Blathr Wayne Lorentz

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Renting elements

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011 Alive 14,526 days

Reflections of The Elements apartments

Iʼve been working part-time as a concierge at this apartment complex for about six months now, and Iʼve noticed two things: First, surprisingly few people know how to pronounce “concierge.” Second, a surprising number of people are completely helpless.

Iʼve jotted down a few notes over the months, and here are my thoughts for apartment renters in the greater Seattle area:

  • No, I do not know the correct settings on the CardioSquench for a 35-year-old woman. I am not a pesonal trainer, and I am certainly not your personal trainer. If you donʼt know how to use a piece of gym equipment, the manuals are in the plastic box on the wall. Thereʼs also this thing called the internet now where you can ask Jeeves for help.
  • If you have you heart set on a particular apartment building, take several tours with different leasing agents, then sign with the one who makes the biggest promises. Once theyʼre in writing, the building is bound to honor them.
  • If a leasing agent tells you that something isnʼt possible because the management company uses a standard lease form that everyone has to stick to, donʼt believe them. Leasing agents and managers add and nullify items from leases all the time. The magic word is “addendum.”
  • Yes, the concierges will damage your packages if youʼre not a nice person. Not just to the concierge, but in general. So help that old lady down the stairs. Pick up that bit of paper blowing through the parking garage. We see everything.
  • Oh, holy shit, please stop having your family mail you kimchi! There is no safe way to package a glass jar of stinky, fermented cabbage. When it arrives leaking and stinking up the joint, it will be delivered to you in a black plastic garbage bag.
  • If someone tells you that we donʼt deliver dry cleaning or packages to your apartment, itʼs not because of the policy that says we donʼt. Itʼs because you donʼt work for Microsoft, you donʼt pay enough money in rent, and you donʼt have a job title that sounds like you might recommend the right people live in the building. Yes, there are different rules for different renters.
  • A few of the renters know theyʼre above the rules, and take advantage of that to abuse the staff and their neighbors.
  • Use the computer to enter maintenance requests. Telling a concierge in person only slows down the process. The maintenance department runs on, by, and for the computer.
  • To us, you are work, not play.
  • A good-looking concierge will discover that there are sometimes one or two lonely young women in the building who mistake a concierge's professional attention with personal attention, and then start to expect one-on-one “personal attention” on demand in the middle of the night.
  • Many apartment rental ads on the internet are lies. Yes, Craigslist is the internet.
  • Many apartment rental ads on the internet are not only generated by computers, but generated by computers for apartments that are already rented, or donʼt exist.
  • A computer a thousand miles away sets the starting price of the apartments, not the people on the property.
  • The price you see online is not the price you will be quoted over the phone, and also not the price you will be given when you take an in-person tour.
  • The price of the apartment may change between when you start a tour, and when the tour ends. The computers update pricing constantly.
  • The computer sets the apartment prices based on a number of things, including:
    • The prices posted on the web sites of competing buildings.
    • The prices posted on apartment listing aggregators like RentNet.
    • The prices posted on Craigslist for apartments nearby.
    • The number of apartments available in the building at this moment.
    • The number of leases expected to expire next month.
    • The time of the year, because more people move during some seasons.
    • The weather today, because when it's nice weather, more people will tour the building, increasing the chances of apartments getting leased.
    And then thereʼs these two things:
    • The number of apartments available in competing buildings at this moment.
    • The number of leases expected to expire in competing buildings next month.
    How can we base our prices on the availability of the competition like that? Isnʼt that price fixing and collusion? I couldnʼt tell you; Iʼm not a real estate lawyer. But itʼs:
    • Partly because a single company may own and/or manage a bunch of buildings in a city and share that information internally.
    • Also because most or all of the buildings in a single city may use the same computer system. The companies that own the buildings donʼt share the information, but all of that information is in the same computer system, so it makes sense that it could be very used to divine a price, leaving the building owners and managers with plausible deniability.
  • Once you get to a certain level of building, the price of an apartment is entirely decoupled from the cost of the apartment to its owners. Itʼs all about perceived value, and feeding the shareholders.
  • Hiring someone to act as a broker wonʼt get you a better deal, but it will take a lot of the hassle out of renting an apartment. If your time is worth more than your money, thatʼs not a bad way to go.
  • Donʼt be afraid of under-priced properties. Often theyʼre not priced high or donʼt have dynamic pricing because theyʼre not part of a big computer pricing system. Theyʼre not necessarily bad properties, just properties under local control.
  • If you canʼt find an apartment where you want at the price you want, try to sub-lease someoneʼs condominium. Real estate agents can sometimes help you find these.
  • Look for properties that cap renewal prices. Sometimes itʼs a flat cap like 5%. Sometimes itʼs tied to the rate of inflation. Either way, itʼs almost always good for the renter.
  • The original developer of the building cut more corners during construction than you know, and the day-to-day maintenance staff has to constantly compensate.
  • We really are sorry about the elevators. We have to use them more than you do, and we know they suck. But our maintenance people arenʼt qualified to fix them, so our building has to sit in a long line of buildings waiting for a trained repair crew to fix them. The other option is to have our guys do it and you plummet to your death.
  • An emergency to you is not an emergency to us.
  • Douchebags will get overcharged. If youʼre an asshole to us, the leasing staff, the maintenance guys, or whomever, donʼt be surprised if your lease renewal includes more fees than last time around.
  • Youʼre not important because of where you live. Chances are the staff of the building lives in a better building than you do. Thatʼs because we know how the system works, and you donʼt.
  • Apartment leasing, at least in this area, looks like a prestige job from the outside, but itʼs really an industry full of white trash people who couldnʼt get into college, and arenʼt quite ready for prison yet.
  • Donʼt ask me to do stuff for you before I clock in. If you need a favor, ask a friend, not an employee.
  • Yes, we will charge you for a new key fob when you lose yours. And then you will be charged again when you donʼt return it at the end of your lease. No, you didnʼt buy a new fob and own it. You only paid to replace the one you lost.
  • At some apartment buildings, it is not possible to leave without a cleaning fee. Even if itʼs worded in the lease as “excess” wear or dirt, some buildings always charge a cleaning fee after you move out. Itʼs not to pay for cleaning your apartment — we have salaried people to do that. Itʼs to make money.
  • We will charge you for cleaning things in your apartment that donʼt exist, or that are our responsibility to maintain.
  • When checking out an apartment, ask to see the propertyʼs resident events calendar. If it doesnʼt have one, or itʼs mostly empty, that shows that the people who manage the property are not engaged with the residents or the property. They may have no idea what happens from day to day.
  • A larger building doesnʼt always mean a better building. But it almost always means a more professional staff.
  • Everyone in the office has access to all of your personal information. We could see what car you drive, where you work, how much your rent is, how much money you earn, and often even if you pay or receive alimony. But for the most part, we really donʼt care. Weʼre too busy doing other things.
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Tuesday, September 14th, 2010 Alive 14,385 days

I had a job interview at the Apple Store today. It didnʼt go well.

It started out ordinarily enough. I went into the Bellevue Square store with a printout of the managerʼs e-mail inviting me in for an interview. In a few minutes, he came out from the back, we introduced ourselves, and we went into the hallway for the interview.

It wasnʼt the chairs that made the interview uncomfortable. At least, not for me. It was the fact that we were having a job interview in the middle of a mall walkway, with members of the public walking by or even lingering at store windows. Iʼve always believed that H.R. functions were supposed to be private. I assumed the interview would be in a back office or something.

The interview ended rather quickly after we started discussing the iPod. He asked me if I had any experience with Appleʼs flagship bit of consumer electronics. I said something along the lines of, “Yeah, lots. Iʼve had an iPod all the way back to the first one with the Firewire port.”

I donʼt know what it was about “Firewire” that set him off, but he decided right then that I didnʼt know thing one about computers in general or Apple, in particular.

He was adamant that the iPod never had a Firewire port. I countered that while itʼs true that current iPods have USB ports, but the original ones did. I explained that Apple switched from Firewire to USB in order to make it available to Windows computers, which — except for Sony machines — almost never have Firewire. I should know, because I owned one of the first iPods, and plugged it into my wifeʼs iBook via Firewire.

No. No. No. No. No. But not even “No” in the sense of a polite “You must be mistaken.” He was indignant, almost to the point of raising his voice.

He ended the interview, and for the first time in my life I was told to my face that I didnʼt get the job. No “Donʼt call us, weʼll call you” vagueness. Just, “Youʼre not getting this job.”

I really didnʼt think I was losing my mind, so I went up the street to the Starbucks inside Barnes and Noble, pulled out my MacBook Air, and hit the Wayback Machine.

Pulling up the web pages about the iPod published in November of 2001 shows that my memory is not faulty:

Super-fast FireWire auto-updating

When you first plug iPod into your Mac, all of your iTunes songs and playlists are automatically downloaded into iPod at blazing FireWire speed. Then, when you add new music or rearrange playlists in iTunes, simply plug iPod back in and it’s automatically updated in seconds. It simply doesn’t get any easier or faster than this. You can download an entire CD in less than 10 seconds. Or 1,000 songs in under 10 minutes. Plus, iPod automatically charges whenever you’re connected and your Mac is on.

The Apple web site also included a helpful image of an iBook plugged into an iPod with a Firewire cable, and the iPod displaying the Firewire symbol on its screen:

An iPod plugged in to an iBook via Firewire, from

In the end, it doesnʼt matter what the truth is, or whether I was right or not. Heʼs the manager of his Apple Store, so it is his version of history that the employees must conform to.

Maybe I should dig my old Firewire iPod out of the box in the hall closet and bring it in to his store for a repair.

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Be careful where you stick that thing

Friday, April 2nd, 2010 Alive 14,220 days

A clip from Rendering Fake Soft Shadows with Smoothies by the M.I.T. Laboratory for Computer Science video, found on the thumb drive

I found a thumb drive today.

It was laying on the pavers beneath a park bench outside of the weird little multi-level shoulda-been-a-strip-mall downtown. I suspect at one time this was a pretty hopping little corner of Bellevue. But thereʼs a bunch of empty storefronts in it now, probably from the real estate recession. Hopefully it comes back to life some day.

Iʼm not going to introduce a random USB drive found on a random slice of concrete under a random bench in a random city on a randomly nice day to my computer. At least not my main computer. But I do have my wifeʼs old banger Linux machine that I can re-image from ROM to pave over anything that might crawl out of this drive. The drive is, after all, lime green.

A slide from a Microsoft GameFest 2008 PowerPoint on the found thumb drive

Looking at the files on the drive reveals… code. Not nuclear missile launch codes, but computer code for what looks like a video game. I learned ray tracing in C back in college, so I recognize a good chunk of whatʼs going on; but clearly C has evolved quite a bit since the days when I used to have to reserve time on a machine in the university computer lab in order to compile my homework. What I can figure out is this:

  • Itʼs a childrenʼs game called iPlayDough.
  • It seems to be about building objects, and having those objects interact with other objects using real-world physics.
  • The game was written for Microsoft Windows using CryENGINE 2, and versions were under development for OS X and for iPhones.
  • The game was written on a Windows machine using Microsoft Visual Studio Code.
  • This thumb drive was lost by someone named Aleks.

I surmise that Aleks lost this thumb drive late last year, as the newest timestamp is October 9, 2009. Aleks seems to be involved in the gameʼs graphics. His TODO list is brief:

  • Edit with vertex normals
  • Render with face normals
  • Smooth tool

Aleks has been to a number of graphics-related tech conferences around the West Coast, and keeps videos, audio recordings, and slideshows from those conferences on the thumb drive next to his game code for reference.

A slide from the March, 2004 Valve presentation Half-Life 2/Valve Source Shading found on the thumb drive

Iʼm not sure how I would track down Aleks to return this drive to him. I thought about giving it to the police department. When I was a little kid I turned in a wallet I found to the local cops, and they reunited it with the owner, who rewarded me with five bucks (which was pretty lame, since the wallet had a couple of hundred in it). But Bellevue tells me that unless the item has a minimum value of $50, itʼs not interested.

I suppose I could just knock on the doors of the various game companies in town. But there are a lot of game companies in Bellevue, and I donʼt want to turn the drive over to a competitor. So I guess itʼs better to just let this drive remain “lost” forever. The drive was probably a backup of files from his desktop machine, so no harm done. Itʼs not like people build code on a thumb drive.

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