Einstein’s religious thoughts

I found some old collected daily calendar Einstein quotes that rang true to me recently.  Enjoy…

I think that a man’s moral worth is not measured by what his religious beliefs are, but rather by what emotional impulses he has received from nature.

To sister Margarit Goelmer, Feb 1955

One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity of life of the marvelous structure of reality it is enough if one tries to comprehend only a little of this mystery every day.

from William Miller, Life Magazine, May 2, 1955

The main source of the present day conflicts between the spheres of religion and science lies in the concept of a personal god.

in Science and Religion (1939)

I do not believe in the immortality of the individual. I consider ethics to be an exclusively human concern with no superhuman authority behind it.

to A. Nickerson, July 1953

If god created the world, his primary concern was certainly not to make its understanding easy for us.

to David Bohm, Feb. 10, 1954

Android visual automation programming

My day job has me thinking about automation for a living. And while I try not to bring the office home with me, these concepts tend to follow me around.

For instance, I’m sort of obsessed with efficiency with my daily mundane tasks, particularly those with my Little Pocket Screen. You know, like turning on silent mode while at work. That one has to be done daily, around the block of time from 6am to 4pm. Unless I forget to do it. Enter mobile phone automation!

I had been using Tasker for a while, but it’s pretty intimidating and clunky. On the other end of the spectrum is IFTTT, which is all cloud-based and easy to use. I found it a little too easy though, as it doesn’t allow for complex conditionals or more detailed logging information. Those two items are invaluable for higher levels of automation and debugging.

Then I stumbled upon an app called Automate . It’s a visual programming language, using function blocks interconnected by little “wires” that represent a flow of logic and operation.

I’m somewhat new to visual programming, preferring LabWindows to LabView.  But the more I use Automate, the more I appreciate the visual; it provides both a crisp, controlled flow as well as a plain documentation of the program structure, as in a flow chart.

But enough of words to describe something visual.  Here’s my flow for that workday audio settings…

Automate “flow” (program)

There are other interesting possibilities with these kinds of programming frameworks. For instance, my phone seems to be suffering from poor location services, i.e., it will occasionally “forget” where it’s at by losing satellite GPS location.  This of course will cause false triggering in most location-based apps.

But with Automate, I can program some level of hysteresis, wherein the flow will reject re-triggering by using combinations of time delays, etc.

The possibilities are endless!

Master vanity renovation

I replaced the old, nasty vanity and sink in our master bedroom with a new (to us) double sink. It took me forever to do, since I’m not so great at texturing and plumbing, but my wife was understanding with the slow progress. 🙂

I had gotten quotes from a few vendors and contractors and was finding this job would cost at least $2500!

So I scoured Craigslist for a long time until the right one popped up. The seller was about 2 hours away from me and needed to get rid of it ASAP. They informed me that it was going on the curb for free a few days after I inquired about it (they had a move-out deadline).

It was such a beautiful piece of furniture, I just had to make the effort of getting it first! It’s solid wood, not a single piece of particle board. It’s got a marble top and two Danze faucets, which I recently discovered retail for $200 each!

So I dashed out that night with our minivan, after dark, arriving at about 10pm at the seller’s now-abandoned house… and it was still there!

I didn’t have any help with me, but I was able to work it in my vehicle alone!

After several coats of paint, some slight modifications, a lot of wall repair & paint, some electrical work… and we have ourselves a new bathroom. And our cost total? $508.11 

The broken engineering interview process

Imagine yourself in an interview, sitting in front of 5-10 others of your field. Midway through, the group’s questions drift from the personal and work experiential to the assessing and cross-examining.  They ask you to step up to The Whiteboard, marker in hand, and prove what you know.  Never mind that you’re not fresh out of college and that you haven’t taken a formal test in some time. Gone are the days when a good professional portfolio and list of references, along with a teamwork-minded personality, can get you a job.

These days in the engineering industry, you have to take an impromptu public test to prove your aptitude. I think this interview process is faddish at best and broken at worst.

I had my first whiteboard interview at InVue a few years back. It was ridiculous and a bit demeaning. I failed miserably which hurt my ego for some time afterward. As someone who suffers from impostor syndrome, it wasn’t a good experience.  Did they not like me? They must have thought they wasted their money and time on me!

But the longer I work in the world of engineering, and the more confident I become in my capabilities, the more ludicrous I see the whiteboard interview. First, designing on one’s feet, in front of a room of one’s peers, is not how engineering is done.  It’s not how it’s ever been done. I’ll go one further: this model of engineering isn’t even good engineering.

Engineering is by definition of process of refinement. A design begins on a proverbial napkin, which moves to paper and screen, and finally to copper etched on fiberglass, or lines of code compiled to chip. These stages are meticulously reviewed by groups of other engineers over months, sometimes years… never in the course of an afternoon in front of a single whiteboard by a single candidate.

Put it another way: if a whiteboard interview ever produced a product in the real world, I’d never ever buy it. It would likely burst into flames and kill its user. Perhaps the notorious Note 7 debacle borrowed just such a design cycle?

And in time, I learned that I wasn’t alone in my disdain for this method of interviewing. There’s a great trend on Twitter where programmers are getting honest about their inadequacies in order to protest this style. I love every single one of them. They each, in their own way, help shatter the unrealistic glass conference room doors that are modern engineering interviews. They reveal themselves to be real designers, not necessarily gifted in quick, improvisational thinking.

So in their spirit, here’s my own tweet, the full story you can read here.

The Benefits and Drawbacks of OEM Partnerships

Written in collaboration with Mary D.

Every company wants greater, better and more business coming their way – and partnerships are often a necessary and fundamental way to getting there. OEM partnerships are a way for companies of all sizes to team up and focus on one particular product. Many of today’s most successful products would not be what they are or nearly as successful without the invention of OEM partnerships.

As with any partnership, certain matches will work out and others will not. Recognizing and considering the benefits and drawbacks of an OEM partnership will ensure that both parties set specific goals and go into discussion with some background as to what they should expect from one another.

Interpretation

To analyze OEM partnerships, let us first recognize that the definition of an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) has undergone several evolutionary steps and is not any more the same as it used to be. While some view the OEM as the literal original equipment manufacturer, as the name implies, others view it as the supplier of the component. Let us work with the latter, as it more accurately refers to the buying, rebranding and selling of equipment. From this point of view, the Original Equipment Manufacturer is the company that buys and rebrands a component (that was ironically originally made by another company) to then sell it as part of their greater product. The component can be both in the form of a software or a hardware.

One of the probably best-known, World-wide examples of such a partnership would be between Apple and Foxconn. In it, Foxconn is the supplier that actually produces the final product (iPhone, for example), while Apple is the OEM that buys, rebrands and resells this product with its logo all over it. Another example would be the company ABB, acting as the supplier to different OEMs around the World – and in this case to Delta Instruments (dairy/food) – providing them with manual and automated dairy product analyzers of proteins, fat, lactose…etc.

Benefits

OEM Partnerships benefit and open many doors for the involved parties.

  • OEM partnerships mean increased access to new markets.
  • OEM partnerships reduce the time and cost of development.
  • Companies that sell to an OEM have more and often better customers.
  • High quality is expected from all involved in an OEM partnership. OEMs have strict quality requirements and high standards for consistent order volumes, which ensures the production of high quality components and greater product expertise. If one side of the partnership is unable to meet the requirements and standards, then the partnership is quickly reconsidered. OEM partnerships are comprised of extremely professional parties.
  • Equipment manufacturers need proof of ISO certification so that they understand what the norms and practices to expect from the other party and the procedures and policies that are set in ISO. Getting certified protects quality of work and opens the doors to other partnerships.
  • OEM partnerships normally take into consideration the worldwide industry standards and often – like in the case of ABB – provide OEMs with the option of world-wide sourcing.

Drawbacks

As in any business partnership, there are drawbacks to OEM partnerships.

  • Partnerships need to be extremely well thought-out, or they could fade away very quickly. With all the benefits of selling to an OEM, negotiations can sometimes lean towards the needs of an OEM. It is important that the interests of both parties are protected so that expectations are met and both parties know what they are getting into.
  • Extra support or product improvements may be demanded by OEMs even if they only come from a lack of understanding of the product or market requirement.
  • As in any partnership, the relationship may just not work out due to, for example, personal reasons or changes in business goals.

Redesigning our family finance

The art of personal finance has been a topic of interest for me for most of my adult life. Some people feel strongly about it, choosing all manner of tools, software, processes, etc.; while others employ no real system at all, opting for a more intuitive sense of financial decision-making. That’s a wide spectrum of fiscal personality, but make no mistake: family finance is a deeply personal experience. It’s no wonder that there tends to be a lot of emotion tied up in our financial lives.

My personality predisposes me to the former end of that spectrum above. I’m that annoying guy who finds it necessary to quantify every last detail of my expenditures and investments. I did so with a range of software products over the years. I cut my teeth on Microsoft Money, then switching to Quicken, then Quicken for Mac, then Moneydance.

As for processes, I had been keeping everything in perpetuity. We’re talking receipts, invoices, tax returns, mortgage statements, warranties… everything. At one point, I probably had up to 10 years of paper, documenting my entire financial life.

But then one gets married. And as your personalities meld and contrast, you find yourself taking on more of a mutually new set of financial preferences. The gist is this: there’s only so much time in the day to tabulate. Being married has taught me to start valuing more the bigger picture of things. What good is all the data, if I don’t do anything with it? Data is great. Goals are better.

And so that brings me to 2016. That was a landmark year for our married financial lives. My wife and I took a Dave Ramsey class and it wouldn’t be exaggerating to say it was life-changing. Establishing a system, exercising co-discipline, focusing together on the future, and openly communicating about finance without fear or anger… those are life-changing benefits!

Some takeaways I learned from our class experience and budget living:

  1. Balancing a check book (or any account) is reactive. Budgeting is proactive.  The former is all about the past, what’s already been spent and gone. The latter is all about the future, what’s yet to be spent and where you plan to spend it.
  2. Getting away from credit was a vital step in our process.
    1. Forget those points you earn; it costs you more in stress, late fees, and hours of balancing than what you earn on the points. It’s far better to buy things with your own money, rather than take out micro-loans each month (which means you can’t actually afford stuff anyway).
    2. Seeing my expenditures draft within 24-48 hours at my bank (with a debit card) revolutionized my money-tracking. In the old days, when we bought everything on plastic, it would take ~31 days before that bill actually came due. But by then, we had long forgotten about the stuff we bought. Worse, we had mentally allocated new income toward other stuff, instead of paying off the old stuff. It’s far better to see the cash leave your bank account as close to immediately as possible. The purchases are more real that way, and this is vital to a healthy relationship with your money.
  3. When every last penny of your income is budgeted (which is to say, “told where it will be allocated”), I have unbelievably less stress in my life. It was like night and day. In the old days, it wasn’t always clear when auto-bills would draft (see #2 above). And then the nonlinear consumption of utilities would constantly throw us off. So there was always this undercurrent of instability, which invariably would lead to stressful arguments between us.
  4. We’re on the same team now. #3 above just doesn’t happen anymore, which is not to say that money isn’t tight or that life is without stress.  It’s just that we don’t have money fights anymore.
  5. We know when we can we afford something. It was next to impossible in the old days to forecast when and how we’d afford some big expenditure. We just didn’t have the tools. But now, we use “sinking funds” to — radical thought here — save up for them. I know, pretty basic, yet totally revolutionizing for us. Deferred gratification is far more valuable to us now because the alternative is too costly in stress.

As for specific tools, my wife and I are using a combination of things that either are 3rd-party or privately developed (all of which are free). They are:

  • Every Dollar. This is Dave’s website tool for maintaining your monthly budget. It’s an easy-to-use tool that my wife swears by (she’s the Budget Queen in our family).
  • Google Docs (Sheets). Initially we had been using Evernote, which works just as well. In Sheets, we have an ever-updating list of expenditures that either of us has made with our debit card, all of which fall tightly into our monthly budget. Each line item has a Paid/Unpaid status that forces us to “settle up” or reconcile the expenses with actual cash later.
  • Apple Numbers in iCloud. My wife has developed a number of spreadsheets using her Mac’s builtin editor. She uses them to track various budgeting goals, like vacation planning, Christmas funding, mortgage pay-down, etc. Then she has these files located in her iCloud account so that she can edit them on the move with her phone too.
  • Personal Capital. This is an all-encompassing aggregator tool that I’m using (not so much my wife) purely for viewing our wealth position across all bank accounts, investments, insurance, etc. It’s incredibly useful and heavily automated. Basically all the manual work I did for over 20 years with the various software tools listed above, I can now do simply by logging into my Personal Capital dashboard. That’s it.

Ukrainian Outsourcing

I had the most bizarre confrontation last year in my gym locker room — a place that is supposed to be a bastion of privacy, comfort, sometimes camaraderie — from which I haven’t really recovered.

Charles is a jovial sort of guy.  He’s in his mid to late 50s.  He’s gregarious and extroverted, often seeking out quiet-type guys to chat up. I don’t doubt his sincerity and desire to connect with other men; in fact, it’s a quality of which I’m somewhat jealous, simply because it doesn’t come naturally to me.

This one fateful day, early on in Trump’s ascension up the Republican primary ladder, Charles zeroed in on me.  I was his next “project guy” and he was intent on getting to know me. He introduced himself, but I already knew his name from his many other encounters with similarly quiet-type dudes. I’ll be honest: I was dreading this day. The potential intersection of introverts with extroverts can leave the former with anxiety and the latter with anticipation. He had a bull’s-eye on me, while my eyes were firmly in my locker.

But he would not be denied. He invaded my personal space with determination, so I did my best to be cordial. He asked what I did, as most of these conversations start. I returned the question, and that’s when it all went surprisingly south.

Charles, it turns out, is the owner of an engineering company, specializing in cloud-based video streaming. Cool, I thought. This would be a great chance at professional networking, which can be difficult as an introvert. I asked him if his operation is headquartered locally, or if his engineers telecommute. The latter, he says… from Ukraine.

I think my reaction was mostly bewilderment. Fair enough, he outsources his tech labor. A lot of companies do. But it was his almost unapologetic reply that disturbed me. “Americans are just too much work, man!” he implored. He’s a “man” and “bro” type gym extrovert. Every guy is his brother at the gym, where the handshake is substituted with a fraternal knuckles punch.

But I’m an American. And I’m an engineer. I’m an American engineer, and I’m too much work for this employer. I couldn’t feel much more insecure.

He went on to explain that US software engineers basically are too expensive and that the Ukrainians don’t complain as much. A cheaper workforce is basically more grateful.

I countered to Charles that if I worked for him hypothetically, regardless of my talent and reciprocating cordiality, he’d fire me within minutes of showing up to work. Because I’m too expensive.

Charles just looked at me with his bootstrap intensity, a matter-of-fact pursed lip, and said nothing.

I was left with a bit of existential shock, realizing that some corners of the tech world were anything but “safe” for job security. I suppose this can never be the case when there exists regions with extremely cheap labor for sale.

That said, I can only hope that one day the Ukraine experiences its own middle-class resurgence. How does that happen? When it’s local industry exports its goods and not its people.

Until then, Charles and I won’t see eye to eye.

The mystical comfort of music

Immediately following the 2016 US presidential election, the very last place I wanted to go to for comfort was my church.  I’m not alone in this.  I attend a fairly-conservative, mostly-white Republican Evangelical church in a similarly populated town.  As a registered Democrat, I suddenly felt politically and ideologically “naked” among my fellow parishioners like never before.

Weeks before the election, while explaining to my first grader the simple first-grade ethics of mutual self-respect, gender equality, compassion for the indigent, I was struck by how these ideals have somehow been lost on a host of the very people that espouse such virtues from the pews.  The mantras of “build a wall”, “lock her up”, “grab them by the pussy” and other patently anti-Christian bully sentiments surely are at odds with the core beliefs of my fellow churchgoers.

But alas, that’s not what the election results tell us.  70-80% of my church voted for this monster.

I haven’t yet made peace with my tenuous relationship to Church (capital ‘C’); even less so with Evangelicalism as a model for modern church organization and outreach. But it’s inside of this chaos that I felt the most curious bit of solace: choir.

I’ve talked about my membership in our church choir before.  It’s no mystery that music can have incredibly calming and healing effects on people.  So it was in choir rehearsal recently that — despite not having any conscious clarity about the election — the music of Gustav Holst moved me to some modicum of peace.

Here is a sample of another choir’s performance of “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”:

Let all mortal flesh keep silence
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly-minded,
For with blessing in his hand
Christ our Lord to earth descendeth
Our full homage to demand.

King of Kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth he stood,
Lord of Lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heav’nly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads his vanguard on the way,
As the light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the pow’rs of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At his feet the six wing’d seraph;
Cherubim with sleepless eye
Veil their faces to the presence
As with ceaseless voice they cry,
Alleluia, alleluia,
Alleluia, Lord most high.
Amen.

Cloud Computing: Myths Vs. Reality

Written in collaboration with Mary D.

Cloud computing has accelerated communications and the exchange of ideas, bringing the level of interconnectedness to unimaginable heights. This was also made possible thanks to innovative advancements in the A.I. technology sector, which have provided Cloud services with the capability to extract and condense information that can help a business overcome competition and reorganize its organizational infrastructure effectively so that ideas can be continuously recycled and perfected to the benefit of customers, clients and partners—including participants in other even peripheral areas of industry that can benefit indirectly from this inter-change of information. It is the very fact that it has encouraged an inter-disciplinary approach which makes Cloud technology so important to the general public and business/industry in general. But despite the great opportunities that it brings to job seekers in general, there subsists the myth that it cuts jobs, while in fact, quite the opposite happens to be true. In the cloud industry in particular, the demand for cloud computing experts significantly exceeds the supply, meaning that there are a lot of unfilled diverse job positions only in this industry.

image credit: www.bluecoat.com
image credit: www.bluecoat.com

The primary thing job seekers should realize is that the Cloud/IT/Media/Telecommunications industrial cluster offers a great variety of jobs that need the skills of people coming from many diverse areas of industry, not just the IT world; these include lawyers (to deal with internet laws as pertaining to individual country regulations), data analysts, software engineers, programmers, database experts, financial analysts and business consultants (to help a company determine cost-risk analysis and determine budget allowance based on the amount of data storage needed) and many other professions. While two years ago Cloud technology was considered an emerging trend, there is no doubt that it has now become absolutely mainstream; so much so that based on a 2016 report by Spiceworks.com entitled ‘Diving into IT Cloud Services,’ 93% of businesses/organizations use at least one Cloud-based service for data storage, sharing, and back-up and recovery. The innovative progress of Cloud technology has also contributed to the creation of organizations that deal with the educational aspect, and there are several renowned accredited institutes that provide cloud courses and certification in many different areas of cloud technology, such as for example, CloudAcademy.

Certainly, the fears of machine learning and A.I. robbing humanity of jobs and perhaps taking over the planet as it surpasses human intelligence have been exploited by novelists and film directors for decades –  and they do have a very valid point. But the fact remains that Cloud computing is one of those tools that can actually bring in more jobs than expected, whose benefits far outweigh the risks. With the Cloud we can all upload, store and share information on online servers hosted by services like Google, Microsoft, Apple, Youtube, Amazon, and many others without filling up any of our hard drives. This information can then be accessed and shared simultaneously through single or multiple online servers managed by a business or—if they need help integrating and adopting their existing database and ‘migrating’ to the cloud—by the service provider itself (IaaS – Infrastructure as a Service). While some businesses may feel uncomfortable in handing over all their data and security to a third party, most are realizing that it is equally as dangerous to keep all your data on-premise, as it will still be subject to the threat of computer/database crashes, cyber-hacking and possibly industrial espionage by competitors. With the aid of skilled Cloud security experts, however, this danger is drastically reduced.

Those who specialize in cloud security continue to evolve their skills as time goes on and can adapt to new technological security threats thanks to the many training courses available (and the advanced knowledge they have already gained in online computing can help them to counter and even anticipate these threats). However, aside from IaaS, external Cloud computing consultants can also work with the IT team of the company, and aid them to implement and deploy Cloud technology, customizing it to their needs and adapting it to their existing IT infrastructure. So, whether or not a business chooses to resort to IaaS, they can be assured of the reliability of security experts who have the perfect credentials to help them in the process of cloud migration.

Customizing Chrome’s “new” tab

Ever bore of the new tab screen in Chrome?  It’s what you’re presented with after doing a CTRL + T.

The drab new tab
The drab new tab

Well, with the magic that is extensions, you’re free to change this.  There are a host of replacements available on the Chrome Web Store.  But I’ve always appreciated a low-tech, unobtrusive approach.  I’ve used the Google Art Project screen, which puts a new great work of art on your new tab.  For days that I feel overstimulated, I’ve opted for simply a blank tab.

But recently I found the Google Earth new tab, and I’m in love with it.

Google Earth new tab
Google Earth new tab

It’s mesmerizing, yet subtle somehow. It doesn’t take over my screen, it just invites me to take a moment before racing off to the next website, and simply gaze upon our planet’s beauty. That may only be one or two beats, but at least it’s a bit of pause in a busy online life.

previous Google Earth images
previous Google Earth images