look in. And cover letters? Mostly I used to ignore them, knowing that there were any number of books out there telling you how to write a cover letter, what phrases to put in there, "I'm a team-player who's able to work independently when needed," like, doh, you were going to say anything else. Pure marketing fluff, really.

To impress me would require: a good résumé, well proofread and with obvious attention to detail; the right experience; proof of your willingness to help others (say in newsgroups, or through a web site); proof of your coding abilities and style.