Incoherent ramblings

An interesting heat fracture

November 5, 2018 Incoherent ramblings No comments , ,

Check out this break after 2 minutes in the microwave:

I’d nuked it with the lid on, but askew, so that the sauce wouldn’t splash, but heat could still get out. Look at how close to the sauce line the break occurred:

I was actually able to take off the top half of the container, and nothing spilled!  It was such a clean break that I probably could have eaten the sauce in the center of the container (I didn’t, and threw it all out to be safe).

I’d guess there was a hairline fracture somewhere around the “sauce line” and the heat differential with this particular loading was enough to stress that defect enough to break all the way.

My libertarian primer has arrived.

October 26, 2018 Incoherent ramblings No comments

I’ve been listening to the Tom Woods show and the Scott Horton show for a long time, and these books keep getting mentioned.  I’ve finally purchased them:

I probably won’t get to starting them until the new year (when I’m done with the phy2403, Quantum Field Theory I, course that I’m taking).

Btw., check out the awesome postage on the package that “Man, Economy and State” came from.  It took up the whole of the back of the package:

 

The identity ideologues are pushing hard from york region primary schools

September 28, 2018 Incoherent ramblings No comments , ,

York region district school board is preparing to roll out their “Every Student Counts Survey” for primary grades (to be answered with parental assistance) or by oneself in grade 7-12 that’s packed full of the extreme identity politics that is discussed so widely in podcasts these days.

Here’s a link to a sample copy of the survey for kindergarden to grade 6, and one for higher grades.  The one for the little kids is particularly absurd, asking the kids or parents to pick from gender identities of male, female or one of the following 7 additional options:

  • Gender Fluid (Of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity or expression changes or shifts along thegender spectrum.)
  • Gender Nonconforming (Not being in line with the cultural associations made in a given society about a person’s
    sex assigned at birth.)
  • Non‐Binary (Refers to a person whose gender identity does not align with the binary concept of gender such as
    man or woman.)
  • Questioning (Refers to a person who is unsure about their own gender identity.)
  • Transgender (Refers to a person whose gender identity differs from the one associated with their birth‐assigned
    sex.)
  • Two‐Spirit (An Indigenous person whose gender identity, spiritual identity or sexual orientation includes
    masculine, feminine or non‐binary spirits.)
  • A gender identity not listed above (please specify):…

as constrained by the footnote: “A person’s internal and deeply felt sense of being a man, a woman, both, neither, or having another identity on the gender spectrum. A person’s gender identity may be different from the sex assigned at birth (for example, female, intersex, male).”

These are questions being asked of kids that are potentially still many years away from puberty!  Why on earth is there such pressure to have the kids pick from or even try to understand these host of made up categories?

When I was in grade 7 I got teased about being gay because I was too shy to ask a girl on a date (or accept a date, in one instance).  Heck, I was a virgin until I was in my early twenties.  If this level of gender propaganda was being pushed when I was a kid, I’d have to have started wearing a lipstick and blouses just to fit it.  All because I was introverted and shy.  My sexual identity had nothing to do with these plethora of current gender categories, but just because I hadn’t clued in that you had to communicate to the opposite sex if you wanted to make any progress towards sexual goals.  Time is required to figure this stuff out, and having to choose prematurely, seems, to be blunt, completely stupid.

There’s some other stuff in this survey that is just bizarre.  The desire to label is so severe that it appears they are also making up new races:

Latino/Latina/Latinx

Googling Latinx, which I hadn’t heard of, and isn’t defined in any of the “helpful” footnotes, it appears that they are pushing gender politics into race too.  Wikipedia says of this: “Latinx (la-teen-ex) is a gender-neutral term sometimes used in lieu of Latino or Latina”.

Here’s some samples of the gobbledegook that this survey is packed full of:

  • People can be treated differently based on their religion, or perceived religion, which can lead to negative impacts and unequal outcomes. Islamophobia and antisemitism are examples of the way religion can be racialized. People can experience racism not only based on skin colour but also other perceived characteristics that are associated with religion.
  • Bullying is an ongoing misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behaviour that causes physical and/or psychological harm. It can involve an individual or a group misusing their power over one or more persons. Bullying can happen in person or online, and it can be obvious (overt) or hidden (covert).
  • Discrimination is being treated negatively because of your gender, racial background, ethnic origin, religion, socioeconomic background, special education needs, sexual orientation, or other factors. Discrimination can be intentional or unintentional.
  • Harassment is engaging in a course of vexatious [annoying or provoking] comment or conduct which is known or
    ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.
  • Race is a social construct that groups people on the basis of perceived common ancestry and characteristics and affects how some people are perceived and treated. Race is often confused with ethnicity (a group of people who share a particular cultural heritage or background); there may be several ethnic groups within a racialized group.

I wonder how much money York region is paying to roll out and process this survey?  As well as injecting chaos and insanity into the school system in liew of actual content, it seems like a pointless waste of time and money that will provide little useful information.

If you want to make progress in education, how about stripping out some of the crap.  There’s no shortage of that.  Let’s not confuse kids with four different pictoral multiplication algorithms, so that they’ll give up and end up using calculators.  How about not injecting terminology into math education like “commutative” in grade 5 when you won’t see non-commutative (i.e. matrix) multiplication until university (since linear algebra seems to have been dropped from the high school curriculum for all intents and purposes).  Arg!

Awesome bookshelves in my home office space

September 15, 2018 Incoherent ramblings No comments , ,

Sofia and I spend a large part of the day installing a set of four Ikea Liatorp bookshelves in my office today. The shelves fit pretty much perfectly, with a 1/4″ gap on each side. In fact, to get them to fit we had to take the baseboards and window casings off, but I’ll put in new ones butting up nicely to the shelves. When we eventually sell the house, the buyer better be interested in bookshelves, because these are a permanent feature of the house now!

The Liatorp model shelves are nicely engineered.  There are easy access leveling pegs, they join together nicely, and the backer board uses screws with pre-drilled holes in exactly the right places, plug some other plugs that hold the backer in place (far superior to the Billy model!)

Here’s a view of the whole shelf unit, which is loaded bottom heavy since the top shelves are spaces closer at the moment:

I had a lot of fun moving books down from the bedroom bookshelves, and have moved most of the non-fiction content.  I was really pleased that I can mostly group my books in logical categories:

  • Statistics and probability, with a couple German books and a dictionary too big to fit with the language material.
  • Calculus and engineering:

  • Computer programming, including my brand new Knuth box set!

  •  Spill over programming, general physics, fluid mechanics, and solid mechanics:

  • Home repair and handywork, plus two religious books too big to fit in the religion section (I’ve got other religious material in boxes somewhere in the basement, including a Morman bible, a Koran, and a whole lot of Dad’s Scientology books (and a couple of mine from days of old) :

  • Optics and statistical mechanics

  • Investment and economics (although the only one I’ve really cracked of these is the old “Principles of Engineering Economic Analysis” from back in my undergrad days)

  • Electromagnetism and some older general physics books from Granddad:

  • Algebra, complex variables, General relativity, mathematical tables, plus Penrose’s book, which spans most categories:

  • Political, classics, some borrowed Gaiman books, and religious

  • Languages:

There’s a bunch of tidy up and finishing details to make my office space complete and usable, but this was a really nice step in that direction.  Mysteriously, even after moving all these books downstairs from the bedroom, somehow the bedroom bookshelves are still mostly full seeming.  Was there a wild book orgy when we weren’t looking, and now all the book progeny are left behind, still filling the shelves despite the attempt to empty them?

Is this Cantonese or Manderin?

September 2, 2018 Incoherent ramblings 2 comments ,

I managed to somehow switch my bluetooth headset from English to Chinese, so my Chinese vocabulary is now three phrases:

Power on, pairing: kie-gee pae-doo-eh

Paired successfully: il-ee-en-gee-eh

Power off: guen-gee

However, I don’t know which dialect of Chinese this is.

IBM and other companies now claim to be loosening college degree requirements.

August 29, 2018 Incoherent ramblings No comments , , , , ,

Here’s an article about companies that are starting to drop college and university degree requirements.

I’ve been expecting this for years.

I really enjoyed university and much of what I learned on my undergrad engineering degree.  However, most of the skills that I required for software development, I learned on the job at IBM on my student internship, not from my undergrad engineering degree.  I was very disappointed in the software engineering course that I took in university, as it was primarily droning on about waterfall models and documentation driven development, and had very little substantive content.  I learned a lot of mathematics and physics at UofT, but very little of it was useful.  I was once really pleased with myself when I figured out that I could do compute some partial derivatives on the job to compute error-bars in some statistical performance analysis, but that one time calculation, was the only non-trivial math I ever used in about 20 years at IBM.  In short, most of the specifics I learned at University were of little value.

My view of the engineering degree I obtained, was that it was mental training.  They tossed problems at us, and we solved them.  By the time you were done your undergrad degree, you knew (or at least believed) that you could solve any problem.  There’s definitely value to developing that mental discipline, and there’s value to the employer as a filtering mechanism.  Interestingly, my first manager at IBM as a full time employee told me that they preferred hiring new engineering graduates over new computer science graduates.  That is despite the fact that many of the computer science courses are quite difficult (computer graphics, optimizing compilers, …), and arguably more relevant than all the physics biased courses that we did in engineering.  Perhaps that preference was due to the problem solving bias of engineering school?

An apprenticeship based recruitment system can potentially save software companies a lot of money, as it should provide cheap labor for the company and a valuable opportunity to learn real skills for the apprentice.  It’s a good deal for both parties.  You can get paid to learn, vs. going to school and paying to learn things that are not truly valuable.  I’ve actually been very surprised that IBM, who is offshoring so aggressively to save money, has not yet clued in that they can hire students directly out of high school (or earlier!), for much less than the price tag that a university/college graduate would demand.  While offshoring is nominally cheap, unless the whole team is moved, it introduces large latencies and inefficiencies in development processes.  Hiring out of high school would provide companies like IBM that are desperate to reduce their costs, the chance of acquiring cheap local talent, free of the hassles and latencies of splitting the team to pay some members offshore rates, less benefits, and so forth.

Assuming that a university degree is not actually useful, the problem to be solved is one of filtering.  How does a company evaluate the potential of an untrained candidate without using (potentially useless) accreditation as a filter?  I’d guess that we will see a transition to IQ style testing (although that is illegal in some locals) and a bias for hiring youth with demonstrated interest and proven open source project contribution history.

Some progress prepping the bathroom reno.

June 18, 2018 Incoherent ramblings No comments , , ,

We are finally renovating our master bathroom.  We’ve hired the guys from Markham Tile to do the plumbing and tile work (especially in the shower, which I was afraid to do).  They don’t do the drywall part of the job, and left me some floor repairs as well.  Here’s where the plumbing was done for the new tub:

In this picture, I’ve started installing some 2×4 “strapping” to support the replacement floor boards.  I also ended expanding the holes a bit so that I could fit in pieces that used the joists to hold things up.  Here’s things with all the puzzle pieces installed:

Over where the sink will be, I also had a mess to deal with:

I ended up expanding that hole a bit too, mostly to make a rectangular hole that would be easier to patch.  I also installed some 2×4 “strapping” in this hole for extra support:

The final installed floor patch looks like:

With flooring in place, after a lot of tidy up, and installation of a small bump-out around some pipe that couldn’t be moved, I was ready to start throwing around some mud.  Here’s the pre-mud view:

and by the sink:

This view shows where the medicine cabinet used to be.  We removed it so that the shower head could be in a less awkward spot (it’s now centered in the shower).  Unfortunately, moving the shower head and control left me some shower board repair to do.  Here’s a pre-mud view of the shower where I’m doing the repair:

We opted not to install the “toe tester” in this shower rebuild since we were adjusting the plumbing anyways.

Here’s the bathtub area after an initial rough layup of mud:

and the shower board repair:

and a really badly lit shot of the sink area:

Tomorrow I lay up a bit more mud.

Propublica’s IBM age discrimination investigation

March 22, 2018 Incoherent ramblings No comments , , , , ,

Not too long after I quit IBM for LzLabs in 2016, I was sent a copy of Pro-publica’s survey about age discrimination based firing and forced retirement at IBM. It appears that this survey was just the start of a very long investigation, and they’ve now published their story.

I wasn’t forced out of IBM, and am only ~45 years old, but at the time I had close to 20 years at IBM (including my student internship), and could see the writing on the wall. Technically skilled people with experience were expendable, and being fired or retired with gusto. To me it looked like 25 years at IBM was the firing threshold, unless you took the management path or did a lot of high visibility customer facing work.

IBM’s treatment of employees in the years leading up to when I quit was a major part of my decision to leave. I considered my position at IBM vulnerable for a number of reasons. One was my part time status (80% pay and hours), as I’d been slowly studying physics at UofT with a plan of a future science based job change. Another was that I was a work in the trenches kind of person that did not have the high visibility that looked like it was required for job security in the new IBM where the quarterly firing had gotten so pervasive that you could trip on the shrapnel.

Even after two years I still use “we” talking about my time as an IBMer working on DB2 LUW, as I worked with people that were awesome (some of which I still work with at LzLabs.) Despite now competing with IBM, I hope they stop shooting themselves in the gut by disposing of their skilled employees, and by treating people as rows in resource spreadsheets. It is hard to imagine that this will end well, and it’s too easy to visualize an IBM headstone sharing a plot with HP and Sun.

When I was recruited for LzLabs, my options seemed like continue working for IBM for <= 5 more years before I too got the ax, or to ride into the wild west working as a contractor for a company that was technically still a “startup”. Many startups don’t make it 5 years before folding, so even in the worst case it looked like no bigger risk than IBM, but I thought I was going to have a lot of fun on the ride. LzLabs was just coming out of stealth mode when I was interviewed, but had an astounding ~100 people working at that point! Salaries add up, so it was clear to me that LzLabs was not really a startup in the conventional sense of the word.

It is amusing to read the Pro-publica article now, as most of LzLabs employees are probably over 65. At 45 I’ve been singled out in staff meetings as the “young guy”. Many of the LzLabs employees are technically scary, and know the mainframe cold. I once wrote a simple PowerPC disassembler, but that’s a different game than “disassembling” 390 hex listings by chunking it into various fixed size blocks hex sequences in an editor so it can be “read” by eye!

In less than one month I’ll have been working for LzLabs for 2 years, about six months of which was a contractor before LzLabs Canada was incorporated. Two years ago, if you had mentioned JCL, LE, PL/I, COBOL, QSAM or VSAM (to name a few) to me, I’d have known that seeing COBOL is a good reason to get to an eye wash station pronto (it still is), but would not have even recognized the rest. It’s been fun learning along the way, and I continually impress myself with the parts that I’ve been adding to the LzLabs puzzle. Our technology is amazing and I think that we are going to really kick some butt in the marketplace.

Christmas gift from Lance: some assembly required

December 25, 2017 Incoherent ramblings No comments ,

Lance got me a little notebook for Christmas, the first page of which had a message that I had to work to decode:

Conveniently, it was all ASCII, and all in a single base.  He got the evil idea of wishing he’d encoding each character in a different base, which would have made life more difficult.  I used the following quick hack to decode:

There was one small encoding error, a missing zero that transformed an ‘s’ into a ‘;’.

Failed purchases at overstock.com (trying to spend bitcoin)

November 5, 2017 Bitcoin, Incoherent ramblings No comments , , , , , , , ,

A couple years ago I bought a few bitcoin at fairly low rates compared to the current price, and thought I’d try to recoup my initial “investment” by spending some of it (since selling it back for money on an exchange appears to require a capital gains tax report in Canada).  Such purchases are easier said than done, at least here in Canada.

I found that Newegg advertises themselves as bitcoin capable, but it turns out that this is not offered for newegg.ca, and newegg.com restricts payment with bitcoin to certain types of purchases (and it seems like used phones on their marketplace do not qualify).  I found coincards.ca, but was not impressed by how much mark up they impose on every purchase (5%).  Despite Coincards calling this a “convenience fee”, I don’t feel that having to eat a 5% fee for every purchase is very convenient.

Before looking at Coincards and Newegg I had tried overstock.com as I knew from the Tom Woods show that the founder was enthusiastic about bitcoin.  The idea behind this company is that they buy excess stock from vendors and can then offer the items for less.  Some browsing of the prices on this site leave me unconvinced.  I think the savings are passed on to the company and very little to the consumer, however, they accept bitcoin, so I thought “what the hell” and did a (fairly sizeable) test purchase.

This didn’t work out very well.  Either because of current bitcoin network latencies, or perhaps due to the fees added by the wallet that I used, my transaction timed out after “network fee may have been too low message” after I had submitted my payment to the Coinbase dialog that came up in the Overstock cart checkout.  The transaction had been submitted from my wallet to the bitcoin network, but Coinbase tells me the transaction is timed out, and I’m left with the item still in my card, unpaid.

Basically, my payment was stuck in limbo.  Overstock has an online chat support option, which is very responsive, but the support rep I got just played pass the buck:

Bishop: Hi, my name is Bishop. How may I help you?
peeter.joot: I attempted to make a purchase with bitcoin, and got a message saying that the mining fee may have been too small.  I see the transaction processed from my wallet (with two confirmations so far), but the coinbase transaction window claims the transaction expired.
Bishop: Hello there.
peeter.joot: it presented me with a window to return to overstock.com, and there’s no sign of my transaction there in my cart.
Bishop: I’ll be glad to check and help you with this information.
Bishop: In this situation I recommend you to contact  Coinbase, please visit support.coinbase.com or, email support@coinbase.com. for further help.
Bishop: I know I have not resolved the issue for now and have only shared a best possible recommendation, but was I able to address your concerns for now?
Bishop: I don’t mean to rush you, however our chat will time out in the next one minute; please respond so that we can stay connected.
Bishop:
Thank you for contacting Overstock. Before you go, we invite you to check out the exclusive benefits of becoming a Club O Member. Club O allows you to earn rewards and save more with every Overstock.com purchase. It’s our way of saying ‘Thank You’ for shopping with us. Click  here to learn more!
Bishop has disconnected.
The email address for Coinbase that Bishop gave me bounced, but did at least point me to the Coinbase support forum.  This got me a response:

Hi and thanks for contacting Coinbase Support.

I was able to locate the order details using the info provided. I see that you have paid for an order, but it was marked as Expired. Overstock has been paid for it, if you send the below info to Overstock, they should be able to locate your order to fulfill or refund it as desired.

https://www.coinbase.com/orders/XN0KMJGU

Order Code: XN0KMJGU
Created: 2017-09-30 6:29 AM
Merchant: Overstock.com
Order Status: Expired Confirmed Has mispayments
Address: …
Order Amount (BTC): … BTC
Order Amount (Native): … USD
Custom Parameter: 200882508
Button: … on Overstock.com invoice ID 200882508.

If you have any further questions, please let us know.

Randy
Coinbase Support
I provided this info to one of the Overstock support reps, who kept telling me that there wasn’t anything that he could do, and that I had to contact Coinbase for support, despite the fact that I’d just given him the info that Coinbase just provided me.  I was honestly convinced that this support rep was a robot, because he wasn’t capable of understanding even the simplest things.  After he claimed that he wasn’t a robot (unconvincingly) I asked to talk to a manager, and he said he’d have a specialist deal with the issue.
Eventually, I got a response from somebody in the payments department:
By Caroline S. on 10/05/2017 08:55 AM

Hello ,

I’m writing today in response to your recent contact about your Bitcoin order XN0KMJGU . I am happy to help you today.

So when we see the expired tab , it indicates that the system had timed out and the funds did not come through . I can issue the refund back through Coinbase . We will need to refund $… USD so you could try and place the order again . I tried to refund to your wallet address that you provided in the chat but it would not take that address . Do you have an e-mail that we could refund to ?

Please let me know if there is anything else I can do for you with this or any other issue. Visit us again soon for great savings on our name-brand products.

I am so sorry that the order did not process through and appreciate your patience while we work through this issue.

Please respond back to this e-mail .

Sincerely,

Caroline S.
Pay Support

I was severely unimpressed that they weren’t able to simply finalize the transaction I’d attempted, but instead had to refund the bitcoin, so that I could try again.  They had some trouble doing so since I did not use a Coinbase wallet for my payment, but a private wallet.  In the end, I resurrected the Coinbase wallet I had once created (but hadn’t used), and they sent the refund there successfully.
After this hassle I gave up on the item I originally tried to purchase, but thought I’d try Overstock one more time, but this time used my Coinbase wallet with the Overstock Coinbase dialogue.  My hope was that Coinbase would know the transaction was submitted, even if the bitcoin network confirmations hadn’t occurred, and treat it as paid despite the network.
For my second purchase attempt I ordered a refurbished unlocked phone for my wife, and a bench grinder for myself.  The phone came within a couple days (left unattended on my doorstep by the courier!), and the grinder arrived by Canada Post in about a week.
After the adventure of cutting and sanding my wife’s microsim to nanosim size (you can find instructions for this on youtube, but make sure to download the letter size template, not A4, and print it in actual size, not the default), we discovered the hard way that Overstock had sent a phone that was locked to AT&T, and it even listed the phone on the packing slip at an “ATT” phone and not unlocked.  This made the phone unless as it wasn’t even possible to get past the SIM setup screen to the settings nor the home screen.  I had to contact Overstock four times (three using the contact form, and finally once more with their phone number).  I’d been promised call backs twice (1-2 business days), and those never materialized.  The last support person I dealt with (Nora) was helpful, and told me that if I could get the phone unlocked manually for <= $50 they’d refund me that amount.  Unfortunately, after a trip to the mall to the little shop that unlocked my android phone, I was told that they couldn’t unlock this type of phone locked to AT&T, and told me that I’d probably be charged at least $140 Canadian for somebody that could do.  That price was consistent with the unlocking fee on unlockriver.com, which was $110 USD, so I gave up on getting it unlocked myself.
Because the phone that I’d ordered was out of stock on Overstock by the time we discovered it was locked, they weren’t able to send me a properly unlocked replacement of the same type.  I should have asked for an upgrade to the next most similar model since the combined time that my wife and I spent with customer support and playing with the phone and with the Canadian phone carriers was horrendous, and probably added up to hundreds of dollars of time equivalent to salary.
Instead I was sent a packing slip to return the phone:

Thank you for contacting Overstock.com.

We believe that we have resolved your inquiry. However, if it has not been answered to your satisfaction, you may reopen it within the next 7 days.

By Nora A. on 11/03/2017 01:49 PM

Hello Peeter,

We’re sorry to hear that you need to return your … (Refurbished) because it arrive and it is locked with ATT. We recognize that returning an item can be inconvenient, and we want to make this process as easy as possible.

We will return this item at no cost to you. Please print the return shipping label attached to this email. If you cannot open the PDF file, visit http://get.adobe.com/reader to download a free Adobe PDF reader. If you still cannot access or print the label, please email us at international@overstock.com or call us at 00-1-(919)576-9926.

Once the label is printed, please use the following steps to return your item:

1. Print the label and affix it to the package.
2. Write the Return Merchandise Authorization(RMA) number … on the outside of the package large enough for it to easily be seen.
3. Take the package to your nearest Canada Post office.

It may take 5-7 business days after we receive your return to issue your refund. We will send you an email notification once we complete your return.

Thank you for your patience through this return process. If you have any other questions on this or any other issue, please reply to this email or call us at 00-1-919-576-9926.

You may also view our full Standard Return Policy by visiting this link: https://help.overstock.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/1

Sincerely,

Nora A.
Overstock Global Solutions Specialist

So, once again, my attempt to purchase something on Overstock has left me without the item, and a requirement to return it, and retry the transaction again should I desire.  I don’t think there’s much chance in hell that I’ll try such a purchase on Overstock again.  A 1/3 success rate just doesn’t inspire confidence, and their prices aren’t that great to start with.