A Picture worth a Thousand Words

I’d like a picture of Donald Trump displaying a freshly signed Executive Order. The one banning immigrants from seven mostly-Muslim countries would be nice.

I’d like to put my own caption on that image.

The Apprentice.

Other Executive Orders that come to mind include:

  • The one banning refugees
  • The one trying to repeal the Dodd-Frank Act
  • The one building a wall, without congressionally allocated funds

Any other suggestions? Please remember, he’s a star, and can do that.

Atheist

I  do not, imho, believe in the God of your religion.

My god invented nuclear fusion, powering the stars; DNA, powering life and evolution; and the human mind, powering belief and creativity.

I do not, imho, believe in the Devil of any religion. I do not believe in original sin.

I think we invented evil at the same time as we conceived of basic tenets of fair play, honesty, and generosity. If one sees a psychopath doing better than oneself, the temptation comes from our basic drives: for more (of everything.) Evil is discovered anew by each new culture, religion, or tribal organization system. Evil is discovered anew by each child growing toward adult choices.

I’ve learned not to discuss this too much. It bothers truly religious people that they cannot lead me into their promised garden of everlasting afterlife.

So I claim to be an atheist. It’s a cop-out, but it shortens the argument.

Postal Strike, Postal Service, and going Postal

Toronto, Ontario, and all of Canada may soon be hit by postal strikes.

The postal union position seems straightforward:

  • Rural workers (often female) should make as much as urban workers (often male.)
  • New hires should get the same pension (defined benefit plan) as old hands.
  • Doubtless more money would be nice.

On their website, the Canadian Union of Postal workers mention a few other things (as at this writing, sites change, eh? As usual, emphasis mine:

It is evident that the management of Canada Post has forgotten that Canada Post is not a commercial enterprise but a public service for all Canadians. Mr. Chopra spoke of the 400,000 businesses that were his “customers.” He did not mention the 35 million Canadians who have a right to decent postal service.

Canada Post managers declared that negotiations discussions were off-limits but then proceeded to use this platform to try to justify cutting pensions for the next generation of postal workers.

Mr. Chopra praised the work of Canada Post’s employees whose hard work generates the money.  Cutting future employees’ pension, trying to lock us out and stalling at the negotiating table is no way to thank us, Mr. Chopra.

There is some small substance to the claim that management of our postal service pays more attention to commercial customers than domestic recipients of mail. The top item on their website, as at this moment, includes this: (click to ‘see more’ on their site)

Canada Post can no longer guarantee a fully operational network; therefore, we are temporarily suspending the fee for the Specified Delivery Start Date option for Neighbourhood Mail.

I had to Google Specified Delivery Start Date. Bulk mail in an area can have a specified delivery start date. There is a fee for this, presumably for holding the bulk (junk) mail and releasing it on time. This fee is waived because a strike might make its service undeliverable (pun intended.)
Let me emphasize: the top item is for bulk mailers. Companies.

Those of you who bore easily can stop reading here. I’m going to provide a small comparison between Canada Post and the United States Postal Service (USPS.) The information comes from a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report which you can access, thanks to the Secrecy News project of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS.)

Service. USPS gives six-day a week mail and parcel delivery. Delivery standards were revised downward in 2012. Standards are often not met. What used to be guaranteed overnight (local mail) is not, not any more.
There is a suggestion to reduce mail delivery to five days a week. But not for packages. (As in Canada, business deliveries have management’s attention. It’s been so long since six-day delivery that my kids don’t believe it ever existed.)
As in Canada, actual service speed is crashing. (I once mailed a letter on Sunday and had the reply in my hand the following Thursday. Receipt for payment I needed that day. No way this can happen Au Canada today.)

Management. By moving workers from night shift to day shift, facility increases were required. Apparently the job bidding process is time-consuming. The logic behind this (in the referenced CRS report) escapes me. As does much of the management posturing in Canada.

Volumes. Letter volume is declining. Package volume is rising. (Same pattern as in Canada.)

Limitations. The USPS cannNot do non-postal work. This is not the case in the UK, where post offices do banking-like work. Such an extra revenue stream has been suggested in Canada.

Financial Situation. The USPS is about fifteen billion dollars in debt. It has never (in the charts shown, anyway) had more than thirty days of operating cash on hand. The USPS has defaulted on payments required into health benefit plans (which may be set up in a way that is irrational; read the full report for details.) The USPS ends every year with cash on hand, but always is borrowing. Its debt ceiling is limited by law.
So far as I know, Canada Post does not owe money.

Prices. Apparently, a good-forever international stamp costs a buck USD or so. Mail goes for something like forty-five cents USD. A lot cheaper than Canada. The USPS has strictly controlled prices and, through two court actions, was allowed a temporary surcharge to make up for a volume shortfall caused by the crash of 2008.

Canadian prices go up all the time. And we no longer have good-forever stamps.

Fleet. Mostly long-use vehicles (24 years) with an average age of 23 last year, the USPS needs new delivery vehicles.
In Canada, we purchased a new fleet of small vans for home delivery, and then announced we were transitioning to all homeowner-pickup delivery. This shift has been stalled by the new Liberal government under Justin Trudeau. However, reverting back has also been stalled by our Federal Government while ‘studies’ are done. We may be using our postal strike as an excuse to break an election promise.

Mandate. The USPS is mandated to deliver mail. It once was essentially a government agency; now it is mandated to cover its own costs. The fact that it cannot do this is generating a lot of heat and light, and now a CRS report so Congress will be informed enough to, perhaps, decide to change the rules or the playing field.

It appears that our American neighbours see their postal system as a business and then as a service, not as an essential service or natural right. In Canada, we don’t seem to know what we think. CP seems to think it’s a business.
We allowed new neighbourhoods to not-get home delivery, without a whimper. We allowed postal spokesfolks to tell us that the elderly would (I actually heard this said on TV) be grateful for being forced to go for a walk to get their mail. This for my neighbour, who can hardly cross a room, but should be rejoicing to be made to cross snowdrifts to get junk mail.
I don’t think the Federal Government is watching this very closely, as they are unwilling to interfere in what skunks might call a hissing contest. However, Justin Trudeau should, imho, have  the equivalent of a CRS report being built on the entire postal service, so his government can do at least a few sensible things after we go on strike. Like, fix the long term financing: is it an essential service? Should it be subsidized?

Conclusions (mine, of course, eh?)

  • Part of the strike is about costs. I think the Federal Government should fix this. (Take more tax from oil extractors and profiteering banks, and use it to fund the mail. Heresy, eh?)
  • Part of the strike is about pensions. I think that defined benefit plans should be (for all permanent workers, as minimum) available, incented, and that the Federal Government should run them. It’s never gone broke, eh? Just increase the deficit!
  • The Canadian Postal Service is cutting off its nose to spite its face. Several years ago, a postal strike caused this household to switch to telephone banking to pay bills. We have the usual household stuff: gas, hydro, water/garbage, phone, internet, cable tv, and taxes. Plus a handful of other bills, like credit cards.
    We pay all of these on the Internet today.
    We used to mail cheques.
  • Some of the CPS revenue comes from junk mail. My first visit to a pick-up mailbox will include putting a ‘no junk mail’ sticker on my slot. I’m not shuffling glossy fliers while wearing gloves and stomping the snow down.
    My neighbours already have ‘no junk mail’ on their mailbox lid. I checked: it’s legal and binding. No junk mail.
  • Part of the strike is about arrogance. I think Canada Post has a typical case of Big Business / Swelled Head. Like the epi pen price increase by the pharmaceutical manufacturer, reduced service with increased prices are seen as things that can be gotten away with. Charging more for less is seen as a right, especially when the product is not readily replaceable.
  • Part of the strike is about money. Salaries of the Canada Post head office staff, especially the top positions, would be nice to know. What they pay for advertising, lobbying, and contracted services should be part of Justin Trudeau’s audit.
  • Part of the strike is about equality. New hires versus old. Rural/female versus urban/male.

I’ve written the latter points as though I think a long and bitter strike is inevitable. Given the negotiation skills demonstrated to date, I think inevitable (can’t be avoided by the participants) is dead on.

Annoying ‘Support’ from WordPress

This is a technical rant. Maybe someone on the WordPress team will actually think about this complaint.

Your ‘improvements’ to hotlink-adding don’t help me; in fact they waste a lot of my time.

Background:

WordPress provides very nice support for this blog. I almost don’t need to know html. The single case, for several years, was making a forward hotlink into a specific spot on my own page. (‘Jump to this book.’) For this I need to know a bit of html.

For including hotlinks to outside web pages, the support was generous. Find the page, ctrl-c the URL, select the text to ‘be’ the hotlink, and click the paperclip icon. Up comes a dialogue which allows four things:

  1. Entering the URL. Generally by ctrl-v.
  2. Checking the box for ‘open in a new window’ option.
  3. Adding ‘mouseover’ text
  4. (never used by me) selecting from some historical search choices. Not clear what this is useful for.

Several updates back, the WordPress Support Team arranged it so, if you actually typed anything in to box 3. above, it replaced the text you selected to be the ‘blue’ hotlink. For example, if I wanted ‘here’ to be a hotlink, selected that, clicked the paperclip, and added (say) Star Article as mouseover text, instead of that becoming mouseover, it would replace the word ‘here’ with ‘Star Article.’ There was no way of inputting mouseover text anymore.

My bug report on this was closed, marked as a duplicate. So I waited for the older report to be fixed. And waited. Finally I tracked down the earlier bug report to discover that it had been closed, marked, ‘we did this on purpose.’

So, in this dialogue box, there is a slot to allow you to mess up your blog text. That you’re not supposed to use.
But wait, with a later ‘improvement’, this got better.

I found out how, in ‘text’ editing mode, to add mouseover text. Find the html that has the hotlink, and before the URL, add
“title=Star Article”
with one trailing space. Return to ‘visual’ editing and all is well.

This simple, but time-wasting, fix now is more complicated. And more time-wasting. Thanks to yet another ‘improvement.’

Once the paperclip has been clicked on, a new and smaller dialogue box comes up. It allows you to simply paste in a URL. However, if you want to ‘open in a new window’ you have to click on the gear icon.
Now you are back at the old dialogue, and will have to add in the mouseover text later, as before.
And, when this dialogue box closes, the ‘short form’ is still there and you Must Not click on the ‘X’ as this will delete all your hotlink input. You must click outside the new small box to close it.
Then you still have to add the mouseover text in ‘text’ editing mode.

To recap:

What once was one click on a paperclip, plus one paste, one check-box, and one text entry,

has become

one click on a paperclip, followed by
one click on a gear icon, followed by
one paste and one check-box entry, followed by
close the dialogue
carefully click outside the still-open mini-box, followed by
switch to text editing mode, followed by
scan down looking for the right spot in the html, followed by
type in title=”text of title”     followed by
switch to visual mode, followed by
check to see if the mouseover actually works.

Thanks. Thanks to you for the patience to read this far. Tell WordPress what you think, eh?

Variations on Justice

Sharia justice includes elements I cannot comprehend. (Please read to the end, eh?)

Maybe I misunderstand the historical context. If a nomadic tribe, where everyone knows everyone, has a serious criminal discovered in their midst, it is conceivable that:

  • everyone knows who did it
  • the truth of the crime is clear and uncomplicated
  • the survival of the group depends on deterrence

In this case, it is conceivable that group survival depends on extreme punishments: beheading, stoning, mutilation.

Maybe. But in a ‘modern’ ‘society’ we pride ourselves on doing things differently.

  • Some ‘enforcement’ agents have actively promoted torture
  • Some ‘enforcement’ agents actively induce crimes to be committed
  • Some ‘enforcement’ agencies arbitrarily blacklist individuals (infants on do-not-fly lists; Maher Arar sent, on false Canadian information, into torture in Syria)

The ‘big advantage’ we have in our so-called modern society is the judicial system and its prisons. Let’s have a closer look:
Our judicial system can take years (ask Mike McCormack about this) with inequitable results: serious charges dropped due to delay, while other suspects are held long-term while awaiting trial.
Certain forms of evidence, and certain sources of that evidence, are overly relied on with disastrous results. Look up ‘Motherisk‘ for an example.
Our prison system is rife with drug and other criminal activity, and our use of solitary confinement is gradually becoming recognized as a form of torture.

Our justice system includes elements I cannot comprehend.

An Islamic State primer

This is courtesy of Federation of American Scientists, via their blog/eMail Secrecy News.

A CRS report is one created by the Congressional Research Service at the request of the US Congress, or a committee therein, or whatever.

CRS reports are not generally available to the public. Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News of the F.A.S. fixes this.

I will not give any quotes. Click on this link to see a recent CRS report on IS or ISIL.

You have a right to know what’s roughly best information on IS in the USA right now.

Enjoy.

Why I am disappointed with Bell Canada

If you have a problem with your Bell Canada land line, you will have to walk through an IVR ‘conversation’ that asks you if it’s your phone, for the number of the phone you’ve a problem with (you’re probably not calling on it, eh?) and then it will ask you again if it’s a phone you have a problem with.

That’s small potatoes, but an annoyance, especially if you have to call back over and over.

In October my wife noticed that our ‘line 1’ seemed to be busy occasionally when nobody was using it. (light on 2-line phone on.) On Thursday October 29 it was on solid and that line could do nothing. So I called 1-866-310-BELL and was told there would be a service person coming the next day, Friday the 30th, between 3:00 and 5:00 p.m.

I have had a broken arm and am still doing physiotherapy. I had an appointment for 2:20 on that day. However my daughter (adult) said she’d watch in case the service person came before we could get back (expected about 3:30).

At 2:35 the Bell service person called me on my cell phone to say he was at the door and there was no answer. This is twenty-five minutes before he was expected; my daughter was downstairs in the shower and had to get dry and sort-of dressed to answer the door. I did not know this, of course, and told him I’d call her on her cell phone.

My daughter did not answer her cell phone because she was answering the door. Nevertheless the service person simply left without waiting. (I assume that meant, an early start to his/her weekend.)

At 3:30 I was back home from physiotherapy, called Bell, and was told the line would be fixed by 5:00 that day (still Friday the 30th. Nothing happened. I was also told that the problem was ‘nearly always outside the house.’

On Saturday, October 31 I called Bell again and was told a service person would appear between 12:00 and 5:00 on Sunday, November 1.

Nobody showed up.

On November 2 through 9 I was out of the country.

On November 10 I called Bell and was told a service person would be there between 3:00 and 5:00 that day.

The problem, as my son and I figured out later, was a short in the line between the house and the pole out back.

The two lines in use both entered the house near the side door.

There was another entry at the back of the house, which had been used about 18 years ago when my son lived in the basement and had his own phone line(s).

The Bell service person insisted on connecting to the unused back-of-house entry. There is only one jack on this set of wires as it all got disconnected when my son moved out and cancelled his own phone lines. I do not understand why even one jack still was connected.

Net Net result of Bell assistance:

  • Arrived early once and left without waiting
  • Failed to show up twice
  • Connected to wrong lines
  • Short in line 1 from old house entry to back pole precluded getting any phones to work
  • only one jack now working on line 1

Net result of my son’s time and effort:

  • Shorted line removed from line one connection
  • Acceptable connection from working line to others (one standard cord)
  • Everything works

Conclusion:

  • I am not impressed
  • The phones are all working, both lines
  • If I find a reasonable alternative to Bell, I’m taking it. As we have cell phones now as well, we don’t need the ‘reliable’ land lines quite so much. Rogers, anyone?

 

 

South America: watch for UNASUR

Panama and Mexico are there as observers. Only French Guiana has opted out.

All the rest of South America is creating UNASUR, a sort of Schengen-like zone.

This should be instructive for several reasons:

  1. Will our Latin neighbours do better than the European Union in managing free trade and free movement of people and capital?
  2. Will this new ‘bloc’ have an impact on the widely hyped (and secretive and feared) Trans Pacific Partnership? (This was a pet project of Canada’s previous Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who kept all the details secret while claiming we could not afford to be left out.)
  3. Will this new bloc include TPP-like proposals that allow an international company to sue a national government (successfully) for passing laws that merely reduce its profit potential?
  4. Some of the countries south of the USA are in, to put it nicely, financial difficulty. Argentina is in trouble. Venezuela is close to broke. Even Brazil has inflation challenges. Will our southern neighbours do better than the EU did in managing Greece (and Spain and Portugal and Cyprus, to name a few)?

Comments, anyone?

Volkswagen, Software, and diesel emissions

I wrote computer code in the long ago, so I checked with more current programmers and developers and confirmed what most of us would suspect:

The Volkswagen emission scandal (diesel emissions are only controlled during emission testing) could have been caused by several possibilities, including these:

  1. The code in the emissions control computers/chips was never intended to work. While this seems unlikely, Bosch has gone on record as to having told Volkswagen not to use one version of this code in the real world.
  2. The code in the emissions control computers/chips works, but has ‘decision points’ in which the code decides to emit after all. Such conditions could include steering inputs, abrupt acceleration, et cetera.

In the first case, a fix will be a real chore to produce. Emissions reduction depends on reading many sensors, vehicle conditions, et cetera, which are possibly just not allowed for in the code. This is the worst case scenario and has, imho, the largest potential for damage to Volkswagen, as this emission ‘system’ has been in production for a long time. Not having it work, more or less at all in real driving, is a huge liability with potential for market share loss as well.

In the second case, it’s a matter of how the code is implemented, exactly. I have seen and known people who patched in-chip code and it can certainly be done. Catch is, how re-programmable is the chip(s) involved? are they EEPROM? Do they have room set aside for patch code? (Normally this is the case for this kind of hard/soft code, as patches are likely to be required.)

It will be interesting to watch this play out and see what the effects are. If Volkswagen can fix the code, a revolving recall should be enough: either replacing or patching the computer chips involved.

If Volkswagen cannot quickly fix the code, and needs time to create a ‘real’ emission control version, I think they are in deep doo-doo as governments and users will conclude that they are fundamentally unreliable vehicle manufacturers.

Refugees, and Saudi Arabia

There is a circulating eMail which points to a page on Infowars.com. You can find that page here. The page claims that Saudi Arabia has 100,000 air-conditioned tents and has taken in zero refugees. This is correct.

The page then claims Saudi Arabia should use those tents for refugees. This is nonsense. The tents are used during Hajj, which as I understand it, is for a few weeks every year. A pilgrimage to Mecca is a one-time requirement of any Muslim who can do it once in their lifetime. The numbers involved are very large.

I’ll bet the tents aren’t air-conditioned twelve months of the year, just during Hajj.

If refugees were allowed to fill these tents, when Hajj comes around, where will they be displaced to? And, after months of refugees living there, will the tents be as neat as after a few days’ use by pilgrims?

For a comparison, the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto covers some 192 acres and is in full use for about two weeks of every year. By the logic above, should we put refugees there? I think not. There is considerable planning before the exhibition opens; apparently it pulls about $80 million into Ontario each year. We need that space.

Finally, it is useful to understand Saudi Arabia’s attitude to foreign workers. They are some 31% of the population. They are not allowed to become citizens. Fewer than 3% stay six years. They do jobs the Saudis can’t or don’t want to do. It started with oil technicians; added workers, mostly male; then women mostly in service industries, as maids, for example.

Here you will find the above information, and the following fascinating quote:

The results of the 2004 census indicates that only about 15 per cent of foreign workers are in the skilled category, with the remainder mostly working in agriculture, cleaning and domestic service. Country of origin has been an important factor in determining foreign workers’ occupational roles in Saudi Arabia. Saudi businesses have traditionally adopted an ethnically defined hierarchical organisation. For example, a recent academic study of a Danish manufacturing company’s Saudi subsidiary noted that a manager had to be European, a supervisor had to be Egyptian, Filipino employees often had technical roles, and Indians, the lowest in the hierarchy, worked in production. Foreign workers’ presence in Saudi Arabia tends to be transitory: only 3% remain in the country for more than six years.

My point here is that the Saudis have a challenge controlling their own country. Therefore foreign workers are kept in constant turnover. Thus they do not form communities, and cannot challenge the status quo.

Refugees have no place in the Saudi plan. Don’t expect them to take any.