Category Archives: Life

Daddy needs a new laptop

In pretty much all my conscious life, people have come to me for advice about buying new computers.  Often, they just ignored whatever I said and bought whatever they wanted and then asked whether it was any good.  To which I usually said: “Meh… Will do, you still should have listened to me”.

In the last few years, I have seen a certain trend though: People come to me and tell me “I’d like a new laptop, but it shouldn’t cost more than 400€”.  Fine, I get it.  Many people I know have children now, and they have other priorities.  This blog entry here is based upon a late night Facebook-Chat conversation, where I realized how very confusing and hard buying new hardware has become if you aren’t highly informed.  You know what? Even in this context, I’m not “highly” informed, just a bit better informed.

First of all, you need to realize that a computer is a complex machine, and it’s the combination of all parts that makes or breaks the performance.  In the low-end, there is actually only one part that you can vary and that is the CPU.  CPU stands for Central Processing Unit and you can basically call that “the thing that makes calculations”.  You might wonder how moving a window on screen is maths, but I assure you: it is.  Your computer can only do two things: calculate data and store data.  Everything you see and do on your machine is reducible to those two basic actions.  The “How” is irrelevant for this discussion.

So, back to my acquaintance.  I asked him what type of machine he now has.  It’s a Windows Vista-era machine (Still running Vista, I might add), sporting a Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, 2GB RAM and a 320GB Hard disk.  Given the information I have, I guessed, it was approximately bought in 2007 as a high-end laptop.  I can also tell you immediately that the main bottleneck here will be the 2GB of RAM, but that can easily be fixed with a 40€ upgrade and replacing the hard disk with an 85€ SSD will also give it a boost.  Add in a new battery and you might have infused it a bit more life, if it wasn’t for Windows Vista that is only supported until 2017.  However, is it actually “worth” upgrading this machine?  No.  Not if you can buy a decent new machine.  Can we buy a decent machine would be the next question…

That’s where a thought process of most people kicks in, that has been indoctrinated by our consumer oriented society:  This machine is eight to nine years old, a new one, even a cheaper one must undoubtedly be better.  In certain ways, that new machine is going to be better.  It will most likely use less electricity and have better battery life, but that’s not why you are replacing your machine, is it?  It’s because it’s not doing what you want it to do: it’s too slow for certain tasks.  So, given normal peoples workloads, you will want a faster CPU.  Let’s take a look at budget PCs.  The column called Prozessor means CPU and the one called Speicher means RAM.  Ignore the laptops ones tagged “Generalüberholt”, which means “Refurbished”.

First of all, you’ll notice that none of these machines have more than the 4GB RAM, albeit of a higher speed (which is mostly irrelevant, even though one can discuss endlessly about that).

The second thing you notice that many of them have a Celeron N3150 processor.  Of course, that doesn’t tell you anything.  It might be the best thing since sliced bread.  Also, never mind that CPU model numbers are horribly, horribly confusing.

So, how do we compare these CPUs?  Well, in honesty, you can’t!  Not really.  Mostly we use so called “Benchmarks”, which try to evaluate how quick a certain processor does a certain task.  Alas, some processor do well on task A, but badly on task B.  All benchmarks are pretty much artificial.  From my experience the “Passmark CPU benchmark” gives a quite decent indication on what to expect, but it’s no panacea since you need to be able to interpret results.  Still, I’m going by this.  Let’s look up the scores for the Core 2 Duo T7500 and put them side by side:  There you go: gut feeling correct 1522 > 1274, the T7500 is 84% of the speed of the Celeron N3150.  It’s faster!  Case closed!

Not so fast.  First of all, consider this: a low-end budget CPU, just barely beats the old high-end one (The N3150 is a year old, to be fair), which means you’re going to spend 400€ to get just a minimal speed increase?  Are you serious?  Furthermore, there is a detail that needs to be pointed out.  The T7500 has two cores, meaning two independent calculators.  The N3150 has four of them.  Four is better than two, so, case closed, the N3150 is better!
The thing is: more cores work best in cases where tasks can be split up, and that isn’t true for most tasks.  It’s worse: most user-oriented tasks aren’t like that at all.  So, the speed of a single core does matter and it matters quite a lot.  That’s the line marked “Single Thread Rating”, where you can see for the T7500 that it has a score of 764 versus 418 for the N3150.  For so called “single thread tasks” the T7500 is actually better, much better.

My biggest point is: You’re going to spend money for something that is not significantly better.  A midrange modern day Core i5 with 8GB RAM (example: Asus ZenBook UX303UA-FN121T ) will set you back the double of your budget, but will triple the performance compared to your old machine and you’ll have double RAM, which also has a positive impact.

Finally, there is one last thing I need to stress.  Many people think that computers get slower when they age.  I can think of a few scenarios where that is true (defective or dusty fan and a disk slowly getting bad clusters), but as a general rule: Your machine today is as fast as it was when you bought it.  What may have changed is the software you are running requires more power.  The solution to this is to do an analysis of your needs: What do I need?  List it.  Identify the software to do that and stick to that software and only that software.  It called “having a fixed feature set”, and it generally makes your computing experience more smooth.
If you’re running Windows, and haven’t done that, your machine might be loaded up with all kind of crap over time that you’re actually not using, but still is loaded.  The only solution is then to reinstall the machine, which usually requires specialist intervention. (So does the suggested SSD upgrade, by the way.)  If you feel adventurous, you might even try using Linux.  Talk to your local nerd about it, who might be closer than you think.

If there is one thing you should take away from all of this: Don’t just buy a new computer, because if you do without being properly informed, you might end up with something that isn’t as great as you’d thought it would be.  Or as the Romans already said: Caveat Emptor.

Language tests at the INAP

Exam

Hand completing a multiple choice exam.

Today, I had to go to the INAP to certify my language skills in the three mandatory languages, being French, Luxembourgish and German.  While I’m not all that happy to have to prove this (given I passed a language test, but not this one, when I tried becoming a teacher, and can prove it), let’s just play by the rules.
I wasn’t all that worried when I went there, since orally I’m quite capable of bullshitting myself through anything.  I’m pretty sure I bullshitted fine for that part of the test: “Oral expression”.  Basically, talk a bit about a given topic.

I wasn’t really prepared for the second part of the test, and it feels as if I thoroughly failed it.  That part was called “Oral comprehension”.  The test basically amounted to this:  get a bunch of multiple choice questions, of the type where more than one answer may be chosen.  Then you have to listen to a recording about a certain topic, you check when you think is correct, and that was is.  (On some recording you could listen a second time, but that’s semantics).  Sounds simple, right?
Well, not to me.  The questions felt as if they were designed to confuse you.  I’ll give an example from the German test, being the chosen lowest tier for me.  (If you need to know, I chose French: hardest, Luxembourgish: intermediate, German: simple).  The first question already put me in “fuck, what the hell do they want me to reply mode?”, and I kept in that mode pretty much all the way.  Basically, it was a recording of a lady buying prescription medicine for high blood pressure.

Q: The lady was in a ?
[ ] Shop
[ ] Pharmacy
[ ] Football stadium

Points: 1

So, you see, it can give you one point, so perhaps it means only one answer is correct.  I know she’s in a pharmacy, so I checked that… However, a pharmacy is also a shop, so I checked that too.  It’s only logical.

However, is that what they wanted to see? I have no idea.  Why wife disagrees: I should only have checked “Pharmacy”, because “I think too far”.  Fine, but in my eyes that would be incorrect.

Second question:

Q: The lady bought non-prescription drugs?
[ ] False
[ ] True
[ ] This was not addressed in the recording

Points: 1

Since she bought explicitly prescription drugs, the logical answer was “False”, but then eventual drugs she could also have bought were not addressed in the recording.  Technically, she could also have bought non-prescription drugs while buying prescription drugs, right?  That it wasn’t addressed in the recording, does not mean it didn’t happen, right?  Even if it didn’t happen, it wasn’t addressed specifically in the recording, So it might be “false” + not addressed”.  I chose “False” in this case, but frankly, I could make an argument for it not being addressed in the recording, because no word was said about non-prescription drugs.

These kind of convulsing questions, continued and believe me, it only became worse in the higher difficulty levels.  To the point, whether I think these questions were not conceived correctly.  The French one was especially hard: for most questions, I had no idea what was expected of me, because that was what I was thinking “what do they expect from me?”, not “what does the recording say?”.  Bad situation to be in, I know.

It’s not that I didn’t understand what the audio snippets were about, it just is that the questions seemed to make an extra point of wanting to screw you over.
I know the goal is to check “comprehension”, so perhaps linguists can make an argument for this approach to be correct.  The computer scientist in me just screams “too vague”, “not well-defined”, “specification is missing”, of course, people in languages don’t think in such ways, I fear.

I, for one, would not be surprised I completely blew that part of the test.

The end of an era

DNX to CNL

The end of an era


Today, I officially handed in my notice at DNX Network sàrl. My notice period extends until 29th of February 2016, which makes my time at DNX Network my longest held job in my career, with a full seven years. The decision to take the other job offer wasn’t easy, because I like my job, the atmosphere at the office was generally great, and I have great colleagues. It’s mainly because of them that I hesitated and had a though few nights. As I have said in other departures: I don’t work for companies, I work with people. So, yes, I worked with great people like Jeroen (the worst company website in history) and Pieter, both extraordinary system and network engineers which I couldn’t match ever, if I wanted to. I feel bad leaving them with an added workload and on-call duty.

Now, if you’re happy at your job, you don’t look actively for a job, right? Well, kinda, but kinda not. I have checked my archives, and it turns out that in the last year I sent out exactly three applications and have responded to no head-hunter inquiries. I’d say, that’s not exactly the behaviour of someone itching to leave.
Interestingly, the first two of those three where shortly after performance reviews that basically said: “You’re doing your job fine, but, nah, no extra money”. That would be five years in a row, it kinda gets old. Oh, I’m not the only one, from what I heard: it’s the same for everyone at the peon level.

The three applications have something in common, namely the institution I sent them to: The Luxembourgian State. I hear you say: the state? Job security, good pensions, but bad pay! Well, not really. If you’re a Luxembourgian national, that’s basically where you want to end up, because they do pay well.

Now state jobs are hard to get by. There basically are two types: the type where you do a state exam, pass that and then you’re are on the track to become a sworn-in state servant. Alas, for me, that way is next to unachievable, because it involves written tests in several languages. One is German, and I’m totally self-taught. I couldn’t write a sentence without a spell checker and then it will be full of grammar mistakes.
The other way is the “state employee”. For all intents and purposes, this is used to fill positions where they can’t find anyone who has passed above mentioned exam. Basically, anyone can apply if you fit certain criteria that make you fit for the position. The downside is, that it’s often used to “internalize” external consultants, making the job postings a formality. You’ll get called for an interview, but you won’t get the job regardless. At least, that’s what the rumors say…

Apparently, the rumors aren’t entirely true, because I applied to an A2 career for an IT guy at the Centre National de Littérature. The A2 “only” requires a bachelors degree. A1 requires a masters degree. I went for an interview the 17th of November, I had a job offer on the table the 2nd December.

So, I’m leaving the glamorous world of porn, for the quite less glamorous world of digital archiving. Literature, no less. I’m not all that certain what exactly my role will be, but I know it won’t be much system and network engineering any more. It’s back to programming and from what I understood, mainly database design. Fine, I can do that. Open source seems to be desired, but I doubt I’ll be able to use Linux on the desktop. I’ll be quite dependent on the CTIE, from what I understood.

If all goes well, I’ll be getting pretty much a 20% pay increase. I might not, because it depends on the state acknowledging my 15+ years of work experience. It’s obviously a gamble. There is something else that that’s talking for this job. It’s in Mersch and not in Luxembourg city. Mersch happens to be about 10km from where I live… Not walking distance, but I doubt the engine of the TT will become warm.

I do realize that working for a porn company probably fit my personality better, but is there any nerd out there that could say no to books?

Upgrade to Windows 10 or not?

Pit Wenkin asked me regarding my thoughts about upgrading to Windows 10 or not.  It ended up being a rather large post, so I decided to write it down as a blog post:

What do I recommend?  You’re asking this a Linux user.

For starters:
– If you are a Windows 8 user, do upgrade… Now… It is better than Windows 8.
– If you are a Windows 7 user, you are between a rock and a hard place.  Windows 10 is not better than 7, at least not in my eyes.  Windows 7 is end of life in January 2020 (Source: microsoft.com), which means security patches should come in until then.  However, your “Free” upgrade is only valid one year.  You have to upgrade NOW, or you are losing money.
– The reviews of 10 are generally positive, but… the arguments are always the same: it’s a Windows 8 underpinning (which, allegedly has a bit more “under the hood improvements”) with a more 7 like interface.  It’s still the ugly flat interface, though.  It always stops with “Hey, it’s free, you should take it”.  I personally find that one of the worst arguments for an upgrade.

Knowing this, you have to balance out the following:

  1. Will Microsoft keep their promise regarding EOL status of 7?  If we can see back in history, we know they won’t.  Both NT 4.0 and Windows 2000 didn’t get important security updates before their EOL because “it was too much work for the short time”.  The answer Microsoft could give is: Hey, Win10 is free, upgrade to that.  It would be a arsehole move, I admit, but look deep into your heart:  How much do you actually trust Microsoft?
  2. How long are you going to keep your device?  If you’ve got a machine and think you’re going to replace it anyway before 01/2020, you have no reason to upgrade (ignoring point 1).  Just keep on shrugging happily with Windows 7, and your new machine will be 10 anyway (or a Mac, please buy a Mac or ask me to install Linux!)
  3. Given point 2.  Keep in mind that machines have longer lifespans these days.  Even if you get a new machine every three years or so, it’s most likely going to have a life after your usage.  Which means, it’ll better have Windows 10.  It increases it’s “value” in the sense that it will get continued patches once it’s in someone else’s hands.  Now, you might not care and that’s fine.  I am just pointing it out.
  4. How much time do you have spare?  It’s quite simple.  If you do the upgrade now, and the immediately roll back (Yes! You can do that!), your machine is registered as being upgraded.  The main issue here is that we do not know how much the hash Microsoft has about your machine, will change on diverse hardware upgrades?  Does a disk change modify the hash?  Does a RAM upgrade do?  We only know for certain a motherboard swap does.

This brings us to my plan for my family & friends machines, and the one I did on my Ultrabook1.  I will take their machines, one by one, and upgrade it to 10, then revert back to 7.  That way, in 2020, they can go to 10 (because they have to), and keep on using 7 meanwhile.  Should anyone care to go to 10 voluntary, they will be able without paying.  At least, that’s the theory.  This will waste a lot of my time and a shitload of bandwidth, but it’s the best balance I found between point 1-4.
I am going to test what happens if I do a disk swap, instead of a dd clone (that takes so long).  If I can get a machine to upgrade with HDD A, and then use another HDD B to do an install from scratch and it activates fine, I don’t need to do the upgrade on the actual installation (aka, the one people use) and it’s only downtime for the users.

1 My Ultrabook came with Windows 8.  It never actually booted into 8, because I dumped Linux on it.  From day one.  Now, since I do care about the people “after me”, I did the following:  I made a dd clone of the disk, then I installed Windows 8, then I upgraded to Windows 10, then I restored the dd clone of the disk.  It took over three days (in the sense, I did one operation every evening and let it work overnight).  This is the roadplan, I have for Windows 7 machines.  Secure the upgrade, continue using the old and trusted.

Windows 10 upgrades – I’m becoming highly sceptical

If you’ve been following my progress on Facebook, I am getting very sceptical regarding the Windows 10 upgrade process.  The word in the street is that, if you have a legit installation, and do the upgrade from your Windows 7 installation, your key -printed on the famous sticker- is going to be “upgraded” to a 10 key.  (Ignoring Windows 8 for now, as the keys are in firmware)

Now, fate happened to give me a defective computer just before Windows 10 got released.  My sisters computers hard drive died and it required a full reinstall.  My sister has a System Builder version of Windows 7 Pro.  It is 100% legit, has never been installed on any other hardware and has basically only been installed once, a few years ago, when she bought the hardware.  Ideal situation.
Since I finished the 7 install, but didn’t have the time to go on with the installation, I decided to let it upgrade and, as such, make sure her key is both valid for 7 and 10.  Regardless of what you think about 10, we all know that a fresh start (complete reinstall) is always preferable.  So, I decided to download Windows 10 USB stick creation tool, and create a bootable Windows 10 USB installer. (On her computer, from the upgraded 10 version, no less!)  The word on the street is that, after a successful 10 upgrade, you could install from scratch.

So, I launch the installer and it asks me the key…  The key that -according to the word on the street- should have been upgraded during the, ehm, upgrade.  Not so… It didn’t take it.  I find this highly worrying.  If these key are not updated, future reinstalls will not work and sooner or later the “Install 7/8, the upgrade” will become paying.
I now tried “Skip” and reinstall it from scratch any way.  Perhaps network connectivity is missing or so, and that’s why it doesn’t work.  If not, I foresee huge problems in the future when re-installations of 10 are needed on initially upgraded machines.

If the “install first, then enter key and activate” scenario fails, I give up on Windows 10 for my family and they’ll have to live with 7.  Which, to be entirely honest, is still superior.

Update 2015-08-1@23:31CEST

It makes sense now.  What really happens is that you seem to get a new key.  It is not even a special key, everyone gets the same one.  What really seems to happen is that a hardware hash is sent to Microsoft to identify the machine associated with the OEM key (I have no retail keys to test).
So, every time the installer asked for a key, I skipped it, ending up on a desktop which was… activated!  So, yes, you can reinstall your machine freshly after you did an upgrade, it just is really, really, really dumb about it.  The user (me in occurrence) is left with the idea he has a bad key, but the importance of the key is gone.  At least not the key you have that you used for the upgrade.
Now, keep in mind this has a bitter after-taste.  Re-using OEM licenses, as was totally legal in the EU, suddenly became much harder, if not impossible  Also, if you decide to stay with 7, and upgrade your hardware in the next few years, and in 2020, you say… “Hey, I had this 10 license, I can do that upgrade for free, still”, your hash might have changed and you’ll be out of luck too.  Pray for static hardware if that’s the path you choose to go.

A little declaration of love

My beautiful wife, Nathalie

My beautiful wife, Nathalie

I know I’m not as attentive as I should be.

I know that, I often say the wrong things at the wrong moment, for the wrong reasons.

I know that, at a certain point in our lives, I failed to be there for you when you needed me most.

I know, it hasn’t always been easy, but we still seemed to find a way.

I know I make jokes about the woes of the married man, and play the repressed husband all the time.  It’s supposed to be a running joke, but you always take it so  seriously.

I also know, that despite the fact that we couldn’t be more different in pretty much every aspect, I wouldn’t want to miss you in my life.  So, just in case you forgot it: I love you.  Perhaps even more today, than ten years ago, when I became your husband at the Mairie in Mamer.

Happy tenth anniversary, my beautiful wife, Nathalie!

Five years…

A filled Bofferding glass

A filled Bofferding glass by Thomas Heijting
Creative commons license, found on WikiMedia

I’m a bit late, but it’s still the 1st of March 2015 somewhere on this world at the time of this writing, so I’ll count it as “posted on the right day”. It’s a day I remember every year. Five years ago, I had my last hangover. I can of course never guarantee that there won’t ever be one again, but for now, I haven’t had a drink in 1826 days. If you write that number down, you realize that’s not that much.

It’s also nothing much to be proud of, because frankly, I’d trade in a heartbeat with all of you people, who can have two drinks and say “it’s enough for tonight” and manage to stick to it. I also don’t really think congratulations are in order, as one misstep, and I’m back there on the floor stark-drunk as I was the 28th February 2010. It’s not a nice thought, but I have to keep it in mind every day. Not that there is much craving, that has gone long ago.

What also is not the right thing to say is “I couldn’t do that”. It’s fake admiration. Either you can, but don’t want to (and thus you’re lying), or you cannot for real and then you are like me. Either way, it’s one of the things I don’t want to hear.

So, all of you who can drink, raise a glass on me and get a buzz. It’s all I ask.

Look at the picture … but don’t like it!

Thumbs down

Thumbs down by Kvarki1
Creative commons license, found on WikiMedia

There are things where I really don’t understand women. This post described one of these events.

My wife being a “divorce kid”, we ended up with one of these famous patchwork families where for some reason everything is complicated and grudges are carried deep within. The “easy” side is my father in law, who simply remarried and had a couple new kids with his new wife. These half-siblings are by definition much younger than my wife and they are nice and polite kids, rarely a problem with them.

Of course, my beloved mother in law did something different: he had a civil union with a man who has four kids of his own, about the our age (a few years younger, but what is five to ten years when you’re in you’re late thirties?) This man is rich, very rich. You can understand that his kids are a bit worried whether he did made the right choice. Even I am unsure whether he made the right choice, but I do hope he pays for her retirement or it will be me who pays ;-)

In my world, this would be no problem because I shun people. I rarely even see my own family and I love all of them dearly. Of course, her new husband is a family man and he insists his kids come to dinner every Thursday. Since we’re part of the family, that includes us. I don’t mind, they are all -at least superficially- friendly and as “just married in”, I’m even less “related” to the whole clusterfuck, so that I’m most likely seen as a “innocent bystander”.

Of course, you end up friending some of these children on Facebook. For my wife apparently all of then, I didn’t “collect” them all. So be it, they don’t need to be my friends on facebook and given it’s mostly the youngest of the kids, I can understand. You can’t be “friends” with someone over ten years older, that’s uncool. It’s Facebook, I mostly see it as a social game in the first place.

My wife has self-image problems. Not a few, but a bucketload. She analyses seemingly innocent conversation and/or events and interprets them as injustice done to her. I try to play it down, but sometimes she seems to be onto something. Apparently, on Facebook, none of his children ever liked any of her posts, ever. She liked theirs, so she says, but stopped doing so because they never liked her posts.  I didn’t check, I take her word for it. Never mind they never did like any of my posts, or rarely because I don’t keep track. Look, okay, that might indicate we’re not all that welcome in that family. It might also indicate they don’t use Facebook all that much. It might indicate they have unfollowed us from the get go, for whatever reason.
For some reason Facebook rarely even presents posts of them to me. Why this is, I don’t know and I don’t really care. Their settings, Facebooks algorithms determining I might not be interested? It’s all good, it’s just Facebook.

Now, before Christmas, one of the daughters got her baby. Today she posted a picture, apparently, because Facebook did not show it to me. I don’t care and I wouldn’t have known if this morning my wife tells me “$nameofmother posted a picture of $nameofnewborn”. So I go directly to her profile, see the picture and like the damned thing. That’s what I do when people are happy about something, even if I don’t particularly care. I’ll like your post/picture. You’re happy you have a new guitar? Like. You’re happy that you’ve lost your crappy job? Like. You’re happy you got a good picture of a train set? Like. You’ll never know whether I really like that event, because I like it because you’re happy. It’s that simple.

Not even two minutes later I get a “How dare you to like that picture? They never like anything I post.” I try to explain. Doesn’t work… “Now I have to like it too or I look like the bad one”. Fine, like it.
I unfollowed all of them. Every single one, even though I’m rather fond of some. One stupid little “courtesy like” click… This is not worth getting arguments over.

This networked world is bad for people with self-esteem issues.

What I think of Luxleaks

A picture of some Euro banknotes and various Euro coins.

A picture of some Euro banknotes and various Euro coins. by Avij
Creative commons license, found on Wikipedia

TL;DR: We had it coming.

Long version: Originally I wasn’t going to say much about it, but I keep getting tagged on social media regarding this. I can understand: How many Luxembourgers do you actually know except me? Unless you live here, probably not all that many. Believe me, if something happens in the Luxleaks affair, I’ll know: Our local press won’t shut up about it. So, this post presents my opinions and thoughts about the whole thing.

General observations:

  1. Nothing of this actually surprised any citizen of my country. Well, “nothing” isn’t entirely true, but I’ll get back to that. It is fact that Luxembourg has been providing means to multinationals and big and small corporations alike to alleviate their tax levels. That this was done using “mailbox companies” was also known.
  2. Officially, “mail box companies” are sternly frowned upon. The idea was that, attracting companies to Luxembourg, would create employment. Yes, a local a secretary and local manager is two jobs more than the zero jobs that mailbox company would provide. Apparently, this was only an official stance, and did not match the reality.
  3. The existence of the so called “tax rulings” was known, even though I doubt by the general public. I most certainly never heard of it in that form, but the accountants I talked to, said they knew. Anecdote, of course.

Taxes for citizens and small businesses:

  1. Let me make this clear: we citizens of Luxembourg do pay income taxes and a plethora of other taxes. Yes, is true that we have a rather low income tax compared to other countries. As someone who is rather well-off, I (actually we: income of spouses are cumulated) end up in the second-highest tax level. There is very little I can do about that, except a few minor incentives to save for retirement or a home. The latter being totally ridiculous, as the amounts required to buy any property are so high that those saving incentives are pretty much a drop on a hot plaque.
  2. Small businesses have a bit more leeway as businesses do have more options to do tax write-offs. Nevertheless, the small business like the one of my father in law, have to pay the official taxes. There is no special ruling for them. The bakery at the corner, the plumber, the florist, they all pay the 29% corporate tax.

With this out of the way, let me state this: I was convinced that having multinationals here in Luxembourg was a good thing. I naively assumed they would indeed create employment, and while Luxembourg isn’t cheap, the lesser tax rate -I repeat: 29%-, would be enough incentive to bring business here. I thought: this is good for the country, corporations help fund the rather nice living standard we have.

However, that is not what is happening. What is happening, is that multinationals don’t pay fair taxes. As a matter of fact, some multinational companies pay less tax than me and my spouse. Other multinationals pay taxes with which you can barely buy a mid-class family car.  That is what surprised me.  That is not good for my country. We stand here as the crooks that allowed a crime, with barely any rewards. Barely any employment creation, no significant taxes paid to our countries coffers and a huge scratch in our international image. With the best of will, I cannot see how any government official would call this “positive” for our country.

In all honesty, I can not fathom why nobody is on the streets and asking for the heads of the officials that let this go through.  I can’t understand why mobs aren’t storming the headquarters of big consulting companies and lynching the suits responsible for this.
Well, yes, I can: I wouldn’t do much in the first place.

As for Antoine Deltour, the person who is accused of leaking the documents.  I personally think we can thank him.  Thank him for making public with what abject methods consulting companies work, thank him for showing the lack of transparency the Luxembourgian tax system has and thank him for trying to make this world a bit more fair.
He’ll probably be the scapegoat for the whole thing.  He’ll pay a much larger price than the thinks, literally becoming unemployable.

We all are the losers in this game, except the big multinationals, consulting companies and their respective shareholders.

Of course, it’s all legal and our elected government allowed it. We dealt with the devil and lost. We had it coming.

I wonder who actually comes up with some business processes.

Orange pills

Orange pills by .candy
Creative commons license, found on WikiMedia

Business processes are everywhere.  Yes, you don’t really realize that, but for every administrative process, somebody has been thinking about use-cases and make sure that these processes run efficiently.  Well, that is the theory.  Some, grow organically, I admit.

Now, in my first “big project” as a greenhorn IT guy, the analysis of those business processes went thoroughly wrong.  I know the causes, and I also know that it was unavoidable given the constraints of the project.  Fact is: one day, not even a week after initial production, we got a bug report which was basically “we made a typo, and we could fix this in the system before”.  Obviously they couldn’t know, because every business process was conceived from the “no error will ever happen, especially not human error”.  The fix for this bug, was one of the biggest hacks I had to write in my whole career.

Every day, I’m starting to see problems with the business processes of our “Caisse de Maladie”, basically our healthcare system.  The people setting up these processes are either grossly incompetent, or the processes are designed in such a way to make getting your money back harder.  Now, I could rant about the S2 issues we had, but that is rather complicated and would require too much explaining.
I’ll stick to the one I had today.  So, my wife needs prescription medicine due to the surgery she had this summer, and yesterday she tells me one of the meds is out.  Fine, I’ll fetch it in the morning.  So, I go to my friendly neighbourhood pharmacist, and present the prescription.  They know me and my wife, I never had to present our social security card, because, well, we’re in their system.  That’s probably convenience, I assume you’re supposed to present that social security card every time.
Alas, they didn’t have the medicine and the wholesalers in the country are out of it too.  They need to order abroad.  He calls a pharmacist in a neighbouring village, but they’re out too.  He suggests, I try to call around myself.  Bummer.
Now, over lunchtime I do a couple of phone calls and find a pharmacist who can provide me with what I need.  I go there and give them the prescription and then they ask me whether I have the social security card of my wife.  Well, duh, no!  She’s supposed to have it with her at all times, so obviously I don’t have it.  The reply is: then you have to pay full price because she’s not in our system.
I say, that’s no big deal, I know her social security number (and besides, it’s written on the prescription for crying out loud!), just enter it in the system and be done with it.  It turns out they can’t do that (or aren’t allowed) and they need to scan the bar-code on the card.  The pharmacist tells me I could try to send it in to get my money back.  Well, I’ll try.

How many problems have you identified in this scenario?  Me, a few:

  • Needlessly administrative: the number they “need” is on the prescription, the social security card is superfluous.
  • There is no way to bypass the “easy” bar-code scanner way.  Hell, even cashiers in your local supermarket can do that!
  • Patients cannot, by definition, task someone to go get their medicine.  Nah, all patients are totally mobile and can go fetch their own stuff.  If I say “by definition”, it means there is a logical contradiction: You are supposed to have your card on you at all times, which means that you can’t give your card to someone else.  Obviously, that’s not possible if you want to task someone to get medicine for you.
  • The business process is clearly inflexible: if you don’t fit in, you pay full price.  You may, or may not get your money back.  Yay!

I don’t know what to say and I’m sure you’ll find additional flaws.  Of course, you could say “It’s your fault, you should have had the card with you”.  Duh!  That’s the “not-connected-to-reality” case. Somebody, came up with this process and thought it was a good idea to ignore very common scenarios, like, your partner getting your medicine. Exactly like in the IT project I was involved back in the day: no error allowed, no deviation possible.
Look, I’m in IT, I used to be a programmer.  Exceptions is what we’re all about.  When you’re defining business processes, the exceptions are what you should be on the lookout for.  You have to cover them, try to fit everything you can think of in the schema.  The “common” scenario is the lazy and easy scenario.  You’re not doing your job right if you’re just doing that part.

Now, I just talked to Flirty in the kitchen.  She told me you can ask a new social security card on their site on the Internet.  Which is what I’ll do.  A duplicate of mine, for my wife and a duplicate of my wifes for me.  However, I shouldn’t have to.