Open letter to a Google recruiter

You write:

> Hi Henning
> My Name is redacted I work in the Engineering Staffing team at Google. I tried
> to get in contact with you via email about opportunities here at Google as
> well as to understand more about what you are doing at the moment.
> I just wanted to follow this up to make sure that you had received my
> previous email and to make sure you had the opportunity to have a chat
> about potential engineering roles at Google. Is there a chance you?d like
> to hear more?
> With your experience and our current open roles, we may have a role that?s
> a good fit for you. Please let me know if you would be up for a chat. If,
> however, this isn?t something you?re interested in, just let me know and I
> will make sure we don't send more emails.

Yes, I did receive your earlier email, but I must confess I have had some trouble figuring out what to think of it. The email headers look like you're what you say you are (or else a cracker/scammer who have subverted Google's email infrastructure, in which case my hat's off to you). Beyond that, though, I'm confused.

Google is consistently portrayed by the prevailing wisdom as the gold standard for how to efficiently attract talented tech people. The contemporary hacker mythos is ripe with legends about how wonderful an employer Google is. I've even had co-students whose top expressed professional ambition was someday to be worthy of working for Google. Based on that reputation, one would think that you already get more applications than you can meaningfully process and evaluate, without soliciting them in fishing expeditions like this one.

Granted, the really top talented people are probably always in short supply everywhere, and in my vainer moments I do fancy myself one of those. It would certainly be flattering to think that someone with Google's reputation, already having the pick among hordes of eager applicants, would consider me in particular worth of reaching out to personally.

Unfortunately, that is not the vibe I get from your letters. Surely if someone at Google has spent enough effort to decide on a reasoned basis that I might be worth the effort of wooing, that someone could easily have penned a few sentences describing how they reached that conclusion. If your emails had contained those sentences, it would have gone a long way convincing me that I should actually be flattered.

But they didn't; in fact they are completely generic. And that seems to make it a more likely conclusion that I'm just one of 30,000 rows in some mail-merge input table. Sending out masses of form letters is extremely cheap today, and receiving one does not make me feel flattered. It makes me feel like I'm being treated cheaply.

Not, mind you, that I completely get why you'd need to send out masses of form letters in the first place. But Occam's razor suggests that I'm just mistaken about how automatically that wonderful reputation of yours translates into actual piles of CVs.

* * *

In any case, I'm happily employed and not interested in relocating to London. Tried being an expat once, was miserable. Not planning to leave again if I can help it.


trackmap.net: Even more Berlin, etc.

I have updated trackmap.net with yet another Berlin track map: map 'BeN', showing lines north of Gesundbrunnen as far as Velten, Löwenberg, and Bernau. A few very minor changes to the existings maps BeA and BeO were mad as I researched the new map.

While I was drawing I got an email from Finn Arildsen with updates to Odderbanen on map 'G'. Because I already had everything open, I had an updated map published 13 minutes after the timestamp on his initial email. I think that's pretty good going, considering my history of letting emails about trackmap.net sit unresponded-to for years and years.

Finally, as the new double track between København H and Ny Ellebjerg is nearing completion I noticed a crossover in the field that I hadn't been aware of plans for. Now shown on map 'A' just south of the klargøringscenter shed, this makes the track layout for the new approaches rather more senseful.


trackmap.net update: More Berlin, map sizes, etc.

An overview of updates to trackmap.net in the last month or so:

First and foremost, the Germany section has been extended with new map 'BeO' showing a section of Eastern Berlin next to the existing map 'BeA'. This map is based on sketches and photos from vacations in 2009 and 2010, with a few areas going back to sketches from 2002. Orthophotos from Google Maps also came in helpful, especially after I wrote myself a program to compress the photos lengthwise. Finally I discovered that the infrastructure owner DB Netze publishes schematic track diagrams for some larger stations as appendices to the Gleise in Serviceeinrichtungen PDFs on its Infrastrukturregister website. Unfortunately the latter are not kept meticulously up to date; in the most dramatic case I've found (Berlin-Grunewald) about half of the tracks on the diagram of the PDF purporting to date from 01.04.2012 are ones I know positively were removed before July 2010. So there is still some room for guesswork, interpolation with Google maps, and direct observations.

Together with the BeO update, I also updated the existing central Berlin map 'BeA' with changes and corrections I noticed in 2010 (hitherto it had been based on the 2009 sketches only).

The plan is to work through my sketches counterclockwise around central Berlin, so the next map to start on will contain lines towards Bernau, Orainenburg and Hennigsdorf. Perhaps I'll even get it drawn in less than three years this time – the wheel of track mapping grinds slowly but it does grind.

Since I started putting track maps on the web 16 years ago, one particular point on uncertainty has been how large I would allow each map to grow before splitting it into multiple ones. In the very beginning I tried to confine myself to about 640×480 pixels such that one could view an entire map at once in full-screen mode. Since then, monitor resolutions have been improving, and little by little I allowed the size of a single map to increase rather than put map boundaries at awkward places that would harm the larger overview. I never quite managed to decide on a clear standard size, though.

This changes now, though: A map can be a maximum of 843 × 586 pixels, with a clear margin of at least 4 pixels outside every text element and at least 8 pixels outside every piece of track. This strange number ensures that the vectorized PDF versions can print cleanly of A4 paper without downscaling, leaving a reasonable margin for paper handling, at a uniform scale of 75 pixels-to-the-inch. (75 dpi was chosen partially at random, partially be because that matched the smallest size I could force map 'A' into). As a side benefit, this format is more convenient for contemporary monitor aspect rations than the narrower formats I was shooting for earlier.

Several existing maps were relayouted to conform to the new standard size: A, C, G, H, J, and the German BeA.

Various minor updates:

On map 'A', the non-through tracks at Allerød are now, by popular demand, shown as being out of service. The station is demoted to an uncontrolled halt due to an interlocking fire, and are likely to remain so for at least several years yet.
Some track numbers at Ryparken were wrong and have been corrected.

Map 'C' now also contains Østbanen Køge – Hårlev – Fakse/Rødvig which was previously on map 'B' because for a few years it shared management with the private lines shown there, and the line between Næstved and Vordingborg, which was previously on map 'D' because there was not room for it on map 'C'. Map 'C 'now actually contains all of Zealand outside Copenhagen, as its title box proclaims.

Also on map C, the former railway from Slagelse to Næstved as well as its spur line to Skælskør is now definitively gone; according to media sources the track was removed in 2010 and converted to a walking/biking path.

The line between Slagelse and Høng has been updated using Google Maps orthophotos – including a new passing loop at Havrebjerg.

Finally, many dead links on the trackmap.net front page were cleaned out.


How the Red Cross lost me

An open letter to the director of the Red Cross in Denmark.

Dear Anders Ladekarl,

This Friday morning I received a phone call from a gentleman who presented himself as a fundraiser with your organization.

The fundraiser's business, apart from delivering a spiel about your organization's work in Syria (no doubt laudable, though I confess to not listening too closely), was to suggest that instead of the largish bulk donations I've been making abound Christmastime for the past few years, I should set up a fixed monthly donation drawn by direct debit. He explained that doing so would allow you to budget with less uncertainty, ultimately making more efficient use of my money.

These arguments are valid and persuasive. Following them would lose me the warm buzz of deciding to donate each year, writing a large number on a transfer form, et cetera. However, since this feel-good derives from the fact that good is being done, deliberately donating in an inefficient way in an attempt to maximize the feel-good per krone spent would be self-defeating.

So that more or less settles the matter – except for the fact that I have a firm principle never to make any monetary decisions during an unsolicited phone call. I like to think that I'd be able to see through a phone scam immediately as it happens, but no doubt so do people who actually fall victim to scammers, so I play it safe nonetheless. In retrospect, my caller was probably not a scammer, since he knew details about my donation history that are not generally available – but again, I don't trust my ability to make such determinations in the heat of the moment, and anyway a principle's a principle.

And it proved extremely hard to explain this policy to the fundraiser in a way he would accept. He just kept going on and on and on, pleading and begging for a commitment here and now. This even though I repeatedly explained that I was not going to make any immediate decisions in any circumstances. In the end I only got him to hang up by agreeing to a follow-up call the next day. I suppose I could just have hung up on him, but I don't like to be that rude unless I have definitely decided not to accept.

Now, this behavior is not one I want to reward. On the other hand, it wouldn't be fair to penalize the distressed people of the world for the faults of one guilt-peddling telemarketer. What to do, what to do?

This is what I've decided: I have now set up a monthly direct deposit whose yearly total covers what I usually give and then some. It goes to [the competing charity] DanChurchAid. My previous donations to them have been rewarded with a nice thank-you form letter and a blessed absence of rude phone calls. Time will tell whether that extends to recurring donors too, but I have faith in them.

Unfortunately I didn't catch the name of the fundraiser who called me, but I trust your computer systems can identify him for you, should you want to congratulate him on a job well done.

Sincerely yours,

Henning Makholm

P.S. Please stop sending me your magazine.

(By the way, the follow-up call never happened – and now it's past midnight on the next day).


trackmap.net update: Sweden

I have updated the two track maps for the Malmö and Helsingborg areas in southern Sweden. These maps used to be based on sketches I did in 2000; now they are mostly brought up to last August. Some follow-up work on the Citytunneln connection was still going on at that time; I'm planning an excursion this summer to find out how it ended up.

Meanwhile, I have done a few additional updates on the Copenhagen map: The nortwestern end of the Helgoland depot was rebuilt some years ago; the map has now been changed to fit. And the line maintenance sidings between the S-train tracks north of Hellerup were probably never shown correctly – I've redrawn that part of the map from scratch.


dk.trackmap.net update

Skyscrapercity.com member Spikespiegel noticed that map A was missing a crossover between the main tracks in the south end of Holte. This error is now fixed.

Looking through my backups, it turns out that the map did actually show this crossover until April 2006, where I updated the map based on fresh observations. Apart from this there's no evidence that the crossover has ever not been there, so I think I simply lost it on the editing floor while removing a siding east of the northbound track which was removed in reality around then.


More track map changes

After the last post I continued tinkering with the maps for some days. This bout of activity petered out without any announcement being made, but in the interest of history, I should document more or less what happened:

  • I managed to relayout map A such that it now has room (within my arbitrary limits for how large the image is allowed to be) for the long-distance tracks from Glostrup to Høje Tåstrup, which were previously on map C. Map A now includes all long-distance tracks that run beside the S-train network.
  • As part of this, I redrew the tracks near the platforms at København H. The new drawing shows the same track topology but with less distortion of the real-world geometry. The only downside is that platform tracks 1–4 are now shown at an angle to 5–12 which they are not in reality. But overall I consider it an improvement.
  • The new layout at map A also made room for most of the still surviving tracks at København G, excluding the locomotive depot and workshops (looking mostly like they did on the now-historic map F), and some tracks described in my sources only as "track group 200". The latter must be some of the freight tracks that remain west of the Dybbølsbro, but I'm not sure exactly which.
  • A new crossover between the S-train tracks at Bavnehøj was installes in 2007, such that the station now has crossovers in both directions.
  • The S-train formery known as Gammel Toftegård was renamed to Egedal on 2011-12-04. In what looks like a departure from usual practice, its abbreviation was changed too, from Gtg to Egd. When Godthåbsvej was renamed to Grøndal in 1996, it kept its abbreviation Ght.
  • The liberated space on map C was put to use showing the western end of the coming high-speed line Copenhagen–Ringsted.
  • Also on map C, I updated the map of Ringsted, based on Google Maps orthophotos. Normally I'm wary of using that as a source because it is unknown when the photos are from, but in this case the orthophotos showed switches in the new track 0 which I know from other sources were installed in the spring of 2010, so they are definitely newer than my latest personal observations.
  • Glumsø station was rebuilt in October 2009 with side platforms instead of one side and one middle platform.
  • Last, I finally took time to ride the Copenhagen metro (map M) with a sketchpad in hand, and noticed several inaccuracies in the previous maps which I'd based off early project blueprints originally supplied by the Metro company.


Updated: track map for Copenhagen

Look, an update at dk.trackmap.net! Yes, I am in fact still alive. Amazing, huh?

Specifically, I have updated map A with some news in central Copenhagen:

  • The fourth platform track past Dybbølsbro opened last August. High time, one might say -- it has been more than ten years in the making!
  • Two new tracks between København H and Ny Ellebjerg are nearing completion, on ground that was formerly occupied by the approach to the freight yard and large parts of the freight yard itself. Said freight yard is now a shadow of its former self, and currently handles no freight at all. It is still connected by a temporary track from the central stration (since locomotives must move to and from the locomotive depot at the freight yard), and when the new line opens the remnants of the freight yard will be connected to it.
  • At the beginning the new line will just be used to increase capacity between København H and Hvidovre Fjern, where the platforms at Valby currently limit capacity when regional trains call there. Eventually, however, it will become the first part of a brand new high-speed line (such as it goes in Denmark, where 250 km/h is "high speed") to Ringsted. I've added an outline of that new line to the map, especially with some details about its intermediate station Køge Nord with a transfer possibility to the S-train lines.
  • Some storage tracks for regional trains at Østerport added to the map. They've been there for years, but I haven't got around to mapping them until now.
  • The S-train tracks at Ny Ellebjerg are not shown as being under construction. They opened in the winter of 2006-2007.
Other minor changes: The airport branch if the metro is not shown as under construction anymore; it opened in September 2007. The schematic on the map is still the one I got from the Metro company early in planning; I'll have to go out there and verify it sometime...

Also, the overview map has been updated to reflect the above changes.

By the way, trackmap.net was inaccessible for a week and a half during April, because I'd forgotten to pay the domain name fees. The domain is now renewed, and the problem should not reoccur before 2014 ...


Where's the party?

Denmark got a new government yesterday.

Little more than two weeks after the general election, the leader of a center-left coalition went to the Queen and told that she had a government platform and a parliamentary majority behind it. She was duly appointed prime minister. Then handover ceremonies were held at the various government ministries. Outgoing ministers shook hand with their successors, gave good-natured farewell speeches, and then up and left.

The new government wows to dismantle many of the laws the old one passed. The election campaign has been moderately poisonous. These things are important; they affect the life and dreams of real live people all over the country. And yet, when the old leadership lost their majority, what they did was to smile sadly and step aside, hoping for better luck next time.

There had been no mass protests. No armored vehicles in the streets. No weapons fired or even readied. Power simply changed hands, just like that. Those formerly in power will, for the most part, stay in politics. They will do their best to undermine the new government's policies and popularity. They will not be harassed by the authorities for doing so.

That, my friends, is fucking remarkable. If it sounds banal, it is only because it has been the norm for about a half-dozen decades, in about a score countries mostly clustered in about half a hemisphere. Compared to most of history, or even to most of the world today, it is simply unbelievable.

We are, in general, unaware how lucky we are. We should be out in the streets, waving flags, whooping and cheering for being able to do this. We aren't, because it just feels normal. But that doesn't make it so.

For full disclosure, I'm a member of one of the parties in the new government, so it goes without saying that I'm happy to have it. But I'm even happier that sometimes we're not in power, because otherwise we wouldn't be able to do this. A peaceful, democratic change of government is one of the greatest things one can ever be part of -- and it makes me very proud to be Danish.

(If you're from another country that does this regularly, go ahead and be proud of that too. There's enough to go around.)


Memorable moments lost

I just noticed that the initial digits in some timestamps my code logs out looked familiar.

It turns out that for one glorious second about 38 hours ago, the Unix timestamp value (in decimal) equaled my personal identification number.

And I missed it. Drat.

Danish readers born on on September 13 should be prepared!