Leben und Tod

Am Freitag vor 2 Tagen ist ein langjähriger Freund von mir gestorben. Er war etwa so alt wie ich, und er schien kerngesund zu sein vor ein paar Jahren als wir uns zuletzt getroffen haben. Er hatte eine neue Lebensgefährtin gefunden und sie planten im nächsten Jahr zu heiraten. Beim letzten Telefongespräch hörte er sich sehr glücklich an und ich hätte mich sehr gefreut beide beim nächsten Besuch in Deutschland zu treffen.

Daraus wird aber leider nichts mehr.

Man kann die Vergangenheit nicht ändern, aber in der Zukunft werde ich weniger Sachen auf das nächste Jahr verschieben. Manchmal gibt es eben kein “nächstes Jahr”.


Fake Webpages And How To Detect Them

Being in Japan and knowing how much good knifes cost, when I saw an advertising of hand made Japanese knifes…let’s say that it looked suspicious from the start. Their web page did look good though. But still…suspicious. Starting with the name “Huusk” which is as much non-Japanese as I can imagine.

Then the commonly seen signs to create some time pressure:

70% discount!

and the popups about sales happening right now:

Someone in Kyoyo Kita-ku Minamimitakamine bought it!

and yet that number of knifes left does not change:

7 left. Always.

Typical scammer stuff of creating a sense of “Buy it now! Before you start to think about it!”

I looked once up a countdown on another web page which counted from about 3h down to zero…so I let it run out. 3h later it showed negative time. And if you reload the page, it goes back to about 3h! This one is less obvious, but I was curious how the popup gets populated as it tries to imply a “Someone near you bought something, so it must be good!” Is it hard-coded like the timer, or dynamically pulled from somewhere? Turns out it is statically populated:

  "orders": [{
    "first_name": "hidetaka",
    "city": "funakosityo yokosuka",
    "country": "JP",
    "topText": "hidetaka from Funakosityo yokosuka, JP made a purchase.",
    "bottomText": "X1 Huusk Knife Sold!",
  }, {
    "first_name": "Indrajith",
    "city": "Itakoshi,Hinode",
    "country": "JP",
    "topText": "Indrajith from Itakoshi,Hinode, JP made a purchase.",
    "bottomText": "X1 Huusk Knife Sold!",
  }, {
    "first_name": "YOICHI",
    "city": "Nagano inaba",
    "country": "JP",
    "topText": "YOICHI from Nagano inaba, JP made a purchase.",
    "bottomText": "X1 Huusk Knife Sold!",
  }, {
    "first_name": "TAKASHIGE",
    "country": "JP",
    "bottomText": "X3 Huusk Knives Sold!",
  }, {
    "first_name": "YASUHIRO",
    "city": "Ootaku SINKAMATA",
    "country": "JP",
    "topText": "YASUHIRO from Ootaku SINKAMATA, JP made a purchase.",
    "bottomText": "X3 Huusk Knives Sold!",
  }, {
    "first_name": "hiroshi",
    "city": "nakagawashimatsunoki",
    "country": "JP",
    "topText": "hiroshi from Nakagawashimatsunoki, JP made a purchase.",
    "bottomText": "X4 Huusk Knives Sold!",
  }, {
    "first_name": "EIJI",
    "city": "MATUBARACITY",
    "country": "JP",
    "topText": "EIJI from MATUBARACITY, JP made a purchase.",
    "bottomText": "X4 Huusk Knives Sold!",
  }, {
    "first_name": "Kyle",
    "city": "Okayama",
    "country": "JP",
    "topText": "Kyle from Okayama, JP made a purchase.",
    "bottomText": "X3 Huusk Knives Sold!",
  }, {
    "first_name": "Syouji",
    "city": "Yokohamasi",
    "country": "JP",
    "topText": "Syouji from Yokohamasi, JP made a purchase.",
    "bottomText": "X4 Huusk Knives Sold!",
  }, {
    "first_name": "Toshio",
    "city": "hamamatsu",
    "country": "JP",
    "topText": "Toshio from Hamamatsu, JP made a purchase.",
    "bottomText": "X3 Huusk Knives Sold!",
  "image": "https://huusk.com/theme/images/huusk.png?1",

The Terms and Conditions page is suspicious too:

Hand-made knifes and they create a single size? Why would anyone limit themselves to a single size if they are hand-made anyway? Japanese love to have different knifes for different jobs, but this Japanese company does not?

If you look up the text of some of the user testimonials you’ll find another knife company “Kaitomi” which looks just the same. But their web page is not yet ready: Still references to Huusk. Oops! At least it sounds a bit more (fake) Japanese…

Oops…forgot to remove the Huusk stuff

And I even found the popular Lorem Ipsum text filler:

So it’s pretty clear that this is a scam.

Enter fakewebsitebuster.com

I looked up Huusk expecting reviews like “Those knifes are not as good as the advertising suggested”, but I found something even better! And https://fakewebsitebuster.com/ confirmed my findings. And there’s many more such pages are discussed! E.g. fake investment web pages who’ll take your money and predictably disappear.

The most interesting part of that web page however is that they basically explain what to look for:

  • DNS and company registration, country and date. Recently registered and claiming to be 20 years in business?
  • Actual location of the business: Japan? US? UK? Lithuania? Nigeria? Claiming or suggesting that they are from somewhere else?
  • Use of stock photos for “user testimonials”. Reverse image search can find stock photos.
  • Copy&paste user testimonials used in other places too.
  • Selling a “unique” product which is also sold on other places (eBay, Aliexpress, Taobao).
  • The intense attempt of creating a sense of urgency.

Very educational and I wish more people would be aware of those scam tricks.

LED Growth Light

Looking into hydroponics, vertical hydroponics, or vertical farming in general, a common problem is the light source: you need extra light unless the plants are directly at a window.

While a complete system would be nice to have, I wanted to start as small as possible which means to skip all the water stuff and use the existing plants we have. The plants we have look sad and are neglected quite a bit, so it’s a perfect specimen to “fix”. All I needed was a light source, and I found one:

Bottom of the LED light
Top with the constant current driver

For about $30 that was hard to beat: no fan and thus no noise, not too big but not too small, plenty LEDs, and should be bright enough to make a difference.

I was pleased when I got it! But not all is perfect:

  • The sticker on the aluminium plate claims “2x10W”. Not sure what it means. The LEDs are organized in 9 parallel rows of 25 LEDs each, and the LEDs can either handle 150mA (Samsung LM281B1 can handle that) or they are getting about 70mA as the driver implies. In no way I can split 9 rows by 2.
  • The LED driver is 50-80V 600mA constant current. The board inside is plastic dipped.
  • Voltage seems to be around 55V (measured at the LEDs when in use). At 600mA that would be 33W. That quite a bit more than “2x10W”.
  • The LED driver gets quite warm (60°C I’d say), but the aluminium plate gets slightly warm. Nice. I expect no heat problems for the LEDs.
  • The light is…bright. More than I expected.
  • The one UV and one IR LED…I wonder if they make a difference.
  • When you try to photograph it, it flickers a lot though:
Recording this lamp is not fun

So the quick fix is to get a new LED driver. I hope that fixes the flicker problem and maybe it gets less hot too. The 600mA might be at the brightness peak only to drop to 0mA when the LEDs are off, so the average might be more at 380mA. Let’s see how those LEDs handle 500mA from the new driver: It would be about 56mA/LED which would be well within the typical 60mA for those type of LEDs.

2022-04-08 update: Got a Mean Well APC-35-500 (up to 70V, 500mA) and while the total brightness went slightly down from 3500 to 3000 lx (measured via physbox app), there’s zero flicker.

More Baking: Cupcakes

As a reminder: this is not a baking blog. Now that this is out of the way, I was looking for non-cookies for a change, and cupcakes would fit the bill. I checked several recipes and settle to use this. Here the result:

Very tasty cupcakes

I recommend to read the well made web page above, but the summary of the recipe:

  • 150 g plain / all purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs at room temp
  • 150 g caster / superfine sugar
  • 60g  unsalted butter
  • 125 ml milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp vegetable or canola oil

The only change I did was to replace the superfine sugar with the fine brown sugar.

Time was spot on 22 minutes. The result was 11 small cupcakes which probably should have been 9 slightly larger ones.

More Baking: Coconut Cookies

Coconut cookies – Simple and very tasty

Since I had dried coconut left over (see here), I was searching for a recipe for cookies with coconuts. There’s plenty, so I picked one and it worked really well. The biggest problem was converting cups into something I can use, so here the metric translation of that recipe:

  • 150g flour (= 1 1/4 c)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 110g butter (= 1/2 c)
  • 200g sugar (brown only as I had no white sugar) (= 1 c in total)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 120g coconut shredding (= 1 1/3 c)

Don’t let me rant about the use of tsp. That is pure insanity. Luckily those don’t need to be exact anyway.

  1. Preheat oven to 175°C
  2. In one bowl mix flour, baking soda and salt
  3. In a larger bowl add butter and sugar and mix well
  4. Add egg and vanilla
  5. Add flour little by little (sieving it in)
  6. Mix in the coconut shreddings
  7. Form small balls (about 2-3cm diameter) and put them on baking paper
  8. Bake about 12-14min. Move to wire rack to cool.

The result was as good as I expected. Crispy outside, a bit chewy inside. Perfect on the first try!

Steel-Cut Oats for Breakfast

My whole life I have mostly cereals for breakfast: cornflakes and Müsli. There are so many variations of the latter, that it never gets boring: with dried fruits, with chocolate or nuts, crunchy or not, just add with milk or like Bircher keep it soaking for some hours…

But this is all rolled oats and until recently I didn’t even know there’s non-rolled oats, namely “steel-cut oats”. I followed this recipe with 60g (2oz for the metrically challenged) of oats and it reminded me a lot of Griessbrei which I had when I was a kid. Ah, good old memories! It was surprisingly nice. Not a big fan of the 25min cooking time though, but it’s a nice variation which is especially nice in cold winter days.

Looking for a Job – Lessons Learned

I looked for a proper job just three times in my life so far: when I moved to Japan, 2 years later and recently, about 18 years later. Needless to say, I was not well prepared for the last one.

This is a short summary of what I learned. If you are looking for a job, try to avoid the errors I did.

  1. Make sure your CV looks good
  2. Adjust the CV
  3. Have a cover letters
  4. Update your coding skills
  5. Update your interview skills
  6. Be a CV factory
  7. Have good video interviews
  8. Write down the progress
  9. Keep yourself busy

Make Sure Your CV Looks Good

“Good” has several meanings here:

  1. Pleasant to the eye. And well structured.
    My structure: My name, contact information and my current role,
    a section with the list of my skills,
    a section with the list of work experience: company I worked for (newest first), location, time, title/role and work experience. The experiences being things you did and the outcome it had.
    Then a section for education, certifications, visa status and language skills (if relevant)
  2. Machine readable. Many companies use programs to read your CV and they pre-fill your work history into their own forms. Simple structure works well, but you’ll find out quickly what works and what does not: if your information is well understood (i.e. company name, position, time you worked there, experience) and the correct information appear in the correct text boxes, then it’s good. If not, tweak and simplify your document structure.

Keep in mind that the first human CV checks might take as little as 15 seconds, so make sure than in that short time your CV leaves a good impression.

Adjust the CV

Do not send out the very same CV to different companies.

Mention the keywords as per job description and the listed requirements, e.g. if the job description mentions Kafka, CI/CD and Agile, make sure they are listed if you have any experience with those. If “Agile” is asked for, don’t have “Scrum” as the only keyword related to Agile. Experienced recruiters will know that those are related, but do not depend on that. Make it easy for the reader (or machine) that you have the skills they are looking for.

To make my life easier, I had one version of my CV which contains every skill and experiences I had. For each company I removed some which were irrelevant for the specific job, and added or emphasized the skills which were wanted. Specifically I re-sorted my skills: top ones were most relevant.

Have a Cover Letter

Although I have learned that cover letters were supposed to be out of fashion, I did write some in the end. One company explicitly requested a cover letter and 4 other companies had a mandatory or optional cover letter upload in their automated CV upload process. The cover letter should contain your understanding of the role, your motivation and how you can add value. While this would be covered in the first interview, spelling it out is a nice.

Given the nature of the cover letter, make sure they are much more personalized than your CV. This is a great summary.

Update Your Coding Skills

If you are into coding, there’s plenty web paged like LeetCode or HackerRank where you can train for the typical coding exercises you might get. It’s also a nice practice and I found it actually fun as the tasks are (sometimes) interesting to solve and you get told whether your program is correct. It does not cover anything complex. Most tasks can be solved in 10min or less.

For the first programming test as part of a job search I kind’a had no idea how this works, so I solved the 5 tasks as fast as possible where there was no urgency needed. I messed that one up enough so the company rejected me at that point. 100% preventable in hindsight.

Update Your Interview Skills

The best preparation I got was for the Amazon interview from here. Especially the behavioral questions and the STAR format was useful as it avoids:

  1. awkward silence you create when you get surprised by a question and
  2. the rambling when you realize you have no good reply

The logic of behavioral questions is sound: it makes you tell a story of your past actions. I found many behavioral interview questions online and what I got in interviews was matching many of them, so take those publicly available question as a guideline and make sure you can answer them all with a relevant story from your past.

It took me days to collect good examples. Quite some of those I replaced with much better ones I remembered later which were better suited and more impactful.

Thus my recommendation: Do not try to “wing it”: write those stories down. Think about good examples which have a point or lesson learned. Memorize just key points. An interview is a stressful situation and you might not come up with a good story on the spot. In one case 6h later(!) I realized what I should have replied, where during the interview I drew a blank.

Also my performance during interviews got better and better: I knew more what to expect, the questions got repetitive so I knew the answers, I prepared better myself about the company and the interviewer. So don’t start your interview with the ideal dream-workplace you want. It’s a risky gamble though.

I am confident that if I could re-apply for the jobs I applied for at the start, I’d go much further in their interview process.

Be a CV Factory

I had several interview at various companies for various roles. Sometimes I got an early rejection, sometimes I got a first short interview and then a rejection. Neither is a problem as usually this first meeting clears up the expectations from their an my side. And sometimes I had 2nd interviews which I failed or it just did not “click”. None of those rejections were unexpected.

Then I had an interview for a role which I thought was perfect for me: it used many of my skills and the interviews (about 6 in total) went really well I thought. So after those interviews I stopped applying for other roles and I was basically expecting a “We’ll hire you!” mail. Alas, a week later I got a rejection email.

I was crushed. I felt really down for 2 days. I had no current interviews upcoming. I was starting at zero again. The future looked bleak.

Two things helped here to get me out of this low: First a friend said that his company he works for has a position open which might be suitable for me. This gave me a small light of hope. And I saw a video on YouTube (I think it was Andrew LaCivita but I cannot find the specific video anymore) about being a CV factory: send out so many CVs that you never run dry: if you get a rejection it does not matter much if it’s 1 of 10 currently running ones. And even if you expect a positive reply, keep on looking for new job offers as you might get a reject. That helped a lot. It totally changed the way I was approaching the job search.

It’s the same as the Pet vs Cattle concept: if you are personally invested in your pet and it dies, you’ll be depressed. If you have 100 cattle and one dies, you replace it. No need to shed tears.

So I widened my net: smaller companies (incl. startups, but nothing below 50 employees), work which used only some of my skills, roles which I ideally didn’t want to do but I knew I could do etc. And it worked: of course I got some quick rejections, but also quite some “let’s have a quick 30min interview” where I had a chance to make a good impression. I also attended online-events like HackerX although it was more targeted towards developers (which was not something I am qualified for). Turned out that those companies also look for roles I am qualified for, so beside having fun doing online video chat with like-minded people, I also had some more leads to potential jobs. At one time I had 5 jobs in flight with either first interviews scheduled or waiting whether they want to have a 2nd interview.

One note: I am in Japan and most companies have enough manners to tell you within a week or two at most whether they want an interview or not. The only companies which basically did not reply at all were some large international companies. Some recruiters were not well organized and it needed some reminder emails from my side to get a result too. But generally I got a response fairly quickly. Anything after 2 weeks of no response I considered “dead”. Other countries might behave differently though.

Have Good Video Interviews

I like video conferences. I got a cheap studio light (about ¥7000, hint: try to get one without cooling fan) and a good microphone (¥15000) so video and audio works well. Learn a bit about light and reverb. Plenty good YouTube videos exist for both. Look for Twitch and game streaming and listen to what they suggest to do regarding light and audio. Don’t do the color accent lights though: That’s good for streaming and not that good for interviews.

My first video conferences were a bit…technically challenged. Audio was usually ok, but video sometimes froze for some seconds. Once I completely dropped off the conference. Next day I bought a 15m Ethernet cable (about ¥2000) and that fixed the quality problems completely. WiFi works great for many things, but when it comes to low latency (online games) and constant quality (real time communication), it is not good enough when the signal has to cross several walls.

I tried, but mostly failed to look at the camera instead of the person in the video stream, but it turns out as long as the camera and the video stream is not too far away, it’s fine. Test this by recording yourself. Test audio too while you are at it. It also helps to make the video chat windows small and move it towards the camera. This is double true for the people having a camera at the bottom of their screen.

But most important is the attitude which you show in the interview. You are already (probably) technically qualified as otherwise you’d not be invited to an interview at all. A huge part of the interview is thus:

  • Will this person stay because they really like this job, or will he/she be moving out as soon as something better comes up?
  • What’s the general attitude? Happy vs. sad? Energetic vs. lackluster? Showing interest vs. not really caring?
  • Would I (the interviewer) want to work with that person?

Make sure you leave a good impression here. Answer the simple question “Why do you want to work here and in this role?” If you cannot answer this with plenty enthusiasm, you can be as qualified as you like, but I would not hire you. Would you?

Also be prepared to answer “What is your understanding of this role?”

If you know who is interviewing you, find out a bit about them. LinkedIn/Xing mainly, but sometimes you find that they did presentations at conferences and those recordings are available on YouTube. Mention those if the natural flow of the conversation allows it. I would not go as far as looking up their Twitter/FaceBook/etc. as I would not know how to use that information in a work-related interview without appearing creepy.

And when it’s time for your questions, have a list of questions ready. Again, don’t “wing it”. While some questions are not predictable as they come out of the conversation you just had, always have sensible questions at the end which show that you are interested, but also help you decide whether this is a good job for you. Really good examples from here.

Write Down the Progress

When you submit a lot of CVs, you should track it somehow. You want to know when you should follow up, in what stage you are, and where you have applied already. I used some recruiting companies and when using those make sure to never apply via multiple channels for the same role. If that happens, your CV is immediately removed because if they hire you, which recruiter will be paid?

Keep Yourself Busy

Lastly, I once read: “If you are unemployed, your day job is to find a new job”, so expect to work 8h/day on finding a new job: Look out for open positions, write and send out CVs, and learn stuff which might help you getting a new job.

E.g. I learned Japanese, did a lot on HackerRank and LeetCode with Python, did a lot of Kubernetes, used CI/CD on GitHub and GitLab, learned about lights and sound for video conferencing, how to pass behavioral interviews etc. It kept me busy!

More Baking: ANZAC Biscuits

A colleague at work who is from New Zealand told me about ANZAC biscuits. Never heard of them and they do sound like a well known antidepressant.

From the list of ingredients it’s similar to Hobnobs I made 2 weeks ago, but there’s coconut in ANZAC biscuits which is a significant change in taste. I happen to like coconut, so…let’s do it!

This is the recipe I used. Since I could not get Golden Sirup in Japan, I followed the recipe note which mentions that 1/3 light molasses and 2/3 honey is a suitable substitute. I found the light molasses at Tomiz.

ANZAC Biscuits. Crunchy. Sweet. Tasty!

The result was similar to the Hobnobs but they became thinner and thus crispier. Not sure that’s how either is supposed to be since I have no reference. Both are tasty though, which is all which matters!

Update: I think they are a bit too thin and a bit too crispy. Next time I’ll try with slightly more flour and 13min instead of 15min baking.

Hobnob Biscuits

Looking for something to watch on Amazon Prime Video or Netflix, we found The Great British Bake Off and in the 2nd show the topic was biscuits. I do like British biscuits. And there they mentioned Hobnob biscuits which I never heard of. As always, Google is your friend and finding a recipe is not much harder. I used this recipe with some needed adjustments:

  • golden syrup replaced with honey
  • caster sugar became brown sugar
  • self-rising flour became normal flour, salt and baking powder
  • baking soda was replaced with more baking powder

And this is the result:

Hobnob’s, 1 of 2

I can say that they are easy to make, awesome tasty and if I ever find this golden syrup, I’ll definitely try those again.