Tall, Dark, and Mysterious

1/16/2006

An arm, a leg, and then some

File under: Talking To Strangers, Welcome To The Occupation, Oh, Give Me A Home. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 10:04 pm.

The other day, I had the privilege of dealing with a client from North Vancouver who was upset that my company had delivered to him the service that it advertized, rather than the something-for-nothing product that men of his extraction have come to expect from the common people. “Privilege”, because that was clearly how the disgruntled gentleman saw the exchange: didn’t I know who he was? he demanded. He was an established member of the community! He was a successful businessman, and - in case I was unclear about what that implied - he knew how to run a business! By gum, he had a house worth half a million dollars!

This last point was even less germane to the issue at hand than the others, as my company is not in the real estate business; but what could I do? I responded in the way that I’ve learned to respond to such folks: by murmuring the sorts of empty platitudes that are generally misconstrued as obsequiety by those who cannot fathom being on the receiving end of condescension. The fellow relented, and I got rid of him without losing my job; but the house-hunting part of me was almost unbearably tempted to snark, “You live in North Vancouver and your house is only worth half a million? Where do live - in a shack by the sewage plant?”

I’ve started looking for a new place to live, the sort of place that I own, in earnest. Tales of this city’s housing market, I’m sad to report, have not been exaggerated at all. The only affordable place in my neighbourhood went to the other person viewing it with me the other day, but I’m not sure it was much of a loss: did I want to replace the carpet in the kitchen as soon as I moved in? The affordable place with the huge windows sounded promising, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to live in the suburbs; but no matter, it’s off the market anyway. And I’d have grabbed the place close to work in a heartbeat, were it not for my refusal to sleep in a bedroom without a window.

It’s a seller’s market, and it’s discouraging to see how the various sellers I’m dealing with are reacting to that reality. There’s the mild-mannered realtor who phoned me apologetically this evening to let me know that the place I saw four days ago has been sold, sorry about that, he’ll let me know if anything else comes up; there’s the hyper one who phones me every other day to tell me of a hot new place! that I’m going to have to view right now! because it won’t last long! - something I’d chalk up to hyperbole if it weren’t for the fact that he’s been right every other time; and then there are the many laid-back agents who don’t even get back to me to arrange a viewing, because if I can’t make the open house, they’ll have no trouble selling to someone who can.

So…anyone in the Lower Mainland got a condo they want to get rid of? I’ll, like, make you pottery and stuff.

1/10/2006

I assume Piaget’s children were not gifted math students.

File under: Those Who Can't. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 8:28 pm.

I’m still tutoring math these days, but with smaller students.

Today’s pupil was grinning as he declared, “Today after school, I lost a tooth.” He lifted his lip with a graphite-stained finger to show me the gap. “An incisor. I know because that’s what my dentist told me it was when I saw him. It was loose for a long time.”

“An incisor!” I exclaimed. “That’s a pretty big deal.”

He nodded. “I never lost an incisor before. I lost three bottom teeth and two top teeth. This is the sixth tooth I lost. My top ones grew in already, see?” He curled his top lip inward to show me a pair of mismatched front teeth. “I lost them last year.” He then lowered his gaze and scrunched his face thoughtfully. “Does the Tooth Fairy give more for incisors? I know she gives more for top teeth than for bottom teeth.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I think the rates have changed since I was your age.”

He nodded. “Things are more expensive now. My mom says you used to be able to buy a chocolate bar for fifty cents. Even my brother said that he used to get just fifty cents for his teeth, and I get a dollar.”

“Yeah, that’s called ‘inflation’.”

“My brother told my mom he thinks the Tooth Fairy likes me more than she likes him.”

“How old is your brother?” I asked.

“Thirteen.”

I bit my lip, thinking that the older brother’s going to get whatever he wants for his fourteenth birthday. “Naw,” I said finally, “the Tooth Fairy likes all children equally. It’s just that she’s making more money now and can afford to spend more on kids’ teeth.”

The boy nodded. “Well, I hope I get more than a dollar because there’s a comic that I want and my mom says I have to save up my own money for comics.”

“Well,” I reassured him, “you’ve got another fourteen teeth to lose.”

“Yeah.” He thought for a minute, and then, satisfied, lifted his backpack onto his table and withdrew his homework. “I have a question about this,” he said, pointing. “Do I simplify the fractions before I solve for x or after?”

1/9/2006

Freaks, freaks, everywhere

File under: Know Thyself. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 9:49 pm.

Tag, I’m it: Declan wants to know five weird things about me. Like a true Canadian, Declan explicitly declares that this tag is just an invitation, and he’s not making any demands: if any of us taggees decline to respond, that’s okay with him and he won’t hold it against us. However, being a Canadian myself, I am finding myself self-consciously wondering if he put that disclaimer at the bottom of his post because of anything I said, like that last time he tagged me and I acted less than appreciative…it was that, wasn’t it? I’m sorry! I’ll do the damned meme!

All righty, then, how am I a freak? Let me count the ways:

  1. I have a bizarre and dysfunctional relationship with natural light, which has been mentioned before in this space. Noise does not wake me up or keep me awake, but I wake up when my room becomes light. Around the summer solstice last year, when I had a south-facing bedroom apartment with an unobstructed view of the water, this meant that I was routinely awake before five. This time of year, when the sun rises anytime between eight o’clock and never, I will sleep quite late on non-work days. On work days, I’ll wake up at sevenish without an alarm clock, because I fear and loathe alarm clocks and my body has conditioned itself not to rely on them - but I’ll still feel tired even if I’ve slept for eight hours.

    During the summer, I will wake up early if I am in sleeping in a room with a window, particularly one that faces east. The solutions to this problem, I realise, are simple: get heavy curtains! Sleep with one of those eye masks! Rent a poorly-lit basement suite! But this is where the dysfunctional part comes in: no. Forget it. I insist on sleeping in well-lit apartments and I do not draw the curtains when I sleep; I feel uneasy and out of sorts otherwise. I recently started house-hunting - well, condo-hunting - and I am already started making local realtors’ lives miserable by asking them which direction the condos I’m looking for face. North or west? Forget it.

  2. Somehow, I managed to grow up more or less immune to the usual body-image issues that afflict most teenage girls in this culture to some degree. To be sure, I was beanpole thin for my entire childhood and adolescence, and no doubt this played a role in my self-image, but I could have been insecure about any number of other aspects of my appearance. I wasn’t. I had - have - some element of detached sympathy for thin and regular-sized girls and women who think they’re fat, but…I don’t get it. And it took me a long, long time to realize that I should get it, because - even though I don’t think I’m fat, I really don’t feel like I have long hair. My hair, for what it’s worth, touches my tailbone, and by any standards is no more short than your average dieting teenage girl is fat. I have trimmed it myself for the last decade, because I have heard that hairdressers think that four inches of hair my length constitutes “just a trim”, and if I wanted such short hair I’d just take a razor to my head myself.

  3. I have had cravings for one type of substance, ever, in my entire life: fruit juice. I have woken up in the middle of the night feeling thirsty for fruit juice which I must have RIGHT NOW THIS SECOND IS THERE A GROCERY STORE NEARBY OPEN AT THIS TIME OF NIGHT? I never smoked or drank, and have similarly avoided most of the traditional implements of addiction; I like chocolate and other such sweets, but I have never desired them as urgently as I did fruit juice. A few years ago, at camp, I found myself craving fruit juice one night, and the closest thing I was able to find was this crap in a vending machine. I was climbing the walls until breakfast the next morning, when I downed a litre of actual orange juice. I now make sure I always have a stash in the fridge.

  4. My aversion to various flavours of medical care varies inversely with its invasiveness. I am spectacularly good with needles, and at age six (have I written about this before? I’m sure I have) I became a legend in my pediatrician’s office for calmly watching the nurses administer my allergy shots, not even uttering an “ow”. I haven’t had any real surgery in a long time, but I remember the pain of having my wisdom teeth removed being more bearable than the general anesthetic. And I get unreasonably agitated when a doctor asks to listen to my heart or poke gently at various places of my body. Can’t I get a needle instead?

  5. Despite my mathematical background and my frustration with the general population’s inability to reason even slightly quantitatively, I keep terrible track of my money. But I keep terrible track of it in the best possible way: I massively underestimate how much I have, and live well within my means. One semester when I was in grad school, my grant unexpectedly ran out; despite the fact that a quick check of my bank account would have revealed I had enough savings to get me through the next six or eight months, easily, I found myself perusing the aisles in the grocery store to see if Ramen noodles were on sale this week. I get more agitated when I am without income than when I am without money. In other words, if f(t) is the amount of money in my bank account as a function of time, I am less concerned with the value of f(t) than with the value of f’(t). Consquently, I am one of those people who would continue to work even if I won the lottery - not because I find my job that fulfilling, but because being without income is bad for my peace of mind. I guess it’s a good thing I don’t buy lottery tickets.

Is that five? It is! Time to tag people…hmm. I’m going to tag the last five untagged bloggers who commented to TD&M, which means that saforres, Brian F., f-i-n, wolfangel, and Polymath are it. Have at it, freaks.

1/6/2006

Up is down. Black is white. Increased taxes are tax relief.

File under: Character Writ Large, Home And Native Land, I Read The News Today, Oh Boy. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 10:27 pm.

Could someone please help me make sense of the (partial) Conservative tax plan? Pretty please? Because -

A Tory plan to raise personal income taxes on low income earners is part of an overall tax strategy that will result in more tax relief for Canadians, Tory MP Jason Kenney said Friday.

- and I cannot for the life of me fathom a universe in which raising taxes on low income earners could possibly be part of an overall tax strategy that will result in more tax relief for Canadians. The rest of this article, as I read it, seems to consist of “seriously, it IS, we swear”, followed by some chit-chat about the party’s much-maligned proposal to cut the GST, and then this:

Kenney said they voted against the Liberal tax cuts [income tax cuts - MS] because they disagreed with their fiscal priorities, adding they would have “spent smarter and cut taxes deeper.”

What? No, I - what? The Conservatives would have cut taxes deeper, and that’s why they’re…increasing income taxes? Does this remind anyone of preschoolers fighting? “I don’t like you, even though I kind of like your toys, so let’s play a game that I hate.”

Maybe this will all make more sense when the party announces its tax package, which it hasn’t done yet, but really, why bother? Seems to me that “tax hikes=tax relief” is more or less on par with “0=1″ in terms of starting points; in other words, is there anything this tax package won’t promise?

In the meantime, have at it, readers. Bonus points for using Tarot cards and Ouija boards.

1/3/2006

The Gentle Art of Driving Your Employees Insane

File under: Sound And Fury, Welcome To The Occupation. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 7:12 pm.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine sent me this marvelous guide to writing unmaintainable code. Though long, it’s an easy read, and it’s too good to excerpt, so go. But impressed as I am by the deliberate use of accented letters, comments masquerading as code, and variable names that sound like keywords, none of this holds a candle to my own employer’s practice of maintaining uncodability. And they do it all without even trying! You can’t nurture this kind of talent; some are born with it, and others can but gaze upon it from afar and wonder, “indexing a record in four distinct ways, storing those indices in eight different tables in seven directories, and using each type of index for a different purpose? That would never have even occurred to me.” It’s beautiful in its own way, really, kind of like…you know that Far Side comic where a fidgity passenger’s movement could cause the wings of a plane to fall off? Sort of like that.

As the resident accidental database developer, though, I get to deal with this genius more intimately than most of my coworkers, save one, the IT guy who’s got his own database going. I asked him if he had any advice for me. He did.

“You can’t fight City Hall,” he said, staring vacantly at his own monitor. “So don’t waste your time trying.”

Anything else?

“City Hall’s a bitch.”

Noted. But I plodded ahead anyway, creating an interface that was useful and more or less maintainable. The database was centred around a form that contained data that I use regularly - one page for each warehouse I deal with, and a button on each page that brings up the monthly warehouse report.

The paths and filenames for the monthly warehouse reports were easy enough to generate: each month had its own directory, and each filname was of the form followed the template [Warehouse code][Item code].doc. The monthly reports themselves were not all produced at the same time, so I’d have to poke around in the code every now and again to make sure that I was pointing to the right directory, but other than that, the thing ran itself.

Until the December reports came in, and suddenly I was getting “File Not Found” errors.

I poked around in the December directory, and lo, all of a sudden the filenames were following a completely different convention. Instead of [Warehouse code][Item code].doc, we had [Supplier name][random eight-digit string].doc.

I spent a few minutes searching for a table that decoded the eight-digit strings before realizing that there was no point trying to search for those things. I figured the IT guy would know.

“Eight-digit string? Yeah,” he said, “that’s the item number. Sometimes the filenames follow that convention.”

“Item number?” I said. “How is that different from the item code?”

“The item code,” explained the IT guy, peering over the tops of his glasses, “has six alphabetic characters. The item number has eight digits.”

“I can see that, but -”

Right. He had a file relating item numbers to item codes, and I imported it into my database, tweaked my code, and -

FILE NOT FOUND. Again.

Back to the directory, where I discovered that the eight-digit codes in the IT guy’s table didn’t match the eight-digit codes in the folder of December warehouse reports. Some of them different in one place. Others differed in three or four. Still others were completely different.

“These numbers aren’t the item numbers,” I regretfully informed the IT guy. “Do you have any idea what else they could be?”

Of course he did; he’s been with the company eleven years. “Probably the product numbers.”

The product numbers? And these are different from the item numbers how?

“Well,” explained the IT guy, “If you look at the table of product numbers and item numbers you’ll see that they’re clearly different numbers.”

Oh, so that table existed? I could get one relating the product numbers to the item numbers?

“Yeah, of course we have that table,” said the IT guy. “I mean, product is just another word for item.”

I didn’t ask. I just returned to my desk, imported the relevant data, checked the eight-digit strings against the ones I had, changed a few field names, and ran the program, confident that I wouldn’t get any errors.

The first warehouse report came up without any problems. So did the second. And the third. And the fourth. And the fifth. Programmers who work with sane datasets might be satisfied with those sorts of results, but I am not a programmer who works with sane datasets. Indeed, I got an error on the sixth report.

Peeking into the directory of December reports, I saw that Product #6 had a completely different product number than the one generated by my program. I approached the IT guy again.

“What did I tell you about City Hall?” he asked.

“Big bitch?”

He nodded. “What you’ve got there is the other version of the report for Product #6. Some of the warehouses have the first version. Others have the second. Others have both.”

“Is there any way to tell whi-”

“No.”

Because I am sucker for punishment, I poked around the December directory to find some products for which there were two version of the report. I found one, and opened the two files, and compared them.

They were identical. Word. for. word. identical.

I asked the IT guy if there was something I was missing, because I couldn’t see why we’d have two versions when there isn’t a difference and was there any way to tell which version I’d get so as to avoid errors, because I couldn’t see -

“City Hall,” he said.

I gave up on the program. The way I see it, come time for the January reports, we’ll be back to the old naming conventions anyway.

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