David's Blog

Living a quiet life in Coquitlam, B.C.

Location: Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Fly Fishing: A Trip to Houston

Last week, I took a week-long trip to Houston, British Columbia. As always, I enjoyed the time spent out of the city and in a small town. And, as always, the weather was beautiful. I usually make a trip to Houston once a year, in the summer. Summers tend to be warm and dry; in fact, they are too dry. Farmers and gardeners are always complaining about the lack of water. It rarely rains and, when it does, the rainfall is so light the water barely soaks into the soil. The warm dry weather may not be good for farmers, but it does make visits pleasant for tourists who just spend a little time there.

The skies are also clearer outside of the Lower Mainland; I always seem to come back with a nice tan (ironic, that I don’t tan when I am in the south, but get a nice tan when I go north).

We also enjoyed spending time in Steelhead Park, which is just across Highway 16 from the shopping centre. It is well-maintained, has a nice water fountain, and boasts the World's Largest Fly Rod:


We also took a trip to Smithers, which is a 45-minute drive west of Houston along Highway 16.
Smithers is a very nice small town; it seems to have all the amenities of a small city: a McDonald’s, Tim Hortons, airport, etc.

We headed home from Houston early Friday morning.
Just out of curiousity, I used the trip odometer on my car to check the distance from Houston to Coquitlam. From being parked at my dad’s house, to being parked in my apartment building’s parking lot was 1084 kilometres. This number included a few stops along the way for gas and food but, otherwise, is pretty accurate.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Social Bookmarking

Some time ago, I got into “social bookmarking”. I had heard about it for a while, but never really paid attention to it. However, I finally decided to try it out, and I like it.

If you are unfamiliar with social bookmarking, basically it refers to saving your bookmarks online at one of the many sites that offer such a service. My favorite is del.icio.us (the URL is included in the title link of this post). The interface is quite plain, but the service is good (and it is free). And having my bookmarks saved online is extremely convenient. Previously, I would often come across a good website at work, and I would e-mail the URL to myself at home. Or vice versa. Now, whenever I find a good link, I don’t have to e-mail myself back-and-forth; I just log into my del.icio.us account and save the URL. I still have a folder full of favorites in the web browser on my computer; however, having them saved online makes them accessible from any computer in the world connected to the Internet. So I can access them from a public library, Internet café, etc. In addition, I consider such services to provide redundancy for my favorite links. For example, if I update my web browser, re-format my computer’s hard drive, get a virus, get a new computer, etc., I don’t have to worry about losing all my favorite links–-good-quality links which have been collected over several years.

Regarding the del.icio.us site specifically, by default, all saved URLs are public. Basically, when you save a URL, you also give it a name and assign meaningful tags to it. For example, if you save the URL http://www.iht.com/ you might give it the title “International Herald Tribune” and assign the following tags to it: news online-news online-newspaper politics

The tags help you find and/or group your sites later (as you gather hundreds of URLs). The tags also make your saved sites searchable by other people (remember, by default, all saved URLs are public). It works both ways: other people can see your sites; you can see other people’s sites. For example, if you check out what other sites people are assigning to the “online-newspaper” tag, you might discover some other good-quality news sites (I have found some of the best online resources this way). Sites which many people have saved recently are listed on the del.icio.us front page.

If you want to keep a URL from being public, click the “Keep Private” checkbox beside the URL textbox when first saving the URL.

Besides del.icio.us, there are hundreds of online bookmarking sites. For example, if you have customized your Yahoo! (http://myweb2.search.yahoo.com/) or Google (http://www.google.com/ig) homepage, you have the option of saving your favorite links. To mention a few others:



Blue Dot

A search for bookmarking sites or bookmarking managers should turn up many more, if you are interested.


A plug for a couple of my sites:
If you use any social bookmarking services please bookmark my sites (and if you do, thank-you very much!):

Numerical Mathematical Utilities

Suggested tags: mathematics eigenvalue eigenvector quadratic cubic quartic spline integration algebra matrix

- - -

Aerospace Engineering Resources

Suggested tags: aerospace engineering aerodynamics aeronautics rocket rocketscience rocketscientist mathematics

Monday, August 14, 2006

Quadratic Equation Solver to get a Complete Workover

I thought it was time to completely re-work the code for the three polynomial root-finding utilities I had written (solvers for the Quadratic, Cubic, and Quartic equations).

Presently, all three programs are simply codings of the textbook formulae for the roots of these equations. However, the textbook formulae do not properly deal with and quantify errors that arise when dealing with floating-point numbers in a computer program.

So I am presently in the process of re-writing all three programs like a proper computer scientist should: assume round-off errors will be present, and code to handle them properly (ideally, keep their effects to a minimum, and quantify them so that a user has some idea how meaningful the results are). I have found some highly-recommended code (in FORTRAN) for a general polynomial solver and am translating it into C++. Once that is done, I plan to post it by itself as a generic solver (as it is supposed to be). I will then further re-write the code into three separate programs, customized specifically for each case of polynomial in which I am interested (degree two, three, and four).

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Prehistoric Policies of Canada Customs

Cannot resist posting about the behind-the-times policies of Canada Customs.

As might be gathered from previous posts, I travel quite a lot. (Also made many trips before starting this blog.)

If you have ever flown into Canada, you’ll know that each person entering Canada must be listed on a Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) Declaration Card, on which must also be listed the value of goods being brought into Canada. This declaration form is utter nonsense. The only other nation that uses such a declaration form (that I know of) is America. You can fly to most countries in Europe, India, China, Japan, and more, without having to waste your time on B.S. like this form.

A little more about this form.
The main purpose of this form is to shake money out of people. The form specifically asks about gifts being brought into Canada, their value, as well as alcohol and cigarettes. In Canada, I think 50% (if not more) of the purchase price of alcohol and cigarettes is taxes, which go toward supporting Canada’s bloated–and useless–social programs. Instead of eliminating these ridiculous programs, cutting taxes, and eliminating the motive for travelers to load up on alcohol or tobacco before entering Canada, Canada’s policy is, instead, to restrict the amounts people can bring into the country with them.

Of secondary interest is the value of goods being brought into Canada. Canada Customs agents have a general idea where each flight is arriving from so they tend to give special attention to passengers arriving from particular places. For example, if they know Flight XXX just arrived from Hong Kong, and Hong Kong is known as a shoppers’ heaven, they would do more “random” checks of passengers who disembarked from this flight. If a traveler is found to have several children toys, electronic instruments, gadgets, etc., Canada Customs will generally confiscate the items AND fine the traveler $200 - $300. On the other hand, if a traveler does declare goods being brought into Canada, they are hit with duties and taxes.

Canada does not have a domestic SLR camera manufacturing industry to protect, but a person bringing in, say, a Nikon camera would still be hit with duties and taxes. Canada does not have a domestic television manufacturing industry to protect, but a person bringing in, say, a Sony television would still be hit with duties and taxes.

In fact, I have even seen an old woman from Austria being fined for bringing in too many chocolate bars for her grandchildren. It was mid-December. The Customs agent had brought her into the inspection area for a random check and he felt that she was carrying too many chocolate bars (I think she had six). He confiscated the chocolate bars AND fined her. I was in the line beside her thinking that if this is her first visit to Canada she must be getting a terrible first impression. Honestly, does the Canadian government really think this is a good way to greet people coming to Canada? If I were treated that way, I certainly wouldn’t want to spend another tourist dollar in Canada and I’d be telling everyone I could back home about my experience too. For my part, I spread the word among my networks (co-workers, community groups, volunteer groups, family, etc.). I also recommend to everybody I can to open a foreign bank account and get as much money out of Canada as possible. Under Canadian law, foreign bank accounts are allowed. I hope Canada Customs enjoyed that $300 they got out of that old woman. I am sure that, over the years, I have encouraged much more than $300 to leave Canada. And for the foreseeable future I’ll be recommending everybody not come to Canada for visits, trade shows, conferences, etc.

(I do a lot of traveling for business, bringing demo equipment back and forth with me, which is listed on a Carnet, so I go through the inspection area when returning from every trip I take, so I have seen a LOT of what goes on in the inspection area.)

This form is just another means of generating revenue for Canada, to support their high-tax and spend practices. Either they get you when you honestly declare goods being brought into the country or they fine you if you don’t. I will never be convinced that these policies are anything but a petty cash grab.

The form also requests travelers to declare if they are bringing with them more than $10,000 in monetary instruments (cash, cheques, money orders, etc.). Not sure how such a matter is Canada’s business. I make my money honestly and at one time even held three jobs to try to get ahead. If I decide to bring more than $10,000 in or out of the country with me, that is nobody else’s business. The policy behind having such a question on this form is just another reason the credibility of Canada’s political/legal system has all but evaporated.

Banks No Longer Taking Money?!

Yesterday, I tried to pay an MBNA MasterCard bill at the Bank of Montreal (BMO). I happen to also have a MasterCard issued by BMO, but I do not have an account there. Paying the BMO MasterCard has never been a problem and, usually, paying a MasterCard bill has been possible at any other financial institution that issues a MasterCard card. However, yesterday I was told that BMO’s policy recently changed. Apparently, their new policy is to not accept bill payments from a person unless the person has an account with them (the bill was only about $27 so I had planned to pay the bill with cash). I was advised to go to a bank where I have an account, register the bill with that bank, and pay the bill there. Register!? What does that mean? And what is the point? If that means I will be charged a service charge for paying a bill, I want no part of it. If not, what is the point? Is this policy simply new “Big Brother” nonsense in action? So I will deal with that bill later.

I then went to the HSBC where I hoped to deposit some Euros in my Swiss Franc account (I had some left over from my recent trip to Munich). One nice feature of the HSBC is that for many years they have offered accounts in a variety of currencies: American dollars, Japanese Yen, Swiss Francs, etc. It was a convenient way to hold money in a variety of currencies while remaining within Canada. I had opened a Swiss Franc account a number of years ago. In any case, I was told that the bank’s new policy was to charge a service charge for foreign currency transactions (such a charge had not existed previously). The charge is $4.00. In addition, they would not be able to convert it from Euros directly to Swiss Francs. They would have to convert it first to Canadian dollars, and then from Canadian dollars to Swiss Francs for deposit into my account. I assume the HSBC has a healthy spread–in their favour–when it comes to currency conversions, so not only would I be getting burnt by the service charge, I would also be burnt–twice–on the currency conversion. What nonsense. I decided not to proceed with the transaction; I will hold onto those Euros until my next trip to Europe. What is going on at the HSBC lately? They used to be my favorite bank. However, lately they seem to have been taken over by bureaucrats whose sole purpose is to bite their customers’ ankles and antagonize them. My wife and I closed our chequing account at the HSBC some time ago specifically because of the service charges. We moved most of our banking to a President’s Choice account. When we go house-hunting and shop around for a mortgage, we certainly won’t consider the HSBC.

These incidents remind me of another ridiculous bank policy. I also have a GreenLine account at the TD Bank. I used to go into a local branch every Saturday morning to deposit some money into this account. However, one Saturday I was told that their new policy was not to accept cash deposits before noon. They could accept cheques, but for cash I should come back after noon. Can you believe this?! A bank not willing to accept cash?! I am certainly not going to interrupt my Saturday activities so that I can go to the bank in the noon - 3 p.m. time slot; if I am on the beach or at a sporting event, I am not going leave, go to the bank, and then try to resume my activities. Have banks really become so arrogant that they expect their customers to reorganize their lives around them?!?

Canadian banks have apparently been taken over by ankle-biters. Yet every few years they talk about merging because (so they say) foreign banks are bigger, offering more services, and, therefore, Canadian banks must become bigger in order to be competitive with foreign banks. The implication is that unless the Canadian government allows mergers to take place among Canadian banks, foreign banks will steal customers away from Canadian banks. Here’s a tip to Canadian bankers: Foreign banks are not stealing customers away from you; Canadian banks are driving away customers by the introduction of many ridiculous, “Big Brother”-type, ankle-biting policies. Foreign bank here I come.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Trip to Munich

Have finally found time to post about my recent trip to Munich, Germany (July 28 - August 5). This flight was much shorter than my last flight (to India); however, I missed the variety of TV channels that were available on the flight to India. The flight to India was on a Boeing 777, whereas the flight to Munich was on a MD11. The MD11 did not offer the individual monitors with several channels of viewing entertainment that are offered on a Boeing 777 or Airbus A330-200.

The trip itself was fine. I really like Munich. I had been there before and liked it then too. I spent most of my time around the Technical University of Munich but found some time to explore a few other places I hadn’t visited before. Of course I strolled through Marienplatz and had a meal (with beer) at the Hofbrauhaus. I also went up to the Olympic Park, the site of the 1972 Olympics. For anybody who is interested in science and technology, I also highly recommend the Deutches Museum. It is not like other museums, that simply have a bunch of pictures and statues. The Deutches Museum is mainly concerned with the development of science and technology, and has many hands-on displays. Of all the museums I have visited, this one is my favorite.

The trip back was uneventful and on-time. About the only twist I found a little irritating is the two extra security checks. (This was before the bomb plot in the UK was broken up). The first one was in Amsterdam (I was flying KLM from Munich to Amsterdam to Vancouver). Even though we never left the security area, we still had to go through a security screen to get to the connecting flight to Vancouver. Okay, fine. I had expected that from the outbound flight. However, there was another security check just before the gate to board the Vancouver flight. This was the first time I have seen a security check for a single gate. The second extra check was in Vancouver right after disembarking the airplane. Customs Canada employees were doing a passport check. Again, this was a first. What a nuisance! Has there been an agreement made among politicians that they are trying to make air travel as inconvenient as possible? It is bad enough that flying to America has become a real hassle; in fact, I have tried to eliminate travel to the U.S. as much as possible and hopefully can avoid going there until this Homeland Security nonsense goes away. Now it seems that Canada has joined the drive to piss off flyers too. What’s going on? Are people supposed to retreat into caves until governments knock on their doors and try to regulate people’s right to sit in their caves?