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.

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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?

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!

Saving energy, saving money, saving the planet

Some of my twitter friends had a conversation about saving money on lighting the other day. Energy use is a topic that I’ve delved into a bit previously and I’d like to share some resources and thoughts that might be useful to my friends and to other people.

“Every big helps”

People often have the mentality that “every little helps”. They think switching off a phone charger here or a lightbulb there is important and fret about that. David MacKay, a Cambridge professor and advisor to the UK government has coined the phrase “every big helps” to help restore a sense of perspective. The point is focusing on the big things – the stuff that actually accounts for most power usage – has a much bigger impact on energy use, and therefore on energy bills and on the environment.

Watch this fantastic five minute video to hear him explain:

So what is big?

When it comes to electricity use, you can get a rough idea of how much electricity is used by different items in your home from this table from the US Dept of Energy:

Electric Appliances in the Residential Sector

These are obviously ballpark figures. Every model of appliance is a bit different, and every person and family has a different pattern of usage. All the same, it gives an important rough idea of what is likely to be a big contributor to your electricity bill, and what is probably pretty small.

For example one low-energy light-bulb on for three or so hours a day might only account for $2 of your annual bill, while your fridge-freezer could easily account for $60.

As one of my friends pointed out, the table shows a desktop PC using only 75W. A gaming PC running state-of-the-art games on max resolution could easily be using four times that much or more. So a heavy gaming habit could easily pwn all the lightbulbs in your house put together in terms of energy use.

The table at least shows you how to think about energy use, and back-of-the-envelope math is enough to get a ballpark idea of what is likely to be most important for you. Just estimate and add up…

  • power used when on * hours on
  • power used on standy * hours on standby

This info is for electricity use only, but that’s what sparked this post.

Some probably good things to do

What’s most impactful to do is going to vary from person to person, but some things are likely to apply in a lot of cases.

  • If you’re not already using low-energy lightbulbs, it’s pretty much a no-brainer these days. It might not make the biggest impact but it’s easy and cheap to do.
  • Heating and cooling are big on energy use. That means turning the heating or aircon down slightly could save more than all that running around worrying about lightbulbs.
  • “Heating and cooling” includes stuff like dishwashers, washing machines, fridges etc. When it’s time to change one of those items, getting a more efficient one is probably going to be a great idea. Also using the less power hungry programs, like washing at a lower temperature.
  • Insulation to stop your heat vanishing off into the night air is very good, but putting all that in can be expensive. Sometimes there are grants to help with that though.

The Bigger Picture

Want to know more about energy use, sustainable energy, what it’s going to take to avoid dangerous climate change etc? Here are some great resources…

Sustainable Energy – without the hot air – a website and ebook from David MacKay

The site has a section of videos, which might be a quicker and more enjoyable way to get the main ideas:

Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air with David MacKay (one hour talk at Harvard)

David MacKay – How the Laws of Physics Constrain Our Sustainable Energy Options (18 minute TEDx talk)

Liebster Q&A

By now I imagine everyone that reads blogs has come across the “Liebster Award”. How exactly it originated I’m not sure, but it is a meme in which you nominate blogs that you particularly like, and suggest some questions for those bloggers to answer. They in turn nominate blogs they like, and so it goes on.

It turns out I was nominated for this some time ago by wallcat. It took me a while to notice, and even longer to write a post. But at least I don’t have to feel left out… and it is a pretty fun and interesting meme!

Wallcat’s Questions

Where is your favourite place to hang out?

I don’t have a single place, but coffee shops are good. I prefer by the window or outdoor seating, so I can get the daylight and watch life going past.

What do you like to do to unwind?

Games, books, TV or radio could feature, together with drinks and snacks.

Also walking and tennis, but those aren’t always ready-to-hand options when I’m in need of unwinding.

Would you consider yourself to be an outdoors or an indoors person?

I think I prefer outdoors, but a lot of the stuff I like to do or need to do requires being indoors!

If you could have one super-power what would it be?

Time travel, if that’s allowed as a super-power.

If you were a sorcerer what element would you specialize in – fire, earth, air or water?

Air.

All the elements would be cool, but I like flying, the sky, and airy stuff generally.

What is your proudest achievement?

I helped someone turn their life around from a very bad place.

Who are your role models?

I don’t know if “role model” is really the right term, but I’ll say Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Richard Feynman. I know a fair bit about their lives and they’ve been an influence on me one way and another.

What is your favourite book, game or film?

Book – The Lord of the Rings.

What is your favourite colour?

Blue or Purple. I find you can easily have too much purple though, so maybe blue.

If a genie granted you three wishes, what would they be?

I assume it’s a genie that is clever enough to rule out meta-wishes (wishing for more wishes etc) and not one of the devious and untrustworthy ones that will twist your request into something that technically fits but is actually horrible… in that case…

  • Excellent health until age 90
  • A fully functioning TARDIS (and the knowhow to operate it!)
  • The ability to master the material in any book by skimming it for five minutes

I’m sort of asking to be the Doctor aren’t I? Except sticking to being basically human!

I did contemplate asking for a large amount of money, but I figure with a TARDIS you’ve got a home and transport taken care of, plus you can always go win the lottery if you really needed to get actual cash.

If you could sum yourself up in just a few words, what would they be?

Intermittently awesome, frequently dysfunctional, mostly quite nice.

Nominees and Questions

Now the tricky part… since I’m very late with this meme, I think pretty much everyone that I might have nominated has already been nominated by someone else, and already posted their response as well. If wallcat hadn’t nominated me, I’d surely have nominated her!

Well rather than try to find out who has already done this meme, I will sidestep the issue in two ways…

  • I will list some of my favorite blogs
  • I will ask some questions that anyone who feels so inclined can answer, either in a blog post of their own, via a comments here, or via Twitter.

11 Blogs I Like

In no particular order, a non-exhaustive list of blogs that I like, and bloggers who I’d enjoy seeing answering my questions, if they feel the urge…

11 Questions

Feel free to answer as many or as few as you like, and via whatever medium you prefer… your own blog, comments here, Twitter or other internety means. Though if there’s some way I can find out that you have answered them, that would definitely be good.

Remember anyone who wants can answer!

  1. Do you watch or play any sports? Which?
  2. Are you a morning person, night owl or neither?
  3. Strangest phobia you have personally come across?
  4. What little known book, show or film do you love?
  5. What historical era would you live in, if not the present? Why?
  6. What advice would you give your younger self?
  7. What’s something you’ve always wanted to do, but not done yet?
  8. How would you do in the event of a Zombie Apocalypse?
  9. What’s your ideal place to work?
  10. What fictional character has influenced you the most?
  11. What’s the best thing about your life right now?