Archive for the 'Miscellaneous' Category

Yes, that’s why you’re here

March 23rd, 2009

The head of the cleaning company in my office brought in a new worker with him today.

While she was cleaning the floor, and emptying the garbage bins, in our manufacturing room I heard her complaining to him “There is a lot of garbage here!”. With an obvious tone indicating that it’s bothering her, and prevents her from doing her work quickly and easily.

Maybe it didn’t occur to her that if we didn’t have any dirt and garbage then we wouldn’t need anyone to clean?

Do Not Freeze

July 6th, 2006

Shipped packages and crates can carry all sorts of warning labels on them. The most common ones seen being “Breakable”, “Do not fold”, and their ilk.

Today I noticed a new one on a large package delivered to our office.

In very large block letters, with a colour highlight, was the sentence “DO NOT FREEZE”, and beneath it, in slightly smaller font “Sensitive Against Freeze”.

I had no idea shipping companies had a tendency to freeze packages.

Very strange.

Not to mention pretty bad grammar on the smaller sentence, but that’s beside the point.

This is why you need friends

June 11th, 2006

A woman was found dead in her apartment in London. Which isn’t all that rare, people do die. But this one was lying dead in her apartment for close to three years before being found.

Police believe she probably died of natural causes in early 2003, and was only found in January this year when housing association officials broke into the bedsit in Wood Green, North East London.

They were hoping to recover the thousands of pounds of rent arrears that had piled up since her death.

So for three years nobody noticed, or cared, that she was missing.

No friends wondering what happened to her and why she didn’t call them for a long long time.

And apparently even the landlord was willing to wait three whole years (two if she paid a year in advance, not very likely) without at least bothering to… I don’t know… come over and knock on the door? That must be a very nice landlord.

Some mail was marked February 2003, and medication and food had February 2003 expiry dates, the spokesman said.

Nobody even noticed the smell coming from the apartment.

Joyce Vincent was surrounded by Christmas presents and the television and heating in her bedsit were still on.

The electrical company didn’t cut her power off, for three whole years? Or was she on a deal where the bank transferred the money automatically every month? In that case, it’s amazing she kept enough money in her cash account for three years’ electricity.

And that the bank didn’t notice the lack of any income, and the electrical company didn’t notice the unusual usage patterns of never-varying electrical consumption.

The people who gave her all these Christmas presents never wondered why she didn’t call to thank them, or invited them for Christmas the year after? Maybe all the presents were really lousy.

Most of all, though, I want to know the model of her heater. Three years working non-stop, and the thing still functions? I want one.

Another nutcase drilling for oil in Israel

February 21st, 2006

Every few years we have someone trying to drill for oil in Israel. Stories appear about how they have some new idea, new findings, new theory. Almost always they also state how unlikely it is that Israel won’t have any oil deposits while our neighbours have a lot of them (Politely ignoring that they don’t have it on every single location, and Israel isn’t that big).

And, unsurprisingly, every time they fail miserably. Or at best, just fail quietly. Often they find nothing. Sometimes they claim to actually find oil, but in depth and quantities making it not worthwhile to to drill.

The thing is, there’s no oil here. We don’t have any. Not in the ground anyway, just in tankers we use when buying it from abroad. No, really.

Yet people insist on failing to get the hint. The plethora of hints. The whole army of them. As if geological surveys and past experience are nothing to them.

And now there’s another one.

This one is on the right track, though. You see, considering that there’s no oil to be found here, it will take a miracle to find any. Literally. And this group is totally on the right track for miracles. They’re not using guesswork, and hope. Oh, no. They’re using scientific methods. Mainly, they’re basing their drilling on some cryptic and obscure verses from the Bible.

Yes, Biblical reference. How more scientific could they get?


Body mistaken for holiday decoration

November 26th, 2005

If someone commits suicide on a busy street, it’s likely they have a desire to attract attention, and to be noticed. To go out with just a whimper, you don’t need to do it in a public place, right?

But it turns out that, like in almost everything else, committing suicide is also affected by timing:

The apparent suicide of a woman found hanging from a tree went unreported for hours because passers-by thought the body was a Halloween decoration, authorities said.

The 42-year-old woman used rope to hang herself across the street from some homes on a moderately busy road late Tuesday or early Wednesday, state police said.

If you have the poor timing to hang yourself at a time when dressing up as corpses and trying to scare people is popular, you can’t complain when they just mistake the body for a part of the scenery…

Wrong Address

August 18th, 2005

envelope front with sender detailsWhile our postal services generally, sometimes, do their job quite adequately, there are flukes. We do sometime get envelopes addressed to neighbours, or to someone with a similar last name but on a different street.

But the most recent such wrong delivery was more amusing. Because of the sender, the intended recipient, and the type of mistake. You see, this was not sent by a private person, nor was it one of the usual commercial messages. This was an international mail, all the way from Luxembourg. And the sender was NAMSA, a NATO agency.

Yes, NATO. Isn’t that fun? I bet most people don’t get envelopes from NATO at all. I certainly know we didn’t ever. And still, it came. Well, it wasn’t really addressed to us, of course, but those are just details.

The intended recipient, as I said, wasn’t us. Not at all. It was an unnamed acquisition and procurement specialist, in the “IDF technology division”.

envelope back with recipient detailsErr… Except that the IDF doesn’t have anything named “Technology Division”. Instead there’s the “Technological and Logistics Directorate“, better known here as Atal. Or, to be more exact, ATL (in the corresponding Hebrew letters), which is an acronym. A for “Agaf” meaning directorate or division, T for “Technologiot” meaning Technologies, and L for “Logistica” meaning… you got that right, Logisitics. Yes, the base words for Technology and Logisitics are the same in Hebrew, which can give you a clue as to where they were borrowed from. The abbreviation is pronounced as Atal.

Normally I wouldn’t be too surprised that someone over at NATO isn’t aware of the exact way things are organized in our military. But if you send envelopes to someone, it means you have some interaction with them. Which in turn means you have to know who it is that you’re interacting with. So I find their “Technology Division” odd.

The address was indeed in the same city we live in, which explains why it got to the same post office branch. But as to why it arrived to us, that’s a mystery to me. There is no name on the envelope, so someone familiar with us at the post office (Yes, that does happen) couldn’t have gotten confused. There is no street address, so nobody could have delivered it to the wrong house on the right street. There is no house number, so nobody could have delivered it to the right house on the wrong street. All it had was a POB number, four digits, of which two are similar to ours. That would rather be, similar to ours and to plenty of other people’s. There’s a huge limit as to how much variance POB numbers can have.

So someone was sloppy.

In any case, we didn’t open the envelope. Likely it’s also not interesting, since it went from one body dealing in logistics to another. On the other hand, it also went from one body dealing in armament procurement to another. So maybe it was interesting. But the point is moot, we returned the envelope to the post office, so they could deliver it to the intended recipient. Or deliver it yet again to a wrong recipient, but that’s their problem, not ours.

Why it didn’t go through the various diplomatic or military channels is beyond me, though. If you have important (The envelope was marked as priority airmail. Which doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but it may) military related material to send, between two military organizations, trusting the usual post seems questionable. And in this case at least was a demonstrably bad idea.

Had there been anything even remotely classified in there, someone might have opened it and read it. The fact that we didn’t doesn’t mean that nobody else would have been curious. And, like I said, we’re not the only people with such a badly matching POB number.

Oh, well…

There once was a cat

August 15th, 2005

During one of the days of the international opera program, I noticed something thin and black dangling out of one of the drainpipes near the conservatorium.

At a first glance it appeared that a cat was resting in the drainpipe. A second look made it obvious that the cat wasn’t just temporarily resting, but was busy starting on it’s eternal rest.

Since it’s both not something nice to see, and a potential health hazard, I informed someone from the conservatorium staff who seemed in charge of the building and maintenance. He told me that it will be taken care off on the morning of the following day. He further explained that the city is doing some works in the surrounding parks, so some things aren’t looked after well enough in the interim.

The next time I was there, a few days later, I forgot to check out on the ex-feline. But I was there again about two weeks afterwards, and decided to take a look to make sure they dealt with it.

On the plus side, there was no black cat stuck in the drainpipe.

On the minus side, there were parts of a cat’s skeleton stuck there… So I assume this was not taken care off by the city’s maintenance or health crews…

At least by that point it was no longer a health hazard. Nor was it an aesthetic problem, since the tail isn’t dangling out of the pipe any more, and nobody can see the remains without peeking in purposefully.

I’ll probably be in the area again in a few months, so I’ll go over to take a look. In the meantime, rest in peace, kitty.

Right where it always is

July 12th, 2005

I sent a small package abroad this morning.

On the envelope there are two marked areas, one for the sender address, and one for the destination address. Each of these has a few lines, for the different parts of the address. Very standard, has been like that for years and years.

The clerk I worked with in the post office this morning isn’t a new one, she has also been there for several months, if not a few years. She knows the drill, knows her way around, and have done it all plenty of times.

I wrote the addresses, both mine and the recipient’s, on the envelope. I then closed the envelope and handed it to the clerk. She then started with her part, which includes weighing the package, telling me how much it will cost, collecting the money, stamping the envelope, and sending it. Except that this time there was a slight problem.

She looked at the envelope, and seemed to be searching for something. It took her quite some time. Then she turned to me and asked what country is the package for.

The country name was written, in big letters, on the bottom line of the recipient’s address field. This is the usual, customary, and mandated place for it. This is the exact same place that the country name is always written on when using those standard envelopes. It should have been the first, and the only, place for her to look for the country name. And she did look. But she didn’t find.

Which leaves me no option but to conclude that the girl either needs a pair of reading glasses, or needs to stop taking hallucinogens before going to work…That was just extremely odd.


July 7th, 2005

A delivery guy arrived today with two large packages of electronic equipment we ordered for one of our systems. One package contained the actual device, and the other contained mostly power supplies. Needless to say the electronics were somewhat gentle, though the power supplies are probably more robust.

The guy requested help getting the stuff from the truck, so we took a small cart, and went over to the truck, which was parking outside on the street. He opened the trailer, and I saw that besides our two packages it was empty. The packages were not tied down, or fastened to anything. In fact, they were resting in an angle on the corner that gave the distinct impression they slid on the floor during the drive over, and this is where they bumped the trailer’s walls last.

After putting both boxes on the cart, we moved back to the office. The gate out of our office was half open, a position meant to allow people to walk in, but to prevent cars from entering (Our people have remotes to open the gate, and other people really shouldn’t use our limited parking space).

I told the guy that I’ll go and open the gate, and he kept saying that it’s not problem, and everything will pass. When we reached the gate, the opening was too small for the large boxes. He started rotating the cart in various angles, to no avail.

Again I offered to open the gate. The guy repeated that it’s not necessary, and told me that there’s a very simple way to deal with that. And before I realized what he was doing, he nonchalantly pushed the boxes off, and they came tumbling to the ground. He then moved the cart in, and put the boxes on it again.

I looked at him in surprise, and told him that it’s breakable and delicate stuff. And he responded with something I didn’t expect… “Don’t worry. That’s not breakable. You see, if they thought it was breakable, they wouldn’t have sent it with me. Because they know that if it can be broken, I’ll break it. They also didn’t add any extra padding to the packaging, and used my truck, which has no springs and bumps stuff forcefully all the time. So you have nothing to worry about”

I kid you not. And this was not some minor transporter, but one of the major international transport companies.

Luckily the box that was higher on the cart, and so got the much stronger hit after the fall, was the power supplies and not the other electronic devices.

Next time we’ll make doubly sure that everything is marked “breakable” all over…

What’s the difference between zero and zero?

May 9th, 2005

One of the various tools laying about in our office is a digital varnier caliper. It’s a pretty handy tool when someone (usually not me, since I deal with computers, not the physical parts) wants to get exact measurement on something.

Caliper image

And obviously, when the two arms of the caliper touch, the distance it measures between them is zero. A total of 0.00mm, to be exact. Here, see for yourself:

Caliper showing zero mm

Now, guess what happens when you push it a little? Well, obviously the designers thought about that, and the caliper can measure negative distances. Actually, you can zero it on any position, so it can in fact measure even large negative distances. This is fine, a good feature.

But, what happens if when it’s on zero, you push it just a little bit? So it doesn’t really move, not even a 0.01mm? Why, it would still show zero, you would expect, right? Well, wrong:

Caliper showing negative zero

That’s right. minus 0.00mm distance. Release the caliper, and it will be back to 0.00, tighten it slightly again, and it will be -0.00 again… Cute, real cute. This mean that there is a real and concrete amount of distance between the two zeroes. So, what is that distance? Because mathematically speaking, it has to be, well, zero…

Police response time

May 4th, 2005

Remember that small burglary we had in the office around early January this year?

The person also left behind a bottle that he had touched. So the bottle likely has the burglar’s (My apologies to burglars everywhere who feel slighted, but I still think it’s a good term for a probably drugged hobo who breaks a window and climbs in) fingerprints on it. Meaning that the police could take it, get the prints from it, and maybe find the person responsible. The police knows that as well, which is why they told us back then to keep the bottle, and that they will arrive straight away to take it.

After a few instances where we talked to them, this morning someone from the police called to let us know that he will be passing over in the area at around noon, and we should make the bottle ready for him to take. It is now evening, and we didn’t hear from him yet.

All in all, very prompt and fast response time. Only about four months have passed, and they are now very close to actually getting a piece of evidence from the scene of the crime. Bravo.

The Time Traveler Convention

May 2nd, 2005

This is a wonderful idea, and I’m more than happy to do my little share to help publicize the Time Traveller Convention.

After all, some day I’ll be very famous, and so this blog and all my posts will be remembered forever and ever for posterity (Just a second, somebody is knocking on the door… Some odd guy, looking for an Ozymandias. Foreign name… I told him he got the wrong address. Back to the post). So this is the best way to make sure all the future time travellers will notice. I can feel the future history of the world changing and reshaping as I write these words.

All in all, I can think of just one reason why this may not work. Maybe they already have one, planned at a different place and location. So all the time travellers already know that this convention didn’t happen, so they won’t attend. Darn, these things can give a guy a headache.

But, in any case, it makes sense that you’d only need one time traveller convention. So people, if you’re sometime out there, and wondering when and where to go, let’s make this the one. the convention details:

May 7, 2005, 10:00pm EDT (08 May 2005 02:00:00 UTC)
East Campus Courtyard, MIT
42:21:36.025°N, 71:05:16.332°W
(42.360007,-071.087870 in decimal degrees)

Hmm… actually, when I think about it, the reasoning behind there only being a need for one such convention doesn’t quite hold. Sure, they could all come whenever they want to, since that’s one of the advantages of time travel. But that disregards some important aspects:

  1. We don’t know the technology. Maybe there are limits, or external influences.
  2. What if there are too many of them? The space is rather limited, after all.
  3. Do we really expect all time travellers to be able to be friendly, and deal with each other amicably? Heck, we have people from the same time that won’t be together in the same room without trying to kill each other. So people from different times?
  4. If some of them hear about this, and know that they didn’t come, they may decide not to come. Yes, that’s the headache factor again.

Still, a marvellous idea, and I wish them the very best of luck. Imagine, this just might work…

That insane casino is still at it

April 18th, 2005

Remember the casino that bought the Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese Sandwich for an outlandish amount of money, on eBay?

Well, turns out, they’re very eBay happy (happy as in trigger-happy) over there, and are buying odd stuff all over the place.

A Doritos chip that looks like the Pope’s hat

The rights for the name of a woman, which then had to change her name to that of the casino.

The names of three newborns, similar deal.

and more… I’m
not sure who is more crazy, this casino, or the people selling this stuff… On the other hand, as long as they pay, and everyone is happy,
what’s the harm? Can’t say why it bothers me so much to see the casino
and the silly eBay sellers reach satisfactory Pareto-efficient

Candidates for papacy

April 17th, 2005

I just thought this would serve as a good example of what I meant in a
previous post
when I mentioned the terrible coverage in the media of
the new candidates for the papacy.

As it seems, in the addition to the all too common jokes about Black
popes, Jewish popes, and the like, some news sources can’t even keep
track of which candidates are real people, and which of their
candidates are just TV characters.

Getting a new US visa

April 13th, 2005

To continue the US visa stories from my previous post about my own visa, my friend needs to get a new visa. Which is a whole different ballgame.

To get a visa, you need to go to an interview at the embassy, and
bring with you various forms with information about yourself and the
planned visit, and that photo I mentioned. They also take your
fingerprints, and try to assure themselves that you’re not trying to
sneak in and immigrate.

Once you have taken your picture (which due to the non-standard size
means you need to take it especially for this, and can’t use any other
passport photo you may already have), there are two problems remaining,
filling the forms, and getting to that interview. Oh, and paying a
hefty processing sum, which will not be returned to you even if your
visa application is not approved, but that’s just the cost of doing
business these days.

Let’s start with the simple one, the forms. Plenty of personal
information, along with the part where you’re supposed to honestly
reply to questions about whether you are a terrorist, drug dealer,
mass murderer, or anything like that.

Traditionally, you schedule the interview through a travel agent,
and the travel agent gives you the papers. You can then fill them up in
the time you have until the interview, and bring them with you.

But ever on the cutting edge of progress, the US State Department
have noticed the existence of the internet. So they have a special site
for Electronic Visa Application Forms.
And before we get to content, let me just say that the site is a
technological wonder. They run a javascript code intended to
ensure that visitors run a browser version compatible with the site,
and have an Acrobat Reader version compatible with the PDF
(commonly used for documents that can be easily viewed and printed on
most platforms and computers) files they create. Except… The script
is a total bust.

The code was written in 2003. The newest version of
Acrobat Reader available today is 7, yet the code checks for, or rather try to check for, up to
version 9. Talk about forward thinking. But, well, it doesn’t check
properly, so visitors with Acrobat Reader 7 installed are told that
they don’t have a recent enough version. Apparently the minimum version
is 5. Now, I know 7 is greater than 5, but they don’t. So anyone who is
up to date is guaranteed to be told they are not updated enough to
properly work with this site. Cool, eh?

Anyway, you have two options. The first is to download the forms in PDF
format, and print them at your home. If you schedule an interview
through a travel agent, this is basically identical to taking the forms
from them, except that you pay for the paper and ink yourself. If you
get in by the other method (which I’ll cover soon), this can be

But wait, there is the second option. There is a web form there,
with fields for all the information you’d need to fill on the paper
form. So you can enter all the information directly on the site, and
submit it there. Now, anyone with even a little web experience would
automatically make the very likely assumption, that this would enter
the details directly into a central database, and it won’t be necessary
to use the actual paper forms, or remember to carry them with you on
the interview.

And anyone who makes this natural assumption would be
wrong. What it does, once you fill all the information on the web, is generate a PDF of the form, with the information entered written into it. You still need to print it, and you still need to take it with you.

If you have a particularly lousy handwriting, it could make some
sense. If it’s much easier for you to fill forms on a computer instead
of write on paper, it could also make some sense. For most people, it
doesn’t make sense. People would use it to save dealing with papers,
but it doesn’t quite do that.

OK, say you’re done with that. Now you need to schedule an
interview. On the off-season, that’s easy. Contact your travel agent,
and have them schedule one. Two or three days, and you’ll get an
interview. But, well, now isn’t off-season, it’s holiday season, and
everyone is out to get a visa. The waiting time for a scheduled
appointment is about two months. Yes, two months.

So what do you do if you need it sooner, or if you just need to know
that the visa application will be approved, since you want to arrange
for plane tickets, hotel reservations, and the likes, in advance? This
is our case. There is time until September, but some things are better
done now. Yet if for some odd reason the visa will be denied, that’s a
lot of money that will be lost on cancellation fees.

Well, the Americans have figured out a solution. Based on the
classic first-come first-served system, each day the have a queue of people which
will be accepted for an interview, the first 100 of them. And yes, this
does imply that every day there are much more than a 100 people who try.

According to the web page on the site,
the people are counted in the morning, when the embassy officially
opens for business, and the first 100 are listed and told to return at
noon. This mean that you practically burn the entire day on this, but
you at least get an interview on the same day.

But there will be a line, so it’s best to get there before time,
right? Preferably a lot before time. How bad is it, you ask? My friend
planned to get there at about 5 AM. Which may have been very late,
since someone else
my friend talked to, who did the same thing a couple of days ago,
arrived at the
evening of the previous day, to wait all night long. Yes, all night. It
turns out that there are a lot of people who wait in line the entire
night in order to
get to the embassy first thing in the morning. It’s like those
super-popular rock concerts, or something. Some even bring sleeping
bags with them. Which I totally don’t understand. Waiting in line I can
get, but sleeping in line, on a promenade, with dozens of people
wandering around you?

My friend arrived on 5AM anyway, to see if maybe it would be enough.
Well, guess what? There were people coming… and going. No line. The
security guard outside provided an explanation, saying that about a
week ago the system was changed. They now count the first 100
applicants at 19:00, not in the morning. This of course was not
announced anywhere, and is still not listed on the site, so people kept
arriving and being turned away.

The guard advised arriving at 16:30-17:00, in order to manage to get
in. Looks like a reasonable time if people aren’t crazy enough, and he
should have the experience of the last several days, and so provide a decent estimate. Right?

Wrong. Just to be safe, my friend arrived some time before 16:00.
And got a number very very close to 100. Five minutes later, and it
would have been a no-go. And sure, that mean that they gave the numbers
to people when they arrived, not kept them waiting till 19:00. This is
the right thing to do, I think, and just keeping the people standing in
line would be pointless and mean, but that’s still not the official
guidelines, as were told to my friend. They need to get themselves in
better synch.

Oh, and all the people got a numbered tickets, and told to return the
next day at 12:00. All of them. So at 12:00, another long queue of 100
people milling about, waiting for the few interviewers to go through
them. That’s a long wait, if anyone wonders…

At least my friend has strong family ties, work, university studies, and no reason to want to live in the US, so the visa will in all likelihood be approved. America be willing.