Category Archives: random thoughts

Moral dilemma short story

I didn’t invent this story, I heard it from a friend. It was about a year ago, so I might be slightly off in my interpretation.

The story

Once upon a time, there was a girl and a guy who loved each other (ooh, cheesy story). She lived by the river with her mother. The girl and the guy wanted to move out, and they decided to meet next morning at the other side of the river. It was agreed that if the girl isn’t there, it’s a sign that she doesn’t truely love the guy — he would leave forever, never to return.

On the evening before leaving, the girl went to the ferryman, the only person who could get her accross the river. The ferryman said he would take her to the other side of the river only if she slept with him. Dispirited, the girl returned home to her mother and asked her for advice. Her mother showed understanding but didn’t provide advice.

The girl decided to take the deal and slept with the ferryman. Next morning, she met her lover at the other side of the river. When her lover learned that she slept with the ferryman to get to the other side of the river, he decided to break up with her. The girl and the guy had a friend, who heard the story and saw the confrontation. The friend then slapped the guy for breaking up with the girl.

Moral analysis

We have five characters: girl, guy, mother, ferryman, friend. Your task is to rate the morality of their behavior. Please don’t rate according to emotionally tinted words, which I tried to avoid.

Feel free to use concrete numbers or fuzzy words, as you like. Feel free to explain your opinion.

If you don’t want to rate their behavior, you can cheat and just sort the characters from good to bad.

The death of spam

Remember spam? Our email inboxes used to be full of it, it clogged online forums and was a general nuisance. My blog used to receive dozens of spam comments every day.

Now with gmail’s agressive — but usually spot on — filtering, I get a spam email in my inbox once a month. I have about 300 mails in my spam folder, which is about half of what it used to be few years ago. My blog is protected by akismet, which feels even more effective than gmail at catching spam. It also looks like spammers are giving up a little as I only received 6 spam comments on my blog during the past two weeks (that, or they think my blog is dead (it’s not, believe me!)).

So is spam really dead, or has it just moved elsewhere?

Social networks don’t suffer from spam (if you define spam as unwanted message of commercial nature) but social news sites (digg, reddit, etc.) are a different story. People try to spam them all the time. But spam on social news sites has to be disguised very well because the community tries to defend itself. If anyone even suspects that something might be spam, they downvote immediately.

Search engine spam (aka half of SEO techniques) is also prevalent and I can’t see it disappearing anytime soon. On the other hand, it’s gotten much milder and nowadays you rarely see spam-sites which are just full of ads.

All in all, I think the future is bright. Brute-force spam is easy to catch, and more clever spam sometimes even includes useful or entertaining stuff (think of viral marketing as a clever, entertaining, user-distributed spam ;)).

Yours sincerely,
Captain Obvious

Poland — the good and the bad

The good:

  • Polish people are extremely hospitable and helpful.
  • Either there is a very low amount of thieves or I am really lucky.
  • Food (cheese, bread, yoghurt, chocolate) in shops is quite a bit cheaper here than in Czechia (though restaurants aren’t cheaper at all).
  • Krakow rocks. Especially the shores of Wisła river next to the Wawel castle.

The bad:

  • Car drivers drive like assholes. When you’re going by bike, they drive way closer than what I find comfortable (I thought I was used to this from Czechia, but in Poland it’s even a little worse). When you, as a walker, get to a zebra crossing, in Western Europe the drivers will do everything they can to stop and let you pass. In Czechia, they usually let you pass, but not always (not when they’re going fast and don’t want to halt). In Poland, drivers almost never stop at a zebra crossing. You can see them slowing down, so you step into the street thinking “finally a decent driver” and the next thing you know is that you are jumping back onto the pavement as the driver was just slowing down to take a right turn. Similar on red lights — just because there’s red lights shining 50 meters ahead of the passing car doesn’t mean that the driver will let you pass.
  • No discounts for lunch menu in restaurants. Eating out is quite expensive compared to cooking yourself.

Yeah, both lists are incomplete. Does it look like I post this just because I haven’t posted anything in April yet?

Back to the basics

Almost everyone, myself included, underestimates the basics.

If you want to be an expert in any field, you need very strong basics. When you don’t know the basics, you tend to make many mistakes which are hard to get rid of. We are ambitious so we dive deep into all sorts of advanced stuff, leaving the basics for later, perhaps thinking we will somehow figure the basics out along the way. This sometimes works, but more often it doesn’t.

So, back to the basics for me! (in what, you ask? — in everything!)

Square thumbnails — are they evil?

The first time I saw square thumbnails (ie. thumbnails which are downsized and cropped to square) I thought they were the best thing since sliced bread.

The advantages of square thumbnails are obvious:

  • they are really easy to align and never mess up your layout
  • the layout will look more uniform and better than with irregular thumbnails
  • they do not show everything so they invite the visitor to view the full sized picture

But there is a downside. Square thumbnails alter the composition of the picture. In some cases, when the photographer hasn’t thought much about composition, it can often actually improve the picture. But in other cases, when the composition is deliberate and well thought out, the square thumbnail can destroy it completely.

I use square thumbnails in my photo gallery (have you seen the pictures from my recent cross-country skiing trip?). And I keep wondering whether I should change it to normal thumbnails (normal = scaled down so as to fit into a given rectangle while preserving the aspect ratio).

Do you personally prefer photo galleries with square thumbnails (cropped) or with normal ones?

Money is time

As any economist would tell you, time is money. What people sometimes fail to realise is that it works the other way around just as well: money is time.

That is, when you have time, you can work and get money. There are many things you can do with money. Most people just buy things they neither need nor want.

Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.
— Tyler Durden from Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

Now, I mostly like my job. :) But this quote is still worth thinking about.

Advertising is the art of convincing people to spend money they don’t have for something they don’t need.
— Will Rogers

On a less serious but still related note…

By the way, if anyone here is in advertising or marketing… kill yourself…you’re the ruiner of all things good… you are Satan’s spawn, filling the world with bile and garbage… kill yourself.
Bill Hicks

So much for quotes. Back to the topic.

I live in an abundance of luxury. I have food to eat, a warm and dry place to sleep, and clothes to wear. I’m not willing to submit to pointless consumerism.

That said, I am left with some money. I can leave it in the bank waiting for the economical crisis to eat it up. Or I can use it to buy some free time to do what I really want to do…

Happy New Year, by the way. :)

Time, space, infinity and anxiety

I remember thinking about space (as in “three-dimensional extent in which objects and events occur and have relative position and direction”) when I was a little kid. I asked my dad what was outside of the universe and he told me that we do not know for sure but most probably there isn’t anything. I couldn’t quite understand what he meant by that, so I asked him, and he continued to explain that there simply is no space. I couldn’t grasp that either, so I imagined that there is a very hard rock — so hard that nothing else can fit in there, and hence there is no space.

I grew older and abandoned the very-hard-rock theory. But I haven’t found a reasonable substitute for it. And it bothers me. A lot.

There simply is no reasonable possibility for space to even exist:

  1. Space is infinite and extends everywhere and never ends. I think I do not even need to explain why this sounds stupid.
  2. Space is finite. Then what is outside of it? There is no space outside. Then there is no outside. Unreasonable, too.

Please note that I am talking about space, not necessarily in connection with the universe. Just the concept of space and its infinity/finity confuses the hell out of me. And it makes me scared.

It’s similar with time. According to wikipedia, universe is the “entirety of space and time”. So, if I understand it correctly, there was no time before universe. And the universe is approximately 13.73 billion years old. Which means that 14 billion years ago, there was no time. Wait, what?

Touch typing

I started trying to touch type about two months ago. I used Klavaro (if you are on linux it’s most probably in your distribution’s repositories) to learn, and I’ve also learned by trying to use the right fingers for typing and not to look at the keyboard whenever typing.

My typing speed was promised to increase dramatically in few weeks while practicing a little every day. No such thing happened, although I’ve practiced almost all the time. I still write considerably slower than I did before I started touch typing. Am I unhappy that I started touch typing? Not at all — let me explain:

The advantage is that I can just look at the screen while typing. That might seem like a single advantage, but it’s actually several in one.

First, I can read other stuff while typing or look at people who are talking to me while I type (I learned that from a colleague, it’s real intimidating).
Second, I don’t have to switch display, keyboard, display, keyboard, display, keyboard… I just look at the display. This is much cooler than it sounds — it enabled me to move the monitor cca 40cm above the keyboard (both home and at work). So I can finally sit straight instead of bending over the keyboard.

On a completely unrelated note, I finally switched from czech qwerty (writing !@#%$&^% characters with alt) to standard english keyboard layout. A lot of stuff in vim has become much more comfortable — such as the ; right under my pinky, which means that repeating f/F/t/T has just gotten even easier and better.

On a semirelated note, I never knew that to write the capital X you can press the right shift plus the x. It’s not that I thought you couldn’t do that, I just never realised it could be useful and no one ever told me “you are doing it wrong”.

How to get an extra hour a day

Imagine you could get an extra hour every day. That means 365 hours a year. 365 hours is like 45 eight-hour work days. Wow.

I’ll start with a success story. Over a month ago, I read something very interesting about how to sleep properly. I used to have problems getting out of bed at 7am. I used to have those mornings when I felt like half asleep zombie for several hours after getting up. Now I have no problems waking up at 6:45, sometimes I even wake up earlier without the alarm clock. Oh, and I also started going to bed later (usually shortly after midnight but it really depends on when I start feeling tired).

Out of the last 8 days, I went jogging in the early morning 7 times. Today I woke up at 6:42, three minutes before my alarm would go off. It’s Saturday 7:37am and I just came back from my half an hour of jogging. I had a shower and am enjoying my breakfast, while all of you are asleep. ;) These long weekends are amazing — it really is a measurable difference.

Here are the keys (more or less sorted by importance):

  • get up at a regular time (yes, that includes weekends), go to sleep when you get tired (no earlier and no later)
  • get enough sunshine and natural daylight during the day (bulbs will not cut it, you need real light)
  • every day, do at least 20 minutes of increased physical activity such as running (most effective in the morning)
  • drink a lot of pure water (it’s also generally good for your health)
  • if you feel like taking a nap after lunch, do so (limit it to 20-30 minutes), naps are good for you
  • never ever take sleeping pills (important, but rather common sense, isn’t it?), don’t drink coffee or overeat yourself before going to sleep

When I was starting with this I was called gullible. What is worse — I was called gullible by someone who believes in a three-in-one god that is supposedly omnipotent and sent his only son (who was actually one of the three) to save the mankind by dying on a cross in huge pain. Crazy stuff.

Whatever

Such an amazing word! It can be used to express a myriad of different meanings, but they all have something in common — indifference. “Whatever” is possibly the most indifferent word in the world.

I’ve been searching for a Czech equivalent, but there simply isn’t anything similar. When you are asked whether you want chocolate or vanilla ice cream, you can say “I don’t care”, but saying “whatever” is way cooler. Unfortunately, in Czech language, we are stuck with “I don’t care”.

Whatever…