The Clever Shark

A selection of links and rants by Tony A. Emond

Hold it! Next man makes a move and the banker gets it!

No sooner are the rumors of investment bank prosecutions spreading that Wall Street criminals are threatening to blow up the economy in retaliation. I don’t know about you but I think the economy can do without a cabal of parasites using virtually endless amounts of capital to raise the price of commodities for their own profit…

Tue, June 3 2014 » Links, Money, Politics, Silly » No Comments

New site feature!

Inspired by the work I did on the web site for my marriage (kocum-emond.com), I decided to go ahead and add Facebook and Google+ login for this site. This means that you don’t need to create a new account on this site in order to leave comments, you can just use your Facebook or Google account instead. Ironically I’ve implemented this mostly as I am minimizing my use of Facebook and other social networks, as I have little access to those from my computer at work.

Mon, June 2 2014 » Site news » No Comments

Can’t make up your mind? Then don’t!

Where The Fuck Should I Go To Eat, a web site that rudely suggests restaurants.

Mon, June 2 2014 » Funny, Links » No Comments

What can brown do for you?

If carpenters were hired like programmers. As someone who’s interviewed for tech positions fairly often, I had to shake my head while reading this, because that’s a great analogy.

Fri, May 30 2014 » Computers, Funny, Links, Stupid, Technology » No Comments

So considerate!

Fox News reports that Maya Angelou cancelled an upcoming appearance in Houston following her own death. One could only hope that all stars took the time to give people post-mortem notices!

Thu, May 29 2014 » Funny, Links, Silly » No Comments

What a long, strange trip it’s been!

I notice that my last post before the reboot goes all the way back to August 2012. Practically an eternity. So, I will do a brief recap of what’s happened since then, because my life now has so little resemblance to my life then that the reader may profit from it.

1- BURN! In early September 2012 I, through my own drunken fault, happened to fall into a bonfire while celebrating labor day. Normally this is something that really doesn’t have much in the way of consequences, but since it had been a warm day I was wearing shorts. My left calf made direct contact with a log that was smoldering. As a result of this I ended up spending almost two weeks in the burns unit of Hotel-Dieu hospital and receiving a skin graft.

2- DOGGIE! After coming out of the hospital and with a new-found realization that life could be brief I decided to adopt a dog, a 5 year old Boston terrier named Judi. One of the best decisions I ever made. She has changed my life a lot and I would go so far as to say that she has taught me to become a better human. She also helped me train for the next thing on this list…

3- HIKE! In summer 2012 I had made a decision to tackle a long hike, Scotland’s West Highland Way, with Jason McLinton in spring 2013. The burn incident had me worried that I would perhaps not be able to follow through, but I took it up as a challenge and made it a habit to walk and climb Mount Royal regularly. I did, and was in very good shape for the Way. Now to be honest we’ve had to cut about 30 km of the 150km of the hike due to my bad planning, but it’s still 120km, and we started from Milngavie and finished in Fort William. Which is pretty good considering that…

4- PAIN! during the last few weeks of training for the hike I suffered a heel fracture which made walking difficult, but because I was also having plantar fasciitis I was taking a lot of ibuprofen and did not realize that there was a fracture there at all. I was tempted to go to the hospital in Fort William and have it checked out, but instead spent the next week touring Ireland. At that point the pain in my heel was really something else, and increased by the day. When the fracture was diagnosed on my return I really felt a sense that I had a  pretty good idea how to face pain. This was a particularly good thing because…

5- LOVE! Through a cousin of mine I became Facebook friends with my now-girlfriend Lucie. As it turns out we had attended the same high school and even had a class together in 87-88. She invited me to see her in Halifax, I said yes, then one thing led to another and next thing I knew I was moving to Halifax. It must be said that this decision was partly due to…

6- UNEMPLOYMENT! Aurea Software (my then employer) decided to ship my job offshore, or perhaps eliminate it, whatever. Even if I had still been employed I could have made the move, but originally I wasn’t really supposed to be in Halifax until now-ish.  I in fact ended up moving in late November, and now…

7- MARRIAGE! in this first 5 months of family life we talk about many things, marriage being one of them. In a quite unusual fashion Lucie proposed, and I said yes. We are getting married in Ottawa on July 4th. We’ve been spending a lot of time planning the whole thing, which will take place at Cube Gallery (ceremony) and Petit Bill’s Bistro (cocktails and reception).

8- FAMILIAL RESPONSIBILITIES! Lucie has a four-year old daughter… I’m a stepdad.

I’ve also managed to get a job in Halifax in the meantime. It’s basically a good job but I’m making just half of what I made before.

Anyhoo… I think that if one had told me in August 2012 that I would get a skin graft, do a huge hike on a broken heel, then went on to becoming a father figure to a four year old, I would probably have scoffed and thought one was mad as a hatter, but “dem’s the breaks”.  I had never been one to imagine that family life would be fun, but it rather is.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to this past almost-two-years. More to come soon…

Thu, May 22 2014 » Blog, Halifax, Montreal, News, Travel » No Comments

An open letter to the NSLSC in Ontario

Hi there.

This letter is not about myself. I do not have any student loans outstanding, mostly owing to the dubious fortune that my father died shortly before I entered university and his life insurance settlement covered my various needs while I was studying. And I was no longer a resident of Ontario by this point anyway. Thus I am writing about someone else, who shall remain unnamed in this letter.

So my friend, clearly, has student loans from your organization. She holds a PhD and so her debt level is rather high. She is also a single mother and thus responsible for getting her kid housed, fed, clothed, and put in day care so that she can go out and work everyday to earn a living. She has been fairly successful in the academic world and is a professor at a university.

You all seem to have funny ideas as to how much university professors make for a salary. Let’s just say that I made more than that at my previous job, which didn’t really require a degree of any kind (although it did require experience). My friend also happens to live in the Canadian province with the second highest level of taxation in the country (so, not Quebec, which is the highest-taxed province, where I used to live). I say my previous job, because like all stalwart capitalists the new owners of my former place of employment shipped out my job overseas. I have found employment since, at about half the salary I used to make. Oddly enough my expenses have not really been reduced by half, which I was hoping would happen because that seems to be the logic that certain people seem to operate under, but that’s not really your issue to deal with so I’ll get back to the point.

Now, many months ago my friend found herself in financial difficulty and wrote to you asking to lower the monthly payment she was required to make on her student loan, because she is as previously mentioned required to meet expenses for herself and her child and the amount she paid made it very difficult to do so. This is probably not that unusual.

Your response, however, was. I must quote this because it’s really a great joke for the ages. “We are pleased to tell you that, having reviewed your case, we have increased your monthly payment” to 120% of the amount she already stated she could not afford to pay you. For some time my friend thought that this was some kind of tasteless joke. When she verified the data — and was told by you that it very much was not — things did not go too well. She became very anxious and slumped into a depression, which therapy was fortunately able to remedy somewhat.

Being even less able to pay the new higher amount than the old lower one, it would surprise no one that she didn’t make said payments. Well, it would surprise no one except for the people who put her in this situation in the first place, the Ontario student loans office, which has taken the additional and — I must say — absolutely hilarious step of increasing said payment yet again! This time by 50% of the original payment, as my friend was recently informed in a letter from your office.

So let me review the logic of it all here. Friend must pay X per month but can’t afford it. Therefore you think that she should be able to pay (X * 1.20), and after it’s become quite clear that this is not possible you decide to actually *incrase* the payment to (X * 1.70). You guys must be located in Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s Dixon Street satellite office, because you’re clearly on something. I’ve done the math and the amount you currently want to collect from my friend is well in excess of 50% of her take-home pay. That’s the amount with which she must pay rent, food for herself, clothes, what she needs to get herself to work, as well as discharge her duties as a mother.

My friend especially appreciated your suggestion that she take on a second job, because we all know that:

a) a university professor’s job is purely a 9 to 5 thing that does not involve tons of work after hours for things like marking and research. Also we all know that no such thing as strict limits to outside work exists in employment contracts!

b) yeah, she’s got a kid, but the kid’s 4. Surely it’s time for said kid to start working, perhaps at an old-time work mill where tiny children fingers can easily reach between rapidly spinning gears to clear any blockages that may come up. I mean, it’s hardly a new concept, Charles Dickens wrote about that sort of thing some 150 years ago. Sure, most of us are born with 10 fingers (as was the child), but how many does a child really need? I’m sure she could get by on as few as 6 or 7. Alternately perhaps the child can be trained to pick the pockets of unsuspecting tourists and the mother’s loan can get paid using stolen credit cards.

c)causing constantly rising anxiety and depression is exactly the sort of encouragement that people need when they’re having money troubles and in no way causes serious impediments to one’s ability to work, so what you’re doing is really motivating my friend and not at all causing her to psychologically sink into a pit of despair.

Nice as it was to get these few points out there for the consideration of actual human beings (which I still think actually exist in your office, despite her being convinced that they don’t), but I really bring a message of good news. I think I figured out what my friend can do to make up the financial shortfall she is under.

Oddly enough it happened after she and I watched an episode of Breaking Bad. It’s a really good series by the way, well worth the $9/month for Netflix which constitute the sole entertainment expense we have (besides brainstorming about what the child can do to bring in the much-needed income you guys deem my friend capable of transmitting to you). It features very solid acting by Bryan Cranston and excellent writing, once you watch a couple of episodes you really have to continue and see the whole thing. Really, after watching an episode here and there for months I’m surprised it took us until the middle of Season 5 to figure it out, but we finally have.

We can cook some crystal metamphetamine!

Seriously, the manufacture and distribution of hard narcotics is the way to go to make enough money to satisfy your money demands. Especially since you seem so insistent on demanding more and more money every 4 months or so. In fact I’m starting to wonder if we could possibly satisfy the Ontario black hole of money(tm — I thought of it just now so this is my official intent-to-file-a-trademark announcement) without getting going down that path. You see, my friend is not really suited to become a prostitute (neither is the kid), and her work contract prevents her from taking on outside work for more than a small number of hours per week. However this stipulation only applies to official work.

Besides which, the manufacture of “ice”, or “crystal” as it is known in the business, is a tremendously lucrative enterprise. Like I said, I’m in the middle of S5 of Breaking Bad and by now Walt has made so much money off the stuff that he and his wife need to rent a storage unit just to store the pallet-loads of money they’ve made from the trade, and as the dialogue said they’re making “more than we can spend in 10 lifetimes”. Skyler (Walt’s wife) says she gave up counting it even though she’s a bookkeeper! There has to be literally millions of dollars in that big stack of money. Hopefully that should be enough to pay you guys.

Of course there are a few adaptations that would need to be made and it wouldn’t be exactly like in the show. For one thing, neither my friend nor I myself know anything about “crystal meth” (which I’m told is what the kids call it). We’ve never done any, we’ve never even seen any ourselves, and neither of us has a background in chemistry (in fact the last time I took a course in that subject some 25 years ago I failed pretty miserably). However I think that we can both educate ourselves on the subject and let our enthusiasm for the job overcome such limitations. I mean, we’re two reasonably bright adults, and I’m sure the kid will want to pitch in and help out as well. Such a trooper! and the kid will also learn a valuable life skill which will be indispensable, provided said kid wants to go to university eventually, presumably borrowing from the local student loan office and eventually having to pay those loans back. You can’t say we’re not proactive! That kid will be prepared for the real world!

Of course you’re probably ready at this point to say that we don’t have a solid business plan. That’s completely untrue. “Meth” (in street parlance) doesn’t magically turn into money just by wishing it, that is true. Not actually using this drug or ever having bought any we not only don’t have a distribution network, neither of us has much of an idea how that whole end of the system works.

However we plan on taking a long, business-oriented view on this whole meth thing. What we want is to create a market for the product that will provide a long-term revenue stream. And to those ends, we’re going to target a growing demographic that will only keep increasing over time, and that would be schoolchildren. Fortunately we live in a decent area and you can’t swing a cat without hitting some high school pretty quickly. Since this is, as previously mentioned, a decent area it’s safe to assume that these kids are getting a pretty good allowance. Now one can call it “allowance”, but I call it “potential revenue”.

“Ah ha!” you’re going to say. “You don’t look like high school students, and the kid is far too young.” Well, yes, that is a worry. However, here’s the brilliant thing, which I also get from Breaking Bad (what a great show, you really have to check it out). In that series one of the principal characters is a guy who owns and manages a chicken restaurant and uses that to build a huge wholesale distribution network. Now we’re not really dealing in 100s of pounds of product, so we have to adapt just like any good capitalist businessman. The other aspect of Gustavo Frijns’s operation is that he gave out scholarships to people gifted in chemistry, but we’re clearly also not in a position to do that yet. What we can do, however, is sponsor entrepreneurship groups in the area high schools, and recruit the students who sign up for those groups to handle the sale of the product. Just think, it’s a great opportunity. I mean the kids are already getting decent allowances, but their eyes are going to light up when they’re told that they can make hundreds of even thousands of dollars per week *and* becoming popular all over the school for getting their friends a product that they want. It’s a perfect opportunity for them to also learn about how things work in the real world, and hopefully they’ll be so busy with their new side jobs that they won’t even think about joining gangs or anything like that.

High-schoolers aren’t the only target market of course. Any good business thrives on diversification, and this is very much on my mind. Fortunately since I live in a major urban area there also happen to be a fair number of universities within a stone’s throw of my location. I’ve been to university myself, and I’m well aware of students’ natural tendency to procrastinate and wait until the last possible moment to study for tests and complete assignments, and that’s what makes those students another vital demographic to the business. Meth is pretty well-known for its focus-increasing and fatigue-eliminating abilities, enabling someone with an important upcoming exam to stay up all night studying, sometimes several nights in a row. This could provide a much-needed aggregate grade boost to local universities. Students are also known for their poor diets which can make them pack on the pounds (e.g. the “freshman 15″) and that’s another area where “ice” can be a real help, allowing someone to go several days without food.

And we’re not even talking about other groups which make up a substantial part of the typical crystal-using market out there; people involved in physical labor (houses can be re-roofed in record time!), truck and bus drivers who must constantly combat the tedium of seeing km after km go by in front of their eyes, even policemen who work triple-shifts in their quest for more overtime pay. Everyone is happier with meth. Dentists too, not as users, but as the people who have to work to fix the chronic condition known as “meth mouth” caused by “tweakers” (the street term for people who use metamphetamines) constantly grinding their teeth. This is not just a plan for a money-making operation, it’s a community-wide economic stimulus package!

Of course not everyone is thrilled about such a prospect, and inevitably naysayers will point out that metaphetamine is “immoral” and “illegal”. While not much can be done about the former, escaping consequences for the latter is a subject which is very much on my mind, and which should be on yours because after all this business plan is there to help you recover *your* money.

Initially the unfortunate truth is that things have to be kept local. Since this idea is there to help my friend meet her financial obligations she can hardly be expected to bankroll a big transportation operation. But once the initial “indie” (that’s “independent” as the kids say it these days) phase of the business development has been underway for some time some capital will be put aside to build an infrastructure that will help take the business to different markets. The best strategy by far will be to completely abandon the local market and instead seek new customers several provinces away from our production base in order to give the impression that the whole operation has folded. And, really, what market could possibly be bigger and better than Toronto? As things progress we could seek public endorsements from public figures, such as TO’s very famous mayor Rob Ford, who from photos I’ve seen could use an extended period on the meth diet to bring his considerable girth under control.

So, ultimately, I and my friend do have a plan. I know this letter started out rather negative, but as you seem to realize based on your dealings with said friend it takes massive amounts of pressure in order to make diamond from coal and extract water from rocks! Without such pressure I really would never have thought of this idea. Heaven knows this is certainly more of a business plan than I’ve ever come up with before; I’m really not much of a salesman. However I do like to stick my neck out for my friends like that. Of course narcotics manufacturing is not the only option that has been considered; I also considered the fabrication of thermonuclear devices for which several potential customers are already identified, such as Syria, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan and the Sudan. However I’m a little hesitant to introduce the handling of plutonium into the environment where the child lives, and frankly procuring the material would have been much more difficult. Even the former government of Iraq couldn’t get their hands on the stuff so what chance does a private individual have? So that’s been filed as unrealistic for the time being. We have to pick our battles wisely, and just too much money we don’t have would have to be spent bribing Russian officials into letting me get a hand onto what they have. Also I’d probably have to learn some Russian and Arabic to conduct negotiations, and I’m rapidly becoming an old dog less amenable to new tricks.

In any case, you can expect payments to resume, and more. I hope you’re able to accept large duffle bags full of cash as loan repayment ’cause we’re gonna be in the money!

Signed,

A concerned friend of one of your customer.

ps. much as I like to hope that people are smart enough to figure it out, this is satire. I have no real intention to become a drug lord, to use or even to touch metamphetamine, ever. However everything mentioned before the meth plan is absolutely true, nonsensical though it is. Ontario student loans people, you’re basically pushing someone to declare bankruptcy when she’s trying her darndest to do the responsible thing and pay for her loan, and that makes everyone around the house sad, including the child. Nothing good can come of further pressure, that’s just common sense, but said common sense just isn’t as common as I’d like to think these days.

Wed, April 16 2014 » Article, Funny, Health, Money, Silly, Stupid, Tasty » No Comments

The new diet that has Halifax abuzz!

Are you overweight? Tired of the “miracle food of the week” and pain-in-the-ass exercise? Sick of eating so-called “healthy” foods? Studies show that people who lose weight through diets just go on to gain it all back soon after. There’s got to be a better way!
(more…)

Fri, April 4 2014 » Article, Funny, Health, Silly » No Comments

Orange with impatience

Had to call ING Direct earlier,  was on hold for 25 of the 30 minutes the call lasted… I guess they really *are* becoming more like a real bank all the time :-(

It’s especially annoying given that I was calling from my mobile.

Fri, April 4 2014 » Links » No Comments

An experiment in cryptocoin mining

Cryptocoin mining is something I’ve been interested in for some time. First there was the daddy of cryptocoins, Bitcoin; since the BTC’s popularity rose there have been many offshoots. The most notable of those is Litecoin, but there are pretty much as many alternatives (dogecoin, pandacoin, PPC PEERcoin, etc.).

For two months I started an experiment in mining Litecoin (LTC). Why LTC and not BTC? The answer to this is simple — BTC mining with GPUs in 2014 is like fishing with a rod right behind a fishing boat with a trawler net. It’s pointless. The past year or so has seen the appearance in the mining market of machines that are designed to do nothing but mine BTC. Such machines, called ASICs (Application-Specific Integrated Circuit) are built to “mine” BTC far more efficiently and using a fraction of the power of a “traditional” mining PC, which still uses parts designed for general computing. ASICs are available that promise 35GH/s of computing power for 500W, while a similar amount of power on a PC+GPU setup will yield 2GH/s at the most, and that’s using top-of-the-line, expensive GPUs. GPU mining for BTC at this point in time is little more than pissing in the ocean. You’ll spend a lot of money on electricity and get virtually nothing in return. What’s more, the ASICs have also made the increase in difficulty level skyrocket so that the return on investment is continually shrinking. Even for ASICs, which are getting cheaper, the break-even point is tending towards infinity, which means that you won’t recover the money you spent on the mining hardware. So, forget that.

LTC was created to get around this problem: it was designed to run only on GPUs. However, ASICs that can use the scrypt algorithm — what separates other cryptocurrencies from Bitcoin — have already been announced and will ship soon (if they haven’t started shipping already), so it appears that GPU Litecoin mining will also go the way of the dodo fairly soon. And that’s one of the reasons I am quitting the game. I won’t be getting into yet another cryptocurrency because in my particular location it just isn’t worth the hassle.

The basic problem is one of costs. This was not really an issue in Montreal; electricity there is available at $0.06/KW/h, so the ongoing cost of mining is exceedingly cheap. However I’m in Halifax now, where NSPower charges $0.17 for the same amount of electricity, or nearly 3 times as much. As a result mining using two full-time GPUs on a dedicated PC costs roughly $100/month. In Montreal that would be an almost negligible $35.

The other problem is that using roughly 500W continuously leads to a lot of heat dissipation. Even with the window open at -10C walking into the office felt like stepping into a desert on a sunny afternoon. I can only imagine what things would have gotten like into the summer.

But the biggest problem by far was noise. A GPU fan may not look very big, but it moves a lot of air, and as a consequence tends to be quite loud. Multiply this even just by two, factor in harmonics for 2 fans working at the same speed in close proximity, and it gets irritating pretty quickly.

Ultimately, was the experiment profitable? Yes, but marginally so given the heat and noise factors, and only because I already had the equipment I used to mine so strictly speaking there was no “initial investment”. For about $210 of electricity I was able to produce almost $400 in LTC. That’s in the span of 2 months, because that’s our electricity billing cycle. When I saw that I decided that enough was enough and switched the mining PC off.

Since then I’ve looked up more info on Bitcoin ASICs. It’s very hard to calculate the ROI on those because they cause the BTC mining difficulty factor to jump every 14 days or so. That’s the way the currency is designed. If you order one on a given day based on how much it will earn per day chances are that this factor will have time to change between the time you order and the time you receive your machine, so your break-even point will keep moving further and further away from you as time goes. The rate of change is also perpetually increasing, so that 14 days will turn into 13, then 12, etc. As previously mentioned it’s entirely possible that you may never recoup the cost of an ASIC miner.

My larger beef with those miners is that they brought Bitcoin into the realm of traditional capitalism. Essentially it takes quite a bit of capital to be able to afford such a machine; it takes money to make money. In my view Bitcoin should have been different from all that, but now it’s basically become too much like traditional cash.

And the problem I have with Bitcoin is that I didn’t realize how big a deal it would become years ago when I purchased some at around $5/BTC…

Mon, March 24 2014 » Article, Computers, Money, Technology » No Comments