Anton Aylward

The Benjamin Franklin Method: How to (Actually) Learn to Write

Cover of The Unix Programming Environment, 1984

Cover of The Unix Programming Environment, 1984
Well, that’s interesting.
I’m not sure I’ve ever learned that way.
I learned to program in C by taking a core dump of the UNIX kernel and reconstructing what the source code must have been with only the header files.  Yes I know about “The White Books”, but lets face it, everyone cheats by downloading the source files rather than typing in the code by hand. Yes, hand re-typing all that code would make you think about it.
The other part of learning C for me was doing maintenance programming.  Somewhere along the line I had to decide “this is abominably ugly code, do I dump it and do a re-write or do I patch it into further unintelligibility?”

Once, reading a book on the history of economics I came across a sentence that ran for a page and a half. Galbraith is an excellent writer, he made his living for a while writing intelligible papers for US politicians. That sentence made perfect sense. I kept meaning to go back, copy it down, de-construct it and see if I could break it up into shorter sentences while maintaining intelligibility. Sadly I never did and I’ve forgotten what book that was. Galbraith loved words. Continue reading

Anton Aylward

How to Bring Back Manufacturing Jobs

In many ways this isn’t just about manufacturing, though the numbers are clear there.
Elsewhere there is a shortage in “cybersecurity”, which, when you look at it, isn’t so much about ‘security, per se but basic IT systems and network management. It doesn’t take a CISSP or CISA to be able to install and configure a network appliance that does fire-walling, spam/malware detection, DPS/egress filtering. The reality is that the vendors have made this all GUI based for the lowest common denominator. Unless you are a spoon-fed MSCE then following the vendor’s instruction to set these up, to set up “Good Practices”, and lets face it that applies to sysadmins as well as netadmins, is not taxing the brain.

Marcus Ranum, the inventor of computer firewalls (or at least the guy who pioneered coding them) once commented that vendor GUIs had so dumbed down firewall configuration that his cat could run it. I applaud his sentiments, but then I’m a CLI sort of guy 🙂

This article makes the observation that the hiring people are ‘not efficient’:

I’ve written before about the strange state of affairs in the job market.
Markets everywhere have become more efficient, thanks to technology and
brilliant new platforms that grant buyers and sellers of goods and services the
ability to meet one another online and agree on product and prices. And yet the
labor market has become less efficient. As the most recent JOLTS report
notes, there were some 5.6 million jobs open in the U.S. at the end of June,
up from 2.4 million in June 2009. If human resources professionals
could be 10 percent more effective at filling posts than they are, there would
be an additional 560,000 people working today.

The problem isn’t so much a recession or that technology is making people
redundant, as that the hiring process is broken.

Continue reading

Anton Aylward

Do Algorithms Discriminate?

Personally I think this is unfair.
It fails to differentiate between what I might term loaded or even pre-loaded algorithms and pure algorithms

Consider, if you will a Fibonacci sequence generator.
Such a sequence is defined by the formula

F(n) = F(n−1) + F(n−2)

Normally the seed values are 1 and 1, so the sequence becomes

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, …

That’s what I was taught at school.
What’s being taught these days is with seed values of 0 and 1 giving rise to

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, …

So what we have is a really a SET of sequences with different starting conditions. Was what I was taught 50 years ago wrong? No, it just had a different set of prejudices starting conditions.

The ALGORITHM is not prejudicial, it is how it is loaded with a starting condition that makes the difference.

Back in 1984 I applied for a job with a mathematical form and part of the interview test was to write a MINIMAL Fibonacci generator.

So I wrote on the board

while true do
      print "0, "

Only one guy on the interview team was actually a REAL mathematician and he laughed his head off. he said to me “set theory?“; I said “Russell“; he replied “Cantor“. He insisted I get the job.

And that is the point. There are a whole set of such sequences depending on the initial starting conditions. The core algorithm that moves F-sub-zero and F-sub-one along is a pure algorithm. It doesn’t care what the parameters are.

In pure mathematics this is called “Closed Form”.
The closed form of Fibonacci is sometimes generalized as Binet’s Formula. This is relevant to astronomy a it is one of the few analytic way of solving orbital equations, sort-cutting second order nonlinear ordinary differential equations. More to the point, Binet’s work allows for off-axis non-circular motion, that is when the center of force and the focus of the orbit do not coincide. That, in case you weren’t watching, is something like the 3-body problem.

Let face it, would you prefer to iterate the successive integrations of ordinary differential equations to solve that?

The mathematics – read algorithms – of orbital equations carry a lot of assumptions about heliocentricity, gravitation, inverse square law, and if you want to be picky Mach’s principle for the distant stars. Its also not difficult to drift into Relativity. All this does, of course, discriminate against those who believe in the inerrant Word of The Bible – probably also believing, despite other evidence – that it was the literal word of God dictated to Moses and the Prophets and Scribes by an angel. The fact that such is an Islamic tradition and not a Christian or Jewish one is beside the point to such people. Science discriminates against them!

Anton Aylward

Why switch to Windows 10 or a Mac when you can use Linux instead?

This guy is obsessive about Mint!

There’s a plethora of minor things in that article which show up his limited experience with Linux.

Many of the complaints about Windows and the MAC are about what, to put it in a short form, involve “dumping’ users. Every Windows upgrade has outdated either equipment or training/experience, and sometimes both.
The UI model though XP was dumped and dumped again. The Office UI model was dumped and dumped and dumped again. Continue reading

Anton Aylward

Death to Bullet Points – maybe

I think this is an oversimplification or over-generalization:

Well written prose is more engaging.  It all depends on context. Are you blogging or giving a presentation?

One of my complaints about many of my teachers at school was that they taught in an unstructured manner. History was the worst. Chemistry was close second.

The problem was that chemistry OUGHT to have been structured. The Periodic table illustrates a potential for that.

As it was, the teacher was at fault. We had to learn lists of seemingly random reactions. At university I met a chemistry student who told me about ‘Reaction Mechanisms’ and I learnt more chemistry from him in an hour than I did at school school in 6 years.

Well structured material can come across OK as bullet lists.But if the presenter doesn’t know his stuff anyway, it doesn’t help.

That’s why I develop my presentations using mind-mapping; hierarchical, ordered, NOT concept maps which just allow anything to anything relationships. If it doesn’t make sense as a hierarchy, a structured ‘taxonomy’, then it won’t make sense as a communication.

That’s not to say that the bullet-list output from a mind-map *WILL* make sense…

Anton Aylward

What’s Wrong with the Internet?

I hate and despise articles like this for a variety of reasons.
First and foremost, I hate people making money out of fear-mongering, be it racist in nature (“the immigrants are crowding us out!”), religious in nature (“the heretics, schismatics, infidels, pagans, Christians, Jews, Islams or whatever are crowing us out!”) our some variation on economics (“the ignorant masses are crowing us out!”) or any such variation and permutation thereof. It doesn’t matter if is about starting a Church, Political Party or Society of believers and gathering money or political power, getting elected so that you can pass legislation and give preferential jobs the cronies or, once again, variations and permutations thereof.

The second is related to the first. It is, depending on how you look at it, either simple ignorance or wilful ignorance. Selection of facts.
We see this with the “Family Value” crowd quoting the Bible but ignoring the passages about slaves, concubinism and Lot’s prostitution of his daughters and later incest with them (Genesis 19:1–11 and Genesis 19:30–38). No, they rely on 1 Corinthians 10:11 that the record of the Old Testament is for an “example” to us. Only they get to pick and choose what parts to use an example, ignoring others.

That’s what’s going on in this article, ignoring history.

All the “annoying” things that the Internet is bringing have been brought about before by social changes. For example, fledging America ignored copyright, and in turn had its copyright ignored. American printers freely reprinted the works of European as well as other American writers. This is one reason Poe died in poverty despite his works being widely published and his contemporaries recognising his brilliance.

Technological innovation has always brought about social disruption and even philosophers such as Alfred North Whitehead have pointed out that ever since the discovery and application of fire, innovation has been morally ambiguous in this sense.

There’s a saying that Conservatism is the blind and fear-filled worship of dead radicals.

There’s also this:

The radical of one century is the conservative of the next. The radical
invents the views. When he has worn them out, the conservative adopts them.
–Mark Twain

In either sense the author of this article is a Conservative. He assumes the attitudes of his parents generation and the generation he grew up in, which, coincidently is also mine, is somehow ‘better’ even tough it came about by disrupting what went before (even to the point of global warfare and bring us to the point of thermonuclear destruction), and that the cycle of history repeating, yet again, to change what he grew up with, is a bad thing.

Can you say “Dinosaur”?

Anton Aylward

This is not the IoT you want.

If I plug in an IDE drive or a SATA drive or a USB drive or device my mobo or system recognises what it is. The connection protocol tell the mobo or system.

My digital camera uses exif to convey a vast amount of contextual information and imprint it on each photo: date, time, the camera, shutter, aperture, flash. I have GPS in the camera so it can tell the location, elevation. The exif protocol also allows for vendor specific information and is extensible and customizable.

Unless and until we have an ‘exif’ for IoT its going to be lame and useless.

What is plugged in to that socket? A fan, a PC, a refrigerator, a charger for your cell phone? What’s the rating of the device? How is it used? What functions other than on/off can be controlled?

Lame lame lame lame.


Anton Aylward

Self serving ..


and this

both seem very self serving, protectionist and supporting 19th century models of life against change.

The FBI never really recovered from the death of Edgar Hoover, though I’m sure they still have all his files 🙂

Of course when the FBI tried converting to modern technology, the “virtual case file”, it was a disaster–how-the-fbi-blew-it.html

I’ve observed, a couple of cases up close, that Yourdon was right when he pointed out that Big Projects Don’t Succeed. You want a success, then prototype, build the small with an eye to an architecture that is resilient and let it grow. As it grows you’ll find (a) real needs and (b) the problems you never imagined.

If anything, Bitcoin is like cash in that transactions can be kept secret, unlike e-commerce using credit cards or bank accounts.

I remember years ago the UK imposed a limit of #50 on the amount of money that could be taken off-shore by travellers and tourists.

Of course it was all quite meaningless. The people that could afford to travel on business or for more that pre-paid package holidays carried credit cards. In particular the people such as salesmen, who were contributing to the economy by encouraging overseas trade bypassed this.

You’ll notice that the Hansard record has the MPs getting in a lather over tourism rather than the business of real trade in goods and material that requires sales representation. Back then, England was still and industrial producers and exporter. Yet the MPs couldn’t see this.


Anton Aylward

Mt. Vernon, Texas, whorehouse sues local church

I don’t know how authentic this is, but it’s an interesting theological conundrum.

Diamond D’s brothel began construction on an expansion of their
building to increase their ever-growing business. In response, the local
Baptist Church started a campaign to block the business from expanding
— with morning, afternoon, and evening prayer sessions at their
church. Work on Diamond D’s progressed right up until the week before
the grand reopening when lightning struck the whorehouse and burned it
to the ground!

After the cat-house was burned to the ground by the lightning strike,
the church folks were rather smug in their outlook, bragging about “the
power of prayer.”

But late last week ‘Big Jugs’ Jill Diamond, the owner/madam, sued the
church, the preacher and the entire congregation on the grounds that the
church “was ultimately responsible for the demise of her building and
her business — either through direct or indirect divine actions or means.”

In its reply to the court, the church vehemently and voraciously denied
any and all responsibility or any connection to the building’s demise.

The crusty old judge read through the plaintiff’s complaint and the
defendant’s reply, and at the opening hearing he commented……….

“I don’t know how the hell I’m going to decide this case, but it appears
from the paperwork, that we now have a whorehouse owner who staunchly
believes in the power of prayer, and an entire church congregation that
thinks it’s all bullshit!”

I recall reading years ago a line that claimed “In an infinite universe, anything is possible”. It was trying to explain why there was life on earth and other pan-galactic oddities.

But this fails to explain my so many of the seemingly impossible things seem to occur in the USA.

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Anton Aylward

That was the Ice Storm that was

Well I stayed in for the ice storm and it caused a lot of destruction.  Its destroyed one of my patio shade trees and that corpse is now spread out across my patio. My cedar trees at the front ‘exploded’ blocking the path and been topped and cast aside, and the one that ‘hid’ the utility pole and front facet are goners as well. Spring will show if the front facet, which was turned off in October, has suffered.

Destruction of tree limbs due to ice storm

Destruction of tree limbs due to ice storm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The condo neighbourhood has suffered very badly, many trees mature and not mature, shedding limbs and being toppled by the weight of the ice. I’m sure the news services are carrying details.

I live in North York, near Fairview Mall if you want to google for it.  Power was out for just under 3 days. It went out just after a midnight and came back on just before another midnight. North York seems to have a disproportionate number of trees to come down, even though TO is ‘the emerald city’ in the summer. I do wonder where the lines were since in this neighbourhood and surrounding there are no overhead wires except for the 400kV ones that run though the Hydro Avenue ROW. They might suffer from ice but I don’t see them being affected by trees. And the power did come back on patchily in North Work and Scarborough, so I wonder what was going on.

No power meant no internet, no email, no phone service. I could recharge my cell phone in the car, but in the blacked out regions the cell towers were either down or doing ’emergency service only’. Even when I drove to an illuminated region or one of the ‘warming centres’ the relay service was intermittent. I could contact _some_ other cell users but a lot of the land-line service wasn’t connected. Talking today to the people I tied to contact they tell me their land lines were working but the calls weren’t getting though from many regions. However I went to a movie last night downtown and there was little evidence of the storm, cell service worked and it all liked up. Perhaps the only evidence of the storm was that the restaurants were busy.

Besides disrupting transportation, heavy ice a...

Besides disrupting transportation, heavy ice and snow can damage utilities. Power and telephone lines sagging after heavy icestorm. Historic NWS Collection. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The news said that we had Hydro teams called in from Ottawa and even Michigan. I don’t know how extensive the storm was. Did it reach to Kingston?
is typical of what I saw driving round, and of the local estate. For example, my back patio.

it rightly points out

But we shouldn’t forget that we are living in the aftermath of decades of civic neglect. The municipal infrastructure, once a source of pride, has been left to rot.

Any suggestion that, say, we might consider burying hydro lines would garner howls of outrage. Toronto is one of the last major cities whose streets are still lined with utility poles. But putting them underground costs money. In a culture that doesn’t distinguish between price and value, expenditure and investment, power lines and bottom lines, cheapest is best.

Until something like the ice storm comes along and lays waste to the electrical grid, we are happy to turn a blind eye. But along with the gaps that have been revealed, so has our shared short-sightedness.

Word that many Ontarians will be without power until next weekend further underlines the fragility of things. By the time the ice finally melts, and repairs are completed, the bill will be huge. And all we will have accomplished is to get back to where we were before the rain froze.

Oklahoma Ice Storm December 2013 Explored!

Oklahoma Ice Storm December 2013 Explored! (Photo credit: hz536n/George Thomas)

In the meantime, Toronto City Council is figuring out ways to cut the land transfer fees because residents pay too much in taxes.

I feel sorry for the people in the high-rises. I wouldn’t want to walk 8-10 stories never mind the 20-40 that some building reach to.

Where are you living?


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