Happy new year, and some thoughts on AI

January 28, 2019 - Reading time: 4 minutes

I'm Jason Firth.

A lot has been said about AI of late, the idea that AI could "evolve" and become a true intelligence.

With respect to any system I've seen so far, that sounds plausible, except that it isn't. Much like a stuffed doll will never evolve into a human because the fundamental stuff that makes up both are completely different, "Artificial Intelligence" and actual intelligence are made up of things that are absolutely different.

 
Take the blinker on your car. Is there a chance it will ever become truly self-aware? The answer is clearly "no". It is a switch and a timer circuit and a couple light bulbs, designed by a human being to do one and exactly one thing. How about if you replace the switch with a voice activation? It's still a switch and a timer and a couple light bulbs. How about if you have a wave file play saying "Activating turn Signal" when you turn it on? You've made the interface more human compatible, but the fundamental stuff that makes it up is the same. It's still a timer circuit at its root. The logic behind these three "Artificial intelligences" are very similar.
 
Every single AI I've ever seen is a more complicated version of the exact same concept as the turn signal. It's a purpose built machine made for excelling at one task. Deep Blue can beat Garry Kasparov a thousand times at Chess, but it will never beat him at Mario Kart unless a human intervenes and effectively creates a new device for beating Mario Kart. It will never beat him at writing a song unless a human intervenes and creates a new device for writing songs. It will never beat him at writing poems unless a human intervenes and creates a new device for writing poems.
 
By contrast, the human mind invented chess, and Mario Kart, and songs and poetry, then determined what was a good state and a bad state, and then determined methods to get to the good state. The human mind wired itself to do this, along with a thousand other things that were required to get there. No human ever opened up someone's brain to wire up a chess player or a mario kart player or a musician or a poet.
 
As long as that distinction exists, artificial intelligence will always actually be a mere tool created by a human intelligence. Such intelligence "evolves" by the humans getting smarter and applying different algorithms to different problems successfully, not by solving problems itself.
 
The day that an AI identifies and quantifies a problem then comes up with a solution on its own, that's the day I'd be concerned about a true intelligence developing. Until then, it's purely science fiction.
 
Thanks for reading!

The government's response to my letter

December 7, 2018 - Reading time: 10 minutes

Dear Mr. Firth:

 

I am responding to your email of April 26, 2018, concerning the Government of Canada’s approach to supporting apprenticeship and the skilled trades. I appreciate your sharing your experiences and views on the Government’s measures aimed at increasing entry into apprenticeship.

 

I especially noted your view that making more apprenticeship opportunities available to young Canadians could be a more effective way to support the development of skilled tradespeople than direct incentives for apprentices.

 

Many of the Government of Canada’s investments in apprenticeship are aimed at providing support and incentives to ensure there is an appropriate supply of skilled, mobile and certified tradespeople to meet labour market needs. As the average age of entry to apprenticeship in Canada is 28, it is important to address the barriers that prevent youth from fully participating in the Canadian labour market, including the skilled trades.

 

Measures such as the Apprenticeship Grant help to support apprentices with the challenges they face. Evaluations of programs such as these are conducted every five years in order to monitor performance and results. The latest evaluation of the Apprenticeship Grant indicated that it is a means of offsetting costs for apprentices. Findings from performance measurement exercises help to shape government policy decisions. For example, the introduction in Budget 2018 of the new Apprenticeship Incentive Grant for Women was based on findings pointing to barriers faced by women in participating and succeeding in apprenticeship and the skilled trades.

 

The Government of Canada also recognizes that employers play a fundamental role in apprenticeship, overseeing 80 to 90 percent of training at the workplace. However, a range of barriers prevent some employers from participating in apprenticeship training, and these barriers can be more difficult for some small businesses. Therefore, in addition to offering a range of individual supports for apprentices, the Government of Canada encourages employers to hire apprentices through the federal Apprenticeship Job Creation Tax Credit.

 

As you may know, the Government collaborates with the provinces and territories through various fora to address labour market issues. For example, the Canadian Council of Directors of Apprenticeship, which has managed and delivered the Red Seal Program since the 1950s, is a long-standing and successful partnership between the federal government and provinces and territories. In addition, our government is working with provinces and territories through the Forum of Labour Market Ministers to meet its commitment to improve employer engagement in apprenticeship. I would note, as well, that many of our provincial and territorial partners offer complementary supports and incentives to employers to hire apprentices.

 

The Government of Canada will take your views into account as we continue to work to improve the apprenticeship supports available to help support a skilled, mobile and certified skilled trades workforce.

 

Thank you for taking the time to write.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

 

 

 

 

The Honourable Patty Hajdu, P.C., M.P.

Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour


Open Letter to Patty Hadju regarding apprenticeships

December 5, 2018 - Reading time: 10 minutes

Hi,

 

I'm a skilled trades supervisor covering instrumentation, fire systems/sprinkler systems, gas fitters, and liquid petroleum distribution systems for a senior gold producer. I live a few blocks away from your Red River Road office in Thunder Bay.

 

I'm writing concerning the approach the government seems to be taking regarding apprenticeships and skilled trades. A common approach I've seen relating to skilled trades is making apprenticeships more attractive to young people. It might surprise you to learn that I'm disgusted by the idea of additional government incentives to get into the skilled trades. It makes me literally screaming mad!

 

Every one of my younger techs illustrate the problem. Every young skilled tradesperson or apprentice I know got their position by first paying for school and going through college. All of us would have loved to be getting paid to learn our trade, but that was a fantasy unavailable to anyone but the intensely lucky or well-connected. Ultimately, some paid to go through school and got an apprenticeship afterwards.

 

In my case, I paid for room and board in an unfamiliar city for years going to college, in addition to paying for tuition and books. After finishing college, I took the first job I could, at a paper mill in The Pas, Manitoba. The Pas is about 8 hours north of Winnipeg and I didn't have any family anywhere near there. I eventually successfully got my Certified Engineering Technologist certification, and became a red seal Journeyman Instrumentation and Controls Technician through the Trade Qualifier process.

 

For many voluntary trades, the Trade Qualifier process creates nearly as many new Journeypersons each year as the apprenticeship path. Every trade qualifier is an individual who paid their way through college, found a job on their own, worked under a journeyman, and challenged the trade exam. That's a person who wanted an apprenticeship, but couldn't get one and got their certification outside the apprenticeship system. All those people valued the certification so much they paid their own way through, in spite of being ineligible for any of the grants or other rewards provided to apprentices.

 

Among myself and my millennial colleagues, most of us ended up with student debt and at the end of the day some of us still ended up going through the reduced wages of a 4 year apprenticeship.

 

You don't need to gild a golden ticket! We all would have taken apprenticeships if they were available. Lacking opportunities, we all had to make our own.

 

There's a lot of talk out there blaming millennials and the generation after them for the lack of young people in the trades. Obviously young people can't take opportunities that don't exist. That's why the idea of making apprenticeships more enticing for young people is so offensive: These people already won the lottery by getting a rare and precious opportunity. Every apprenticeship will be filled, without question.

 

Some people look at the non completion rate of apprenticeships and see that as a problem. In reality, it's a feature, not a bug. A typical engineering technician, engineering technology, or engineering program will have a high attrition rate because some people discover they aren't cut out for the field they chose. The same is true of apprenticeships; The process needs to allow lots of hiring and lots of attrition until, after 4 years, the tradespeople who are left are the best and brightest.

 

What we need is a 'shotgun approach'. Encourage companies to hire lots of apprentices early on in all trades and keep the cream of the crop. Make sure the opportunities are there, and there will be young people in the trades. If there's no obvious way into the trades for young people, companies are going to continue to see the negative consequences as the workforce ages and retires. Companies are fighting over a shrinking supply of 50 and 60 year old tradespeople. Many of those tradespeople got into the trades through real apprenticeships where companies took a chance on young men and women.

 

Instead of trying to make applying for apprenticeships more appealing for young people, we need to make taking a chance on young apprentices more appealing to companies. Spend whatever we would have on incentives for apprentices on incentives for creating more apprenticeship positions! Until we start creating the next generation of Journeypersons, Canadian industry will continue to struggle to attract the talent they need.

 

Thank you,

 

 

Jason Firth


New software

November 30, 2018 - Reading time: ~1 minute

I'm Jason Firth.

 

I've migrated to newer blog software, and as a result some of my posts have been removed or scrambled.

 

I'm manually uploading the old posts, the photos might be lost.

 

Update: The old posts are back online, but 99% of the photos are still missing.

 

Thanks for reading!


Connecting my new DuetWifi to my new Tevo Tornado

October 30, 2018 - Reading time: 4 minutes

I'm Jason Firth.

 

I've long believed in Open Source as a concept. I like the idea of a common knowledge we can contribute and help to grow. I can't contribute a lot nowadays since most of what I work on is proprietary, but occasionally I still get a chance in my off time. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to connect my DuetWifi to my new Tevo Tornado. The documentation is straightforward, but there were a few things that caught me off-guard, so I figured I'd share.

 

 

Standard disclaimers apply here. Don't do this. It'll probably kill your printer. It'll probably cause your grandfather to come back from the dead and stalk your dreams. This isn't a product, it's just a description of what I did, and maybe this might help you if you're doing what I did. Seriously though, there's 120vac in this thing. If you don't know what you're doing, then you probably shouldn't be poking around until you read more.

 

Here's a nicely printable Wiring Diagram(pdf),Wiring Diagram(dxf)  and the Full configuration files for the Duet's reprap firmware

 

Below is a object I designed to bolt into the Tornado's metal cabinet so you can bolt the duetwifi onto it. Full disclosure, it didn't print great for me on my delta, it likely needs some tweaking. Thanks to some creative drilling, it worked well enough that I was able to safely secure my board inside the enclosure, but you might want to double check before you start printing it off.

 

Now, a few things I noticed along the way that are important, and only some of them are included in the drawing for reasons that may become apparent.

 

First, the wiring I took apart was really bizzare. The case fan was connected to the nozzle heater. The part cooling fan was connected to the e1 heater output. I took all 3 fans and attached them to pin connectors so I could plug them directly onto the board's fan controller.

I set the part fan as a controllable fan, and the heat sink fan and case fan run thermostatically -- if either the nozzle or the bed exceed 50C, then the fans activate at full blast. That seemed the most intuitive to me.

Note that the input for the switches is looking for a 0vdc connection, so while you can (if you don't mind it looking a bit ugly) use the existing 3-pin connector, you'll have to move the second wire from the middle pin to the end to connect the input to gnd.

The fans will not work at all until a jumper is placed either from the fan voltage input selector pin to +5VDC or VIN. I show the jumper between the fan voltage selector pin and VIN.

Besides that, once I figured everything out, it was pleasantly simple to troubleshoot the configuration. Because I was doing things this way, I tried to do all the configuration in the reprap configurator utility so anyone else (including myself) can import the included JSON file to make changes using eh same utility. I didn't do anything manually in the file. I suspect there are further interesting tweaks as you get deeper, but this was entirely meant to be a basic "getting started" info dump.

 

 

 

 

Thanks for reading!


The Ontario College of Trades is being wound down

October 27, 2018 - Reading time: 3 minutes

I'm Jason Firth.

 

This week, I read about the news that the Ontario College of Trades is being wound down, to be shut down in 2019.

 

As a certified tradesman, I'm a little mixed on this, but mostly I'm happy to see it happen.


In every other province, the government administers voluntary trades, and provides a piece of paper saying you're a certified tradesperson at the end. You pay for the test, you pay for the piece of paper, but then the government is done with the process. You are a journeyman forever. By contrast, the Ontario College of Trades was charging over $100/yr for the privilege of putting your name on a list and sending you a replacement sticker for your piece of paper saying it's still valid for another year.

 

This isn't unprecedented. OACETT and other related associations require an annual payment as well to maintain your certification. However, there's one big difference in my view: Associations of Certified Engineering Technologists and Technicians provide value to the public and value to certified members for the money. I've had opportunities to go to seminars, to participate in really cool activities for National Engineering Month, and more. Also, we vote on our leadership, and get to participate in the rule making process.

 

By contrast, the Ontario College of Trades doesn't provide value to tradespeople. I never got any opportunities from the College, only a bill. There were no chances to improve, no chances to participate (all the important people in the College of Trades were appointees, not elected by the membership).

 

And then there's the public. In theory, the College of Trades is supposed to give the public somewhere to complain about tradespeople who engage in poor workmanship or who violate the college of trades code of ethics. In practice, this never did happen.

 

With hundreds of thousands of members each paying over $100 a year, they had a huge pot of money, but they didn't use it to make the world better. The handful of prosecutions by the college over the years were simply not worth the absurd cost of each one.

 

In my opinion, the world is better off with this legislation removed. Maybe in the future an association for skilled tradespeople can exist. However, it would have to look a lot different than the college of trades.

 

Thanks for Reading!