Day 287 – … And Other Nonesense

79 – Top 100 Conspiracy Theories of All Time

Of course… conspiracies are conspiracies are conspiracies. But most baffling I find conspiracies that are provably wrong with cold hard facts.

Some of the items on the list, although conspiracies, at least have the potential of being true albeit extremely unlikely and therefore needing extremely strong evidence to support their extraordinary claim. Hitler could have faked his own death I suppose, but we all know he didn’t, right?

I find the conspiracies that are just blatantly stupid much more interesting. How do people believe some of these things? Why are we not teaching people to think? Come-on, this stuff really isn’t all that hard…

92 – Atmosphere on the Moon

Because what could make more sense than to think that the dark side of the moon hides lush vegetation and human life? Because, you know… we cannot see that side of the moon. And if we cannot see it, anything could be there. And if anything could be there, it could be purple zebras and unicorns. Therefore, it only makes sense that the government is hiding purple zebras and unicorns from us.

Okay… take a deep breath… (unless you’re on the moon)

We’ve been to the moon.
We’ve roved around.
We know how physics works.

There is no atmosphere there people.

75 – Inside of Earth is Hollow

I like this one. Not only is the headline statement ridiculous to even contemplate…

The detail takes it up another notch; “Some people contend that the earth is really hollow inside and that there are 1400 mile diameter entrances at the north and south poles.” … uh… what?

I think…
…someone would have noticed…
…if there were 1400 mile diameter holes in the planet.

39 – Environmentalism

No, really. This one gets better than you might suspect too.

Apparently, for some, disbelieving the negative effects we have on the environment is in itself not going far enough. Apparently, in a clever double-bluff, the government and corporations created “Environmentalism”, only to then try to disprove its need, and simultaneously profiting off selling environmental products to the masses.

I guess it’s a very clever way to make sure you win no matter which side of the argument wins.

8 – Reptilians Rule the World

I heard of David Icke while I was studying in university. I thought someone was making a joke about him. Apparently not.

I have to admit, it’s a compelling story. And one very successfully executed by “V”. But that doesn’t make it true.

Day 286 – Healthy Hogwash

80 – The 100 Greatest Cures You Cant Have

I didn’t even need to follow the link to know what I’d find at the other end. Listening to the Skeptoid podcast is a great way to develop a sixth sense about such things.

The description of the book sounds like the typical “the medical-industrial-complex is keeping back the real cures so they can profit from our sickness” nonsense. But just to be sure I went to the “Health Sciences Institute” website.

As it turns out, this site is a “service” that in exchange for a membership fee will give you access to knowledge of all the real cures Big-Pharma have been keeping from us. The author of the book also proves to helpfully be the sole director of this institute.

I have no doubt that there are many systemic problems in the US healthcare system, but I doubt that any organisation would ever hold back a real cure if it existed. Plenty of people are sick… and the competitive advantage of curing what others cannot would quickly see the release of all these supposed suppressed cures.

I also really don’t have a problem with anyone freely choosing to waste their money. But sadly this kind of scam targets low-information buyers first-and-foremost with the promise of a cheaper or better solution. And as always… the only real solution to a problem like this is to educate the population to a level where they cannot be taken in by such a scam.

Day 285 – Artful Procrastination

81 – 100 of the Best Street Art Photos for 2013

I’m going to be lazy tonight. Last day of my holiday, and all I want to do is scroll through a page with pictures on it… so there it is. My favourites from the 100 below, but I urge you to have a look at them all in the link above; some really clever art.

1) Street Art in Olsztyn, Poland

Art doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective.

We all just want a hug sometimes

3) Chalk Art by David Zinn

It is better when it interacts with its surroundings.

Just sweep it under the rug

53) Street Art in Berlin, Germany

It re-defines something that already existed.

Titanic ahoi

66) Street Art by Pabi A – In Lund, Sweden

It pushes “outside the box”.

Taking another path

67) Another brick in the wall – In Gorzow, Poland

It can be subtle and easily overlooked.

I’ve got my eye on you

88) Lego house, Warsaw, Poland

It combines similar-yet-contrasting to mutually clarify.

The downstairs appartment

Day 284 – Last Chance to See

82 – 100 Places to Go Before They Disappear

I have been over-ambitious, but I don’t care.

I’ve had the past week off, and I have gone to a few extra gym classes during that time. I think I have totalled 8-9 for the week compared to my more usual 5-6. I was going to round it out with my usual double this morning.

My first class was trouble… the instructor wasn’t feeling well, and she was heading home thereby about to miss the second class I normally take with her. I think she decided the right way to compensate for this loss was to double the effort in the first class. And I wasn’t paying enough attention to notice as it happened.

It dawned on me that there was a problem when the treadmill between classes felt tougher than it usually does. Although I may not have had legs at that point. I cannot be sure.

I tried to get through the second class with the fill-in, but about halfway through I had no upper-body strength left, and my lower back was aching. It made me concerned over locking up my back again, so I did some extra stretches and quit early.

Now, that’d have been a fine amount of exercise to fill the day with.

But I wasn’t done yet.

By about noon I arrived at Wet’n’Wild. You see… this is the last weekend of the season. Last Chance to Slide. Although I worried it would be a bit cold, the weather was actually fairly cooperative even if the water was not.

I spent 4.5 hours having fun and freezing by turns.
But it was completely worth it.

I tried wading into the lagoon while I was waiting for friends to show, but I quickly gave up. The water was like ice on my legs. I did the thing where you take slow inching steps forward, but I didn’t make it to waist-depth before giving up, afraid.

The big redeeming factor in a water-slide is that you make the commitment to plunge into icy water long before you actually get there. It’s far enough removed that I could rationalise why it was going to be fine… and then once in the slide there is no turning back. An inevitable conclusion.

And the reason I kept going back for more… once you’re doused in icy water, standing in the free air that is a few degrees warmer than the water makes you feel that it’s really not that bad after all.

We managed to do a last run of almost all the slides. Definitely all the ones that were worth doing. Except for the what-do-you-mean-people-got-back-injuries-off-it-Bombora. With my lower-back pain I wasn’t game to tempt fate with that particular jarring drop. I made do with the Half-Pipe which is almost as big a drop, but a much smoother gradient.

I’ll miss the park for the next 4 months.
But I have my fingers crossed that my entry in their feedback-form suggesting they add a floating bar in the lagoon is worthy of a free membership for 2014-15. Because I’ll totally do it all again through summer.

Day 283 – So Much Stuff

83 – 100 Tips to Declutter Your Life

I was happy to find a few pages with relevant tips today.

Keeping things tidy, regardless of whether it is at home or at work, is a lot of effort. The best tip in the lot is to not focus on specific techniques to keep organised, but rather to create habits that lead to organisation. Habits are automatic where techniques require a conscious effort.

I thought I already had a fairly comprehensive set of tidying habits, but one that I had not yet mastered (possibly because it’s a big one), is to not let anything into the house without taking a moment to consider what it’s value is, and whether I should even keep it at all.

I have to admit, I’m guilty of mindlessly accepting flyer, and then stacking them somewhere. The stacks turn into piles. The piles start roaming the house. And they mock me and glare at me. When I’m trying to relax.

Same goes for mail, receipts, magazines… all the things that seem so small and simply individually, but that turn into insurmountable problems over time. Once it’s a stack to be cleaned, it is daunting to even contemplate checking each item, assessing its value, and then tossing what I don’t need.

On top of that it is hard to let go of something once collected. I have toyed with the idea of month-labelled boxes, putting stuff in them, and then when the month comes around again tossing whatever is left in them. If I didn’t need it for a whole year, odds are I’ll never need it again anyway.

It’s just…

Where do I keep the boxes?

Oh, and one little practical tip that really appealed to me is for tidying the house: rather than picking things up and taking them to where they belong… pick up everything in a room and drop it into a basket, then take the basket around the house to put stuff away. It saves on a lot of time and effort walking up-and-down the hallway. I’m going to have to give this a shot. It also gives the instant satisfaction of cleaning out a target area in one go.

Day 282 – Novel

84 – 100 Best Novels

I like reading.
I used to read a lot more than I do now.

My routine used to involve reading a few chapters every night before falling asleep. More than once I have seen the light go on again outside when I hadn’t slept yet. The most seductive thought ever is “one more chapter won’t hurt; it’s not that late yet, and you really want to know what happens next, don’t you?”

I think work and life have conspired to deprive me of that routine. I cannot complain about what has taken the time instead, but still… I miss the reading.

Most of the reading I do at the moment happens when I am waiting for a plane, on a plane, or in Melbourne after dinner by myself in the hotel room with 2 hours to kill between 10pm and midnight. When all you have is a book, reading is what you do. Mostly.

I really love my Kindle as a vehicle for my reading. My love of reading has always seen me carrying too many books around in the past. The number of times I’d pack 3-4 hefty books on a holiday “just in case”… only to never open more than a few chapters of the first one…

With a Kindle that problem disappears. I have essentially my whole library with me if I want to.

But every upside is a downside in disguise.

I have read Ice and Fire for a while now. Without my pre-sleep routine of reading a few chapters, it has been a long slog getting through the books. I also made the mistake of purchasing the first five volumes in a single e-Book… so that percentage counter in the bottom has gone painfully slowly.

But I am winning. 95% now. Not long.

And then what?

I’m not quite sure what to read next. It has been so long since I’ve had to choose a book to read, that I cannot recall what books I have been excited about in the last two years.

The list in the link at the top might give me some ideas.

Although it’ll be a cold day in hell when I’ll actually be interested in reading Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead. They are educational, but not in a good way.

I don’t think I’ve ever actually read Catch-22, or Lord of the Flies, or The Catcher in the Rye. Maybe now is a good time. I may have to be a little careful about which classics I read after each other though. I wouldn’t want to give the NSA the wrong impression, now would I?

It’s been some time since I read The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. That might be a good one to intersperse the other titles with. That’ll cover the next 2 years at least.

Day 281 – Nature of Programming

85 – “Hello World” in 100 Programming Languages

This is a more technical post than the usual 365 fare.
Apologies to the non-programmers.

On the face of it, programming is about creating programs that do something useful. Turning a problem into a solution. And hopefully a working one at that.

To me, programming is about quite a bit more than that; it’s the act of taking an abstract idea and trying to encode all aspects of that idea into a correctly functioning piece of software. I use the word “trying” with purpose, because expressions in real-world programming languages are all just approximations of this ideal. Real-world programs always have some level of defects and “good enough” about them.

In the first instance I’d always strive for the ideal though.

Programming languages provide a great many tools to express meaning; comments, named variables and methods, automated tests, type systems, code contracts with formal verification.

The strongest expressions of meaning are always preferred; a formally verified code contract beats using parameter types alone. Boxing-in the meaning through parameter types beats well considered names. And even code comments beat constraints inherent in the idea that are left un-expressed altogether.

Every piece of meaning from the original idea that is added to a piece of code improves the chances of it getting implemented and maintained correctly. Additional meaning might have the compiler catch you in a lie before it becomes a bug. Additional meaning might help you remember the nit-picky details of how things hang together when you try to work on a piece of code years after you originally wrote it.

When I start with an idea, I look at it from all the angles. I try to work out what the underlying truths of the idea are. And then I try to find a way to translate all of these truths into pieces of the program.

Code contracts can expose code paths that can lead to null pointers where my feeble brain told me it was impossible for them to appear. Exploiting the type system can let the compiler warn me when I’m about to crash the Mars lander by mixing up my feet and metres. Expressively naming my methods and variables can help me spot where I’ve forgotten to sanitise a user-input.

And the trick is to push the encoding of concepts as far as possible into the strongest encodings the language has available.

Sure, I could make all my variables dynamic, then add unit tests to verify appropriate behaviour by variable type… but why not use a strong type system instead? Dynamic variables should really only be used where there is no alternative; maybe because some aspect of the strong type system is too strong to express the flexibility inherent in an implementation. But to use them routinely and then patch the hole with unit tests shows a very profound misunderstanding of the purpose of the type system.

Sometimes approaches can be combined to make an even stronger encoding of a concept. Just using Hungarian Notation to differentiate sanitised user input from un-sanitised user input is a good start… but adding program-wide automated testing in the build system to verify that variables using the naming convention for sanitised input only are assigned from sanitised input, or from the sanitisation method reinforces the concept in a way that makes it almost part of the language itself. A visible portion of the code that is verified by almost-the-compiler.

And there will be concepts that are hard or impossible to encode to the ultimate degree.

A variable name can indicate that the assigned value should only ever be a prime number… but there is very little that can be done to guarantee this is true, beyond hoping everyone is careful not to break that promise in the code. There is no way to reasonably implement a strongly typed “PrimeNumber” type.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying.

And sooner or later, the ad-hoc encodings that have broad use and applicability will turn into new programming language paradigms for the next generation of languages. And they will be harder to program in… but only because they won’t allow us to be nearly as imprecise with our “words”.

You can lament the fact that not using dynamic variables means that you need to put in some extra effort… but all I hear is “why can’t you let me have some more hard-to-diagnose bugs?”

My Fourth Kiss

Flirty Kiss
Flirty Kiss

The Fourth Element: Chocolate Brownie.

Flirtily (!?) Unboxed
Flirtingly (!?) Unboxed

Ready for chocolate overload.

Flirtingly Bitten
Flirtingly Bitten

Rich chocolatey fudgey goodness inside.
Not too sweet, and gooey and crunchy in just the right amounts.

Ranking refresh: First Kiss / Flirty Kiss (shared first), Passionate Kiss (second), Loving Kiss (third).

Only one chance to out-shine them all…

Day 280 – Quick Brown Fox

86 – The 100 Best Typefaces of All Time

I never really think too deeply about fonts. It’s an interesting enough topic, but there are only so many hours in the day and I have to draw the line somewhere.

Whenever I do think about fonts, type design strikes me as an oddly archaic or niche job. I know there are type designers out there, creating new fonts I write this… but call me a heretic; I think most if not all our everyday font needs are well and truly satisfied with what we have.

When I set up this blog I played around a bit with the font selections; I tried a few variants on the classics, I tried a few playful fonts, and I tried a few dreadful ones. But in the end, I always return to close-to-classic because it just works best.

It is very easy to get carried away with fonts. There is a siren-song about font selection that tempts me with infinite possibilities. It tries to make me forget about anything but fonts. It lures me into fonts-for-fonts sake thinking. And that’d be fine if the sole purpose of this blog were to showcase its design.

I don’t want my font choices to be a distraction from the writing, because… then what’s the point?

Helvetica

Helvetica (and Arial and Calibri) may feel “boring”, but that may not be a bad thing. The reason it might feel boring is because it’s everywhere. And it’s everywhere, because it works. Why wouldn’t you want to pick a font that works? Ignore the knee-jerk reaction, and stick with a nice boring classic unless you can articulate why you need something else.

Frutiger

Frutiger (and Corbel) looks familiar but hard to place. It’s a font that gets used on airport signs (and I believe some road signs) specifically because it is very easy to read at a glance for short fragments. Ideal for direction signs. This might also make it a perfect font for headings perhaps?

Garamond

Garamond (and maybe Constantia) look a little old-fashioned, but nice regular and rounded. There is a lot of debate about whether serif or sans-serif is better for readability of body text, but since new studies continue to find for alternating sides in this debate it probably has more to do with familiarity with the font than whether it has little dangly bits.

Times

Times (and Times New Roman and Cambria) are a more modern choice for serif-ed fonts. I personally would look at the serif/sans-serif as more of an issue for visual contrast than whether one is more legible than the other.

Bodoni

Bodoni feels a bit squished to me. Technically I believe this is closer to the definition of a “modern” font, but I could be mistaken. My mind associates it with headings in magazines that have a very high opinions of themselves and their design-cred. This is probably a bad sign. I’m unlikely to every use this myself.

If design and type interests you, I really recommend reading “The Non-Designer’s Design Book” by Robin Williams (no, not the actor). It is a very lucid and simple introduction to the rules of design.

And I’ll leave you with some Commandments…

My Third Kiss

Passionate Kiss
Passionate Kiss

Next in line: Tiramisu.

Passionately Unboxed
Passionately Unboxed

These really are indistinguishable from the outside.
I could buy a stack of these and mix them around for pot-luck.

Passionately Bitten
Passionately Bitten

A little sweet, but not too much.
Sponge-finger-bits also small… but the flavour is sufficiently convincing.

Ranking so far: First Kiss (best), Passionate Kiss (second), Loving Kiss (third).