The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Weekend reading list

Just a few things I'm reading that you also might want to read:

And finally, it's getting close to April and the Blogging A-to-Z Challenge. Stay tuned.

The last moments of winter

Today actually had a lot of news, not all of which I've read yet:

And now, good night to February.

Lunchtime reading

I had these lined up to read at lunchtime:

Meanwhile, for only the second time in four weeks, we can see sun outside the office windows:

Messing with the wrong guy

A telephone scam artist is going to prison after picking precisely the wrong victim:

Keniel Thomas, 29, from Jamaica, pleaded guilty in October to interstate communication with the intent to extort, federal authorities said.

He was sentenced to 71 months in prison last week by U.S. District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell in Washington, D.C., and will be deported after he has served his term, officials said.

Thomas made his first call to [William] Webster, 94, on June 9, 2014, identifying himself as David Morgan. He said that he was the head of the Mega Millions lottery and that Webster was the winner of $15.5 million and a 2014 Mercedes Benz, according to court documents.

Little did Thomas know that he was targeting the man who had served as director of the FBI and then the CIA under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

Usually Webster just ignores these idiots, but apparently Thomas behaved particularly egregiously, even threatening Webster's wife. So basically Thomas will spend almost 6 years in prison because he's a stupid schmuck.

Still, it's nice to send one of those bastards to jail.

Olé, olé olé olé!

Oh, I love these stories. On today's Daily WTF, editor Remy Porter describes the world I grew up in, where dates were dates and 30 December 1899 ruled them all:

If you wanted to set a landmark, you could pick any date, but a nice round number seems reasonable. Let's say, for example, January 1st, 1900. From there, it's easy to just add and subtract numbers of days to produce new dates. Oh, but you do have to think about leap years. Leap years are more complicated- a year is a leap year if it's divisible by four, but not if it's divisible by 100, unless it's also divisible by 400. That's a lot of math to do if you're trying to fit a thousand rows in a spreadsheet on a computer with less horsepower than your average 2019 thermostat.

So you cheat. Checking if a number is divisible by four doesn't require a modulus operation—you can check that with a bitmask, which is super fast. Unfortunately, it means your code is wrong, because you think 1900 is a leap year. Now all your dates after February 28th are off-by-one. Then again, you're the one counting. Speaking of being the one counting, while arrays might start at zero, normal humans start counting at one, so January 1st should be 1, which makes December 31st, 1899 your "zero" date.

Our macro language is off-by-one for the first few months of 1900, but that discrepancy is acceptable, and no one at Microsoft, including Bill Gates who signed off on it, cares.

The Basic-derived macro language is successful enough inside of Excel that it grows up to be Visual Basic. It is "the" Microsoft language, and when they start extending it with features like COM for handling library linking and cross-process communication, it lays the model. Which means when they're figuring out how to do dates in COM… they use the Visual Basic date model. And COM was the whole banana, as far as Windows was concerned- everything on Windows touched COM or its successors in some fashion. It wasn't until .NET that the rule of December 30th, 1899 was finally broken, but it still crops up in Office products and SQL Server from time to time.

The .NET epoch began 1 January 2000. Except for DateTimeOffset values, whose epoch began on the non-existent date 1 January 0. Or DateTime values (now deprecated) which start at the beginning of the Gregorian calendar in 1753. (Same with SQL Server datetime types.)

The bottom line: dates are hard.

My next side-trip from London

...will be to Bletchley Park:

The National Museum of Computing is a must-see if you are ever in the UK. It was a short 30ish minute train ride up from London. We spent the whole afternoon there.

There is a rebuild of the Colossus, the the world's first electronic computer. It had a single purpose: to help decipher the Lorenz-encrypted (Tunny) messages between Hitler and his generals during World War II. The Colossus Gallery housing the rebuild of Colossus tells that remarkable story.

We saw the Turing-Welchman Bombe machine, an electro-mechanical device used to break Enigma-enciphered messages about enemy military operations during the Second World War. They offer guided tours (recommended as the volunteers have encyclopedic knowledge) and we were able to encrypt a message with the German Enigma (there's a 90 second video I made, here) and decrypt it with the Bombe, which is effectively 12 Engimas working in parallel, backwards.

I wanted to understand the computing power these systems had then, and now. Check out the website where you can learn about the OctaPi - a Raspberry Pi array of eight Pis working together to brute-force Engima. You can make your own here!

Yes, there's a Raspberry Pi Enigma-cracker. If only we'd had one in 1940...

OK, it's a little chilly

The official temperature at O'Hare got down to -31°C before 7am. Here at IDTWHQ it's -28.4°C. We didn't hit the all-time record (-32.8C) set in 1985, but wait! We will likely hit the low-maximum temperature record today.

WGN reports that temperatures under -29°C have occurred only 15 times since records began 54,020 days ago.

And the Wiccan coven next door has just received a shipment of battery-heated, thermal-insulated sports bras.

So, I'll be working from the IDTWHQ today. And tomorrow.

Rally nice view

I'm happy to announce that I started a new role on the 14th at Rally Health, a software company wholly owned by United Health Group. I'll have more to say later (still figuring out the social media policies), but for now I can say, look at the view:

And here's the view from the north:

Today, by the way, is the first day since I started that we've had anything approaching full sunlight. Of course, it's frighteningly cold out, but hey: nice view.

(I'll update Facebook and LinkedIn over the weekend, for those of you who care about those things.)

Transitioning to a new environment in 15 easy steps

As readers have inferred, I've started a new position (more later), and with that I've got to set up a new work computer. I say "computer," but it's actually a MacBook Pro. All of my everything lives in the Microsoft universe. This has caused a slight problem trying to get access to my new company's source code in GitHub.

See, I've used Password Safe for years to manage all my passwords. By "all" I mean that I follow the standard industry practice of never re-using passwords, and generating strong passwords for each asset. This includes my GitHub account.

Today I finally got my existing GitHub account authorized to access the company's repositories. So all I have to do is log in to my GitHub account, and...wait...crap.

So how do I get my GitHub password? Here are the steps I tried:

  1. My safe file is on OneDrive, so I can get it off my phone and email it to my work address. No problem there.
  2. But PWSafe is a Windows application. There isn't a Mac version available through the same vendor.
  3. There is a Mac version through a different vendor—for $15. OK, let me rule out all the free options first.
  4. Aha! I have a virtual machine sitting in Microsoft Azure that I can spin up. It has access to OneDrive and it has a local copy of PWSafe already installed.
  5. Log into the Microsoft Azure portal.
  6. Spin up VM.
  7. Google how to connect to it from a Mac. (Microsoft has a client available through the iTunes store.)
  8. Go to the App Store on my Mac.
  9. Find the RDP client.
  10. Attempt to install the RDP client.
  11. Dammit. I have to set up a new Apple ID because my personal Apple ID is—you guessed it—in the safe.
  12. Set up a new Apple ID for work.
  13. Actually install the RDP client this time.
  14. Realize that the password for the VM is—you guessed it—in the safe.
  15. Shut down the VM for now.
  16. Jot down a note to add my GitHub account to LastPass so I can get into it from work.
  17. Jot down another note to add my VM credentials to LastPass.
  18. Get more tea.
  19. Blog about this.

Oh well. I have plenty to do this afternoon that doesn't involve writing software.