Archive for May, 2006

from me to you

May 31st, 2006

Random fun[ny] stuff I found on reddit:

certifiably tourist

May 30th, 2006

It was another classic damage control grocery mission. The time is 19:49, I suddenly remember I haven't had dinner and the store closes at 21. Since today was cleaning day (yes, that time of the month), I just wore a t-shirt, shorts and sandals around the house, it's practical for cleaning in case of spills and whatnot. It's also comfortable, if a little light for this time of year. It's also sunny out, and no sign of wind, so I hop on my bike and I'm off to the grocery store. At the checkout line, I recall that I haven't checked the balance in my account for a while and I have a rough ball park idea of how much is left on it. The ball park value was "hopefully about €50". For some reason I also decided to pick up some luxuries today - honey, a bag of oranges, noodles, jam, milk (still have some left), orange juice etc - aside from the base essentials (ie. tonight's dinner). My total adds up to about €23. I run my card through the card reader and punch in the code wrong. First sign of something amiss, I never get the code wrong. So I hit cancel, swipe again, type it in and confirm. It beeps. "Insufficient funds, pay otherwise." I ask to use a credit card, but for some reason Albert Heijn doesn't approve of them.

So there I am, in beach wear at the grocery store, explaining to the cashier in English that I only have €10 in cash. More of a tourist I could not have looked I bet. So I tell her I'll have to take some of the stuff back, she calls up a co-worker and we go over the problem again. I suggest paying part in cash, but even then I don't have the funds in my account. I pick €10 worth of groceries and pay for them, the guy scoops up the rest and takes it back. "Sorry about this." "No problem, have a nice day." Very professional.

I get back on my bike. All in all it's quite chilly out to be wearing a t-shirt and shorts. A light breeze flows through the street as well. I head home when suddenly I bump into a friend on the way. He's wearing jeans, a woollen sweater and a big coat. "My god, how obvious is it that you're Norwegian, look at you." While he was a bit overdressed, I was certainly underdressed for the weather in comparison with people out on the street.

Stealth

May 26th, 2006

So they imploded a building in Rangoon, all bad guys got killed, no civilians. Perfect mission. Then, tinman killed about a thousand people in Tadjikistan as a result of nuclear explosion (which was played down, no fancy mushroom cloud or anything), also thousands more casualties potentially in Pakistan. Then, tinman, the devil that he is, killed the black dude, hate crime. Then, they flew into Russia, got intercepted and instead of having some coffee and explaning the situation, they just engaged into combat and took down the fighters. For one thing, it might be interesting that two *stealth* planes couldn't resist radar. Secondly, does Russia only have two fighters? I'm sure that's not going to be any kind of diplomatic crisis. Anyway, then they land in Alaska and the pilot kills the doctor. Well it was sort of an accident, manslaughter. Then he goes mental and kills about 5 other people before he boards tinman (which being an AI plane always looked weird with that seat in the cockpit) and kills another 20-30 fleeing the base. Then, he calls his boss, everything cool, one last mission. By now tinman has no stealth (why?), so to stay under radar they fly into South Korea at 15, yes 15 feet height. South Korea is an *ally* but I guess we don't need their help, we can manage. Meanwhile in North Korea, Wade kills a bunch of soldiers with a machine gun round. Funny how as she's fleeing and limping, they are chasing her with dogs, she keeps gaining ground on them. Anyway, things looking pretty gloomy for her when hubby (prolly) comes in to rock and roll. First he blows the gate open (about 5 more people dead), then he sets a forest alight killing another 20 and some dogs. He lands (great idea) and finds her. Then he kills the sniper. Finally a chopper is bearing down on them and tinman wakes up to life. He's out of missiles, so machine gun will do. Finally, in the ultimate act of sacrifice, the machine instructed to do one thing only, survive, commits suicide.

And then the happy couple returns to base, mourns the dead black guy (as always) and lives happily everafter. And the thousands of dead people? What can I tell ya, wrong place at the wrong time, boy.

three classes of discourse

May 20th, 2006

What's that, you're ready for another one of my gross oversimplifications? Okay then.

So every once in a while there is some issue in the political, social, environmental, legal, economical.. (etc) realm that gets a lot of people riled up. And when enough people start forming opinions and talking about a subject, I think often we can distinguish three classes of discourse.


The ill informed

The loudest and most populous group is the one of the least informed. These are people who don't know much about the issue, but they have a very strong opinion and they're easily swayed by the flock mentality (into adding points to their point of view, because everyone else seems sold on them). Oddly enough [one might think], these people are hard to convince with solid arguments or evidence, they feel they have enough information to hold their stand. It is because they not only take their stand on a true/false premise, they cling to it for other reasons, like social pressures in the flock. Finding the truth is an obscured objective, it seems more important to stand strong. And at this level, social pressures are strong, even modest variations in opinion from the core standpoint will come under heavy fire.

At the same time, in order to be able to present a strong (and unified) point of view, there is a great thirst for simplification, so you will hear from this group very simplistic expressions. For instance, during the Norwegian debate on EU membership in 1994, the opponents's tagline was "The EU wants to take all our money".

The reticent

Most distinct from the least informed is it that the reticent are very aware of the fact that they don't have all the facts. And this humbles them significantly, they are willing to press for their point of view as long as they feel confident about the facts, but they will not wander into uncertain territory. I label them reticent, because they are averse to making absolute statements, to drawing conclusions. They would rather discuss one point at a time and establish a consensus for each one, whether or not the points point in the same direction. They are primarily after the truth, which makes them open to new points of view, new evidence. Their stand is rational rather than emotional, so they will let themselves be convinced by factual arguments.

The social context of this group is radically different, it isn't a gang mentality, it's a much more respectful atmosphere, open toward new ideas. No two people agree, they only agree on certain points, and it's downright abnormal to exactly replicate another person's stand on the issue. The opinions are not overly simplistic, they take into account the complexity of the issue. But as always there is a certain degree of humility to every opinion, no belief is held with complete certainty.

The well informed

Firstly and crucially, the well informed are not numerous. They rarely even find themselves in the company of other well informed people. And so while they are not populous, they aren't loud either, having to put up with people who aren't really qualified to talk about the issue.

The well informed usually have a stand on the issue, and "the facts are inconclusive" is a valid stand as well. They know enough about the issue to form an opinion, but their opinions are very refined and simply cannot be simplified into anything that would suit the ill informed. Just about every answer to every question begins with "that depends".

The well informed are enlightened enough to the point where the rewards for social interaction are no longer coveted. They do not draw satisfaction from "being right" simply because they believe they are right anyway. And so whether someone chooses to inform themselves adequately and see the same as they do matters little to them. Because they are surrounded by the less informed, they will rarely care to express their full opinion, only when confident that the listener will be able to appreciate the full extent of it.

Enough evidence will sway the well informed, but it would take a hell of a lot, because they've already seen most of it.

I'm sure we've all belonged to each one of these groups at some points in our lives. I most frequently find myself among the reticent, I concede there is much I don't know, but I don't have the time or willingness to spend an enormous amount of time on informing myself about the issue. Least frequently I'm among the well informed, this happens sometimes when some issue that I'm deeply involved in suddenly becomes a loud issue among lots of people and I suddenly see very clearly who belongs to which group. When I was younger, I was more frequently among the ill informed and I still am now from time to time. But I think the realization of that is what lifts us out of it, once I realize I'm willingly ignoring certain facts, it's harder to keep on doing it.

There is quite a lot to be said about interactions between groups and members of groups, perceptions between groups and so on, but that is quite a big subject in itself.

give it up for scons

May 19th, 2006

Isn't it nice when you have an idea of something that would improve your life (and possibly the lives of many others) and you think to yourself "well if I were to do it, it would take me lots of time and hassle, someone should do it" and then you discover no less that someone has already?

A while back I was praising ant for being an improvement over make. And it is, it's smoother, it's nicer, it's more suited to the needs we have from a build tool today, make is ancient afterall. But then ant has it's problems.. the xml configuration scripts are a bit cumbersome and unnecessarily complicated (I mean who actually enjoys writing xml?) aaaand it's java based. Nice for portability, bad for speed. If you're building eclipse and you set up ant to do it, big deal, it takes forever anyway, the overhead in a java build tool won't bother you. But if you have a dozen java source files and you're working on some small project, you could still use a build tool to keep building more streamlined and organized, but ant won't feel like such a great choice anymore. Because making one small change in a source file will launch ant to rebuild that class. And even though compiling java doesn't take that long, launching ant itself probably takes longer. So there's a tangible overhead. Launching the vm itself takes a little while.

So if I'm writing a java application, I'll still use ant (probably), because it's a java environment anyway. But if I want to automize building latex documents or conceivably anything that could use the power of a build tool, I'm going back to make, it's quicker both to write the script and at every launch. But since make is far from ideal, how about a python based build tool? Python is quick and powerful. The first time I thought of that must have been a few months ago. Fast forward to today and....

Enter scons. scons is a python build tool, just like I conceived. As I started looking at the manual, it seemed very c-centric (with java support as well). But, it turns out that scons ships with build definitions for many languages and compilers, including jar, qt, latex, tar, swig.. well you get the idea. Not only that, build definitions are just simple python files which are easy to write. So the next time I need a build tool, I'll definitely see how far I can get with scons.