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J. Daniel Ashton

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Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, —Ecclesiastes 9:10a NIV
The LORD God has told us what is right and what he demands:
"See that justice is done,
let mercy be your first concern,
and humbly obey your God." —Micah 6:8, CEV
With all your heart you must trust the LORD and not your own judgment.
Always let Him lead you, and He will clear the road for you to follow. —Proverbs 3:5,6 CEV

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Name: Daniel Ashton
Location: Germantown, Maryland, United States

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Monday, January 31, 2005

On Macs

I've just gotta say, Mac OS X is the sweetest version of Unix I've ever seen. I would love to have a job where it was expected for me to use a Mac in my day-to-day business. I've even taken a gander at Apple's job postings. Unfortunately, most of them are in Silicon Valley.

Of course, this is also the frustration with most IBM jobs. The jobs that really appeal to me seem most likely to be in San Jose or Austin. Or Cambridge. But I think we could talk ourselves into moving to Cambridge.

I've finally gotten back into real problem-solving mode again: Entering my third week on the bench, I'm starting to see ways to improve my job-search program. As I force myself to read, re-read and carefully decide on each of the nearly two thousand jobs caught in my sieve, I'm starting to notice the more obvious time consumers in the process.

I'm also noticing the skills I lack that seem to turn up in one job after another: WebSphere Portal seems to be hot, especially among the few technical jobs in Gaithersburg. Architects are in demand, and so are managers. I suppose I actually have management experience in music, although it's hard for me to see how to express that in such a way that I'll have enough confidence (or interest) to apply for a job titled "Project Manager" or "Technology Manager." Some jobs seem pretty far out of my league: anything with the word Partner sends a warning signal. For jobs with the words Sales or Travel I'm likely to click the "Bad Fit" button, although I keep hearing that the Sales division is a lucrative place to work. I would be happy to be technical pre-sales assistance, but I'm unwilling to travel: it would wipe out family evenings and musical rehearsals.

Technologically, the things that consume time are the original search for each keyword (I might be able to fork the process to run the searches in parallel), training the prediction database and predicting the score for each job (I think this will be much faster if I cache a plain-text version of each job requisition), and rendering the complex pages. I'd like to see the pages render so fast that you could conveniently shuffle back and forth between them as if you were handling sheets of paper.

What I'd really like is to get a job with, or a development grant from, the people who maintain the IBM internal Job Opportunity Bank, so that I can really focus on developing, distributing and supporting this program. When I look at what I've written so far, and how much it does to improve the jobs database, I feel like it's a worthwhile project. Unfortunately, I've so far failed to reach the right people. If any IBMers are reading this and know how to get me connected, please let me know: jdashton@us.ibm.com.

One of the interesting things I implemented recently was two-word class prediction. My program lets me mark each job with a class: Go For It, Maybe or Bad Fit. I use that classification not only to help me keep track of what I want to act on or review later, but also to predict what I will think of the jobs I haven't yet reviewed. The prediction is a straight-forward implementation of the spam filter described in Paul Graham's A Plan for Spam, based on the probability of a given word occurring in the corpus of jobs I've marked Bad Fit vs those I've marked Go For It. I recently modified the algorithm to also count the occurrences of two-word phrases, and was a little surprised to find that, where I had previously had jobs ranked with a somewhat gentle gradation of probabilities, I now have a starkly polarized distribution: jobs are either strongly probable or strongly improbable to be what I'm looking for. I think the polarization is in part caused by the small number of jobs that I feel I could qualify for, and the rapidly growing corpus of jobs for which I would be a bad fit. The contrast in probabilities is so strong that I'm thinking of undoing the change. On the other hand, it might be interesting to see what happens if I also analyze three-word phrases.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Wonderful Weekend

I just want to put down, before I forget, some of the highlights of this weekend.

Because we had a couple of "last-minute" additions to the "orchestra" for our concert Sabbath afternoon, it seemed prudent and helpful to invite all the players to have supper with us Friday evening, giving us the opportunity to run through the music and to sight-read some chamber works together. It didn't all work out precisely as we had hoped, but it was a delightful evening anyway. E&GM (harpsichord and recorder/flute) came over before supper and sundown to run through my number with them, a recorder-harpsichord-cello trio in D minor by Francesco Mancini. G had asked me to play cello for her for two numbers, the Mancini and a Haydn flute-piano-cello trio in F major, and the invitation and cello playing brought me much joy.

DG (harpsichord/piano/viola) & AZ (cello) came by a little later, and we were soon joined by DB (violin). Vicki had prepared a lovely buffet supper with miniature quiches, cheese and crackers, potato soup and other delights. After we ate we went through the two orchestra numbers, which were "On Thee Each Living Soul Awaits," number 27 from Haydn's Creation, and "Laudamus Te" from Vivaldi's well-known Gloria. I had spent some time typesetting the string parts for the Creation number, as well as transcribing the French horn and bassoon parts so that we (strings) could cover them. On that number I played double bass. On the Vivaldi I played viola, and noticed, as I did throughout the weekend, that my viola is speaking very powerfully: it surprised and pleased me each time I played it. AZ, DG and I spent quite some time practicing "my" number, the violin sonata number 4 in D major attributed to Handel. Before the evening was over we took time to sight-read a few quartets by Schubert. I played violin, trading off 1st/2nd with DB, so I had the pleasure of playing all four instruments that evening.

Sabbath morning Vicki, AZ, DG and I played with the hymns for the church service at Triadelphia. Potluck was tasty, as usual. We spent the afternoon in gentle warm-ups and run-throughs, preparing for the concert at four o'clock. The Vivaldi parts I had sought were well received and appreciated by the vocalists. The concert consisted of twelve selections by ten soloists, with a few extra piano, harpsichord, string or flute accompanists thrown in for good measure. My Handel sonata was 8th on the program, and from that time on I was involved in every number, playing (in this order) violin (Handel), viola (Vivaldi), cello (Mancini), cello (Haydn) and double bass (Haydn). Being able, and being permitted, even invited, to play so many instruments, brings me much joy.

The concert was followed by a reception, and as we left, snow began to fall.

Most Sunday mornings are as early for us as any other day, because we take our kids to a nearby barn, where they help our good friend DM clean stalls and feed and groom horses. They work in exchange for discounted riding lessons. This week promised to be more complex than usual because I had agreed to lead the choir at Rockville United Methodist Church, where my good friend DG plays organ each week. And we suddenly had a couple inches of snow. With a certain amount of trepidation we set out together for the barn. The nearby roads and freeway were passable, but the last road was completely unplowed, with only a few sets of tire tracks disturbing the white surface. Our front-wheel drive Chrysler minivan has traction control of sorts, so I decided to chance it. We reached the barn (that's the downhill part of the trip) and dropped off the kids. We made it out of the barn driveway on the first try, unlike the previous week, but we couldn't gain enough traction to make it up the first hill. I gently backed to the bottom of the hill, and with the longer run we were able to achieve a more favorable balance of traction and momentum. Vicki captured several photographs that give you a mere hint of the beauty and wonder of driving on new-fallen snow.

We made it back home without further mishap. To my surprise and delight Vicki agreed to go to the church with me. As we drove I handed her a copy of the anthem, and we listened to the demo recording several times as she casually reviewed the alto line. I was somewhat dismayed to find, on arriving at the church, that the parking lot was essentially empty, and the choir room devoid of both chairs and choristers, save for one loyal bass. A few minutes before the service began we were joined by one soprano and one tenor. Vicki stood in for the alto section, and we had all the parts covered.

The afternoon was pleasantly family-oriented. Sabbath was Beth's birthday, largely uncelebrated because of all the fuss surrounding the concert, so on Sunday we splurged on lunch at Chipotle and supper at a nearby Japanese steakhouse. In the afternoon Beth opened her gifts, one of which was a Visible Horse model. I spent some time showing her how to trim the parts and fit them together, and I got started on one of my Christmas gifts from William, a model Plymouth Prowler.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Bacon: Saved

This Sabbath afternoon I'm participating in a concert hosted by the Triadelphia SDA church. One of the numbers will be Laudamus Te from Vivaldi's Gloria. On a whim I ordered string parts, thinking that the soloists (duettists?) might like the option of having orchestral accompaniment. Unfortunately, when the parts arrived I discovered that there is more than one Laudamus Te by Vivaldi.

I thought that parts might be available online, either for purchase (wasn't J. W. Pepper doing a downloadable parts store?) or freely available in some place like the Mutopia Project. It took a couple of hours of searching, but I finally found parts through the Choral Public Domain Library, specifically at the Archiv der kreuznacher-diakonie-kantorei. Next time I'll know where to look first!

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Legal Clarity

If citizens believe that the grandest interpreters of our laws are merely black-robed political partisans, it's easier for the administration to treat them that way:…