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filling the void

Friday, July 20, 2007

On Social Networking

I was looking at my brother's Facebook profile, and I was overwhelmed at how filled-in it was.
He had a vast network of friends who were all on Facebook, he had some "apps" running, and a tonne of pictures.
Now, I could very well hook in to that, since about half of his friends are my friends as well, but I don't know if I have the energy to fully invest myself in yet another social networking site.
Granted, I don't hang out on many, and I'm still not sure that social networking isn't anything more than a time sink, but it's not like I (currently) have very much else to do.
The problem, of course, is that the amount of other stuff I have to do varies, while the need to keep your social networking profile going stays the same. There are various solutions to this, but regardless of which one you pick, something has to get put on the back burner. Either the social networking site(s), or something else in your life.

Yet another problem is that if I decide complete my profile, and spend hours and hours on Facebook, feeling important, what happens if Facebook either calls it quits, or something else pops up that is "all the rage", and people just migrate? I know that competition is healthy in a marketplace, and in most cases the consumers benefit from it.
Here, on the other hand, competition kills the user. Since no one is paying for any of these services, the biggest advantage of competition is lost, namely that prices go down if multiple vendors offer the same merchandise. Also, since all the data is proprietary, moving from one social networking site to another requires the user to put in all the time again to fill the profile of the new service, and keep it plied with photos and witty remarks.

Even though it is not in the best interest of the social networking sites, in fact it could quite possibly be devastating to some, it would be nice if they offered all your information in some portable format. That way, when something new comes along, you can just export your profile from one service, and import it to another. The advantages here for the users should be apparent:

  • The users only need to enter their data once.
  • The users get the best from the developers of the social networking site, since they know that proprietary data tie-in is no longer a possibility, they must fight for the users, constantly adding new features and besting their rivals.

Another nice though would be interoperability between social networking sites, but that's as likely to happen as hell dropping below zero.

If we look at this from a slightly different perspective, we can throw most of what I just said out of the window. The thing with these social networking sites is that, while they enable people to connect in ways never though possible, they provide the user with something to do.
Much like TV, keeping an active profile on a social networking site is an opium for the masses. If it was easy and required no time, people wouldn't do it. At least not more than once.

It's basically all about group mentality. Someone does something that is perceived as cool, and everybody else wants to jump on the bandwagon. Nowadays, if your profile isn't as filled as the profiles of the people around you, you are considered to be less of a person, because you obviously have fewer friends.

Social networking sites can be fun, and they are surely a time sink. If they are good or bad or just plain frivolous remains to be seen. I think that the more time you put in to them, the more you are likely to get out of them (as with most things in life), but I also think that there is a threshold you mustn't cross, when the time spent updating your profile takes over more important tasks like getting work done. (To the adults in the audience who expected "more important tasks like spending time with your friends", I say this: you are living in an outdated society. This is spending time with your friends, and the sooner adults and parents see that, the sooner kids all around the world will be better off. I have met some of my best friends via various Internet communication services.)

I wanted to close with something about using social networking services with moderation, but then the words of Hunter S. Thompson struck me, "Anything worth doing, is worth doing right".

I guess you have to ask yourself, are social networking sites worth doing?

I really should re-read these things and pick out the core theme and write a proper article, like a real writer, but right now I can't be bothered.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Indiana Jones Is Back

I absolutely loved the first three movies about Indiana Jones. Harrison Fords portrayal of "junior", the interplay between Ford and Connery, and the lovely mix of comedy, action and drama made these movies some of the best movies I know.
The problem with the Indiana Jones franchise, is that there were only ever 3 movies made, the last one is a sturdy 18 years old already.
At various points in time, there has been talk about making a fourth movie about Indiana Jones.
Alas, all there rumors have been for naught, until now. Last I heard of Indy 4, was that they had already filming. Sadly, I had heard this on at least 2 occasions before, and it had always been a lie.
I always get cautiously optimistic when I hear Indy 4-related news, thinking that big words does not a movie make. I want the rumors to be true, but so far I have been let down. Until now.
I found this link via the "next blog" link at the bar on the top, linking to a teaser trailer for the new Indy movie. I have no idea how old this snippet is, but I can assume a couple of months at least.
Not only does it contain the essential Indiana Jones props (hat, jacket and bullwhip, in case you were wondering), but it also contains on-the-stage shots of Harrison Ford, talking to to Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Harrison Ford actually looks his current age, so I'm going to assume that it is for real this time. I would really hate to be proven wrong on this one. The clip can be found here.

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Dance Valley 2007

I can't exactly remember how it started, but in the end, I went to Dance Valley 2007 on Saturday with some friends from Sweden, one of which lives here in Holland right now. The cool thing about dance valley isn't so much its enormous size, but the fact that the whole spectacle takes place during the day.
The gates open at 10 and close 13 hours later at 23. As any party animal will tell you, 13 hours of partying, especially intensive dancing situations like this, is not for the faint of heart. We arrived, after much ado, at around 2-3 o'clock. This meant that we only spent a little more than half of the opening hours participating in the event. If was a lot of fun though. The sun had decided to come, the people were great, and the atmosphere was completely electric.
If you haven't already, I really recommend that you try it some time. I can also say from experience that Dutch parties are better than English parties. They're both filled with ugly people, but at least here in Holland, there's a possibility of finding people that actually look human. Most British people I've met all over the world, at least from ages 50-ish and down look like complete dogs, and they act out the role to perfection. The atmosphere is generally more colloquial at Dutch parties too, I feel.

If you can't make it to the big events, make sure you help our your local organizers by showing up at their smaller parties, outdoor and in, and enjoy the music and give a helping hand.

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Family: Rosaceae

I just confirmed a suspicion I have had now for quite some time.
Not too long ago, I started displaying allergic symptoms when eating apples in winter. I didn't think much of it, but after a couple of trials, I simply gave up eating apples in winter. This was painful, as apples are not only delicious, but also healthy (though not for your teeth). Eating apples in spring and summer was no problem, as you will soon see why.
This winter, I also ran in to the same problems with almonds. They would give me the same allergic reactions of an itchy upper lip, and itching on the top of my mouth.
A couple of weeks ago, the same thing happened when I was eating some cherries that my roommate had brought home with him.
This made me very suspicious, but the dime didn't drop until today when I experienced almost the same thing from strawberries. My mouth would get itchy, and my face would get flushed. I sometimes get that reaction to tomatoes too, but that generally only happens when I have a small cut or something in my mouth. To any botanist readers, it should be abundantly clear now what types of foods I can't eat.
If you haven't guessed it already, it is fruits form the family Rosaceae. If you follow that link, you will find that all the above mentioned fruits are mentioned in one of the subfamilies of Rosaceae.
Unfortunately, the subfamily that contains cherries and almonds also contains plums, peaches and apricots, two of which I really really like. Surprisingly, I have never had allergic reactions to peaches or apricots.

Since I have pollen and pet allergies, I regularly take my antihistamines every day from early April to late august or September, depending on which country I am in. This is part or what clued me in to my new-found allergies, as eating apples in the summer presented absolutely not problems, since I was taking my allergy medicines at the time. Also, one small pill taken after the cherry incident completely relieved me of my pains in about 20-30 minutes (which is much faster than the 120 minutes that the box states with regards to pollen).

There is good and bad in this. The bad thing is that I can't eat a lot of the fruits I love anymore. The good thing is that as long as I take my medicine well beforehand, I can eat whatever I want. I just don't want to go from a 180 days-a-year allergy sufferer to 365 days-a-year.

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I was right about Externalized Memory

According to a Trinity College survey released Friday, I was right.
According to a Trinity College survey released Friday, the boom in mobiles and portable devices that store reams of personal information has created a generation incapable of memorizing simple things. In effect, the study argues, these devices have replaced our long-term memory capabilities. 'As many as a third of those surveyed under the age of 30 were unable to recall their home telephone number without resorting to their mobile phones or to notes. When it came to remembering important dates such as the birthdays of close family relatives, 87 per cent of those over the age of 50 could remember the details, compared with 40 per cent of those under the age of 30.'

As the evil, mean spirited person that I am, I'm going to go ahead and say I told you so. Actually, a lot of you probably agreed with me, so there won't be much face rubbing. Just thought I'd let you know.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck

My first failed exam this year. I mean I knew it was hard, but I didn't think I did this poorly. Not even close to passing either, a 3.8 out of 10.
I was really hoping for a calm and easy summer this year but noooooooo. Now I have to study my ass off for weeks to pass this fucking thing. Last time I studied for about a week with abysmal results, so I guess I have a lovely 2 weeks of hardcore studying ahead of me before exams.
This sucks massive donkey nuts. I thought that I had managed to slide in over the edge, but no sir.
The only good thing about this is that I'm not alone. 44.4% of the exam takers failed, and I know that some people didn't even show up to try.
We didn't do particularly well on the first assignment either, but I have high hopes for the second assignment.
Out of 5 questions I was above average on two, and abysmally below on the remaining three.
I would have been less pissed about it if the teacher wasn't such a smug ass.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

George Carlin on Religion

I got this from a friend of mine the other day. George Carlin is one of my favourite comedians.
I completely agree with everything he says in this piece. Good comedy always hits on what people deep down know is true, and this is a good example.

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Movie Plot Terrorist Threats

Normally I try not to report stuff that Bruce Schneier writes in his blog, since I link to the blog here on the right, but for those of you who don't read it, I felt like I just had to tell you about this.
Bruce held a competition, petitioning his readers.

Your goal: invent a terrorist plot to hijack or blow up an airplane with a commonly carried item as a key component. The component should be so critical to the plot that the TSA will have no choice but to ban the item once the plot is uncovered. I want to see a plot horrific and ridiculous, but just plausible enough to take seriously.

Make the TSA ban wristwatches. Or laptop computers. Or polyester. Or zippers over three inches long. You get the idea.

Your entry will be judged on the common item that the TSA has no choice but to ban, as well as the cleverness of the plot. It has to be realistic; no science fiction, please. And the write-up is critical; last year the best entries were the most entertaining to read.

He got massive responses, and in the end he picked three finalists. They are all incredibly good reads, but the winner, as published in this blog post, is the best by far. Completely credible, and quite doable. You just have to read it. If nothing else, read the last couple of paragraphs to see what the TSA would have to bad, absolutely incredible.
I wanted to blog about this when I first read it, but I constrained myself. Now that Slate put up a piece on it, I could no longer keep my peace.

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Ten Politically Incorrect Truths About Human Nature

I just read this wonderful piece on psychologytoday.com about "Ten Politically Incorrect Truths About Human Nature". It confirmed some thoughts that I had had previously, and gave me some new insights as well. I can't imagine anyone who would not benefit from reading this article. Women, in particular, should read this. It is actually more an insight for them than it is for men.

The descriptions says

Why most suicide bombers are Muslim, beautiful people have more daughters, humans are naturally polygamous, sexual harassment isn't sexist, and blonds are more attractive.
The article can be found here.

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Childrens' books are for kids

When I was a kid, the stories we were told were things composed by people like H.C. Andersen or the Brothers Grimm. In our story, there was always a vile and wicked antagonist and a heroic, albeit not always smart, protagonist. There was always some form of monster under the bridge that would devour you for one reason or another.
The tales that kids are exposed to today feature nothing of the harshness and cruelty that we were brought up with. Sure, there might be a dragon or two, but there's always a comic punchline. Fairy tales don't scare kids anymore, and I foresee that becoming a problem when they grow up.
I think that if kids are not taught, in one way or another, that there are bad things out there in the world that can hurt them, then they might go out in life wearing nothing but the emperors clothes worth of mental protection, and when they actually encounter the harsh reality that is this foul year of our lord 2007, they will be in for a rude awakening.
Note that this is not the same thing as teaching kids that bad acts do not have any consequences (that me and my roommate have several discussions about, and can never agree on), but rather that bad things can happen to (supposedly) good people.

Their only saving grace is that people today can't refrain for beating the fuck out of each other and killing each other in the name of something or other (most often religion). I realize that the generation before mine raised their kids with the TV as the babysitter, but watching howdy doody and the CNN coverage from Iraq are two very different things. Maybe the horrors of the real world can teach the kids that there are things to be afraid of when they finally leave the nest, but you have to get them to watch the news first, and last time I checked, MTV did not broadcast the uncut video of the hanging of Saddam Husein.

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Software is NOT an Engineering Discipline

I've had my fair share of software engineering courses, and what all my teachers keep telling me is that software is lagging behind other engineering disciplines in rigorousness and formality.
The problem, of course, is that software engineering is not an engineering discipline!
The most obvious point to this is that if software has some problem, it can be fixed after the fact. If a bridge has a problem you had better fix it before production starts. Same thing with building houses. You can't build something like Burj Dubai just to realize after a while that every other floor has no plumbing installed.
Another point is that you never have rigorous requirements when you build software. When you build a bridge, you know that it has to extend from point A to B, has to carry such-and-such a load etc, etc. With software, even the clients that know exactly what they want (which is to say, almost none), can't possibly come up with as exact a specification for what they want as someone commissioning a bridge or a house or a car.
People everywhere are trying to come up with different ways and methodologies for more exact specifications for software. Various modelling disciplines are showing up, but all they have to show for it is sporadic book sales. When you look at software projects as a whole, they are impossible to strictly specify. Some individual parts, like some protocol entity or some database interface, are possible to specify in a strict way, but they are still very much black boxes.
The fact that software can become so complex and so dynamic makes it impossible to include among the ranks of other engineering disciplines. In all other forms of engineering, you're bound by these lovely things called the laws of physics. In computer science, you are bound by only one thing, and that is execution time. If something isn't supported on the platform you are using, you simple emulate it. I'd love to have a device that could produce energy from nothing, but that goes against the laws of physics. In computer science, however, you would just create what you wanted. Like previously mentioned, the only thing that restricts what you can do in computer science is the time it would take for the computer to finish the task.

People can keep telling themselves and their students what they want, but I don't think I will ever be convinced that software deserves the prestigious "engineering" prefix.

EDITED TO ADD: Apparently I'm not alone in my opinion. (You really should read those links, especially the first one.)

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Externalized Memory

I've come to depend more and more on externalized memory. By externalized memory I mean things like a todo-file on my desktop, or a post-it on my keyboard, or the calendar in my phone.
If it wasn't for the calendar in my phone, I would never remember things. I'd be at home with no food in the fridge if it wasn't for my calendar.
I think externalized memory is both good and bad, but too much reliance on it is detrimental to the human mind. I knew that I was bad at remembering things, so I started using my calendar. The problem is that when I started using my calendar, I stopped practising my memory for the kind of things i put in the calendar. The good thing is that I don't forget things now, but the bad thing is that stuff that doesn't get written down gets lost in the noise.
For another example, lets look at a GPS navigation system for you car. It helps you find your way with absolutely no problem. I personally don't have one (no money), but I've used them in other people's cars, and they are absolutely wonderful. The problem is that you loose your manual navigation skills when you use one. I know that relying on a map when plotting a trip through multiple countries, or when going to a specific address inside a city can be a bitch, but if you rely completely on your tools, then you can't operate when you are without them.

Now, this could analogously be applied to any computer or mechanization of any task in the world, but you can make distinctions between good loss of memory and bad loss of memory.
If you take a robotic welder in a car factory, chances are you would never ever want a human being in that position, so the fact that the humans no longer know this skill by heart doesn't really matter much, whereas in the GPS example, if you can't find your way around the city you live in without navigational equipment, you are properly fucked.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

In a rut

I don't want to do anything. Everything just seems boring. I tried coding a bit, but it's not particularly exciting. I don't particularly want to watch any TV, there are no games I can play (I just finished S.T.A.L.K.E.R - Shadow of Chernobyl). I'm in a rut. My vacation officially starts next week, after all my deadlines are passed, and maybe my mood will pick up, but I think this crappy weather is a large contributing factor to the way I feel. According to the BBC, we will get nice weather this weekend, but as weather services are more often wrong about good weather than bad, I wouldn't keep my hops up.
In fact, there have been countless times when the weather service has promised sunshine and delivered fierce rain, but I can't remember a single instance of the weather service promising crappy weather and delivering clear skies and a burning sun.
It's a conspiracy, I tells ya! I'm sure they actually know when the weather i crappy, but to keep the masses in a daze, they sometimes promise good weather when there is none to be had. Not only does this give people a sliver of hope when watching the news, but it also keeps the masses occupied with complaining about it to each other.

By the way, I looked up the definition of the word rut just before writing this, and it is really quite a misnomer. On the one hand it means a groove or depression in a road (probably why people use it the way they do), but it also means, and I quite, "a period of sexual excitement of male deer and other animals, corresponding to the period of estrus in the female."
I guess mating season might be depressive to the ones with no one with whom to mate, but please, nothing I could find about the word relates to a depressive state in anything other than asphalt.

I really hope that this weather will pick up. Not only will it make me happier at home, but it will also enable me to drive down to Switzerland, which in turn will make me even happier.
See what a little sun can do. I'm like a flower here, need the sun to survive...

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007


So, I guess I'm on Facebook now. I figured, since I had already gotten 3 invitations, they had my email address already. I hear Facebook is all the rage, so I might as well check it out for myself.
They do request a lot of information about you when you set up your profile. Thus far I've only entered my blog address. They ask me about my sexual orientation, my political views, my religious views, who I'm dating and a sea of other very private stuff.
Now, I don't mind sharing these things with anybody, but I do know that in the hands of the wrong people, a database like Facebook is a marketing (and pseudo-anti-terrorism) gold mine.
I mean, anybody could perfectly tailor their message based on this information, and creating a no-fly list is a snap, just sort people based on religion (I wish I was kidding about this, but I fear that I'm not).
At least this information isn't required. The thing with privacy isn't so much what your beliefs and values are, but that you choose who to display them to, and under what circumstances. Bruce Schneier wrote a piece not long ago about data re-use, and it highlights some of my fears with systems like this. Sure, most people "promise" to not use the data for anything like that, but it does end up being used for other things every now and then. Hopefully not as often as my paranoid mind fears though.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Dream Invasion

What you do during the day really does have an effect on what you dream about during the night.
I've been playing a lot of S.T.A.L.K.E.R - Shadow of Chernobyl recently. So much, in fact, that last night, I had vivid dreams about the game. I dreamt that I was meeting some people at my last save point to continue the mission. We got some head shots in and had a few laughs. It was all very very real.
Earlier in the night, I dreamt about something similar, but more involving some death match competition set in the same setting as the game. (And cooking and baking cakes, for some odd reason).
Somewhere in between these two dreams, actually the dream who led me to my save point (where I found a friend of a friend, who had a movie sitting on his shelf. I can't remember which one it was, but I seem to recall it being made by the same guy who made the movie Stalker, on which the game is based.), involved me being out in the fields, so to speak. Hunting something. I believe I won, and I took my prey, who happened to be another human, on this trek. (For some weird reason, he told me he had shit in his pants, and he was talking about it all the way. weird).

All in all a very weird night.
Not to say this hasn't happened before though. Similar, but less "real" things have happened when I've played a lot of Diablo II. Also Bejeweled has a tendency to invade my dreams with colorful blocks when I spend all day playing it.
If you haven't played any of these games before, I suggest you do. S.T.A.L.K.E.R is very different from most other FPSes, in that the game progression isn't linear. There is no corridor running. I read somewhere that people said that if you liked Deus Ex, you would like S.T.A.L.K.E.R. This might be true, but I don't know. I never played Deus Ex, but I remember reading about it and liking it.

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