Flat

Honestly, I thought it wasn’t possible, that a person of normal intelligence, in a normal job, could truly believe the earth is flat. How wrong I was….. unfortunately, this post is not a joke in any way. Here’s a pretty smart dude, smart enough to buy CPUs and build gaming systems for high FPS. Nice guy, always trying to lift the mood. Knew he has a knack for conspiracy theories, but I just found out he’s gone all in. “Bet you believe in evolution right? OK, so you’re on that side of the spectrum!”….. “How come NASA only ever shows the exact same side of the earth from space?”…that one seemed easy enough to disprove, but the myriad of photos on Nasa.GOV where no match for the Kool-Aid: “check out Nasabait…….”…..WOW……..he actually believes the earth is flat….as a pancake….I ask him if he’s ever flown..”Don’t you see it?”…nope, it’s flat…..”millions of dollars”……”How come the earth fits exactly in an eclipse?”………….I ….am…….speechless……

Feelings 2016

What is going on here? Here’s the leader of the 50+ party in Holland talking about poverty among seniors; when the interviewer states that the numbers show that only about 2% of old folks there have that problem, Henk Krol says that it doesn’t “feel” that way! Same thing with so many in the rust belt: forget that the US GDP is higher than ever, that companies are making more money than ever, it doesn’t feel right. Feelings over facts, that’s the world we live in.

I guess it’s a first world problem, isn’t it? We spend a good part of the last 100 years in the Western world building our paradise. Part of it was getting to a place in which there is no need for worrying so much about plain survival, but instead examining our humanity, listening to our feelings. From Oprah to Dr. Phil, from self-help books to endless counseling, we’ve put ourselves in the luxurious position to be able to spend more and more time on exploring our emotions. In the US it could reasonably be argued that it’s mainly a thing of Liberal origins, but now everybody has jumped on this bandwagon. It’s brought a lot of good, no doubt, although it doesn’t seem it has brought us more happiness per se. Perhaps that’s something further out in the future, because it does seem like we’ve swung too far.

It’s certainly led to eating disorders, people ‘feeling’ effects on their bodies from foods that are clearly psychological, and now to a general dismissal of just about any truth. The election of Trump was almost entirely caused by an overtaking of pragmatism by a guidance through emotion. It just reminds me of the much reviled Dr. Laura Schlessinger; on her radio show, she would always force people to cut through their feelings in a relationship and get to the practical parts. Don’t get me wrong, there’s great value in how someone else makes you feel, but in the long term actual concrete analysis and careful consideration of patterns and such is far more useful. There certainly is no shortage of people making the same relationship choices over and over and over to the same detrimental result.

Perhaps it’s a result from all of the wealth we have accumulated over the last couple of centuries; we’ve achieved a point in our culture where we can live like children really. We are safer than ever, everything made as idiot-proof as humanly possible, we throw away as much food as we consume, are SO far from basic survival that we can afford to almost live carelessly. We’ve categorized everything in to good and evil, just like a children’s story! For most, the path has been quite defined for quite a while now: just do as you’re told and you’ll be fine, follow the endless instructions (don’t put a pan in the microwave!) and you’ll be safe. It’s resulted in an ever larger part of the population that has no savings! I’m not talking about poor folks, I’m talking about bartender making good money, who  spend every last dime on iPhones, video games and big screen TVs. It’s great for economic growth, but it leads to a lack of foundation for long term stability, which we should be enjoying right now. We are collectively living like people in the Garden of Eden, and we all know how that ended!

Household help

Oh my GOODNESS, Boston Dynamics is at it again! Google seems to be afraid of looking creepy and thus selling the company, but boy is the future approaching fast! The newest member of the family, and it really is a family, is named Spotmini. It’s fully electric and the most silent model BD has done so far.

Just watch and imagine what is possible two or three years from now. I’ve been saying by 2020 we’ll be able to buy a household robot at Best Buy, but watching Spot putting a glass into the dishwasher, it seems that it might even be sooner!

The weirdest thing is how watching this machine slip on a banana peel (no kidding, at 1:28 it really DOES slip and fall on a banana peel!) awakens feelings of empathy. Why would a human feel bad for a machine that has no feelings of its own? Because the damn thing just seems so biological, it appears alive……wow, just incredible.

Build 2016

Last night I watch a 2 hour video of the Keynote Presentation at Microsoft’s 2016 Build conference; I came away MOST impressed! The forward vision presented, the focus on collaboration and cross-platform compatibility and the brilliance of Hololens definitely reaffirmed my feeling that I made the right choice in choosing Windows over Mac OS.

I’ll talk about what I saw a little bit later, but just for shits and giggles I decided to watch Apple’s version of the same thing: the keynote at WWDC. This year’s hasn’t happened yet, so it was from 2015, but still. The most hilarious parts were the announcements (to big applause mind you!) of the addition of a ‘mute’ function in Safari to quickly silence tabs making noise, and the ability to go full screen in an app! Are you kidding me? So you’re saying that Microsoft was right all along? You are adding a feature that your competitor has had since the 1990’s and you’re proud?

All the little details aside, it’s becoming clear what a great move the Universal Windows Application idea was: now any work a developer does pays off on many platforms. Your app will run not only on PCs, but without modification on tablets and XBOX as well! It makes it painfully obvious what a mistake it was for Apple to create yet another OS for its tablet ecosystem. And then there’s the Watch too, with its own OS.

Have you checked out Windows Ink? Not only does it already work amazingly well, it’ll allow developers to add annotation and drawing to apps so easily it’s mind-blowing. Microsoft has been adding more and more super advanced APIs and tools to its development environment. And guess what: it allows you to develop apps for ALL major platforms, Windows, Android and iOS. This is a crucial part to their strategy; when discussing Cortana, their digital assistant, the important statement was: your assistant should never be tied to one device, or even one brand. Microsoft believes in the power of its software so much it makes it available for competitor’s operating systems! Apple tries to make sure you’re so reliant on their software, you “can’t” buy anything from another brand if you don’t want major problems.

I have to say, Windows 10 has been amazing to me. I’ve now upgraded 10 or so systems to it, including my friend’s OLD Acer AS1410, and machine with a single core 1.3 GHz Celeron (from the Core 2 Solo days) and 3GBs of RAM. The Windows 7 install that had been on there since 2010 was getting unusable, partly because it was on a slow HDD, and partly because Avast antivirus that was on there was pegging the CPU at 100% most of the time. It has no malware, but opening any app would take so long it seemed broken. I uninstalled Avast, and ran an in-place Win10 upgrade overnight. The next morning I was greeted to a perfectly usable machine! It struggles with some things (1080P Youtube) but even though it has a chipset from 2009 and a turtle for a CPU it decodes local 1080P content perfectly fine! Startup and shutdown is quick, sleep works properly! This is a machine that cost $400 in 2010, (<3lbs, ultraportable when that was still extra expensive) that runs the newest OS in 2016! Apple machines from that era, even ones 4 times as fast are left to run OSX 10.7, or one that stopped being developed in 2012.

Now let’s talk about problems. As I’ve written on these pages over the years, Apple does not have a great track record for reliable software, except perhaps in the beginning of iOS. Starting fresh meant no legacy code, and thus simple and predictable operation. I’ve explained here that, because of the lack of forward thinking in the design of the foundation of its software, Apple always ends up resorting to workarounds, add-ons, and Jerry-rigging to catch up to others. This leads to incomprehensible code, and very hard to fix bugs in operation; OS9 at the end of its life was perhaps the worst OS in history, with more crashing and incompatibilities than anything I’ve ever seen before.  It’s happening again with both OSX and iOS! From iTunes deleting people’s local library, to iPads bricking, from every damn new version of OSX breaking compatibility with numerous applications (“it just works!”)  to the entire computer freezing up like Windows used to 15 years ago, the fact it it doesn’t just work anymore. I can’t begin to tell you how many people I know that are many, many versions behind because of all these issues and so they still can’t enjoy ground-breaking features like running an App full screen!

Going forward, I believe it’s gonna keep getting worse; if Apple were smart, it would incorporate touch into OSX and turn iOS into a part of it, just like AMIDuos allows you to run Android within Windows (amazingly well I might add! Yay for working together!). Do I need to bring up iTunes? Quicktime is dead…..It still blows my mind that anyone would consider an iPad Pro a good idea, when the Surface clearly shows what’s possible. Alas, it seems like Jobs’ DNA is so strong that his decision to split up the two paradigms is here to stay and that’s bad for consumers. Both operating systems will become less reliable, in addition to less compatible with the world outside of the walled garden that is Apple. As Google and especially Microsoft’s voice recognition and AI improves by leaps and bounds, Siri will be stuck on the slow bus; most iPhone users I know are quite disappointed with it even now, while Cortana is getting more amazing every day AND can be used on ALL platforms! Apple can’t even get Siri to work great with itself. As iOS adds more multi-tasking features, more complexity is added, and more problems arise, in addition to the fact that so many apps don’t work with it to begin with, because Apple simplified the base of the OS so much in the beginning; do I even need to make the comparison to MS’s bet at the time on Windows to be able to run on tablets in the future?

I’ll leave you with this, perhaps the most innovative and exciting product in the pipeline at any company: Microsoft’s Hololens. It’s been discussed and shown for more than a year now, but amazingly many people have never heard of it or seen it. This is what happens when www.apple.com is your homepage! All kidding aside, it’s a little disturbing when you’re surround by people who consider themselves ‘techies’, but they’ve never even heard of perhaps the most revolutionary thing out there. In this day and age of maximum information, it seems that we’re not getting the most important of it, collectively. Don’t forget that part of the magic of Apple and companies like it is to keep their users in the dark about what others are doing! That way you can feel great about the decisions you made……

Jazz Bot

In the many discussions about artificial intelligence and robotics I’ve had with people over the years, many of which were musicians of course, a common expectation voiced was that it would be a LONG time before our jobs would be taken by the machine. It seems hard enough to get a computer to talk like a human being, although many rapid advances lately are fascinating enough, but getting a collection of electronic parts to learn how to play Jazz, how to improvise and play with others, seems downright impossible to most. If one were to analyze what goes into attaining that skill for a human, something that arguably many of us could never even, one would find thousands of hours of practice, deep philosophical analysis and seemingly endless exploration. How in the world could you ‘program’ a machine to do that? Except, it’s not going to be done through traditional ‘programming’ and that’s why I think we will be (un)pleasantly surprised sooner rather than later..

You see, learning how to play music is done much more through a process of conditioning, by doing along with others who already know how to do it, where to place that note; it’s done by listening, and then internalizing in a way that does not require, or mostly doesn’t even involve rules and regulations. And that’s exactly how these ‘artificial’ jazz players will grow: through machine learning. I expect the results to be quite astonishing quite soon actually. Imagine having the ability to absorb all solos that Charlie Parker played, to train your neural network the intricacies and range of Coltrane, not in a lifetime like a human, but in the 5 minutes it takes an advanced A.I. to listen to the same.

It’s exactly the kind of paradigm shift Kurzweil described years and years ago; the mimicking of natural learning processes, with the added advantage of electronic processing speed. It’s been proven to work, nowhere more obviously as when one of Google’s machines, and this is really true, taught itself to play and master several classic Atari games! You read that right: it was not even explained the rules of the games, or what the controls did, it just started playing and eventually taught itself to play it better than any human ever could! Interestingly it was not able to figure out all the games, it had its limitations. There must have been some basic ‘instincts’ like a desire to score points, in order to steer it towards victory; the analogy to what’s in our DNA is more than a coincidence. We’re getting to the basic structure of the universe here…..

iO 9 Ad Block

After thinking and reading about it more last night, I decided to write a little more about what is in my opinion the most interesting new feature of iOS: Apple allowing AdBlockers. The consequences are much further reaching than one might initially realize and here’s why: it’s all part of the Big Fruit’s plan to control you! That’s right, I said it!

Let me explain. When the internet was first envisioned and designed, it was all about standards; HTTP for instance allowed anyone with a standards compliant browser to access the same information, without the need for a proprietary program, while still allowing much flexibility in the consumption of the device. Laptops or desktops of ANY brand could access ANY information and service. What a glorious concept, and it worked amazingly well too. When new form factors came to be, all the needed was an Internet Browser and the world was at their disposal. It’s kind of a like a standard formulation for gasoline or motor oil: any car that sticks to the standards can run on fuel from any brand.

And then Apple had a great idea: let’s not cooperate with all other tech companies in expanding capabilities of the standards (HTML5 etc.), but create our own infrastructure. Let’s try to provide as much functionality on our platform that can NOT be used on another, and the App Store was born. Of course simplicity was its main selling point and on that front it certainly delivered. If you can only buy gasoline from one brand, your choice of where to pump becomes a lot simpler doesn’t it? Never mind that that first iPhone didn’t do half the shit others did at the time, it was moron proof and anyone can figure out how to point at what he or she wants. All of a sudden, Apple was in the middle of almost everything you do, controlling just about every aspect.

Of course the rest of the tech world wasn’t gonna sit by idly and kept developing. Google jump on the App bandwagon and created its own proprietary world, as people all over sang the praises of simplicity! At the same time, forward thinking engineers all over the world pressed on improving standardized protocols and methods, in the original spirit of the internet, but most businesses put way more effort into developing Apps for the big two platforms, than into creating a portal that can be universally accessed. You see, for super high-performance things like games, there’s no way around getting native optimized applications, but there are many many examples in which we the people would have been much better off with a proper website.

So where are we now? 8 years after the introduction of iPhone, more than 80% of smartphones in the world run Android, Apple is below %15 and Windows Phone, arguably the most elegant and modern is stuck in single digits, with miserable app support! With all this bitching about ‘the man’ keeping the little guy down, this time we’ve clearly done it to ourselves! You can buy a perfectly modern Lumia for under $100, but we’ve gimped its capabilities by supporting Apple, and now it’s about to get worse.

You see, allowing AdBlockers is a direct attack on Google, which makes its money from ads, but it also hurts the companies doing the advertising. Who would pay money for serving a message that doesn’t get delivered? So what is the solution? Forget about advertising on the web, make an App for the iPhone, because that’s where the AdBlockers don’t work! In turn that leads to less development for the World Wide Web, which leads to less functionality for possible new competitors until they ‘catch up’ in the app department, or exactly what the original inventors of the internet tried to prevent!

As I write this I’m just amazed at how quickly this is already coming to a head. The path towards this was laid out while ago, and the oddest thing is how quickly Apple has turned into the bad guys from 1984 they so famously warned us for! The bottom line is that proprietary stuff is something that should be avoided as much as possible. Apple has already proven repeatedly it often bets on the wrong horse (G5 cpu anyone? Firewire? 3.5 inch screens?) and now we find people invested in that eco-system limiting themselves because they’re trapped; and it’s only starting…..

Can versus green bottle

For years I’ve been saying it, and for years almost nobody believed me. I’m not saying I have the most delicate palate in the world, but Heineken from the bottle tasted inferior to what came out of a can! A couple of friends of mine from Holland were staying with me for the last couple of weeks, so it was time to do a test: buy both formats, chill to the same temperature, pour both into a fresh glass and taste. Johan did the preparation, and Japie, who was almost as skeptical of my claim as the former, and I were the uninformed testers. We even cleansed our palettes between tastings, and repeated three times.

So? I only needed one taste to know! Damnit, I was right! Japie agreed and it was clear: the can was smoother, noticeably so, and more like Heineken tastes when you get it from the tap in Holland! Mind you, I prefer drinking from a glass bottle to can, but there’s something that happens to beer in a green bottle, because the brown bottles it comes in back home don’t have this problem! It’s probably got something to do with certain frequencies of light that do or do not get blocked……..

In Shorts

Would you believe that there is a man who climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in nothing but his shorts? In two days? It’s true actually, and the guy’s name is “Wim Hof“! He was the latest guest in “24 uur met”, one of my favorite TV shows of all time.  At 55, he has devoted his entire life to unlocking the inner strength of the human body on levels we didn’t realize existed. This guy holds the Guinness world record for sitting in iced water: 73 minutes and 48 seconds! It’s one thing to swim in that kind of cold, but sitting still is a whole other story. He’s learned to control his reflexes, his will to flee, and just cranks up his metabolism.

During the show he started teaching the host how to do this and you could already see progress. The wildest thing was how red his entire body was when exiting the ice bath he brought with him. I guess it’s all the blood rushing through his skin to warm him up! Mind you: he’s not doing this to set records, but to explore unknown mechanisms of self-control and one particular experiment has been done that proves he’s on to something; something so incredible in fact that the results were published in medical literature most doctors can only dream of. Not bad for a guy who never went to University!

At Radboud university in Holland 24 volunteers were tested: 12 that were trained by Mr. Hof and 12 who hadn’t been. Now I haven’t researched this further yet after watching the show last night, but supposedly this is what happened, and it is also mentioned on Wikipedia: a dead bacterium was administered to all 24, one that normally triggers an immune response in healthy people. Because the pathogen is dead, it wouldn’t be necessary for proper disposal by your body, so one could say that a typical person ‘overreacts’ to the intrusion, showing the typical signs of infection while the system rids itself of the foreign organism. The amazing thing was that the 12 that were trained were able to control their immune system, with most completely unaffected, with a couple showing minor reactions. Nobody got truly sick of course, but it’s the first proof that humans can control mechanisms in their bodies that were always believed to be autonomous!

At 55 and in better shape than most 20 year olds, the Iceman has big plans and dreams of finding ways for us to learn how to perhaps even deal with cancer or diseases like that. Imagine if we can unlock that kind of power within ourselves. The more we know, the more we realize how little we know……

E-bull-a

In this day and age of misinformation, everyone is a doctor, and a better one than those official ones you hear from on TV or in newspapers too! Who doesn’t know someone who swears red meat stays in your colon for weeks, that gluten is bad for everyone, that milk is bad, that vaccines cause autism. So what about Ebola? Many, including some pretty smart people I know, are complaining our government isn’t handling the situation well, although that’s of course a result of our overblown political situation as much as it is the result of the irrational fear that seems to permeate the United States. Here come the masks and gloves while flying……

As far as I see it, it’s being handled quite well, and just today there was an extended article in the LA Times about some very well informed doctors who aren’t quite sure everything the establishment assumes about the disease is true. So what is commonly accepted? First of, that Ebola does not spread without contact with bodily fluids of a person who’s actually exhibiting symptoms. Secondly, that even in a household living with someone who’s sick, the chances of transmission are about 1 in 7! That’s right, it’s not even all that contagious in close quarters! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s not serious, because it certainly is, but we have to put it in perspective. It’s not a new disease and it has been contained quite well multiple times before, by using well defined procedures. The reason it’s getting out of hand in West Africa is because they don’t follow them! Guess what is common over there: snake oil and ‘alternative medicine’!

I just don’t get it, this resentment and disbelief towards modern medicine. I know it’s far from perfect, but how in the world can we forget that it rid us of polio, measles and so many other diseases that used to be so common. Billions of man-hours have been invested, by some of the smartest humans that ever lived….but somehow many are more likely to belief that cute waitress that hasn’t read a newspaper in her whole life!

So what do we do? We chill out and in the meantime continue enjoying life. We’ll see how many people turn out to have been infected in Texas. According to actual experts, there might be one extra. We will learn that this virus is not the one we should worry about. Influenza is the one that’s far scarier, and it only becomes a pandemic once every 60 years or so! And as long as we don’t even think twice about hitting the road in that deathtrap we call a car we have no business being so damn frightened of any infectious disease right now! That’s the gift that modern medicine has given us…..