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filling the void

Sunday, September 30, 2007

This could be the end of the world... of warcraft.

Maybe I was just in a bad mood today (as per my previous post), but I logged on to WoW for about 45 minutes and it struck me how little I actually like playing the game. The penalty for virtually everything is time, and as an impatient man, that is unacceptable to me.
I checked the account management page, and the next time they were going to deduct my monthly fee was on October 2nd. Perfect, that's just a couple of days from now, it'll make my quitting much easier. Said and done, my subscription is cancelled.

I have a theory about quitting any online game. In the beginning, it's all nice, and you spend a lot of time in the world. After a while (6 months to a year) you begin to grow tired of the game, so you quit. This lasts for about 4 months, then you reactivate your account for various reasons. This time you play for a shorter period of time, say 4-5 months. After that you think that the game sucks again, and you quit. This time you wait even longer to start again, and when you do start again, you play for a shorter time. As time progresses the time between reactivating your account grows longer, and the time your account stays activated grows even shorter. After some time you reach a point where, after over a years absence, you think "hey, wouldn't it be fun to reactivate my account?". You reactivate your account, and within days or even hours, everything starts coming back to you, and the reasons you quit in the first place are as clear as day. You give it one more day to be sure, but after that deactivation, you will probably never ever play the game again.
I can't say I have this experience from that many games, but from the two online games that I have played and subsequently quit (Diablo 2 and World of Warcraft), the pattern has been identical. The fact that there's an expansion pack coming out for WoW doesn't bother me in the least. The game will still be the same, just more content. I might take a look, I might not, but I think that by that time, they will have launched Diablo 3 (on can only hope), and when that happens it'll be bye-bye all other games for a long time.

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Intellectual Masturbation

I have come to the conclusion that academia is nothing but intellectual masturbation. I have never seen people who are as full of them selves as academics. They espouse unnecessarily complex theories and procedures for the sole reason of making non-academics look starstruck when dazzled by their supposed brilliance. I'm currently reading part of a PhD thesis on software engineering, and the things that are suggested in this case might be applicable to 1% of development processes, and only in the case where one would be dealing with completely new concepts in computer science.
There are several more or less formal ways of developing software. Some are better than others, but what they all have in common is that they are extremely convoluted, and they requires books upon books to explain what is small sub-part of the entire methodology. It's not unheard of to have 900 page books on "realizing part A and part B of our amazing 59 part model".
Maybe I'm taking the carpentry approach to software development here, but please people it's not as difficult as you make it out to be. Granted, writing good software is not necessarily simple, but coming up with a methodology on how to handle everything around the actual writing of the source code is not as hard as people would have you believe.
The problem, I think, is that people are payed by the letter to write books on methodologies. I don't doubt that we need some research in the field, but to be quite frank, methodologies for developing things are, just like design patterns, revealed almost automatically after having worked in the industry for some time. What then happens is that academics come along and they look at these methodologies that have evolved in companies over time, working in this field, and they lump a bunch of them together, and try to extract some common features of successful methodologies. So far so good, to some extent, but what they then do is add their own rationale for these concept, and then they proceed to add their own parts to the methodology, to add their personal touch. The long-term goal of this is to get name recognition for something. Now, I know that having a good reputation is something we all want, but there are good and bad ways of going about it.
I can't say anything about any other fields of study, since I have just been in the academic world of software development, but I think that most academic research on methodologies, i.e. the meta-layer about getting work done, is pure intellectual masturbation, and it encumbers the whole software development profession with things that might otherwise have become clear, using nothing but common sense and experience.
It's fine when teachers teach students about some well-known methodology that is well rooted in reality. This way the students can have a head start when they get out in business life (which is the whole point of going to school). However, when teachers think "hey, I have a personal opinion of this little thing which I consider a flaw in a methodology, so I'm throwing all other information out the window and I'm creating my own methodology and then I'm teaching that to my students". This is wrong. I'm all for teaching students as much as possible, but we need to keep our eye on the ball here. Consolidate knowledge and look for things that are actually common between methodologies and teach people that. We don't need 10 methods that kinda-sorta work, we need 2-3 that actually work, all the time.
I guess academia is about finding new things and doing research info areas where business can't afford to go, or haven't thought off, but that doesn't give academia a license to go on some wild goose chase. When it comes to problems like some new algorithm, or finding a new element for the periodic table, or figuring out how to synthesize some new drug, I'm all for that. What I don't like is the meta-reasoning about all these things. At some point the reasoning about the reasoning about the reasoning of something has to stop. How many meta layers can we have before it all turns in to philosophy?

I want more concreteness in the things that are taught to students. Let students feel that the time spent in the class room actually gives them something of value, and not just something that they might be able to use should they go down a certain path of research in academia. Again, this is very much a carpenters approach to school, but isn't that what engineering is supposed to be about? I realize software is a young field, compared to building bridges or doing mathematics, but I also know that the rate at which the field develops is much faster than the speed seen for other fields in the past.

I'm rambling, but in summary, less intellectual masturbation in academia (at least regarding what is actually taught to students), and more concrete and correct knowledge.
Feel free to challenge me on this opinion.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Chuck Norris is my Hero No More

I was telling a friend about chucknorrisfacts.com, and I decided to check out the Chuck Norris facts-page on Wikipedia.
I stumbled upon this terrible piece of information:

One of the satirical "facts" made of Norris states that "There is no theory of evolution. Just a list of creatures Chuck Norris has allowed to live." Upon hearing this, Chuck replied:

It's funny. It's cute. But here's what I really think about the theory of evolution: It's not real. It is not the way we got here. In fact, the life you see on this planet is really just a list of creatures God has allowed to live. We are not creations of random chance. We are not accidents. There is a God, a Creator, who made you and me. We were made in His image, which separates us from all other creatures. By the way, without Him, I don't have any power. But with Him, the Bible tells me, I really can do all things—and so can you."[3]

What the hell man! I mean I realize he's from some shitty backwater in Oklahoma (which, in 2000 had, and I quote, "894 people, 358 households, four registered prostitute[s] and 233 families residing in the town"), but that doesn't excuse the fact that THE Chuck Norris believes in intelligent design. Don't even get me started on intelligent design, that's just laughing in the face of facts.
I don't, by any means, get my sense of absolute certainty from Walker Texas Ranger, but come one man. Chuck Norris and intelligent design. What is the world coming to?...

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Rene's party Shop

There's a tea that I really like. It's from twinings and it's called Apple, Cinnamon & Raisin (can't for the life of me find an English-language site with the correct picture). It's available in any store in Sweden, and I had really gotten used to drinking it (there are some other, more posh, teas from twinings that I like, but whose names I can't seem to remember, since they don't exist here). The problem is that the food stores here don't carry it. All they carry is their store-brand muck they try to pass off as tea. Now, I'm not saying I'm some kind of connaisseur (hell, I even had to ask my girlfriend, who among other wonderful things, speaks fluent french, how to spell it), since I tend to not like the more advanced teas, but out of the normal selection, I know what I like.
I looked over every shop in the Enschede area, but my search was fruitless. I was on the verge of giving up (and ordering it from home) when I stumbled upon Rene's party Shop in my local shopping mall (glorified collection of food and pet stores). Since I found it there I drop by approximately monthly to purchase some more. I thought I was just another customer, but when I went in there today, a man who I can only assume is Rene him self says to me something like "cinnamon and apple again, that's a good tea". Not only id he remember that I'm not dutch, but he remembers what I come in there and buy. We've maybe exchanged 15 words during all the times I've come there, so I was surprised to say the least.
We get to talking and it turns out that Rene has had his party shop in the Deppenbroek winkelcentrum for the last 30 years, "since I was 21" he proclaims.
He tells me (brags) about his son who also happens to be in computer science (which he discovered after tiring of being a dentist), and about his other son who is now at Saxion.
All in all Rene seems to be a nice guy, and I think I'm going to continue doing my shopping there. Maybe even more some of my cheese purchases there, since he seems to have a lot of cheese, and seems like a nice guy.
If you are in the neighborhood, pay Rene a visit.


I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes.

But alas, love is not all around, but rather winter is. Some people like winter, I don't. I especially don't like winter when our hot water heater that heats the water in our taps and the radiators in our rooms, is on the fritz. I can generally feel the defects coming, like the fast onset of arthritis. My fingers go stiff and numb, my typing speed goes way down, and my toes go cold.
This wouldn't be that much of a pain if it happened, say, once a month, or perhaps even more seldom, but when it happens once a day on good days, and several times a day on bad (ohh how many times I've walked down to the kitchen in nothing but my towel to kick it back in to shape so that I can take a shower, and I'm not the only one who's done it).
For some reason that I can't figure out (frugality or continental europe-ness) the dutch only have 1-glass windows in their houses. This isn't a problem if it's about 25C every day, but when the temperatures start falling to 15,10,5 and 0, it really becomes a terrible thing. Not only is it cold, but it brings the heating bills up a lot, since more heat is dissipated through the windows, and more energy is required to warm the house.
Knowing the dutch, however, I doubt that they actually crank up the heat when needed, they just suffer in silence, being warmed inside by the fraction of a cent they are saving.

It's such a nice feeling to be able to use your hands and feet to their full capacity. I can't imagine what it would be like to be old in this country.

In other news, I'm currently reading about game theory and Nash equilibria in connection to the interaction between agents in a multi-agent system. All very cool stuff.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'll go back to freezing my nuts off and kicking the heater back in to operation.

(Hah, it turns out that I already had a label for "cold". Maybe this is a topic that I talk about often!)

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Teaching - What a Rush!

I spent some time today in the computer rooms of the school. We were working on a project that is due in 2½ weeks for the Design of Software Architectures course. As we were getting done and getting ready to leave, I saw a friend of mine whom I've done other course work with, sitting at one of the computers with some problem for another course. We started talking a bit, and he was telling me about these problems he was having with getting a particular application to work. As I started helping him fix his problems, I felt a sudden rush of pleasure through my body. The further we got in to the problem solving, the more my body told me that it liked what was happening. In the end we managed to solve his problems, but I couldn't help but feel that helping people solve problems and explaining to them how to do it was one of the most wonderful feelings in the world.
I have previously thought about becoming a teacher at a university. It's been my long-term plan for some years, but right now it feels like I never want to set foot in a school again. At least not as a student. The problem with getting a teaching position is that you have to spend eons in school first as a student. Your regular Master's degree generally isn't enough.
This is a problem for me, because when I'm finished here, I don't want to ever have to write another exam or do another assignment, yet I want to be a teacher, so more of this shit is required. Granted, doing PhD research isn't like taking courses, but I still don't know if I can take any more of being a student. Time (and position offers) will tell, but right now it feels like I don't ever want to set foot in a school again. Maybe that changes, maybe it doesn't, but teaching is still one of the most fun and rewarding experiences in the world.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Mo Money

I just got word from the financial aid agency for students from Sweden, CSN, and they are granting me more money! It turns out that they had misinterpreted my schedule, and dropped four weeks of aid. I noticed this last year, but it didn't occur to me to do anything about it. This year I did, and after some back and forth via email, they altered their decision.
Today was a good day....

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

MultiAgent Systems

I just got through the better part (10 chapters plus appendix) of Michael Wooldridge's An Introduction to MultiAgent Systems. Normally when I'm faces with self-study of a massive piece of educational literature, I get bored easily, because the way literature is written is usually very stuffy and boring, and not particularly explanatory.
Reading An Introduction to MultiAgent Systems, however, was a pure delight. Wooldridge writes in such a way that information sticks the first time around. Rarely did I have to re-read a piece of text. He also writes in a very entertaining way, without digressing or causing off-topic chuckles.
The book is about 350 pages long, with a core of about 250 (according to Wooldridge). The first part deals with the concept of intelligent agents, and the second part deals with a society of such agents.
All in all a delightful read, and I would definitely recommend it to anybody wanting an overview or a great course book for multi-agent systems. If more authors wrote like this, then maybe people would actually pass their courses and not drop out of school.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

What I Should Have Done

Before I went to college for computer science, I wanted to become a psychologist. Every year from graduating from high-school I would apply to the psychology program. Of course, since this was a very popular program I could never get in because my grades were so low. Finally I went in to computer science, something I've been doing since I was a young child. In the second semester of my first year, we did a couple of months of Human Computer Interaction. Basically applying psychological concepts to the user experience and the interaction between man and machine.
Considering my burning lust for psychology, I thought that I had found the perfect combination; behavioral psychology together with computer science. I was thinking to myself "this is what I want to do with my life".
The problem was that most of the HCI we did was focused on usability studies and user interfaces, which I find incredibly boring (albeit incredibly important). When I graduated and it came time to choose a minor, this turn of events made me chose database technology as my minor, as opposed to HCI.

Now, in my 6th year of university, I'm looking for a thesis topic for my Master's Thesis, and as such, I was roaming the halls in our faculty, reading posters and generally seeing what my school was up to with regards to research. I have to start my thesis in January, so I'm going to try to be prepared.
I started at the 5th (and topmost) floor, reading posters and successively working my way down to the 2nd floor, where the HMI (Human Media Interaction) people are. In the top 3 floors I found what amounts to maybe 1.5 interesting topics to write about. When I got down to the 2nd floor, I got a certain feeling about it. People had open wine bottles in their offices, they were roaming around in more of a hippie kind-of style. It made me think of what the early computer labs in the 60ies and 70ies must have looked like. Reading the posters on the 2nd floor gave me tons of ideas, but since I haven't been specializing in HMI, I doubt that I could go down that road with my thesis.
All in all, the courses I have been taking over the last 2 years have been dull. Some of them have had some interesting parts, but I can say that there haven't been more than maybe 2-3 courses that I have actually enjoyed.
Now, hindsight being what it is, it would be easy for me to conclude that I should have chosen HMI when coming to this university, but since hindsight is just that, there's little I can do about that now.
I chose software engineering hoping that I would do what I love most, write software. However, the amount of software written during this education has been little to none. It's all about the meta level. How to develop methods to develop software, and quite frankly, it bores the hell out of me. I certainly cannot imagine myself as a researcher on the topic.

I just hope that I can actually find a topic for my thesis, and find and advisor willing to help me, because if I don't, and I get stuck with a topic that I'm not interested in, this is going to be a horrible school year.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Welcome to the Service Ecomony

Apparently the International Labor Organization came out with something called the Key Indicators of the Labour Market (KILM) report. It details the state of the union, so to speak, in the entire world with regards to labor.
The biggest sensation in the report, however, was the face that agriculture is not the biggest labor sector in the world anymore, services is. In most western countries, I believe, agriculture has been lower than 10% of the countries economy, sometimes lower than 5%, for a while now, but that's not necessarily true for the rest of the world. I think this is pretty amazing. To quote the article that I found this news in:

And thus passes a tremendous milestone in the history of our species. Farming, invented around 8000 BC, quickly dominated human activity and has so continued to for the following 10,000 years (give or take a few). And we even find that the tradition agriculture->industry->services transition doesn’t hold up globally. The industry segment simply isn’t big enough, so many workers skip to services.