•December 22, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I guess it’s nice to have an alter ego space to write things down without having to worry much about format – eventually I suspect I’ll be transferring some of this material over to my real site. In the mean time, some ramblings:

I visited the local municipal office yesterday to see if I qualified for national health insurance (and also out of curiosity about how the sytem works, given my understanding of how health insurance works in the United States). Despite its complexity, it boils down to something along these lines:

1. Take your household income
2. Subtract expenses associated with basic living needs (insurance. transportation, water and electricity bills)
3. Subtract a baseline allowance of 330,000 yen
4. If you’re under 40 (as I am), multiply that result by 5.51%. Above the age of 40, add in another 0.90%.
5. Add in some basic fees amounting to 40,200 yen per covered individual.

In short, about 6% of your income would be taken towards the national health insurance system, if and only if you don’t have employer-provided healthcare.

Some other interesting tidbits:

1. If you’re not on employer-provided healthcare, you’re either on national healthcare or on no healthcare at all. This is somewhat similar to the situation in Massachusetts.

2. General co-pay is about 30% up to 80,100 yen unless the covered individual is between the ages of 0 and high-school (18?) in which case there is no co-pay for the individual. If medical bills exceed 267,000 yen, co-pay adds 1% of the amount above that value.

3. Each hospital meal cost co-pay is 260 yen.

4. National health insurance pays for 420,000 yen for each child born, 70,000 yen for a death.

The paperwork for it is going to take longer than it’s worth for my stay in Japan this time around, so I’ll forgo it, but it was interesting to find out more about the system here in Japan.

Day 5: Transit Museum and New Brunswick!

•April 4, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I had to leave the hostel to check out, so I decided to head north to my new hostel (Hostelling International NYC – they claim to be the largest in North America) and then take thing from there. I checked in my stuff and then headed to Brooklyn to check out the Transit Museum. I swear I must have walked past the museum twice before realizing that what I thought was a subway entrance was actually the entrance to the museum!

At first the museum looked like it was catering specifically to kids, with relatively mundane exhibits about how the subway was built and how electricity is used to power the entire system. But the bottom floor had a whole slew of trains that had been in service since the early 20th century. They had decked out the insides with period advertisements, and there was even a (obviously well-taken-care-of) cat who confidently trotted about the platform. (Wikipedia tells me The Taking of Pelham One Two Three was filmed there). So while the first part of the museum was rather disappointing, I was thoroughly enthralled and enchanted by the bottom platform area. It’s not exactly the cheapest at $7 for entrance, but it’s well worth it given that it’s not terribly crowded and there’s a lot of fun things to learn about. I wished the museum store were a bit better stocked, however!

After strolling about Brooklyn I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and took the train back home, after which I promptly turned around and headed out to New Brunswick, NJ, to meet David, a fellow Swattie who’s finishing up his Master’s in Public Policy at the Bloustein School, Rutgers. It was great catching up, and the one-hour ride wasn’t too bad either.

Day 4: Mirsad!

•April 3, 2012 • Leave a Comment

After finding out that the Brooklyn Transit Museum is closed on Mondays I decided to tag along Benno, the German guy staying at the hostel going to the Model UN conference, to a walk through High Line Park. I had heard about it and how it had been a elevated-line-turned-park but I was pleasantly surprised at how well-maintained it was and how I could easily see it transforming the Lower East Side into a gentrified neighborhood as a direct result.


Parting ways at noon, I headed to meet up with Mirsad, a graphic-artist-web-guru that I met during my internship at Winter and Company, a commercial real-estate firm located smack dab in the middle of town. He had some interesting changes in his life that are perhaps too much to go into detail here, but secretly I’m sad that he’s changed so much.

Day 3: Meetup!

•April 2, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I spent the morning being relatively lazy before meeting up with a friend from middle school, Kensuke. It had been so long since we had last met, but it was awfully good to catch up. It also helps to be able to share the concerns I have about going back to Japan, and how my fears about corporate culture may not be entirely unfounded. After a good lunch at the Brasserie 360 on the Upper East Side, we headed to Book Off, and then I headed towards Dainobu to pick up a few snacks before heading back home to the hostel. I managed successfully to take the express E train up to 125th, double back and take the express A train down to 59th, before realizing that some of the express lines were running on the local tracks (I had to duck out of another express going northbound, or else I would’ve had to double back for a third time!)

After staggering wearily back to my room I met Benno, who is a German student from Tübingen who’s participating in the Model United Nations event this week. We had dinner and beer, and it was a welcome change from a self-imposed isolation I had wanted and desired.

Tomorrow, Brooklyn Transit Museum? If the weather’s fair, definitely some walking around will be done.

Day 2: Movie Marathon

•April 2, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I woke up to a fairly dreary day outside and figured it would be a good day for a movie marathon, as I had hoped. There’s a Japanese guy downstairs who’s about 60 or so and who is a combination of nice and creepy, and he asks for my Facebook connection. It’s hard to say no at that instant, but I’ll definitely unfriend him when I leave.


ImageSo I head to the 68th street Loews Theatre and pick up a $6 ticket to see The Hunger Games. I follow that up with 21 Jump Street, and, lastly, Mirror Mirror. I’ll post reviews on my other blog, but regardless it was a rare movie marathon where all three were pretty good (I’ve gone to see just one movie and it’s been abysmal, like Ultraviolet). I started at 11:45 with Hunger Games and ended at around 6:30 with Mirror Mirror, so it was a total of about 7 hours of movie watching (what with previews and time in between).

Definitely glad to have been able to check that off my bucket list!

Day 1: Adrift!

•March 31, 2012 • Leave a Comment

My parents left for Japan this morning, so I shifted all my belongings to the Jazz on Amsterdam hostel on West 87th. It doesn’t seem particularly terrible (the reviews on TripAdvisor and Yelp had me bracing for the worst) – I’m currently writing from a four-person bunk-bed room where I’m the sole occupant, which is actually pretty neat. The bathroom’s a bit of a mess (or looks that way because everything is old) but the bed feels comfy and the lockers in the rooms provide a bit of peace of mind. We’ll see how my other two nights go – then I move to the Hostelling International on 103rd, which is apparently a bit nicer and slightly cheaper – I’m currently at about $44 per night here with all taxes and fees included.

I had the chance to take advantage of the Target Free Friday promotion where entrance to the MoMA is free from 4-8pm, and one of the highlights was a new exhibit called “Foreclosed”, where MoMA showed models and dioramas of building complexes designed by architects tasked with envisioning a new, post-subprime-mortgage era. (Photos from yours truly here)

I think tomorrow will be a movie marathon day – I want to see The Hunger Games, 21 Jump Street and Lorax, and I pretty much have nothing better to do on a rainy day. I may also want to go see a musical, and definitely the transmit museum in Brooklyn, and most likely the Hanami Festival early next week. Sadly not many people around to bug and see!

Google Interview insights

•January 31, 2012 • Leave a Comment

During the long and often torturous journey that consisted of my attempt to work at Google, I have gained a lot of insight and mental encouragement and reassurance from a myriad of sources that shared individual encounters with the interview process. I don’t often see success stories out of them, however, and I figured it would be possible to not violate the Google NDA and also share my experience and thoughts, especially since it was a process that I repeated multiple times, and succeeded the last time.

A little background on me: I applied to both Software Engineering (twice: 2008, 2011) and Associate Product Manager (APM, four times: 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012) roles, and also was considered for what is known as the RAMP role (2010), which was very much akin to the Associate Product Marketing Manager program but with a structured 2 year rotational piece. In each of those instances, I did a technical phone interview, and in three instances I was invited for an onsite interview. My grades and GPA were pretty good, enough to be considered, and I attended great schools in the United States.

a) Practice and prepare

It seems obvious and you hear it from everyone, but above all the wonderful resources, brain teasers and sample questions available, the thing that helped me most was to practice in front of a whiteboard. It’s amazing how intimidating those things can be, so buy one if you need to, invest in a whiteboard marker, and pull up a question from GlassDoor.com and CareerCup.com. Don’t even look at the answer, and start talking to yourself about how you would solve the question. Other common resources are Programming Pearls, The Algorithm Design Manual, Programming Interviews Exposed and Puzzles for Programmers and Pros. Those were the ones I personally used.

b) Relax

The hardest thing I had with interviewers is sometimes they would look completely disinterested, bored or emotionless, and it can be a really disconcerting feeling. That’s why making friends with the whiteboard can be all the more useful, because you can direct your attention to it and talk to it with your ideas or solutions. This also applies to the technical phone interview – more often than not I had the impression that my interviewer had no interest in me or my ideas, and just wanted to know if I could code correctly. If you’re relaxed you can be less fazed by that.

I actually had a massage the weekend before my interview, which is not my usual thing to do. Whether or not it helped is debatable, but it might be an approach.

c) Repeat the question

One of the things I learned the painful way is that going down the wrong path after hearing a question can be really catastrophic. You’ll hear a question from your interviewer, and you’ll start with an answer, and then they’ll interrupt you with “… well, actually, I meant it this way”. Then not only do you have to restart your thinking process from scratch, but you’ve also lost some precious time  and given the impression that you jump to conclusions without fully understanding them. By repeating the question, or even saying “let me make sure I understood your question correctly”, you’ll avoid the mistake and give yourself an extra couple seconds to think of the right approach to a problem.

d) If you stumble, step back and take a breath

Along the way there were several places where I stumbled pretty catastrophically, whether it was an algorithm question or a thinking exercise. Often your interviewer will try to guide you, but it’s also important to just step back from your thought train and take a deep breath. Don’t make excuses (“I am le tired”) but instead say “I think I might be going down the wrong path. Let me restart my thought process”. If you’re sitting down and are really stuck on a thinking exercise, ask to use the whiteboard to sketch out ideas. That gives you some time to think while you get to the board.

e) Think wildly and don’t assume

Image courtesy of Syd Mead

When a company hires they’re always looking for someone who has fresh ideas and new insights, instead of canned responses. One of the main tenets of brainstorming at IDEO is to “encourage wild ideas”, and as such I think it’s a pretty critical part to the interview process. If you’re asked to design a new product, don’t restrict yourself to imagining what you would use today or tomorrow, but think of what life could be 10-50 years from now. If it’s an algorithm you’re asked to write out, lay out all the assumptions that you need to make in order for it to work. Google likes questions about scale (because naturally Google does things in really really big scales) and it’s important to describe the environment you are writing your code in. Will this code to crawl everyone’s Google Plus profile work on a laptop? An Amazon ECS instance? (This wasn’t a question I got, by the way).

f) Be assertive

Lastly, be confident of your analysis and your ideas. If you think they might be wrong, don’t say them! If you do say something, be prepared to back it up with why you think that way. If it’s a random statistic you’re asked to back up, don’t blurt it out – start with numbers you know to be relatively true and build it from there. (Read Column 7 from Programming Pearls to see how to calculate the amount of water that flows out of the Mississippi). Don’t take it too far by being cocky or snobbish (like “I know more about this than you do” even if that may be true).

Good luck! And also, never give up!