Archive for February, 2007

mafia idolism

February 15th, 2007

The interest and fascination by mafia movies astounds me. It almost seems that out of all males, half love mafia stories. Favorite movies? The Godfather, Scarface etc. On tv? The Sopranos. Some take it so far as to idolize mafia characters, like they're some kind of positive example to imitate. But why? I have to say I find that disturbing. I've seen a bunch of these movies, all hotly recommended of course, and I don't quite see the attraction. Interests aside, the idol worship is unsettling.

Why is it that people idolize mafia characters? I guess it's because they like the idea of having that kind of power, it tickles them to imagine what it would be like. Curious thus that they aren't drawn to other well established symbols of power. Stalin, Hitler, that kind of thing. They too did whatever the hell they wanted, killing people, hoarding fortunes, exempt from any consequences, in fact absolute power on a far greater, more successful if you will, scale. So why aren't those held up as examples to idolize?

The whole mafia fandom thing is very misguided.

Or is there another side to this? I think it might be something else, something a lot more innocent in fact. Just plain teenage rebellion. If you think about what age it is that most people start digging the whole mafia thing, it's usually in their teens, isn't it? And they start acting up, wishing they could challenge the establishment and claim power they don't have. That makes it sound a lot less deranged, but somehow also pretty pathetic. I mean watching mafia flicks and imagining that you have the kind of power of Tony Soprano, because you're mad at your parents for not letting you have your way? That's pretty lame.

is the stock market unethical?

February 14th, 2007

We've all seen loan sharks in movies, and they aren't very attractive characters. What they do is not unlike stock brokers. They first give you some money, but then they want it back on time, with interest. This one-to-one relationship makes the deal very transparent. The stock market is more complex, but it's essentially the same thing: the only way you can profit is from someone's loss.

Let's say you're a successful investor in the stock market. What does that actually mean? It means that someone created a company, worked hard to sustain it, then decided to go public with it to be able to expand it, and thus sold shares in the company. What you've done is bought those shares cheap and sold them to suckers at a much higher price. Thus you profit.

So you make money by investing money, but what does that actually mean? You haven't created anything, haven't created any wealth. Haven't performed any service. Haven't delivered a product of any kind. You've essentially done nothing. You solely profit at someone else's loss. So the stock market is like a lottery, only with good odds. Most lose, some win.

Of course, you could say that as long as people go into the market willingly, and abide by the rules of the game, it's fair that one person wins what another loses. Still, is the profit anything to be proud of?

Norway has a lot of income from selling oil and the government decided at some point that it would be wise to collect some of these profits to set aside for the future. It's called the Oil Fund. But they haven't sat on the money idly, they decided to invest it, mostly in bonds. Now, ironic as it is, considering Norway's reputation that it's the oil reserves that have made the country wealthy, the government now actually profits more from trading bonds than it does from oil mining. Here's a whole country whose welfare is based in part on trading bonds, buying cheap, selling expensive.

There's nothing very odd about this, it's the times we live in. But how could this possibly be moral? One government directly benefiting from the losses of others?

favicons. so tiny. so cute. so tricky.

February 13th, 2007

favicon.pngKnow what a favicon is? It's the tiny little image that appears next to the bookmark of your site in the bookmark toolbar.

It is such a tiny detail, but a favicon makes the site just a little bit nicer, because it makes your site sort of stand out from the others.

I don't think I've ever made a good favicon. Well, I haven't put a lot of thought into it either, but those little images are tricky. It's like you have to approach the issue in a whole different way, because small as they are, they are surprisingly vivid. Look at the favicon from Planet KDE, it's the K-logo scaled down to a tiny size, but still completely clear what it is.

Jennifer recommends starting with a larger canvas and scaling down the image. But if you look at these fantastic examples, it becomes clear that what works best is not pixel art, but rather drawings scaled down to a tiny size. So just draw something on a bigger scale and cross your fingers that it's still going to be visible on a 16x16 pixel canvas. A bit of a leap of faith that.

So just fire up inkscape and let's get cracking. The only problem is that I can't actually draw. It took me a couple of hours to figure out how to manage transparencies, combine shapes in the way I wanted and managing my layers (which I have to say is a pain, please give us that gimp layer window, pweease :sweeteye: ). Eventually I realized that my idea, okay as it was on a larger scale, was completely unsuited to such a small format. It's a lot easier to do something complicated and sufficiently convoluted to escape scrutiny, but it's that much harder to think simple.

favicon64.png But along the way of making it happen, I came across the state, which having rejected the original idea, became the final result. The new favicon is indeed very simple, so simple that it's almost painful to witness. But at least it looks okay on the scale it is made for.

faviconjack.pngUPDATE: In a contest between talent and no talent, bet on talent. Unline me, my friend Jack actually had a good idea and his suggestion kicks ass! :strong: And since I can't but admit defeat, I'll be using his icon instead. Thanks a lot, Jack! :D

vowel multiplicity

February 12th, 2007

Dutch words love double vowels. We don't have that in Norwegian, we have the opposite - double consonants. When there's one, the preceding vowel is long, when there's two it's short.

hele - the whole

helle - to pour

The pronounciation is distinct.

In Dutch you have double vowels that sort of maybe sometimes are pronounced differently than single ones, but if so I can't tell. So to me it's like they pop up for no apparent reason. I have no clue when to expect them, it's a hassle. Or if I'm actually pronouncing it right.

hel - hell (and many more meanings)

heel - a whole

Maybe I misunderstood the meaning, but that's not the point. The point is that they sound the same to me. Now take a word like this.

helemaal - completely

How the frick am I supposed to know the multiplicity here? Double the first e, the second e, or maybe the a?

If you think it's just the last vowel that doubles.. :P

heelal - space

I remember my English teachers always told us it's fine whether we prefer the British or the American spelling, so long as we're consistent. Perhaps I could apply the same principle here? :redface:

planetary eyecandy

February 11th, 2007

Eyecandy is somehow nicer when it serves some purpose aside from just looking pretty, wouldn't you say? Then it has the same kind of effect as a great car or fine architecture. "Wow, it's great. And it looks awesome." Otherwise the appearance on its own seems a bit shallow and pointless. Now for the demo, here's my newest wallpaper (click to see the fullsize hosted on deviantart):


If you've ever thought that having one particular image on your desktop gets a bit dull, then this may be something for you. xplanet generates images of the Earth at set intervals (for example every 10 minutes) that shows the Earth roughly at this point in time. In addition, what I have here is cloud cover updated every 3 hours, so it's like a weather map. xplanet is phenomenally flexible, it can render multiple bodies at the same time (for example the Earth and the moon), it renders stars, it renders all the planets in the Solar System (yes, Pluto too) and many more bodies. What I have is a pretty standard configuration. So where to pick up the goodies? First, install xplanet (it's in portage :) ). Then if you run KDE, right click on the desktop and go into the config. On the Background tab, click Advanced Options and xplanet should appear in the list there.


When you click Modify... xplanet will most likely have filled in the blanks for you, but otherwise something like this will do:


The Preview cmd isn't really important, but for Command you could use:

xplanet -config ~/.xplanet.rc -radius 60 -latitude 52 -longitude 5 --geometry %xx%y --num_times 1 --output %f.jpg && mv %f.jpg %f

This will center the view on Utrecht more or less, but you can pick your own coordinates. Since we've supplied a configuration file, we have to create one.

$ echo -e "[earth]\ncloud_map=/tmp/.xplanet/clouds_2048.jpg" > ~/.xplanet.rc

Now we want to rig up a system that will download updates of the cloud map when they are available. We've already declared that they should be written to /tmp/.xplanet/clouds_2048.jpg, so let's create that path now.

$ mkdir -p /tmp/.xplanet

We'll use Michal Pasternak's python script for this. First save the file in /usr/local/bin, make it executable, then open it and edit this line:

defaultOutputFile = "/tmp/.xplanet/clouds_2048.jpg"

And finally we're going to use our friend cron to execute the script every hour:

$ crontab -e

And add this line:

0 * * * * python /usr/local/bin/ &>/dev/null

And that's it. Now you have a totally kickass wallpaper. :cool:


  1. Tomasz Karbownicki's original entry which explains how to do this in Gnome [pl]
  2. Kamil Baćkowski's follow-up entry on using xplanet in KDE [pl]
  3. xplanet website with tons of info and hacks