Long time no write

Just realised it’s been over 6 months since the last time I posted here.

Nothing special happened in the meantime, except that my elder son has been accepted to a master program in Carnegie Mellon and I am taking him there in early August. I am very happy and proud.

Yesterday I’ve been to Camaraderie  [re]Launch Party. Camaraderie is a coworking space that used to be in the east part of the Toronto downtown. Now they have moved to a nice place on Roncesvalles, just a few minutes’ walk from Dundas West subway station. Here’s their website: http://camaraderie.ca. They have a nice collection of books on business on premises (together with a coffee-maker and other things vital for business), and, since I am moving into a smaller apartment, I decided to donate my collection of business books to them. However my hoarding instinct cannot tolerate me parting with the books, so maybe I should give each of them one final reading and review them here. Stay with me for updates on great books such as The Whuffie Factor by Tara Hunt.


My article for Blog Idol contest: My Microsoft Outlook Connector suddenly stopped working

Our dependency on technology becomes rather alarming.

If a global disaster strikes and you live in the country in an 18-century house, you will be able to get some firewood in the forest, bring water in a bucket from the river, catch a rabbit with a snare made of your suspenders, and roast that rabbit in your fireplace, or, at worst, on a barbecue in your backyard. And you will be able to have a proper outhouse of the system our great-grandfathers used.

If a global disaster strikes and you live in the city, on the 18th floor of an apartment building, you are helpless. There is no water source, no way of using the washroom and no way to cook food (most certainly your cooker uses gas or electricity).

What I wanted to say is, today my Microsoft Outlook Connector suddenly stopped working.

I have a Hotmail account. It is about 12 years old. It is the second e-mail address I got in my life. For many years it suited all my needs.

When I had to switch to Outlook Express, it took me about 1 minute to hitch it on to Hotmail, and everything worked perfectly.

About a year ago I started using full-scale Outlook, just because some illogical behaviour of Windows prevented me from doing something I needed, otherwise. It took me about 1 minute to hitch it on to Hotmail, and everything worked perfectly. Outlook has some extremely strange bugs but I eventually got used to them.

Then Microsoft decided that this is not good enough.

(Read more at BlogIdol website…)

Musings on education (and some boasting)

I never mentioned here that I finally completed both of my certificates from University of Toronto, School of Continuing Studies: “Enterprise Risk Management” and “Financial Analysis and Investment Management”. It took about 3 years of intermittent study. (To achieve a certificate, one has to take 5 or 6 courses, core and elective, within 3 years; but I was clever and saw that the tracks for the two certifications overlap, so to get both I only had to take 8 courses instead of 11 if I chose wisely, which I did. Unfortunately, the track for ERM has been changed since then and this shortcut is no longer possible.) At the same time I was taking a 4-courses certificate program in Technical and Business Writing from York University / Glendon which I also completed. (It’s actually 6 courses but they honoured my degree and credited me 2 computer science courses that one also has to take to achieve the certificate.)

Each course was a semester long and took 3 hours once a week, plus home assignments. The time I invested in all three certificates is roughly equivalent to 36 credits which is roughly equivalent to one year of full-time studies. SCS courses are non-credit courses, though, for some reason, and that’s a shame because if they were, I probably might take some more to eventually turn them into another degree. (The one I hold now is in Math and Computer Science from Moscow State University and it’s been a while since I got it.)

Why did I do that? Wasted so much time (add the commuting) and money, especially considering that I am not going to work as a financial consultant? For several reasons.

1. I sometimes get texts on financial matters for translation. It is crucial to understand the subject matter in this case (as in all the other cases, of course).
2. It is good to have something that gets you out of home if you work from one.
3. I got a lot of information on accounting and corporate finance that may or may not be useful for me in my SR&ED work.
4. It is good to learn something new that gets you out of the old rut. Besides, I noticed that learning something unrelated triggers your imagination. I get a lot of business ideas while attending some totally unrelated events.
5. Learning new things is good for you, it is like a fitness program for your brain. My grandfather learned to play the piano when he retired. (He lived to be 99 and was lucid almost to the end.)
6. I always felt a slight awe towards risk management people, but now I know that risk management is really nothing special; it’s basically glorified Probability 101 plus some common sense. (Well, common sense is a rare thing, and it is definitely worth to spread some even through university education.)
6. I met some great people as classmates and teachers. I’ll list some: Donna Zathy, who managed to make accounting exciting; Saman Kiriwattuduwa whose 2 courses were the last I had to take, of the entire certificate thing, and also the hardest; Hussein Amad who read us Enterprise Risk Management proper and provided plenty of other related and interesting material to read, besides the textbook. By the way, the name of Hussein Amad may seem familiar: you saw him on the UofT SCS ads on TTC where he looks like a real star.

Actually, that’s one of the reasons I love Toronto: there is a good chance that the people you see on billboards are someone you know, and not just synthetic faces from TV.

Employers should not think they are God’s gift to people

Got a message through LinkedIn today.
“Hello Tania,
I just saw your profile on Linkedin. We specialize in SR&ED. Please send me your resume should we have a need for a Technical Writer. Your enthusiasm jumps off the page.”

This is really priceless. The author of the message did not even bother to say what kind of company they are, what are they looking for, what kind of a position they have, etc. (Yes, I could have looked them up, perfectly well, on LinkedIn or wherever, but if someone wants something from someone else and is trying to make the acquaintance, they should introduce themselves, just to be polite.)

They did not bother to ask me whether I am looking for anything right now, whether I WANT to work for them or not. They just condescended to put me on the list and keep me on file – and it looks like they were 150% sure that I would rush, head over heels, to send them my resume (losing my slippers on the way, as we say in Russian). I don’t think it is THAT bad in the job market that people would react to such “compelling” invitations; at least, in the job market for SR&ED writers. I see SR&ED job posts daily on Twitter. Am I missing something?

P.S. And the moral of that is: if I ever start looking for another position, I probably would not consider working for the company in question. See how much you can achieve for your company’s image with a short 2-line note?

Travelling rant

Schiphol airport in Amsterdam is one of the most badly designed I’ve ever seen. The security check is located right before each boarding gate. As a result, all the passengers for the flight arrive there at once and have to stand in a very long queue zigzagging between metal rails. Presumably, in the intervals between flights the security gate stands unused. This is instead of having a unified security check for all flights at the entrance of a big area, like in all the other airports, so the queues are small or none at all and the equipment utilization is uniform.

I had to stand in this security check queue for almost an hour, breathing into the neck of the person in front of me and feeling the coughs of the person behind, directed right at my head. Now I am down with a severe cold. It might be that the cold Amsterdam wind from the canals is to blame, but I suspect the person in the airport. Curse you, the Schiphol architect.

Bonus: a picture of morning rush hour in Leiden.

Some functionality Amazon is missing

Just something that occurred to me recently while I was looking for this book to buy it online. (I needed it for my translation work on “The Children’s Book” that is full of references to British mythology; the book was recommended by ASB herself.) I found the book at amazon.com for $70, and decided I cannot afford it. Then I entered it into my wishlist but that did not help a lot. Finally a good and kind soul checked amazon.co.uk for me and, hoorray, there it was, for $20, including shipping.

This simple story made me believe there are two important pieces of functionality that Amazon is missing.

1. There should be an option for the people to contribute small amounts towards somebody’s wishlist. Right now, if I am not mistaken, if I want to buy someone a gift from their wishlist I can only splurge for the entire book, which can be tricky if the book in question is expensive. It is much easier for 5-10 people to contribute smaller amounts. This would be especially convenient for groups of friends, relatives etc. who want to give an expensive item (think rare editions, anniversary gifts etc.)

2. There should be an option for searching “other Amazons” if the book is not at amazon.com. Right now you have to do it manually: go to amazon.ca, amazon.co.uk and so on which is a) non-intuitive and b) tedious. It would never occur to me to look at amazon.co.uk if it were not for that friend’s kindness.

What do you think of diversity?

This post started as my comment to Greg Wilson’s post. Greg posted a link to O’Reilly’s call for diversity. I think that the very concept of increasing diversity artificially is flawed. Here’s the comment I made in Greg’s blog:

Greg, as a woman who’s been in IT for about 20 years I must say that the “improving diversity” thing looks like BS to me and insults the very people whom it is supposed to help. Please correct me if I am wrong.

Here’s my train of reasoning. Either someone deserves to be a speaker at a conference (by the pure merit of their research and speaking skills), or they don’t. If they do, then invite them because they are worth it, not because they are minorities. On the other hand, if they don’t deserve it but still get invited, this implies the poor things can’t do better anyway, so let’s condescend to them.

Moreover, if e.g. a woman got to be a speaker, there will always be suspicion that she got in by being a minority and not because of her actual achievements. All in all, it seems to me that this policy does more harm than good.

Personally I’d rather have a honest and truthful judgment than condescending attitude. It was not condescending and sweet meaningless compliments that helped me or any of these women to get where we are today. As Lois M. Bujold puts it very aptly in one of her books,”…if you desire a man to tell you comfortable lies about your prowess, and so fetter any hope of true excellence, I’m sure you may find one anywhere. Not all prisons are made of iron bars. Some are made of feather beds. Royesse.