Friday, July 01, 2005

Even More Adventures in Interviewing

So on Tuesday morning, I left for Los Alamos, NM. The flights were uneventful, and I arrived in Albuquerque in the early afternoon. It was actually a bit rainy and windy when I arrived. I got a rental car and began the two-hour drive to Los Alamos. I was on the lookout for tourist attractions or shopping, because I needed to get a really nice gift for the woman who covered karate for me last week. Because our teacher is on his annual, two-week national guard training, that meant she had to cover both the children's and the adult classes on both Tuesday and Thursday. I stopped at this big tourist shopping mecca called "Traditions" that looked pretty deserted. I think it must have been built with taxpayer money but hasn't been as commercially successful as they had hoped. But there were some shops there, so I was able to buy her a very nice piece of Navajo pottery with geometric designs on it. I hope she has the same taste as I do in pottery!

The drive to Los Alamos was beautiful. I wish I had thought to take a camera with me. My poor descriptions shall have to suffice. The stormy weather made the scenery appear particularly dramatic. The mountains are mostly covered with pine trees, although there are some interesting geological formations, such as a large rock dubbed "Camel Rock." Even though the area was hit by a bad forest fire a few years ago, it seems to be recovering. There are still burned-out trees visible, though.

Los Alamos itself is a tiny burgh. A special county was carved out of the other counties in the 1940's, to make the lab. Los Alamos county is small, maybe 10 miles east to west and 15 miles north to south, with a population of 20,000. The city of Los Alamos has about half the population; the other city in the county is called White Rock. Locally, land is scarce so housing prices are high. It might appear that there is lots of empty land, but most of it is owned by the government or by local Indian tribes. So housing prices in Los Alamos are high, relative to the rest of New Mexico.

I arrived mid-afternoon, and after I checked into my hotel I called my husband to let him know I'd made it. After resting for a while, I walked a few blocks to a small diner and had a good meal. The waiter was nice to me, despite the fact that I was alone, so I gave him a 40% tip. I like to encourage people who are nice to lone diners, because I've been snubbed too many times for dining alone.

After my meal of chicken-fried steak, french fries, and a salad, I decided I needed to take a long walk to work it off. So I walked in the direction of the lab. As it turns out, the lab is right there on the edge of town. Unlike Oak Ridge or Sandia, it is just right there, so if you lived in town, you could probably walk or bike to work nearly every day. That was very appealing to me. I walked about three miles round trip. To get to the lab, I walked over this huge bridge spanning a deep gorge. It was very scenic, and once again made me regret leaving my camera at home. The bridge had a large sidewalk for pedestrians and cyclists, and I saw lots of people out and about that evening, cycling.

The hike left me out of breath, unfortunately. I'd like to think that I'm in the second-best shape I've been in my life (the best being after that torturous summer spent running around the track), but the thinness of the air is what did me in. Here in Illinois, I think we're at about 800 feet above sea level, whereas Los Alamos is more like 7000 feet above sea level. So the air is very thin, and walking up a flight of stairs leaves the unacclimated out of breath. Another interesting elevation-related thing that happened was that when I opened up my shampoo bottle, the shampoo spurted out all over me. And yesterday, when I came home, the half full water bottle that I had closed in Albuquerque was all collapsed onto itself when I arrived in Chicago. Also, this morning I woke up with a nosebleed.

Wednesday morning, I woke up early and dressed in my exquisite purple suit (see the picture of it here [that's me in the center, in case you couldn't tell!]). Then I made it over to the Badge Office to obtain my visitor badge by 7:45 a.m. I was met by my host at the badge office, and he escorted me to his building inside the fence, where I was to be interviewed by him and his group leader. But they couldn't take me inside the area where they worked, which had an additional layer of security, so we met in a very nice conference room.

The interview itself was like a second qualifying examination. The group leader, a formerly German but now American citizen, reminded me of one of those rocket scientists the United States acquired after World War II, except that he was a couple of decades younger. But he definitely had a strong German accent and a certain German manner about himself. He asked me about the three main classifications of second-order partial differential equations, about discretizations of PDEs and error analysis, and about multigrid. All of the questions were fairly simple, but he and my host were impressed that I knew the answers. I kind of felt like I would have been a disgrace to the numerical analysis profession if I hadn't known those answers. But apparently I was a rare specimen who actually got them all right. It makes you wonder what quality of candidates they interview, because one unsuccessful individual was doing discontinuous Galerkin methods. I would think that one would need to know something about PDEs for that sort of work.

After I knew how to answer their questions the group leader said they would offer me a job on the spot, right then and there, were it not for budgetary woes. They are looking for someone who knows both numerical analysis and computer science. They want someone who knows enough NA to support the physics users, but who also knows the computer science and can implement solutions to the physics users' problems. I fit the profile very well.

After that interview, I met with the deputy division director, who seemed like a very nice fellow and who had a lovely view out the windows of his office. After that, my host had to go to a meeting, so he left me to fend for myself in the library. At Sandia, the library is inside the fence, but at Los Alamos it is open even to the general public, with a photo ID. There are restricted areas of the library, however, which presumably contain classified material. I sat down with a large atlas of the world, and read through it as I waited. Then, I met my host and another man who works there at the cafeteria for lunch. It seemed like a nice cafeteria. I had a chicken caesar salad, which was decently good. This other man seemed really nice too. We talked a lot about Los Alamos and the surrounding communities. This man lives between Los Alamos and Santa Fe on some land that has been in his family for generations. I think he could be a member of one of the local tribes, but I didn't ask.

After lunch I was once again left to my own devices for an hour in the library, and I continued my perusal of the atlas. After that, we went upstairs in the library to a conference room, where I gave my seminar. The seminar went very well. I tried to keep everyone engaged, and a lot of people asked questions. After the seminar, I talked some more with my host, who said that as soon as the budget woes are figured out, he would give me an offer. I think that they will get their money from the budget, but since they don't know for sure yet, they can't offer me a job yet. But he said they would know in about two weeks.

The interview was over by about 4:00. I returned my visitors' badge and went back to my hotel. I changed my clothes and rested a bit before going out to eat at another local eating establishment. I didn't like this one as well, and the waitress wasn't as nice as the guy from the night before, but the food was pretty good. I had meatloaf wrapped in strips of bacon (interesting) with mashed potatoes with corn and cilantro (unusual but very good). After dinner I explored "downtown" Los Alamos. I went to the library, which seemed like a pretty good library, but no Urbana Free Library. I'm afraid that I've been spoiled by our local library. And I also walked around downtown and peered in the windows of the businesses, all closed for the evening. Aside from restaurants, the local grocery store was the only thing still open, and even it closed at midnight. So there is no 24-hour shopping in Los Alamos. I returned to my hotel room, turned in early, and slept in until 7 a.m.

I left Los Alamos at about 8:30 a.m. on Thursday morning. I was still on the prowl for touristy stuff, because I wanted to get something for my dear husband. I stopped at one reservation town that had a visitor's center, but it was too early in the morning and the visitor's center and the museum next door were closed. To pass some time, I went over to the nearby tribal grocery store. It was interesting, because the offerings in the store were a bit different. For example, they had lots of big bags of flour of various types, such as tortilla flour. I also noticed that you could buy a huge can of baking powder, about the same size as a large can of tomatoes. I found some locally-made tortilla chips flavored with red chilies and some beef jerky flavored with green chilies, so I bought those for Jeff because I know how much he loves spicy foods.

When I got to Santa Fe, I stopped at a mall to buy something special and southwestern for Jeff. I went to a western wear shop, and I was going to buy him a nice hat, but then I was afraid that I would get the wrong size, so instead I went with a bolo tie. I made it to the Albuquerque airport with time to spare, and returned my rental car and checked in. My flights were safe but rather bumpy, and I got a bit airsick. By the time I got home, I felt really sick. Still, I was glad to be back.

Something that entertained me while I was on my trip was this book of puzzles courtesy of Rachel and Laura. They wanted to get me something that would help me pass the time, so they got me a book of Sudoku puzzles. They are a 9 by 9 grid, in which you place the numbers 1 through 9. You place them such that there is exactly one of each number in every row, column, and 3 by 3 subgrid. The puzzle starts with some of the numbers already filled in, and using those as clues and the constraints of the puzzle rules, you fill the rest in.

I have to admit that I am now a Sudoku addict. I have a bit of a problem with pain in my hand when I write, but not too much writing is involved in the puzzles. After the second or third one in a row, however, my hand would start to get sore, but I would keep going anyhow. It was worth it, just to keep doing the puzzles. I think they distracted my from my stomach misery, too. So thanks, ladies, for the gift!

1 comment:

Laura said...

So glad you liked it!