Thursday, June 9, 2016

Like what you do. Love what you do well.

Why do I like programming?

My first reason would be somewhat religious. Granted, religion is not what one usually thinks of when talking about endlessly writing lines of codes and hours, days, even weeks of testing. Still, I find it divine. Why? Because it is creating something out of nothing. You get a working result, an application that somehow benefits you, as entertainment or a more productive manner. And you started with nothing more than an idea in your mind and the know-how to turn that idea into software. It's mystical. There are very few fields where the same can be said: writing books, writing music, drawing paintings... all creative processes, at best creating blueprints for productive objects or buildings or devices. Programming largely skips the middle step - just write it and you can use immediately use it. I say 'largely' as I admit most software requires some hardware to work properly.

My second reason would be the process itself. While it may be irritating, time-consuming and can make you feel so frustrated you'd almost like to quit... it is addicting as hell. The rush of pleasure when you solve a problem that has been bothering you for hours or days is simply sublime. It is the same feeling you get after solving a puzzle, jumping a new personal record height or beating an especially challenging level in a video game. It is the same feeling that explains the crazy phenomenon that was 2048. Imagine getting the pleasure of beating a difficult sudoku puzzle several times a day, sometimes even on an hourly basis. But every time you solve it, the puzzle changes. So maybe you solve a sudoku in the morning, win a game of Go in the afternoon and beat a chess champion by dinnertime. On a daily basis with constantly changing challenges - not everything is caused by a NullPointerException caused by crappy code. Sometimes you need to learn more about your tools - included but not limited to the languages used. Other times you need to rethink the logic of what you are trying to accomplish. Some times you know what you want to do but have to ponder for hours on how to describe it algorithmically so as to be able to write it in code. Other times your code works and you are left baffled because as far as you can imagine the thing shouldn't even compile, let alone work without problems. And once you strain your mind, feel the satisfying tingle of your little gray cells to arrive at a brilliant, or as it often happens more often, barely working solution, the relief of getting past a problem using nothing more than your wits and anything or anyone you can find online is breathtaking.

If you can code with someone else, share the insane joy with someone, these effects are often amplified. Sure, some people make enjoying programming very difficult, but some make it even better. And the results are even cooler - the creation of large and effective pieces of software inherently requires more than one person. As such, programming can be an awesome group activity.

So these are the reasons why I love programming. The ability to experience blissful pondering on a daily basis with others or on your own, resulting in something that never existed before and most probably would never have existed in such form if it wasn't for your thoughts, your ideas and your persistance on making it a real working program. Something out of nothing. Nothing but the random thoughts that run through your mind.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

"There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man. True nobility is being superior to your former self."

- Ernest Hemingway

Last night I got to do some thinking. In my wonderings I realized that every choice I've made, every place I've been to, every group or organisation I've joined recently have been my choices for one single reason. Surely there are other reasons to give additional motivation, but there is only one 'big one'. I believe they make me better. Not better than others. But better than who I've been before. Since we are the sum of our experiences it stands to reason that one must choose the most probably beneficial choices. To become the best version of oneself. One might say I pursue action in accordance with excellence. And that, according to Aristotle, will be the very best thing in us.

The Universe may always take us to places we can learn, but learning is only one part of life. From Faust we have learned that knowing everything is insufficient for happiness. Knowledge is not to be hoarded, it is to be shared. With family, friends, colleagues, sometimes even strangers.  Knowledge must be shared for more people to have the chance to be enlightebed, to be better, to pursue excellence. Not all knowledge is worth sharing and not all knowledge should be shared with just anyone, which poses a problem. Nevertheless, any person could try to go at it alone, but would soon realize that great tasks and incredible feats require cooperation, require working together.

This is why I find love so important. Love for ideas shows us where to go, what to focus ourselves on. Love for another person shows us who can help us get there, how we can help others reach the same goal. Often it tells us how to enjoy our pursuit.

We might never achieve excellence, but without love we don't even stand a chance. Without love we are nothing. And I stand firm in my belief that somehow, somewhere there is love for everyone.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

'For I have tasted the fruit.'

I had no plans, no idea what to do. I didn't know how the world worked anymore. Nowhere to go, no way to get there.
So when the pretty girl offered to let me stay at the café's back room for the night, I had no reason to refuse and every reason to accept. Apparently I looked proper, and sounded sincere enough to be trusted with a night in a locked building with locked cabinets. She did seem hesitant when she left, but I understand that. Not everyone would let a man who claims to have skipped the last forty years sleep in their workplace, even if the backroom had a bed and other amenities. But I'm glad she did. I mean, where would a person from the past go to look for a future? I really don't know.

In the morning I volunteered to help with the café. A little as a thank you, a little hoping to speak with the clients if I got the chance. She had been right, most of them were born around the same time I was. They could've been my mates, colleagues, but I didn't recognize a single one of them. In a way I was relieved. It'd be weird to see someone I might have talked to just yesterday, and see them having aged decades. If they even remembered me.

It was odd, hearing them reminisce about things that seemed all too familiar for me. Radio that wasn't algorithmically tuned to one's taste, software on non-rewritable media, long and thorough news articles, the taste of real chocolate, being able to go to WiFi-less countryside... the list goes on. When I asked why they preferred using the café's computers, I got a variety of answers. Some were expected, such as the natural feeling of having a physical keyboard or a sharp dedicated screen that was easier on the eyes than projections on walls or tables. Some expressed joy that books were still around. Not everyone can get used to carrying your personal computer with you everywhere you went, even if the less powerful ones would fit in your glasses or you wrist, with minuscule projectors embedded in them for flexible displays. New technology isn't always better. I was a little surprised to hear several clients mention privacy. Devices that are always on and carried with you can collect a lot of information about you, and upload it. Apparently they are against thingamajigs spying on them. Old devices had settings to respect a person's privacy, newer ones sacrifice it for more personalization with little choice for the user. Even with all the personal information the user interfaces looked alike. Thus their point: if the personalization data isn't collected for personalization purposes, what is it collected for? What partly disappointed me was that with all of the concerns each new system or service, the famed 'year of the Linux' never arrived.

Sure enough, the café was empty by five. I helped her clean up, she got a couple of buns and cups of coffee and sat down with me. She mentioned that some people came to the café because it was one of the few places that still had classic computers. That they'd gone out of production a long time ago, and were rarely found in shops.
'Just like phones with full keyboards,' I casually mentioned.
'How do you mean?'
'In my time it was difficult to find a phone with a physical keypad, pretty much impossible to find a phone with a full physical keyboard. Everything had a touchscreen so phone keyboards were being wiped out. Shame, really, I'd really have liked a phone with a full keyboard.'
'You mean you would have liked to lug around one of those giant things with an extra keyboard on them? Why?'
'I never liked the on-screen keyboard. It used too much room, too much resources, it didn't feel right.'
She looked at me with the fascination a little child would have for a Rube Goldberg machine. I felt like a lab rat, being observed, poked and prodded out of curiousity. Then again, when it comes to women, curiousity isn't the worst thing one could spark.
'So how come you're tending this place alone? Forgive me, but you don't strike me as a vintage café owner.'
'I'm not, it's a family business. I just work here from time to time, keep the place running. What do I strike you as?'
'I'm not sure... yet. I don't exactly know this world that well.'
'Ah, insufficient information for a meaningful answer?'
Her voice was confident, her eyes narrowed. She was poking me, trying to see my reaction. Lab rat.
'Asimov. Yes, I guess you could say that. How come you've read Asimov?'
'I like old books. I like reading. He's one of the greats, though his essays are hard to come by.'
'You're a geek as well then.'
She gave a little smile and a nod.

'But who are you?'

So I told her. My name, my home, my work as a network administrator at a local company that apparently went bust years ago, my education, mentioned a few of my friends, filled her in on the basics. Anything that she could've found on the 'net.
'Well, that explains your lingo.'
'Um, my what?'
'How you talk. What you talk about. You focus on tech, and you use technical words. I figured you were a geek of some sort.'
'A geek who would know about QuNet, that's why you believed me.'
'I didn't. I'm not sure I do. But I was curious. Not much happens here, you were... different. Thought it couldn't hurt talking to you.'
'You did more than talk. I gave me a place to sleep.'
'Locked up and under alarm. Figured I'd learn something whatever you'd do.'
Lab rat.
'So you like studying people? Working out what makes them go?'
'I do. Human psychology is fascinating. It is predictable and wild at the same time. It is so limited, yet you cannot reproduce experiments with reliable results.'
'Is that what you're studying? Psychology?'
'God no, I'd be shunned. I'm a Biology major.'
'Shunned? How come?'
'Well, it's not a real, hard science. It's too inaccurate. Anything that could be accurate about it is classified as neurology. Anyone who deals with it are ridiculed. Was it not so in your time?'
'No. People actually wanted to become psychologists. It paid reasonably well, and people could always do with someone to talk to.'
'You mean, as therapists, not as scientists?'
'Mostly, yes.'

The conversation continued for a while, I learned a great deal about the world I was now in. It wasn't all good or all bad, as it never is. In return I shared my knowledge of the world I'd left. Finally, she told me that I could stay at the café provided that I kept the place in order and running. She also asked about my plans.

'I don't really know. I mean, I'd like to go back to my life, my friends, my work... but I don't know how.'
'You said there was a sound that drew you to the machine, like someone else came through? Ever think of finding whoever it was, maybe get a way back?'
'I have. But how can I? How do I know they can help me? How do I know if they would? Whoever came through before me could be as stuck as me.'
'It isn't always necessary to know, but it is important to try.'
'Maybe. If I stayed, and someone found out about me, I fear I'd be a curiousity to be poked and prodded in a secret lab somewhere. Never to see daylight again.'

I wondered about it for a while. I also wondered if I could leave. There is so much to do here, to learn, to experience. I can see a world of knowledge right outside this building, ready to be conquered. How could I simply leave this opportunity and exchange it for familiarity? I feel conflicted, as I would like to go home, but I don't want to give up this amazing chance to learn about the future. I don't know, maybe my future is here. Maybe I cannot leave, for I have tasted the fruit of knowledge.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

"Time portal to the future. One way."

The machine illuminated the sign so I could read it. It was not a large machine, just a cylindrical shape a metre in diameter, two in height. Large enough for a person, opened on one side. Bright lights wobbling around in the centre. Waiting for someone to walk in. Waiting for me.

A moment's hesitation, and I walked in. The light grew brighter with every step. By the time I was at the machine I was walking blind, my eyes closed. It was an interesting sensation. I suddenly felt weightless, my body lifted up by something I couldn't feel. I dared not open my eyes, it still seemed too bright. I know it makes no sense, but I felt like I suddenly shrunk into nothing, and then grew back as large as suddenly. And then it was dark, I fell down on the pavement.

The pavement was wet, but I didn't remember it raining. I looked around, got my eyes used to the darkness. The street lights were dimmer than I remembered. But almost every window was lit, which illuminated the street plenty. My mind was still spinning, I felt like I had been knocked out. I decided to go home. It wasn't far.

I got to my front door, but my key wouldn't unlock it. The lock was different. I knocked, there was no answer. The light was off. There was a small café across the street, the lights were still on. It had a large sign in a very French-looking font over the windows. For something so posh it should have felt more familiar. It didn't. It had a few computers at the back wall. A pretty girl was standing behind the counter. I asked if I could use one, she told me I had to order something. I took a cup of coffee, and went to the computer. I was greeted by a log-in screen and a choice: a Microsoft account, an Apple account or a guest account. I chose the latter.

The computer was bloated with all kinds of apps I had never heard of. But I did notice a big blue E icon. The name of the app was unfamiliar, but everyone knows the big blue E leads to the Internet. I was right, it was a browser. I checked the current news on BBC, CNN, io9. It was true, I was no longer in my time. I was in 2055.

What I learned during my quite frankly terrifying research was that while countries were created and destroyed, borders redrawn, leaders appointed and torn down, the corporations remained. Companies really were too big to fail - the demand for them kept them supplied with money and clients regardless of political states. No governments could control them as long as they kept producing popular entertainment. Governments remained only as minor players on the larger board.

Culture had changed. The people who grew up with computers, with the Internet, had grown old. A generation full of digital entertainment junkies had grown old. Social media sites had come and gone, games had come and gone, IM software had come and gone. Just how I remembered it, just add a few decades of the same. Every five or six years someone came up with something newer, something better, and it starved the old of users. But the effect it had had on people, that was remarkable. It appeared that everyone was online all the time they weren't sleeping or engaged in other private activities. Public transport had been revolutionized using self-driving vehicles with on-board WiFi hotspots, which were also placed in most buildings. WiFi hopping was automatic, using software preinstalled on every smart device. But what the people did online... it was astounding.

They were talking, chatting, sharing whatever they were doing. They were under a constant barrage of social activities, not a single moment without new notifications of someone doing something they thought their friends or everyone should know about or some new fad that was going around just to give someone their fifteen minutes of fame and sizzle out. Fifteen minutes of fame may be an expression, but for the people of the time, it was reality. Very few trending news, movies or performers managed to retain people's interest for over a month - too many new trends arrived to take the spotlight. I don't know how the people kept their sanity, how they could keep up with everything without going absolutely mental. And suddenly I felt like a grumpy old man amased at how people could find almost any piece of information within seconds using a dusty old computer with a DSL connection. In a way I was the grumpy old man, way too old for the time, way too stuck in my ways to be able to comprehend what was going on around me.
The girl came over to offer a refill and noticed what I was looking at - the past Internet spread statistics. 'It's weird, it feels like it's been around forever, now it's suddenly going away,' she said looking at the screen.
'What do you mean? "Going away"?'
'The... QuNet. What, have you been living under a rock or something?'
'Or something. What is q net? How can it be making the Internet go away, it is everywhere?'
'It's some quantum tunnelling thingy made useful. No wires, instant connections to everyone, no hotspot hopping, and way better security. It's all the rage.'
'While we're... um... may I ask, where are all the customers?'
'Most of them come by in the morning, check the news, messages, get some breakfast. It's pretty empty around here after lunch, but the law says all businesses granting Internet access must remain open at least until ten pm.'
'So you just stand here to keep the lights on?'
'Pretty much. You're not from around here I gather,' she replied with a smile.
'Ah, well, I guess, yeah.'
Closer than she might think, farther than I could imagine.
'You're also younger than the folk we get here usually. E-cafées aren't really exciting for them. Where did you say you were from?'
'Uuuh that is a little tough to explain.'
She looked at me crossly.
'I.... I used to live across the street.'
'Oh, when?'
'About forty years ago.'
She looked serious. She crossed her hands.
'You know you don't look *that* old.'
'Um, I'm not. In a sense. Hmm, I... Let me explain.'
I told her how on my way home I heard a clunk from an alley and a bright light, followed by a calming humm. Someone's excited shouts and laughter followed. I didn't usually go into alleys, but this time I was curious. As I slowly and carefully moved closer to the noise, I had suddenly heard a big zap, as if someone had unplugged a huge loudspeaker before turning it off. Then I noticed the machine, and the sign in front of it. The rest of it you know.
'"One way"? Why did you go in, didn't you have family or friends or someone who would worry?'
'There were no terms, no explanations, nothing that told me where I'd end up. I didn't know if it was legit, if the text on it had already been proven wrong, or that it'd take me further than half an hour. There was nothing.'
'And you still tried? Why on Earth would you do that?'
I suddenly recalled a quote from an old TV show I loved to watch that went perfectly with the situation. I wondered if the people there still had TV shows. I then wondered if they had TVs at all.
'If you're offered a seat on a rocket ship, don't ask which seat! Just get on.'

This is a complete short on its own with no sequels or background story created or planned. Inspired by a question posed by a friend.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Assorted Euromusings

We all know about Eurovision. It is the longest running annual international televised music competition in the whole wide world. It is a celebration of music, of cultures, of emotions and technology. And it is the perfect proof that Skype is not reliable.
But what I really love about it (besides the music) is the voting. Every year some countries surprise everyone with their unusual choices. To combat giving votes to neighboring countries, all countries have a jury of local music 'experts', whose votes are tallied up and account for 50% of the final result of the country's votes. The other 50% comes from a public SMS vote. Sometimes the decision of the jury and the thoughts of the public work well together. Sometimes they go and stand on different sides of a giant chasm. One example would be last year's votes from the UK - the public's FAVOURITE song did not get even a single point from UK because the local jury absolutely hated it.
Among this year's surprises was San Marino who decided to give 12 points to Latvia. This can be explained as San Marino's public was disqualified and only jury votes mattered, and for some reason Latvia was a big favourite of many juries, but not of publics'.
To those that don't know, each country that takes part in the competition (40 in total this year) gives points to the national top 10 selection on a scale of 12, 10, 8-1 to countries that qualified to the Grand Final (27 in total this year). Eurovision does not only span Europe, but parts of Asia (including Georgia, Israel etc.) and this year had a guest star Australia.
So, without further ado, assorted musings concerning the votes of this year's Eurovision Grand Final:
  • Sweden, the winner, received 12 points 12 times in the final. 14 times in the semifinal. Out of possible 39 (21 in semifinal).
  • Germany and Austria (the host country) were the only ones to not get even a single point. They didn't even give any to each other. Austria was just out of reach of a single point in several countries.
  • 7 countries qualified directly to the grand final. 4 of them  - Austria, Germany, France and UK occupied the very last positions of the scoreboard.
  • As an oddity, Lithuania gave no points to Russia, with kind regards of the country's jury.
  • The public's top song in France was the jury's 15th (Italy). The jury's top song was the public's 12th (Latvia).
  • The public's second favourite song was the jury's 20th and hence only got 3 points from France. The public's 4th, 5th and 8th top picks did not get any points as the jury ranked them 24th, 25th and 26th (out of 26).
  • The public of the UK loved Lithuania's song this year, which I honestly liked as well. Their jury, however, dropped it down to getting 4 points from the UK. It could be worse, it could be Poland.
  • UK public's second favourite song (from Poland) received 2 points from UK as the jury ranked it 17th best.
  • Latvia's jury loved Austria, ranked it the 3rd best song in the grand final. The public disagreed and ranked it 21st, narrowly leaving it without a point. Austria did not get a single point from anywhere else, either.
  • The Netherlands' public's 5th best (Armenia) and 7th best (Poland) were also snubbed by their jury - 26th and 25th places respectively.
  • Germany's jury violently disagreed with their public - the jury's unanimous fave Latvia was only 12th most popular with the public. The public's fave Italy was ranked 18th by their jury. The jury's 3rd, Norway, was the public's 15th. The jury's 8th, Austria, was the public's 17th, again narrowly escaping a single point. Germany's public's 6th favourite, Albania, dropped down to a low 15th place in the country's rankings as the jury ranked it absolute last.
  • Hungary's public's favourite received a whopping 2 points from Hungary as the local jury ranked Italy 20th best. The jury loved Latvia, helping it get 5 points despite being only the public's 10th top pick.
  • Israel's jury threw the public's 3rd, 8th and 9th most favourite songs out of the country's top 10, giving them 24th, 21st and 22nd rank respectively.
  • The people of Ireland loved Lithuania most, but the jury dropped it down to 4th place. It only got worse after that as the public's 2nd, Poland, was the jury's 22nd. The public's 7th top pick, Romania, and 9th top pick, Estonia, were thrown out of the national top 10 as the local jury stuck them as 24th and 23rd respectively.
  • A similar thing happened in Belgium - the public's 6th and 8th most favourite songs were ranked 20th and 23rd by the jury, throwing both Poland and Israel well out of the national top 10.
No other great disagreements between jury and public votes caught my eye as most disagreements are relatively small. Yet I do find it really curious when the jury and the public rank the same song over 20 spots apart on a scale of 1 to 26.
 All data has been taken from - Eurovisions official website.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Space Race. Excerpt.

"So the Usurper gave you these lands for the treasure?"

"Well, he would've taken it anyway, but he appreciated my.... bravado. I stole from his enemies, so he couldn't just kill an ally. Other land owners would surely kill me soon enough."

They were sitting at a cave's mouth. A small bench had been carved out of the rock wall. It was pleasantly cool and a slight breeze led from the deep caverns out. The sun was coming up.

"Why would they?"

"I attacked someone powerful. Someone they didn't dare attack. If I were to do it again, they would look weak, their positions would be threatened."

"So if you are so dangerous to all of them..."

"Why didn't they? Because I got there first. I sent a few raiding parties against them. None returned."

"You sent your people to their deaths?"
Flake looked at Maria, an eyebrow raised.

"Yes. So the others would lose interest in me. Now I appear weak. Coming after me would bring them no benefit, so I can live in peace."

"So you have a plan?"
Maria simpered. She sat back, closed her eyes, and exhaled. She seemed relaxed, which was odd considering the topic.

"I always have a plan."

"It is weird. Boys are always warned about bad girls. That they can cause plenty of harm by wrapping a man around their little finger. Then again, anyone with half a brain can handle a bad girl. It is a good girl we should really worry about."

Maria chuckled. "You think I'm a good girl?"

"Better than most. You are too smart not to be."

Maria locked eyes with Flake.
"If I didn't know any better I'd say you're coming on to me."

"Not at all. Just remarking on why your plans keep working."

Maria smiled.
"They work because I make them work."

"So why am I here?"

"A few hundred years ago everyone thought that our little Cersus was a lonely planet with a tiny moon and a single sun constantly shining overhead. Then everything changed when we received radio signals from somewhere far beyond. Somewhere beyond our wildest imaginations, somewhere far beyond the twin suns. An outside contact caused an explosion of research. Everyone wanted to know more so scientific centres were popping up like mushrooms, getting more funding than a Nah after finding a rock cavity."

"I remember the stories from history classes. I was only half-asleep."

"I am sure you do. I mean to make a parallel. Now imagine there was another discovery that brought all researchers together, and imagine you could control where they would come to."

"You could control the flow of money. And trade. You could become the new Usurper."

"Good. So there is no confusion."

"There is. You cannot possible control the signal. It comes from somewhere we cannot see, and you only know it is coming once it has already arrived. And it still doesn't explain what you called me here for."

"It does. The signal comes through periodically. Almost completely in phase with the cycle of our days. It happened because our suns are always in opposite directions from us. We can't find the signal any more because over time the signal kept occurring later and later in the day, until it was impossible for anyone to withstand the heat of the suns."

"So? Are you saying you found a way to stay alive outside the cliffs?"

"No. I'm saying you did. Or well, keep equipment alive."

Maria reached into her bag and pulled out a dagger. It was completely black, charred, with a small bit of char scratched off to reveal a metal blade. Flake immediately recognized it. It was his.

"How did you find it? I lost it almost half a world away."

"I found it by accident. It was being sold as a cheap clump, but the shape seemed familiar. When I saw your symbol on it, I had to buy it. Still got a bargain.
"Your dagger doesn't melt in the sun. Either of them. That is rare for a metal. So rare that noobody would make a dagger out of it. The only time its quality were of use is when you've lost it or you are dead. It would only be made into a dagger if one had the ability to get more of it. Lots more. And one was using the dagger as a proof of concept for people of wealth. You never got to it."

"It is true I met some resistance on my path."

"But the dagger arrived here. And now so did you. I understand you have found a way to produce this new metal. I'd like to use it to build research equipment to catch those signals."

"For personal benefit."
Maria breathed deeply, contemplating her reply.

"It will benefit the world, it is a research revolution. I can keep it out of the hands of those who would use it for war."

"I am here because of you. I trust you. But I cannot make something out of nothing. I could bring nothing with me."

"I understand you need magnetic ore. There is plenty mined in this cave. Any tools you need will be supplied. Just write down what you need and you'll get it. I'll have some servants sent over to help you."

"No. I work alone, in private. But I'll also need coal. Lots of it. When I get set up I should have the first produce in about four cycles."

"As you wish. So I'm guessing you fuse the ore and coal together in some way to make it more heat resistant. Why the long delay?"

"A single mistake in the process will make the fuse unstable, the metal brittle. It will look fine, but shatter under pressure, or heat. Wouldn't work for anything technical."

"Fine. I can get you supplies and privacy, but sooner or later people will notice us working together. They will talk. Other land owners will listen."

Flake laughed. "No matter how much time I have, it seems it is never enough."

"One does not need to live forever to know that."

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Of love of language of love

The lovers of sounds and sights delight in beautiful tones and colors and shapes and in everything that art fashions out of these, but their thought is incapable of apprehending and taking delight in the nature of the beautiful in itself.
Plato, Republic 476b

We are defined by language, and we define language. We can see what is beautiful, we can describe beautiful things, but we cannot define beauty. It is a problem that often comes up in the science of aesthetics, the study of beauty. How can one study something that is essentially a subjective assessment of an object's qualities? By connecting it to philosophy[1].

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world” L. Wittgenstein
Language is a tool. It is a tool that we use to describe the world. We have a plethora of languages that serve different tasks - the language of mathematics, algebra, computing, communication - and even more that serve the same. It is difficult to explain Finnish to a computer, as is teaching algebra to an infant. As is difficult to describe complicated formulae in plain English. The deeper we attempt to explain what we've described, the more complicated our language needs to be. And that is a problem when we attempt to explain something we perceive but cannot prove. To put it in plain terms, you can say gravitation is a term that says that all things pull all other things closer to it and can be demonstrated by showing that a big thing (the Earth) pulls small things (apples) towards itself. With beauty it is more difficult, for you can say something contains a property of beauty and is therefore beautiful, but you cannot really explain what it is or where it comes from. The best you can do is explain beauty as the ability to be appreciated aesthetically.
But that says very little. Especially when you consider that beauty is not only skin-deep. It is pretty much universally accepted that most people are somewhat in possession of inner beauty. That would seem to suggest that beauty is quantifiable as some people are more beautiful on the inside than on the outside and vice versa. Some would say a mechanismus of sorts can have inner beauty in the sense that it looks horrendous, but works in a fashion that can be called beautiful. Some would even go so far as to say a random rock on the street has inner and outer beauty. Sentimental value complicated things even further.
So what do we know? We know that beauty is akin to energy in that whatever exists, has beauty, and can be perceived as beautiful to some extent or other. We know it is somewhat quantifiable as we find some things more beautiful than others. We can confidently claim beauty plays an integral part in attraction. Yet we know that beauty is relative to the eyes of the beholder. For some people a mathematical proof can be more beautiful than a red rose just come into bloom. We know there are some generally accepted connections between symmetry and beauty. We know there is some correllation between repetition and beauty. But we cannot explain why. We cannot explain what it is that makes something more beautiful that others. If we did, it would at the very least explain modern art.
No matter how we approach the problem, we end up with the issue of explanation. And that can be achieved in only one way - with language. The deeper we delve into defining beauty and other subjective attributes the more we see that language in itself insofar is inadequate to do so. After thousands of years of philosophical trains of thought we have yet to reach a point where we can turn a subjective attribute to an objective assessment via the opportunities language itself provides. And that is oddly comforting, to know there are still mysteries we have not yet fully explained or understood, that these issues remain relevant and unsolved for thousands of years. Being controversial and inexplicable is an essential part of being human. And that is just fine.
Just remember, "gravity is not responsible for people falling in love."

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Excerpt. Again.

"There are two types of people one must always be cautious of. Smart men and beautiful women."

Lisa looked at Frank questioningly.

"Smart men know what others don't, and use it to their advantage. They become unpredictable for they rely on the existence of secrets. Beautiful women know what everyone knows - that they're beautiful. They become unpredictable for they rely on other people changing their normally predictable behavior to impress them or to avoid being seen in bad light."

"What about smart women?" Bob retorted.

Frank decided to wait until a moment of silence had passed before replying. It gave his words more gravitas, he thought.

"Smart women take care of themselves, they do not bother with schemes or ploys. They have no need for them."

"Unless they're pretty?"

"Unless they are pretty."

Frank gave Lisa a long and hard look, signifying that he thought she was pretty. She felt it as an insult, as he hadn't done so when he was talking about intelligence.

"So you think of good looks as a handicap? That's... unusual."

"Not really. You see, Bob, a pretty woman can woo a lesser man into submission, which has little effect on third parties. A smart woman can work her way up herself, again not bothering others. But a beautiful girl with wits... well, there's nothing more enticing for a smart man than a woman of equal or greater measure. It's in our biology and we cannot fight it. We want the best. A smart woman knows how to use our biology to circumvent our minds. There's nothing more dangerous for a man than a woman, smart and beautiful."

He didn't move his eyes off Lisa's for the entirety of his response. It made her feel awkward about being stared at, and Bob awkward for being in a conversation where the other two conversers were just staring at each other. An awkward silence followed. Finally Lisa broke the silence with a smug voice.

"Do you consider yourself a smart man?"

Frank smiled. "I can't say that. Others can, if they like."

Cocky, she thought. Especially for someone who didn't do much that they could notice. He'd put them all up for the night and covered all of their necessities. But nobody really knew why he did it, or what he was up to. All they knew was that George trusted him, and so would they. Why did George trust him, when he so obviously disliked him? Why did Frank risk exposure by helping them hide?

What bothered Lisa most of all was that for her, Frank did not seem like the type to do anything without personal gain, even if it was for a friend. And it did not seem like he had owed anything to George. So Frank had to have his own agenda that he would not reveal, something to gain from being helpful. They were but pieces on a chess board, being manipulated by Frank to some kind of purpose. She hated being used.

"I'll keep that in mind. Be cautious of smart men, I think I can remember that."

She gave a quick smile, and left the two men by themselves. She wanted rest, for tomorrow was probably going to be a long day.

"See what I mean by women who are equal measures smart and beautiful?"

The question was aimed at Bob, but Frank's eyes were still fixated at the door through which he had watched her exit. Bob knew well enough not to answer.

"There is nothing more dangerous than a woman who knows she has you by the short and curlies."

Monday, March 16, 2015

Any house ought to stand a gust of wind

Professional guidance. The polite way of saying 'manipulation'.

It has come to my attention that a TV show about manipulation has become somewhat popular, so I decided to seek it out. See if it caught my fancy in a way such as the Blacklist has - every episode shows slight nudging, behind-the-scenes manipulation, all to make one man's plans come to life. Just a man's plans to ensure his survival, for it is a man who has many enemies.

The fresh show that appears to be more popular? House of Cards, you may have heard of it. After all, I'd be surprised if you hadn't. It is about a politician trying to be a good and proper politician - by that I mean the scummiest scum of a person anyone has ever heard of. So he makes sure bad things happen to his enemies and good things happen to him. In this pursuit, he takes risks that can give him little gain, but could cause his complete and utter failure. And so his victories are small. He has probably read Sun Tzu's 'Art of War' for he knows himself and his opponents, and thus triumphs at pretty much every turn. What bothers me is that every step he makes is small, and it has huge consequences. In just two seasons, he's become the president, and has appalling approval ratings, a wife that tolerates him solely due to his power, a lover that was disappeared, one friend (played by the ever-wonderful Mahershalalhashbaz Ali (The 4400)) and has magically succeeded in getting BOTH parties to work together against him. I mean seriously, American parties NEVER work together. It is an astonishing achievement to have people who disagree for a living to agree that what you are doing is completely and utterly counterproductive. It is as if someone in their infinite wisdom decided to reclassify an university's Department of Law as a subdepartment under Social Sciences. When you get that much opposition, especially from politicians and/or lawyers you know you're doing something wrong.

The show is also slow-paced. By this I mean each episode gets dragged out with lots of filler. As such, it becomes even more shocking that the protagonist has become a president in just two seasons, whereas Blacklist's protagonist has only just revealed his aim after two and a half seasons of constant action towards his goals. But House of Cards isn't all bad. It has slight non-complex manipulation, many believable characters, a long story arc.... and it reminds me of YPM.

To those who don't know, Yes, (Prime) Minister was (the new version isn't as good) a British satire show about politics. In it, a journalist becomes a minister following general elections, and meets his staff. The staff - civil servants - are the people who are actually in charge, regardless of which party is in office. As such, they seek out ministers who look good and are willing to follow their... professional guidance. As it happens, the protagonist Jim Hacker is quickly promoted to the position of Prime Minister by no fault of his own. On the way he becomes aware of the ploys of the civil servants, often spearheaded by his own Permanent Secretary, and tries to wiggle his way out, wanting to be independent. He even attempts to use these ploys to advance his own agendas. All this in a satire that even The Iron Lady enjoyed. But it is an excellent study of manipulation, game theory, politics etc.

This said, House of Cards moves at the pace of a small-budget drama, but has the influences of old successful classics. It isn't awesome in itself, but it is a surprisingly good introduction to more serious pieces of work, be they satire or not.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Excerpt. Original work.

John sat down in a large armchair slightly turned towards the fireplace. Opposite him was Frank, encouched in his own armchair. Frank observed his face and found it bland, full of disappointment.

"Is there something on your mind?"

No reaction. John kept staring at the fire, bright reflection of the fire danced in his still eyes.

"John?" Frank insisted. This sparked a reaction in John. His eyes widened, and he inhaled slowly.

"When all of it began, when I was thrown in the middle of it, I knew the fight would be all uphill. I knew I needed friends to survive. I just never imagined...."

"...that they would be so ordinary?"

John looked at Frank. The firm gaze was all the confirmation Frank needed.

"You thought you would go a journey. Travel the world, meet exciting people, have fun."

"Not fun." Frank interrupted.

"An expression. You thought it would be a tale worth telling. You wanted it to be like an adventure story. You wanted your friends to be cogs in a machine of your devising. For them to be weak alone, but unstoppable with you. You think you are a hero just because you are a victim."

"**** you."

Frank smirked. He didn't want to, he wanted to keep a straight face to seem more erudite. He wanted John to take him seriously, he just couldn't stop himself from enjoying John's reaction. He himself usually showed little emotion, so much greater was the joy to create some in others.

"Reality is tough. There are no knights in shining armour, no damsels in distress, no bard spies to help you and no dragons to be slayed. When you meet a person, you meet just a person."

John redirected his gaze back towards the fire. He seemed even sadder than when he first sat down.

"What use are they? They can hardly do anything I can't. None of them matter, all they do is go places I cannot go. Ofcourse I wanted more."

John was becoming more and more agitated. Frank knew that if he was going to make his point, he'd have to do it quickly.

"You like the fire? People are like that fire. They all look the same, but the more you find, the more you realize you've never seen identical fires. The differences are small, subtle, but they are there. You just need to look closer. You'll find that some fires burn noticeably brighter."

John looked at Frank again. "You know, I'll never like your little speeches. Too much allegory."
He started to stand from his seat.

"But you'll always listen to what I say."
Frank gave a little smile and nod at John. He on the other hand walked away in silence.

"You know your allegory breaks down at candles?" asked Lisa, standing in the doorway.

"I know. He does not have to."

"Am I one of those bright flames?"

"The brightest I've met. I felt your warmth the moment you walked into earshot."

Lisa smiled, but nobody could see it in the dark doorway. She knew he had given an answer, but not the answer either of them had wanted.

"What makes a person a brighter flame than others?" asked Lisa as she walked closer to the fireplace.

"You remember how we met? It wasn't a good start. What surprised me was how badly I wanted it to be."

"Maybe there is hope for you yet." She smiled again, and left the room, leaving Frank to stew with his thoughts, and the fire.