Today has been a marathon day of interviewing: I did two PM interviews and one dev interview. While we’re interviewing and hiring at a breakneck speed today was an exception. I’ve now interviewed more candidates than I can remember for PM, dev and test jobs. The rate at which we’re talking to candidates is pretty exciting but it can get really tiring really quickly. You need to continually be the face of the company to a candidate, while at the same time trying to evaluate the candidate and see if they’ll make a good fit. It’s a bit more interesting here since English is never the first language thus there are often times some level of language barriers to cross as well.

The resumes we get are different in some aspects from the ones in the states, as well. For starters, you normally get it in both Chinese and English (and the English isn’t always perfectly comprehensible). Plus, the resumes normally include information that’d never show up in the US, such as party affiliation (I’ll let you, the astute reader, guess what party they list), gender, birth date. Stuff like that would never ever appear on a resume in the states but here its commonplace to have it listed right next to the candidates name. Interestingly enough, those items never made it on to the English version of the resume.

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It’s Raining

It started raining yesterday sometime while I was at work and hasn’t really stopped since. The weather report has it raining until Saturday this weekend. While normally this woudn’t be such a bad thing, I walk to work both ways each day. It’s not that bad of a walk, only 15 minutes, but that’s 15 minutes of being pelted by wet streets, crazy traffic, and having to breath sewage near my apartment. That’s right, pretty much every time it rains on the sidewalk near my apartment it smells like sewage for about 5 seconds. I venture a guess to say the lines get backed up during rain and the fragarance comes topside. I have become an expert in knowning when and how long to hold my breath.

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RedYawning Issues

You may have noticed that RedYawning has been having availability issues over the last week or so. There have been primarly two reasons the first being simple and the latter a bit tougher. First of all, RY is hosted on a dynamic IP address these days and the automation that I have on the server to update the IP hourly stopped working. I don’t have access to the machine until early Feb so I won’t be able to fix that for a while.

Secondly, the code is experiencing performance issues. They mostly revolve around lock contention on the database while doing writes. It seems like there’s a limited amount of write locks allowed and the Accesses table (the one that keeps track of all the views) gets a large amount of them for all the RSS access that’s happening these days. Thus, whenever a blog entry is read, a write to the DB and in the mornings (PST) when RSS aggregators are reading entries it makes it hard to log in (since login updates another table) since there are no write locks available. At least, so my theory goes. Inserting comments also takes forever, and that’s partly a configuration issue and I think some bad indexs as well.

The problem really revolves around the fact that the data access component of RedYawning is garbage. It’s total spaghetti code and I’m sure there are instances where a DB connection is made but never closed and the like. Once I get access to the server again, I’ll probably move all the logic in to an encapsulated data access layer and hoist the rest of the code on top of that. I’m probably also going to build some level of caching logic to reduce the amount of DB IO as well.

So, basically, stay tuned until next month.

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Skype Is Making My Life Eaiser

International calling (IDD) from the US to China is pretty cheap, around $0.05/minute on most carriers. On the reverse side, calling the US from China is quite expensive, around 2 RMB/minute (~$0.25). In my quest to find the best solution for people in the states to call me in China and for me to call the states, Skype has provided me with the solution.

For starters, something like Vonage wasn’t that appealing to me since I had to be in my apartment and to call my mobile phone from the states would have cost $0.10/min. So I started to look at Skype and bought a Skype In number and Skype Out service. Initially I was using Skype Out to call people in the states and had pretty much got the Skype In number just for kicks. That was, until I found out about call forwarding. Skype offers the ability on a Skype In call whenever you’re not available on the computer (or your Skype client isn’t connected) to forward to any PSTN number at the Skye rate. Well, the Skype rate to a Chinese mobile phone is $0.021/minute, the same as calling the United States. I set it to forward to my Chinese mobile number, and lo-and-behold, I have a phone number in the US that rings my mobile in China. The voice quality is quite good (although it’s not “great”) and it works flawlessly.

That solved my problem of receiving calls cheaply which left me with making calls out from my mobile in China to a number in the States. I would have liked to used the Skype In/Out with Forwarding voodoo but Skype In numbers are not sold in the PRC, but they are available in Hong Kong. I don’t have IDD set up on my mobile yet, but when it is, I may give that a shot and see what the per minute rate to Hong Kong is (from China Mobile). The other solution that I’m looking in to is to use Skype conferencing. Skype has an API that’s very complete and it can be used to start a voice conference with up to four parties. Thus, I’m thinking of putting a web page together that I can get to via my mobile, enter my mobile number and the destination number (e.g. the State-side number) and then allow it to bridge the call. I’ll give it a shot once I’m back in the States so I can fiddle around with it on my server. The cost should be about $0.05/minute since you have to pay for each call to the PSTN network severalty (still 1/5th the regular IDD rate from China to the US).

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JZ Club

After going to dinner for a co-workers birthday last night we went to a jazz bar called JZ Club. It’s a fantastic venue, with dark wood, two levels with the upper being an open semi-circle looking down at the stage. On the lower level are bar tables and stools covering the area in front of the stage and upstairs is full of plush rouge sofas. The band last night was a multi-cultural funk group that played some great covers with a skilled player on the soprano sax and a solid bassist. It seems that all bars in Shanghai are sponsored by some alcohol, typically a whiskey and JZ was no exception, being sponsored by Macallan. It’s at 46 Fuxing Xi Lu near Yongfu Lu (or 复兴西路46号(近永福路)for those who are so inclined).

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Officially Chinese

On Friday my paperwork for working and living in China came back as finalized. I now have a small booklet, about the size of a passport, which is my “Alien Employment Permit” that is officiated with all sorts of stamps and seals. It also carries my address and from what I can tell I need to update it and the government every time I move. My passport now carries a “Residence Permit for Foreigner in the People’s Republic of China” which lets me enter and exit China freely. All of my old “L” visas have a big canceled stamp on them now.

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Windows Live Mail Invites Available

I’ve got a couple of Windows Live Mail (Kahuna) invites to hand out. Email me your Hotmail address at hyperionab at hotmail dot com. I’ll update this post when they run out.

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Involuntary Reading

One of the first strange things that strikes you when you’re in a country where the language is written in a different script from yours is how involuntary reading is for your native language. When looking at text written in English reading and comprehension is involuntary for me. It just happens. When your eyes cross over the text it requires no effort to parse the letters, to words, to sentences. Getting to meaning might require some effort (depending on the complexity of the passage) but recognition and reading are pretty much involuntary, it Just Happens.

In China, where there is nearly no signage written in English (of course) being on the street or trying to fill out a form feels even more foreign when I look at the page all that I really see are pictographs (that’s not fully true, I can read about 20 characters). I talked to a few coworkers about this and of course to them, the opposite happens. When looking at a passage in Chinese their reading is just as involuntary as mine is for English. Interestingly enough, due to the non-phonetic nature of the Chinese syllabary (perhaps ideogram more specifically), being able to recognize the characters is tantamount to comprehension as well.

As one of our developers pointed out, being able to read 3000 or so English words is required for only very basic comprehension, but being able to read the same number of Chinese characters you could consider yourself relatively fluent in reading. One of the really interesting things about Chinese writing is that you don’t need to know oral Chinese to comprehend things. There are quite a few characters that I only know their meaning but not their pronounciation in Mandarin. 小 and 大 are great examples, the former meaning “small” and the latter “large”. For those interested 中 is “middle” or “center” whose pronounciation I do know.

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Taxi Success

For the first time last night I was able to take a taxi home without showing the driver my address, rather by telling it to him in Chinese. Very cool.

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My Shanghai Apartment

The post many of you have been asking for (where many is something like two), I got around to taking pictures of my apartment on the way to work this morning. Here they are.

My apartment complex is located on Wanping Nanlu (from my limited Chinese it means Wanping South Street, and apparently Wanping is a city somewhere) near Xietu Lu. On the right side of the street, before the first intersection, are two coffee shops (O’Lane and UBC) two property agencies, a Bank of Shanghai and a China Merchant’s Bank. On the other side is a Japanese restaurant, a Croissants de France (which accepts the Sodexho card), a shabu-shabu style hole in the wall (that I have yet to attempt), plus a bunch of other randomness:


My apartment complex, called Xujiahui Gardens on Wanping Nanlu. The tower in the back left is mine, more directly pictured on the right.

The building has something like four entrances, one on each face of the building (left picture). On each floor are three apartments (right picture is mine).


After that, it’s a pretty standard apartment. This is the kitchen. You can’t really see it, but there are three burners, two standard “American” styled ones, and one very large one for a wok:

The living room has a TV and sofa. All the apartments here come fully furnished, so all that you see was provided:

My bedroom also came with a TV, although the bed itself isn’t picture, it’s a queen with an incredibly hard mattress:

Lastly, the views from my balcony on the 7th floor are beautiful views of the haze/smog and other buildings. Although you see a satellite, I don’t actually have satelite TV. Due to the orientation of my apartment and the view of the buildings I have, the only satellites I have a view of don’t carry English channels. Note now limited the visibility is:

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