July 30, 2007

Working at Microsoft

As Anna suggested, it’s probably a good idea to tell you all about my job working for Microsoft. I’ve been working there for a little over a month now. I’m working as a contractor for Volt Technical Resources, which provides a large proportion of Microsoft’s thousands of contract employees.

I’m working in Windows’ SPP division, which stands for “Software Protection Program” if memory serves. Microsoft, as most tech places, loves its TLA’s (Three Letter Acronyms). Trying to remember what a series of three or four letters expands to and keep track of a discussion is a serious problem when you first start there, particularly since the few lists of acronyms they have are scanty and occasionally contradictory.

The SPP division handles Windows activation—entering that set of alpha-numeric characters printed on your machine or on the CDs you install from. My particular project is something of a secret, but its general goal is to make Vista more difficult to copy illegally.

I was invited down to an interview with them in early June; they offered me the job by the time I’d driven home, and they wanted an answer within a couple of days. As it happened, I had an interview with a Wisconsin-based company called Epic scheduled for the next week, it was something of a pain that I couldn’t wait until I’d interviewed there before responding to Volt/Microsoft’s offer. Before deciding to take it, I called up Jesse McDonald. Microsoft has a very mixed reputation among geeks in general, and I wanted to know if he thought it was ethically acceptable to work for the company. Kind of strange, I know. But Jesse is a firm supporter of F/OSS (Free/Open Source software) and Linux, and I trusted his opinion. If he said it was all right, then it must be ok. :-) Jesse was a little taken aback by the question, but once I’d explained the question and the position I’d be taking, he asked, “So you’re asking me if I would have a problem with you working on a project to make Windows more difficult to copy?” As far as he was concerned, making Windows more difficult to illegally copy only makes it more likely that people will try alternatives ... such as Linux. Thus reassured, I accepted the job.

Microsoft is a neat place to work. They have unlimited beverages there, so I can get fresh-brewed coffee, pop (Coke, Mountain Dew, Dr Pepper, Cherry Coke, Pepsi, A&W Root Beer, Orange Soda (of a sort I can’t recall right now) and diet versions of most of those), milk, chocolate milk, and soda water. In addition to all this suffering, I am inflicted with three machines which are “mine”—one dev box which is very nicely powerful and a couple of test boxes with are acceptably powerful. I’m a tester, so I write test plans and test scripts and run tests and do whatever else my manager says to do. It’s really not a bad place to be ... not at all.

I’ll be here for at least the next few months. My current project is due to be finished sometime in September or October. My only firm date is that I need to be in Wisconsin by November 5.

Yes, Wisconsin. :-D After I’d accepted the job at Microsoft, I wrote a brief note to the people at Epic, letting them know that I wouldn’t be available for at least the next few months. To my great surprise, they wrote back and said that they could be “very flexible about starting dates” and that they’d love for me to come down and interview even though I was going to be working for Microsoft through this job. I gladly accepted and was quite impressed. They called back after a week or so and offered me the job. I took a while to consider and then gave my consent. So my wife and I will be moving to Wisconsin some time this fall; I’ll be starting at Epic in early November.

Epic develops software used by some of the largest healthcare providers in the world. It’s the software used to track patient records, including prescriptions, doctor visits, X-rays ... you name it; if it’s a medical field, Epic probably has a sub-system designed to keep records for it. They’ve got a special “homemade” database system and data query language for it as well. I anticipate lots of fun getting to work for them.

I hope that’s enough news to sate your curiosity for now. :-D If not ... well, there’s always the comments!

Posted by Leatherwood at 07:20 PM
This post has been classified as "Public Address"

July 18, 2007

Woe to the Pharisees ... to Us

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits on it.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some fo whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”

Matthew 23 (ESV)

In the past few years, every time I’ve read this passage, I’ve wept. I cry because so many of the woes ascribed to the Pharisees and scribes apply so dangerously to the evangelical right ... to the culture that trained me, taught me ... to the people I love and who love me. How did it happen that we became Pharisees?

And is there any hope for us? Jesus—the one we claim to love and honor, the one whose “name we honor with our lips”—here gives the harshest condemnation he ever delivered on earth (to my knowledge), and it is delivered at the most religiously devout people of his time. Can there be any mercy for us? Any escape from the sentence of hell for the self-righteous? I draw hope from the end of the passage, as Jesus laments: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” It comforts me because He still desires Jerusalem, even though it “kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it.” He still desires to “gather [its] children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” And I hope that he still desires us, self-righteous hypocrites though we be.

None are worthy of the grace of God ... yet we have heard those words from childhood and are deaf to their power. It is a mixed blessing to be raised in the faith, because you can so easily become innoculated to its power. Jesus’ quote from Isaiah can so easily apply to me:

You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.

Matthew 13:14–15 (ESV)

I guess I’m in a strange position; I’m almost disagreeing with Jesus. Lord, have mercy on us and forgive our pride and our many sins! Lord, do not abandon us. Have mercy on us ... and let us understand, not merely hear; and perceive, not merely see. Let us see with our eyes and hear with our ears and turn ... and be healed. Father, I pray for us, that we obey You when you say “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.” Show us that we are “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” Show us so that we may come to you like the tax collector and pray “Lord, have mercy on us sinners!”

Let us spend more time rejoicing that our sins are forgiven instead of railing at the sins of the world.

Father, have mercy on me ... a sinner.

Posted by Leatherwood at 09:58 PM
This post has been classified as "Prayer"

Family Reunion News

Nikki and I just got back from a family reunion. We left a week ago (Tuesday, July 10) and got back yesterday (Tuesday, July 17). The reunion itself was from Thursday the 12th to Monday the 16th. This was a Leatherwood/Hill family reunion—my grandmother and her four sisters form the “Hill family.” The Leatherwoods are probably the largest numerical contingent. The reunion was in Oklahoma at the Pine Lodge Restort, which is actually quite a nice place.

Some of my relatives own boats and so we were able to get out on the water nearly every day. I got to try my luck at tubing and wake-boarding. Wake-boarding in particular was challenging; the biggest trick is learning to stand as the boat drags you through the water. As my uncle Robert observed, it really is a matter of technique and not strength or brute force. You are not stronger than the boat; any attempt at trying to challenge it to a tug of war will lead to a swift, humiliating submersion. It took a number of tries and a couple of days to get the hang of it, but eventually I was able to stand each time and stay up for a few minutes before tumbling into the water.

Best of all, my parents and siblings were there. They just returned from Iraq; they’ll be here in the States for quite a few months, though much of them will be spent traveling. My twin brothers are going to start their last year of Bible college in Canada this year, and my sister is going to attend a missions training course for the next year. I’ll get to see my parents again in a few more weeks when they visit the Pacific northwest, but I hadn’t seen my mother and sister since my wedding, nearly three years ago. It was sweet to see them all again.

Naturally, it was also delightful to show off my gorgeous wife to my relatives. Most of them had been able to attend the wedding, but this is the first family reunion I’d been able to bring her to, and I reveled in her reflected glory. :-D

Of course, then I had to come home and start digging myself out from under the pile of e-mail and reports that have accumulated at my job at Microsoft. Granted, I’m not important enough there to be completely swamped, but it was the work of a few hours to read all the e-mail. I’ve finished my first pass through the documents and am continuing to study them to see what all has changed in the week I’m away.

There. I did it. I was newsy :-D ... a rare and unusual occurrence for me. Granted, there’s a lot more to tell you ... it’s news to many of you that I’m working at Microsoft and that my parents are in the States, but I figure a little news is better than none.

Posted by Leatherwood at 09:57 PM
This post has been classified as "Public Address"
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