Incoherent ramblings

“Products related to this item” ?

May 26, 2019 Incoherent ramblings No comments , , ,

I’m looking for belt lube to cure the “E2 lube belt” error on my Tempo 632T model treadmill.  Amazon has some strange ideas about related items

What is a non-degree student?

February 17, 2019 Incoherent ramblings 5 comments , , , ,

In various places on this blog, I’ve mentioned courses that I took as a non-degree student at UofT:

I was recently asked what a non-degree student was, which is a good question, because I think it is a fairly obscure educational path.  Here is how UofT describes their non-degree option:

“Non-degree studies is for those with previous university experience who wish to upgrade their university record to qualify for graduate school, a professional program, or for personal interest.  Non-degree students enrol in credit courses, for which they have the prerequisites, but are not proceeding towards a degree.”

There are limits of what you can take as a non-degree student.  You cannot, for example, take graduate physics courses, nor any courses from engineering.  The engineering restriction seems to be because engineering (and computer science, and a few other programs), have a higher price tag.  The restriction against taking graduate physics courses as a non-degree student appeared to be arbitrary — I suspect that the grad physics administrator really didn’t want to be bothered, and was happy with the fact that somebody had once imposed that restriction.  There also isn’t a large set of people that are clamoring to take grad physics courses just because they are interesting, which makes it easy not to care about removing that restriction.

When I started my non-degree courses, my work at IBM had started to become very routine, and I was seriously questioning my career choices.  I’d started off with an interest in the sciences, especially physics, and somehow had ended up as a computer programmer!?  At a point of reflection, it is easy to look back and say to your self “how the hell did that happen?”  My work at IBM (DB2 LUW) was excellent work from a compensation point of view, and lots of it had been really fun, interesting, and challenging.  However, the opportunities to learn on the job were limited, and I was generally feeling under utilized.

I ended up with an unexpected life change event, and took the opportunity to try to reset my career path.  IBM offered a flex work program (i.e. 80% pay and hours), and I took used that program to go back to school part time.  I ended up taking most of the interesting 4th year grad physics courses, except the two GR courses that I’d still like to take.  I had put myself on the path for new employment in a scientific computing field (or perhaps PhD studies down the line.  I figured that once I had filled in some of my knowledge gaps, I’d be able to find work that would allow me to both exploit my programming skills, work on a product that mattered, perhaps even learn (science) on the job.

Because I was aiming for scientific computing work, where I figured my 20 years of programming experience would be more relevant than an undergraduate physics degree, non-degree studies was an excellent fit for me.  Like any other student in the classes I took, I attended lectures, did the problem sets and exams, and got a grade for each course.

What I didn’t get was any sort of credential for the courses I took.  I did end up with 2500 pages of PDF notes for the classes that I took — in my eyes that’s as good as a 2nd degree, but if I did end up looking for that scientific computing work, I’d have to convince my employer of that.

I’m now done with my non-degree studies, and did a followup M.Eng degree so I could take some grad physics courses.  This should be the time that I should be looking for that scientific computing work.  Why didn’t I switch gears?  Well, part way through my M.Eng, I got poached from IBM to work at LzLabs.  My work at LzLabs has been way too much fun, and is going to be an awesome addition to our product once completed.  A transition from a mega company like IBM to one with ~100 (?) employees wasn’t one that I expected, and perhaps I’ll still end up eventually with scientific computing work, but if that happens it will probably be in the far future.   For now, I’m working at LzLabs full time, and not looking back.

I still have a strong affinity for physics, but my plan is to go back to unstructured recreational studies, on my own schedule, once again without any care of credentials.


Book review: Based on a true story, by Norm Macdonald: 3/5 stars.

January 6, 2019 Incoherent ramblings No comments

It’s been a long time since I’ve had time to read anything fictional, so “Based on a true story” was a fun distraction, at least for a while.

This book has little bits of auto-biography mixed into a bizarre gambling win-big-or-die-trying story, as well as side visits with the Devil and God along the way.  I found that it held my attention until after Norm was released from his 40 year jail sentence for stalking Sarah Silverman and subsequently arranging a clumsy hit on her boyfriend.

There is a lot of funny content in this book, but the absurdity of it gets pretty tiresome about half way in.  The first half of the book is representative, and one need not read much further.

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
  • 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:


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.