Sunday, October 16, 2016

Work from home -no more!

Is working from home an individual's or a corporate's privilege?  It's hard to say?  On one end, an individual benefits from the freedom, flexibility, and convenience it provides, and on the other end, corporation benefits from saving on the cost of maintaining office spaces,

I recall when I started in the software business, there was no limitation on where a company could hire talent. Having a physical presence in all geographical locations was impossible and  Internet made work from anywhere possible. When interviewing, I regarded the availability of work from  home option as an option not an alternative.  The idea of working and living in the same space didn't appeal to me.  Without face to face discussion with my colleagues I felt at a disadvantage.  Yet, it was still nice to be able to work from home when there is an errand to run, a doctor's or dentist's appointment to attend, and the weather was bad.

Recently, company policies shifted to forbid working from home altogether.  Those who live within 80km of the office had one month, while those living further have 6 months to adjust their schedule to the new policy.  Everyone has to be on site 5 days a week during the core business hours.

It was hard to imagine work-life balance without the ability to work from home.  These two terms have become tightly coupled.  Now the errands, and/or appointments should be made on weekends or personal days.  And when sick or snowed in, one should just take a day.

So, I thought, my life will take a turn for the worse, I'd be behind on both work and chores at home.  In reality something else happened.  I find myself more focused at work, because I know at the end of the day, there is no more an option of taking work home.  And when at home, I am no longer split between checking on work, and getting house chores done.  This separation of the two most prominent entities of my life has been good for both.

Having said the above, I am one of the few lucky ones with just a bit over 10 hours of commute each week.  There are colleagues who spend 20+ hours per week to get to and from work.  Spending these many hours driving, or taking public transit takes a percent of the energy that should have otherwise been spent on work.  And in the long run, makes us more tired, weak, and overall less productive.  If we are encouraged to show up in the office everyday, to collaborate, innovate, and work side by side to improve productivity, we are getting the opposite effect.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Home cure for the dry cough

If you have suffered from a dry cough spell, you'd know they are not fun! This hateful condition starts with a ticklish feeling in the membrane of the throat, which one badly wants to reach and scratch, however, that's not practical so what happens instead?  The lungs contract, air is sucked out of them, and long stretch of cough starts, followed by gasping for air in between, and wiping down the tears rolling down the face.  This usually lasts a good few minutes!  After it's over, with the sense of relief and elation, one is left with tight muscles around the neck and shoulder.  But the tightness is a piece of cake compared to having to cough pointlessly repeatedly. It's not fun for the person going through this, and annoying for the people around her.

I just had to step away from writing this, because I got one of these!  As a result of this being too personal, I have been looking for a home cure for it.  I found a list, as it is the norm, on how this information are put together on the web sites, but only two resonated.  I tried both, and to my delight, they are both effective.

They are:
1. Honey:
 A spoon full of honey, goes straight there, and it feels like it coats the membrane.  After a few minutes the area feels soothed and relaxed.

2. Saline
Gargling with salt water solution for a few minutes, and then rinsing with regular water keeps the area clean, as well as helps with the discomfort.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Buying the right laptop 2016

There!  It's September and marketing folks prefix or append "back to school" to products in order to make their purchase necessary at this time of the year.  One product that is very relevant these days is a Laptop. 

I have a Dell INSPIRON 15. It takes up a large space. Carrying it is similar to weight lifting. Once powered on, irrelevant processes run, advertising Dell software and services. Despite a 64bit AMD processor it doesn't scale. And it has a loud fan.
I am thinking of retiring the old dude!

"It's all about the specs!"  The Best buy representative said. "When shopping for a new laptop it is best to compare specs of the laptops in one's price range."

I have a $1000 budget. My ideal spec would be:
> Intel processor, preferably i5 or i7,
> No less than 8GB of RAM,
> Less than 1.5kg
> No less than 8 hours of battery life
> A quiet keyboard
> Doesn't heat
> Equipped with USB, (preferably 3.1), HDMI, and Ethernet ports
> Not bloated with pre-installed useless software

ASUS X540L comes with two Intel i7 cores, 8GB of RAM, less than 2kg, USB 3.0 and is $749.99 CAD on Best Buy's "back to school" sale.

I bought and trialed run it yesterday, and I am returning it today.
On this computer there is no visual aide to indicate Caps Lock is on! Typing is a painful task of many backspace/erase keystrokes, e.g. the page up/down keys are not co-located with the arrows.  It comes pre-installed with crapware.
The only thing this laptop has going for it, is its sharp display. Pity, I cannot keep the NVIDIA graphic card!

I will trial run a Lenovo next!  Meanwhile, my old dude is staying.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Midwife of Venice, Roberta Rich

Roberta Rich says the story came to her on a trip to Venice, when visiting the Jewish ghettos she imagined life of the Jewish families arriving from Northern Europe, Spain and Portugal, and settling in these neighborhoods in the 16th century.   Hannah Levi, her protagonist, lives in the ghetto.  She is a mid-wife, married, barren, and known to deliver babies by witch craft. The witch craft refers to her birthing spoons, she invented by hinging two spoons in the center, and practiced delivery with them, by pulling an onion out of a chicken belly.  Her reputation has spread to the Christian neighborhood. 
The desperate Conte Padovani needs a heir to stay in charge of his estate, and to keep it safe from being blown by his younger brothers.  His pregnant wife has been in labor for two straight days, has lost a lot of blood, but there is no sign of the baby yet.  The Conte comes to Hanna hoping that she agrees to help deliver his baby despite it being against law for Jew to deliver a Christian baby.  What will Hannah do?  Hanna has a lot at the stake.  She has to consider the people living in the ghetto.  If she can't deliver the baby or if something happens to the baby or the mother, she along with the rest of her people will suffer from the consequence of breaking the law.  At the same time, and only recently her husband's on board a ship was attacked and captured by the Knights of Malta.  He is now in their custody and sold to one of merchants of the island as a slave.  She needs money to buy Issac's freedom.  

This book is an easy, entertaining read. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


Stories like Satrapi's are common and have been told before.  Like Satrapi many were old enough to remember but young enough to really make sense of the events of 1979 Iranian Revolution.  And a few have written about it, Daila Sofer. It seems to me that there is demand to hear about the events of those years; books written on the topic are popular in print and yield lucrative business for film adaptations.  So, more of the same keeps popping.  The question that has come to my mind more than once is had the authors of these books not been part of this historical event, would they be writers today?
Perspolis is yet another one of these stories that belongs to the same "genre".  It tells a story of a girl, the author, who lived the events during and after the revolution.  Her story, like the rest, is dominated by her experiences of those years which is shaped by her family's social status.
What I am trying to say here is, this book doesn't offer anything new, if you have read September's of Shiraz, for example.
The only unique thing is it is illustrated. The illustration however make the story and the characters in it more colorful.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Nanjing Requiem

The book chronicles another dark moment in history of humanity. In this one: Japanese soldiers attack and take control of Nanjing, the capital of China during 1937-38. Their actions towards every living being in the city is beast like. They slaughter, rape, torture anyone almost willingly, without remorse, with no conscious. And so it doesn't come as a surprise when a group of missionaries from around the world are there to contrast the evil with goodness and humanity; it's the Yang to the Yin. In the center is Ms. Minnie Vautrin, whose life is devoted to the Women's College, Jinling, she helped co-found. She is there to protect and be the voice of people who have been abandoned by their government. Her story of fighting the fight that is not hers inspires!
The book is classified as a novel. The fictional story is largely based on research of Ms. Vautrin's memoirs. The writing is to the point, says it as it is. The story touches on the emotions, the anger, and the sadness only briefly. Nanjing Diaries is a better suited title for this book.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Huawei Y6

Huawei is an Android phone; specs are here.

I use Android base phones only.  And I have had the opportunity to have many, because I leave them behind and despite having my contact information appear on the lock screen, so far I have never got back any of my phones that I left behind.  Thanks to Android's Device Manager feature, I quickly do a remote erase.  As a result my data has not been compromised so far.

Last time I lost my phone, I decided to buy cheap.  Huawei had the lowest price tag, $150 CAD.  The specs, I have included a link to above, and the customer reviews were OK.  Here is what I (dis)like about this phone.

I dislike the preinstalled apps: on the phone Y6's Calendar, Messenger, Fitness, and Browser.  These use too small of a font with  white back ground and blue borders, not an eye appealing design. The Browser opens with an error, "can't log in", but if you are stubborn like me and you type a URL anyways, it redirects you to the site!  The Calendar is not integrated with MAP so the locations of events appear as text only, and won't open up in any map or GPS like device.  The Messaging stacks up the conversation threads.  Although new messages appear in Messaging APP, after I installed and made Google Hangout  default APP to receive send SMS messages, but the status of message, read/unread, is out of sync.

There are two buttons to adjust the volume.  These are situated next to the power on|off button on the side of the phone.  Unfortunately, these only work when the phone screen is unlocked.  It's poor UI design to require entering the password in order to perform a function, adjusting the volume, that is not a security threat.

The Dialer gives the false impression that you can add new contact during the call.  However, the "Contacts" on the Dialer just takes you to the step by step process of adding information for all fields; note I used this functionality during the call, once done, I had no idea how to close the contact screen, and resorted to the phone "Back" button to go back to the Dialer.

Huawei  Y6  Phone Manager scans phone to provide option to optimize Application and Security optimization.   I tried both automatic and manual optimization neither one provided a clear indication on how it benefits. While NEXUS phone tries to put the phone user in control of customizing for Power and Security, Huawei Y6 takes control over the phone.  Huawei developers think that by nature of calling an APP smart, they can safely assume the APP knows better than the phone owner what's best!!

The traffic manager is useless to me.  My old phone gave me the option of setting and tracking my data usage during the billing period.  This phone only provides a line graph of use at discreet point in time.  My old phone also had the capability of setting quota, and would give a warning when the usage was close to the quota.  Huawei's traffic manager is useless to me!

These preinstalled APPS: Mirror, FM Radio, Flash Light, and lock screen, maybe useful and interesting to use one day.

The battery life ranges between 8 - 10 hours for me, so far.  I try to close all APPs after use.

With 1.1 GHZ CPU, the performance of opening some APPs, e.g. Lumosity, Google Sheets and or Docs, is really slow.

To get the phone screen to react, it requires a knock, as opposed to gentle tap.

Overall, my experience with this phone, has not been the greatest.  It's true you get what you pay for.

The snip from an article related to Huawei's new venture to have its own "Android Alternative" agrees with my observation of slow performance of the existing phones.

Like most smartphone manufacturers, Huawei has designed its own skin, or customized Android look. But that skin is often referred to as an iOS ripoff, and its UI layer is heavy with background processes, which slows the phones' performance.

The Marriage of the Opposites

Set in the island of St. Thomas occupied by Danes, the story of Camille Pissarro, the French-Danish, impressionist of 19th century is overshadowed by perhaps too detailed story of his mother Rachel Pomie Petit Pizzarro.

The only daughter of a well respected, and well off merchant of the Island, Rachel learns from her father reading, writing and math; something that not very many Jewish girls are encouraged to do. Despite the fact, that she could never inherit, she learns to read the ledgers. Her youth is spent reading the books in her father's library and dreaming of living in Paris. As she reaches the marriage age, she finds it very difficult to fall in love. In fact, she doesn't believe in love. Her marriage to an older, widowed merchant, arranged by her father doesn't come as a surprise. Rachel realizes her softer side as the second Mrs. Issac's Petit. She has had a bitter relationship with her mother, so she is surprised to find an adoration for the three children of Mr. Petit.  Rachel's story is one of defiance of customs and traditions. The least of her worries is what others think of her.

Jacob Abraham Camille Pizzarro is the third of four children Rachel had with her second husband Fredrick, the nephew of his first husband who came to St. Thomas to take over his uncle's business.
Jacobo took three days to be born and cried all the time. He was his mother's favorite child, but Rachel never showed affection to the boy. He went to the all black school, because they were out cast from the Jewish community. (The side story of Rachel's love for and marriage to Fredrick, her first husband's nephew, as well as their effort to legalizing their marriage and registering their children in the book of names --is an interesting side story). Jacobo doesn't excel in his education, but shows interest in drawing. To parents who want him to work in the family business, this comes as a big disappointment, so they send him to a boarding school in Paris to acquire more practical knowledge and skills!

Although the author glosses over the "artist" creating his "art", I was fascinated by Pissaro's use of lively colors as described in the book. This quote from the Wiki captures how I felt when I read about him in this book.
"The brightness of his palette envelops objects in atmosphere ... He paints the smell of the earth."[9]:35

The title of the book is very confusing, as if the author changed her story but forgot to change the title!