Monday, June 1, 2020

Day 73: Slacking

This article is part of The 100 Days Offensive. Go to Day 70.

This has been a long three-day-weekend due to Pentecost Monday here in Germany. I used Sunday evening and the extra day to slack a bit...

Originally I planned to continue my Jitsi article, but I could not get myself to setup a clean server to document the next steps. Also the CPU fan of my PC needs a replacement, but I didn't do that either. The sport was far below average as well. A side effect of doing too much paperwork yesterday morning.

Instead of work(out) we watched several movies:
Also I spent some time in Civilization VI with the new leader Simon Bolivar subjugating the world to my whims.

But the highest priority had catching up some sleep.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Day 72: Paperwork

This article is part of The 100 Days Offensive. Go to Day 71 or Day 73.
Every few months I go through all the paperwork I received. The bills should already have been paid, but I use that pass to make sure of it. Then I digitize all relevant mail.
My wife and I receive about 400 letters per year that need to be archived (and about twice that volumes that get shredded right away). That includes all bills, account balances, information from banks, insurances, and the government. As we had to take over all paperwork for my parents-in-law in 2014, we established a "scan line". All documents receive a unique serial number, get scanned & OCRed, and then archived on my NAS (with regular backups).

My process line includes the following devices and soft-/hardware:
  • A numbering stamp apparatus: It automatically increases the number stamped on every application of the stamp and therefore allows the creation of serial numbers for the document. I manually set the first two digits to match the last two digits of the year. This creates a Year-2100-problem for me, but I am happy should I still be alive to experience it.
  • A Brother ADS-1600W scanner: Initially I tried a printer/scanner combination. But that created too many problems as the sheet feeder was not up to the tasks of scanning thousands of pages. The feeder of the Brother scanner is not perfect but sufficient. The biggest problem lies outside the domain of the scanner.
  • A QNAP TS-1277 NAS: This has become my swiss army knife for my home IT. I have a lot of disk space (very fast with a 10GBit/s network card), can run VMs and Docker containers.
  • The ABBY Finereader 15 corporate edition: IMHO the best OCR software I have ever seen. It also compresses the scanned PDF by a factor of 10 or more while making it searchable. I had to buy the corporate edition to automate the workflow as much as possible (using the Hotfolder component).
I really hate that task. But the result is really useful. It has become so easy to retrieve a document (e.g. for filing the tax returns), that it saves a lot of work in the long run. We have all the documents at our fingertips when working at the PC.

The most tedious task is not to scan but to name the documents. While scanning is a simple mechanical task (except the problems due to stapling: see below), naming requires attention and concentration. In order to retrieve the files easily, a lot is coded into the file name:
  • The serial number of the document
  • The abbreviated name(s) of the recipient(s)
  • The name of the sender
  • The subject of the document (e.g. "bill electricity")
  • The full date when sent
  • Flags for "tax relevant" and "healthcare-relevant"
I hope one day an AI may assist me in doing that task, but currently, it would still take weeks of work to automate it. I have ideas for a partially automated workflow but not enough time to try it. Going through about 100 documents currently takes about 2 hours. The concentration is needed to avoid small changes in the naming. I often have to look up how I previously named a similar document.

There are some nuisances when doing paperwork:
  • Staples: They are my enemy number one. It is easy to overlook (especially when small staples are used and e.g. just pages 3 & 4 are stapled together) that 20th-century crap. Even when removed carefully, formerly stapled pages are the number one reason for jams on the scanner side. You can really get on my bad side of me by using those things.
  • Needle printer: Like staples, those machines should have died out decades ago. Together with fading ink ribbons, they create barely readable letters that impair the OCR. When I get one of those, I guess the sender is writing his invoices on an original IBM PC with MS-DOS 3.11 and printing them through a Centronics parallel interface.
  • Glue: Some companies use glue to fix things to the letter (e.g. customer or credit cards). That really involves a lot of work to scan those letters properly.
Usually, when I do several months of paperwork in one go, at some point I get fed up with it. Then I need to sit down and do something different for a while (e.g. write a blog post).

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Day 71: Bumblebee watching

This article is part of The 100 Days Offensive. Go to Day 70 or Day 72.

I'm not a nature guy. You probably wouldn't have guessed that from my blog. But there are some exceptions and one of those is watching bumblebees.

Somehow those small guys fascinate me. They are kind of clumsy but they make it up with 100% determination. Perhaps due to that attitude I can relate to them.


But even the busiest bumblebee needs some rest sometimes. Up until a few months ago, I did not know that they sleep in flowers.


That is a level cuteness usually reserved for cats.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Day 70: Swapfiets

This article is part of The 100 Days Offensive. Go to Day 69 or Day 71.

So my bike was stolen on Wednesday, I am already mobile again on Friday. Thanks to bike-as-a-service.

Some friends on social media suggested to me, that 20 years is an age where a bicycle should be replaced anyway. And I was already thinking about that. But the decision was to use my old one more until I knew better, what I want from a new bike. I am torn between a classic bike or a pedelec. While currently in halfway decent shape, the time is visible on the horizon where an electrical assist will come handy. Going for the future-proof version easily triples the costs. Beside this major choice, there are a myriad of other design decisions, I don't want to make in a hurry.

So I was looking for an interim solution.

Swapfiets was a suggestion of a friend when I complained to him about my missing bike. As IT-person, service-oriented offerings have their own appeal. With less than 20 Euro per month, the cost of any error is cheap.

The service part went 95% perfect. The registration was easy and painless. I registered for the service on Wednesday afternoon and on Thursday morning I received a call to choose a time window to pickup my swapfiets. Usually they would also bring it to me, but due to Corona this part of the service is limited and incurs waiting time. As the location is easily reached, I agreed to a pickup on Friday afternoon.

So here it is:


It is a no-frills-bicycle that has been optimized for easy maintainability. It seems pretty robust and I could not find any technical faults even though it was not a new one.

The swapfiets comes with 7 gears (more than enough), builtin lock (more on that later), always-on light and (this is IMHO the biggest catch) back pedal brake. If I hurt myself in a traffic accident, probably the brake will be the reason. While it is hard to train a new skill (e.g. to use that brake) it is even harder to un-train existing skills (that lead to unintentional braking).

I have a muscle memory that is perfectly trained to move the pedals into a position for optimal thrust when not actively working as propulsion. When my legs do that now, they activate the brakes. This leads to a negative feedback loop as the legs now try to get into the optimal acceleration position even faster. The only hand brake is on the right side, which hand I usually use to keep me upright at the post of the traffic light. This also leads to interesting coordination problems. People behind me probably thought that I was driving the first time on a bicycle.

Another (literally small) problem is the saddle. As pressure is force divided by surface, the use is painful for me. But that is solvable as I am allowed to change it (I have to re-attach the original one when I return the swapfiets).

When you're thinking about using it too, there is something you need to be aware off: the lock.


It is not just one locks but two combined. One lock is a chain that can be used to attach the lock somewhere and a second one to block the rear wheel. The key of the lock can only be removed in case both locks are closed. So you cannot attach they key to your key ring as it has to be in the lock while driving. The advantage is that you cannot forget the lock at home (who would do that?) and in case of a theft, your own contribution on the replacement is quite small (60 Euros). This is not always very practical for the user, but acceptable.

Overall I can say: Swapfiets is exactly what the company advertises. A minimal bicycle as a service. They were really fast in my case and they deliver a sturdy, easy-to-use bike. The major disadvantage only applies, if you're not used to a back pedal brake. For me that is quite a bummer. But see it positive: I now am really motivated not let the interim period last too long. It is a workable solution for short distances, but nothing I would plan to do longer tours with.



Thursday, May 28, 2020

Day 69: Review "Westworld - Season 3" (TV series)

This article is part of The 100 Days Offensive. Go to Day 68 or Day 70.

We're not in Kansas anymore with the third season of "Westworld".


Now our dear one-woman-army consisting of Dolores (played by Evan Rachel Wood), Dolores (played by Thessa Thompson) and Dolores (played by Clifton Colins Jr. and others) is travelling around the world to bring down the world that enslaved her. And she is not good at making prisoners...

Contrary to my last review of a series, I cannot complain about the level of acting. It is really top notch. I could not name a single role that is not excellently cast. But I have to confess that I am partial to every picture that has Ed Harris in it. Vincent Kassel has the role of the antagonist. He represents the system that enslaved the robots (or hosts as they are called) in order to create much of the data for his AI.

I think it was the right decision to leave the original Westworld island behind. There would have been little left to tell there. The new world stuns with fantastic architecture shots. It really feels like a future world, but lacks the dirt and dust of the Western scenario. Partially due to that they do not achieve the same level of immersion as they did with the first two seasons. The world feels, even though more populated, less alive and sometimes sterile.

The story is not as catching as it has been in the initial seasons. The plot holes are more apparent and numerous, but still below average compared to other TV series. It was really hard for me to understand the motivation of Maeve (played by Thandiwe Newton). It felt a bit as if they just had to find a way for the re-appearance of one of the favorite characters. Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) has also made it into the human world, but his part remains peripheral and without obvious purpose. Perhaps that is just a preparation for a spin-off or season four with him as main character.

Overall I enjoyed this season but the series is showing some strain. As with many TV series, the authors struggle to keep the initial high level.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Day 68: Goodbye old friend....

This article is part of The 100 Days Offensive. Go to Day 67 or Day 69.

Today a companion for 20 years was stolen from me...

I bought this bike in 2000. It served me well, survived a crash with a car (where I broke several bones), years of neglect while stowed away in a shed and several repair shops.

But today I left my home without my jacket (it was so warm and sunny) not thinking of the lock in the pocket. So when I arrived at my destination, I had no lock. As it was early in the morning and I would only be away for 20 minutes, I thought I could leave it there without the usual safety precaution. One of my worse ideas...


It did not look like much, but it worked really fine and has proven nearly indestructible.

I walked around in the neighborhood tonight, hoping for a lazy thief. But no such luck....

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Day 67: Tandoori-Peach-Turkey-Curry

This article is part of The 100 Days Offensive. Go to Day 66 or Day 68.

One thing I like about the home office: I get to cook more.

Today I improvised a dish based on Turkey breast, Peaches, Tandoori-spices, cream, onions and curcuma rice.


Serving:


Ingredients:

  • 1.5 pounds of turkey breast (in small slices, marinated with olive oil and sweet pepper powder)
  • 2 diced red onions 
  • 3 diced spring onions
  • 2 table spoons of tandoori spice
  • 1 cup of cream
  • 1 large can of peaches (mashed)
  • 1 small can of  sliced peaches