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Monday, March 30

I am not a deserter

Let me make one thing absolutely clear. I still prefer Android as a platform and the fact that I am writing this from my brand new iPad does not take away from that. It just makes me a huge hippocrite.

The reason that Android is better is because of open standards support and the presence of a general purpose back button, which means you never have to think about how to get out of what you are presently doing. A good Android device is inconspicuous technology. It just works.

Apple on the other hand has made a business out of being conspicuous. They want you to marvel at the shiny shiny that you have bought.

It is quite shiny.

I am a massive hippocrite.

I'd say I was becoming a grumpy old git...

... but this sort of stuff has always annoyed me.

One of the things I don't like about buying and selling on ebay is the fact that you deal with people who, in the written form at least, come across as total morons. I think it shows a lack of intellect or respect (or possibly both) if you can't use language effectively when dealing with people. I don't expect the works of Shakespeare, but I do expect things to make sense.

In addition, I expect people to be constructive and positive when using ebay, rather than make up their own way of throwing their weight around.

Exhibit R:

that hard drive I got off you blow up then plugged it in to the mains .I will be letting ebay know about this matter a waste of money .it came yesterday .

What am I supposed to do with this crap? As an English teacher, I think I'd mark it F-!

I'm not an English teacher.

I offered him a refund. He's not accepted it. 

Wednesday, March 25

The XY Problem

See http://www.perlmonks.org/?node=xy+problem for a good set of explanations for this phenomenon. I think I spend my life up against this one.

Catchphrase: 'why the hell do you want that?'.

Tuesday, March 24

A Loneliness Meal For One Please



The thing they don't tell you about international business travel is that it is, on the whole, pretty faceless boring and lonely. Going as a group isn't, obviously, until everyone goes back to their rooms in the strange knowledge that if it were not for the trip you'd never choose to sleep near each other.

On your own you get to stay in an anonymous hotel near a station and eat whatever the nearest kitchen makes. A table for one please.

Without a phone or a book you would stare aimlessly into space waiting to be served so you could eat and just leave.

That said the cafe pictured is pleasant enough and I have eBay auctions to watch. I'm selling, so it's good when the price goes up.

In an airport

Funny places airports. Gatwick is among the funniest. A huge mishmash of cultures and ages. I haven't been here in ages. I rather like it. It is like the Brighton to Heathrow's London.

This could probably have been a tweet.

Monday, March 23

While We're On The Subject Of Reviews...

It's worth pointing out that the Fine Coffee Club, who make nespresso compatible coffee pods, and market them on the basis of a huge saving against the nespresso prices, have proved fairly disappointing and I wouldn't recommend using them.

Their main saving comes from purchasing their house-blend, which is 17p per cup if you buy 100 at a time. Their other blends are 21p-25p per cup. Nespresso prices are 29p - 33p per cup on average. The Fine Coffee Club is definitely cheaper, though not by a country mile unless you buy their house blend in 100's.

I bought their house blend. It tastes not very good. Their dark roast - a more expensive blend - is quite unpleasant.

I can only assume that the word Fine in their name comes not from the quality of the coffee, but from the degree to which it is ground.

Avoid!

Reviewing The Abysmal

I've posted 1 star reviews on Amazon a handful of times. In all cases, it's because I found the item in question to be really awful in some way. There was a book by a Doctor Who fan which was so self-indulgent that I came to hate him. There was a CD of children's music, which I'd so rather not listen to, that the sound of my argument with the family over why I want to turn it off, is more appealing to me than to sit there and have it play (a bit like the John Barrowman special on Amazon Instant Video, which I can only see 20 seconds of before feeling sick).

Most recently, there was this book. It was supposed to be a guide to Natural Language Processing using a programming language I'm aware of, and have read books about, but have never used. Since Natural Language Processing is both interesting (if you like computers and psychology) and also of interest to some stuff I'm presently doing, I thought this book would be good for me to read.

I should point out at this stage, that I got the book for free as part of my Amazon Prime membership, which allows me to borrow books. So far, I've borrowed a few books via this route. The last one I borrowed was fairly unreadable, but I chose not to review it because although it wasn't to my taste, it was written the way such things should be written and I kind of know the author, and I've no reason to want to publish an opinion on something that I can just walk away from. The NLP book I just read, and I pushed myself to read it all, was a disaster area.

I'll link to and quote the review.

This book is light on insight. it contains a programming guide to Python which clearly comes from the perspective of someone who doesn't understand the language.

The writing style is fun, but this clearly self published book is heavy on typos and devoid of anything you can use. It reads like a conspiracy theory, and the denouement, a conversation with a chat bot, shows the author's lack of understanding of the Turing test.

What a waste of effort!

I was curious about this author and curious about whether I'd made a mistake, either in my interpretation of the book, or in my decision to read it in the first place. I had posted my 1 star review, a sister to the existing 1 star review, because I'd come to the conclusion that this book needed a warning to other fellow travellers on the path to knowledge. Do not read this - it's at best pointless, at worst misinformation. However, could I have been wrong? Who was Guermo Isaac, the book's author. I did some Googling.

I found Guermo's blog here. In particular, on my birthday this year, Guermo under the pseudonym on his blog (and I think his name is already a pen name), berated the writer of the scathing review. "They're doing it for their own purposes - they wreck good business" - seems to be the sentiment.

I, like the prick I am, made a comment on his blog, which I kind of regret and kind of don't. My fears that this man may be a little quirky and not a reliable source were intensified in the discussion and I think he's best left alone. What worries me slightly is that he's probably going to republish the book with a different edition/title/identity to try to distance himself from the reviews as an unreviewed book might, internationally, pick him up a single sale a day - maybe $5 worth, maybe $1500 per year's worth of income. To him, it's receiving his dues for his hard work in writing the books and knowing what he thinks should be in them.

The problem is this - who is right? Am I right, as a consumer, to warn others off this product, which I am convinced is terrible. Or is he right to say "if you don't like something, keep quiet about it"?

I think the thing which hurts this man's ego the most is that the review, which looks like 5 minutes' work, is so short and yet so damaging. I pointed out that it take 5 minutes to write the review and a couple of hours to read the book in the first place to be able to form the opinion behind it. He considers the star rating to be rude - "Say it's bad, but don't give 1 star". My view is that shit is shit. It's the same with Edinburgh shows, if you think it's shit, don't go 2 stars to be nice - put it down as 1, especially if you're trying to say that nobody would like this.

I didn't write a character assassination of the individual and his work on Amazon. Two reasons. Firstly, I was writing on a mobile device in the middle of the night without my glasses, so couldn't be bothered. Secondly, I reckoned it wouldn't get past the moderators. I was more respectful. Here, however, I can say what I like and I'm using a keyboard. In short, here are a few of the things which I noticed while reading a book I cannot recommend enough to avoid. I'm write and he's wrong. Sorry.

  • A lot of his explanations of the Python programming language come from a position of ignorance - "I don't know what it is precisely, but I call it..." - just do the research
  • He regularly declares for loops as inefficient without explanation - when he comes up with an alternative, it's probably less efficient
  • He describes tricks and workarounds which kind of work as they are, but doesn't seem to know why they work - in some cases, they seem to be voodoo, rather than a simple solution
  • He doesn't understand exceptions and uses them incorrectly
  • He writes "therefor" instead of "therefore"
  • The book has a few cases of apostrophe-s to make a word plural - that's wrong
  • His description of the sciences required for natural language processing is plain weird and misrepresented - he thinks you need quantum physics to parse sentences
  • He uses words he's made up, or made up new meanings for
  • He claims that parsing and parsimony are related and uses parsimony when talking about parsing - this is bullshit.
  • He describes the Turing test in terms that he's made up
  • He claims to have a chatbot that passes the Turing test - he quotes a conversation with it - it's rubbish
  • He describes a "best practice" for keeping track of versions of code and experiments you've tried which is to save lots of versions with different file names - so he's never heard of source control then.
Oh, the list fucking goes on. What a load of crap!


And on that bombshell, I'm outta here!

Friday, March 13

Diversity

Why are all window cleaners white British males. This a is ridiculous lack of diversity. You should ensure that you choose a window cleaner from a more varied demographic, then we can ensure that this industry doesn't become the sole domain of one sort of person.

That's today's demand. More diversity in window cleaning. All you need to do is be more careful in whom you let at the windows of your house.

While I agree that diversity in any industry is a good idea, the above two paragraphs are clearly a bunch of whining horse shit. The problem is that the suggested solution to the problem - demand more diversity and hire on that basis - is completely divorced from the root cause of a lack of diversity. At least, in my perception of the window cleaning industry around where I live, that's the case. It may be the case elsewhere. Let's look at a situation where what I've just said could be wrong.

Let's look at a city where there are 10's of window cleaners and, for some reason, only the polish window cleaners ever get jobs, while a hoard of non polish people of different genders, sit with barely a window to wash between them, despite being priced the same and having the same window cleaning skills. In that situation, you might say to people "stop being so polish in your hiring decisions, there are other people out there". This I'll call the "Nigel Farage Fallacy" because it doesn't happen... at least it doesn't happen like that. The reason it's a fallacy is that it seems logical to state that if you were in that situation you should act differently, except the situation doesn't exist, so the reason to act differently is invalid, yet bringing it up suggests that people should act differently, which they probably should, but not like that.

It's possible, in some sort of a market where people don't get work, for those people to drop out of the market and, therefore, reduce diversity. So clearly you shouldn't let a fear of diversity stop you from hiring someone worthwhile.

Going back to my initial point, why is whinging about inequality in an industry a waste of fucking time? I'll tell you. No amount of complaining about the lack of diversity is going to get people into the industry. Sure, pure animosity to diversity within an industry will push people back out, but getting them in in the first place is the real issue. Quality will endure.

This is not about window cleaning.

In IT I see virtually no female software developers. I barely see their CVs. I rarely interview them on the phone. I don't think I've had more than one or two women in for face to face interview in over 100 interviews in the last few months. Where are they all? Is it me?

I am busting my nut to find female software developers, because I believe in diversity and I don't think a team should be made of one gender for its own sake.

If I see a female software developer, should I hire her on the spot, then?

NO! That's the last thing I should do.

Every worker should be considered on their own merits. I will hire someone if they're good enough to do the job and if they will work well with everyone else (gender politics not considered, either way). I will not hire them if they're not up to the job.

So what's my solution to the diversity issue, then? I appear to have criticised everyone and offered nothing.

In short, if you're from an unusual demographic for an industry and you want to be in that industry, then go searching for work in that industry. Get in and get good at it. At every level there are opportunities for other people, and nobody should be discriminatory, but equally nobody should be discriminatory the other way either. Get good and get in.

Why are there so few women in IT? Is it gamer gate? No, it's that women are not getting the right encouragement and motivation to get into IT earlier on in their lives. If you have a daughter, get her coding. If you are looking at University, get technical. If you're a female looking at IT, ignore the nerdy straight geeks - they're not the only way in.

Whinging will not win this. Get good and get in.

I had a female student intern last year. She was singularly one of the finest most talented software developers I've ever had the pleasure to work with. Be like her.

All content ©2001 - 2012 Ashley Frieze