Archive for April, 2007

mail appeal vs altitude

April 19th, 2007

The front door of the house opens, in a very Dutch way, right onto a staircase. So the only path is up the stairs, into a small hallway and kitchen. The kitchen is where the mail is stored for extended periods of time. Mail addressed to tenants gets picked up quick, but mail to former tenants may be there for months, until they come to get it or the landlord picks it up. But before it lands on the kitchen table, it takes a human to bring it up the stairs. It arrives everyday through the medieval crack, of course.

I get very little mail. Mail is pretty antiquated now. It's all online communications (or cell phone if you must). So I'm getting less mail now than I did a few years ago. Mail isn't exciting either, and it has to do with the content of it. Most of the mail is ads that noone cares about, that goes right in the trash. Sometimes we get ads in a proper envelope, addressed to "the inhabitants of this house", also right in the trash. Very high noise to signal ratio, it's like email really.

So that's the reality of the mail. Mail on the kitchen table has no appeal, I go through it dutifully but there's almost never anything. But when the mail arrives through the crack in the door, it's downstairs so I don't see exactly what it is. In between the ads, sometimes there are envelopes. There is a strange sense of suspense there. Since I don't know I'm almost thinking "hey maybe there's something down there for me". Sometimes I go down the stairs to bring it up, sometimes I don't. It's always a call to make. If it's just ads, I never bother.

we got Euro 2012!!!

April 18th, 2007


Yeap. Platini was elected on the back of his proposals to even the scores in European football, and the movement gained enough momentum to win the bid for Euro2012. Pretty amazing. :star:

With a strong Ukraine lobby, and enough support for a Euro in Central/Eastern Europe, they pulled it off. Italy was the big favorite, but lost big time with all the bad press in the last year, their World Cup notwithstanding.


The host cities are:

  • Chorzów Silesian Stadium (60,000)
  • Gdańsk Baltic Arena (40,000)
  • Kraków Wisła Stadium (30,000)
  • Poznań Municipal Stadium (46,500)
  • Warsaw National Stadium (70,000)
  • Wrocław Olimpic Stadium (40,000)

And our neighors:

  • Dnipropetrovsk Dnipro Stadium (31,003)
  • Donetsk Shakhtar Stadium (50,000)
  • Kyiv Olimpiysky (83,450)
  • Lviv Ukraina Stadium (29,004)

So no Łódź. :lazy: But it should be a terrific boost for tourism, and just about as good enough pretext to fix the broken infrastructure. I hear a Warsaw-Łódź motorway is actually on the way, who would have thought after all these years they would do the most obvious thing in the world.

Obviously, new stadia will be built, and the plans are no less than impressive. Have a look at the prospects.

why you should do the dishes right away

April 17th, 2007

Yes, I mean now, not later, right now! There are several reasons why you should do the dishes as soon as you finish using them, during cooking or right after, before you sit down to eat:

  1. Most food tends to wash off the easiest right after you're done cooking. Most cooked food is at least a little greasy and that grease will come off right away with almost no detergent, but if you let it rest and cool, you'll be pumping detergent into that pan and scrubbing several times before you're satisfied that it's gone. Grease gets nasty if you let it settle, so don't. Btw this is just as true for fruit.
  2. You are not keen to look at food, and especially leftovers, after you eat. Food is the last thing on your mind after a meal, and doing the dishes is a little icky (and the level of ickyness increases the longer you wait), even though you know you ate this a little while ago. If you wash dishes right after you stop using them you're still in the spirit of making food, so it feels natural.
  3. If you get into the habit of doing dishes as part of cooking, you don't have that extra chore to do later.

Not to mention that time-to-clean-dishes is greatly reduced, because they get washed right after use and don't contribute to stacks in the sink. Everyone wins.

don't be a machine

April 15th, 2007

Do you know what computers are really good at? You know, but I'm going to tell you anyway so what when you see it you'll be like "yay, I knew all along". They are really good at this:

  1. read number a from memory
  2. add to number x
  3. read number b from memory
  4. add to number x
  5. ....

Computers are so immensely good at this that there is no reason why you should try to compete. A computer can perform the operation of adding two numbers a million times and not make one mistake, can you? No, so stop trying.

See, computers are stupid. Everyone says that, I know, but it's true. Computers can do smart things, but only if you manage to tell them exactly what to do in a very specific way. Imagine that you want to make someone win the Nobel Prize for advances in astrophysics and to do that you have to give him instructions like "open the door", "walk through the door" etc. Yes, that's how dumb computers are.

But you aren't. If you compare the most sophisticated things that computers do compared to what goes on in your brain, it's a blowout. The computer uses a primitive algorithm to compare two words and count how many letters are missing from one compared to the other, while you can do this instantly just by looking at them. Yes, the computer is faster, but only because it does these really primitive things really fast. While your thinking is at an immeasurably more advanced level, even if you're not that fast.

So when you degrade yourself to doing the kind of work that is meant for a computer to do, you are losing your whole advantage. Not only that, the mind is just not precise enough to repeat the same thing over and over without making mistakes, it's not a machine, so don't use it as one.

Don't hand edit your document to replace all occurrences of Bonn by Berlin, use the Search/Replace tool. Don't manually count up the cells in a spreadsheet, use a formula. Don't open a file and manually read off 1's and 0's into a new file, use the copy function. Don't repeat the same simple action over and over if you can help it!

So you say "yeah, but I can't get a computer to paint my house". Unfortunately, that is a necessary evil. But try to save your sanity, play music (or listen to an audiobook), or get someone to paint with you so you can talk.

Our minds and bodies are not optimized for machine operation. Oddly enough, there are people who try to imitate machines and do so quite successfully. (One could ask oneself why they bother.) There are people out there who have trained themselves to remember thousands of decimals of pi.

Working out at the gym also approximates this kind of behavior. This is actually an interesting example, because most of what goes on at a gym is constant repetition of incredible simple muscle motion. Your muscles are actually capable of far more complicated things, in orchestra. For instance, the first time you turn on the light in your room, you have to look for the switch, if it's dark you fumble for it. But the 5th time you do this, you know where the switch is, so your motion is far more efficient. It's not just that, it's also not focused. You know this motion so well that you can synchronize it with walking, with thinking about something else. Now, if you're lifting weights you are focusing all your attention on flicking that switch. On. Off. On. Off.

Running and swimming are examples of this as well. Although both far more complex than lifting weights, because they require more muscles to participate, they are inherently completely obvious. There is only one ideal in running, and swimming, and once you learn to do that "correctly", you're no longer learning anything new, you're just pushing down that button, waiting for the spring to recoil, and pushing it down again. This is why it's more satisfying to play sports that, even if they are entirely repetitive, are hard to master, so the learning process constitutes that variety we're looking for. (Admittedly, swimming is of this category, if you aim to learn all the various styles, rather than just peddle water and stick with that.) Don't get me wrong, if you lift weights in some kind of way that allows for variety and improvisation, then you are being less of a machine than someone playing football, whose idea of the sport is limited to 6 fixed scenarios and never tries anything new. It's more about how, than what.

But don't act like a machine. Try to bring some variety and improvization into everything you do, where possible.

top three time wasters

April 14th, 2007

As a kid I was a master at wasting time. My two main activities were computer games and sports. And tv. And although I don't do it as much anymore, some skills are just so innate that you can stop practicing something for years, and then it comes right back to you when you need it.

So for those not fully expert yet, let me recommend three handy online, available-from-anywhere time wasting spots.


A marvellous site. When you look up something you can find yourself clicking around to more and more pages, more and more content, it never stops. Wikipedia isn't at a point yet where you'll find everything there, but it's working hard to close the gap. Give it a couple more years and chances are you won't even need the rest of the internet, googling will be a mere memory.


Who knew that Youtube would be such an amazing success? The reason I introduced Wikipedia first is that there's a parallel to make here. Youtube is the Wikipedia of video. Whatever it is you're looking for, chances are you'll find it. For instance, say you heard about something happening on the news, or a talk show, or you want to track down a scene from a famous movie, or you want to see last night's buzzer beater, all you need is Youtube. In fact, Youtube is so vast that the "similar searches" option will ensure that for any search that finds a match, you have about 20 videos to watch. And for each of those you have another... well you get the point.


Reddit is an amazing kind of site, because every time you load it, it has lots of items you want to see. It's hard to account for how this happens, but the content has such a diversity of topics, and such a depth of content in many cases, that scanning the top25 seems terribly compelling. And because it changes constantly, you can come back in 12h and it will be completely refreshed.