Compensating for DST, twice

September 18th, 2007

This Sunday (well, the night between Saturday and Sunday) Israel went off DST[1], meaning that the clocks had to be set to one hour earlier.

Normally I’m a very small believer in letting computers do things automatically, following the old adage that if you want something done right you have to do it yourself (rather than let a computer guess its way at it). And so usually I always set my computer not to compensate for DST automatically, and change the hour myself on the correct dates.

This year I made a mistake. I figured that changing the clock should be trivial enough for Windows XP to manage doing by itself. So I set the computer on Saturday to correct for DST automatically.

And on Sunday morning everything seemed fine. The time on the computer’s clock did indeed move an hour back, and it showed the correct time.

I went to work. I came back late at night.

And found that sometime during the day the computer… moved the time back yet another hour.

From now on I’ll get back to doing complex tasks like this by myself.

  1. In Hebrew the DST time is referred to as “Summer Time”/”Summer Clock”, and in contrast the non-DST time is referred to as “Winter Time”/”Winter Clock”[back]

Happy new year

September 13th, 2007

For anyone who lives in Israel, or who is Jewish, have a happy new year. Shana Tova.

Anyone else, well, you probably don’t follow the Jewish calendar anyway, so no worries.

No entry. Seriously.

September 11th, 2007

No entry sign, but there's no roadThe standard No Entry / Do Not Enter road sign is pretty, well, standard.

Almost all over the world, the same red circle with a white horizontal bar.

And it means pretty much the same thing, all over the world, including here. An indication that the road it is attached to is going the other way, and it’s forbidden to drive into it.

Where do you usually see those signs? At the exit of one-way streets, pointing the other way. Often at both edges of the road, to be visible from all directions.

Where do you usually don’t see those signs? On places which are not roads, and where no driver will try to turn to anyway.

Such as, say, at a side of a road where there’s no turning, no diverging road, and surrounding a large concrete and wood pillar standing ahead of several trees.

That’s the theory, anyway. In practice, as you can see, it sometimes works differently.

A Democracy is not a Technocracy

September 2nd, 2007

There are a lot of accusations, that started to fly around after the recent war in Lebanon, against several politicians and military officers. Many justified, many not. Heck, everyone is unhappy after a military exercise which doesn’t end in a resounding success, and military actions never end in resounding successes.

This post is just about one of these claims/accusations. Specifically, there are a lot of people claiming that one of the faults was nominating Amir Peretz as the minister of defence, because he has no military background.

Now, I’m far from being a fan of Peretz. Most of what I have to say about him is not particularly nice. But this particular accusation is stupid nonsense. Not because he does have military experience. He doesn’t. But because it’s not relevant to the way we run our government.

The form of Representative Democracy we’re using is based on the idea that people vote for parties. The parties have some political agenda they’re supposed to focus on[1], and their list of candidates. Based on the relative amount of votes a party receives, the top candidates from the party go in the Knesset (parliament). The leader of the party most likely to manage to form a coalition is given a chance to do so, and if he/she succeeds then the leader becomes the new Prime Minister. And candidates from the parties that joined the coalition get appointments as ministers, based on the political dealings that were made in order to convince them to join the coalition.

Notice how nothing here mentioned particular knowledge and ability in any particular skill related to the relevant ministry? This is not an oversight. This is by design[2].

People vote for a party to represent their general goals and ideals. Maybe even based on the top candidates of that party. But which person gets to be minister of what, that depends more on the agenda of the party (If their political agenda focuses on a specific issue, ministries relevant to that issue will be something they will work for when negotiating) and overall political game, than on the knowledge and pedigree of candidates.

The minister of health does not have to be a medical doctor, or hold degrees in biology, zoology, or environmental studies. The minister of education does not have to have a degree in education, psychology, or sociology. The minister of science does not have to have a degree in physics, biology, chemistry, or math. The minister of culture does not have to have a degree in history, art, or music. And the minister of defence? No need for degree in military studies or strategy, and no need for military experience.

That’s the system. On purpose. This is why we call it a representative democracy, rather than a technocracy.

The minister needs to hold some level of public trust, even if by proxy (of the political party that was voted for). And needs to have the administrative ability to run the ministry.

For the technical knowledge the minister needs to have assistants, and advisors. The responsibility of the minister is not to know in advance about the subject matter, but to be able to find people to inform him/her about relevant topics of the subject matter. And to make decisions that fit the political agenda of the party, are good for the country[3], and make sense based on what the minister can understand from the experts and advisors the minister consults with.

Anyone who isn’t happy with it, well, has a right to. But they have to realize that their position is that they want to get rid of democracy in favour of a technocracy. Not that they want the same type of democracy we have now, except with a minister of defence that knows military. That’s hypocrisy, and intellectual laziness.

After all, if you want a professional for defence, why not in other fields? The usual answer is that it’s because defence is important. There are two problems with that argument:

  1. Education? Also important. Health? Also important. Science? Also important. Finance and economics? Also important. Keep going. Which one of them you think you can abandon and then go on and keep the country alive, and worth living in, after a decade?
  2. If a professional is a superior option for any important field, why wouldn’t it be a good idea for other fields, important or otherwise? It needs to be a good idea there as well, right? So why pick a professional just for defence?

So claiming they want a professional there, means they want a professional everywhere.

And this does not go well with our democratic idea. You can’t keep both. The current election and party structure cannot survive if you need each minister to be a credited professional in the field.

If it’s skill based, there’s no point in an election. Professionals are recognized by other professionals, and by academic institutes, not by the masses[4].

And not everyone can have a degree in everything. So, if you start by the pool of candidates that won votes in a global election, and then filter them in ministries by their knowledge, you can easily get in a position where you only have a single eligible candidate for some ministries. Not very democratic when there’s no choice. Worse, you may get in a position where you have nobody to fill a certain ministry. What do you do then?

People can claim they want a new system of government. They can go and try to solve, to some level, all the technical problems of the new system. But they can’t fault the current system for things which are a parts of the system’s design, while claiming that they really do want the current system and not the replacement system that doesn’t have those “faults”.

Or, in this case, you think Peretz is an idiot? Fine. You think that, only[5] because he has no military experience, it was a huge mistake to appoint him defence minister? Not fine, and you may be a bigger idiot than he is.

  1. liars, the lot of them, of course, but that’s the difference between practice and theory, right?[back]
  2. As the computer saying goes: “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature!”[back]
  3. Hopefully, anyway. And filtered by the minister’s worldview[back]
  4. Though even there it’s a mess, and in many areas you have professionals who disagree, and follow different schools. Which one do you want to make the decisions, unchecked?[back]
  5. other reasons can be fine, as long as this one isn’t on the list[back]

Espresso overdose

August 30th, 2007

People suffering the side effects of drug-overdose, that’s something that becomes all too common. Both for medicine, and for “recreational” drugs.

But overdosing on espresso, now that’s something that you don’t hear about every day.

Jasmine Willis, 17, developed a fever and began hyperventilating after drinking seven double espressos while working at her family’s sandwich shop.

That’s a lot of espresso. And the effects seem quite severe:

She developed a fever and began struggling to breathe after being sent home by her father.

“My nerves were all over the place. I was drenched. I was burning up and hyperventilating. I was having palpitations, my heart was beating so fast and I thought I was going into shock”

The teenager, who was allowed home after a few hours of observation, suffered side effects for days afterwards and now says she cannot stand the sight of coffee.

She did have some excuse for drinking so much espresso… She thought the cups she drank were regular (i.e. short) espressos, not double. An interesting point, but it suffers from a couple of problems:

  1. Seven cups of espresso are a heck of a lot, even if they’re short espressos. So she thought she was fine because she was only drinking an extreme amount of coffee, and not a massively extreme amount? Even seven short espressos would finish up most people.
  2. She was working there. The family’s shop. So it’s natural to assume she was making these espressos herself, on the machine in the shop. Very very hard to miss the fact that you’re getting doubles when you make them[1] yourself.

At least she finished this alive and well. Hopefully she’ll go easy on the espressos from here on.

Seven double espressos… Yikes!

Some quick background-info on espresso

For those not familiar with basic espresso terminology:

  • Short – the “basic” espresso. Single amounts of coffee and water.
  • Long – Single amount of coffee (as in Short), double amount of water[2].
  • Double – Twice the amount of coffee, twice the amount of water. Like pouring two short espressos together. Yes, that’s exactly what the word double would imply.

The amount of water in a short espresso, and this is important, is supposed to be very very small. It’s amazing how many times you can ask for an espresso in a restaurant, and get a whole cup[3] of coffee…

The espresso should also be served straight away, while it’s still hot, and you can still see the thin layer of foam on the top.

Basically: too cold – too bitter, too much water – too bitter. Simple, really.

  1. well, press the selection buttons, at the very least. I don’t know what machine they’re using, and how automatic it is.[back]
  2. You’d think it would dilute the coffee taste, but in practice it just makes the espresso taste more bitter[back]
  3. The fault of two things, mainly. The cluelessness on the side of the people calibrating the machines, and serving the coffee. And the misguided idea that customers are happier when you give them more, so maybe they’d prefer a large full cup rather than a small and nearly empty one[back]

Don’t bother people who are not your users

August 29th, 2007

I just got a message from Yahoo letting me know that they’ll be shutting down the Yahoo Photos service soon.

The stated purpose of which was to let me know that I need to take out the pictures I stored in Yahoo Photos and move them elsewhere.

Except that, well, I don’t have any pictures in Yahoo Photos.

I tested it a while back. Once. I just put a couple of pictures there, saw the behaviour, and then removed the pictures.

Haven’t used the service in over a year, I believe.

And in any case, I don’t have any picture there. When I tried to follow their link to go to my pictures, just to verify, it didn’t show me any picture either.

So I know I’m not using the Yahoo Photos service. And Yahoo knows I’m not using the Yahoo Photos service. In this case, what exactly was the point in their email?

The chickens must be terrified

August 25th, 2007

Who wouldn’t be terrified, discovering they just made it to the list of potential terrorist’s targets? And chickens are, well, chickens. It’s a well known fact.

On the other hand, the only chickens who seem to be attractive to terrorists, so far, are those living in the US. Or, in any case, the US government’s very own DHS are the only one who believes their chickens to be prime targets.

Yep, seems that the US DHS thinks that chicken houses are terrorist targets.


Because many of them are warmed by propane gas. And propane gas is inflamable. No, it is, really. You blow a bomb near a container of propane, and it will explode and burn.

Burning every chicken in the very close area. Possibly also the house of the farmer raising the chicken, if it’s close enough to the tank.

The rule affects nearly every poultry grower across the Delmarva peninsula, and as many as 20,000 sites across the country, because propane gas is the most popular chicken house heating method.

“The three 1,000-gallon propane tanks at a local grain elevator, or nursing home, or school or campground are not terrorist targets,” said NPGA Senior Vice President Philip Squair in a May 1 news statement. “What DHS is asking is for ordinary homeowners, businesses and farmers to declare themselves terrorist targets because they choose to use propane to heat their houses and businesses.”

Let’s do some guesswork, shall we?

Expected death toll if terrorists blow up the propane gas tank at a chicken house? Probably 0-6 people[1], and some fried chickens.

Expected death toll if the terrorists would take the same amount of explosive and put it near a small house in any small town? 0-6, without fried chicken.

Expected death toll if the terrorists would take the same amount of explosives and put it near the security gate of a mall, where people congregate to pass inside? 4-30? More?

Yes, I can see the terrorists going after the rural chicken houses. Any minute now. Any minute now.

  1. depending on how many kids the farmers have, if they’re home, where the gas tank is located, and how competent the terrorists are. How competents are terrorists who go after chickens, I wonder?[back]


August 23rd, 2007

I have a lot of good things to say about Google and their services.

No errors, total count is 1But Math doesn’t seem to be a strong point with them lately.

Their Webmaster tools service just let me know it found an error crawling my site.

On the overview I got 1 error under the Unreachable URLs category.

I went to see the details. And was surprised (though a good surprise, given the situation) to discover that they found no errors with the site.

The same page reports one Unreachable URLs error, and says they found no errors to report. Good counting. Hey, that’s 1 error right there, so maybe they’re on to something…


August 23rd, 2007

I just upgraded the blog software, and several plug-ins.

So if something appears to be badly broken, please let me know.

Things to avoid when trying to get your prosecutor assassinated

August 22nd, 2007

Say you were sentenced to 30 months in prison for forgery. And say you think it’s the prosecutor’s fault (Because, after all, it can’t really be something you did, right?). What would you do?

That’s right, you’d try to get the prosecutor assassinated, to punish him for not being able to show on trial that you’re not really a dangerous criminal. Makes perfect sense.

Then you need to pick the right hitman. It’s complex. There are, for example, some things you may want to void:

  1. Your first choice of a hitman should not be the judge that tried you. Judges make terrible assassins. And they often refuse these jobs. Go figure.
  2. If you do want to hire the judge to be your assassin, make sure to offer enough money to make this a real offer. For example, a district court judge in Texas would probably expect much more than $5,000[1].
  3. If you do offer the judge the small money, and he turns you down, your next best option is not the lawyer who was your defense attorney during the trial. Lawyers are bad assassins as well. And your defense attorney knows what a slimeball you really are, even if he lied and said nice things about you during the trial.
  4. If you do try for the defense attorney, at least offer him more money then you offered the judge. You should already know that’s not enough money by now. Defense attorneys often don’t earn that much less than judges. Not necessarily even the lousy ones.
  5. Oh, and stick to your target. Don’t change your mind and ask him to actually kill the judge. Yes, it was very rude of the judge to turn down your offer. But killing a judge would cost extra. And besides, the prosecutor is still out there, right?
  6. When you make all these offers, don’t write them on paper with your own handwriting. Don’t touch that paper with your fingers to add your fingerprints to it. Those things are, like, proof, you know? It can get you a much longer jail time than those forgery charges.

All very sensible and sound advice.

Someone didn’t get the memo. Probably didn’t get a lot of working braincells either.

Galveston County District Court Judge David Garner said Connelly, 34, of Santa Fe, was among those defendants who “think outside the box” for allegedly writing a letter offering him $5,000 to kill former prosecutor Donnie Quintanilla, now in private practice in Galveston.

Connelly wrote a second letter to his defense attorney, Houston lawyer Jonathan Cox, offering him $5,000 to kill Garner, special prison prosecutor Alice Gregg said.

He will get the jailtime, though. And hey, maybe the next judge would be more cooperative, who knows?

  1. That’s not even a single month’s salary[back]

How not to try and foil spam detectors

August 22nd, 2007

Senders of email spam keep working on ways to have their spam messages pass through spam filters. The idea being, naturally, that a spam that got caught before someone reads it will never generate revenues.

And sadly enough spam that does gets read by real people sometimes does generate revenue. That is why they still keep sending them.

But there are two important things for the spammers to to do there.

  1. As I mentioned, they need to try and make it hard to automatically flag the message as spam. That way the message may pass on to the recipient, who may actually read it.
  2. The spam message has to be readable to the person receiving it. Otherwise there is also no way to get money out of it, so why bother sending the message in the first place?

Sometimes, however, they get too creative. So much that the message is almost entirely unreadable to a person.

For example, an excerpt from a “stocks” spam message I received recently:

C,Y’T'V con’tinu+es i-t_s stead-y cl.imb f_o-r t’h-e s econd w_eek. S,tock re,porti-ng site-s acros_s t*h-e boar,d a-r,e issuin+g
sto*ck watc’h notic._es. R’e*a_d t-h’e ne’ws, l.o,o*k at t-h e numbe-r.s, a.n.d g+e t on C.Y_T’V as it kee ps i,t-s clim-b going .
Busines*s NewsNow h.a,s re.l’eased C,Y*T+V as feature.*d Sto,ckWa’tch.

It’s readable, barely, but you have to really try.

When someone opens a message which is just full of text like that, the first reaction is that it’s total gibberish, and people would erase it without even trying to read it.

Amusingly enough, this did not pose any problem for the spam filters, which caught it easily. I found it going through the spam folder, not my inbox.

The poor[1] spammer got it all wrong.

  1. Sadly enough that’s probably not a financial statement. Nor does it express genuine sympathy on my part[back]

Special gift, now at a low cost!

August 22nd, 2007

Gift, for a priceSome people have a hard time understanding the concept of a gift, or free. This usually happens in marketing and sales departments.

Case in point, this latest special offer from my credit card company. I saw these images (in Hebrew) today, and both are for the same offer. The first comes from their website and the second from an email they sent.

The large line happily informs their customers that they’re getting 50 ILS as a gift.

The smaller line below it clarifies that the gift can be obtained in exchange for 2,000 points.

Gift, for a priceThese points are a standard credit card deal. You buy stuff with the card, you get points/stars/whatever. And you can get discounts and special[1] offers in exchange for these points.

So now they have a special deal, where you can buy something else with those points. A gift. That’s right, you can pay them to give you a gift.

Someone should buy them a gift – a dictionary.

  1. usually so special as to be entirely unworthwhile, but that may just be me. Still, this offer right here comes to 0.025 ILS per point, and that’s actually a good rate. After years of using the card I think I’m not even at 10,000 points. You get the drift[back]

Paying exact change should be a good indicator of choice

August 22nd, 2007

I just don’t get the thought process of some people.

Some days ago I had to take a bus ride. This bus covered two areas (same city, and a different city it was going to), so had two different ticket prices based on the destination.

The cheaper ticket was 3.50 ILS, and the more expensive one was 4.60 ILS.

I needed to go to a station in the same city, and I had too many leftover small coins, so I prepared exact change. 8 coins, totalling 3.50 ILS.

I went on the bus, and gave the coins to the driver.

The driver then counted the money. He went over flipping the coins one by one. This was definitely counting. He saw exactly how much money I gave him. And again I remind you, there were only two different fares for this line.

After counting the money, he pushed a button on his register, and it printed a ticket. Or a sort of a ticket/receipt combo, since these new machines look pretty much like cash registers elsewhere. And are amazingly designed to print the actual fare, the worth of the ticket, at the very last, where you can’t see it when you take the ticket out.

Of course it’s possible to take a look at the ticket after pulling it out. But that requires doing so consciously and intentionally. If you just take the ticket out of the machine and put it in your pocket, you won’t see the value.

So I took the ticket, put it in my pocket, and went onward inside the bus to get my seat.

Suddenly the bus driver yelled at me. He asked me where I was travelling to.

Somewhat perplexed I told him what station I needed to get to, and that it’s inside the city.

He then started to complain, being quite indigent, that I should tell him things like that when I ask for my ticket, because he needs to know what fare to charge me.

Turns out that, after counting my 3.50 in exact change, he still assumed I wanted the 4.60 ticket, and that’s the one he issued me. So when I just went inside the bus without paying the reminder of the money, he was annoyed.

I went back, gave him the ticket, and got a new one. Somehow I refrained from apologizing for my inconsiderate behaviour…

Tip for amateur bartenders and waiters

August 5th, 2007

Beer foam is not whipped cream.

Specifically, while a small head of foam is fine while inside the glass, there should not be an overflowing dome of foam rising above the rim of the glass.

More specifically, if you did pour a little bit too much beer, or too quickly, and you have foam rising and forming over the rim of the glass, scrape it off.

Yes, before serving it.

Failure to do so can, and will, result in much lower monetary tip/service.

Community concerned by the poor job done at dissolving the community

August 5th, 2007

About two weeks ago, after the election in Turkey, there were some news articles in local Israeli papers about it, and about the responses by the Jewish community in Turkey.

I found a particular article (Hebrew only, sorry) by Ynet especially amusing, though I’m not sure whether the credit belongs to bad reporting, or an actual interviewee who doesn’t pay attention to what comes out of her mouth.

Large parts of the article contain some statements by someone identified as “Rachel” from the Jewish community in Istanbul. The article doesn’t explicitly say it, but the overall impression is that she is supposed to be representative of the opinions of the Jewish community.

She is not happy with the results of the election, and is concerned about the growing power of the Islamic party, AKP (Justice and Development Party).

There are many interesting, and problematical, things in her statements. But the one that really got my attention was the complaint that the power of the Islamic party rises because of the failure of the secular school education.

Specifically (rough translation by me):

After many years of secular education in schools, if these are the results – it’s not certain it succeeded. Apparently the education the youth get at home is stronger than the secular education system.

Think about that for a moment, considering the source.

This is amusing on two fronts.

The lesser one is that, well, the AKP party isn’t a strictly hard-religious party. A large amount of their voters chose it for other reasons entirely[1].

The main was is, well, that this statement was made by someone from the Jewish community is a non-Jewish country. The mere fact that there is a Jewish community there, that the young adults in their community are Jewish, is a clear indication that the secular public eduction did not entirely overcome the religious home education.

And she complains about it. She says that she wants good secular education that will rid the pupils of any religious ideas they had from home.

Anyone wants to guess what will happen to her own community if that happens? Do you think she’ll be happy about it?

Sad, really.

Some other minor nitpicking of the article:

The AKP has done a pretty good job for Turkey, both economically and diplomatically, so far. Most of the articles I saw here tend to gloss over that fact, and to overemphasize the Islamic parts of its agenda.

As a sign of how the AKP really does push the Islamic agenda, Rachel tells us she read that in recent years the number of mosques in Turkey has grown and is now maybe larger than the number of schools. She is concerned. Nobody mentions that a mosque serves a lot less people than a school. Or that, for example, Israel has a lot more Temples than schools as well[2]. Or, well, where exactly she read that and what are the real numbers.

Rachel[3] is also concerned because she noticed in recent years that many more business are buying products from local Muslim sellers[4]. Obviously there is no mention of things like maybe the lower cost of local products, possibly the increasing quality of local products that makes them relatively more attractive than they were in the past, or that maybe the point is that people are buying local and not that they’re buying Muslim. All over the world you hear of people complaining about imports and saying that other people should buy more local products, but here, on the cases it’s noticeable, we’re suddenly supposed to see it as a problematic indication of the rise of Islamic tendencies?

There is also no big change here. The AKP has been growing steadily for the past few elections. This is not a surprise, or extreme (at least so far), Islamic wave which is taking the country by a storm. Yet the article explicitly refers to “An Islamic Revolution”.

Rachel also believes that the work by the AKP to improve relations between Turkey and the EU, or attempts to join the EU, are done only for “political reasons” and nobody else cares about it. According to her most people think it won’t noticeably improve the people’s quality of life. No explanation on why she claims they think it will have no socio-economic impact. No explanation on what the hidden agenda of the AKP is supposed to be here if they don’t really think it will benefit Turkey.

And so on and so forth. Fun reading.

  1. Heck, considering the full things they, and the other parties there, stand for, I think that if I lived in Turkey I’d have voted for them myself. And I’m not exactly a huge fan of how Islam looks like these days.[back]
  2. Which I guess means Turkey is still way ahead of us in being a secular country.[back]
  3. Yes, for some reason a lot of the article focuses on what Rachel has to say.[back]
  4. instead of importing them is implied, especially as the example is seeing a lot of “Cola Turka” instead of “Coca Cola”. Personally I fail to believe soft-drinks are a religious experience, but that may just be me.[back]