Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Another BlackBerry™ BIS outage.

CrackBerry reports there's been another BlackBerry BIS outage yesterday. Yay! A Christmas reminder to the devs: avoid BIS like the plague in your apps. I do.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

IntelliJ Idea 9.0 is out!

Good news, everybody! IntelliJ Idea 9.0 is out! Go grab it, there's enough for everybody!

In case you didn't know, this year's release comes with a Christmas present for all you good-behaving boys and girls: an open-sourced Community edition. There's a ton of goodness in the Community edition, and a ton more in the Personal $249 edition ($149 if you're upgrading). If that sounds like a lot of money, compare ingredients and price with the MS Visual Studio.

So ditch your Eclipse into the gutter right now, and run to get your very own copy of Idea!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Speaking about Austria

In my previous post I jokingly mentioned that we shouldn't be surprised if Austria follows the Swiss lead on banning the minarets. I don't claim to know much about Austria, but it turns out I wasn't exactly wrong here. Farid Hafez has an article (Google English translation) in Austrian Der Standard on 30. Nov which argues, very reasonably, that the Swiss ban is only a manifestation of a much more serious phenomenon of widespread paneuropean islamophobia. He also mentions that whereas in Switzerland it looks like an absurd paradox, a very controversial decision with no unified majority behind it, in Austria the support for such hypothetical measures has much more of a consensus behind it. An in fact, an Austrian land has approved exactly such a ban a minarets, although more covertly, two years ago in 2007:

In fact, Austria was the first country where such a ban was implemented. While a resolution of the FPÖ in the first half of 2007 was soundly defeated in the National Assembly still took advantage of the Carinthian governor a chance, a mosque and minarets of launching. Such however, could not use the votes of his own party alone prevail. Thus, the Austrian People's Party agreed with Carinthia.
But what's even more worrying is true is the fact that a party of the "center" in another state, this law still half a year earlier decided. While in Carinthia, the law on 18 December was implemented in 2008, was in Vorarlberg ÖVP under a majority, 20 June 2008, the first mosque in Europe and Minarettbauverbot blessing. All these laws were in Austrian style of course less clear and direct than in Switzerland (change of Ortsbildpflege Act and the Building and Regional Planning Act formulated). It turns out that even in this part of the political elite of the "middle" such a ban is supported. A consensus of the parties, churches and civil society against such a ban in Switzerland can not be found. On the contrary, the Feldkircher diocesan bishop at that time supported such a mosque and Minarettbauverbot. Even members of the Federal Government appropriate arguments were heard.
Sorry about the automatic translation -- maybe Greg can provide a better one.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Swiss Antics

Greg Levonian has a post on Switzerland's recent referendum results banning construction of minarets. (as per a BBC article, there are only 4 currently in Switzerland)
An, Schweize Volks Partei... even in their xenophobia they're so warm and cuddly.

But seriously, don't be surprised when the neighboring Austria does something similar. The good news is that Vatican has quickly condemned this, and I think it's going to sparkle a new wave of public discussion in Europe. And that's going to end up in one of two ways. Either Switzerland is shamed to death, or all of a sudden all those xenophobic masses in other European countries have their "aha" moment and do the same thing. With the current level of racism & xenophobia in Europe, you just never know.

But also, it's kind of interesting how Switzerland doesn't have any overarching constitutional legislation to prevent this kind of referendum from succeeding.

Meanwhile, embarrased Swiss officials are trying to lighten up the mood (from here):
Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said: "Concerns [about Islamic fundamentalism] have to be taken seriously.
"However, a ban on the construction of new minarets is not a feasible means of countering extremist tendencies."
She sought to reassure Swiss Muslims, saying the decision was "not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture" (emphasis is mine).

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Evil Møøse Pays Back For Years of Abuse With a Sharpened Stick



BBC News is reporting a very curious story today: 
A Swedish man who was arrested on suspicion of murdering his wife has been cleared, after police decided she was probably killed by an elk.

The Møøse's lawyer had this to say about his claim that the Møøse is innocent:

No realli! She was karving her initials on the møøse
with the sharpened end of an interspace tøøthbrush given
her by Svenge - her brother-in-law - an Oslo dentist and
star of many Norwegian møvies: "The Høt Hands of an Oslo
Dentist", "Fillings of Passion", "The Huge Mølars of Horst
Nordfink"...
 The Møøse's defence might be complicated by the fact that, according to the prosecution, the murder was committed in the state of alcohol intoxication:
The European elk, or moose, is usually considered to be shy and will normally run away from humans. But Swedish Radio International says the animals can become aggressive after eating fermented fallen apples in gardens.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Blackberry Internet Server Infrastructure Down Across North America (again)

For about two hours I thought I was going crazy when the application I was debugging stopped loading data from the servers. It just so happened that today is the second day after the rollout of the app onto Blackberry App World, and the user comments started flowing in about being unable to load data.

Turns out, after testing app and BB browser on 5 devices (3 local, 2 remote), and numerous timeouts in BB AppWorld client, that we're dealing with another North America-wide BIS infrastructure failure.

There are numerous confirmations on the twittosphere, and online magazines and websites are starting to pick it up (here's one). Last two such outages seem to have happened on Sep 9th and 22nd of this year, according to the same resource.

This is just mind-blowing. Not the fact that the failure occured, but the fact that in this day and age RIM continues to support the BIS system, which effectively routes the vast majority of browser and 3rd party app traffic on Blackberry through Waterloo.

Just mind-blowing.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Testing solutions for BlackBerry and other mobile devices

It's interesting that quite a few sponsors of this year's BlackBerry Developer Conference had something to do with testing solutions. Now, it's a very interesting and practical topic, and something that I get asked a lot by clients — so here's a quick survey of the companies that had a presence at the conference and have interesting solutions to offer.
  • DeviceAnywhere is the one solution that's probably most well-known. They provide remote access to a bunch of physical devices on a variety of carriers that are physically located in the US, Europe, Asia, and have a pretty robust solution with client that works on both Windows and OSX. Many people have found their solution very useful.
  • Perfecto Mobile is a competitor of DeviceAnywhere and provides a similar remote-access solution. They are based in Israel and less known around these parts, but a quick look at their website shows that the scale of their operation and range of devices/networks is very similar. They, like DeviceAnywhere, have a set of automation features, which they claim are more advanced than DA's. One significant difference between them and DA is, according to the rep I talked to, that their way of capturing screen and injecting keypresses/etc is non-intrusive and thus they can more quickly swap devices in and out, and, importantly, give developers easy access to pre-launched handsets. If that is true, that's a big advantage, because I have stumbled into issues of DA not providing access to new devices quickly enough. Definitely worth checking out.
  • bsquare is in a different niche. Their solution provides QA depts with a way to automate testing on real devices — once you hook a device up to the Windows machine running their product, you have the ability to create automatic test cases that include the information on both how to execute a test scenario and how to validate that a test has passed. Their solution seems very flexible and powerful. The $10K per-seat price tag seems fair, but it also means that their customers are going to be either enterprise app developers or bigger consumer app developers who have the money to make the investment (Google is reportedly one of their clients). They might do well to offer their technology to the pay-per-use solution providers like the two above, or offer their technology on a subscription license.
  • Intertek is a large global company that provides testing services in many industries, and the people at the conf presented the mobile branch. Quoting their rep, "our prices per hour are similar to DeviceAnywhere, except we actually do the testing". The price, of course, I presume, varies wildly depending on whether you choose to do testing in India (overnight, too!) or in Europe or US. You might presumably choose to use the Indian resources while having them use DeviceAnywhere or competitors to access the US devices.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Breaking news almost live from BlackBerry Developer Conference Keynote

Breaking news! Only 7 hours late!
  • OpenGL ES and 5.0 widgets were impressive, but most impressive of all...
  • They showed a jaw-dropping demo of reloading an application in the simulator without restarting the simulator and waiting for ages for the bloody thing to start up! Good morning freedom!
  • Another demo from RIM research dungeons: a too-good-to-be-true demo of a completely Java-based simulator, and they teased all of us poor souls with a screenshot of it running on Mac OS X. Now, of course, my gut feeling is it's not going to be available for at least half a year — but at least they are moving in the right direction.
  • New Eclipse 1.1 plugin looks spiffy. I just might start running Eclipse in parallel with my beloved IntelliJ Idea, an IDE of unparalleled beauty and power. Still better than running JDE on VmWare in parallel with IntelliJ Idea on OSX. And now for some delusionary dreaming: now that Idea is open-source, how about a full-scaled BlackBerry™ plugin for Idea? Pretty please?
  • First glance at visual editor for GUI in Eclipse plugin: I'm looking forward to how badly it's going to screw up when faced with manual edits to its generated code and slightly-more-complex-than-trivial layouts.
  • Flash, Webkit: right direction, but meh for now: mention it when you actually have something to show.
  • Payment system and ads: huge in impact, but of course in no way innovative. Still a welcome addition.
  • Triangulation-based location failover: nice, but again, RIM is catching up here.
  • Overall: lots of nice incremental changes, right attitude towards developers. But I should've gotten more than 3 hours of sleep before that keynote.
Obligatory sarcastic remark:
  • Java 1.5 language support: nowhere in sight.

Childbirth and social responsibility

Having children is such an emotional issue that we will never have the majority voluntarily start thinking about personally challenging their gut feeling about having kids (which is to have them). Only when we get much farther, after the first-world country isolation barrier is no longer able to buffer us here from the real effects of overpopulation, and the misery and effects of resource wars hit home, will we have the by-then police states of western countries step in and impose seemingly draconian restrictions. And everybody will feel bad. That's the human way. (Hopefully countries like China will keep being smarter than the hypocritic first-world and will keep gently revving up the already existing policies)

Take a look at the comment trails here and here.

And finally, a relevant comic from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ramblings on population growth

Global population growth has been a hot topic recently, for example, with this Economist article arguing that birth control should be considered an effective "green" technology.

I especially like this quote from the above article:
Sir Julian Huxley, the first director-general of the United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organisation when it was established in 1945, remarked that death control made birth control a moral imperative.

Getting back to the idea of birth control as a green technology, well, it's not new. I don't have the source, but some Chinese spokesman presenting at some UN environment protection conference has recently remarked that, of all world countries, China's contribution to environment protection has been the greatest, with its one-child-per-family policy preventing more than 400 million births since the 1970s. I'm quoting from memory, but it's a pretty darn good argument which should hopefully make all those people condemning China for insufficient attention to the environment a bit more humble. Compared to the kind of environmental impact that 400 million extra people translate to, we really have to admit that there's no other country which has done so much for the environment.

National Geographic ran a feature on population growth a few months ago -- it's a nice sensationalist topic to run a feature on these days. The problem is, everybody who writes on this subject says things like "in the next X years, we will need to increase food production tenfold to meet the projected demand". To give justice to the NG article, it does mention Thomas Malthus and his simple, brilliant idea that population, that grows exponentially, will always be limited by food production, which grows linearly or in the best case polynomially -- but it doesn't go into the grimy details of exactly what this means.

I mean, nobody wants to write, "in the next X years, we have to drive global population growth rate down to 0 and, potentially, negative numbers". It is much nicer to write with a troubled expression on one's face, "in the next X years, we have to increase food production tenfold". Yeah right, good luck with that, especially once you discover that by doing that you've just dug out an even bigger pit for yourself.

I say, we need to have a serious, non-emotional discussion about our global attitudes to reproductive policies and, having done that, abandon for good the cute-and-furry notion of "reproductive rights". There's no such thing outside the social context, and it's about time we start talking about it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

This just in: Gordon Brown makes an official apology to Alan Turing on behalf of British Government

This here is nothing short of fantastic. Kudos to all UK citizens who signed the petition and to Mr. Gordon Brown and whoever else worked to make this happen. This goes a long way towards better recognizing Alan Turing's wonderful legacy and the appalling way in which he and the rest of the LGBT community was treated for too long. I'm impressed and heartened by this current British Government's gesture and think that, despite many other problems that currently plague European societies, this is one of many things that show the dramatic social progress that was won since the middle of last century. The good will for actions like these is one of those things that helps Britain continue setting, albeit imperfectly, an example for the rest of the world.

Update: resistant on Slashdot: "It's nice to see a politician who can actually pass the Turing test."

Update: Another good idea: people, why stop at this? Let's use the momentum and have Mr Alan Turing knighted posthumously!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Campaign to have British Prime Minister issue an official apology for persecution of Alan Turing

The Register has an article today about a petition to have the British PM or parliament issue an official apology for persecution of Alan Turing in 1952 for his homosexuality, which put an end to his career at Bletchey Park and ultimately contributed to him committing suicide.

I say, apology is long overdue.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Code lives with data, but not always is that union blessed.

Re: How to think about OO

I really don't buy the "code lives with data" thing. With this approach, after a while you get the octopus of a User class, aware of everything going on in your application -- authentication, the fact it's a web app, transaction management, parsing of itself from xml, marshalling itself into xml... where do you stop applying this "code lives with data" principle? And, actually, the classic separation of concerns, together with testability-oriented thinking, produce a lot of nice small classes, logically self-contained, easy to understand, use, and, yes, reuse. But reusability is not the only reason why you don't clump together concerns -- it's just one such reason.

Sure, if this is a tiny singular occurrence in your app (say, the only place in a tiny app authentication is ever dealt with), go ahead and put this method as a convenience. But surely we're not talking about such cases? Small unimportant apps can take a certain amount of clumping together of code dealing with different concerns before they become a complete nightmare to work with -- but who cares about those apps?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

High-definition television

Via mi3ch, credit: Christian Science Monitor, Bennett

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Vonage, Protectron: nasty hidden fees, deceptive practices, bad experience

This is just to document my horrible experience with Vonage customer service and hopefully put a little dent into Vonage PR. While Vonage may seem to be a pretty cool service at first, turns out they have a clause in their terms of service (which is completely hidden from view of a customer at the time of account creation) that there's a $50 disconnection fee if the account lasted for less than 2 years (that's given the fact that they don't subsidize the equipment and their service is absolutely overpriced compared to Skype or other VoIP providers). I'm going to dispute those charges through VISA chargeback, but as a note to anybody considering Vonage service: look to some other company, or be stuck with mediocre service from Vonage and be prepared to discover unexpected charges when you need to cancel the service.

Same goes for Protectron, a security alarm company providing services in Canada: I was deceived by the representative of the company, Jeff Friend, about the terms of service. I was lead to believe that the service was month-to-month with no term obligations: a call to Protectron after a year of shelling out $55/mo for their service (not including equipment, which we paid for competely) revealed that they apparently have a clause that says that if you cancel before 48 months (48 fucking months!!!), you have to shell out all of the money ($55/mo times number of months remaining) upfront. Not to mention that this is ridiculous, it's also completely unjustified since the company doesn't subsidize the equipment in any way, either. Once again: stay clear of Protectron with their deceptive practices.

I hear that the consumer protection agencies are working here in the States to stop the practice of lock-in cell phone contracts -- well, we should really have the same thing in Canada, and it should also apply to any other service company, like Vonage or Protectron, who abuse the trust of their customers and should hopefully not survive the economic downturn. Meanwhile, stay away from them if you can.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Gøt sübtitles?

CRRC-Caucasus has a great article today (via gl) about Georgia's parliament contemplating introduction of more sub-titling of foreign movies and tv (as compared to dubbing, which is widespread in GE and other countries of the region, including Russia). This article lists exceptionally interesting research indicating that countries with widespread subtitling have better foreign language knowledge, in general. Worth a read - thanks Greg.

By the way, I hate dubbed movies with all my heart -- and now there's an objective reason why.
Version originale, sous-titlé: that's the way to go.

Speaking of other things I hate: I jüst cän't stand thøse decorative dîacriticals and foreign letters ußed in english branding. E.g.: Яed Dawn, Göt2b Glued and, finally, Toys'Я US. Like those babies can read russian!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Xootr Madness

I succumbed to Greg's seductive speeches and got myself a Xootr.

Almost killed myself on it yesterday, but otherwise it's a fantastic means of travelling that last mile after the BART / bus enjoyably. And it makes picking up that chinese takeout that much faster (based on a true story of mine)

Greg was right, the quality of machinery is stellar, I'd rely on this thing if my life depended on it (and, come to think of it, on San Francisco hills, it actually does.)

Yay Xootr! (pronounced 'zootr')

Monday, June 22, 2009

The hunt for the J2ME-friendly IoC is on!


I'm in the beginning phases of a Blackberry/J2ME project -- and along with other limitations that come with this wonderful platform, the lack of support for reflection and 1.3 language level mean that the vast majority of existing IoC containers are unusable. (Google has Guice for Android with no AOP, but even that requires support for annotations).
So the space of IoC containers on J2ME is pretty limited. The one framework that has caught my attention is called Signal Framework, and it looks pretty promising. It tries to stay conceptually close to Spring Framework's IoC, implementing a small subset of its functionality, and does so without relying on bytecode-modification or causing runtime xml parsing. Instead, it processes configuration XMLs at build-time to generate java code which implements this IoC functionality.
Generally speaking, code generation at build time seems like a very wise approach for mobile applications -- and if my app has to do less XML parsing on user's device, that's great too!
So, what have your experiences been with implementing IoC on J2ME/CLDC, and how were you able to extinguish that bitter taste in your mouth?
My Stack Overflow repost of this is here.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Google Books: now the internet we want can finally begin

The recent news of Google's settlement with authors and publishers are just great. This has the potential to really transform the Internet as we know it and make it a worldwide (or, for now, US-wide) network for scholarship. That's the kind of world-wide web that every science fiction writer of the 20th century has been envisioning, and, if Google is able to get through the final details of this settlement, we'll finally see the dawn of an internet where knowledge is accessible as easily as porn. And it only took us 40 years.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Vonnegut and Lenin

First of all, today, April 22, happens to be both the birthday of Vladimir Lenin, who, as we know, is "More Alive Than Anyone Alive(TM)", and Earth Day! Say whatever you like, but in my opinion this doesn't bode well for Lenin's unburied body.

Also, here's a thought I came up with in the shower this morning. Kurt Vonnegut's last name sounds German, obviously, but as far as I'm concerned, there's no good translation for 'vonnen' or 'vonne' when spelled this way. However, when you consider the fact that an English-speaking clerk might have simply misspelled the last name Wohnegut, which methinks could come from wohnen +  gut, the corresponding meaning would be "lives-well", which is an additional cherry of irony on top of cupcake of Vonnegut's prose. And in fact a quick Google search goes to show that people (esp. German-speakers) routinely mis-misspell his name as Wohnegut.

And now for something completely different, brought to you by the Quirky Shower Thoughts Series. It's a little mathematical word problem.
Problem. How many paws do two three-legged cats have provided they share one paw?
Schroedinger version. How many paws do two three-legged cats have provided they share one paw 30% of the time?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Wikipedia Review Monthly


The moving sofa problem was formulated by the Austrian-Canadian mathematician Leo Moser in 1966. The problem is a two-dimensional idealisation of real-life furniture moving problems, and asks for the rigid two-dimensional shape of largest area A that can be maneuvered through an L-shaped planar region with legs of unit width. The area A thus obtained is referred to as the 'sofa constant'.

Greco-Buddhist Art

Greco-Buddhist art is the artistic manifestation of Greco-Buddhism, a cultural syncretism between the Classical Greek culture and Buddhism, which developed over a period of close to 1000 years inCentral Asia, between the conquests of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BCE, and the Islamic conquests of the 7th century CE. Greco-Buddhist art is characterized by the strong idealistic realism of Hellenistic art and the first representations of the Buddha in human form, which have helped define the artistic (and particularly, sculptural) canon for Buddhist art throughout the Asian continent up to the present. It is also a strong example of cultural syncretism between eastern and western traditions.
The origins of Greco-Buddhist art are to be found in the Hellenistic Greco-Bactrian kingdom (250 BCE- 130 BCE), located in today’s Afghanistan, from which Hellenistic culture radiated into the Indian subcontinent with the establishment of the Indo-Greek kingdom (180 BCE-10 BCE). Under the Indo-Greeks and then the Kushans, the interaction of Greek and Buddhist culture flourished in the area ofGandhara, in today’s northern Pakistan, before spreading further into India, influencing the art of Mathura, and then the Hindu art of the Gupta empire, which was to extend to the rest of South-East Asia. The influence of Greco-Buddhist art also spread northward towards Central Asia, strongly affecting the art of the Tarim Basin, and ultimately the arts of China, Korea, and Japan.

A retiarius (plural retiarii; literally, "net-man" or "net-fighter" in Latin) was a Roman gladiator who fought with equipment styled on that of a fisherman: a weighted net (rete, hence the name), a three-pointedtrident (fuscina or tridens), and a dagger (pugio). The retiarius was lightly armoured, wearing an arm guard (manica) and a shoulder guard (galerus or spongia). Typically, his clothing consisted only of a loincloth (subligaculum) held in place by a wide belt (balteus), or of a short tunic with light padding. He wore no head protection or footwear.
The retiarius was routinely pitted against a heavily armed secutor. The net-fighter made up for his lack of protective gear by using his speed and agility to avoid his opponent's attacks and waiting for the opportunity to strike. He first tried to throw his net over his rival. If this succeeded, he attacked with his trident while his adversary was entangled. Another tactic was to ensnare his enemy's weapon in the net and pull it out of his grasp, leaving the opponent defenseless. Should the net miss or the secutor grab hold of it, the retiarius usually discarded the weapon, although he might try to collect it back for a second cast. Usually, the retiarius had to rely on his trident and dagger to finish the fight. The trident, as tall as a human being, permitted the gladiator to jab quickly and keep his distance. It was a strong weapon, capable of inflicting piercing wounds on an unprotected skull or limb. The dagger was the retiarius's final backup should the trident be lost. It was reserved for when close combat or a straight wrestling match had to settle the bout. In some battles, a single retiarius faced two secutores simultaneously. For these situations, the lightly armoured gladiator was placed on a raised platform and given a supply of stones with which to repel his pursuers.
Retiarii first appeared in the arena during the 1st century CE and had become standard attractions by the 2nd or 3rd century. The gladiator's lack of armour and his reliance on evasive tactics made the retiariusthe lowliest (and most effeminate) of an already stigmatised class. Passages from the works of Juvenal, Seneca, and Suetonius suggest that those retiarii who fought in tunics may have constituted an even more demeaned subtype (retiarii tunicati) who were not viewed as legitimate retiarii fighters but as arena clowns. Nevertheless, Roman artwork, graffiti, and grave markers include examples of specific net-men who apparently had reputations as skilled combatants and lovers.



Note The above material (text and images) has been taken from Wikipedia, and is licensed under Creative Commons. You can access full article content by clicking on the heading links.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Guide To Writing Unmaintainable Code

You might have seen this one before, but I just stumbled on this brilliant article by Roedy Green et al which outlines great techniques and principles to write unmaintainable software: "A Guide To Writing Unmaintainable Code". What a brilliant, brilliant piece.

Employers: hug a developer today.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Hello Kitty

An article from SF Chronicle that scratches the surface of the fascinating phenomenon of Hello Kitty and discusses a bit its relationship to the culture of Kawaii (cute) in Japan.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Kurt's favorite joke

Kurt Vonnegut's favorite joke, as told by Mark Vonnegut in his preface to a posthumous collection of Kurt's essays, "Apocalypse in retrospect":
Every day for years and years a customs agent carefully searched through this guy's wheelbarrow. Finally, when he was about to retire, the customs agent asked the guy, "We've become friends. I've searched your wheelbarrow every day for many years. What is it you're smuggling?"
"My friend, I am smuggling wheelbarrows."
The whole introduction is available here at NPR, with an added bonus of a recording of Mark Vonnegut reading Kurt's letter home that he wrote in 1944 after being released from the german POW camp.

N.B.: I picked up Camus' "The Myth of Sysyphus" and the above collection of Vonnegut stories in a book store at SFO airport, and they were displayed much more prominently than all the trash fiction that usually takes up all the shelf space in airport bookstores. Take note, fellow cynics, there's still a hope out there for us.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

And now for something completely different

Afghani parliament has passed a controversial law granting the husband a right to sex with wife at least once in four days, and wife right to sex with husband at least once in four months. The parlamentarians hope that this might open new economic opportunities, making Afghanistan the prime destination for marital sex tourism*. Wednesday has also been marked by numerous protests from the country's outspoken gay community, demanding equal rights under the new law.

* You might have to convert to Shiite Islam first as this law doesn't apply to non-Shiites.

Monday, March 30, 2009

True talent

ABC News' copywriters just couldn't miss the chance to introduce some wordplay into the headline of a news item on a massacre in a nursing home in Carthage, N.C.: "Carnage in Carthage: Gunman Kills 8 in Nursing Home". 

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Announcement: Earth Hour Liveblogging

Hello everybody: please don't miss my special live-blogging coverage of the Earth Hour, from 8:30 pm EST to 9:30 pm EST today. Specifically for this event, I've invested into a diesel power generator and couple of boxes of wax candles to do my share in keeping our planet clean. The diesel generator is a home-built one, based on a engine from a 1969 Volkswagen Camper, both for romantic reasons and to demonstrate the horrors of using inefficient diesel power generators.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Cute lisp sayings

Fun facts: this page pops up 4th in google search "cute lisp sayings". And maybe even higher now.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sneezetalk

I was completely baffled today to discover that the standard french reaction to someone sneezing is a phrase "A vos souhaits" (lit. "to your wishes"), which necessitated an immediate impromptu google search for the etymology and context of this custom.

Turns out that the French have a few options for what to say when one sneezes:
  • a vos souhaits
  • a vos amours (to your loves) -- generally, after second consecutive sneeze
  • a vos aïeux (to your ancestors) -- used more rarely
  • creve! (die!) -- addressing the illness itself, very informal
  • que le Seigneur vous benisse (may Lord bless you) -- in very religious circles
  • Dieu vous benisse (God bless you) -- obsolete, supposedly an older expression similar to the english one
The swiss francophones, turns out, would say "santé" ("[I wish you] health") which is likely due to their close contact with the Germans, who in similar situations say "Gesundheit" ("Good health"), or Italians, who also say "Salute" ("[to your] health"). Yiddish speakers also use "Gesundheit" verbatim, and Russians also say "Bud'te zdorovy" which has the same meaning.

A comparative analysis of the sneeze-phrases used in different languages (listed on Wikipedia's Sneeze page) allows us to group sneeze-expressions into following categories:
  • wishes of health
  • wish of God's blessing for the sneezer
  • praise of God (stemming from an interpretation of a sneeze as a divine sign)
  • wishes of long life
  • wish of purity (Persians -- can it have something to do with Zoroastrianism, which is obsessed with purity?)
  • and finally, for very few cultures, notably Chinese and Japanese, the sneezing person is expected to apologize ("excuse me", etc). Of course, it seems like recently this is becoming the more accepted behavior for English and French-speakers, etc, but certainly that's not the traditional behavior. 
  • a really out-of-line one is the Korean reaction, where sneezing is only considered a sign that someone might be talking about the sneezer, and therefore the sneezer might remark "did someone talk about me?"
All that considered, the French "a vos souhaits" is a bit out of line. I have a few versions for this -- first, in line with the "divine sign" interpretation, where sneezing is a positive sign, the person saying "a vos souhaits" could be "redirecting" the divine blessing over to the sneezing person's wishes. Second option is that this is meant to somehow compensate for the sneeze, in the sense of "you may have sneezed, but here's to your wishes". 

Any authorities on french sneeze-talk among the many readers of this blog?

Sources:
A three-page discussion on WordReference forums
Wikipedia: Gesundheit
Wikipedia: Sneeze 

Monday, March 23, 2009

Meet Johannes

You've probably seen before head renderings or clay busts reconstructed from the actual skulls -- a marvellous technique used in forensics and for historical projects. Well, turns out, about a year ago, Dr. Caroline Wilkinson's group at University of Dundee has published their finished reconstructed portrait of Johannes Sebastian Bach (press-release here, additional info here)

Now you can put a face to the name, and make your admiration of Johannes Sebastian Bach's genius a bit more visual.

Paul on Joel on Software

Joel Spolsky is doing some bashing of SOLID Principles here :
 ....just to give you one example, a part of the SOLID principles was that if you write a class, that class has contracts with all the other classes that it interacts with, and those contracts should be expressed in interfaces [PDF]. So you shouldn't just interact with the class, because that class may change. If you have a particular class that you need to use, you should make a custom interface just for what you're going to use in that class. That interface, then, never has to change. And the interface is the only thing that you have to #include.
...
People that say things like this have just never written a heck of a lot of code. Because what they're doing is spending an enormous amount of time writing a lot of extra code, a lot of verbiage, a lot of files, and a million little classes that don't do anything and thousands of little interface classes and a lot ofrobustness to make each of these classes individually armed to go out into the world alone and do things, and you're not going to need it. You're spending a lot of time in advance writing code that is just not going to be relevant, it's not going to be important. It could, theoretically, protect you against things, but, how about waiting until those things happen before you protect yourself against them?
Hear, hear!

Re: Is Google's Culture Grab Unstoppable?

Re: Is Google's Culture Grab Unstoppable? 

In Russian, there's a proverb: "He who pays gets to request the music". Guess what, Google has the resources and the desire to tackle the complicated subject of book search, while providing authors with reasonable means of control over their content. Unquestionable fairness, on the other hand, is the lot of fairy-tale-tellers and governments (hypothetically), and results in 30-year-long projects to construct obsolete things poorly. If Microsoft or someone capable of launching a legal challenge is willing to do so with respect to above, let them, and I'm sure we all will benefit from discussion. Failing that (and I'm sure we'll see such challenges in the future anyway), let Google do its thing and for you (article author) it's time to go toss your Che t-shirt into laundry. And don't forget to opt-out of Google Content Registry.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Urban decay

 
Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre. Ruins of Detroit

Photos of urban decay and abandoned cities never cease to fascinate me. They have a lot in similar with photographs of catastrophes and human suffering -- they may be disturbing, but your mesmerized gaze just can't let go of them.

It seems like Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre share the sentiment, as demonstrated by their photoessays on ruins of Detroit, decaying industrial buildings of east Germany and forgotten American theatres. (thanks to lj:vladimirpotapov)

For bonus points, google Pripyat.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Blossom Dearie passes at 82

Blossom Dearie has died on Feb 7, after spending more than half a century on the jazz scene.

Here's LA Times obituary for her and one of her last radio programmes on Piano Jazz with Marian McPartland.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Friday, February 6, 2009

How Your Brain Creates God

Once upon a time a certain peculiar resident of prussian Konigsberg suggested, in a rather obfuscated and long-winded manner, that while the existence of God is hard to prove, humans have an inherent natural intuition of God, that is, that the concept of God is unavoidable.

I'm agnostic; but for me, the strongest argument for God has always been the existence of my own consciousness, self (which buddhists and some others will argue might not exist -- nobody will however argue with Kant that the inherent intuition of self is pretty self-evident).

So New Scientist has an interesting article today on empirical exploration of how inherent the concept of God is in babies, and whether believing in God is a natural (and beneficial) evolutionary behaviour. Well, let me tell you on that last point: if I had a choice between God and Prozac, I'd probably go with God. He is, after all, all-natural and doesn't have sexual side-effects.

Give it a read: How Your Brain Creates God

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Thursday, January 29, 2009

BBC: New Zealand inmates foil own escape

BBC reports today on another example of how teamwork can sometimes be challenging :
CCTV has captured the moment when two handcuffed prisoners' attempt to escape custody came to a crashing end as they ran into a lamppost.
The pair ran away while awaiting their court hearing in Hastings and managed to cross a street towards a car park before they were recaptured.