The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

We're dumb, but we're not that dumb

Two sad-funny examples of how, nah, we're exactly that dumb. The first, from TDWTF, points out the fundamental problem with training a machine-learning system how to write software:

Any ML system is only as good as its training data, and this leads to some seriously negative outcomes. We usually call this algorithmic bias, and we all know the examples. It's why voice assistants have a hard time with certain names or accents. It's why sentencing tools for law enforcement mis-classify defendants. It's why facial recognition systems have a hard time with darker skin tones.

In the case of an ML tool that was trained on publicly available code, there's a blatantly obvious flaw in the training data: MOST CODE IS BAD.

If you feed a big pile of Open Source code into OpenAI, the only thing you're doing is automating the generation of bad code, because most of the code you fed the system is bad. It's ironic that the biggest obstacle to automating programmers out of a job is that we are terrible at our jobs.

I regret to inform the non-programmer portion of the world that this is true.

But still, most of the world's bad code isn't nearly as bad as the deposition Paula Deen gave in her harassment suit in May 2013. This came up in a conversation over the weekend, and the person I discussed this with insisted that, no, she really said incredibly dumb things that one has to imagine made her attorney weep. She reminds us that the Venn diagram of casual bigotry and stupidity has a large overlapping area labeled "Murica."

Just wait for the bit where the plaintiff's attorney asks Deen to give an example of a nice way to use the N-word.

I will now continue writing code I hope never winds up in either a deposition or on TDWTF.

How to screw up both time *and* money

Credit-card processing company Worldpay mixed up two fields in a batch on Tuesday (that they mixed up with a batch from April 18th), resulting in hilarious (in retrospect) errors processing charges from the Brighton Palace Pier in southern England. How do we know the error involved April 18th, you ask? Try to guess:

One woman who had visited the attraction in April told of her surprise on the morning of 24 June when a text message from her bank informed her that her account was overdrawn. She discovered that £2,104.18 had been taken on Wednesday by Brighton Palace Pier in what was described as a “deferred payment.”

Ah, haha, ha. I did spend about four minutes pondering how the process failed, as Worldpay claims the error actually occurred Tuesday of this week, but I have my own code to fix before I start debugging someone else's today.

Head to desk. Repeat as needed.

I spent nearly three days debugging a configuration issue that I resolved by simply deleting the wonky Azure App Service and rebuilding it from the CI pipeline. It's hard to find a real-world analogy. The total time required to simply start over (given the automation we've spent two years building) was less than an hour, meaning had I done that Thursday morning, instead of trying to fix the unfixable problem, I'd have saved myself a net 22 hours of grief.

Blarg.

The world still spins

As much fun as Cassie and I have had over the last few days, the news around the world didn't stop:

Finally, journalist Jack Lieb filmed D-Day using a 16mm home movie camera, which you can see on the National Archives blog. It's really cool.

Can't find app with name "<function-name-here>"

I hope this helps someone else having this problem deploying a .NET function to Azure App Services.

At my day job, we created a new Azure directory and subscription for my group's product. As the product has gotten closer to release, we realized we needed a more complete separation from the company's Azure assets and our group's. So far, so good. I had some annoyances updating our deployment pipelines, but nothing I hadn't expected.

Then I tried to deploy our one function app. I followed the basic script in PowerShell:

Import-Module Az
Connect-AzAccount
CD c:\source\solution\project\bin\Debug\net5.0\
func azure functionapp publish function-name-dev

The script failed with: Can't find app with name "function-name-dev"

Undeterred, I modified the script:

Import-Module Az
Connect-AzAccount -Tenant 'guid' -SubscriptionId 'guid'
az account set --subscription 'guid'
CD c:\source\solution\project\bin\Debug\net5.0\
func azure functionapp publish function-name-dev

Same result. Googling and searching through Stack Overflow didn't help either. After a lot of experimentation, I finally got an error message that pointed me down the correct path, but only when I tried to create a new function app in the same subscription:

The following tenants require Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA). Use 'az login --tenant TENANT_ID' to explicitly login to a tenant.

And that was the solution. My new script, which worked fine, now looks like this:

Import-Module Az
Connect-AzAccount -Tenant 'guid' -SubscriptionId 'guid'
az login --tenant 'guid'
az account set --subscription 'guid'
CD c:\source\solution\project\bin\Debug\net5.0\
func azure functionapp publish function-name-dev

I may refine it further as I may have some redundancies in there. But I have now deployed the function app and tested it, much to my satisfaction.

Electronic Arts' offshore tech support wins this round

When a software company engages with an offshore technical support team, they signal to the world that they have little interest in supporting their users. Offshore teams have no incentive to actually solve problems. In fact, individual tech support reps get punished for independent thought in some organizations. So if you have a support issue that they can't find in the support manual (even if you send them a link to the exact community page that explains the issue and solution), they won't help.

Electronic Arts, the legal successor to Maxis for all things SimCity, has an offshore tech support team that has, I believe, completely given up on solving my problem. That it took as many emails as it did before they finally asked me to do something impossible only adds to the farce.

I got this message this morning:

Thank you for contacting EA Help. My name is Krishna and I would assist you with your Origin issue today.

I would suggest please contact your retailer they will help out this issue.

Krishna, the most likely case is that I am contacting the retailer. My reply:

I actually don’t remember where I bought the software, because I bought it 18 years ago. I thought it was Egghead, but they went bankrupt in 2001. So I probably bought it directly from Maxis. EA bought Maxis in 2015. So, really, I bought it directly from the company you represent.

Once more, with feeling: I have a license for SimCity 4 that I obtained in 2003. The software does not work on any Windows platform after Vista because Maxis made an engineering choice that turned out to be wrong. Flash forward to 2021, and the only way I can use the software today is through Origin. I therefore need to download the software using Origin, and then activate it, which requires a code.

Is it possible to escalate this to someone with the authority to solve this very simple problem?

I believe EA has now burned about 4-5x the value of the activation code avoiding giving me the activation code. As a 25-year veteran of software development, I can say this exactly the outcome I would predict from an offshore tech support operation.

So, I'll probably just give EA $20 for a new license, while continuing to ridicule them on social media.

May I please play this game that I bought in 2003?

Maxis died in 2015 and made Electronic Arts king of SimCity. When I recently found a copy of SimCity 4, one of the only computer games I've ever played long enough to get good at, I thought I might waste an hour or two on a rainy Sunday playing it.

Unfortunately, the CD requires a copy-protection feature in Windows Vista that Windows 7 dropped because researchers discovered a massive security flaw in it. The CD, therefore, will only work on Windows Vista or Windows XP, neither of which I have run since 2007. So I combed through tech support articles Electronic Arts published on the issue (both of them) and found that EA can provide a key to run the product on Origin, its portable game engine.

Here is the conversation I had with EA tech support. I'm including the names provided by the tech reps only because it became an issue that a new person replied to each of my replies.

Sunday 2 May 2021, 13:25 CDT

Subject: Ancient SimCity 4 CD-ROM + new Origin install = need support to activate

Message: Hi! I recently found a SimCity 4 CD that I bought when it came out. There's a known incompatibility with Windows 10, so it won't play anymore. But I found this support article that says you can send me a code for the downloadable version on Origin. What do you need from me to send a code?

Monday 3 May 2021, 01:06 CDT

Hello David Braverman,

Thank you for contacting EA Help. This is Krishna, following up on your case of Origin.

I can see that you are concerned about your SimCity 4 game code.

Please do not worry, I will certainly help you with this issue.

In order to investigate it further, we'll need to verify your account ownership. And to do the same, I've just sent you an email with a 6 digit verification code in it.

Please copy that code here to verify account ownership.

I patiently await your response.

You can also find answers to common questions on our Help Center at http://help.ea.com, or ask our community experts by visiting Answer HQ at http://answers.ea.com.

Thank you once again for contacting EA Help! Stay safe!

Still need help? You can reach us on help.ea.com .

Krishna K.
EA Help

Monday 3 May 2021 19:07 CDT

Here you go: {code}

Tuesday 4 May 2021, 06:14 CDT

Hello David Braverman,
Thank you for contacting EA help. My name is Rahul and I would assist you with your issue today in Origin.

I see you have a CD for SimCity 4 and you are unable to run it on your system and looking for it to be installed in a digital form or on the Origin account.

To help you further, we need game code written over the CD or game manual.

Awaiting your response. Thanks!

Still need help? You can reach us on help.ea.com .

Rahul K.
EA Help

Tuesday 4 May 2021, 08:22 CDT

Hi, Rahul,

The code is: {code}

Thanks!

Wednesday 5 May 2021, 01:51 CDT

Hello David Braverman,
Thank you for contacting EA help. My name is Maria and I would assist you with your issue today in Origin.

I see you have a CD for SimCity 4 and you are unable to run it on your system and looking for it to be installed in a digital form or on the Origin account.

Thank you for sharing the code for the game, however, may I know from where did you purchase the game as the shared code is not for the origin and The SimCity 4.

Awaiting your response. Thanks!

Still need help? You can reach us on help.ea.com .

Maria S.
EA Help

Wednesday 5 May 2021, 08:28 CDT

This is getting silly.

It’s an original CD from 2003, so I probably purchased it from an Egghead Software store in Chicago. In 2003. 18 years ago.

Thursday 6 May 2021, 05:53 CDT

Hello David Braverman,
Hi my name is Abhishek and I'm the advisor that is currently handling your case.

I see that you are facing Invalid code issue in SimCity 4. I realize its indeed disappointing. I'll certainly help you with the best possible information to help you out with this issue.

In order to help you we need to locate your account, please be sure to provide at least one of these:
- Email address linked with you EA account
- PSN ID/XBOX Gamertag
- Your Origin ID
- Code number.

I will leave your case open for 7 days waiting for an answer, after that it will be closed automatically.

Thank you for contacting EA Help today, and please feel free to reach out to us again in case you need further assistance with this issue or any further queries you might have in the future! https://help.ea.com

Still need help? You can reach us on help.ea.com .

Abhishek S.
EA Help

Thursday 6 May 2021, 08:42 CDT

This is becoming a farce.

At 24-hour intervals, I get an email from a different person who appears to have no idea why I reached out to EA support. I provide the information you ask for, and then the next day I get a new email showing a complete disregard for the email I sent the day before.

I expect the next person who emails me to have read the case file and to respond to it in any way that answers the inquiry.

All I want is a code for SimCity 4 because the CD I bought in 2003 won’t work on any computer built after 2009. I’ve provided the serial number of the CD, you have my email address because it’s the one you’ve emailed, and if you can’t find my Origin ID, that’s just sad.

My next step is a detailed blog post, naming names, with a link posted on Twitter.

Your move.

Thursday 6 May 2021, 21:23 CDT

Hello David Braverman,
Thank you for contacting EA Help. My name is Jaikish and I would assist you with your Origin issue today.

Having gone through your email, I came to know that you are having issue while login to your Ancient SimCity 4 account. I know this must be disappointing for you. please don't worry, I will certainly help you with this issue.

Please let me share that we are unable to locate the account with the provided the Code" BY7P-NHL7-M24C-4JQK-9BL6". I would request you please provide the Correct code to locate the account.

Look forward to your reply.

You can also find answers to common questions on our Help Center at "http://help.ea.com" or ask our community experts by visiting Answer HQ at "http://answers.ea.com"

Thank you for contacting EA help .

Still need help? You can reach us on help.ea.com .

Jaikish G.
EA Help

Today, 10:27 CDT

OK, since a new person reads this case file every time I reply, let me start from the top.

I have a CD-ROM that I bought in 2003. The CD-ROM has a license number on the back of the case. This has never been an Origin issue, except that an EA technical support document claimed that I can get an Origin code for Sim City 4 by showing proof that I own a copy of a Sim City 4 CD.

Here, then, is me with the copy of the CD that I own.

I have shown proof that I own a copy of a Sim City 4 CD, and I would like a code to unlock Sim City 4 on Origin, please. Thank you.

And here we are.

You know what? They might win this round. The current version of SimCity, released in 2013, costs $20—a lot less than my bill rate would have been for all these messages. So Krishna, Rahul, Maria, Abhishek, and Jaikish, having mustered the very best example of obstructionism that a company with overseas tech support can muster, may get me to spend the $20 after all.

But I still want my copy of SimCity 4, dammit!

On this day...

May 5th has some history, and not just about a relatively minor battle in Mexico that most Mexicans don't even remember.

For example, two hundred years ago today, Napoleon died and The Guardian was born. I never knew about that coincidence. TIL.

And this morning, Facebook's Oversight Board upheld the social-media company's ban on the XPOTUS, at least for the next six months.

Also TIL that my main programming language, C#, commands 7% of the Internet's mind-share, making it the 4th most-popular programming language. Python, at 30%, is the most popular, because its ease of use (and ease of writing the most godawful spaghetti code imaginable) makes it the preferred language of non-programmers.

I'm glad to see that one of my most-hated languages, Scala, continues its plummet, now even less popular than Visual Basic and and VBA, two languages that should have died during the GWB presidency.

Found an old game. Now what?

Over the weekend, I stooped down to give Cassie some pats while she slept on her bed in my office, and realized I had a cache of turn-of-the-century computer games on a lower shelf. Among them I found SimCity 4, from 2003.

It turns out that SimCity 4, like many games from that era, relies on a thing called "SecuROM" which turned out to have sufficient security problems of its own that Microsoft decided not to support it in Windows 10. I didn't know this until I started researching why the game just...didn't work. When you find a support article that says "96 people have reported this problem" you at least know you're not alone.

So, following the advice in the support article, I opened a support case with Electronic Arts. We are now on a 24-hour cycle of them asking me to send back auto-generated codes to prove I'm an actual person with an actual copy of the SimCity 4 CD. This, after it took three rounds with their automated systems to set up a support account. The merry-go-round with their automated systems was irritating, but the 24-hour cycle time between emails just makes me laugh. I haven't actually taken the time 

After all that, I may actually play SimCity for the first time in 17 years at some point this month. I can't wait to see how a game designed for Pentium 4 processors and 256 MB of RAM performs on a Xeon 6C with 40 GB available...

Lunchtime reading before heading outside

Today is not only the 35th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, it's also the 84th anniversary of the Nazi bombing of Guernica. Happy days, happy days.

In today's news, however:

I will now get lunch. And since it's 17°C right now (as opposed to yesterday's 5°C), I may eat it outside.