First BBQ of the season

BBQ season!

Today marks the first day of 2019 when I’ve used my BBQ. I love eating off my grill, and though I’ve been known to fire it up in the middle of winter, this winter was a harsh one. It’s not PC, but I don’t care who’s offended, I’m eating steak.

Medium rare, please

Ending the commute

Today is a special day for me, for today marks the first day that I will no longer commute. This has been a goal of mine that I have been working towards for a while. For those of you unfamiliar with how bad commuting is for people who live where I live, I will explain.

The COMPASS camera system, so anyone can see how crappy this commute is up to the past 5 minutes

I live in the city of Oshawa, which is part of the Greater Toronto Area, located in Southern Ontario, Canada, along the north-west portion of Lake Ontario. For a long time, Highway 401 was the main arterial highway that linked all of the municipalities that make up the Greater Toronto Area, and in fact all of southwestern, central, and eastern Ontario. My city, Oshawa, is part of the Durham Region, which is home to many who commute into the City of Toronto. The reason for this is simple; Toronto is where all the good jobs are, but Durham Region is where the affordable housing exists. For the price of a tiny one bedroom condo in Toronto, one can find a three bedroom house with a yard, driveway, and no maintenance fees in the Durham Region. For those wishing to raise a family but also need a job that allows them to afford to raise a family, buying a house in the Durham Region and commuting to Toronto is the only solution.

Due to the incompetence of our elected officials, this concentration of good jobs in Toronto with the only affordable housing existing outside of the city, combined with a volatile job market that forces people to change employers every few years, Highway 401 is world class for the amount of traffic that it carries, and is often cited as the busiest highway in North America, as well as one of the busiest in the world. It’s no wonder that it’s also cited as being one of the most dangerous highways in Canada.

One of the solutions to this was to build a toll highway that would relieve the stress put on Highway 401. This toll highway is the 407 ETR. This highway was built with taxpayer money, and then sold by the Tory government (conservatives) in 1999 in order to “Balance the books.” Yes, isn’t it odd and extremely short-sighted for our government to sell something that could have been a positive revenue stream for many years to come? I suppose they make more than enough with their monopoly on unfair casino’s, lottery, and overpriced alcohol, and decided that greedy Spanish investors deserved to take a turn at screwing us. No wonder people mistrust the government.

My single largest monthly expense…until now.

I had been taking Highway 407 for my commute over the past year out of necessity. Some of my monthly 407 bills were in excess of $800. I wrote the people billing me a letter and phoned them, telling them that I felt the tolls were excessive for someone like me who relied on this highway every day. Their response was for me to use the highway “Strategically;” that is, to map out the sections of the 407 where the tolls are the most expensive, exit the highway at those points, take alternate side streets, and get back on where it gets less expensive. This hopping on and off the highway really defeats the purpose of a highway, which is to relieve wear and tear on our automobiles and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by allowing cars to operate at their most efficient. It also complicates my commute and increases the risk of an accident. Shortly thereafter, they announced that the rates were going up due to the fact that too many people are using the 407. That was it, I had had enough of participating in this game where the idle, greedy rich continue to screw over the working class. It was time for me to fire the 407 ETR.

I found a new job within 10 kilometers of my home. It pays a bit less, and the benefits aren’t as good, but I’ll actually come out ahead financially by not paying those greedy Spaniards their excessive toll rate on what I consider a criminal sale of what should rightfully be a public asset. I’ve talked to others who are taking the 407, and they’re currently planning similar lifestyle changes to kick this excessively tolled highway out of their lives. As for me, I’m never going back to that commute. It’s not healthy, and it’s not the way a human being is supposed to live. Remember, these excessive tolls are being paid for by after tax dollars, and we cannot write the expense off unless we ourselves are wealthy business owners. This means that, when comparing this cost to your hourly rate, take the average of 24% off your hourly rate to get a true cost to you. It’s oppressive, and we all should do whatever it takes to starve the greedy, idle rich, even if it means taking a bit of a pay cut.

The future of social networks

I have seen the future of social media, and I saw it by looking at the past. The social media of today is similar to e-mail of the days before the Internet; we have a few big players, completely incompatible with each other. Someone on Twitter can’t see updates by their Facebook using friends on their timeline, and vice versa. A person needs to be signed up to both services, and if they have a friend who’s still using Myspace, they’ll need to add that service as well. If you become dissatisfied with a service, leaving them means leaving all of your friends and family as well. To compare to e-mail, imagine if you had to sign up with a Yahoo! account to read e-mails from friends and family who use a Yahoo! e-mail account, forcing you to subscribe to Yahoo!, Outlook, GMail, and whatever else is out there. We wouldn’t stand for it with e-mail in the modern day, and now we don’t have to stand for it with our social networking, because services like Mastodon are going to change all that.

The concept behind Mastodon is that it is a social network that uses open standards. This means that anyone could create a Mastodon server. It also means that you don’t have to use Mastodon at all to participate with all your friends and family; you might prefer to use a plug-in for Nextcloud like Social. I now have two accounts on this federated social media; one is from my own server, @paul@cloud.pquirk.com which I created for experimental purposes (the plug-in is still very much in development), and the other is at a Mastodon server, @paul@mastodon.social, which will be my more mainstream account. Obviously, I’m a fan of owning my own server and not having someone trying to interpret my intentions as they decide if my posts fit with their rules and regulations, but for now this is a great start and a step in the right direction for social media.

How things look from my server, a bit sparse for now

I’d like to invite all my friends and family to join me in the future of social networking. I’ve abandoned Facebook, and am winding down my Twitter use as I migrate entirely over to this new federated platform. I invite you to as well, won’t you please join me? Click here to sign up to mastodon.social, which I believe is a great place to start for anyone.

Happy Pi Day

Today is March 14, 2019. If we write it out as 3.14.2019, the month and day look like pi, a mathematical constant that denotes the circumference of a circle to its diameter. I believe this offers us an excellent opportunity to illustrate how superior fractional math is compared to decimal math.

Decimal math works fine when working with numbers that don’t have long running decimals, but sometimes we have decimals that never end. For example, one half translates to 0.5, which is easy to work with, but one third works out to 0.3333333333… the threes trail off infinitely off the end, even though 1/3rd of something is a finite thing. The same issue arises when we consider 2/3, which works out to 0.666666…, and 8/9, which is 0.8888888…eventually, we have to pick a digit and round off, which can ultimately result in a small rounding error. The more numbers we have with never-ending decimals in our calculation, the greater this error can grow. The trick in decimal math is to keep as many digits as possible to minimize the inevitable rounding error; but why bother? Why not just use fractions and eliminate the rounding errors all together?

In one of my finals in advanced trade school, the final big question on the exam was solving for a fairly complex parallel circuit, and the provided values would result in widely varying results depending on how many significant digits were used; so someone who rounded off after only two decimal places got a completely different answer than someone who rounded off at three decimal places, and neither would have been right. The “Correct” answer required at least six decimal places be kept throughout. I came up with an answer that was more accurate than the one on the answer sheet. Curious, the teacher wanted to know how many decimal places I went to. I told him, none; I just kept everything as fractions through to the end (every division problem is actually a fraction), and then simply converted the final fraction to decimal for the “Answer,” which I felt could have been better represented if left as a fraction as well, but sometimes we need a decimal number to work with at the end.

So, what does this have to do with Pi day? As a fraction, Pi can be represented as 355/113. If you convert this number to decimal, you will end up with Pi with an inhuman level of accuracy. To be sure, it’s not exactly Pi, at least to mathematicians who claim to know better, but the degree of accuracy is uncanny.

Back to Pi day, we can now see that 3.14 is a poor representation of pi. Perhaps there is another day that better represents pi, now that we understand the power of fractions when it comes to accuracy. If we go with a day-month-year format for our date, we can get a more accurate pi from 22/7. While not as accurate as 355/113, it’s still far more accurate than 3.14, and also provides a greater degree of accuracy than one would get from decimal math, from the same amount of numbers to memorize. In any case, maybe we should have two Pi days; one for decimal pi, and one for fraction pi, and let’s celebrate with some pie for our pie holes.

pquirk.com gets hacked

So, an interesting thing happened a couple of days ago, I got a notification on my WordPress phone app about some failed login attempts at my blog. Since this is running on my server running open source software that I installed, I get access to everything that happens. Every error log is captured, saved, and eventually archived.

How do I know it was a hacker? First of all, there is no obvious link to an admin login from my main page. If I wanted someone else to create a post on my blog, I would send them the link. Since this is a personal blog, I’m the only one who would ever log into it, and since I use a secure password manager from a secure device, I never have a failed login. So, when I check my activity log using a secure app on my phone and see a lot of failed login attempts, I look a little closer. When I see user names like jake, admin, teste, qwerty, user1, pquirk, and paul as user names being used to access my blog over and over again, I know that something’s up.

Each attempt captures the IP address of the person attempting to hack my website. Using a utility called whois, I can find out information about this IP address; who owns it, with full contact information. So jake failed from 123.16.70.105, which resolves to Pham Tien Huy of the VietNam Posts and Telecommunications Group from Ha Noi City. The next IP address used was 14.232.111.13, which also resolves to the Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group, also owned by Pham Tien Huy. Each attempt was from a different IP address, all resolving back to VIetNam. Odds are very good that different people from VietNam are attempting to hack into my blog; rather, this is probably one individual using either a VPN or proxy server.

I do have options in the event of getting hacked. I could contact Pham Tien Huy with the time, date, and IP address, and that person would tell me the IP address of the person who connected; in effect, trace it back to its origin, and then I could get that internet provider to provide me with details of who used the originating IP address at that time, then I could take action against that person, as nobody is truly anonymous on the Internet. That’s more work than I care to do right now, so another strategy I could employ is to block them with my firewall. Since whois gives me the entire range of IP addresses that this came from, and since it’s unlikely anyone from VietNam would ever read my blog, I could block that range of IP addresses; say, 14.244.0.0 – 14.255.255.255, with the “ufw deny” command. However, I don’t feel the need to do that either. This blog, and my web site, are hosted on a Linux server that exists for real in my basement. It’s locked down with the latest security updates and strong password encryption. In a worse case scenario, I can pull the plug, re-load from my daily backup, and be back up and running within minutes. I confess to actually getting some amusement scrolling through my logs to see this loser waste time in his (or her) pathetic life trying to hack my little insignificant blog. The only time my site goes down is if there’s a power outage in my area, or when I need to reboot after installing the latest security updates.

I do wonder, what kind of pathetic loser would try to hack a site like this? Then I realize that the truths I post are going to be offensive to those who profit from ignorance and censorship. The kind of person who has multiple fake Facebook accounts created from these multiple fake IP addresses so they can game Facebook’s heavy handed censorship policy by having them all report an “Offensive” post so a person can be censored. Except this time, it’s different. This time, their complaints would have to go to me. Of course, they would never air their grievance with me, because, deep down inside, they know that I’m right, that I speak the truth, and they’re a weasel who can only use underhanded tactics to silence me, and so that’s what they resort to. This motivates me to continue with this, to write candidly and openly about things that matter. Facebook’s fired. This is the home for my speech, and I won’t be silenced by some pathetic loser.


Facebook is everywhere

Facebook is an interesting phenomenon whereas its users are not the customer, they are the product. What this means is they collect information about you and then sell that information to whoever wants to buy it. When it comes to their platform, I understand the information I post there will be sold as such. What I don’t agree with is the fact that they are keeping track of me in other places on the web that have nothing to do with Facebook; places that have to do with my employment and finances.

Years ago, when there were issues with running Javascript on certain web sites, I followed the advice of an article I read and installed NoScript in my Firefox browser. I had since then switched over to Chromium and then Chrome, but didn’t bother installing NoScript. I decided to switch back to Firefox when I switched back to Ubuntu, and decided to use its default browser for a while. Signing back into Firefox meant that NoScript was added for me. NoScript is an extension that, by default, does not allow any scripts to run, and then I get to choose which scripts can run on which sites. Since it had been a while since I switched back, most of the permissions on NoScript had to be set up for web sites to work.

Imagine my surprise when I went to my trade union web site to discover that one of the scripts it was trying to run was from facebook.net. Equally as disturbing was when I went to my online banking site with my credit union, the same script from facebook.net was also trying to run. This script was trying to run even after I logged into my sessions at these respective sites. I tagged this script as “Untrusted” at these sites, so it cannot run. These web sites continue to work perfectly fine without the script from facebook.net.

As far as I’m concerned, NoScript is a valuable add-on for anyone who wishes to browse the Internet under their own terms. Not only will it protect you from malicious scripts (assuming you don’t mark a malicious script as “Trusted,”) it also puts giant marketing creeps back in their place while I do my personal business free from their prying eyes.

Educate before you vaccinate

Recently in Toronto, a local anti-vaccine movement called “Vaccine choice Canada” bought billboard advertisements suggesting people “Educate before you vaccinate.” By and large, I support people educating themselves and generally mistrusting authoritarianism, but in this case, the “Education” they are advertising is misinformation and pseudoscience, ironically, from people who come from generations that have benefited the most from vaccinations. In the spirit of education, I will share my understanding of vaccines.

First, it’s important to understand what a vaccine is, and to understand the true nature of vaccines, it’s equally important to understand the nature of what vaccines are protecting against. Vaccines protect us against virus and disease by allowing our immune system to “Learn” how to protect us from virus and disease. By injecting ourselves with a sterilized and deactivated or severely weakened version of a virus, our immune system can develop antibodies that can attack and destroy the real version of that virus. Without a vaccine shot, a disease like smallpox can do a lot of damage in the time it takes our immune system to develop antibodies to defend against it. In the case of young children, the damage can be enough to kill them.

I can understand where the anti vaccine movement is coming from; our authoritarian government wants to be our drug dealer, glamorizes and profits from the sale of alcohol, and runs casinos and lotteries at a profit to them. There was a time when these things were illegal as those who governed us recognized the harm, so it’s no wonder that people rightfully see our government as self-serving at our expense and misery. However, when it comes to vaccines, we only need to study history to understand the collective benefit they offer. Before vaccines were widely available, couples would have a lot of children with the understanding that some of them would die from a horrible disease. Records are available to demonstrate the mortality rate of pre-vaccination children compared to today. A visit to local grave sites will demonstrate the number of child graves drops off significantly after vaccines were made widely available.

I think it’s important to consider the motivation of the anti-vax movement. We don’t have to dig too deep to discover that they make money by selling anti-vaccine books, selling supplements and vitamins in their “Wellness” store, and soliciting donations. There are also the “Alternative” health care providers that profit once they manage to convince you that conventional healthcare is harmful and therefore they are the solution to better health. If you actually believe these people sincerely want to help you, I suggest they only want to insincerely help themselves to your money when you do get sick and believe you have nowhere else to turn. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. Click here to read more about this on vaxopedia.org.

Once we recognize the benefit vaccines offer us all, it becomes readily apparent why those self-serving individuals in power would want us peons to be vaccinated; if everybody in our society is vaccinated, they and their children are better protected, because the more people that are vaccinated, the less likely it is for a disease to affect you. This is important, because, over time, our immune system stops making antibodies for diseases it hasn’t had to deal with for a while. This is fine when something like smallpox has been eradicated, but when something else remains a threat, it’s necessary for us to get booster shots before potential exposure. Ultimately, the ideal goal for all of us is to see all disease eradicated, and currently the path to that goal is vaccinations. However, if you still think you don’t want to get your child vaccinated, I recommend keeping their name short, and don’t get too attached to that kid, because the current anti-vax movement has meant that some diseases are making a comeback.

My great aunt died at the age of 5 from disease, she did not have the benefit of free vaccinations.