Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

“New Game!!!”

Friday, October 11th, 2013

I am writing this blog post in October 2012; this will get published automatically in one year, like government secrets published 50 years after the event. But this just cannot not be shared.

One of my flatmates has just written an email to all:

Subject: New Game!!!

It’s time for a little Game called… … …  “Clean your dishes and live in peace” !!

Few assertions:

  • Human being has to live in an hygenic place
  • Everyone is respectful
  • Time to:  putting your plates, glasses, cutleries in the dishwasher + clean by yourself pan, saucepan(Yes, because as you know hot water is expensive and Earth ask us to do not waste it)  =  takes no more than 5 minutes
  • A clean kitchen is an area where everyone can go and enjoy it (because currently it’s not really welcoming)
  • Live in a sharing flat is also comply with basics rules

If anyone is not interested about this “game” we are all enough mature to talk about it.

Also, if anyone has a request to do : It’s time to do it !!

The person who was implicitly addressed in this email wrote back, also to all:

Hey. We kind of established a “policy” that its ok to let dirty dishes lie around for 24 or even 48h at certain occasions. At least no one ever had a problem with that, as long as its not getting to worse.. I personally think that maximum 1 or occasionly maybe a few days is a good timefraime to have and would not like to be forced to always clean everything right after eating. Sure we are mature enough to dicuss this.

How happy do you reckon the original author is going to be with this reply??


Monday, December 10th, 2012

I am proud to announce a few videos on the internet in which I am involved:

Description of my job at whatchado (English)

Description of one of my customers mobilreport (German)

PC fire

Monday, June 6th, 2011

Last night, I was listening to music, about to go to bed, totally relaxed, and then suddenly smelt that something was burning. I ignored it as I thought it was probably coming from outside. About 30 seconds later the smell was so strong I realized it must be in the room. In panic I just pulled out all electrical equipment such as the PC etc. (no time to “shut down”). The situation seemed to get worse still. I looked up at the light and there was a reasonable amount of smoke in the room.

This whole situation happened within about 60 seconds I think – from peacefully listening to music, to me having yanked all the power cables out and the room containing a bunch of smoke.

The smoke started to slowly dissipate after I’d turned everything off. That was good, I still had no idea where it was coming from. After about 30 minutes there was no smoke any more, and confident (or hopeful) that the problem had been solved (at least for the short term) I went to bed, putting off dealing with the actual problem until I was fit again the next day.

My two suspects were either the PC or the light fitment in the room. The light looked OK. I inspected the PC in the light of the day and it also looked fine. No burn marks or anything. I mean for such a lot of smoke, there would need to be physical burn marks, wouldn’t you think. So I turned the PC on, and about 10 seconds later there was visible smoke, not as much as the night before but still. And the smell of burnt plastic was back. So at least I knew what the source of the problem was.

A bit more inspection (and turning it on a few more times just briefly) led me to see that while the PC was on, thick gray smoke was just pouring out of the PC’s power supply.

I mean it’s not the end of the world, PCs can be replaced, nothing bad happened! But I just think of the number of times I’ve left that PC on and gone to work, or gone to the kitchen, .. it was just as well that happened while I was sitting in front of it!

Here’s a picture of what the room looked like after the PC being on for about 10 seconds this morning – the PC wasn’t even on long enough for the Windows logo to come up yet.

Ah and there’s another point I should mention. I’m on some medication for sleeping and depression (not strong medication!) which I have to take an hour before going to bed. I’d taken that and the hour had passed so I was just about to switch the PC off and go to bed when the incident happened. A slight side-effect I’ve noticed is that I have increased levels of anxiety. It’s not bad, but it’s there.

And believe me, when an unknown source of smoke and burning suddenly appears in your room, having taken medication which increases anxiety is not in any way what you need.

And further, sleeping medication reduces your coordination and concentration etc. This is fine if you want to go to bed (as had been my plan) but is not so ideal if the situation suddenly changes from going to bed into potentially putting out a fire, … as I was moving from one place to another in the room to try and determine the source of the smoke, I kept on not being able to walk straight and nearly falling over…

Doctors in Vienna

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Last week I went to the doctor about a stomach problem. There was a small nasty room, there was a queue of standing people. The woman at the desk was only serving people one person at a time, and only serving them once the doctor had finished with the previous person. So we stood there for about half an hour, I was feeling reasonably dizzy due to my problems, there were old people leaning against the wall as evidently standing for 30 minutes was too much for them.

Finally I got to see the doctor, she invited me to explain my problem. As soon as I started talking, she was typing stuff into her computer from the previous patient, reading an sms, and not listening to me. So I just stopped talking (I can’t stand talking to someone when I know they’re not listening). A minute or two passed before she looked at me and said I need a particular test. I doubt this test will bring any benefit, given she hadn’t listened to what I was saying, and I stopped talking half way through explaining my situation. But just on the off-chance it will help, I’ll go anyway.

She read off a list of things I wasn’t allowed to eat the night before. Basically I am only allowed to eat rice in the evening before the test. I mean, that’s fair enough, if that’s what the test demanded. She told me them incredibly quickly but I tried to memorize them as best I could. When I got home I immediately wrote them down, I managed to remember at least half of the things I had to avoid, I think, so that’s something.

She had given me a telephone number to get an appointment. I rang it the next day, and the incredibly rude lady on the phone told me I didn’t need an appointment, I should just turn up.

Today I rang to ask a question about the appointment which I was intending to go to tomorrow, the woman told me, also incredibly rudely, “well I can’t just come by, I need an appointment!”. So now I’ve got an appointment for next week. She told me another set of things I can’t eat, which are quite different to the list the doctor told me. I can only eat bread and a few other things until 6pm, after which I’m not allowed to eat anything.

I mean, I’ve no idea if what she’s told me is right. I mean assuming she’s right, that means the doctor was wrong and the person who I talked to the first time (saying I didn’t need an appointment) was wrong. If the doctor was right, that means the person I talked to the first time was wrong and the person I’ve just talked to was wrong.

I asked the woman I’ve just talked to if this information was available online or in printed form, but she said it wasn’t. So really, next time I ring up, or when I go there, I mean it could be completely different again. I mean I think the chance of the situation being identical to what she told me (and therefore different to what the doctor or the first person told me), is pretty much close to zero.

Should I ring up multiple times, and go to multiple doctors, and average the result? Or should I go to e.g. 10 doctors, and if 5 tell me one thing and the other 5 tell me 5 other things, I should go with the thing that the most doctors have told me?

If my doctor was wrong about the test, and I take the test results to my doctor, do I trust her to be able to interpret the results correctly?

Will my doctor even listen to me?

Will I have to wait 30 minutes again standing up next time I see my doctor? (At least this one is reasonably predictable, I’d say with 90% certainty that’s a yes.)

I just don’t know what to do.

I don’t want to criticize the country I’m living in, and seem ungrateful… Austrians I’ve met have been very proud of their health service. I’ve never really been to any other health service (apart from a private dental clinic in Macau/China which was excellent – competent, clean, one could sit down while waiting, and cheap.). But I think the quality of service, and attitude, is really very poor at the doctors I’ve been to. And everything takes a long time, you need appointments which take weeks to get, so you’re left being ill for a month or more.

I only went to this doctor because I’m fed up with every other doctor I’ve been to in Austria (quite a few). When I had a problem with my toe (in-growing toe-nail), the doctor pressed it so hard (so that the oversized sharp nail was pressing into the infected oversized red flesh surrounding it), I couldn’t sleep that night with all the pain (resulting in me sending a very frustrated email to my colleagues at 4am saying I wouldn’t be coming in.). After many weeks of seeing me he finally referred me to a specialist who was shocked that “I’d left it so long to see him, this is badly infected and needs to be treated immediately”. Also, the specialist never applied force to the toe-nail, I mean his strategy for healing it wasn’t just to press it with all the force his body could muster.

If there were doctors who I could pay, who are better (e.g. don’t have to stand while waiting for them), then I will find them, and pay, and use them. Obviously I’d rather have doctors for free (given that they’re not free, and one pays an enormous amount of mandatory tax to have their free service available), but I mean what is money sitting on my bank account for, if not to avoid me having to put up with this sort of stuff.

I am not one to demand luxury, anyone who knows my flat must believe that, but that waiting room where I stood for 30 mins, was just one of the nastiest rooms I’ve been into in the last 10 years.

Working at s IT Solutions: my first large company

Friday, October 1st, 2010

I have been working self-employed for s IT Solutions since 1 March 2010; from 1 September I’m salaried there. (I shall still be doing bug-fixing for my old customers, consultancy, and perhaps some smaller new development projects on the side. This is explicitly allowed in my employment contract.)

s IT Solutions is the IT provider for Erste Bank and the Sparkasse Group. My role is in the team doing the Internet presence of those banks (e.g. corporate homepages; has more software of a greater complexity than one would perhaps imagine..) and the online banking services for those banks (which has as much software as one would imagine..)

It’s the first large company I’ve ever worked for. Every other company was either a start-up or had grown from being a start-up. Obviously there are a lot of differences, but I have to say there are both advantages and disadvantages to both options. Working at start-ups one gets a lot of marketing that working for large companies is really bad, that everyone would rather be working for a start-up, “doing something they love”, and that those of us who manage to make it into the start-up world are those who have had the courage to make the move, “fire the boss”, and we look in pity at those who haven’t had that courage; examples 1 2. I’m pretty angry about myself having believed that marketing unquestioned for so long.

My experiences with large companies are obviously incomplete as this is my first large company, so I can’t really tell which properties are properties of only this company, and which are properties of large companies in general. But the benefits which have become obvious so far as:

  • Food – Perhaps this has the most impact on my daily life ;-) The food is really excellent, and only costs €3.40 for soup, salad, main course, desert and fruit. Better than microwaved stuff from the shop, or going to a restaurant and spending €10.
  • Variety of people – It’s nice to talk to different people with different backgrounds and experiences (obviously easier if there are more people to talk to), there is a greater range of older and younger people.
  • Higher salaries – At least this seems to be the case. By some philosophies at least, this makes one feel more valued, although how sound that logic is, I’m not so certain. But on a purely practical level, obviously more money is good.
  • Fewer salary discussions – At a few places I’ve worked, there have been some students, who have been really talented, and earn e.g. €19/hr. It’s inevitable then, if one earns more, there are going to be discussions from time to time about why one earns more than them. I am fed up with such discussions.
  • Less unnecessary pressure – If one is ill, having a bad day, or whatever, there are more people who can take over from you the larger the team.

And some disadvantages:

  • More specialised roles – Whereas in smaller companies I’ve done requirements, software design, programming, deployment, performance analysis, live bug fixing, a certain amount of sysadmin, here everyone has more specialised roles.
  • Can’t access Gmail or Facebook etc. at work – This has disadvantages above and beyond just not being able to surf. Those two sites are really the leaders of web usability, not only in terms of their innovation but also in terms of their adoption. As a consequence, people at larger companies, if they don’t use those sites at home, are not necessarily familiar with the current trends in web usability.
  • Ridiculous VPN software – Most of my small-company customers are hosted at (or are) Nessus, they always set the systems up so that they are simultaneously secure and very convenient to log in to (e.g. ssh directly, test servers via https) so that VPNs were not necessary. I guess commercial VPNs succeed/fail solely by their marketing to bosses, as opposed to how convenient the employees find them, and thus the VPNs evolve consistent with these environmental demands.
  • Less choice of OS – I don’t mind working with Windows but I know that’s not the case for everyone.

Some things are the same:

  • Source code beauty – I have worked on two projects here, one more beautiful than the other. The code quality at the small companies I worked at also varied greatly. I assert code quality and company size are orthogonal dimensions.
  • You always have a boss – I have had good and bad bosses at small companies. I get on well with, and respect, my boss here. But no doubt there are bad bosses in large companies too. Therefore I further assert that how much you like your boss and company size are orthogonal dimensions.
  • Difficulty of the work – You can choose your jobs/customers based on any number of attributes of the potential assignments, for example salary, difficulty, location of the office, and so on. Very rarely have I had the luxury of seeing an opportunity which is both extremely challenging, and well paid. While the work here is “just programming”, most of the work I’ve been doing in the last few years has been “just programming”, and I think one can make a big difference for the customer by doing excellent “just programming”, so I am more than happy to do that.

And this consequences which is an advantage/disadvantage depending on your viewpoint ;-) (but in my view an advantage)

  • Not blindly applying frameworks - At least the group I’m in, they don’t blindly follow software trends, but are also not inflexible either. I have had a lot of bad experiences with certain Java frameworks (all at small companies, obviously). Using simple programming, without thousands of XML config files, has advantages in terms of performance, maintainability, reliability (bugs), and IDE being able to do refactoring.

So the main thing I’m trying to say is I believed assertions, by startups, that only startups are good, for 10 years of my life, going to no effort to actually verify or refute them. This was a mistake, which I regret.


Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

I sent an invoice to an agent. The first page of the PDF was the normal invoice stuff – my name and address, their name and address, the number of hours worked, hourly rate, total amount, etc. The second page was, as they had requested, the hours that I’d worked; each day on a separate line with the start/end time and number of hours lunch.

Obviously I’m not an expert on the German language and tone is always difficult to gauge but they replied:

mit Ihrem Anhang kann ich nichts anfangen, da es weder eine Tagesstundensumme noch eine Monatsumme, noch Ihren Name, noch das Projekt aufweist. …  bitte ich Sie, mir eine ordnungsgemäße Stundenaufzeichnung zu schicken

My name was on the first page, why do they need it on the second as well? They want to know how many hours I’ve worked per day, well there is an invention known as the spreadsheet, and that comes with a SUM(..) function.

But it was the tone which annoyed me the most, I mean if they need this info, they can just ask me, I’m more than happy to provide it.

I mean I guess one has to decide, does one just “take it” (signalling that this sort of communication is acceptable) or does one “attack” (leading potentially to disharmony, or, in my case, possible inappropriateness if I’ve misinterpreted the tone). But I don’t want to just always have to “take it” because I’m not confident enough about my German.

So I amended the PDF and sent it to them, but wrote to them in the mail that I assumed they would already know my name, as it was written on the first page…. (The bit about spreadsheets having been invented I left out.)

So I sent that off, was looking forward to see what the reply would be, when I realized that every email I wrote to them I started with “Sehr geehrter Herr X” and every email they wrote to me they signed “Frau X”, nice one…. I think I have my explanation as to why they were so displeased with me… and tomorrow they’ve got my nice aggressive answer waiting in their inbox, also addressed to Herr X …

Google Streeview is amazing!

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

I see why people get a bit upset about the privacy aspects of Google Streetview! On the other hand, it is rather amazing. To sit here in my office in Vienna and be able to walk around where I used to live at Southampton University.

In comparison to my first house, even the flat I’m living in now doesn’t look too bad :)

Good ghost room action

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

I’m spending the day at home after 3 nights of bad sleep (no idea why).

Just now I heard a banging in my spare bedroom (= “ghost room”) and I saw that the window was open. Why did it suddenly become open? It’s a “double-glazed” window in the old style, i.e. there are simply two windows, one on the inside and one on the outside, and in between there are blinds, which are drawn. They’ve been drawn for a few months. There is no reason to open the inside window, open the blinds, open the outside window, and then redraw the blinds, and close the inside window. And given that it’s a windy day, had anyone done this (anyone є { me, Christina }, and neither of us go into the room much) then it would have started banging much earlier, not just suddenly now, in mid-afternoon!

Down the coffee house this morning, reading the newspaper Österreich (which makes the UK’s Daily Mail seem like a quality newspaper), I learnt the following facts about the ongoing case against Fritzl:

  • There are a lot of foreign media in Austria for the case but apparently a disproportionate number of them are from the UK. Why?
  • It’s speculated that hiding his face in court is a way to increase the value of photos & interviews he will give later.
  • In jail, Fritzl is getting “fan letters” from women. Can that really be true!?

“Ask Tom” Oracle Seminar in Prague

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

Today and tomorrow I am at an Ask Tom Live Seminar in Prague. Tom Kyte works for Oracle and has written many books on Oracle. For me he’s a bit of a “star”, so when I heard he was talking in Europe, I had to come. (But is that wrong? Normal people are in to stars like Robbie Williams surely, not Oracle experts.)

Wow there is so much I don’t know about Oracle evidently. I mean the solutions that he is presenting concerning Oracle 11g, are solutions to problems in features I’ve never used, such as partitioning, etc.

Some fun things I learnt:

  • In Oracle 6 “sql plus” used to be offered as a for-cost extra, as it was considered so good! (Apparently there was a previous tool, and it was worse.) Sql Plus still doesn’t support e.g. the “up” arrow key to get the previous command.
  • In Oracle 3 “insert into x select from x” would be an infinite statement as it would constantly re-select then insert the data from x that it had just inserted. This was fixed in Oracle 4. 
  • Oracle 11 can create “virtual columns”, i.e. “create table x(a number, b as (a+1))”. You can then use these virtual columns for indexes (like functional indexes), foreign key constraints, etc. A statement like “select .. from x where a+1=?” will be rewritten as “where b=?” which will then use the index. Audience member asked “can I write an update statement to update b?”
  • You can do “select …. as of <date>” and if the data is still available in the rollback segment, it will be returned.
  • Adding a column is now always instantaneous, i.e. “alter table x add y number default 4″ will not alter the data in the table, but when a row is read which was created before the alter table statement happened, the column will be added with its default value. (But presumably altering the column’s default value then causes the long write?)
  • Apparently Oracle was the first RDBMS. Well that’s what Tom Kyte claims anyway.

P.S. I should have brought my Oracle One on One with me for him to autograph… OK that would have been ridiculous.

New Macs – am I excited?

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

I have a Mac Mini G4 512MB, bought Q1/2006 – it was slow when I bought it, and it’s slow now. (At least it hasn’t “degraded” in performance!)

At least 4 of my friends bought new Macs yesterday as they brought out new models. My Mini is in line for replacement (well, it was from the first day I bought it really, I mean it essentially “doesn’t work” due to its speed..)

So I was considering buying a new one but check out the comparison:

  New Mac Mini (2009) My desktop PC (Nov. 2008)
Processor 2.0 GHz Dual-core 2.4 GHz Quad-core
Memory 1GB 8GB
Hard disk(s) 1 disk (total 120 GB) 2 disks (total 160 GB)
Hard disk rotation speed 5.4k RPM (Rotations per minute) 14.4k RPM equiv. (striped; each disk 7.2k)
Price in Austria (incl VAT) € 599 (now) € 601 (3 months ago)
Includes OS pre-installed Yes Yes (XP)

I mean the Mac Mini is a nice computer: it’s quiet, it’s small, but still, it’s difficult to justify really. I think the main point almost is the hard disk rotation speed, I’ve come to the conclusion.

It’s like Apple could easily make a much more powerful computer, but then there wouldn’t be as much difference between the Mini and the next level up. So to emphasise the difference, rather than making the next level up more powerful, they make the Mini less powerful. At least that’s the way it seems to me, I mean how else could one explain the Mini’s specs.

While we’re on the subject, let’s compare the Sony Vaio I’ve typing this on, which I’ve been using all day, on battery. Apple are proud of their policy of “less is more” but surely when it comes to ports, “more is more”!?

  Macbook Air (2008) Sony Vaio TX (2006)
Height (who cares?) 0.76″ 1.12″
Width, Depth (important) 12.8″ x 8.9″ 10.7″ x 7.7″
Battery life 4.5 hrs (marketing) 7 hrs (actual: measured by me)
USB Ports 1 2 (more would be better!)
PCMCIA card (e.g. for UMTS) No Yes
Built-in modem (e.g. hotel in Asia) No Yes
Build-in network port (!) No Yes
Internal optical drive No DVD reader/writer

I haven’t compared processors or price as there are years between the release of the two computers.