Alex's Alliterative Adventures

Thoughts on Programming, Life, and Travel

Archive for October, 2006

Weekend in Stockholm

In imitation of Mr. Kelso, I decided that I’d attempt a video blog.  I don’t think this is the sort of thing that I’m likely to do again, but who knows. You can download my flapping lips in wmv format, if you’d like.  The rest of this post is going to be a reasonably long one, so feel free to fall asleep here.

We boarded the train at around 23:15 on Friday night, where I surprised myself by actually falling asleep for a couple of hours before arriving in Stockholm at 6am.  When we finally awoke in the foreign and surprisingly chilly city, we dropped our bags at our floating hostel and started touring the streets.


We spent the day marching, riding, photographing, laughing, eating, and napping.

We saw the Vasa, a ship from 1628 that sunk on its maiden voyage and was recovered less than 50 years ago, primarily due to 3 years of effort from one man and his home made core sampler.

We also saw a museum devoted to the fictional Swedish character Pippi Långstrump (North Americans would better know her as Pippi Longstocking) and took a recorded tour through dozens of miniature models carved in excruciating detail.

Since we were all poor students, we decided that dinner was a dish best served cheap: pizza. If Colin had been with us, we would’ve been banned from the pizzeria for life.  Instead, I think we got away with a few months, maybe a year, tops.  We walked in at around 8:15 and ordered our 10 pizzas.  By 8:30, they had served us all but 3 of our pizzas.  We were understanding, though, they obviously weren’t used to serving such large groups. We should’ve taken the fact that they started turning customers away from their still-open store at 8:30 as some kind of warning, but we were stupid and engrossed with delicious pizza.  I thought I’d be able to resist pineapple, banana, and curry thrown on top of dough and sauce, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

By 8:40, we got a bit impatient, and pointed out that 3 of our battalion were going hungry. They apologized and quickly rushed 2 pizzas to our seats. They started getting pissy at 8:45, trying to explain to us in broken English that since they closed at 9pm, we clearly had to leave as soon as possible.  Preferably now. We kindly explained to them that we weren’t going anywhere until they gave our friend the pizza she’d already fucking paid for. With a grumble and a chip on his shoulder, the guy did his god damn job and finished the last pizza by 8:50. He took the water and salad away and started yelling “Slut!  Slut!” (Closed! Closed!).  We put our best diplomatic hats on and pointed out that since he forgot our food, we were going to stay here as long as it took for everyone to finish their dinners, especially since the store didn’t close for another 10 minutes. At 8:55, he shut the front door and started stacking chairs on the tables, muttering “slut!” the whole time. We were out the door by around 8:59, and I swear he was going to spend the night scribbling “DON’T SERVE THESE INGRATES” signs with our pictures on them and taping them to lamp-posts around town.  We drank our unpleasant encounter away at a little Irish number described as feeling “more like a medieval dungeon than a pub”, and headed back to our hostel to remember what beds felt like.

One of the things I like the most about this whole travelling thing is the reminders it brings you of what’s really important in life. I’ve had access to closets bigger than the hostel room shared between 4 of us, but it was a place to rest our weary heads, and that’s all that any of us wanted or needed.  We woke and ate our breakfast in near silence, rendered speechless by the majestic view from our cabin windows and our half-chewed mouthfuls of banana.

Being served scrambled eggs in a bed swimming enough duvets to coat a small country is nice and all, but there’s something that just feels right about rolling up your sleeping bag and using a pocket knife to slice the cheese and bread you packed two days ago and combining them into the ever-so-delicious cheese on bread while trying to narrow in on what amazing experiences life will bring you today.

Our second day was spent touring the city’s attractions and cafes.  The Kaknäs tower was only 155m tall, so the CN-Tower virgins were a little more impressed than I was. Aquaria and Skansen were a lot more entertaining, especially Skansen’s zoo. Apparently Swedish people consider elk, bison, foxes, otters, squirrels, and bears to be exotic animals.  I almost bought a few postcards to show all you North American types their silly ways, but then I realized that a Canadian would be pretty underwhelmed if they received a postcard with a moose on it from Sweden.



We met the most interesting Hungarian while resting at a local cafe.  He was insistent that Einstein’s theory of relativity was complete bunk, and he gave us copies of pages and pages of equations which, if I understood them correctly, were a proof of how the speed of light could be broken. Well, they were a proof in the sense that I hand in proofs to my professors all the time, and they hand them back and point out that proofs are generally expected to be correct, and they have a friend who runs a burger joint, at that I should feel no shame in devoting the rest of my life to “an honest day’s work”. The Hungarian obviously had some mental issues, and he spoke with an eagerness and intensity that was all I understood from his German explanations of the Doppler effect. My German speaking physics major friend told me that she couldn’t translate what he was saying because it simply didn’t make sense.  She was saddened that a man could be so disconnected from the world and yet Sweden, the welfare state, wasn’t doing a thing about it.  Sadder yet was the thought that perhaps there was nothing that could be done. Most curious of all was the thought of yourself being in that same position: when convinced that everyone else is crazy, would you be willing to consider that obvious, self-evident things were simply wrong because the rest of the world disagrees?  Does your answer make you a coward that lacks principles, or a mature and wisened individual who can learn from and admit to your own mistakes?

A number of us wanted to end the evening at the Absolute Ice Bar, a permanent bar that’s made entirely of ice and kept at a cool -5°C, but it was full by the time we tried to make reservations. That’ll just be something to expect pictures of the next time I return from Stockholm. As a replacement, we went to McDonalds. They served me Tropicana.

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Surgeon general’s warning: this post contains geekiness

I just finished a phone interview that had only one technical question:

“How would you implement C++ in C?”

Jesus christ.  These people must eat mensa books for breakfast, lightly salted with raw neurons.

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Stockholm-bound

I’ve been less than entirely rejected by both a Swedish gaming company and one from New Zealand.  Could be cool. 

I’m getting on the night train to Stockholm in under 4 hours.  I’m leaving the computer behind, so my chances of posting this weekend are pretty low. Exciting tales, possibly of my new diseased rabbit friend, will be sure to follow.

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Where everybody knows your name

I shared a beer with a few friends last night to give myself a long overdue break from work.  We spoke of many things: booze, academics, our cultures, gender equality, relationships, firefighting, and a cultural confusion over the word “chips”.

I really enjoy having one of my core beliefs reaffirmed time and time again: People are people, and they’re all the same throughout the world.  Sure, languages are different, cultures are different, viewpoints are different (sometimes radically so), but in the end we all really care about the same things.  We’re all just guessing our way through life, trying to make the best we can out of what we have. Some are extroverted, some are introspective.  Some don’t feel like they’re alive unless they’re a breath away from dying, and some prefer to shape their surroundings until their every need is met. Some try to experience as much as they can with every waking moment, others find their focus in life and devote themselves to it unquestionably.  In the end, though, we’re all just looking for good times, good friends, good memories, and a little peace and comfort now and again, wherever we may find it.

I also had the pleasure of witnessing the most Canadian bar fight I’ve ever seen.  A random Swede jokingly jumped in front of my Canadian friend in line for the bar, and my Canadian friend gave him a friendly shove on the shoulder.  They then turned and faced each other and insisted that the other ordered first.  I think that only a mix of Swedes and Canadians could stage such a polite brawl.

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Swedish Bureaucracy

The Swedes are a notoriously bureaucratic people.  Personal numbers must be submitted, receipts must be accounted for, and if you use the wrong cover in your TPS report, you should expect a stern reprimand from your six bosses. From this cultural observation, one can infer that managerial positions are highly coveted among the Swedes; the master of bureaucracy is the master of life itself.

The Swedish word for manager is “chef”.

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Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

The project was handed in this morning.  Interviews are (presently) done for the week. I have one assignment and one test, and then it’s stockholm time.

It’s almost like a physical weight has been lifted from my shoulders.  Also, pictures of “me, wookie, and cookie” amuse me to no end.

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That song is like a virus!

I’ve played Coldplay’s “Fix You” from the X & Y album at least 10 times today, and it’s going on 20.  There’s just something about that song that really captures a feeling of being complete defenseless and broken, and having a helping hand pull you to your feet. That might be its use in Scrubs, but who knows.

I don’t understand.  Coldplay is usually at best tolerable. The guitar solo is a stereotypically shitty Coldplay guitar solo, and yet… that descending vocal melody perfectly incites the feeling of falling to your knees in utter abandon.

My world is breaking apart. Also, I hate the internet here.  I’m tempted to start drawing a comic each morning, because it would be faster than waiting for my morning funny pages to load.

PS. latex (the document preparation system, not the anti-baby system, that stuff is awesome) sucks monkey balls, and don’t let anyone tell you any different.

edit: It has been pointed out to me that my post seemed melodramatic.  The reason that my world is breaking apart is because I like a coldplay song, nothing more.  Although, that IS a fairly significant thing.  Overall, life is pretty kickass.

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Sweden: the Land of Academic Travesty

I just got an assignment handed back to me.  I was worried that I had done poorly on it, since I didn’t start my 3 page answer until the beginning of the lecture in which it was due. If I pulled this shit at Waterloo, I’d be aiming for a 20-30% to help make the exam that much less significant.  I wasn’t sweating too badly, since WaterLund’s performance in the programming contest guaranteed me a 50%, and I never see a mark for this course other than “pass” or “fail.” Even when people request that their marks are evaluated for the course for the purposes of taking a master’s degree, the only distinctions are “fail” (< 50%), "pass" (50% - 79%) and "high pass" (80% - 100%).  There's no motivation to do anything above the bare minimum. I got a 3 on the assignment. It was out of 2.

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The fruits of my labour

The project is due in 36 hours.  I’ve been producing stuff more or less akin to this.  It’s pretty pimp, but I miss things like sunlight, and sleep.

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Careers, Relationships, and Cheese

Introduction: It’s a tired anecdote, recently retold by JDT: The ones who want you are crazy and knife-wielding, and the ones that you want keep yelling “just drop the knife, man, we can talk things out.”  Due to my recent blessings of an amazing job and a fantastic girlfriend, I had forgotten about this particular internet and teenager held truism; that is, of course, until I started my job interviews.  I had an interview earlier this week for a company that wasn’t a gaming company, so I was initially less than enthused by them.

Principle argument: The interview went something like this:

Interviewer: Our potentially very boring job requires a lot of C++. So do you know C++?

Me: No… but I could know C++.  I know things that are like C++.  Like, for example, not C++.

Interview: That’s great.  I’m just going to ask you a bunch of C++ to degrade your morale and make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Me: Awesome.

*a bunch of questions later*

Interviewer: Wow, you’re awesome. Here, have lots of money.

Me: Um… thanks, but… it’s just not right for me right now.  I just got out of a really great job, and I don’t want to commit to anything serious, I’m… I’m just not ready.

Interviewer: Oh… oh, that’s ok, yeah, I totally understand. No, that’s cool. Just… um… call me, ok?

Me: Yeah, that… that’d be best.

Jumping into the land of the serious for a moment, it was potentially the best interview I’d ever had in my entire life.  He made me think, but he coaxed me in just the right way to not only help me come up with the right answer, but also to teach me a lot about useful things that I didn’t know. The job itself might not be exactly what I want, but I could certainly do a lot worse than having the opportunity to work with people who can bring out the best in me and teach me more than I could’ve ever dreamed of.

Secondary argument: Fast forward to the super awesome gaming job interview:

Interviewer: Hey man, we’re recruiting for the position of Best Coop Job Ever, and we’re wondering if you’re a good match for our company.

Me: I’ll have your babies.

Interviewer: What’s that?

Me: I don’t have scabies, so I’m perfect for the job.  Let’s get started.

Interviewer: *technical questions*

Me: I don’t know that one.

Interviewer: *buzzwords*

Me: Also nope.

Interviewer: Alright, we just have one last question, and th-

Me: …

Me: Hello?

Me: *two minutes later* STELLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

Conclusion: Dramatically retold job interviews are much more entertaining to experience than real job interviews where it’s made painfully obvious that you don’t know shit, son.  Also, I really really really want that gaming job.  I’m sometimes woken up at night by the burning pain my desire causes my soul and esophagus.

Epilogue: I fucking love cheese.  It’s like God’s gift to species that can domesticate farm animals. Also, I spoke to another real-life person who’s used VERGE.  It was like meeting my long lost brother from Singapore.

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