ready to go

I leave for Japan in two days. My host family knows I'm coming, all my tickets are in order, and I should have enough cash to get me through the first few days.

Maybe I should pack.

Subtle inconsistencies like that have set the tone for this summer. Without a fixed schedule or any work obligations, things haven't been getting done. I improved Livestat, my statistics package for academic competition tournaments, but there's still a lot of work left to do. I managed to get into New York City for a job interview, but then I left my organizer on the train on the way back. No sign of it since then. In a way, it's relaxing to be back home, but sometimes I get sick of doing nothing. Well, in two days' time, I'll be halfway around the world.

When it comes to my trip, there are a lot of things to be nervous about. Will I be polite enough to my host family? Will I be able to keep up with my studies and have a good time? Will I be able to understand all the in-house rules and conventions, covering everything from sandals to shrines? I'm not nervous about the trip, honestly. Study abroad and homestays are covered in Carnegie Mellon's Japanese curriculum from the first year onward, and it's expected to have at least a little culture shock. I have established communication with my host family, so the only thing I have to do is survive a few train rides after I clear customs and get my baggage together at the airport. The only thing that truly worries me is the weakening U.S. dollar, which bought 130 yen three months ago but now buys only about 120. Everything has become 10% more expensive to me as a result, and could get even more expensive during my stay in Japan. Tokyo is the world's most expensive city to begin with, after all.

flights and snapshots galore

As I mentioned last month, I've been on plenty of flights this year so far. After I come back from Japan in August, I'll have been on 11 plane trips. When I flew to Austin to help out at the 2002 NAQT High School National Championships, I took off and landed three times: Islip to Nashville, Nashville to Houston, and Houston to Austin. That's three cups of Coke, two bags of Cheese Nips, and two bags of peanuts. Fortunately, only the first leg of the trip featured Southwest Airlines' famous(?) singing flight attendants. I was sick and tired of flying after my second leg ended, since I've grown used to one-hour hops between Pittsburgh and New York. How am I supposed to endure 13 hours non-stop from New York to Tokyo and back?

Last month, I finally caved in and bought a digital camera -- a low-end "tourist model," as one of my enthusiast friends called it. It's a Sony DSC-P31, an entry-level camera that takes very good snapshots but doesn't have an optical zoom lens. The camera was useless at my brother David's middle school graduation, where the rows of parents shot hours of footage from 50 feet away, but it has worked great for close-up snapshots and landscape views.

hire me

If there's one thing I've been working on this month, it's finding a job. My graduation date is now officially December 2002, although I can come back for the whole pomp and circumstance in May 2003 as well. In the meantime, I've been passing my resume around to companies who have not exactly been jumping at the chance to hire a recent college graduate, six months before he's available to work full-time, in a shrinking job market. I can also forget about working for all those big-name companies that are misrepresenting their earnings and laying off thousands. I just hope things get better before the semester is over.

Every year, Carnegie Mellon hosts many job fairs, and three have caught my eye as a computer science major: the gigantic Technical Opportunities Conference (TOC) which caters mainly to graduating seniors, the smaller Technical Internship Expo (TIE) which attracts nongraduating students looking for summer jobs, and the Start-up Job Fair. The TOC in fall 1999 was unbelievably huge, with companies hiring graduates with salaries that often stretched into six digits. In 2000, with the bubble starting to burst, the TOC was a little bit smaller. This past academic year, the TOC was held in late September 2001. With many companies still literally digging out from their offices at the World Trade Center, attendance was light and many companies simply showed up to be seen. Many companies displayed American flags at their booths, but not many were actively hiring. I didn't bother to attend the TIE in January since I planned to study abroad, but reports said that it was a bust. Companies which had hired thousands of interns for summer 2001 were looking at single-digit figures for summer 2002. One light moment: at a booth marked "Enron" at the TIE, two undergrads in business suits just shredded documents. The Start-up Job Fair, which provided juicy bait for seniors in my freshmen year, attracted less than 20 companies and very few interested students. Now, established sectors like banking are looking more attractive, whereas nobody wants to be with companies whose only product appears to be their IPO. Once, "pre-IPO" meant "get rich quick." Now it means "get out while you can."

One other concern: in a move to cut costs, a lot of large software firms have been moving off-shore for their coding work. An entry-level Java developer who would make $55,000 in the U.S. can be replaced by someone being paid one-tenth as much in, say, India. Companies have spent a lot of money to work in India, Singapore, Israel, and many other countries, but now they are realizing gains from these moves. Good news for stockholders, but bad news for U.S. citizens who want work. Graduating with basic skills in programming doesn't cut it any more, apparently, so many of my friends are beefing up their resumes with research and graduate school plans. I would rather go in for an MBA after a couple of years working in the field, but it is likely that I will also need to develop more vendor-specific skills over the course of the semester on my own time. With a four-day schedule and some relatively language-agnostic classes, I hope to have a very flexible schedule to work with in the fall.

where to end up

I've traveled to a lot of places during the past three years, and I'm heading to Japan for the first time on Tuesday. As I start to examine job opportunities, I am often faced with the question of where I want to end up living. Long Island has a fair number of big companies, but they have been hit hard by the recession just as all companies have. Furthermore, Long Island is the birthplace of the suburb, home for established families. From what I've seen, it's not a great environment for single working people straight out of college -- but then again, I don't have anything close to a social life. The more you stay in a place, the more you want to leave it. After first living in a suburb of a large city and then on the outskirts of a smaller city, I would choose a city -- even a smaller one -- over a suburban setting. I like having everything within walking or mass-transit distance, without the need to drive several miles from place to place.

The one question still remains: will I have a choice?


Finally finished the video project that I'd been working on for the past two months. They wanted it in S-VHS, with 30 seconds of black header and trailer. God knows why they didn't want colorbars and tone. Didn't have an S-VHS tape handy; headed out to the local Radio Shack about 5 minutes away from my house. Got in the car, started some music playing -- some random song by the Ataris; I've been feeling depressed lately. Start going around a curve, doing somewhere between the speed limit and 5mph above it. The guy two cars ahead of me suddenly slows to about 5mph for no reason in particular, out of sight from me.

Suddenly the car in front of me is looming large in my windshield, brake lights glaring. I'm still going 45. I slam on the brakes. A million things go through my head--


Why couldn't we have gotten the one with ABS?


I hope there's not a baby in the car or anything...


My parents are going to be so pissed...

Suddenly I am far too close to his rear bumper, and instinctively I swerve, into the lane of oncoming traffic. Thankfully the light is red and no one is coming my way at the moment. Just as suddenly he is moving again, and continues to the intersection and turns right. I am left there, sitting in the middle of the road, tires smoking, and breathing heavily. Cold, air-conditioned air blows across my now-glistening brow.


I shiver and continue, maintaining (what must seem to other drivers) a huge amount of distance between me and other cars, taking the left turn at the light. I arrive at Radio Shack and subject myself to their price gouging (hey, they reimbursed me for the tape) and make it home safely.

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