Category Archives: Work

Another day, another dollar.

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?

The username/email conundrum

Email icon / Hand Drawn Web Icon Set by Pawel Kadysz

Hand Drawn Web Icon Set by Pawel Kadysz. Free for commercial use

Flirty, our Executive Assistant, looked rather down and tired today. Sure, she is a ranty German chick as we know and love them. She mostly on a friendly-flirt basis with me in the sense she calls me “honey” and I call her “sweetheart”. All in good natured humour, naturally. She looked stressed out.
While working with executive divas is straining, it was clearly something else. It came out rather quickly: Her Facebook had been hacked or at least someone was attempting to hack it.
Now of course, we all are familiar with the occasional “Your account has been accessed from Bumfuck, Elbonia, was that you?“.  Usually, it just means some silly hacker got hold of a username and tried a few attempts.  Nothing much to worry about.  This, however, was so much more worrying.  The login-attempts came from the city she lives in. First of all, kudos to Facebook detecting that.  It sure as hell isn’t only geolocation that’s used for detection.

It does mean, however, that most likely someone she knows is trying to hack her Facebook.  Why?  Who knows, it’s none of my business.  What it also means, is that changing her password was not enough.  These messages and attempts would continue, since the person trying this knows her username,

I told her to see whether her email provider allowed aliases for her current email (I was astounded: it did!  Yay, for that provider!), and told her to use the new alias as her Facebook login instead of her normal email address.  (Note: you do need to delete the original one, because you can use all your registered emails to log in!  Try it.  I wasn’t aware of that.)  I’m pretty sure this will fix the issues.  I’d have loved to set up two factor authentication, but it requires to install the Facebook Application for her phone, and she didn’t want that.  Fair enough.

I think that will fix her issue, but it does highlight a problem, that has annoyed me more than once: the insistence of using email addresses as login credentials.  I have no idea who came up with that, but he needs to  be stomped in the balls.  Along with those people who thought it was a great idea and adopted it.  That’s a lot of stomped balls.
You, see, most “normal” people have at most two email addresses: a private one and a work one.  Yes, yes, I have half a gazillion, and so do you, but my mom doesn’t, neither does my wife or in this case Flirty.

It means that, by definition, anyone knowing such a person will know the “username” you have to use on so many sites.  Now, I do realize usernames are not secret, and they never have been, but this “email-as-a-username” system servers the “username” to wannabe hackers on a silver platter.

Now, sure, they still have to guess your password.  They’re not going to come in, unless your password is very weak. The situation indicates that “someone she knows” tried this, which puts the odds of a correctly guessed password much higher.  To less technical users, those notifications of someone attempting a login, especially from the city where you live, are very scary.  I’m glad Facebook does this, but it makes non-techs freak out.

Never mind that in the bigger picture, spam lists can now be used to try to authenticate against a plethora of services, like iTunes, Facebook, etc…  Sure, the odds are low, I do realize that, but once someone starts using a list where you are on, you might be annoyed quickly.

There is another problem with this, by the way, which is unrelated to Flirty’s problem.  I had this particular misunderstanding with my mother in law.  Given so many services rely on the “email-as-a-username” system, she started to be totally unable to differentiate between accounts.  To the point she thought she had an account on a website she never registered with, but tried to login with her email address using her (real) email addresses password.  Imagine someone was logging that!
This is complicated even further by the fact that different services have different requirements for passwords making it impossible to give all accounts the same password.  Yes, I know this is a very bad security practice[1], but hey, I don’t want her to call me every time a password is required.  So it is good that her iTunes and email password aren’t identical, but it is very bad for her as she doesn’t have a clue what is going on.  Yes, yes, “education” and “informed users”… blah, blah… Can you tell I’m jaded?

Basically: “email-as-a-username” is flawed.  The only positive things I can see about is that it’s easy to remember and a password reset is easy…. provided the email is still active and it didn’t get compromised itself.

Perhaps I’m missing something? If so, feel free to inform me.

Footnote [1]
I realise that someone is going to say “use a password manager”, which is a wonderful technical solution.  Except of course, for normal users this complicates the whole thing even more.  I’m not even a fan of password managers, because I don’t want the data stored on a server that is not under my control and I want the information still globally available.  Best I’ve found is to use pass, on a machine to which you have ssh access.  Covers my requirements, but definitely isn’t for Joe Sixpack.