Things to be thankful for

Yesterday I saw that Braxwolf had written a post called “Thankful for Creation“. I immediately assumed that by “Creation” he meant the cosmos in which we live. Actually he was focusing more on the creative side of life, although he did see a religious aspect to that as well. Nevertheless that headline brought to mind that I am certainly thankful for the cosmos, and I think it’s good for all of us to contemplate such things once in a while.

However you look at, scientifically or religiously or something else, it is pretty mind boggling that the universe exists at all, and in such a way as to make us and our lives possible. You may have heard the Carl Sagan line that “We are stardust”. Yes, to the best of our knowledge a good proportion of the chemical elements that make up your body and mine and most of the other stuff on the Earth had to be forged in a supernova explosion, the end result of the lifecycle of a large star, which lasted some billions of years. Then some of the “stardust” had to be all gathered together by another star (aka the Sun) to allow the planet to form, and the same star helpfully provided an enormous power source for several more billions of years, enabling life to develop and take hold. Pretty amazing.

On top of that, the lives we all get to live today are the product of thousands of years of human culture and creativity. I happened to read earlier that as of today you can now buy a pretty powerful computer for $5:

That’s striking, but actually most everything around us that we take for granted normally is equally remarkable. The amount of insight and knowhow that is required for the making of a spoon, a notepad or a pair of glasses is staggering, and only possible because generations of people have been building on the work of those that went before for several millenia.

We might have done a lot to improve our own lives, or the lives of others, but by and large what we’ve done ourselves is small potatoes compared to what was just there for us to work with because of where and when we are.

I’m thankful for many things, and among them I include the Universe and spoons.


Android apps on iPad via Windows!


I don’t have an Android tablet, but there’s an Android-only app that I wanted to use on my iPad, and I came up with a way to do just that. My method is enjoyably perverse.

What you’re seeing in the picture is an iPad screenshot. What it shows is this…

  • An Android app (Droidfish) is running on a Windows desktop PC inside an Android emulator (Genymotion)
  • The iPad is accessing that Windows machine via Chrome Remote Desktop

I could have zoomed in to fill up the iPad screen with the app but I wanted to show that it’s Android on Windows on iPad, so I included a fair bit of the Windows 7 desktop.

Probably not something a lot of people will want to do very often, but it’s kinda fun to see an Android app appearing your iPad, and in this case actually it’s pretty useful to me!

The whole thing works fairly smoothly, and the raw processing power of the desktop PC means the intensive computations that chess programs have to do when analyzing actually probably go faster than they would on a real tablet.

Mind you if I end up doing this frequently, I might get myself an actual Nexus 7.

First World Problems

I can’t believe I’ve succumbed to such things, but I have. I find myself feeling frustrated because I’d like to watch my show lounging on the bed, but I can’t because the iPad needs charging. So I have to watch it on the HDTV instead while sitting on a comfy sofa.

The horror of our modern lives, huh?

Blogs vs Wikis vs Forums

Lately I’ve been thinking a bit about blogs, wikis and forums and what each of them are good for. Partly this is a result of some discussions about how the NBI 2015 went, where I tossed out the thought in passing that a group blog might work better than the current forum. Then I started wondering if that would really be true, and if so why?

Googling turned up a few interesting articles comparing the different tools. The best such pieces seem to be written with a learning environment in mind, they’re basically guides for teachers looking at what would be appropriate to use with their students. However a lot of the thoughts are relevant more widely. These two resources are well worth a look:

  1. Blog, Wiki or Forum – which should you use?

  2. Differences between Discussion Boards, Blogs and Wikis

The latter of those states that:

  • Forums are “Used to DISCUSS and DEBATE”
  • Blogs are “Used to REFLECT and REVIEW”
  • Wikis are “Used to COLLABORATE and SYNTHESISE”

Not a bad way of summarizing the differences in a nutshell.

Some standout points from my reading and musings:

  • Wikis have a big advantage when you have some set of information that will change over time, even if only because it’s a work-in-progess, and which will be updated by many people. For example maintaining a list of blogs taking part in the NBI event might be easier this way. Anyone could add a blog to the list, and the list always stays in the same place, and always up to date. Achieving something similar on a blog or forum would be more work because they’re not designed for that.

  • Blog posts are basically personal, and basically not meant to be revised much after publication. There might be some editorial process before a post goes live, there might be edits by the author afterwards, and of course other people can chip in with comments on posts. Not forgetting that you can have “pages” rather than “posts”, which can be a bit more permanent and organized. But blogging is not really a medium for working collaboratively, and nor is it well suited to maintaining an ongoing resource that could be tweaked many times.

  • Forums are good for interaction and discussion, but not particularly for organizing information. Things get rambly, it can be hard to find what you’re looking for, and there is no easy way to pull all the little contributions people make to a discussion into a coherent total picture.

  • When it comes to organizing and structuring information, wikis are probably best, followed by blogs (because of easy use of tags and categories), while forums are a long way behind.

  • An intriguing feature of wikis is that some of them allow you to separate the thing you’re working on (e.g. a page about topic X) from discussions about that work (e.g. debating whether subtopic Y should be included).

  • Because wikis are more of a free-for-all, with people able to change each other’s work, they might take more organizing. This could be a problem especially on topics that divide opinion. Lots of wikis tend to be rather dry because of this, sticking to purely factual info, and not offering much in the way of recommendations or evaluation. (e.g. The classic Wikipedia post that lists a hundred pieces of software to do some job, but giving no clue that only three of them are really used in practice, or what the pros and cons of the three main choices really are.)

Overall it seems to be that blogs, wikis and forums all offer many things that a group of people collaborating together could benefit from using, and it’s a shame there’s no single platform that’s convenient for handling all of them in one nicely integrated place!

The Devil’s Political Dictionary

Some useful definitions of important political concepts:

  • Apathy – From the Greek for “without feeling”. In politics, a state of numbness induced in otherwise healthy voters by excessive exposure to political campaigning.

  • Cynicism – In ancient Greek philosophy, a school of thought with a focus on living virtuously. Therefore followers of cynicism tend to recoil from most forms of politics.

  • Democracy – Government of the people, by the people, for the people. Generally speaking, one out of three ain’t bad.

  • Election – An inspiring process in which the people freely and peacefully choose which incompetent charlatan will get the blame for everything that goes wrong in the nation over the next several years.

  • Party – An informal gathering of miscellaneous people, often involving drinking, drugs and sex. Social norms of sober and responsible behavior don’t apply to parties. The most popular parties are usually those that are completely lacking in adult supervision.

  • Power – All power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Therefore to avoid corrupting the innocent, it is normally best if power is given to those who were already corrupt.

  • Voter – In a democracy, politicians ultimately answer to voters. A typical example of the kind of question that they answer is: “Who the frak are you, and why are you trying to kiss my baby?”

Stack Overflow Dev Survey: Some Fun Facts & Snarky Remarks

I ran across the Stack Overflow 2015 Developer Survey, which is a surprisingly interesting and fun read for the geekishly inclined. Here are some random and fun tidbits:

  • “The average developer is 28.9 years old. He or she was born in April 1986, just as the Chernobyl meltdown was taking place.”

    (Did Chernobyl cause mutant ninja coders?)

  • “The programming field is growing extremely rapidly…. only about 25% of developers worldwide have more than 10 years coding experience. Most of those veteran developers have probably been coding professionally much shorter than that.”

    (Alternative interpretation: Ten years is about as long as most people can stand to do it!)

  • “48% of respondents never received a degree in computer science. 33% of respondents never took a computer science university course.”

    (Now you know why hardly anything ever built actually works properly! I kid, I kid… Univ courses don’t help with that anyway!)

  • Swift and C++11 are the most beloved languages.

    (Cultish fanpersons much?)

  • “Windows maintains the lion’s share of the developer operating system market, while Mac appears to have overtaken the Linuxes among active Stack Overflow devs.”

    (Hey, I thought I was a weird outlier in using Windows 7 rather than a Mac, but Win 7 is still the tops. Admittedly it is a stretch to even consider myself a dev, that is not my raison d’etre by any means. Whether I actually have a raison d’etre… hmm… I’ll get back to you on that…)

  • Tabs v Spaces… “Upon closer examination of the data, a trend emerges: Developers increasingly prefer spaces as they gain experience”

    (Yeah, we learned the hard way.)

  • C++ still pays rather well.

    (Someone has to sort out those pretentious buffer overruns and protect humanity from Skynet.)

  • “Niche or emerging technologies pay big bucks… It’s also likely that developers with niche competencies are just better developers all around.”

    (What about with niche incompetencies?)

  • The average salary of a US developer would buy them 18,712 Big Macs. In South Africa it works out to 19,215, in the UK a paltry 15,757.

    (Note: Only in the US do most developers actually spend their entire salary on Big Macs.)

  • Only 1.9% of developers hate their job.

    (Nowadays people really appreciate actually having a job. Especially one which can buy so many Big Macs.)

Humor aside, there’s a lot of interesting info in the survey, so I recommend taking a look.

As always, take survey results with a large pinch of salt though.

A few fun quizzes – science, US citizenship & Arsene Wenger

I like quizzes, and I sometimes do ones I stumble across on the net.

Here are three pretty interesting ones that I did recently.

Are you scientifically literate?

Fun if you like science or want to see how much you can still remember. Quite a broad selection of topics, though a few of them are not much about whether you really understand basic science as whether you remember somewhat incidental facts or follow news coverage of science.

I scored 92%.

Could you pass a US citizenship test?

Interesting to see what kinds of things you are expected to know to qualify for American citizenship. Mostly it is history and politics. Some of the questions have a bearing on how the the US works and what is entailed in being a citizen, but some are a bit arcane and more like history trivia questions. Some of the questions are also answerable without knowing anything about the US specifically, for example by knowing which century WWII was in.

Btw, be aware that the quiz is from 2011. There are a few questions in it about who holds what office, and the answer might have been different when the quiz was set than when you take it. (At the time of writing this post, there hadn’t been many changes if any though.)

I scored 91% (IIRC). They didn’t say if that would be a pass, but I imagine so.

Arsène or Aristotle?

The answers are quite easy to guess without knowing anything about things that Arsene Wenger or Aristotle have actually said. Still nice bit of fun.

I scored 10/11.

If you do any of them, I’d be interested to hear what you thought of them!