Alejandro Erickson
Postdoctoral Research Associate with Iain Stewart at Durham University
flickr/ geoburst/ youtube/ instructables/ facebook/ linkedin/

Postdoc at Durham University, built INRFlow analysis framework to optimise datacenter networks using graph theory. Seeking R & D career.

I am writing various bios, About Me pages, and LinkedIn summaries for my upcoming job search and I find it borders on the unbearable sometimes. So instead of using the same boring list of qualities and activities for every one of my bios, I dove in head first. TL;DR:

  1. I did exercises on collecting the raw data and brainstorming that are recommended in various articles and blogs.
  2. I browsed many examples.
  3. I wrote several versions of my Bio.

Before I continue, I want to point out exactly one example. Daniel Lemire is a computer scientist, and he has a great summary, a formal bio, and a “Twitter bio”. Daniel Lemire’s Twitter bio:

Computer science professor at the University of Quebec, contributor to major data-science open-source projects, and long-time blogger.

(4.) I’m about to write ten more bios

I like the idea of a Twitter bio so much that, as an exercise, I will write ten of them (in one sitting). Each one is meant to stand on its own, so some core elements are repeated.

Postdoc at Durham University, author of 14 publications in computer science and math, tatami tilings pioneer, and math entertainer.

Postdoc at Durham University, researching the intersection of datacenters and interconnection networks. Headed for the tech industry.

Postdoc at Durham University, researching datacenters and author of the open-source interconnection network analysis framework INRFlow.

Postdoc at Durham University, contributor to open-source interconnection network analysis framework INRFlow and math entertainer.

Postdoc at Durham University with 14 publications in math and computer science, researching datacenters and graph theory.

Postdoc at Durham University, published in graph theory, computational geometry, combinatorial algorithms, math education, and datacenters.

Up to this point it has been getting easier, but now I’m having trouble thinking of something original.

Postdoc at Durham University with 14 publications in math and computer science, programmer, artist, tinkerer, and father.

Postdoc at Durham University on interconnection (datacenter) networks and INRFlow datacenter flow simulator, artist, tinkerer, and father.

It’s getting quite difficult now! I have to read the previous 8 out loud before continuing.

Postdoc at Durham University using graph theory to optimise datacenter networks, author of 14 publications in math and computer science.

Postdoc at Durham University using graph theory and INRFlow analysis framework to optimise datacenter networks, seeking R & D career.

That’s 10 now, but I want to develop the last one a bit more.

Postdoc at Durham University, built INRFlow analysis framework to optimise datacenter networks using graph theory. Seeking R & D career.

Debrief

The exercise and blog post took me about 1 hour and was well-worth the time. I feel that it helps me to practice writing succinct, concrete things about myself, like ‘researching datacenter networks’, rather than abstract or ambiguous fluff like ‘I am an inventor’. I also realised that I can only target one audience in a tweet, so I wrote a few different single-audience tweets to try things out, and found it useful to sharpen that separation for myself when I write other, longer bios.

How do I do all that character-counting?

I use Vim-mode (aka evil-mode) in my new favourite editor, Spacemacs, and compose the blog post in markdown. The tweets look like this to me:

> Postdoc at Durham University, published in graph theory, computational geometry, combinatorial algorithms, math education, and datacenters.

I write them on one line so that in normal-mode I can press v a s to select a sentence and then SPC x c to count the characters in the selection.


A few years ago I made my PhD in to a pen-and-paper puzzle book. Here it is, in full. Contact me if you want it in pdf format.

Complete the puzzles by deciding which grid-squares to cover with each

For each puzzle you are given some tiles and a grid. Each tile can only be placed in a certain row or column, and no four tiles are allowed to meet. It’s challenging but the whole book is doable. Good luck!


As I prepare for the most important job-search of my career thus far, I am faced with the problem of organising all the directories and files that will factor into it. There are versioned copies of my CV and cover letters, old applications, reference letters and student evaluations, advice and leads from other people, and even shell scripts to help set-up new application directories.

With all this stuff floating in disarray around my Job Search directory, I am in danger of being bogged down and distracted with managing it when the time comes to build specific applications.

Organisation and automation lets me focus on the job applications

My technical requirements are as follows:

  • Versioned CV, résumé, cover letter, with a branch for each application and website.
  • New job prospects can be added and categorised efficiently.
  • Records of my work and reference letters are readily accessible.

The directory structure shown below suits my needs.

   - prospects (job prospects and applications. 
       dir name format for each job 
       <deadline in iso date format>-<title> or open-<title>)
     - uncategorised
     - interested
       - 2016-12-21-example-title
         - cv-git (branch for this job application)
         - cl-git (branch for this job application)
     - submitted
     - in-progress
     - not-interested
   - sandbox
   - file: readme.org
     - leads, notes, todos, etc
   - meta-resources (such as scripts and CV styles I'm trying out)
   - cv-git (also résumé and cover letter.  one branch for each job application)
   - tp-git (optional, teaching philosophy)
   - rs-git (optional, research statement)
   - records (records and reviews of my work and impact)
     - reference letters
     - student evaluations
   - archive
     - prospects-pre-2016 (and similarly named directories)
       - uncategorised
       - interested
       - submitted
       - in-progress
       - not-interested

Most of this only needs to be created once, or once in a while, but I would like to automate the creation of a new directory ready to start editing résumé when I come across an interesting job. The barrier to starting a job application needs to be as low as possible. I want to pass the job’s deadline and title to a script and immediately add a directory structure with git repositories to prospect/uncategorised/.

Here is a bash script that does that for me when I call it from the root job-search directory. Be careful using this and replace my repositories with yours.

#!/bin/bash
ARGUMENTS="<application deadline> <job prospect title>"
REPOS=('git@bitbucket.org:alejandroerickson/cv.git' \
            'git@bitbucket.org:alejandroerickson/rs-git.git')
REPO_DIRS=('cv-private' 'rs-private')
if [ $# -ne 2 ] || [ $1 = "help" ] || [ $1 = "h" ] || \
       [ $1 = "-h" ] || [ $1 = "--help" ]
then
    echo ""
    cat <<EOF
Help!
Arguments: ${ARGUMENTS}
This script:
Creates the directory './prospects/<application deadline>-<job prospect title>', and clone some git repositories (defined in the script) into it.
Creates the directory './prospects/<application deadline>-<job prospect title>/resources'
Creates './prospects/<application deadline>-<job prospect title>/README.org'
Date format example 2016-12-31
<job prospect title> should contain only alpha-numeric characters or '-'
EOF
    exit
fi

# Check for illegal characters
re='^[a-zA-Z0-9\-]*$'
if ! [[ ${1}-${2} =~ $re ]] ; then
    echo Arguments given: ${1}-${2}
    echo "Illegal characters in arguments.  See ${0} help"
fi

echo ${1}-${2}

if [ -d prospects/${1}-${2} ]; then
    echo "Directory exists, exiting"
    exit 1
fi

mkdir -pv prospects/${1}-${2}/resources
touch prospects/${1}-${2}/README.org
COUNTER=0
for R in ${REPOS[@]}; do
    echo ${REPO_DIRS[COUNTER]}
    (cd prospects/${1}-${2} && \
         git clone "${R}" ${REPO_DIRS[COUNTER]} && \
         cd ${REPO_DIRS[COUNTER]} && \
         git checkout -b ${1}-${2}
    )
    if [ $? -ne 0 ]; then
        echo "Failed to clone, exiting"
        if hash tree 2>/dev/null; then
            echo "Created:"
            tree prospects/${1}-${2}
        fi
        echo "To remove what was created use:"
        echo "rm prospects/${1}-${2}"
        exit 1
    fi
    let COUNTER=COUNTER+1
done

echo Completed successfully
if hash tree 2>/dev/null; then
    echo "Created:"
    tree prospects/${1}-${2}
fi

So how do I organise cv-git itself? That will have to wait for another post, but I’ll give a hint: My CV and résumé are written up in markdown.


My most popular Youtube video, from 2011, now has over half a million views. It is a how-to video about how to dismantle a pallet without splitting it, without special tools, and recover the nails, and as far as I know, no one else’s method does all of these things.

It’s not without controversy though. Over the years I have enjoyed watching the comments sway back and forth between positive and negative. Even as I watch my 28-year-old self humping that cement block up and down I think, “there is no way I would do that now”. Here are some of my favourite comments, as people argue about whether or not it should be done this way.

ghostlymoron Thats a great tip! I’ve wrecked so many useful bits of wood over the years. Some pallets are nailed with ridged nails - these are particulary resistant.

galanie Great idea! And you really dismantle it rather than cutting it into toothpicks like i see too many people here doing.

Edward Roberts Physics at work… well done. If you were in my class at the university you would have gotten an A……. :)

alan30189 You are going to wear your ass out lifting that heavy block. Better get a 5lb hand sledge and build a rig at waist level, then using your block of wood, knock the slats off the frame. Ten times quicker as well.

e smith Too much lifting bro. 

SUQUORO This is a perfect example of “work smarter, not harder”. Thanks.

Kevin Smith You are doing it completely wrong!!!!! you should get the wife to do the concrete block throwing!

MLTomson I don’t know why… but I get the mental image/picture in my brain of a monkey tearing apart a container in order try and get at his banana that is hidden inside. How, is by using simple ordinary objects found around within his environment. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a banana hidden inside, perhaps wood termites or grubs?

jacinta brooks Buy a sledgehammer caveman

Oh!sama This is actually genius, even damaged wood could be salvaged this way and you get free nails.

Kenneth E Hockenberry Why hammer the nails out… I mean you could drop bricks on them…

nekbiodieselworks what are you building?

What am I building indeed? I used the wood in this here kitchen shelf that I made for my then-girlfriend and now wife!

Pallet Shelf


As I prepared to move to the UK three years ago, there was one thing I knew for certain: It is not (yet) a coffee culture. Much less so is the post-industrial wasteland that I have moved to. So, being the coffee enthusiast that I am, I bought a nice espresso machine to ensure my family’s survival.

To be fair, the UK is a diverse place, with many serious coffee spots. I have had wonderful coffee at Brew Lab , Takk , North Tea Power , and Quarter Horse Coffee . The best espresso shot I have ever had was a Kenya that tasted like fresh garden blueberries, at Artisan Roast , in Edinburgh. But I don’t live in those places. I live near Newcastle Upon Tyne, in a small coal mining village with no mine, and there is one glimmering Beacon of light that keeps the dream of bringing a true coffee shop culture to this corner of England alive. It is Flat Cap Joe’s coffee shop.

This post is about Kickstarting Flat Caps’ second shop, but let me explain what I mean by “not a coffee culture”. I have never seen a coffee shop open past 7:30pm, and I’m checking the local Starbucks’ hours as I write this. At least one specialty coffee shop in Newcastle closes at 3:30pm on Saturdays, and Flat Whites, in Durham, doesn’t open at all on Mondays. On Mondays! Certain Starbucks shut down their filter coffee machines before 5 and then serve americanos instead, because there aren’t enough customers to keep it fresh. And if you think you live in a UK city with a good coffee culture, count the number of times you hear a foreign accent at the specialty coffee shops; you probably have a bias in your sample of coffee lovers.

Flat Caps is owned and operated by Joe Meagher, who displays a collection of Barista Championship trophies at his service counter. Below is an image that I stole off his website without permission.

Flat Cap Joe

Joe bootstrapped his shop about 6 years ago with a bit of money from his former job in banking, and has made a serious oasis of coffee in downtown Newcastle. The best coffee in Newcastle is found descending a spiral staircase to the basement of a shop full of esoteric, spiritual trinkets. The quiet, friendly atmosphere, away from the business of the major shopping promenade above, make it the perfect getaway. But greater things can be done when your opening hours are not controlled by a trinket shop, and your outside visibility isn’t limited to a sign the size of a computer monitor.

It’s time for Flat Caps to open a second shop

If you are a coffee evangelist, you can help spread the message in this dark land because Joe is crowd-sourcing the initial funding on Kickstarter!

Back up Flat Caps’s Kickstarter Campaign today. You’ll feel good because you helped expand the reach of specialty coffee beyond its current borders, and you helped a hard-working man who left banking to do something interesting and rewarding, and to give back to his home-town community.

I backed Flat Caps, and I won’t even be in the UK by the time it opens. Coffee matters that much to me.