Blog: June 2013

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Remember that job at Stack Exchange?

Original post was not public because you don't tell your current employer about interviewing at other places. I've changed employers since, so it's not a secret any more.

Back in October I applied for a product-manager job at Stack Exchange. After the phone screen I was given a design problem: the pages on the site that describe privileges (which are earned through participation) are widely held to be weak, so what would my redesign of that look like? I was asked to send a sketch (low-fidelity; I could take a photo of a whiteboard for all they cared) and a brief explanation of the design choices I made.

I was pretty proud of the design I came up with; I thought it did a good job of not only addressing the known usability issues but fitting into the overall scheme. I identified particular, speculative elements for user-testing. I pointed out issues we were not addressing (which I had confirmed were not being asked for, but you always document these things anyway).

A couple days later they told me they had hired someone else. I had always understood that to mean "bad timing"; I think the only way that could have happened was if their offer was already out before I got past my phone screen. (And that's totally cool; until you have an acceptance, you don't have a hire and should not drop other candidates.) So I assumed it was just bad timing, but I never got any feedback on my design, so a part of me wondered if I had flubbed that.

Today they updated that part of the site (just on one of their sites so far). It looks, ahem, familiar. (Sadly, the Internet Archive doesn't seem to have a "before" view.)

Original version (what my design responded to)

My design submission

New version (main page)

Oh good. That makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

All in a day's education

Today at my software-development job I learned that if an active shooter in your building is throwing grenades you should hit the ground flat, but if he's shooting bullets you should instead crouch down, because grenade shrapnel goes up but bullets ricochet off the floor. Who knew? (Cover is also recommended if available, of course.)

No, nothing happened -- it's just a little farther afield than our usual mandatory training. I also took a refresher on time-reporting. That was much less interesting.

Easy, tasty fish recipe

We had friends over for dinner last night. The fish turned out really well, so best to write down what I did. :-)

Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Melt some butter. Take breadcrumbs and shredded Parmesan cheese, in a ratio of 2:1, and mix together with some garlic powder. Dredge orange roughy fillets in butter, then roll in the breadcrumb mixture (cover both sides) and place in a single layer on the baking sheet. Bake at 400F for 15-20 minutes, until the fish flakes, and if your oven heats unevenly like mine does, be sure to rotate the pan halfway through. (Note: orange roughy fillets are cut a little thicker than, say, tilapia, and it's a firmer fish. If substituting a different fish type, you may need to adjust the cooking time.)

This managed to hit the right balance of "unambiguously, fully cooked like whitefish should be" and "not overcooked and dry". I trust that the coating has a lot to do with that.

(I've previously tried using beaten egg in place of the butter. Googling led me to the butter clue and that worked better in terms of enough coating sticking to the fish. I'm not sure why that would be. It still ends up being a light coating, not like the overly-breaded fish that comes from the frozen-food section of the store.)

I served this with quinoa (cooked with a bit of olive oil) and acorn squash stuffed with diced apples and some butter and then baked, with Emerald Riesling (Mony Vineyards, Israel) to drink.

For the completists, dessert was pineapple upside-down cake (from a bakery).

Elisha, the children, and the bears: what is really going on here?

I asked the following question on Mi Yodeya, and later found an answer:

Question: After Eliyahu goes up to heaven, Elisha solves a water problem in Jericho and then heads to Bethel. On the way, some young children accost him, he curses them in the name of God, and two she-bears eat 42 of them (Melachim 2 2:23-24).

Rashi's comment on this is:

and some little boys: Heb. וּנְעָרִים, people empty [of any observance of commandments].

Go away, baldy: Go away from here, for you have made the place bald for us, for until now we would hire ourselves out to bring sweet water from a distance, and we would earn our livelihood thereby. And when the water became sweet, they lost their livelihood. Thus it is explained in Sotah (46b).

Even if Rashi's interpretation is correct, do people empty of observance (particularly children), whose proximate transgression is being mad about an economic matter, warrant being cursed and eaten by bears? I feel like there must be more going on here that I just don't understand.

What did the children do wrong? (Were they really children)? Did Elisha act properly in cursing them?


Bavli Sotah 46b-47a describes this incident in more detail. R. Yochanan said in the name of Meir that whoever does not escort others or allow himself to be escorted, it as if he shed blood, for if the men of Jericho had escorted Elisha, he would not have stirred up the bears. The g'mara then goes on to explain the incident.

First, who are the "little children"? The g'mara notes that "little" is redundant with na'arim and offers several possibilities: they were bare of precepts; they were little of faith; they were youths but they behaved like little children; perhaps they were from a place call Na'arah.

The g'mara also offers several opinions about what Elisha saw when he looked at them (a sage's gaze has special powers): that they were conceived on Yom Kippur; that they imitated Amorite customs/manners; that there was no sap of the commandments in them or in their future descendants.

All of that seems to suggest that, while the incident is regretable (if he'd been accompanied it wouldn't have happened), they in some sense had it coming. But then R. Hanina says that, on account of the 42 sacrifices Balak offered, 42 children were cut off from Israel, which makes it sound like they shouldn't have been killed (it was only because of Balak that they were). Further, Chazal taught that Elisha was afflicted with three illnesses, one of which was because he stirred up the bears, which also seems to be a condemnation of the event.

So my reading of this source, at least, is that the "children", who were probably some flavor of miscreants, taunted Elisha as Rashi described, and Elisha, with no one to help stay his hand and with the benefit of some special vision, over-reacted (and was later afflicted in punishment). They weren't exactly innocent, but their deeds didn't merit this death either.

Thanks to @gt6989b for pointing me in this direction.