Not In Vain

fig-1Nice to know that my pretty drawings weren’t done in vain. We’ve been published at, how nice.

A good drawing is more than 1000 words, they say. If it isn’t worth at least 1000 words, I usually add, it isn’t worth having. I love diagrams which provide a wealth of information, if one only takes the time to look at it.

Story Problems

DSC_0731Back in the good old days, an algebraic story problem could very well be John has 4 apples, Jane has two less than Tim, but Tim has twice as many apples as John. How many apples has Jane? A slightly more advanced story problem could be to ask for the final price of a £10 hat after a 10% discount and 15% VAT added.

Apples are a timeless feature without doubt, and the VAT hasn’t disappeared either, but I wonder which story problems modern textbooks have to offer.

How’s this?

John, Jane and Tim each begin downloading Boom! The Final Massacre at 16:00. By 16:20, John has finished downloading 25%.  Tim’s Internet connection is twice as fast as Johns, but Jane’s is one third slower as Tim’s. When will Jane’s download complete?

Amazon POST

DSC_0875I confess. I am an Amazon kind-of-a-guy. I find their prices often competitive, and their range of goods almost always satisfactory. I regret that my own shopping habits will only let specialist book shops survive, those that specialize in a particular niche or quality (such as Stanfords) or into quality (e.g. Quodlibet).

But, I wonder what the overall environmental impact of Amazon is going to be.

I don’t walk or drive to the nearest store. Instead, I click. The CO2 balance is, while not zero, small compared to driving into town, but server farms to power Google, Amazon, my Internet service provider and many other serves en route aren’t powered by good will alone. Plus, the delivery guy drives around. He serves many customers on one journey, so the overall environmental cost of delivering something to me is lower than the cost of all those customers going out to buy. But on the other hand again, not all those purchases would have been made, had it not been for the convenience of the double-click from the comfort of my home.

Also, I find myself with a regular collection of packaging materials. I put the plastic into the plastic and the paper and cardboard into the paper and cardboard recyclables, but again, a lot less of this would be necessary, had I taken my re-usable cotton carrier bag down to the nearest Borders store. Oh, Borders is closed down already.

Did anyone bother to make a scientific analysis of all this? And, did anyone bother to summarize it nicely? P.O.S.T. where are you when we need you?

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DSC_0722As much as I hate to admit it, I have to admit defeat: for years, I used to digitally sign my email messages using an SSL certificate. I chose S/MIME because I felt it’s integration is superior to PGP, and I chose to sign digitally because I feel this is the right thing to do.

Few people sign their emails with a digital signature, but if everyone did, we had a fraction of today’s issues with unwanted emails of all kinds. Receivers could be confident that a correctly signed email actually comes from me, rather than from an imposter. Just like we sign a normal letter or even a greeting card, we should sign our electronic mail and documents.

Nowadays, however, I send and receive email messages from mobile devices as well as from more than one PC, using webmail tools and dedicated email tools alike. I notice with regret that only a small fraction of my email tools support digital signatures (let alone integrated encryption). Since only a portion of my messages are signed, I might as well stop signing all together.

It’s a real shame that we always seem to settle for the least common denominator.

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Security Questions

DSC_0618It seems that a German person is not generally compatible with security questions. One of my online banking facilities recently asked to update details, including the provision of answers to three security questions. I could chose the three question from a pool of over a dozen of pre-defined questions. Wishing to provide memorable answers gets me thinking:

Where was your first job?

Well, it depends. Do you mean the first occasion where I earned money for work, or the first real job with a contract, or the first …

What was your first pet’s name?

Well, it depends. Do family pets count, or would it have to be my pet? What if I had a pair of hamsters?

Where was your first holiday?

Well, I’d say, it depends. Do you mean the first time my parents took me on a summer holiday (I don’t recall the location), or the first holiday that I remember, or the first holiday without my parents? Do boy scout camps count? The first holiday with a spouse? Is a weekend trip considered a holiday?

Today, I might chose one of the many possible answers to each question, but how can I be sure that, in case of need two years down the line, I will make the same choice?

I end up choosing an answer, not necessarily from the truth, and write it down in my personal files (in a secure manner). Since my mother’s maiden name isn’t exactly a state secret, answering security questions with made-up answers is the most secure way to handle these anyhow, but it leads to the final security question, the hardest of all:

Where do you keep your written-down security answers?


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Happy Birthday to Me

"Artwork Ahead" sign Well, no, not Happy Birthday to myself. Not exactly; I will be as young tomorrow as I was yesterday. But, this blog is five years old today.

Five years. Who would’ve thought.

A Reason to Join Twitter

lost duck I never knew a reason to join twitter, but I am seriously contemplating doing so, ever since I heard that the US Library of Congress decided to archive every tweet ever made.

I think everyone should sign up to Twitter right away, and inundate them with so much inane babble (also known as a 140 character maximum tweet) that they stop such nonsense and focus on a more selective method of preserving knowledge and history.

They must be out of their minds, but it’s kind-a difficult to explain in 140 characters.


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From A to B

30percent How does one get from A to B these days?

Like almost everything else, you’d start by going online, and seek Google‘s advise.

Google’s maps are superb after all, and their driving instructions excellent. Our collective blind reliance on Google as the world’s single source of information on almost anything is increasingly worrying. Not that I have reason to believe they do anything wrong, or filter or rate or present information in a way that I disagree with, but I grow increasingly uneasy about this whole thing.

Supersized media barons such as Axel Springer or Rupert Murdoch are tiny players in the information monopoly game, when you compare it to Google.

So, when it comes to journey planning within the UK, it turns out that there is an excellent, government-funded alternative: Transport Direct.

Unlike Google, Transport Direct only covers the UK.

Unlike Google, Transport Direct considers the use of sustainable transport (i.e. bicycles) and use of public transport in addition to regular use of roads and cars. They factor live travel news into the equation, compute the CO2 cost of a trip, know locations of car parks.

And, they aren’t run by Google.


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Dear Music Industry

rome Media informs me that you are in a dire situation, with You Tube, iTunes, peer-to-peer file sharing, illegal downloading, and all that. I am truly sorry, for I understand all this modern technology means you are no longer holders of the monopoly of distribution, and you can no longer sell outdated technology in the shape of a flat piece of vinyl or silvery plastic at prices that you dictate.

Now, listen up. Here’s where you’ve got it right for a change:

Recently, I watched a documentary on the telly, telling the story of Genesis’ 2007 European tour. I liked what I saw, and bought an official copy of the Genesis When In Rome DVD set. Three DVDs for £15, featuring the aforementioned documentary, three hours of a very fine concert, and lots of background material and extra features.

I will happily pay the same again for a similar product. This is a good product, well worth its money. Compared to a single 50 minute playtime CD, which you used to sell at the same or similar price, this is a lot of value for the money.

Well done.

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Lyrical Geeks

CubiclesSometimes, high-tech people come up with surprisingly lyrical names for not so lyrical things, or with surprisingly fitting names. Sometimes even both:

I have just recently learnt that private domains like mine, where a private individual holds an Internet domain name matching the individual’s real or nick name, are also known as vanity domains.

Both lyrical and fitting, don’t you think?

Love it.

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