Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Premiership of domains

Last weekend I had a chance to watch a bit of English Premier League match (that's soccer or football as it is called in the Old World) between "Aston Villa" and "Queens Park Rangers". Performance of both teams could not be called superb although Rangers, who joined the League only in this season, were very persistent and controlled ball much more than Villans. Interesting detail caught my attention.

Those ad boards you can inevitably see around the play field do have all sorts of ad messages and promote all kinds of businesses. Some of those businesses more traditional than others but usually they encompass something tangible. That field though had a different kind of ad - it was ad of "Go Daddy", online domains registrations and hosting company. The firm that employs athletic looking ladies Danica Patrick and Gillian Michaels to promote online services to those who in need of online presence. Mastodon of internet hosting that reportedly registered roughly half of all domains out there in the cyberspace.

Those who can be considered soccer fans do not represent the most patient part of society. If "Go Daddy" decided spent a bunch of money (it is hard to believe that ad boards at English Premiership games are inexpensive) that might mean that interface this company currently offers for websites and domains management is going to be streamlined and simplified. It is very confusing in its present state even for those who does do something there frequently. One guy, soccer fan himself, described to me his experience of going to his "Go Daddy" account as if he suddenly finds himself on Las Vegas Strip with all those lights and ads around him. If millions of soccer fans rush to "Go Daddy" website after Premiership season, technical support of that company can explode due to high volume of calls. But who knows, may this is also a kind of strategy they have - to keep interface confusing so people would be calling so agents could upsell something. That's how usually credit card companies push insurance and other related services, you call to sort out some ridiculous charge on your card and end up listening to a long speech about amazing promos only weirdos don't take advantage of.

It was also interesting to learn that British Prime Minister David Cameron is an "Aston Villa" fan. He was on the bench for dignitaries there watching the match with his young son. His facial expression was very intense at times. And no one could say what would be the reason for that: lackluster performance of his favorite team, aggressive promotion of "Go Daddy" or all those problems euro displayed so spectacularly last couple of months.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Creepy integer

Well, new year arrived and people still doing their best to keep up with new year's resolutions. Like some of us I got back to coding. It is getting busier lately. Seems like everyone finally exiting that seemingly endless loop of celebrations and business activity is back to its normal (why unemployment is growing in BC is a different matter though).

One question a programmer, mathematician (or numerologist for that matter) might ask in this year is what's the deal with the number of 2011? Does 2011 as a number possess any properties worth noting? Well, turns out it does. There is a remarkable property that number has. I discussed that property with several people (none of them programmers) and many of them find it amusing, even amazing and all of them think it is utterly creepy at the same time.

The number of 2011 is the prime one. That's it, there is no divisors of it except for 1 and itself, 2011. Not only that - it is also sum of 11 other primes numbers. Curious detail about those 11 is that all of them are consecutive ones. And finally creepiest part - one of them is 211!

Here we go:


Chances are lots of people might find this fact significant enough to contemplate on it and even take it into consideration while planning different events for the current year. Next prime is in six years period, in 2017. But arithmetical properties of 2017 may be overshadowed by another fact - it is 100 years since Russian revolution took place and changed the whole world so profoundly. Whether or not people would think of it as of something creepy too is yet to be seen.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Obesity and software developers

Recession is still going on in both Canada and USA (there are reports that even way beyond those two) and there are many speculations in media about what needs to be done to fix things. Naturally, businesses everywhere are trying to reduce cost of production and streamline processes. Experts are digging up for hidden obstacles that prevent productivity to get unfolded in its full grace. Some findings of those experts are unexpected. For example, as many newspapers and media giants like CNN reported, obesity. Obesity of workforce is a barrier for US economy, they say, to achieve productivity levels needed for getting off the recession hook.

When I shared news with a friend of mine, she was somewhat puzzled how obesity can be such a serious issue for productivity (while being a serious issue for other reasons of course) if all manufacturing is primarily done outside of North America. In a way, that make sense. It is possible to picture how obese worker can produce less in his shift than his lean counterpart somewhere in South East Asia where reportedly many manufacturing jobs were outsourced. But in service industry, office environment it is less imaginable. Obese person can type on computer keyboard as fast as non-obese. The same applicable to phone conversations, car driving etc. They say productivity loss is due to lost workdays by medical reasons too but obesity does not look in that regards as some kind of significant exception - when fall comes, every office experiences the same wave of lost workdays when employees are dealing with cold and flu.

At the same time, I don't want to pretend that I understand much in macroeconomic studies. There are many things in the world that do look improbable but they are true. Those studies most likely have solid stats and math behind it and, after all, there are still some manufacturing jobs left in North America. I guess mere facts that I live in Vancouver and work in software development industry kind of distorting my perception of the problem. There are not too many obese people in our city and almost none in the industry.

That brings actually a strange observation - not only software developers but IT people in whole are fairly lean individuals in general. I saw armies of them in college, then in BCIT where different seminars organized by IT companies are held and at multiple industry events like those large and pompous Microsoft happenings in downtown. They are very often skinny and sometimes not incredibly athletic. But almost never obese or close to being obese.

Why is that? There are evidences that brain is the most voracious consumer of energy in human body. If you write code you need to let your brain to consume the energy at extremely high levels. Writing code can be a very exhausting process mentally and, strangely enough, physically. After intense sessions of coding, debugging or even researching, I feel sometimes like I finished Marathon distance - tired and hungry. Overall speaking, the same is applicable to writing in general, not just coding but, say, blogging or essaying.

Saying that, by the way, I am not trying to say that software developers are smartest individuals on the planet (well, some of them pretty close to it I guess - Scott Guthrie of Microsoft for example). There is no definitive correlation between thinking hard while producing code and quality of produced code. Sometimes hours can be spent without any descent output delivered.

At the same time I knew quite smart individuals who don't look like those who practice yoga on regular basis. One guy, expert in numbers theory, whom I knew from university years, looked like the kid from the animated movie "Up!".

In a long run, I would say, obesity as a productivity preventer will be removed as obstacle. It may happen because life style and food habits of people in North America are shifting to better. Chances also are that IT people will continue to stay lean. And hopefully Starbucks will not discontinue its Fruit&Grain bar - great product to maintain productivity while staying skinny.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Kafka and iPhone

Although my prime occupation is related to technology, my personal relationships with various technologies can be described in terms of Kafkaesque ambivalence: I don't really crave that much for being up to date when it comes to latest gadgets or cool services like Twitter but I push myself hard enough to get the latest when working on a concrete web project. Due to that peculiar fact my personal arsenal of available innovations gets updated rarely and almost always not by me.

That's probably why I have got iPhone only now, long after hysterical tsunami of iPhonification got subsided (well, unless you don't consider iPad as some kind of variation on iPhone theme). My wife bought it for me so I would stay better connected with the world. That made sense for my old cell phone was as ancient as the one you could see in the sequel of "Wall Street" when Michael Douglas receives back his personal items at the very beginning.

I have to admit - all that iPhone hysteria is not entirely baseless. iPhone is really cool piece of electronic engineering. Touch screen provides with shockingly new experience for those who relied solely on keyboard and mouse for the last decade or so. Numerous iPhone apps and bells and whistles can make anybody feel deeply entertained and in a way powerful. But for me personally the greatest revelation was its book store, iBook.

That's not to say that I never bought and read electronic books before. I have Kindle and did quite a bit of reading on it. But my Kindle compared to iPhone is like medieval arquebus to M-16. Reportedly, such comparison is not totally alien to executives for as per news from media purchased a hi-tech company in New York to develop its own touch screen technology in response to Apple's challenge.

The ease with which one can read and leaf through iBook is very addictive. Moreover, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that a great deal of classic literature available at iBook store free of charge. Majority of them are made available via Gutenberg Project. I was able to download and peruse books I did not open since early childhood, those like "Treasure Island" and "Black Arrow" by Stevenson, or "The Hound of the Baskervilles" by Conan Doyle, or "Ivanhoe" by Walter Scott. Reading it in English, recollecting its Russian translation read far away and long ago, comparisons and finding familiar details was increadible fun.

One author though was of special interest for me - Franz Kafka. Some of his books are also available as free downloads for both iPhone and Kindle. Nevertheless, I went extra mile and bought "The Metamorphosis" with a great deal of comments and data on author for something like $2.99. I did start reading that story on computer sometime ago (at really good website of but never had a chance to complete reading due to lack of spare time. iPhone is making now possible for me to fill that embarrassing literary hole in my not so classical education. I read whenever I have a moment. Even in the line up in Starbucks.

Reading Kafka makes me feel kind of delirious; reading about his life makes me delirious and sad. His family ended up terribly in flames of WWII. He himself died of hunger at a quite young age (not of the lack of food but due to some complication with his throat). His final will to have all his writings to be burned unread is equally delirious and sad. Reading Kafka on iPhone inevitably brings up an idea that if iPhones were available in Kafka's time, sadness component maybe much smaller in his biography (I don't mind delirium of his writings though).

I was driving yesterday morning to work and saw some homeless dude pushing rusty shopping cart with his dirty belongings in front of him. He had easily recognizable Apple's headset under stained baseball cap. Apple's market penetration is almost absolute at this point. Nothing Kafkaesque about it though.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Labour Day

That was a busy summer for me. I had several projects to work on and also was on short trips around my province and Washington State. So, in a way, it did not feel like much of a summer in a sense we usually perceive that joyful season with its supposedly careless time passing. It is Labour Day now. Kids and college students are going back to school tomorrow. Weather turned to its regular Great Pacific North-West raining (I like it though, no complaints). Summer is over and all business people presumably are back in saddle tomorrow morning.

Celebrating Labour Day for a number of years now I never bothered to inquire what exactly origins of this holiday are. Well, Google, as usually, was quick to shed some light in the issue. What I have read surprised me. First of all Labour Day is a holiday in many countries, all of them related to British Empire in the past even though celebration dates do differ. It is first Monday of September in Canada and USA but say in Jamaica the date is May 23. Origins of that holiday in Canada can be traced to Toronto Typographical Union's strike back in 1872. That's not overly surprising per se but the cause of that evidently memorable strike can be stunning to a regular inhabitant of 21st century: workers were on strike demanding a 58-hour work week.

The source I was reading did not specify how long the work week was for Toronto typographical workers at the time but one can assume it was longer than 58 hours. Regular work week in Canada and many other countries now is 40 hours. People do overtime of course (some are really eager to get it for it is double pay or so usually) and many work part time jobs with anything between 32 and 8 hours. That's kind of incomprehensible to imagine what was it like to work over 58 hours per week as a worker in probably very spartan conditions, low productivity and most likely mentally dulling environment of 19th century Toronto typography.

That made me think a bit about what exactly my work week length looks like. Of course, I do as overwhelming majority of Canadians 40 hours per week plus some extra hours at nights when I work with small businesses of my area. But is it really 40 hours I do what I do for living? I mean, do I really plan, write, debug, deploy, integrate etc code for software all that time? Well, not exactly. Sometimes I can spend long hours thinking about some freakish issue in my code and spend few minutes fixing it when solution somehow emerges.

One of the weird things about it is that once you have your mind focused on the issue, it does not really matter what you do at any given moment. I mean, I can be on my way to washroom, roaming around about office without real purpose or even talk to somebody when suddenly I can see the light in a tunnel so to speak. I wonder what my management or co-workers think of me in those moments. I am not sure they realize I continue staying focused on the problem, almost against my own will. Oftentimes I do think of it when driving home or even while sleeping.

In that regard, my work week definitely not 40 hours but something very different. It can be much shorter or much longer depending on circumstances or some particularly mind bending puzzle I need to solve one way or another. In a way, 40 hours work week is quite ritualistic guideline that has little to do with actual state of affairs.

I read about a 19th century English scientist who visited once a plant of Stanford, a prominent American industrialist. It used to be 60-hours work week there back then in such conditions that the Englishman later wrote that "6 months of working here would justify suicide". I guess back then titles like "The 4-Hour Workweek" by Tim Ferriss might have been considered as a cruel joke or downright stupidity.

It is hard to say to whom we should be thankful more for bringing down working hours and improvement of working conditions - Trade Unions or technological revolution. Maybe both. But most likely combination of true democracy and capitalism did the trick as a fundamental prerequisite making, paradoxically, Labour Day free of labor.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Primes distribution as creativity pattern

When researching on some complicated issue for transforming Word files into PDF format programmatically, I came across an interesting website: Project Euler. That site offers numerous mathematical problems for solving by means of computer programming. Many of them are about miscellaneous properties of prime numbers.

Leonard Euler was a Swiss mathematician who worked most of his scientific life in Russia. He has contributed a lot to mathematics and anybody who learned math somehow in the past would be able to recollect a thing or two related to that renown scientist. There are many discoveries made by him in the field of prime numbers as well.

Prime numbers is one of the most incomprehensible concepts in arithmetics. It defies intuition and, is a way, common sense too. Paul Erdos, probably most eccentric mathematician of all times, spent many years researching the topic and was so baffled by primes properties that he re-phrased Eistein's expression - maybe God does not roll dice in the Universe but something really strange is going on with prime numbers.

Best known property of primes is probably that there is infinite number of them among integers. The proof of that fact is a classic example of the approach called Reductio ad absurdum. This is when you pretend that there is a greatest prime number somewhere far away and disproving that by the ability to construct even greater prime. Another property is that there are primes separated by just one integer, like 3 and 5, or 41 and 43. They are referred to as twin primes. One of the biggest mysteries in math is whether or not there is an infinite number of those twin pairs.

But one particular attribute of primes plunges me into abyss of ultimate mental discomfort each time I think of it. It is distribution of them among other integers. It is proven logically, mathematically, beyond any doubt, that there are intervals of consecutive integers of any imaginable length that do not contain any primes. You can pick some unknown (but existent!) integer N and surely there is no primes between N and (N + 1000). Or N and (N + 1000000). An so on.

That curious feature led me to a weird analogy. Creativity as a process (at least as I am familiar with it) is highly irregular. Primes distribution is a good way to describe it - there can be extremely long periods with not even a hint for any creativity spark, almost endless intervals of mental drought. Then something comes up and I am able to accomplish a little bit, not necessarily terribly significant. Does infinity of primes can be anyhow hopeful consideration in that regard? Yes and no, as professional database administrators and software consultants love to say. Yes, because there is always a chance that any given fruitless period will end. No, because days of human life are very much limited by its nature unlike number of primes among integers. Despite those long primeless stretches, primes do have important ally on their side - infinity.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Twitter for revolutionaries

Today is May 1. A holiday of a sort, International Workers' Day. This holiday is traditionally loved and much celebrated by revolutionaries. Not technology or scientific revolutionaries (those folks usually quite indifferent to any kind of holidays) but traditional ones, those who rebel against social injustice no matter real or otherwise.

Times much changed since those days when paper leaflets were major conduit for propagation of revolutionary ideas. Technological marvels are seemingly fully employed for that purpose nowadays. And probably nothing else used for cause as heavily as Twitter. Sickle and hammer, red star or Boston tea if you will were unbelievably replaced by cute blue chirper.

Since Twitter was released two major social upheavals were reportedly organized with Twitter as communication medium. One is weird and not entirely understandable to me unrest in Moldova, tiny country sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine. Masses there were trying to storm government buildings, twitting to each other operative information. The world remembers those events primarily due to Twitter's involvement than otherwise.

Second time Twitter's usage was noticed was during extremely complex situation in Iran, right after elections. Social protests there were emotional, widespread and bloody. I don't want to pretend I understand politics in that part of the world either. But I do remember reports that Twitter's usage was quite profound there with lots of counter-intelligence and false twits employed by government secret services in order to deceive protesters.

Hugo Chavez, Bolivarian Twitterist

Last week all major news companies readily reported that Hugo Chavez, well-known South American politician, set up a Twitter account. Mr. Chavez is a president of Venezuela, he portrays himself as Bolivarian revolutionary. He is also relentless critic of Unites States policy towards Latin America (and other places). His decision to have an account on Twitter was very surprising, moreover he himself characterized Twitter just couple of months ago as "tool of terror".

Things changed from those recent days. Not only Mr. Chavez acquired scores of followers (some put the number as high as 100 000) he also promotes Twitter. In an unusual way - he urged two other famous revolutionaries, Fidel Castro of Cuba and Evo Morales of Bolivia, to join him on Twitter. Whether they would decide to join or otherwise is not clear yet. But if they do, Twitter, a technological child of the country all three of men are or were in some state of standoff, would boast of being associated with most legendary revolutionaries and anti-americanists alive. That would be a globalization on the most grand scale possible, unimaginable point of co-existence of arch-nemeses.

One small detail though should be mentioned here. Mr. Chavez and Mr. Castro both known for being captivating and verbose orators. At the same time Twitter has limitation of 140 symbols per tweet. Chances are it might not be enough for them to express themselves fully via Twitter at its present state. Whether or not Twitter would consider tailoring its tweeting policies to accommodate revolutionary oratory is not entirely clear. But if they do I would be sorry once again for not being fluent in Spanish. As a kid I saw some old films where El Barbudo was giving revolutionary speeches. It was in a language I did not understand but absolutely mesmerizing nevertheless.