Monthly Archives: October 2009

Other Work Experience

I haven’t always worked with computers.

Here’s a list of jobs I’ve had where I didn’t work with computers:


My first job in Grade 9.  I was a dishwasher for a fine dining restaurant.  Besides washing dishes, pots and pans, my responsibilities included preparing salads, desserts, and cleaning the washrooms.

One time, I was scrubbing the floor, and the head chef threw a box of knives into the sink over my head while I was just starting to stand up.

I didn’t stick around for very long.

My first and last job in the food service industry.

Quality Assurance Clerk

Later in high-school, I was a Quality Assurance Clerk for Peninsula Liquidators.  I think that was my title, anyhow.

This is probably the most interesting job on the list.

Do you know how Costco accepts returned merchandise, no matter what?  What do you think they do with the stuff you return?

And what about mishandled freight from Purolator?

They sell it in bulk to salvagers.  Salvagers like Peninsula Liquidators.

I worked on a team.  Our job was to open the big bins of stuff from Costco, and see if what was inside was worth selling.  If things were broken, we tried to repair them.  If things were scuffed, we tried to clean them.  If things were in pieces, we stored some parts in case we could use them in the future.

Whatever was worth selling got shipped to one of the PL stores.  If we couldn’t repair it, it was auctioned off.

It was a cool job because we never knew what we’d get when we’d open up a box.

I wasn’t there for this, but apparently, a “decoder module” for a fighter jet was found in some of the mishandled Purolator stuff.  They had to phone some government office, and some black vans pulled off and took it away.

Yeah, the mishandled freight from Purolator was probably the most interesting stuff.  You won’t believe what people will ship to one another.


I also worked as a gardener for a friends family for a few summers.  They had an absolutely massive yard.  Most of my job was weeding and replanting.

It was hard, sweaty work… but I liked it.

Greenhouse Labour

There are a ton of greenhouses in the town where I grew up. I worked in one for a summer.

This was probably the most exhausting, backbreaking labour I’ve ever done.  I can’t even remember what I did – it was so mindnumbingly repetitive that I think I’ve blocked most of it out.  I think I just did a lot of planting, and moving plants around…

And I had it pretty easy.  The Mexican labourors there worked harder, and longer, and probably for less pay.  They seemed happy though.  Happy enough to play a full game of soccer in the hot sun on our lunch break, while I panted, poured buckets of sweat, and caught my breath in the break room.

Driving Range Guy

Have you ever been to a driving range to whack a few golf balls around?  Somebody had to sell you the bucket of balls.  That was my job.

Oh, and after you smack them all into the range, somebody has to go pick them up in a truck…that was my job too.

It was a pretty cushy job, actually.  No supervision, and a relaxed pace.  Probably the most exciting part was when some guy got whacked in the head with a golf club, and I had to call an ambulance.

I don’t even really like golf.

Anyhow, I think that’s it.

Poland – Part 10: Journey To Krakow, Wawel Hill, and The Dragon

June 23, 5:10AM

At 5:10AM, a huge clap of thunder woke us all with a start.  Groaning,  moaning, and uttering expletives… we tried to go back to sleep, but the thunder storm and heavy rain raged all around us.

And then, eventually, the storm moved off…finally, we could sleep…

…but before it could happen, one by one, our alarm clocks started to go off.  It was time to leave.

Grumbling, lights flicked on, and we headed to the washrooms and showers…


A few people reported that there was some food missing from the hostel kitchen.  Tom and Tara reported half a carton of chocolate milk had been pilfered, and half of Linn’s salami was missing.

Apparently, some of the guests thought we wouldn’t mind sharing.  Or there was a mix up.

Either way, it didn’t improve anyone’s mood.

Not long after, we packed up our stuff, got on the bus, and left Wroclaw for Krakow.


We had been on the bus for a few hours, and I had been trying (unsuccessfully) to take a nap.  I eventually gave up, and I joined in with a bunch of the group who were quizzing each other on Canadian provinces and U.S. states.

It turns out that I know relatively little about Canadian provinces, and next to nothing about U.S. states.  Hmph.

Eventually, we pulled over at a rest stop.  I took the opportunity to try some of the local junk food, and purchased two chocolate bars – a “Corny Big” and a “3Bit”.  They tasted better than they sound.

Tamara also took the opportunity to tell us how the rest of the trip was going to work.  She also lightly condemned the last hostel, which was clearly not to her liking.

While talking about the rest of the trip, she mentioned that she had arranged for us to visit Auschwitz for the next morning.  The group got quiet.  Tamara also said that she had left open the possibility of visiting the Wieliczka Salt Mines after Auschwitz, but that it would really depend on our mood.  We would probably be upset after Auschwitz, and would want to go home and rest.


We arrived at the hostel around 11:30PM, and man, what a difference!  The place was absolutely spartan, the rooms were gorgeous, the views were incredible… we were quite happy, as you can see:


Yes, it was a welcome change.  In case you’re interested, the hostel was called “Cracow Hostel Apartment“.  You can see more photos of the place if you click these words – but having been there, it’s pretty clear that these photos try to make the rooms seem bigger with lens effects.

So we had nice rooms.  But guess what?

Peter got the pent house! The lucky guy got the hostel apartment!  The room was incredible!  It was too bad we were only staying a few nights.

The hostel was particularly awesome because it was in the Market Square.  Here are a few shots of the view from the common room window:


Wow!  (Looks a lot like Wroclaw, doesn’t it?  That’s what I thought, too.)

If it isn’t clear from the photos, it was still drizzling out.  But that didn’t mean we weren’t starving.  After unpacking and cleaning up, we hit the pavement to try to find some lunch.



This was lunch:


And this was where we ate it:


The place was called ChimeraInteresting concept for a restaurant.


After leaving the restaurant, Tamara took us on a walking tour of the surrounding area:


The rain had stopped, and the air was left dripping with humidity.

We stopped by a church called Bazylika Sw Franciszka Z Asyzku XIII W.  Hm.  Maybe I wasn’t hearing right, but apparently there was some stained-glass work by Adam Mickiewicz there…

Here are some shots from the church.  Not the greatest shots I’ve ever taken, but hey – it was dark in there:


I don’t know if Mickiewicz did the stained-glass – regardless, here’s a shot of one of the pieces:



We left the church, and meandered through the streets.


Eventually, we found ourselves at an outcropping called Wawel – home of Wawel Castle, which was to be our next stop.


Here’s a window dog we saw on our way to the castle ramp.  It breaks the narrative, but I can’t resist:


And while I’m breaking narrative, here’s Alex posing in front of a Bauhaus poster:


…and eventually, we found ourselves climbing the ramp up to Wawel Castle:


Here’s a view from one of the castle turrets:


At the castle gate, we bought tickets to enter, and to see the “Dragon’s Den” underneath the castle grounds.  We were stoked.

2:45PM – Wawel Castle

High security.  Metal detectors.  Armed guards.  This place wasn’t taking any chances.  There was a very strict code of conduct in there – no sitting, no leaning on walls, keep quiet, and absolutely no pictures.  So I just took notes.

So I can’t show you what it was like inside, but I can try to describe it:

It was a museum.  Stone and hardwood floors.  Quiet like a tomb.  Marble staircases.  Wooden cabinets, uncomfortable looking wooden chairs, wooden tables…tapestries, beds.  Old paintings.

Tamara told us a story about how when the Germans invaded, relics and artifacts were smuggled out of Europe.  It turns out that some relics from Wawel Castle eventually found themselves holed up with a cloister of nuns in Canada.  Go figure.

Everything was ornate, and gold rimmed.  Even the ceilings were covered in gold.

Oh the hell with it – so I couldn’t take any photos: that doesn’t mean I can’t scrape some from off the Internet.  Here’s what I was seeing, care of this website:


There, that’s better.  I’ve always been a visual kind of guy.

Check out the ceiling on this room:


You probably can just barely see them, but those are human heads carved and painted into the ceiling.  Just staring down.  And one has his mouth gagged.  It was creepy.  Apparently, those heads were carved by Sebastian Tauerbach back in the 1500s.


The castle wasn’t the only thing on Wawel Hill.  Inevitably, there was a church – Wawel Cathedral.

So, interesting theatre connection with Wawel Cathedral:

There was a theatre artist who wanted to do a show in the cathedral.  His idea for the play:  that all of the tapestries and statues would come to life on the night before Easter to demonstrate the resurrection of Christ.  It was like Night at the Museum, but with 100% more Jesus.

Anyhow, that play was called Akropolis, and would eventually be staged by Jerzy Grotowski in the 1960’s. Grotowki’s spin on it was to stage it in Auschwitz instead of the Wawel Cathedral.

Anyhow, Grotowki’s Akropolis caused ripples in the theatre world, and was a shining example of the “poor theatre” that he was striving to achieve.

For the people who don’t study drama, Grotowski, Poor Theater, and Akropolis are a pretty big deal.  I’ve seen a taping of Akropolis a few times…it’s one of the few recordings of Grotowski’s work.

Anyhow, that’s the connection.  We were inside the cathedral where that whole thing began.


Walking through the cathedral.  Once again, I couldn’t take any photos.

Description:  high ceilings, gold, tapestries, stained glass.  Gothic architecture.  Gold alter.  Chandaliers.  Ornate, dark woodwork.  Coffins and tombs.  Sarcophagi.

There was a narrow, claustrophobic staircase that led up to the cathedral bell tower.  It was windy up there, and the bells were absolutely massive.  Huge cast-iron things.  Mother of all bells.  I couldn’t help myself – I whipped out my camera like a gunslinger, and snuck a shot:


Yeah, I know – doesn’t look that impressive.  It’s due to lack of size reference points.  You’ve just got to trust me.

There were tombs in the basement.  Thick marble slabs, stone… there were some disturbingly small sarcophagi too.

The tombs got more modern the farther through we went – towards the end, we saw tombs with the occupants’ firearms strapped to the wall.

Maybe I’ve seen too many Indiana Jones movies, but I couldn’t help feeling that there were probably secret passages all over the place.


Finally, we got out of the catacombs into the fresh air.  We hung around outside, and waited for stragglers.  I took the opportunity to take a photo of some kids who were clearly disobeying the “don’t step on the grass” rule:


Thunder rumbled in the distance.


Remember the Dragon’s Den?  That was our last stop on Wawel. We took a narrow, twisty flight of stairs down…down…deep…down…wayyyyy down into the cave beneath the castle.

It was…a cave.  Kinda underwhelming, but I don’t know what we were expecting.  A real dragon?

The lighting conditions weren’t ideal, so here are my crappy photos of the cave:


And here’s Tom filling up the cave with some dragon presence:


We eventually left the cave.  We took the time to sit, rest our legs, and stare up at this dragon monument that was outside the exit:


The Dragon

Now, I don’t know how the rumour got started, but apparently, every hour, that dragon was supposed to breathe fire.  So the bunch of us stuck around for about 15 minutes, waiting for the fireball.

Evidently, the group of us make enough of a crowd to cause other people to wonder what’s going on, because more people from off the street started joining our group, staring up at the dragon, waiting.

And then the hour came…and went…and nothing happened.

Jiv went to talk to a local street vendor.  It went something like this:

Jiv:  Isn’t this thing supposed to breathe fire every hour?

Vendor:  [Look of confusion]

Jiv:  [Mimes breathing fire, and points at dragon]

Vendor:  [Shakes head vigorously]

Disappointed, the crowd dispersed.



Tamara had led us into the Jewish Quarter of Krakow.


The storm was really threatening now – dark clouds, and rumbling that was closer than before.


Rain started to fall.  It was time to get indoors.  As a torrent of rain started to come down, we found a restaurant, and took shelter.

And then it started to hail for a bit.  Strange.


The restaurant we had chosen was pretty fancy.  I ordered what eventually turned out to be chicken shish kabab.  For the price…not that great.  But whatever, we were inside and dry.  And I was full.

The group was pretty tired at this point.  The lack of sleep from the night before, and the long tour of the day had worn us out.  After we had finished eating, Tamara told us that we had the rest of the day to ourselves.

A pack of us left the restaurant to explore the Jewish Quarter.  Eventually, we found ourselves back in the Market Square, where I promptly ordered myself a lemon sorbet.  I missed the ice cream from Wroclaw, but the lemon sorbet was amazing.  Sonia took the opportunity to buy some zapiekanka.

Have I told you about zapiekanka?  I don’t think I have.  Polish equivalent to a hot dog.  Long half of a baguette, topped with melted cheese and mushrooms, and a long strip of ketchup.  I liked ’em.

Some of us went back to the hostel.  I hung around the Market Square for a little bit and snapped a few photos:


Here’s Adam Mickiewicz again!  What a guy!


And a giant head:


The very center of the Market Square was a…market.  Lots of little booths selling trinkets.  Religious figurines…amber… a high number of chess boards, which I found strange.


And wouldn’t you know it, I also found some miniature copies of those creepy head sculptures that I’d seen in Wawel Castle!


At this point, I was pretty tuckered out.  I walked back to the hostel, and eventually went to sleep.

We would be getting up early the next day to go to Auschwitz.

Click here to go to Part 11:  Journey into Auschwitz, and Adventuring Alone in Krakow

Click here to go back to Part 9:  The Halfway Point

The Achilles’ Heel of Light-Weight Code Review

So I had my weekly meeting with my supervisor, and fellow students Zuzel and Jon Pipitone.  Something interesting popped up, and I thought I’d share it.

If it wasn’t already clear, I dig code review.  I think it really helps get a team of developers more in tune with what’s going on in their repository, and is an easy way to weed out mistakes and bad design in small chunks of code.

But there’s a fly in the soup.

This semester, the MarkUs project has been using ReviewBoard to review all commits to the repository.  We’ve caught quite a few things, and we’ve been learning a lot.

Now for that fly:

A developer recently found a typo in our code base.  An I18n variable was misspelled in one of our Views as I18n.t(:no_students_wihtou_a_group_message).  One of our developers saw this, fixed the typo, and submitted the diff for review.

I was one of the reviewers.  And I gave it the green light.  It made sense – I18n.t(:no_students_wihtou_a_group_message) is clearly wrong, and I18n.t(:no_students_without_a_group_message) is clearly what was meant here.

So the review got the “Ship It”, and the code was committed.  What we didn’t catch, however, was that the locale string was actually named “no_student_without_a_group_message” in the translation file, not “no_students_without_a_group_message”.  So the fix didn’t work.

This is important:  the diff looked good, but the bug remained because we didn’t have more information on the context of the bug.  We had no information about I18n.t(:no_students_without_a_group_message) besides the fact that I18n.t(:no_students_wihtou_a_group_message) looked wrong.

Which brings me back to the conversation we had yesterday:  while it seems plausible that code review helps catch defects in small code blocks, does the global defect count on the application actually decrease?  Since ReviewBoard doesn’t have any static analysis tools to check what our diffs are doing, isn’t it plausible that while our diffs look good, we’re not preventing ourselves from adding new bugs into the code base?

So, the question is:  does light-weight code review actually decrease the defect count across an application as a whole?

If not, can we augment these code review tools so that they’re more sensitive to the context of the diffs that are being reviewed?

Research Question Idea #3

When we started using ReviewBoard with MarkUs a few months back, all of a sudden, commits to the repository seemed to slow down: we would take more time cleaning up our code, and polishing it for others to see.

Our commits were usually quite large too.  This is because we were all working on different sections of the code, and we wanted to commit stuff that “instantly worked” and was “instantly perfect”.  So after days of silence, 1000 lines of code would suddenly go up for review…and as Jason Cohen can probably tell you, the number of defects found during review decreases as the amount of code to look at increases.  So, the reviewer would skip through 1000 lines, assume most of it was OK, and give it the Ship It.

Yeah, I know.  Awful.  I wonder if this is a standard newbie mistake for student groups just starting out with code review…

So, study idea:

Have two separate groups working on some assignment.  Have Group 1 commit to their repository without any review process.  Have Group 2 do pre-commit reviews using a tool like ReviewBoard.

Now check out the size, frequency, and readability of the repository diffs of each group.  Might generate some interesting data.

Anyhow, in our defence, we seem to have calmed down on MarkUs.  Diffs up for review are pretty small, and get posted relatively frequently.  Using ReviewBoard on MarkUs has made me a believer.  Testify!