Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Cycle of Computers

Always, in hardware computing as an industry, there is a cycle, as technology advances. I learned this from a former sysadmin, who I talk to frequently because he is wise.

First faster chips are developed. The fast chips are expensive, so they are made into a large, very expensive, super server, and the focus becomes maintaining the one server to perfection, and using the other computers as dumb terminals, to hide the fact that they're older and slower.

Then the chips become cheaper. Having completely saturated the market on big servers, the hardware companies then focus on selling many computers, each as powerful as what they were formerly touting as a super-server, so that all users can benefit from the power.

And then somebody develops a faster chip, repeating the cycle. Monolithic vs. cloud, the market swinging back and forth to sell the maximum amount of hardware possible.

Oddly enough, both moves are touted as saving the administrator's precious time and effort. The super server is obvious, as the administrator need only maintain one computer. The other computers are dumb terminals, which need basically no maintenance.

The "cloud" stage, when the chip is cheap and independent computers are being sold by the truckload, is promoted as easy because configuration cloning allows each user to start with an identical setup, which reduces the problem to the monolithic stage. Except when the users need custom configuration, but that can be fobbed off on the new technician.

If you'd like to save money on your hardware, don't get too excited about any one fad. Within five years, the pendulum will swing again. Currently we're in the cloud stage.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Simulation Systems, Tests, and Your Employment (Part 3)

So with some nerdy introspection, I think everyone can find the perfect job, as I described in the last two sessions. Let's do some more.

Requirements: Moderate Intelligence, Moderate Charisma, High Finger Dexterity, Known moral prohibition against stealing

Cashiers take people's money in exchange for the good or service. One has to accurately count money quickly, and not offend your patron too badly. It is also important to your employer to know that you will not take the money in the register, or overcharge the client to pad your own pocket.

Card Dealer
Requirements: Really high finger dexterity, Acceptable Charisma

Casinos need lots of these for all their card tables. The slicker and craftier you are with your cards, the better.

Requirements: High-ish finger and arm dexterity, excellent hygine, artistic talent on the higher end

People like food. People like their food well prepared. People who pay lots of money for food expect it to be artistic also. People don't like contaminated food.

Collections Agent
Requirements: High-ish strength, Moderate Charisma, Moderate Wisdom, Chaotic alignment

When people don't pay for the things they use, such as a credit default, bounced checks, and so on, collections has to take their things back. And since your subject would prefer to keep the goods without paying for them, you must, in essence, steal them back. Yes, this is legal, provided that one can prove the debt of your subject and his or her non-payment. Wanting to steal falls under the "Chaotic" alignments of D&D, so one must be that way. Although being organized doesn't fall under "Chaotic" but that trait also helps.

Requirements: High Intelligence, High Wisdom, Exceptional literacy, High Charisma, ideally lawful evil alignment, Moderate Constitution (you will spend much of the day standing)

Lawyers must be well organized, well prepared, have several dictionaries worth of text memorized, convincing, and will often be expected to argue things that they know aren't true. The willingness to take on these kinds of positions are in super-high demand, as the criminal justice field grows (all suspects are entitled to a proper defense under American law), as well as corporate clients who have their promote. (This willingness to fight for known untrue positions falls under the "evil" side of D&D's morality axis, since a "good" person would insist on the truth in all cases. Few people would want to hire a "good" lawyer, as they'd throw the case at the first sign of trouble.) Lawyers are well despised, but only by people who don't need one. Those who do definitely appreciate theirs. Lastly, lawyers often make huge amounts of money, which makes the populace at large hate them even more out of envy.

Requirements: High Intelligence, High Wisdom, Memorization of Case Law, Loud speaking voice, probably being a lawyer first, ideally lawful neutral.
Judges mediate courtroom actions. In some jurisdictions, they're appointed by the elected government, in others they are elected by the people. In any case, when lawyers disagree on the facts, they must intervene based on past case law.
Judging is high profile, but your powers aren't actually all that great. Any decision you make can be overturned, and if you make your decisions corruptly, firing is the best you can hope for. The worst involves jail time.

Requirements: High-ish intelligence, Very high Wisdom, High constitution, high arm and finger dexterity, moderate strength

A paleontologist is a scientist of fossils and old artifacts. They must locate them with, possibly with a geologist's help, dig them up, being very careful not to damage the fossils, which could easily be confused with the rest of the rock they're digging through, and take careful notes about what was found, where it was found, what was dug through,and how deep they had to dig.
Paleontologists share their findings with other scientists to make conclusions about what they found, such as nuclear scientists to perform carbon dating, geologists to learn about the earth conditions that preserved the item, and museums who publicize the work.

Requirements: Significant strength, Moderate constitution, Acceptable Wisdom, Enough dexterity as to not hit yourself in the foot

As long as there is wood, there will be people wanting it arranged into structures, like houses, gazebos and so on.

Requirements: High strength, resistance to seasickness

People like eating fish. Go get them some.

Requirements: High strength, moderate dexterity, not claustrophobic

Lots of goods come from underground rocks. If you can dig them up, give us a call.

Requirements: High strength, moderate dexterity, moderate charisma, organizational skills

When people die, they want to hold a proper funeral. This is where Undertakers come in. They have to dig the grave, make it look nice, prepare the props of a funeral, and make sure that only one family has a funeral at one time, because it's very awkward for everyone involved when they clash. Also, it's bad for business not to properly express your condolences, but it's worse still for business to express your condolences in a creepy way. Better not put your foot in your mouth here, champ.

Pet Caretaker
Requirements: High Constitution, Affinity for animals, Reasonable dexterity

Pets need various degrees of care. Dogs need to be walked. Cats need to have the litterbox changed before they decide that the sock drawer is a better option. Birds need outside play time. Rabbits need assurance. All of the above need food, water, and cleaning up. Sometimes a pet's human owners need to leave the pet alone, such as for a business trip. The pet is sad, and would be in trouble if not for you.

Jobs here are usually specialized per species, like dog walker, cat cleaner, rabbit caretaker and so on.

You know what, I think there'll be a part four. If all the Dirty Jobs I've been watching is any indication, it's that one can earn a living doing the darnedest things. You can even earn a living watching television, but there's a catch.

No, you probably won't earn a living blogging.

Monday, February 23, 2009


Almost all the animals known to humankind have some of their actions dictated by pre-wired instincts. For instance, dogs inherently know that meat is food that they can eat, and have the urge to chase things, to mark territory by peeing (each dog's pee has a different scent that other dogs can detect), and dogs are also born knowing the submission ritual that ends all dog fights (turn over, expose belly and throat. For the more extreme version, also pee on yourself). Dogs also have an instinct not to relieve themselves where they sleep, which we humans can hijack to toilet train them. (Indoors is "sleeping place," outdoors is "bathroom place.")
Cats, too, have urges to chase things, smack things around with their paws, climb, and claw things. Cat owners who want to preserve their furniture buy special, cat-furniture, for kitty's clawing pleasure. Cats also prefer to bury their waste, so a litter box is an essential to avoid them getting...creative...with your sock drawer.
I have also had pet rats, rabbits, and guinea pigs. Since these animals are prey species in the wild, they are more skittish. They have hiding instincts. Most of them chew because their teeth continuously grow, and need to be worn down to avoid overgrowth. Like dogs, they don't relieve themselves in sleeping areas, so they need a "bathroom corner" in their living area.
I've even managed parrots, whose urges include biting wood, throwing things, destroying paper (would be tearing up bark and leaves in the wild), and eating things on edges. (This behavior is very frustrating to the bird's owners, as it leads to much dropped food. However, as far as I can figure as to its purpose, in the wild they would eat on a tree branch, and if a predator were to appear suddenly, they drop the food and run. The predator is often distracted by the falling food and dives for it instead. By the time they realize that they've caught a half-eaten berry, the bird has escaped.) Birds also sometimes freak out for no apparent reason, as being scared is better than being lunch, and show a marked hatred of cylindrical objects (possibly perceived as potentially being a snake in disguise).
These instincts, though often bizarre in the context of being a pet, helps keep them alive in the wild where they developed. One does not get to think "Oh hey, that's a deer, I should probably sneak up on it and eat it before it sees me." Instead "stalk, pounce, bite!" has to do.
Likewise for the prey, "Oh hey, that might be a snake, let me poke at it" is probably a bad idea that will get you eaten. "OH CRAP RUN AWAY" is a better idea, even if it does turn out to be just a moss covered stick. Better safe than lunch.
I'm also fairly sure that we humans have at least some instincts too. Psychological studies have shown that we're actually not aware of a surprisingly large percentage of our actions, and that people are quite known for rationalizing something that they do for subconcious reasons. A study with split-brained patients showed that if shown a message on the left side of the movie screen, they would often take this suggestion, as parsed by the right side of the brain, without realizing it. If interrupted in the task, the left side of the brain, which controls verbal explanations, would construct a rationalization. Shown the message "DRINK COKE," many people claimed to be thirsty, to be "just stretching my legs," or "I always drink coke while watching movies, I just forgot that time. I was busy, you see..."
So, what are human instincts, and are they already being used for social control? Certainly advertisers would like to associate "thirsty" with their soft drink of choice, politicians want you to love them and recoil from their opponent, churches want you to "believe," and so on.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Soviet Archive

If you want outright crazy engineering, there's no better place to look than the early Soviet period of Russia. Cut off from the world in not only trade and communication, but also surrounded by hostile powers, the Soviet authorities backed all kinds of whack-jobs to try and get an elusive leg-up over the capitalist world. Worse for them, the Russia they had just conquered was a comedicly backward backwater and riddled with poverty, ignorance, shoddy infrastructure and nasty polar weather. Did I mention alcoholism?
So they funded quite a few whackjob "scientists" such as Dr. Ivanov's genetically ignorant attempts at created humanzees, or Dr. Bryukhonenko,and his attempt to revive the heads of decapitated dogs. Dr. Bryukhonenko did record a video of his project, made somewhat more dubious by the fact that he used photographic tricks to record that video and exaggerated the lifespan of his decapitated canines. Wikipedia's research claimed that decapitated dogs lived for only a few minutes, and the "Killed and revived" dogs lasted a few days. The mad doctor claimed that his decapitated dogs lasted for "days," and the killed and revived dogs lasted for "years."
If Dr. Byukhonenko's work had any use whatsoever, it would be that his "Autojektor" machine inspired later cardiopulmonary bypass machines, useful for open-heart surgery. As for Dr. Ivanov, his researched produced... um... well, nothing whatsoever.
As one last warning to history's parallels, which we must learn from or suffer their repetition, I'd like to bring up the case of Trofim Lysenko, a man with a kooky theory that plants were influenced by their surroundings and that genes weren't real. His "proof" for this theory was to plant a field of wheat and note that some rye plants grew as well. According to his theory, the high concentration of wheat made some of the wheat turn into rye. When people pointed out that he hadn't actually checked to make sure his wheat seeds were actually wheat seeds, and that he hadn't accidentally grabbed a few rye seeds in the process, he promptly used his connections to the communist party to have them arrested.
See, the communist party liked the part of his theory that proclaimed that any plant could be turned into any other plant just by changing the growing conditions. They also liked his theory that plants could be grown just as well without fertilizer somehow. Lastly, they liked the way that he was an uneducated peasant, thus "proving" the superiority of the working class.
So because Lysenko's theory fit communist orthodoxy, the competing theory, genetics, was suppressed in the Soviet Union. Which led directly to a number of crop failures as Soviet agriculture attempted to grow plants in places that couldn't possibly support them, like wheat in the polar regions during the winter.
I see direct parallels between Lysenkoism and the current pseudoscience fad gripping my own nation, Creationism. Creationism teaches that Christian claims of the world's origins, as described in the book of Genesis, are literally true, down to the word, and that evolution is fundamentally impossible. If it catches on, American biology, geology, and medicine will be terminally crippled, just as Lysenkoism crippled Soviet biology and agriculture.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Let them do it -- for charity

The l33t MD reports that "let them do it" has been turned from a contemptable slogan of laziness to an important way of ending 3rd word poverty. In this system, wealthy people in need of simple, human-accomplishable tasks would pay a small fee, and a 3rd world person with a cell phone would collect money to do it. This pays for their much-desired phone, and provides income to feed the family, pay the rent, and all without leaving their house.

Sure, here in America $0.50 per hour wouldn't be worth anyone's time, but in these countries, 50 cents is a day's food. Another 2 hours for the rent, another 3 for the phone, and past that is pure personal improvement. 3rd world citizens are known to spend spare money on building roads, wells, schools, and other improvements to their town, for stimulating the economy even when they buy pleasure goods such as televisions, and for sending their relatives to school instead of work, where it improves everyone's quality of life.

Truly, this is a l33t development of resources

Simulation Systems, Tests, and Your Employment (Part 2)

Okay, assuming that you read the first part and have measured yourself, let's continue. Hopefully you weren't found to be wanting.

Let's go hit the employment center:

Requirements: High Charisma, Extrovert personality type
A salesperson must convince people to buy the product or service of this company. This turns production into money, which is highly desired by all organizations, or, more abstractly, can help turn people towards your organization's point of view, which is also kind of like selling. Extroverts are preferred because you will deal with people constantly, and an introvert would be driven insane in short order.

Demand for this job is effectively unlimited, which is why I listed it first.

System Administrator
Requirements: High Intelligence, High Wisdom, Introverted Intuitive personality type
A system administrator must manage a large computer, or perhaps many of them. He or she must manage the needs of various users, prevent crashes, prevent illegitimate access to the system, and maintain backups, both in case of destruction of the computer and in case of "oops, I accidentally erased a critical file."

Hair Stylist
Requirements: High Wisdom, High Finger Dexterity, Sensing personality type
Hair stylists cut hair into interesting styles, obviously. Also, dying, shaving, and other things people want done to their hair. They are an artist...of hair.

Requirements: High Intelligence, High Wisdom, Moderate Finger Dexterity, Sensing personality type, probably preferably introverted.
A chemist mixes chemicals together and notes how they react. Chemists are usually employed to discover new drugs, but are also necessary in many other industries that want new and better materials. Chemists must be observant, meticulous, and must avoid spilling things on themselves. They should also run quickly, in case they dospill things on themselves.

Requirements: High Charisma, High Intelligence, Extroverted personality type
CEO stands for Central Executive Officer. They run companies. Their job is to make decisions, and justify them. If these decisions are good, the company prospers, but if the decision is made poorly, they company is in serious trouble. CEOs must also justify their decisions before shareholders and the media. There is a big demand for CEOs, especially because those known to make good decisions are in very short supply. (Despite the enormous salary, few people genuinely qualify. Too bad for me, because I would sure love to be paid $29 million per year.)

Requirements: High Wisdom, High Finger Dexterity, willingness to be very very dirty
Plumbers have to build piping systems and fix them when they go wrong. Since pipes can have either clean water or, ehm, used water, the plumber can easily be very dirty indeed when fixing the used water pipes. Which they must have to personally clean.

Requirements: High Strength, Moderate Constitution, Moderate Willpower (is that Wisdom or something else?)
Bouncers eject unruly people from bars, clubs, and similar establishments. They must physically overpower these people, who are often drunk, insane, or infinitely furious. The ejected people have been known to try bargaining, weapons, blows to the groin, pleading, and where applicable, sexual favors. A bouncer must be able to overcome any of these, as anyone ordered ejected is probably up to no good.

Requirements: High Intelligence, High Wisdom, Intuitive personality type, (and possibly introvert)
Physicists try to find reality's rules, and describe them with math. Demand for this job is very low now, particularly because the atomic bomb has already been discovered.

Athletes (in general)
Requirements: High Strength, High Constitution, High Body Dexterity, High Finger Dexterity
Many young children aspire to be athletes when they grow up, but only the most powerful can really succeed at it. The requirements are rather high, depending on the sport, there is a lot of competition for the position, and success cannot ever really be guaranteed, since many people are aspiring to be #1 at any cost.

Requirements: High Intelligence, High Wisdom, High Constitution, Moderate Charisma
Teachers teach people new skills. You need to understand the information, figure out how to explain it, and do the explanation. At the lower grades, you must also prevent the students from distracting each other, and develop immunity as you will be repeatedly sneezed on.
Also, the pay is rather terrible, at least in America.

Medical Practitioner
Requirements: High Intelligence, High Wisdom, Intuitive personality type, High Constitution
People come to you sick, and you figure out the problem and devise a solution. You'll need to be smart enough to pass medical school (which is very hard and takes about 7 years for most people), you'll need to be observant, and you'll need to avoid being personally infected.

Requirements: Moderate Intelligence, Moderate Wisdom, Moderate Finger Dexterity, Verbosity
If a rose had another name
would it smell as sweet?
For a person of many words
this job just can't be beat
Though you'll not make much bread
t'would be good for your head
to express thine own words on a sheet.
Of, you know, paper.

Requirements: High Intelligence, High Wisdom, High Finger Dexterity
Surgeons specialize in healing people by, counter intuitively, cutting them open and moving their parts around. Surgeons need to excise harmful tissues, such as cancer, repair internal damage via sewing, implant devices to improve quality of life, (pacemakers, cochlear implants, and so on), and ultimately sew up their patient so that they can heal.
Surgeons can be more antisocial than other doctors, as they need not ever interact with their patient when the patient is conscious.

Requirements: High Finger Dexterity, High Wisdom
People love gold and silver and platinum and various gems, but what they love even more are those things in a form they can wear on their body. Of course, jewelry doesn't exist until shaped out of its component materials, so this is where you step in.

Requirements: High Intelligence, Patience, Lack of irritation at constant dissembling, Feeling personality type
You can tell them about those scary dreams you've been having, you can tell them about your mother, you can tell them about your fears and anxieties, and they'll listen. Psychologists will listen to what they are told, and will look into the condition of your mind. If you'll listen, they'll suggest things you can do to improve your life.
Of course, many people will endlessly unload and ignore even the most blatantly obvious suggestions, and some people problems are caused not by a problematic life, but by problems with their brain. If the patient refuses to listen, well, that's hardly the psychologist's problem.
If the problem is in their brain, that's where the big-brother of psychologists comes in, the psychiatrist. A psychiatrist is a psychologist with additional medical training, so as to be able to prescribe drugs. The pills will make the voices go away, we hope. If not, there are other pills and therapies.
In a big fit of irony, the founder of psychology was mind-bogglingly insane.

Requirements: High Finger Dexterity, Moderate Body Dexterity, Moderate-High Intelligence, Moderate Wisdom
Electricians create and repair electrical power systems. They need to place wires, remove damaged ones, ensure the smooth flow of electricity, and not get electrocuted.

Requirements: High Intelligence, Moderate Strength, Intuitive personality type
Engineers create machines and structures to solve problems. The machine needs to work, and work well, so an engineer needs to understand physics, chemistry, and a bit of biology.

Requirements: High Charisma, Extroverted Personality Type, Other things that we're not sure of
Politicians run for government offices. Most of them have big ideas of things they should be doing.

Requirements: High Finger Dexterity, Moderate Strength
Mechanics fix broken machines. Most often cars.

Military (lower ranks)
Requirements: High Strength, High Body Dexterity, High Constitution, Willingness to follow orders
Be it the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, or some other branch of the armed services, the most common military job is Infantry, which involves running around someplace while being shot at, and shooting back, all to serve your respective country's national interests.
Soldiers need high strength, so they can hurl bayonets into oncoming enemies, High Body dexterity to dodge projectiles, and high constitution so that they don't immediately die from wounds, disease, and other horrors of the battlefield.
There are other military jobs, but you'd better do them exceedingly well if you hope to stay out of infantry. Because every armed force needs lots of that, but few people want to do it.

Military (higher ranks)
Requirements: High Intelligence, High Wisdom, High Charisma, Having been a lower-ranked officer and being promoted a lot
In the higher ranks of the armed services, you no longer do the fighting yourself, but now have to manage the fighting efforts of other people so that your nation wins. You'll need to be smart, observant, and justify your every decision to both your boss and quite possibly the media. Many wars can also bog down into a quagmire politically, which quickly becomes a no-win situation for you, you poor bastard.
Speaking of the media, you'll need to convince them that your nation is awesome and you are totally winning the war, which will end sometime next month in total victory. Even if any or all this is obviously untrue.

Electronic Engineer
Requirements: High Finger Dexterity, High Intelligence, High Wisdom, Sensing Personality Type
Electronic engineer creates things that use electricity to accomplish a task. They need to be able to place components accurately and without damaging them, to know enough about the components and how they work to make their boards accomplish tasks, and to debug problems that arise.

Of course there are more jobs, but I'll cover them in a later entry, as this one is already excessively long.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Simulation Systems, Tests, and Your Employment (Part 1)

Unemployment is a majorly complained-about problem. Workers dislike the inherent poverty, and companies dislike having to search for, hire, and continue to motivate workers. So let's make it easier to get a job, which should benefit everybody. More people might quit, but they'll quit in favor of a job they prefer.

Various human traits are involved with successful employment. There are a number of models I could draw from, but I'm going to draw from Dungeon's and Dragons, which put together a simplistic model to enable people to pretend to be people very different from themselves. (If forced to play their own self, D&D groups would be radically unbalanced.) It produces six scales of traits, three physical, and three mental, which are randomly generated at the start of play. (You roll three dice to get the numbers. Everyone WANTS high numbers, but the dice effectively take it out of human control.) Over simplistic, perhaps, but if I make this system too complex, it'll collapse under its own weight.

Personality also makes a difference. A salesman and a computer programmer will need wildly different personalities to succeed in their respective fields. If you forced one to take the other's job, they would be miserable. Again, I have an oversimplified model of the Myers-Brigg's tests that boil personality down to four key traits. Introversion vs. Extroversion, Intuition vs. Sensing, Thoughts vs. Feelings, and Perception vs. Judgment.

I'll talk about D&D for a while, if you're familiar with the game, feel free to skip the next few paragraphs or so. I'll also talk about good ways to improve yourself in that field, so it may be good reading anyway.

The D&D traits are strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma. The three-dice system generates numbers between 3 and 18, so 3 was arbitrarily decided to be the lowest-end of this trait found in humankind, and 18 the highest. A person with 3 strength breaks their arm while toweling off after a bath, while a person with 18 strength weight-lifts for fun and can easily ram through doors and rip handcuffs off their wrists.

Strength is, of course, having big muscles and a great ability to exert physical force. The best way to improve yourself, if you think you're deficient here, is to lift weights. Also, avoid watching television, as sitting still makes your body reabsorb the muscle.

Dexterity in D&D involves both the ability to move out of the way of obstacles, reflexes and so on, and also the ability to do fine work with your fingers. I'd split this for my model into body-dexterity (do gymnastics, dance), and finger dexterity (put this tiny gem into this ring and close the tiny wire around it). This is again improved by practice, so dancing and gymnastics will, if done daily, improve your body dexterity, and doing small-scale work like knitting or making miniatures is a great idea for finger dexterity.

Constitution is a general healthiness. A person with great constitution can both fight off disease and keep exerting themselves for hours. Constitution isn't technically a requirement for any job, but companies would prefer to hire workers with great constitution, as they will have fewer sick days, and put less strain on the health insurance. To improve yours, get regular aerobic exercise, eat a varied diet, but not too much or too little, and be sure to sleep consistently, enough, and at the same time every night. (Human bodies are odd about sleep!)

Intelligence is a general catchall of the ability to reason, learn, and remember. It is controversial, because it is ill defined and a major part of human identity. (D&D asserts that all animals have an INT score of 1 or 2, much much lower than any human. This seems...dubious.) Reading is great for this trait, if you think about what you've read. Education is also great exercise for it. This actually matters less than most people think it does.

Wisdom is an ill-defined trait that enables you to notice things. A person with high wisdom is observant, contemplative, and understanding. A person with poor wisdom is absent-minded, distracted, and impulsive. A high wisdom score is essential for any knowledge work, or unpredictable field. Improve yours with quiet reflection, meditative hobbies, and perhaps a trip to a museum. Avoid jangly, distracting mediums such as television.

Charisma is the ability to influence people using charm and force of personality. As a word, it derives from the Greek for "favor,' as they assumed that charismatic people were blessed by the gods. Anyone who wishes to have a public-facing job will need this. There are a lot of disagreements as to if you can influence your own or not. The closest one I can think of to a reliable improvement in charisma is acting classes. It also helps to be sociable, hygienic, and witty.

Okay, the D&D nerd-out is over. You may resume reading.

Now the Myers-Briggs. These two psychologists felt that all people had all eight of these traits, but balanced differently, with one more profoundly showing through, and one only meekly and privately. The one that is shown vs. the one that isn't reveals traits in personality. Let's go over the four dichotomies.

The first is introversion vs. extroversion. An introvert is more concerned with his or her own internal self and ideas, is worn out by social contact (whether they seek it or not), and tends to have a few close friends. An extrovert, in contrast, is more interested in other people, feels built up and excited by other people, and feels "faded away" when alone. They have many friends, most of them more casually than the introvert.

The second is Intuition vs. Sensing. The Intuitive types seek abstraction and big systematic understanding, and the Sensing types prefer the concrete, direct, and small details.

The third is Thinking vs. Feeling. Thinkers put weight into logic, Feelers demand emotional positions. A Feeler will find a Thinker cold and inhuman, a Thinker will find a Feeler irrational and silly. (But both have important roles to play in a civilization.)

The last is Perception vs. Judgment. Perceivers want to keep the options open until they have enough evidence to make a decision, whereas Judgers want to have a plan ahead of time.

Myers and Briggs both assert that only the person themselves has true knowledge about where they would fall, but a number of tests on the internet can offer their advice.

Next up, how to use these traits to find a job you'll be happy with.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Artificial Diet

A current interest at the moment that I constantly see promoted is "all natural diet." People worry that preservatives and processed foods are ruining their health, and so wish to replace processed food with naturally grown fruits and vegetables. Everywhere I go I see food vendors brag about how natural and unprocessed their food is.
I can see why they would claim that, since food processing tends to leech micronutrients from the food, and people show a marked preference for anything natural over anything artificial. The processed food tries to make it up with an "enrichment" process, but they don't add much back. One writer compared it to being "robbed of $25, and refunded 99 cents."
However, the contrarian in me notes that "natural" doesn't mean "good for your health" necessarily. Arsenic and cyanide are natural, while the vitamin C capsules I occasionally take are utterly artificial. So I'd like to try, as an experiment, an all artificial diet. Everything I would consume for the week would be synthesized in a laboratory. No plants, no animals, just tablets and powders.
Part of what I would learn is the state of understanding of human diet. When proteins were isolated from carbohydrates and fats, it was noted that proteins helped people survive. So "protein" means literally "essential to life." At this time, it was assumed that protein was enough to survive on. Which it wasn't, really. Sailors often developed deficiency diseases like scurvy, because all they had to eat was hardtack. Scurvy was assumed to just be some kind of seaborne disease.
Then vitamins were discovered. These are trace nutrients that you need to survive. A proof was developed that giving a scurvy sufferer citrus fruit, (all of which is rich in vitamin C), cured their scurvy. The idea of vitamins made such an impact on the public that to this day there is a pseudomedicine that revolves around the idea of megadoses of vitamins curing all disease. (Suppliments may help your immune system, but this is otherwise wrong.)
Then it was discovered that traces of certain minerals were also necessary. In the 19th century, anemia was a disease of young, unmarried women, and for sociological reasons, cured by marriage. This was because her father likely skimped on providing her with certain foods, (especially expensive red meat), whereas her new husband had every reason to feed her properly. Iron, magnesium, copper, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, chromium, sodium, and potassium are all needed by the body in trace amounts. Too much also creates problems.
If there are any additional dietary needs, they are not known. By performing this experiment, I hope to discover them. At the end of the week, I would have a physical exam and resume my existing diet. I am also hoping that synthesized food proves cheaper than natural, but probably not unless produced in bulk.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Light Up Purse

At I Heart Switch, women talk about using electronic engineering to improve their lives. A recent project of theirs was about purses. Almost all purse carrying in the US is done by women, as a replacement for pockets that women's clothing often doesn't have and men's clothes almost always does. A common problem with purses is that they are dark inside, forcing the user to fumble around until she feels the tool she was looking for. This is even worse in unlit places like raves, movie theaters, and bars, where overhead illumination is insufficient to see even the top layer of the purse's contents.
So I Heart Switch's solution was an internally lit purse that activated a small light when the purse was open, and turning this light off when the purse was closed. A magnet determines the open/closed state of the purse, and a 9V battery provides the power. For aesthetic reasons, the battery, electronics, and back of the light can be sewn into fabric strips, which would then be sewn to the sides of the purse. The fabric strips conceal the electronics, which shouldn't be removed anyway.
The creator of this ingenious invention, Ms. Lewis, made a short video about its production.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

More On Water

Scott Adams, the former engineer cartoonist who writes Dilbert, predicts that the next crisis will be a water shortage. I can believe this, with more and more regions worried about not having enough clean and potable water to get by. For all my life, my birth region of southern California has imported all its drinking water from northern California, which in turn has been importing it from northwestern California. All regions that I know of are straining their dwindling resources on this matter.
Only a tiny amount of this is due to direct human consumption. I personally drink about 1 gallon per day, but bathe (~60 gallons), wash (~20 gallons), and water (~50 gallons?) far more. The thirstiest work of all being agriculture, since all plants are quite thirsty, and animals often even moreso. A cow can drink it's own weight in water every week, in addition to needing to water its food, wash the cow, and so on.
This seems deeply ironic, because the earth is some 75% covered in water. However, much of this is the salt water of the ocean, useful for neither drinking nor washing. We humans are animals that must remain isotonic, that is, having the "same" volume of salt inside and outside our cells, to survive. Drinking salt water would only serve to strain your kidneys and make you thirstier still. Washing with salt water would render your cleaning agents useless, as well as leave a corrosive salty deposit covering the surface of whatever you washed.
Some of what remains is too polluted to drink. Many bodies of water in the US are contaminated with various chemicals, such as PCBs, mine tailings, and pesticides, and no longer fit for human consumption. Many others have an excess population of bacteria, amoebas, and other microorganisms that render drinking them unsafe.
There are ways to clean this water, but all of them are expensive, impractical, and require considerable energy input. So anytime we pollute water, we're really shooting ourselves in the foot. Other techniques are politically unfeasable, like water reprocessing. Australia is a very thirsty desert continent, but it can't reprocess the used water because that disgusts people. Any government that tried would see itself promptly losing the next election.
We should invest in water-processing technology, that we might all have non-vile water for our uses. We should also refill the various resource's we've been tapping, lest they all run dry. Perhaps we can refill lakes with reprocessed water, as the lake's native life does not know or care where it's water has been, whereas the human population definitely does.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Human Flesh Search -- Banned!

On the Chinese Internet, outraged posters have had a technique for a while that is loosely translated as "Human Flesh Search Engine." Basically, they harness the six-degrees-of-separation effect, and ask their friends about things, who ask their friends, who eventually know the information they seek. The information they seek is usually the identity of a person who has made a particularly obnoxious posting.
Eventually, they get the person's information and some extra photos and possibly his address. This is enough to physically find him and lay his comeuppance upon him. Or if not physical revenge, an interview with his mother, where she talks about how he used to wet the bed or some other humiliating tidbit.
Since one popular target of Human Flesh Searches are corrupt government officials (who get their private addresses revealed for harassment's sake), the city of Xuzhou has passed a regulation, to come into force on June 1st of this year, forbidding the human flesh search. It prohibits posting anything deemed to be private, and penalties range from a 1000 yuan fine (~$250?) to prohibition from using a computer at all for six months. The use of the term "human flesh search" is also forbidden
Public reaction has been so far to threaten to human flesh search the city officials, thus revealing their private addresses, to declare human flesh searching to be a human right, and threats to move to elsewhere where it remains legal. As far as New Jersey. (read: America)
This capability has long been noted in Chinese society. Pamphlets in World War II advised American soldiers that extensive social contacts in the country made asking around random people you hired the best means of gathering information. (Although these same pamphlets also suggested avoiding racism and other things that are quite obvious today but weren't in 1941.) However, it's only recently that the Internet has also been available in China, and appreciable results produced from this.
On one hand, I do approve of fighting corruption. On the other hand, this can so easily be abused. People are human-flesh searched for disagreeing with group-think, for being attractive and female, for "embarrassing" China in any fashion (including things that are not controversial in any other country), for general insufferable-ness, or for posting something stupid. And being searched could ruin your life if you are found. Targets have been threatened with vandalism, murder, and torture. (Admittedly, the worse one's internet "crime," the worse the results of being found. The murder and torture threats were mostly against criminal and evil government officials.)
Is the benefit from woman being able to be on the Internet without a thousand skeeves knowing where she lives worth the loss of an important way to encourage honesty in government? For that matter, will the ban do anything other than encourage a new euphemism for the same practices? (Some commenters seemed nonplussed by the threatened penalties.) Can the human flesh search be wielded for the use of good without succumbing to the temptations of evil?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Holy Wars

If there's one thing I've thought weird about my particular field of expertise, it is the tendency of experts in computer science to engage in "holy wars," in which a particular practice is irrationally touted as "the one true way," and all opposing tendencies are denounced as evil.

Holy wars emerge on all kinds of matters. Long ago there were editor wars, in which people argued about the one-true-way(tm) to edit text. There were two competing programs in mainframes, vi and emacs. Vi was super-minimalistic, designed for low-bandwidth connections. Every byte counted, so it avoided sending extraneous information. Emacs was a highly detailed editor that allowed you to do all kinds of tasks to the text while you edited it. This was helpful because much of the text being edited was program-code, and emacs could compile it for you, show you the results, and bring you back to the code. With a keystroke. Emacs could also debug, spell check, and if you were feeling depressed about your code not working, it had "ELIZA," an imitation psychologist based on a school of psychology that rephrased your questions to give you a new perspective.

In the editor wars, the opposite tendencies of each side were routinely mocked. Vi fanatics ridiculed emacs's complexity ("Escape-Meta-Alt-Ctrl-Shift," because emacs editing often involved hitting chords of keys to trigger particular tasks), the code size, ("Eight Megabytes And Constantly Swapping". Eight megabytes was a lot of memory back then.) and the tendency to do everything within the editor. ("It's not an editor, it's an OPERATING SYSTEM.") Emacs fans found Vi oversimplified, and therefore stupid. But rather than see it as a matter of preference (which it was), the other faction was "evil" for not accepting your assumptions as true.

Celebrities in the field also promote holy wars. Let us take the case of Edsger Dijkstra. Mr. Dijkstra is a brilliant programmer who invented the shuttling yard algorithm, taught at Texas A&M, and seriously caused a revolution in networking. He also has an utter hatred of unconditional jumps as a programming technique. Most languages use the keyword "goto" to do unconditional jump, and Mr. Dijkstra wrote an essay denouncing it as "Goto considered harmful." He also despises COBOL, although to be fair, so do most people who have used it.

These little quibbles are called "Holy wars" after their resemblance to "religious" fights in the past -- the stakes are small, the fighting is vicious, and after all is said and done, little is gained. The practitioners are convinced of the superiority of their own way of doing things and offended by the very existence of alternatives.

Currently running holy wars in computer science include Windows vs. Macs, GPL vs. BSD, proper tabbing for programming (in which tabs often suggest which loops belong where, but how many spaces per tab is hotly contested), GUI vs CLI, KDE vs. Gnome, and scripting vs. compiling.

The strange thing is, I really don't see much of this in other fields. I don't see Jungian psychologists having a slap-fight against the Freudians. I don't see vicious, insult-riddled debates between architects, even among the many schools of design with conflicting ideas. I've yet to hear of the Cubist painters swearing that Pointillism was eviler than eating babies. Is this because I talk to more Computer Scientists than other majors, or does CS just inherently attract mostly insufferably picky people?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


XKCD is an online comic about math, science, and nerd issues in general, that, this previous monday, made an interesting commentary on security in general.

In the strip, he compares what most cryptology fans assume would happen with strong encryption, that their secrets are safe because it is mathematically difficult to retrieve the information, verses the actual ugly truth.

Anyone willing to spend a million dollars to decode the contents of your hard drive by force is also willing to savagely beat you with a rubber hose, (or in Mr. Monroe's strip, a $5 wrench) until you reveal the password needed to access the information. For you see, all security has some point of failure. By installing this extensive cryptography system, the point of failure has been moved from the seizing of the hard drive, to the unfortunate sensitive flesh of the owner.

Let us say that I have an irrational (or even justified) fear of home invasion, so I spend a million dollars hardening my door. My front door is now able to endure blasts of dynamite without structural damage, is essentially impossible to pick, and repels abrupt force. Let us also say that you wish to break in and steal something of mine. Maybe my stereo happens to be more awesome than yours and you want it. Maybe I have state secrets that you wish to give to a rival state. Maybe you want to arrest me because I've committed a crime. It doesn't matter why you want in, how will you do it?

Probably, you'll either bust down a side or back door, or break one of my windows and hop through it. I didn't think to reinforce those, so you make it in easily. And then my awesome stereo / state secrets / stack of money / body/ whatever it is that you wanted is yours to grab.

Perhaps you think that it is pessimistic to assert that perfect security is impossible. It doesn't need to be, though. I don't need to make my front door impossible to pick if my neighbors tend to call the police if they see someone strange fiddling at my door for more than five minutes. The safe I keep my money in need only hold off any safe cracker until I can show up with a weapon to threaten him for trying to steal from me. And if I ever need a bulletproof car, it need not resist an infinite barrage, merely keep me un-shot enough to get to the airport and get the hell out of that city.

Security is about making your point of failure impractical, not impossible. A burglar will prefer to rob that other house up the street, the one that the door never closes properly and the neighbors all hate him for blaring music at 4am. Don't be that guy and your things are reasonably safe.
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