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Benoît Mandelbrot, my favorite mathematicien passed away

Benoît MandelbrotBack in 1989, when I got my first PC, an 8086, I became obsessed with fractals and more specifically, the famous Mandelbrot set, along with 3D simulated mountainous range. At the time, I was programming using an OOP version of Borland Turbo Pascal and I created multiple DOS applications to generate, visualize, and marvel at those mathematic constructs. I had to take photos of my screen since my dot-matrix printer was not up to the task. When I took the computer science exam as part of the tests to enter the School of Geology, I brought with me pictures and programs on 3"1/2 floppy disks and it helped me get a good grade. My favorite mathematician, Benoît Mandelbrot died at age 85. He was quite an inspiration and part of the reason why I am doing what I am doing today. In the video below, Professor Mandelbrot, discuss some of his work.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ay8OMOsf6AQ

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My car crashed and requires a re-install

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My car crashed and requires a re-install

Anchors

Yesterday morning the engine light on my car flashed yellow, and I had trouble reaching high RPM on the highway. I immediately stopped and called the road assistance. They suggested that I drive the car to the dealership as soon as possible, which I did. Quickly, the service representative diagnosed that the car had a firmware issue and ordered a reprogramming.

The problem is that the PC that was reprogramming the firmware crashed in the middle of the operation and now the car is FUBAR. I was even unable to open the truck by pushing the corresponding button. We are now waiting for a technician to show up with a laptop and fix the car.

This shows how dependent we are on computers and software in so many unconscious ways. Here, we have a computer crashing in the shop, that in turn renders another computer, the on-board CPU, inoperable.

This is nothing original. I am sure that it is a common occurrence and the news stories on different Toyota models illustrates how software bugs can be life threatening in some instances.

Where will we be in ten years from now? What can we expect from our cars, or other common devices that have existed for decades before the birth of computers?

I am certainly a Luddite but I sometimes wonder about this love-hate relationship I have with computers. I cannot live without them and they like to remind me.

This also reminds me that I need to pay more attention to QA on my day job. :-)

Original photo by oskay.

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2009 Retrospective

Photo Collage 2009I have learned a lot, traveled quite a bit, met with friends and family. I was thrilled with everything new I got to experience and it helped me grow some  more. I stayed in touch with quite a few people and found new enriching relationships along the way. I also, and very importantly, realized that some individuals, even though I am rarely in contact with them, were taking care of me in ways I was not expecting. I am so grateful.

I am looking forward to 2010, to see what this new year has in store for all of us. I also hope that 2009 was great for you, and I wish you the best in the new year.

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I have decided to use twitter (again)

All right, if you have not been living under a rock for the last six months, you all know what twitter is. I kind of used it in the past by tweeting all the posts on this blog. I have started to use it again and you can have a look at my profile.

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How to permanently delete a facebook account

I don't know about you but when I decide to delete an account from an Internet service provider, I would really like to see all my data gone. Until recently, I was quite annoyed at Facebook for not offering the option. You could only deactivate your account. Now, it is possible to fully delete an account. I found this method in their forums. For me, this is good customer service. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - HOW TO ACHIEVE PERMANENT DELETION - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Go to this page: http://www.facebook.com/help/contact.php?show_form=delete_account

Click "Submit" and follow the instructions.

Your account will be deactivated for two weeks, and if you don't log in during that period, your account is permanently deleted.

This method is official and should be complete, i.e. no need to delete individual photos, comments, messages or items from your profile or anywhere else on Facebook!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

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Saturday Morning

And now, here is for something different. The following is a short piece I wrote on Sunday, 9th February 2003 on Kuro5hin. This was six years ago.

It's 6:30, I am half awake. The night was short. I am standing by a red truck with bright flashing lights.

I am adjusting my helmet strap, my air mask, my gloves. I take the nozzle and rush to the house on fire.

The front door is open but I can not see inside, there is black smoke from two feet above the floor up to the ceiling.

My team of three is waiting for the water to flow towards the nozzle. I can no longer see my hands which are in front of me, my flashlight is useless. It's pitch black inside while the sun is shining outside. I am scared.

I am told that the house has been evacuated, nobody is left inside, we can perform a fast attack. I hear cracking sounds from my right. Fire is blazing and is eating the structure.

Finally, 20 seconds after kneeling at the door, I flow the water. 200 gallons (760 liters) per minutes above us, in front of us, in the dark. We know that fire is everywhere around us but we can not see it.

Two minutes later, the smoke level is down, we can see a red glow in front of us, slightly on the left. Probably the origin of the fire.

My buddies are pulling the hose with me. We are at the bedroom door. Fire inside. Good, we can see now. Fire to the left, fire above, fire to the right. I am shooting water in those directions. The beast is dying.

We enter the bedroom, my buddies are pulling the ceiling and the walls down and I am putting the wet stuff on the red stuff.

I am hot, the air from my bottle is dry. If I was unprotected, one breath of the air from that room would kill me. My knees are burning. What is left of a ceiling fan motor is red hot.

Another team enters the room, the fire is in control. 7-1 this location. No more pumpers are needed.

My mask is vibrating, sure sign that I am running low on air. Time to get out and let a replacement team continue the job for us. I need a drink of water. We were in hell for approximately fifteen minutes.

The couple who was living in this apartment lost everything but the night clothes they are wearing and the car in the drive way. I am inviting them to climb in the fire engine cab to stay warm and out of the way. I am so sad.

This was a duplex, we saved the apartment next door. We did our job.

I am a non-paid volunteer firefighter, I write software for a living, this was my Saturday morning.

Have a nice day and stay safe.

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Cross country skiing

Cross Country Skiing near Shark MountainToday, a friend invited us to go cross country skiing. I had not cross country skied since the early 90s. It was in Vercors at the time. Today, was simply extraordinary and I am so grateful for this experience. At one point, the only sound we could hear was wood pickers working hard for their pittance.

We stopped for lunch and our friend remarked that we had not seen another human beiing for at least 30 minutes. The view was simply mind blowing and the pictures only give you a glimpse of what we experienced.

Cross country skiing can really be trouble though. My biggest problem is that I have trouble controlling my speed downhill and that I have a tendency to use my downhill skiing skills which are not applicable in those circumstances. Some of the falls were spectacular and it is not fun when you hear your skull resonate on impact. But on other occasions, I stayed face flat in the snow for a good minute, laughing so hard that I believe I must have woke up a couple of bears. This is the best stress therapy known to men.

I can't wait to go back.

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Doux Nid

Storks in a cozy nestWhat the heck is Doux Nid, you ask? It is our new virtual child and I am proud to let you know that it came into the world late yesterday evening.  The daddy and the mommy are doing fine even though the one hundred hours labor took a toll on us.

Anyway, you can see this child at douxnid.com and I encourage you to give us some feedback in one form or another.

Please let us know if you like it or dislike it and, in any case, how do you think we can improve it. The child will grow and you can influence what it will become.

For those of you not so familiar with the language of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, “Doux Nid” means “Cozy Nest”.

Now let me go back to enjoy that Cuban cigare.

Cheers!

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Lessons learned in the last few days

Here are a couple of things I have learned in the last few days where we have six inches of snow, an outside temperature of -29C (-20F) and little humidity:

  • If you have a fresh layer of snow, and you are still at work, be prepared to walk because the bus service will be impacted. Forty minutes walk by -10C (14F) is not that bad even with snow.
  • When driving downhill and braking using ABS, don't expect to stop without sliding for twenty yards or so.
  • Plan for a meter clearance around your vehicle when manoeuvering at slow speed because your car is bound to slide even when you do a simple three points turn in a street. This make parallel parking more interesting and obstacle avoidance more fun.
  • Don't forget to plug in your car so that the oil does not coalesce.
  • If you have some single pane windows because you live in an older house, expect ice on the inside of the window.
  • You may not be able to open your back door fully because of the snow.
  • Be prepared to shovel snow for one hour to comply with city bylaws.
  • Expect a lot of static electricity when petting your cat.
  • Don't touch snow without gloves
  • Enjoy the Subaru Outback, because it makes driving in cold weather and snow so much fun and safe.
  • Calgarians start to consider -20C weather somewhat cold but explain to you that it will get colder.

Overall, I found those new experiences very enjoyable and the biggest drawback is the time you have to spend dressing up and down when you leave or enter the house. Once outside, you don't want to realize that you forgot something inside.

Right now, Houston and Calgary have the same temperature outside if you ignore the pesty minus sign.

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How to deal with snow: Lesson 1

Yes, it has been a while since my last post. Nothing much is going on here. I am guessing that routine has pretty much settled. Last week I was in the Disney World for adults, namely Las Vegas. This was my first time there and I have mixed feelings about that town. Buildings are huge and everything is expensive if you are not a gambler. Some of the hotels are really architecturally beautiful and I have found there the best French restaurant I have ever had a chance to dine at in the whole USA. It is called Bouchon.

Anyway, we started to have some snow. In Calgary, you have to shovel your sidewalk within 24 hours of the snow fall so that pedestrians have a fighting chance to stay upright with all their bones intact while they are walking pass your house.

Snow fell yesterday and tonight I went out to clean things up. The only problem is that the snow was trampled over all day long by a lot of foot traffic and believe me, I had to remove ice rather than snow.

So, my first lesson is : Don't wait 24 hours before removing snow on your sidewalk or the job will be more difficult.

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Le Baiser de la Matrice (The Matrix Kiss)

Today, a friend suggested that I participate in the upcoming Internet experiment called Le Baiser de La Matrice. With this experiment, Véronique Aubouy suggests that over 3,000 individuals from all over the world read a page from "À la Recherche du temps perdu" by Marcel Proust in front of a web camera. By the end of the experiment, all the words from this book would have been read in French by people from all horizons and recorded into a 170 hours movie. The shooting will take place directly on the Internet starting at noon GMT on September 27th 2008. It is open to all and she invites all of you to register on her blog and invite others to built the network map of "Baiser de la Matrice".

I registered earlier and will see where this will lead me. I will attempt to record in front of a raging wood fire in my living room.

If you speak French, why don't you just join us?

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Time flies and it is now time for an update

It has been ten days since my last post. Let me give you a quick update. Last Saturday, a group of twenty two colleagues and family members went rafting on the river that goes across Calgary and which is called the Bow. Okay, it was more floating that rafting since there is no white water but it was certainly a nice way to spend a few hours. This was fun and we ended up all wet. I fought with a six year old named Michael to see who would be the toughest. Some embarrassing photos were taken and I hope they will never surface on the Internet. I cross my fingers. The temperature was above thirty degrees celcius and I managed not to burn. This was a first for me. Sunscreen is usually a disappointment.

On Sunday, I spent six hours emptying the moving truck. I mean, I watched the movers unload while I was checking off items on the list. I helped a little but given their efficiency, I was mostly impeding their work. We received all the items and we only got one item broken that we will be able to repair. I suggest you go with Allied if you need to move. They were extremely professional from A to Z and I would not go with another company.

The house looks great and seventy percent of the boxes have been unpacked. Melissa is doing wonders with the furniture and accessories.

This week, I have continued to implement Scrum at work with one of my teams and it is quite fun. There is of course more work and learning to do but I will certainly recommend you give it a try if you have a chance.

This week end, Melissa and I are probably going for a bike ride. We acquired two road bikes a fortnight ago.

I am now commuting daily by bike which reduces my commute time from forty minutes to fifteen. I still have to try the bus for the "cool" days of winter.

In other news, I will probably go to SEG in Las Vegas next November and I hope to see you there.

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Home Sweet Home

The whole family is now safe in Calgary. We took off from Houston in the middle of the tropical storm Edouard. We landed in Calgary with a small thirty minutes delay. We have been amazed by the kindness of Canada immigration and custom officers. They were extremely friendly, helped us all the way. Because of my status, Melissa was able to obtain a working visa right away. This is a big difference with the USA where, to my understanding, workers' spouses are not allowed to work.

The cats are adjusting to the new home. They are confined to the mud room downstairs and the female (smarter than the males, this goes without saying), managed to escape the room at multiple occasions and we had to double our efforts to refrain her from escaping.

Our furniture is hopefully on its way and we should see it unloaded in about two weeks. In the mean time, we are camping in the house (sleeping bags, and all).

Today, we walked downtown for about ten kilometers to get Melissa started.

Saturday, we plan on going for a short hike. We need to enjoy the summer while it lasts...

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Back in Houston for a few days

I am back in Houston for a few days. This is the last stretch in Houston. Today, Allied sent a team of three persons to pack the house. They arrived at 08:00 and by 14:00 the whole house was packed. A truck will pick everything up on Monday. Their speed and professionalism was amazing. Two of the packers had over twenty years experience.

It was really weird to come back to Houston after a month. I guess that I am having such a blast in Calgary. I can't wait for the six of us to be in the house in Calgary on Tuesday evening.

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Booking a flight to Calgary

Rosie and DarcyBefore I begin, let me tell you that since my last post, I was in contact via Skype with three of my former colleagues. This was great to get fresh news and exchange notes. Don't hesitate to contact me, please... The conversation was different that it used to be at times because we now work for different employers and we are all incredibly respectful of our NDAs. Anyway, the bootstrapping in Calgary continues and it is time to tell you more about traveling with four cats. More precisely, how to book a flight to Canada for four cats. Yes, I have four cats. Why do you look at me funny?

  1. Identify an airline you are comfortable with and who will be accepting cats. Air Canada does not accept cats during the summer. I am guessing that they use natural cryogenics the rest of the year. I picked Continental. They were more expensive but they have a good service in Houston.
  2. Book a flight for the slaves — you know the saying, "dogs have masters and cats have slaves". Of course, the price of the flight increased by 50% since the last time you check two days prior but this is the usual boring story.
  3. Call the Dedicated 24-hour Live Animal Desk
  4. Learn that you need the exact dimension of each of the four kennels before you can make a reservation
  5. Learn that they only ship three animals per flight for Calgary and that the flight you booked already has a four legged passenger in cargo
  6. Be reminded that you will need health certificates from a veterinary dated less than ten days prior to departure
  7. Learn that the cats will need to have three inches of room above their head when standing up. Thankfully, they did not ask about room on the side. My cats are not fat, they are horizontally challenged
  8. Be asked to call once you have the proper information
  9. Sweat a bit
  10. Have your partner shove the biggest fattest cat in one of the kennels and measure
  11. Call your veterinary
  12. Hear that they need to check if they issue international health travel certificates. One month ago they did but they may have change their policy
  13. Wait for the veterinary to call back
  14. Hear that you may need a stamp from Austin before the airline can accept your cats
  15. Collect the kennel dimensions from your partner in crime
  16. Call continental airlines
  17. Answer questions about kennel size, number of pets, each pet weight (this is the embarrassing bit), pets age, address, phone number, etc.
  18. Hold on, anxiously, and for an eternity while they book the flight for you. OK, it was only five minutes but you are a bit anxious after all
  19. Write down the confirmation number
  20. Learn that you are indeed going to travel in the same plane as your cats
  21. Heave a big sigh of relief
  22. Write a blog post about it

I am flying back to Houston on Friday. Movers will be packing our things on Saturday and will be loading the truck on Monday. The cats are visiting the veterinary on Monday (they love this part) and our flight is on Tuesday. We are going to camp in the rented house until our furniture arrives after hopefully clearing customs.

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Buying a car

Here is a short summary of the different steps you need to go through to buy a car in Calgary when you are moving from Houston:

  1. While in Texas, buy Consumer Reports and select a model you like: Subaru Outback
  2. Go to the Subaru dealership in Calgary
  3. Learn that any car in Canada cost about $10,000 more than in the USA, just because
  4. Test drive the car
  5. Call your wife to pick the color
  6. Negotiate the price down
  7. Agree to buy the car with a large down payment and a four years loan at 1.9% APR
  8. Pay a portion of the down payment
  9. Be reminded that you have no credit history whatsoever in Canada
  10. Learn that you need a proof of address to buy a car in Canada
  11. Learn that you need a proof of insurance to buy a car in Canada
  12. Learn that you need a proof of income to buy the car before you even got your first pay check cheque
  13. Learn that you need a copy of your passport and your work permit
  14. Go to Alberta Motor Association (same as AAA but better)
  15. Learn that you need a letter of experience from your insurer in Texas before you can get insurance in Canada
  16. Learn that you need proof that you have your driver license in Texas for over two years (driver's record) with little or no traffic violations to get cheaper insurance in Canada
  17. Learn that you need proof of address in Calgary to get insurance
  18. Find a house to rent
  19. Sign the lease
  20. Go to the Texas Department of Public Safety web site and pay $22 to get your driver's record abstract
  21. Find out that they only send those documents to a USA address
  22. Give the address of the forwarding service that you contracted right before leaving the USA. Smart move, pat yourself on the back!
  23. Give up on obtaining your driver's record before your car rental contract expires
  24. Accept to pay more insurance until you have an Alberta Driver License
  25. Call your insurer in Texas
  26. Have your insurer in Texas understand what you want and have it sent you a letter of experience by e-mail
  27. Bring the letter of experience to your insurer in Calgary
  28. Find out that your insurance is going to cost you as much as what you were paying in Texas except that you now only have one car
  29. Find out that you can not insure your vehicle unless your insurer has the vehicle bill of sale
  30. Go to the dealership
  31. Find out that the finance company refused to give you a four year loan with a big down payment because your work permit expires in two years
  32. Accept to double your monthly payment with the same big down payment and get a two years loan at 0.9% APR
  33. Make the rest of your big down payment
  34. Fax your bill of sale to your insurer
  35. Bring back the car to the rental agency at the airport and pay a $50 fine because you are twenty minutes late
  36. Get a taxi to your apartment
  37. Call the insurer and pay the premium
  38. Receive the proof of insurance by fax and fax it to the dealership
  39. Bring the bill of sale, your driver's license, proof of address, and your proof of insurance to the closest registry
  40. Explain to the clerk that you really have two middle names and that the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) did not put a space between them because their software did not allow for it back in 1999. Ironically, DPS put a space by mistake in your street name for your Texas address
  41. Hear that you won't be able to register your car unless you can prove that there is a space between your two middle names
  42. Walk 15 minutes to your apartment to retrieve your passport
  43. Walk 15 minutes to another registry
  44. Register your car, get one shiny license plate, and a piece of paper. Canadians cars only have one license plate at the back
  45. Get the dealership to pick you at your apartment
  46. Drive away with your brand new car

Your car has seat warmers, extra large sunroof, All Wheel Drive (AWD), mirror defrosters, wipers defroster (so they don't stick to the windshield), engine block warmer (you know the plug coming out at the front of the car). Interests for whole loan life will amount to $256! This is your consolation price.

Go drive your car around and park it in the garage at the house you are renting which is a forty minutes walk from your appartment because you've already seen hail since you arrived in Calgary and we are in the middle of July.

PS: This car as a remote control and I can open and close the doors remotely. I promised all my colleagues in Houston that my new car will have this feature.

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Transferring funds

I thought that It would be simple to wire money to my new account in Calgary. It would have been a simple matter of calling the bank, proving my identity and have the funds wired. Unfortunately, deep down hidden on my USA bank web site, you can read that this can only happen if you previously obtained a pin number by going to a branch in person. As a consequence, Melissa had to go to the bank and wire the money. Nevertheless, I surprisingly had to assist the banker over the phone since he was not familiar with transferring money to Canada and was confused between the SWIFT and the ABA number. Then, the transfer failed because he wired the money to the wrong name. A day later, Melissa fixed the situation.

In retrospect, I should have gone to the bank beforehand to get the pin number or bring more funds with me as I entered the country. Live and learn.

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Renting a home

The housing market in Calgary is interesting. The median price for a house is $420K while it is $120K in Houston. This means that we are going to rent for a while until we know the town and we are ready to buy. There are quite a few websites out there to help renters find their home and rentfaster is clearly the best due to its advanced search capabilities. Melissa located a few houses that she liked based on the description, photos, and budget. The landlord had be be willing to accept cats. I called about ten people and was able to enter in contact with about half of them. Three days later, I was able to schedule two visits; A house located in Mount Pleasant, a neighborhood in the north west at ten minutes by car from downtown and a house located in Scarboro, a neighborhood in the south west, also ten minutes from downtown.

The first house was quite nice, the interior was new and clean. It was located one street north of Trans-Canada Highway 1. Thanks to double pane windows, the house was really quiet but we didn't really want to live right behind a strip mall facing one of the major thoroughfare across Calgary.

The second house, per Melissa's description, was a jewel. Built in 1929, the house has original wood flooring on the main level and the finished basement opens to the back yard garden were you can find a huge outdoor fireplace. From the deck situated on the main level, you can see hills in the northwest. I went to scout the location and it is a green and hilly neighborhood. In brief this was the house we wanted.

The only problem was competition. Other potential tenants were visiting the house when I arrived and the landlord later told me that he had many other applicants. It took some convincing and Melissa, still in Houston, had to have a conversation with our nice landlord before he decided to rent the house to us. For obvious reasons, most people move during the summer and combined with the low inventory, this creates quite a demand for houses.

Now, my commute to work is going to be forty minutes, just like in Houston. The only difference is that in Houston I had to drive while here, I will be walking to walk. I could also take the bus but I am going to pass on this option for now. According to long time Calgarians taking public transportation won't be necessary except one week a year when the temperature drops to -30C (-22F).

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