Dec 042016
 

Last night, I went for a nice, long walk, maybe the last before the real snow comes and walking is no longer fun.

My route took me around several government buildings here in Ottawa Lowertown. Here is one of them, with some rather unusual light effects due to some low-hanging clouds and a partially closed bridge that is under renovation:

The picture doesn’t really give justice to the eerie, otherworldly light effects that I saw.

Later on during my walk, I looked through the glass front of an important government building that shall remain unnamed. Why? Because when I looked into the lobby, I saw not one but two uniformed security personnel… with their backs facing the front door, as they were both intently watching a television screen on which a hockey game was playing.

Ah, Canada! What a blessed country we are. And I am not naming the building because I don’t want these good people to get into any trouble, nor do I want to give any bad people ideas.

That said, I was tempted to snap a picture of these two. I decided not to do so… discretion is the better part of valor, and besides, who knows, maybe someone else was watching me, after all, through a security camera.

 Posted by at 11:50 pm
Nov 252016
 

I just read this article, arguing that the narrative, according to which “coastal elites” need to make an effort to understand rural America better, is woefully misguided and counterproductive.

The author’s point is that no, it’s not the coastal elites who fail to understand the woes of rural America. It’s rural America who fail to understand the causes of their own suffering. And a root cause among these is fundamentalist religion, which not only shape their belief systems (including racism and bigotry) but also expose them to demagogues, like TV preachers, who exploit them. Or, for that matter, billionaire presidential candidates who think living in the White House is so passé, as the toilets are not made of gold or whatever.

And thus it came that rural Americans routinely reject political ideas that benefit them, and routinely vote back into office Republican politicians, serving in local and state governments, whose policies do them the most harm.

The author admits that he has no good solution. But I think he is right about the fact that it’s not the coastal elites’ lack of understanding of rural America that is the problem.

 Posted by at 2:36 pm
Nov 232016
 

This was a potential nightmare scenario. Imagine if we found out that the swing state results of the Nov. 8 election were altered by hackers. Imagine if an investigation found that Hillary Clinton won these states after all, and hence, won the electoral college.

Remember the hanging chads of the 2000 election?

Remember the hanging chads of the 2000 election?

Why is it a nightmare? Because it would likely lead to a constitutional crisis with unpredictable consequences. Donald Trump would be unlikely to concede. But even he did, tens of millions of his supporters would likely find the results unacceptable. Even the predictable disaster of a Trump presidency is preferable to a crisis of such magnitude.

And last night, the specter of just such a crisis was raised, in the form of a New York Magazine article (which was soon echoed by other news outlets), reporting on the doubts and suspicions of prominent scientists who noted a bias in the county-by-county results, more likely to favor Trump in counties where votes were counted electronically.

But not so fast, says fivethirtyeight.com. You cannot just compare the raw results without accounting for demographics. And once you take demographics into account, the apparent bias disappears. And while fivethirtyeight notes that it is difficult to validate the integrity of the voting system in the United States, nonetheless the burden of proof is on those who claim electoral fraud, and so far, the burden of proof has not been met.

I no more welcome a Trump presidency today than I did two weeks ago, but an orderly transition is still preferable to the chaos of a constitutional crisis.

Meanwhile, Clinton’s lead in the popular vote count increased to over two million votes (yes, they are still counting the votes in some states, including mighty California). This in itself is unprecedented: never in the history of the United States did a candidate win the popular vote with such a wide margin, yet lose the electoral college.

 Posted by at 6:31 pm
Nov 222016
 

A few days ago, I came across this excellent blog entry about many of the project management misconceptions, bad ideas, overused buzzwords that I ran into in my professional career.

For instance, the author defines “backwards causality” by the example, “let’s adopt the Spotify model!” Yes, of course. While you are at it, also ask a lottery winner what he did that led to his winfall, and make sure you follow those steps exactly, as it will surely guarantee a win.

Or how about the “big bang”, as in “we can’t afford to keep up two systems at the same time”? Even in my teeny-weeny home office environment, I run things in parallel. When I set up a new workstation, it runs parallel with the old for weeks. Same goes for a new server. When I last did a planned transition to a new Internet service provider, I ran things in parallel for a month, too. Sure, it costs money. But it costs a lot less money in the long run than a botched, irreversible transition.

Then there is “buy vs. build”, or the mythical commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) beast. I have seen this so often, especially in this blessed government town! Sure, don’t develop your own word processing software, specifically designed for Her Majesty’s Canadian Government, as that would be foolish nonsense. But many government applications are unique to the government, and may also be unique to the country or jurisdiction. Yet I have seen this happen, in fact I have lost business as a result, when a government department somehow got it in their head that COTS is the way to go.

Closely related is the concept of a “platform”. As in, we’re not just selling a product… we are selling a platform! Yeah, right. Add an API to your software, perhaps bundle two or three remotely related applications with a common installer, and suddenly, you are a platform vendor. To would-be buyers out there: The word “platform” has no technical meaning. It is a marketing buzzword designed to serve one purpose and one purpose only: to suck more money out of your budget.

Speaking of money, how about “enterprise”? You know, it’s government, we cannot just go with some low grade consumer product, we need an “enterprise solution”! You know what makes a product “enterprise”? Mostly it’s the price, nothing more. So-called “enterprise-ready” software is usually the same solution you get elsewhere, just packaged differently.

Another lovely buzzword is the “roadmap”. OK, I plead guilty: in my misguided youth, I both talked about, and contributed to the development of “roadmaps”. And to some extent, they may even make sense: as in a vague, strategic overview of where an IT system is expected to be heading in the long run. But the moment you shoehorn that roadmap into Microsoft Project and start attaching numbers (dollars, dates) to it, it becomes a work of pure fiction. Don’t build roadmaps, do research, do planning, do analysis, do design.

And for goodness’s sake, don’t buy a “turn-key solution”. That is perhaps the greatest deception of all: the idea that an outside vendor can come in, study your business, analyze the requirements, design and implement a solution so that on the agreed-upon delivery date, a nice, shiny new system is ready, just waiting for you to turn the ignition key. That *never* happens. Every experienced system architect can tell you that successful systems don’t happen without customer/user involvement at all stages; that the best adoption strategy is often gradual (see also the “big bang” approach above); and that even the best system needs adjustments and tinkering as its shortcomings only become evident once it is tested through daily use.

Anyhow, these are good lessons. The original article is well worth the read, as it talks about many other points, too.

 Posted by at 4:19 pm
Nov 222016
 

The horrific bombing of Guernica in 1937 inspired one of the best known of Pablo Picasso’s paintings. Yet images of the ruined city were not enough: The world did nothing, and two years later, another war began that brought the same horror, but on a much larger scale, to all of Europe and many parts of the world elsewhere.

Die Ruinen von Guernica 5603/37

And here we are in 2016, and it seems we learned nothing. Another civil war rages on, this time in Syria. And another rogue great power intervenes with its mighty warplanes, conducting indiscriminate bombings against civilian targets.

Just like in 1937, the world remains largely silent. Appeasing a great power and its power hungry despot is more important than lives. And we forget the lessons of history: despots cannot be appeased. They always want more. The demons of nationalism, awakened by false promises of restored pride, cannot be appeased. They will always demand more.

What horrors will follow in the coming years? Will we see the streets of Europe, perhaps North America, look like Aleppo’s today? Is Aleppo just a prelude to what is yet to come, just like Guernica was 79 years ago?

As I think of this, it brings to my mind a 33-year old German-language hit song, Nena’s 99 Luftballons.  Here is how that song ends (my less-than-perfect translation of the German lyrics; they also produced an English version but it was, well, rather lame):

Neunundneunzig Jahre Krieg
Ließen keinen Platz für Sieger
Kriegsminister gibt’s nicht mehr
Und auch keine Düsenflieger

Heute zieh’ ich meine Runden
Seh die Welt in Trümmern liegen
Hab ‘n Luftballon gefunden
Denk’ an Dich und lass’ ihn fliegen

Ninety-nine years of war
Left no room for a victor
There are no more war ministers
Also no more fighter bombers

Today as I took a stroll
Saw a world, ruined by war
There, I just found a balloon
Thinking of you, I let it fly soon

 Posted by at 10:57 am
Nov 202016
 

Okay, this is hands down the winner as the absolute “I’ll effing be” moment for me today, if not this week (and that’s saying something, with all the shenanigans going on with Trump and his cabinet picks): An electric steam locomotive that I just came across.

Say what?

Yes, an electric steam locomotive. That would be a steam engine, boiler and all, with a pantograph connecting it to an overhead line.

A lunatic scheme, to be sure, but apparently it made sense in 1940s Switzerland. They had steam locomotives aplenty. What they didn’t have was fuel for these locomotives. But they had plenty of cheap hydroelectricity. So even with the incredibly inefficient conversion of electric power into heat into steam pressure into mechanical motion, it still made sense.

Still… these perverted things just look absolutely demented.

 Posted by at 3:20 pm
Nov 172016
 

It is rare these days that a piece of spam makes me laugh, but today was an exception. After all, it is not every day that I receive an e-mail notice, pretending (kind of) to be from UPS, informing me that my “crap” has been shipped:

Still trying to figure out though if the language was intentional, or simply a mistake made by a non-native English speaker unfamiliar with certain, ahem, idioms.

 Posted by at 1:16 pm
Nov 152016
 

I just came across this recent conversation with Barack Obama about the challenges of the future, artificial intelligence, machine learning and related topics. A conversation with an intelligent, educated person who, while not an expert in science and technology, is not illiterate in these topics either.

Barack Obama Talks AI, Robo-Cars, and the Future of the World

And now I feel like mourning. I mourn the fact that for many years to come, no such intelligent conversation will be likely be heard in the Oval Office. But what do you do when a supremely qualified, highly intelligent President is replaced by a self-absorbed, misogynist, narcissistic blowhard?

Not much, I guess. I think my wife and I will just go and cuddle up with the cats and listen to some Pink Floyd instead.

 Posted by at 11:35 pm
Nov 142016
 

Heard on tonight’s episode of Lucifer, featuring the adventures of Lucifer Morningstar, aka. the Devil, Lord of Hell, in present-day Los Angeles:

capture_20161114_221630

So, we can… you know, talk about Caligula, Stalin, Trump. I mean, I know he’s not dead, but he’s definitely going.

I am glad I wasn’t sipping a drink when I heard this, as I would surely have choked. Even without a drink, it was a close call.

Thanks for the laugh of the week.

 Posted by at 10:21 pm
Nov 122016
 

If there was a single cause that sank Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency, it was undeniably the “e-mail scandal”.

Which is really, really sad because it was really no scandal at all. I just read a fascinating account (written back in September I believe) that offers details.

Some of what happened was due to ineptness (either by Clinton’s team or the State Department’s), some of it was a result of outdated, inconvenient, or unreliable technology, some of it was just the customary bending of the rules to get things done… most notably, there was no recklessness, no conspiracy, no cover-up, just the typical government or, for that matter, corporate bungling. (And as I noted before, Clinton’s e-mails were likely more secure on the “home brew” server sitting in a residential basement than on the State Department’s systems.)

 Posted by at 4:47 pm
Nov 112016
 

Hello, world, please say hi to my cat Rufus. No, Rufus does not think he is people. He just likes to stand on his hind legs from time to time.

Master Rufus, please say hello to the world.

 Posted by at 10:37 pm
Nov 102016
 

I have been worried now for many years that the world will end this period of peace and prosperity with another bang, like the one that happened in 1914.

I am not alone with my concerns. I just read an excellent article, written back in July, that argues the same. Indeed, like me, the author considers it an inevitable cycle of history.

As I said in the wake of Trump’s victory, I am in my 50s and I have no children, so I have much less at stake than most. I can afford to be a spectator. Still, I desperately hope that when the world goes bonkers, Canada manages to stay out of it. Is it even possible, in this globalized era? Isn’t Canada just too great a prize, with its abundant land and natural resources? I hope never to find out. But on this day, the eve of the 98th anniversary of the Armistice at the conclusion of The War to End All Wars, I think it is the right question to ask.

 Posted by at 8:05 pm
Nov 092016
 

Thanks to a friend’s posting on Facebook, I just read the first ever sensible explanation of the reasons for Trump’s victory.

Short version: Forget red and blue states. It’s country vs. city. And the country is losing.

This should be mandatory reading to everyone, Democrat and Republican alike, trying to understand the reasons behind Trump’s “stunning upset”.

Here is the link again: http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-reasons-trumps-rise-that-no-one-talks-about/

 Posted by at 11:44 pm
Nov 092016
 

I am listening to President-Elect Trump’s victory speech.

Up until now, I always hoped that he didn’t mean any of the things he said.

This time around, I hope that he means it. He is… almost gracious.

I hope, really hope that it is this speech and not his divisive campaign that sets the tone for his presidency.

By the way, The Simpsons saw it all 16 years ago.

 Posted by at 3:03 am
Nov 092016
 

I didn’t vote this Tuesday… I am not an American citizen.

Instead, I voted last year.

I voted for a government that promised to help refugees.

I voted for a government that was promoting diversity and minority rights.

I voted for a government that promised to listen to its scientists, rather than muzzling them.

Will they deliver on all their promises before their term is up? Of course not. But the fundamental message remains: it is a government that embraced good over evil; humanity over fear; decency over hate.

Tonight, I am more grateful than ever to be a citizen of Canada.

 Posted by at 2:01 am
Nov 092016
 

Trump just won Ohio.

In the past hour, I managed to convince myself that Trump will win this election.

It’s another one of those moments when I am glad that I have no children and their future to worry about.

Like a little less than a century ago, once again the politics of divisiveness, hate and fear are gaining ground throughout the so-called “civilized” world. What it will lead to, I don’t know, but my pessimism is growing each day. The world has been peaceful and prosperous for too long.

But let me not mince worlds.

  • If you voted for Trump because you think Muslims are taking over America, you are an idiot.
  • If you voted for Trump because you think coal mining has a future, you are an idiot.
  • If you voted for Trump because you think America needs to be protected from Mexico by a wall, you are an idiot.
  • If you voted for Trump because you think tearing down trade agreements will bring back manufacturing jobs that were lost to automation, you are an idiot.
  • If you voted for Trump because everything was “e-mail server” and “Benghazi” for you, you are an idiot.
  • If you voted for Trump because you believe that he will “drain the swamp”, you are an idiot.
  • If you voted for Trump because you think it is a good idea in a mature democracy to “lock her up”, you are an idiot.
  • If you voted for Trump because you believe global warming is some Chinese scam, you are an idiot.

Those who forget the lessons of history are bound to repeat the mistakes of the past.

But you know what? Why should I care? I am in my fifties. I have no children to worry about. If you want to screw up the world by listening to the siren song of xenophobia and populism, the politics of fear and hatred, be my guest. Enjoy this brave new world of your own creation. Repeat the mistakes of history, this time with even more destruction, even deadlier weapons than ever before.

In any case, Putin must be having a really good day today.

 Posted by at 12:04 am
Nov 082016
 

It was 16 years ago today (well, technically yesterday, since it is now past midnight) that our very first cat, our much loved Marzipan, a perfectly ordinary tabby housecat, died.

And it was also 16 years ago today that a plurality of American voters cast their ballots for Al Gore, who nonetheless didn’t become president, because of the way the electoral college works and the way votes were counted in the Sunshine State of Florida.

Today, I am happy to report, none of our kittycats are in any imminent danger of dying, as they are all (as far as we know) in good health. The outcome of tomorrow’s election in the United States is unlikely to be influenced by the health of our feline companions, but still, I take it as a good omen: I desperately hope that the sane person makes it to the White House tomorrow night.

 Posted by at 12:17 am
Nov 062016
 

Hungarian piano virtuoso Zoltan Kocsis died today. He was only 64.

This is him playing the first movement of Bartok’s second piano concerto:

May he rest in peace.

 Posted by at 5:12 pm
Nov 052016
 

I am just back from a brief road trip to the Big Apple, aka. New York City.

I had three reasons to go there. First, I was invited to a Quora Top Writers meeting. Second, I have recently built a new backup server, to replace the one that has served me faithfully for many years, hosted by my good friend David who lives there. And third, I haven’t been to NYC in ages… and I am quite fond of that city.

I drove. The drive was pleasant and uneventful. The weather could not have been nicer. November indeed… it almost felt like summer! I was wearing a shirt the entire time.

Once the new server was installed (which went without a hitch), David and I visited a fantastic little place in Brooklyn: the Subway Museum. An out-of-service subway station has been converted into this museum, which allows them to host renovated subway cars that remain powered, complete with original lighting fixtures. You can walk through them, even sit down in them, and contemplate what it must have been like to ride the subway in Manhattan while the Great War was raging in distant Europe.

We also visited the new World Trade Center.

Although we didn’t have time to go up to the Observatory level, we did visit the 9/11 memorial. That sad day, which David and I both vividly remember (for instance, we were on the phone when I warned him as the second tower began to topple, which was visible on CNN, so he rushed to his office window in time to see with his own eyes as that tower, too, vanished in a billowing cloud of smoke), left an indelible mark on this great city.

I didn’t take any pictures at the Quora meeting. There were several attendees with professional photo gear… I am sure that the pictures they took will surface somewhere eventually. But I did meet some amazing people and had some very interesting conversations. A great evening, even though my voice is still hoarse from all the shouting (the restaurant had very bad acoustics.)

One of my guilty pleasures is watching dash cam videos on YouTube. On my way home, I was given the opportunity to produce a dash cam video of my own, as I witnessed a near miss right in front of me:

I was using my mobile phone as a dash cam throughout the trip. Not because I was hoping to catch an accident, but I thought it might be a good idea just in case, and perhaps it might even help me record some memorable sights.

 Posted by at 12:58 am