Category: Happened to me…

Long Time No Read!

The spiders are busy deciding what happened to the old links on this site, while humans find the content just fine using the Search feature. But what happened? In short, we switched from Joomla to WordPress. It’s been a painful process, but one that couldn’t be postponed.

What was wrong with Joomla? Nothing major, really. Joomla is a fine piece of software, despite not being as popular or as beloved by the geeky masses. The crown of the former Kingdom belongs to WordPress, while the one of the other probably to Drupal, as far as PHP is concerned. But I grew increasingly frustrated with the direction Joomla was taking, and the camel’s back broke when I tried to get an Esperanto version of the software. I spent weeks translating and translating, the most boring and redundant strings, only to have the translation administrator disappear, then reappear, then declare he was going to take care of translating from then on, and then disappear again.

I needed sites in Esperanto, and WordPress had an outstanding translation available. I started playing with it, with the software, and found it a lot simpler than Joomla. Sure, there were many things I couldn’t do with WordPress, especially at my knowledge level, but those I could do were far simpler and more straightforward. Did I really need ACLs in my blog? Did I have to create my own templates just to get a tumblr-style image gallery?

I decided I didn’t, and that I wanted for a change to be in the dominant medium on the market. WordPress is the giant of site creation, and for a great reason. So now I converted the content I had (20 years of it, almost), checked that everything worked (it didn’t – at first), and now I am ready for more content creation. Just in time for the end of snow season!

Extrins, Intrexes, and the Wonderful World of Being Semi-social

Are you an extrovert or an introvert? If you’ve ever done a Myers-Briggs test, you are familiar with the questions: Do you prefer being in a crowd when you are stressed, or would you rather retreat? Do you have lots of friends, or just a few, very deep ones? Do you prefer a loud party of 100 or an intimate gathering of 4?

While in parts of the business world the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is almost a religion, it was originally meant as a tool to explain that different people think differently, and that these differences of manner shouldn’t be read as differences of attitude. It’s not that a Perceiver is indecisive – it’s that a P needs data to form an opinion. It’s not that a J is impatient, it’s that until the thing is finished, it may well not exist to her.

The I vs. E dimension, introversion vs. extroversion, is something many people easily identify with, much more so than the other three. In fact, while all other ones require explanation just for anyone to understand what they mean, with this dimension it’s the other way around: people identify first, and then they usually need to be explained what the dimensions mean.

The problem with this dimension is that many people that aren’t on the ends of the spectrum don’t quite know what to make of the classification. They feel neither introverted nor extroverted, but they don’t particularly identify with other “zeros”. What’s going on?

Primary human emotions are few and powerful. Research tells us there are six of them: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust. They are very distinct and come from different places in our brain, having evolved out of reactions to external influencers. Fear, for instance, is an emotion meant to deal with threats. Disgust is supposed to prevent us from doing things (usually: eating them) that could be dangerous for us. Surprise is the way we deal with the unexpected and opens us up for new information.


Cats and Dogs – Why Do So Many Americans Hate Cats?

missionbayMeet Shasta. Shasta is a cat. Shasta is ancient by cat standards, at almost 15. She is a typical cat: cuddly and affectionate when it suits her (which includes 3a with surprising frequency), uninterested and aloof when it feels like one of those days. She plays fetch, she hisses at other cats but loves all humans, and she has long lost interest in all play that doesn’t end in her being fed a treat.

In short, she’s adorable. She’s also very, very docile: even on the roughest of days, she doesn’t scratch. She’ll occasionally bite as a warning when she’s done playing, but never to hurt. She hasn’t met a stranger she didn’t like better than me, probably because I insist on harnessing her when she’s in public.

Yet, there are people that hate her. Hate all cats. I am not talking about those that are allergic to cats, I would understand that. I am talking about people that hate the psychology, such as it were, of cats. Cats, you hear, are perfidious, odious, traitorous. Sometimes it feels like half the negative character words in the English language are kept around just so that cats can be insulted.

Yet, cats rule. The Internet has declared them the winner in the universal cuteness contest, way ahead of dogs. Which is really odd, since there are actually more dog and puppy videos available on the Internet than cats and kittens. As a sort of response, cat haters have gone to great depths to expose the horrifying conspiracy of cat love. Even scientists, documentary film makers, and journalists have been enlisted to expose the tragic horrors of cat worship.

What follows is a series of negative cat myths and my comments about them. Enjoy! (I should mention that I absolutely love dogs. In fact, I’ve been looking at getting a Goberian for the past year. Who can resist a Husky/Retriever mix?)


Site Update!

What do you know, it’s been quiet on here for a while. What happened was a merely technical problem: I knew that the software I use to write this blog, Joomla, was shifting from the version I used (2.5) to a completely new 3.x. That meant that a lot of the things I rely on to provide additional functionality wouldn’t work anymore. Plus, the old software would eventually not be updated any longer, making this site a potential security risk.

That ended up happening. A few days after the last update, I received a message from my hosting provider (Linode, great guys) telling me that this blog was used as an open spam relay and that they would have to shut it down if I didn’t do something about it, soon.

In a moment of wisdom I had moved the site to version control, so it was a breeze to clean it up. What had happened was that the server itself had not been compromised. Instead, security holes in one of the Joomla extensions I used had allowed hackers to push a hidden site update that was used to spam third parties.

I didn’t have the time or inclination to find out what extension it had been, whether it was a known security hole I hadn’t patched fast enough, or whether it was simply my own configuration mistake. I narrowed it down to JDownload and Kunena Forums and just removed both components from the site. Nothing happened after that.

But… I just didn’t feel like pushing something new until I had the site transferred. Since I had been waiting so long for the move, it was probably going to be painful, too. I didn’t want to do it, so I neglected pushing out new content (there are numerous articles that aren’t finished yet, though).


Why I Gave Up On Facebook

DislikeYou probably noticed if you follow me on Facebook: I’ve barely been on there in the past two years. I’ll log on, once in a while, mostly because I remember it’s someone’s birthday and I wish them well on the channel I know they use. But for myself, I am over it. Why?

There was a time when Facebook was cool. That was, of course, before I was on it. It’s when you had to have a .edu address to be on it, it was when college students from Ivy Leagues got an account and nobody else.

I was in the first wave of externals, before the thing exploded into becoming the social hub of the known universe. When people were trying to figure it out and were excited about the ability to share with those they loved or at least cared about.

Then something happened: Facebook wanted to grow, and it wanted money. The relentless pursuit of both is what killed it for me, as Facebook’s wish to grow and make money started getting at odds with my interests, desires, and passions.

First came the desire to grow. Trying to avoid the fate of sleep towns like Orkut and later Google+, Facebook made it way too easy to overshare. Some of it was just poor design, like the option to send messages (and especially game invitations) to All Friends. Some of it was downright shady, like updating the privacy policy and then changing the default sharing options to an ever-wider audience.


What Auxiliary Language Should You Learn and Why

As you may know, among the many languages I speak there is Esperanto. When the average American hears the name, the reaction is probably either Huh? for those that never heard about it, or the general notion of a failed project for those who have.

Also, in general, you’ll find that those that have an active opinion will say that nobody needs a made-up language as a form of communication any longer, since everybody speaks English. Those that do not speak English should just learn it!

So, let me back up and talk for a moment about the two reasons auxiliary languages (like Esperanto) were created. One is that they are nobody’s language – they don’t belong to a particular nation or group. As a result, they remove the inherent superiority of the group that owns the language (i.e. is native in it).

The far more important reason, though, is that auxiliary languages are generally easier to learn. They certainly were designed to be easier, and they generally use regularity and predictability to ensure that you’ll know what they mean.

Each auxiliary language has a slightly or largely different approach to ease of learning and understanding. Some focus on being understandable to a complete novice, others on being easy to parse for people that have had an introduction. Some focus on being easy to learn for a speaker of a particular language or groups of languages; others focus on being fair to everybody.


Interdictum! Excluding Companies by Behavior

Sometimes a company will do something egregious. Something so irritating that it makes me want never to do business with them again. I then put them on a “secret” list, and I do business with them only if absolutely necessary or if they change their ways. This is an introduction to that list.

United Airlines was the first company that made it on the list. It was around the year 2002 and I was flying down to San Diego (from San Francisco) for the wedding of two friends. The wedding was on Sunday, so I flew first thing in the morning on Saturday to have a day at the beach ahead of the nuptials.

I got to the airport and made it through security. Two hours ahead of the flight. Gotta be ready, right? But somehow, the airline had overbooked the flight and kicked us out. It was annoying, sure, but there were plenty flights to San Diego.

The next one came and went. No empty seats, so they wouldn’t seat us. Then the next. Then the next. It was past noon, and we had been sitting at SFO for six hours already. Mind you, we had done everything right: we had bought our tickets well in advance, we had shown up well in advance, we had simply booked a ticket on an airline that sucks.


The Highlight of My Academic Career

It was the day of the Lord 12 February 1989, such as they count in the Old World. I was in the Old World that day, which I know precisely, because I found a trace of it in my keepsake box. Two days before Valentine’s Day of that year which brought about the Fall of the Iron Curtain, I was sitting in a giant lecture hall at the Rheinish Westfaelische Technische Hochschule Aachen (short, RWTH) for the midterms in Theoretical Quantum Mechanics. In German, that’s called a Klausur, which is the local spelling of a Latin word that means, “sequestration.”

It was the most important midterm of my career: I knew I had no business in Experimental Physics, and getting into Theoretical Physics was competitive. The first course in Theoretical Physics, Mechanics, hadn’t shown a whole lot of separating powers. But the second one would coincide with the Bachelor’s Degree, which meant professors were looking at the outcome to pick the students they would mentor.

It happened to be the year that Professor K. taught the class. K. was the dean of the College of Physics and an incredibly respected name. His father had been a famous exponent of the Copenhagen School of Theoretical Physics and the son – not as distinguished, but still a powerful force – had been groomed since birth to become the leader of the Physics movement. I am not kidding: his name was Hans-Albert, which dad had borrowed from his colleague, who had named his own son Hans-Albert… Einstein!

Impressing Hans-Albert (I feel free to call him that, two and a half decades later) was thought to be of fundamental importance. It also was my only chance of getting into the Theoretical Physics circus made famous by Sheldon Cooper on Big Bang Theory. You see, when I watch that show, I recall my own college years: Sheldon is the Theoretical Physicist that gets to look down on Experimental Physicists and to pee on the shoes of the Engineers. That was us, in the day.


Good-Bye Mondo

20131231 my last new years eve morning 20140820 1896241912All of you who knew him will be saddened to hear that Mondo, my cat and friend of 13 years, passed. He was the loudest of cats, especially in the middle of the night, but it was near impossible not to love him. He made up for his annoying night time ways with a cuddly and loving personality that charmed even the lightest sleeper.

Mondo was perfectly fine (as humans can discern) until mid-July 2014. Then he turned suddenly ill, seemed to recover, but four weeks later had a fatal relapse. Cancer ate him through and through at the young age of 13.

Now that we got the fundamentals out of the way, a little bit more about Mondo:


Confessions of a Linux User

As you may have guessed from the number of entries on Linux on this blog, I extensively use it on pretty much all computers I own. It doesn’t matter if its an ancient 486 that sits in the basement and connects once a day to data sources to mangle them for presentation as email or the latest Ultrabook from Samsung. They all happily run Linux, in particular either Kubuntu or Ubuntu Server (my one exception being the crappy Acer netbook that only runs Fedora).

Recently, though, I wanted to talk with friends on Skype. I used my Kindle Fire HD, which runs Android and has a Skype app. The quality was terrible. Either the built-in camera is, or the software – in any case, despite tons of available bandwidth, I showed up on the other side very grainy and lacking sharpness of detail.

Now, while most people would think of that as a giant plus, I only heard complaints. So I switched to a laptop. Unfortunately, the same problem appeared there. I realized I still have one computer running Windows 7, that I never converted to Linux, so I fired it up. It had Skype pre-installed, I was ready to go, all set.

Well, what do you know, the experience was amusing, if a complete failure. I’ll share it here, because I was reminded of how odd Windows looks and feels once you leave it for a while. Not the operating system itself, but the ecosystem. You have to put up with a lot on there just to survive. I am not sure it’s worth it.