General

General interests that may or may not fit anywhere else.

In Memory of C.S. Lewis: 50 Years Later

Some time earlier this year or perhaps last year, I found out that C.S. Lewis died on the same day that JFK was assassinated. As would be expected, this meant hardly anything was said of Lewis and I find this sad to say the least. Since this is not at all a political site (and I assure you it never ever will be turned into such a cesspool!) or a news site, and since I have written before about fantasy – albeit briefly – I think it is about time C.S. Lewis is remembered. To be fair, the BBC did mention this fact the other day, but of course the real interest to most is that it is 50 years since JFK was assassinated and not 50 years since C.S. Lewis died. Well, for me it is 50 years since Lewis died, too.

I remember when I was in grade school the class had to read The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and how much I enjoyed it. I was probably 5 and I had to read the entire series (my choice – the class only had to read the first) and I did it and I thoroughly enjoyed each and every one of them. It was my first exposure to fantasy and I’ve never looked back. Sure, my favourite author is Jules Verne who wrote more of adventures and science fiction (a combination of) but the truth is fantasy is very much a part of my life. Perhaps because of a specific multiuser dungeon (MUD) that I am a developer and designer for (which by itself is a wonderful thing: use my mind with programming and at the same time use my imagination), it is one of the most important things to me. Many would find MUDs destroyed their life because of addiction (and I admit I was at a time addicted to this MUD but my pleasure from playing was always overpowered by the prospect of programming for it, to which is another ‘addiction’ of mine but it is healthy as it brings me a lot of experience at the same time as joy) but it is the exact opposite for me. It was the first real project I was part of (a significant project, anyway) and it was a team project at that. But who cares about that? I’m going off topic. The point is fantasy is something that matters to me a great deal and C.S. Lewis is the author of the very first book I read in that genre.

There isn’t much to be said at this time, I admit, and part of that is I delayed this until the end of the day (I forgot to write it earlier) and I want to finish up. But one thing I find most interesting is that he was friends with Tolkien and while I’m not into religion, it is interesting to note that Tolkien was religious and is the very reason, I believe, that Lewis opened up to religion. Yet, even though I’m not into [that], I can find a sense of enjoyment from what he wrote. True, Narnia was in the fantasy genre and not a work of theology but it really shows how variety and/or differences is (are) not always a bad thing. Indeed, we would be extinct, I am sure of it, if we were all the same (not to mention it would be a boring life, at least it would to me). But the more we are open to others, the more we can learn and the more we can better ourselves. This very concept is how and why technology evolves as does anything else that evolves does. This very concept is part of evolving, period. Naturally we each go our own path and some will agree and some will disagree. That doesn’t matter to me either because that is exactly why we’re still here. After all, if everyone agreed with everything I said, this world might not be boring but that’s because I’m something of a lunatic – not because everyone agreed with me (I would find it pretty awkward if everyone did agree with me and I’m not always right and I’m willing to accept and admit that). Everyone has their own belief structure and their own goals, and I approve of that just as I approve of Lewis’ having his own beliefs (or what beliefs he had).

Thanks, C.S. Lewis, for your wonderful series involving the wonderful fantasy world called ‘Narnia’. It provided me much enjoyment and still does when I think of it.

Rest In Peace Lou Reed

This will be fairly quick (or so I hope) because things have not been that great (“what is sleep ?” is the story) but I must write at least something before I do in fact try to sleep.

I just saw that Lou Reed has passed away. Now, those who know me well enough will know why I feel this is important: my favourite band collaborated with Lou Reed in 2011. I admit fully that I did not buy it (among the rare things of the band’s work I did not buy although this news may change that) because I did not like Lou’s voice. It was not that it was different that I did not like about the recording. No, that is something I have a huge amount of respect for: Metallica happens to do whatever it is they want and that includes shocking their fans. With shock comes (at times) disappointment. But at the end of the day the reality is they do what they want for themselves (and also for their fans, honestly – though some would disagree it is irrefutable) and that they are willing to risk upsetting someone for themselves shows not weakness but strength. Yes, strength, courage and let us all be realistic: we might not like change but without change the human species would be EXTINCT. So, good on Metallica for change. I don’t even have that much courage – I won’t deny that. Would I like to change that? Yes and no, which I think is how a lot of people view courage (or lack thereof and wanting to change/improve it). Regardless, them being comfortable doing this type of thing brings out their true colours and it is a beautiful rainbow of colours at that. They made mistakes. They are only human. Lars Ulrich pissed off a lot of people with Napster. But you know something? He also realised that perhaps his approach was not the best, and when a store in France (by mistake) released Death Magnetic a day early, not only did the band welcome it, Lars himself welcomed it and noted that things have changed.  They have.  Anyone who does not believe that is ignoring reality and also (in the case of them accepting Lars making a mistake) being unable to accept that no one is perfect but what matters is not perfection but instead always improving yourself and always being the best you can be. He does that and he does it quite well, regardless of how it comes across to some.  Don’t like him? That’s fine. No one likes everyone or everything. For instance: I did not think Lou Reed’s collaboration with Metallica was great at all. I didn’t dislike Lou Reed but I did dislike the way the recording sounded to my ears (his voice sort of drowned out the rest, for me). Still, I know a lot of fellow Clubbers respected his work and I know many more not part of the Metallica Camp respected him, too.

As for Metallica doing things for their fans and it being irrefutable, I have the following words to write: 30 Year Anniversary Celebration. Those who were fortunate enough to be there (and I was only there for one of the four nights) would fully agree, for sure. They truly do care about their fans and their fans care about them (I met people from Mexico, Denmark and Australia, to name three different locations in the world, that fans came from, while I was in San Francisco).

Lou Reed: The legend you left with you will never be forgotten and while I maybe did not like your voice (at least on Lulu) I still respect you, your personality, and you, period (and I always will). Rest in Peace, Lou, and thanks for allowing me to learn of you and what you are about (by collaborating with my favourite band).

“Smart” Technology Is Still Dumb

I can imagine it clearly: a group of kids forced to read why their “smart” tablet, phone or latest gadget is not actually all that smart. There would likely be outrage and flat out denial. Of course, neither of those reactions would change the fact that I am, firstly, correct, and secondly, I do not really care what kids (of today) think any more than I did when I was a kid.

The truth of the matter is that too much reliance on technology (reliance in the sense of letting it take over for human interaction) is a foolish thing to do. Yet I see and hear it far too often than I would like to. An interesting quote (that has been apparently widely mis-attributed to Albert Einstein) comes to mind:

Computers are incredibly fast, accurate and stupid; humans are incredibly slow, inaccurate and brilliant; together they are powerful beyond imagination.

I won’t even get into the definition of accurate, stupid or brilliant as the definitions really do not matter so much per se. Some might argue that the quote is not actually helpful to my point but actually, it is a perfect quote. The key is the last part of the quote. Think about “together they are powerful beyond imagination” for a minute. Indeed, the problem is not that technology is advanced but rather it is advanced enough that people think it knows best. That is a dangerous fallacious trap to fall in to. It really is quite simple: who created the technology? Yes, that is correct; humans! So it makes perfect sense that they are to be used together and not in place of (besides the issue with trust being given far too easily, would you really rather have computers employed instead of humans? I guess their pay raises would be hardware upgrades!)

When something is dumbed down so much that any thing can use it it there is a problem. The problem is that one need not pay attention. Some might wonder what I am getting at. Well here is what I am getting at: the extremes of allowing an automobile to do all the work – accelerating, braking, turning, changing lanes, detecting traffic signals and stop signs. While that might be better if the person is under the influence (which they should not be any way!) I really have to wonder where else it might be useful. What is even more scary is going even further than we already have (vehicles that fly their occupants somewhere without any human involvement, anyone? I really hope that one is never allowed although scary enough is the cars that supposedly can lift off too). This is not about making things do more than what they were made to do. No, this is about allowing a device to be given so much trust that it endangers others. While some of this may be hypothetical – considering it is not common yet, I would say it is hypothetical in a sense – the very idea is incredibly scary. Let me elaborate:

As it is right now we have traffic signals (lights), traffic signs and traffic rules to help maintain the traffic flow and sanity (in addition to some times having traffic being controlled by a police officer). But if you think about it further there is one other thing that changes those rules, isn’t there? When you hear (or see; after all, a deaf person is allowed to drive but a blind person is not) a siren or emergency lights on a vehicle with said siren, you are obligated to – for the safety of yourself, the safety of the driver and those having the emergency – find where it is and get out of its way. And for good reason. If you were in the ambulance you would want the same thing done for you. Further, if a fire department truck is headed towards your house that is on fire, would you want some selfish person blocking or otherwise delaying the emergency crew? Of course you wouldn’t!

So here’s where it gets interesting: let’s say there is a major change in society and vehicles do all the driving (do I need to remind anyone that even when horses pulled wagons, there were accidents and indeed deaths?). First, if there’s the idea (which I have read exactly this from those who are wanting this type of change) that there are no traffic signals needed, I can predict two very dangerous assumptions:

  1. Those who own old vehicles (hot rods anyone?) and in particular it is a hobby for the owner (they take it to car shows for example) there is not a chance that there would not be outrage if they were told they can no longer drive it or have it on the road.
  2. Worse than that: how is the state/county/city going to be absolutely 100% positive there are no cars that in fact are controlled by humans (besides the fact humans created the car, that is)? If any one thinks insurance, license and registration is sufficient then I have some shocking news for you: some people drive without these things. Is it illegal? Yes. But that is irrelevant when they still are driving in this hypothetical condition. In fact, it is more scary – if it happens now, how do you expect it to not happen when these new conditions are common?

Even if the county could be 100% sure of no drivers I have to ask what about emergency vehicles. As someone who has been in emergencies I can’t even begin to fathom how anyone would trust human (therefore imperfect) programmed (as a programmer for many years but who is also realistic I can say without a doubt that there is no such thing as real software that is 100% bug free 100% of the time and that is a fact that only a complete idiot would deny!) vehicles to detect the sirens or see emergency lights, and, at the same time react in a safe way along with all the other vehicles that are doing the same thing. And only a very ignorant person – or a damned (perhaps literally) fool – would think it is a good idea to let an emergency vehicle drive itself as it deems appropriate.

Bottom line is this: technology – whether it is a phone or a large machine – is only as smart as the least smart of the operator and the creator of the technology in question (regardless of whether the item in question is “smart”). We’re all human, however, and even those that are brilliant in general can still be dumb about some things and there is this other word “mistake” that comes to mind as incredibly significant.

Rest in Peace Jeff Hanneman

This is obviously not a technical piece but it is something that is important for me so I’m writing it before I forget about it. I regret that I missed several other significant deaths including indeed Ronnie James Dio of Black Sabbath (and others) and more recently Jon Lord of Deep Purple. Today is yet another sad day for metal music, an important part of my life.

I am even more upset now that health prevented me from seeing Slayer when I actually had tickets (in 2011) because Jeff is now gone. He was an amazing guitarist and his music will be well missed. The fact he died from liver failure and that I have a very close friend with liver disease as well as having lost family to liver disease, this really hits me hard. I typically do not think of the past and although that may be sad at times (hard to think of good memories in the past without thinking of the past) I would say it generally helps me cope with losses.

There really is not much else to say as this is truly a horrible loss to the metal heads of the world.

R.I.P. Jeff and thanks for your time and dedication with Slayer.

The Power of 8

Update on 2014/02/19: I erroneously stated that anything to the power of 0 is 1 except 0. The truth is 0 to the power of 0 is also 1. What is also true, however, is in binary, if you have a value of 0 it is essentially ‘off’ or not counted. So although 0 ^ 0 is 1, the fact is 100 is binary for 4 because the trailing 0s do not get counted (that is, added up). Likewise, 1010 is binary for 10 because of this same rule. In other words, if you have the digit 0 in binary you don’t count that position (so you do not do the calculation I describe below, for that position). I should have been more clear on this but what can I do other than fix this? Nothing. Fixed now though. The rest of this post is what I originally wrote, 2 years and some days ago.

So, today I turned 30 years old. Until I wrote this (which was two or three days ago) I wasn’t really sure how happy I was about it. However, as writing is considered therapeutic, I not only wrote a guide on numbers (and different number bases e.g., binary [2], decimal [10], and hexadecimal [16]) I also added some fun ways of looking at age in general, and indeed how so many things can be looked at in far more ways than seems possible. Then I quickly wrote this but it should be clear if you follow the examples. In any case, here’s how to convert between decimal, binary and hexadecimal. It also indeed explains what I mean when I say ‘The Power of 8′. So what makes 8 so powerful?

If you read what is below, you’ll know (at least to some degree). You may know already, but in any case, here’s a more mathematics article from me and something I never thought I’d write about (whether its a precursor to something more advanced I do not know) …

So, firstly, what is so powerful about 8 ? Well, quite a lot. “But, it’s a single digit!” you fire back. Ah, but is it REALLY a single digit? Doesn’t it really depend on interpretation? “Yes, but so does everything in this world!”. Indeed, and that includes numbers. In fact, if you read on, you may realise how 8 is very powerful indeed. So powerful that as you read this, 8 has already crossed your path and gone into the very device you’re reading this from… (Yes, that’s a mere analogy or even a metaphor of a concept and type of data known as a ‘byte’).

To get to the bottom of this, you have to understand that what appears to be a single number isn’t a single number all by itself. Even 10 is a single number yet when you think about it, its composed of two digits; there is no digit “10″. That’s two digits which is each composed of something more hidden – a bit. In actuality, a number is a combination of bits. Remember maths class ? You would study the 1s places, the 10s, the 100s, and so on.

The thing is, ALL numbers can be looked at this way. So what’s so special about 8? Although it depends on other factors, its generally considered that 8 bits is equal to 1 byte (this can also be 7 bits). What is also true is that one BYTE can hold more than 1 ‘number’. Indeed, if you take 8 bits (1 byte), you can count from 0 to 255 or even
-128 to 127 (if signed).

To realise how, you simply have to realise that a single bit is one of two numbers – it can be 1 or it can be 0. If you take that into account, and you also take your mathematics class into consideration, you’ll realise that if its a ’1′ in that position or place, you add it and if it’s a ’0′ then you do not add it. That means in decimal (base 10), you would have the following :

 100
+ 10
+  1
----

How do you solve this? You can say you take each value and add it up. But there’s more to it, isn’t there? What you’re really doing is lower level stuff – it’s closer to bits than you might realise. In the ones column, you can say you have (in this example) 1 * (10 ^ 0).

Why to the power of 0 ? Well, what if you did not start with 0 ? 0 comes before 1 which comes before 2, and so on, all the way to 9. If you did not have 0 you could not have 10. Therefore we start at 0. So, understand (remember) anything to the power of 0 is simply 1 (including 0 to the power of 0 – it is still 1).

Important part to understand is, each time you move over to the next bit you use to the power of that bit (position). Or to put it another way, you have in the above problem :

(1 * (10 ^ 2)) + (1 * (10 ^ 1)) + (1 * (10 ^ 0))

If you take a calculator that understands the order of operations (I mention this as I hear that in some modes in some Windows versions their calculator does not!) you will get the following :

100 + 10 + 1

And we all can conclude from that that the result is what it should be : 111, or one hundred, one ten, one one.

What about this though ?

 250
+ 90
+  1
----

Is it really the same idea? Not only is the answer ‘yes’, its even easier (in some ways)
than what you might remember from maths class. In that class, you might remember carry-overs? As in, if the column’s values add up to 10 or greater, you will need to carry the >=10 over to the next column. That’s fine for the basic class, but what the end result is, when you evaluate what I’m writing about, is that its really this (realise that there’s not only one single way to solve a problem that has multiple steps and even one step problems could be solved different ways in many things) :

(2 * (10 ^ 2)) + ((5 + 9) * (10 ^ 1)) + (1 * (10 ^ 0))

… which expands to the following :

(2 * 100) + (14 * 10) + (1 * 1)

… which expands down to :

200 + 140 + 1 = 341

So, that’s decimal in a nutshell. What about base 2 (i.e., two digits : 0 or 1 aka binary) ?

It is actually the same idea, only you deal with 1 or 0, and instead of 10  ^ pos you have 2 ^ pos.

So what is 15 in binary ?

Well, since 15 is most certainly >= 0 and < 255, that means it does indeed fit in <= 8 bits.

That means that we actually only need 1 (or not even 1) byte (point : indeed, numbers can indeed take more than one byte but 15 is not such a number).

So, think about it for a minute. We have either a 0 or 1 per place. If it’s 1, you can consider it as ‘set’ or ‘true’ or ‘on’. If 0, then ‘not set’, ‘false’, or ‘off’. This is a rather useful thing to keep in mind as it makes converting to binary from decimal or even from binary to decimal rather simple.  If you realise that we’re discussing base 2, then it’s multiples of 2. What that means is simply the 0th position (1s place) is 1 (if it is set). The 1st position (tens place) is 2 (if it is set), the 2nd (hundreds place) is 4 (if set). That makes it very easy to think of it in those terms, for many calculations.

If you look at it that way, you can easily convert by simple addition. Indeed, 15 is actually 1 + 2 + 4 + 8 which equates to what in binary ?

00001111

(and remember that the leading zeros are not even really required though it does give some way to realise its binary if the base is not specified else where).

And that is why 8 is so powerful: it can hold 256 different numbers, and it also leads into the inspiration of writing this whole piece. I turned 30 today (14/Feb/2012). I was for various reasons – as I think is fairly common among a lot of people when they get close to it – not very happy about it. I wanted to come up with some nicer way to look at it, and at the same time write something technical.

But along with the technical aspect, comes some fun. Because you can interpret things in so many ways, you can make the 30 different depending on base (or even just interpretation). There’s even an old quote (that I read years and years ago) that is something like :

“I will tell you my age but I won’t tell you which base its in.”

So, along those lines, here’s different ways of interpreting the number 30 :

  • 30 is equal to 4 0s followed by 4 1s.
  • 30 can be represented with base 2 (any number can be, even negatives [a different topic entirely, and more technical]) but yet if you divide it by 2 you get 15 (which cannot be equally divided by 2 without getting a fraction) – or its not a multiple of 2.
  • If you consider another base – base 16, which is to say 0 – 9, A = 10, B = 11, … F = 15 (= base 16), then I could say I’m 1E.  The way to determine it is really simple: break it into sets of 4 bits and do the binary conversion. And if you understand it enough, you can do it in your head (that’s actually the inspiration for this article in part; I wondered what my coming up age would be in hexadecimal, and then I did it [away from any mathematical device] and thought it could be fun to write about).

Anyway, an example :

E is equal to 14. That’s equal to 1110 in binary. That’s the first set. Then, 1 is 0001. Put them together and you have 11110 which means 16 + 8 + 4 + 2 + 0, which is 30. So to get from 30 to hexadecimal, you can break it down into a combination of numbers (of multiples of 2, ie. 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 …). Once you have those, you convert it to binary (or skip it if you can). Then each set of 4 bits can be converted to hexadecimal.
Question: why 4 bits? It’s simple: 0-15 can be represented in exactly 4 bits. 4 1s in binary is 15. It is that simple.

  • With respect to 1E – I could just be E years old (if you consider that is “one” E).
  • And what is an E? Is it an eternity? No but you could call it that I suppose.
  • 30 is represented in 5 bits, so I could be considered much younger than I thought (or maybe not!).
  • Another interesting thing: E in hex is 14 (decimal). And 1E = 30.
  • You could also call it 114, as it is “one” 14.
  • When I turn 60, I’ll be 3C. That means what? 3 Centuries old? I hope not! But you could call it that. You could also say my body temperature is 3 celcius (I must be cold blooded…). Then again, maybe not.
  • If I made it to 144 I would be 90 (in hexadecimal). The interesting thing there is if I actually did make it to 144d/90h, then I’d likely be doing nothing. Well guess what 90h in a computer (intel architecture eg x86 and x86_64) means? Nop whichis short for no operation. Interesting? Maybe, maybe not but it amuses me.

Essentially, the points of this article is that :

  1. You can look at things so many ways, and age is one of those things. You can be positive, you can be negative, but it’s healthier to be positive as you can be. EVERY THING in this world could be worse but you cannot change some things, so you should really only worry about what you can change (and actually do change – hopefully for the good).
  2. It also was to explain how numbers in computers work. Sure, I didn’t go into bitwise operations (e.g., bit shifting, twiddling, bitwise ANDs, OR’s, XOR’s, etc.) but I at least (hopefully) made it easier to see how the computer (and indeed humans) can see something one way or another when its entirely possible that there’s many other ways. In fact, computers typically use hexadecimal (it’s a multiple of 2 so its easy enough).

And that’s how numbers work in their most simple form. You can of course have negative numbers and even in binary, but as I think I mentioned that is more complicated and is more suited for an article by itself (which may or may not happen in the future by me).