The Caffeinated Penguin

musings of a crackpot hacker

And another Kickstarter…

| March 11, 2016

Cubetto, a programming robot for children 3 and up The language is simple, think “flowchart decision blocks”, because it teaches logic, not a language.

Being fast vs. being correct

| October 28, 2015

I’ve not blogged about my job hunt because it’s largely been unremarkable. However, one firm threw me for a loop recently in that they had me take a skills assessment. This is different than the “normal” type of assessments, which are things like “write me some code which does X”. As a general case, all of these are a waste of the applicant’s time, so I can’t imagine that companies who have such policies have a lot of applicants who are already employed. I only have time to do it because I’m on payroll to be in the office to answer the couple of questions which arise during the day.

Anyway, the test they had me take is supposedly roughly similar to a Wonderlic test. See:

Go take one, they’re fun. I’ll wait.

They remind me as roughly similar to IQ tests and, as I understand it, seem to try to test the same thing. Unsurprisingly, I score similarly on both. Now, I have issues with IQ tests in general (more on this later), but that’s not really my main objection to this test as a pre-screening for an engineering position. My objection is that what it measures (intelligence) is not of primary importance to being a good engineer. I’d argue that your top three qualities for a good engineer are:

  1. Being correct.
  2. Being thorough.
  3. Being smart.

The scoring of both IQ and Wonderlic tests are based on time limits. However, such time limits are not reflective of real-world situations, because, only very rarely do you need to do engineering under extremely short (say, 10 minute) deadlines. And, since lives may depend on it, being correct is more important than being fast. As such, a good engineer will check his work, running the calculation several times over by different methods to ensure the same result. Do this for a couple of decades, and it becomes so automatic, it’s hard to turn off when doing one of the aforementioned speed-based tests. Therefore, such tests likely disadvantage good engineers because the prime requisite is not emphasized in favor of the tertiary requisite.

On top of that, the secondary requisite isn’t tested at all! Now, I don’t know how to test that someone is thorough, excepting to pose a situation with a pile of corner cases which need to be handled. The best vehicle for this is likely a programming problem. But, basically:

  • It doesn’t matter how fast you are, if you’re wrong.
  • It doesn’t matter how fast you are, if you miss corner cases and it all falls apart because of that.

Now, on to my problems with IQ tests (because I’m sure I’ve hooked everyone with the tease and they’ve been waiting). My problem with IQ tests is that they say I’m smart (I consistently score 140 +/- 10), except I do not believe that I’m smart. That’s it. I have no data, just an anecdote with a sample size of 1. (Publish!)

Empirically, and “getting outside my own head” as it were, this is likely a result of selection bias. If you take, as a baseline, the idea that an IQ of 70 and below constitutes “mild mental retardation”, then you’re 30 points below the median score if 100. So, if you have an IQ of 120, and work with a bunch of people with IQ’s of 150, then, compared to them, you’re mildly retarded, despite the fact that you are “superior” relative to the general population. However, since you work with these people on a day to day basis, likely select friends of similar attributes, should definitely select a mate with similar attributes, raise your children similarly, etc. you surround yourself in this bubble of smart people which can lead to a skewed perception of what the world is actually like. (Not unlike how people surround themselves with similar reinforcing viewpoints on politics, social issues, etc – the “echo chamber” effect.)

Now, all that said, even though rationally I realize that the above is likely true, I find it hard to detangle myself from the viscerally emotional feeling of “not being that smart” – likely because I am a perpetually unsatisfied type A control freak.

So, my criticisms of IQ tests are likely all in my head, but one perceives reality through ones own cognitive biases, so that doesn’t make it any less real.

Windows 10

| August 29, 2015

So, I’ve upgraded to Windows 10. It’s sort of halfway between Windows 7 and Windows 8 in terms of all the Windows 8 crap they added. The multiple desktops are about the worst I’ve ever found, and dialog boxes raised to the top of the stack tend to disappear as soon as you move your mouse (the “new desktop” button does the same thing). You have to raise the dialogs by clicking their parent app on the taskbar, and you need to click and hold and then release and then click again in order to get to the new desktop button. This may be a bug related to my existing Win 7 install which I upgraded, but who knows.

Aside – Classic Shell is a decent add-on for modern versions of Windows to, most notably, bring back the old start menu. It does other things too.

So, yeah, 10 is worse than 7 as far as UI goes, but who the hell cares? If you’re using Windows to do real work, I’m sorry. It’s still only suitable for video games, and that’s mainly because you just run steam in fullscreen mode.

Updated software

| August 7, 2014

I’ve updated Owncloud (the thing which hosts the galleries and video) and WordPress (the thing phentermine which hosts this blog). If anything is busted or doesn’t work, drop me an email or comment here.

Liz says – well, duh Matty.

| June 2, 2014

So, it occurs to me that I’m sad that I subscribe to a pile of RSS feeds that I never read, because they’re on my laptop – and I used my laptop less and less during times when I read (generally, on the go, on my lunch break, at night before sleep, etc.). Why? Because I have a tablet.


Anyway, I tried:

  • Fleedly, which is apparently all cloudy or some stuff. So, I uninstalled this one.
  • RSS Reader, which I liked reasonably well, except I couldn’t find out how to add a single podcast. I can import my existing OPML list; that worked fine, but couldn’t add just one.
  • RSS Reader (yeah, same name, but a different app) did all these things, but has the annoying property of redrawing the whole screen when the advertisement changes. So, I’m currently looking for a better one. If someone has a suggestion, feel free to leave in the comments. Searching around a bit, several people seem to be fond of FeedEx News Reader, so I think I’m going to play with that next.

Update: FeedEx is way awesomer. It is currently what I’m using. I’ll update this if it annoys me.

Update on the boys and other things.

| April 8, 2014

The boys continue to grow like crazy. Max has decided he likes things that he sits in (bouncy chairs, etc.) and Miles has decided that he likes laying on his back and hitting those types of things that dangle in front of your face. Both of them are over 13 lbs, with Max at nearly 14 lbs.

Anyway, I’ve added several more pictures spanning from the end of February to the end of March to The Max and Miles gallery (scroll down, they’re in chronological order, with the most at the bottom)

On the programming front, a friend of ours introduced us to Rockabye Baby! so we picked up some CD’s off of, and I ripped them to a USB stick so I can play it in the car. Of course, this brings up the age-old problem of there not being any decent .m3u playlist generators or synchronizers (or, at least, not any that I like). So, I wrote one. You can find it on one of my github repos. You’re looking for manage_playlists.

On the consumption of media front, I’ve finished Monster Hunter International, very good, highly recommended.

I’ve also been playing through X-Com: Enemy Unknown, which is also highly recommended. This is a bit different than the original, more streamlined. The key with this version of the game seems to be to drag it out so that your troops can gain experience and make scientific advancements. If you research the priority items too rapidly, the game progresses too rapidly and you get overwhelmed.

Additionally, I’ve been playing a little bit of Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall, which I’ll likely be playing more of now that the manage playlist script is finished.

I also finally got to cooking up my hot sauce from the peppers for this year:

Hot sauce - peppers

Hot sauce – peppers

Hot sauce - blending

Hot sauce – blending

Hot sauce - straining

Hot sauce – straining

Hot sauce - done!

Hot sauce – done!

So, that’s about what’s been going on in my world.


| December 3, 2013

sudo apt-get install tesseract-ocr

Of all the ones in the Ubuntu repos, this one was the best. Very impressive, actually. I found only a few errors in 3 pages of text (it interpreted a . as a -, and a couple -‘s as ~’s)

Random snippets…

| November 26, 2013

So, for years I’ve sent myself emails saying “blog about this” and a link. I’m trying to get through them and actually do that, so here are a collection of links in that vein. Some of them are quite old, but I don’t think that they are particularly time-critical – the world hasn’t changed that much since they were published, so they are still interesting to me.

  • Dirty Harry Potter – Not dirty in the not safe for work sense, dirty in the Clint Eastwood sense. It’s a surprisingly interesting examination of the distribution of force in the Harry Potter universe (and, realistically, how their world would have been different had more folks carried guns, not wands)

  • Bufferbloat – This is a very interesting series of articles which, if you deal at all with networks, you should really read. Essentially, what it comes down to is this: internet protocols are designed to compensate for unreliable networks, lossy links, etc. When you add large buffers along the chain, it masks underlying transport problems and can actually lead to worse performance than if you just let the end-devices set their data rate “naturally”. Once again, KISS triumphs.

  • Is the bandwidth hog a myth? – The interesting part from this article is here:

The fact is that what most telcos call hogs are simply people who overall and on average download more than others. Blaming them for network congestion is actually an admission that telcos are uncomfortable with the ‘all you can eat’ broadband schemes that they themselves introduced on the market to get people to subscribe. In other words, the marketing push to get people to subscribe to broadband worked, but now the telcos see a missed opportunity at price discrimination

  • Not only are they uncomfortable with it, but the reason that they may be so is that they’re so overprovisioned that if everyone started using their capacity, they might gasp have to upgrade to a proper level of provisioning, which would cut into profit margins. Think about how many people in urban areas subscribe to cable internet and get surprisingly slow speeds because everyone is on it. If you couldn’t get phone service because “all circuits were busy”, you’d raise all manner of a ruckus, and when was the last time we had rolling blackouts in the US in major metropolitan areas as a matter of course? However, it’s perfectly normal to pay for 25Mbps and get 5Mbps, and when you complain, the cable company says that they have no guarantee of service. Now, in rural areas, it’s much better, because, assuming you have access, it’s NOT generally overprovisioned. Indeed, I typically get better network speed than everyone in my engineering group at work, except, perhaps, the guy with FIOS.

Back in the saddle

| November 23, 2013

So, I’ve been away for a bit, at first because I’ve been legitimately busy with harvest activities:

  • Making applesauce from a pile of apples we got from my father-in-law’s apple trees (up to 21 qts so far).
  • It’s deer season! I’m about finished processing the first one, but there are two more in the fridge.

However, I also ended up having to change hosting providers. I moved from, where I’d been a customer for somewhere along the lines of 10 years, because the mailing list portion of their hosting had been down for three weeks, and their tech support was not being very responsive.

In the end, I decided it was better to just run the whole thing myself, and then I could set it up exactly as I wanted (I’m picky), so I ended up just singing up for a Virtual Private Server at Linode, which came recommended by one of my gaming buddies. Their base package, at $20/month, is $5/month cheaper than what I was paying before. On top of that, I get more flexibility and (hopefully) more stability (once I get everything set up the way that I want). I’ve already had to contact Linode’s tech support once, and found their ticket system to be excellent and their customer service to be prompt and helpful.

One of the things that came out of this is that I’ve finally sanitized all my system install notes, which actually go all the way back to my Red Hat 7.3 install notes from 2002. I’ve kept all of those for posterity. However, for those who are likely to be configuring their own mail/web/etc. server, the Linode server install instructions are likely of the most used to you. It is actually comprised of a pile of different bits and pieces borrowed from work server projects, my house Amahi install, and my standard system install. Then there was some interesting bits that I set up for the first time on the Linode install, and then fed back to work. So, it’s all a big feedback loop.

I also been playing around with a light box and, once I get it right, I hope to be posting some more pictures of minis. I also have a pile of things in the back of my brain that I want to write about, I just need to have time to do it.

Anyway, in the meantime, here’s a picture of a couple of critters on the back porch, on a warm October day.

Diesel and Heidi on the back porch

Diesel and Heidi on the back porch

Testing the Google+ crosspost.

| June 8, 2013

Since I actually tend to use Google+ (largely for playing games, more on that in a later post) way more than I ever used facebook, I’m attempting to set this up to (now) post to LJ, Google+ and here. Further, I’ve added another plugin which allows folks to comment on the blog using a variety of new identities – Google+, Facebook, etc. all that. Not sure if I’ll keep it or not, just have to give it a spin.

So, we’ll see how that all goes. Meanwhile, I have a router to configure.

Edit: So, the Google+ crossposter does not work correctly, and therefore I’ve disabled it. Basically, there is no proper API for it provided by Google (well, not one that allows for writes anyway), so the plugin is basically a clever but fragile workaround.