2006-01-24 17:07

Telepathy. Why?

I saw Penn & Teller's show about ESP last night. Besides being hilarious, a throwaway comment (by Penn, of course) made me think.

Here's what he said (give or take a word):

Telepathy is communicating your thoughts directly to someone else's brain. Because it seems talking is too much work.

And it got me thinking... why would anyone want to be a telepath? What's the practical purpose of telepathy?

In this anecdote I see one of the two problems with telepathy. The fact that it's not necessary.

It's supposed to be a mechanism for communication. Well, as Penn said, you can talk, so there are alternatives. There must be a compelling reason why telepathy would be better. Let's consider some parameters of communication quality!

  • Reliability of connection

I don't expect anyone will tell me telepathy is more reliable than a cell phone. At least not in the forms ESP research has any hope of finding.

If there were a really reliable telepath, he would have been found already. Unless he knows he's been sought, and uses his telepathy to hide himself ;-)

  • Range

Well... let's look at the alternative! Satellite phones. They work (worked?) anywhere on earth. Surely telepathy's advantage over that would be marginal? And Iridium went bankrupt, so there was not much demand for that, either.

  • Reliability of signal

By this I mean the odds of getting what the other guy is sending.

I suppose if telepaths transmit the thought in its raw form, interpreting it on the other side is going to be quite hard.

Take me, for example. As a side effect of how I learnt english, almost every conscious thought I have is in my head in spanish and in english. At the same time.

I literally have english dubbing running fulltime in my head. That's gotta be annoying!

Even without that, it takes me some effort to understand what I'm thinking. And I really know me!

Please suggest other paramenters in the comments if you want!

Now, I have a strong suspicion about why people want to believe in telepathy, and I think they fall in two camps.

  • Those who want to read what you think without you knowing it (or intentionally sharing it).

This is some sort of puerile voyeuristic fantasy, like dreaming of being invisible (you know why they want that, right? ;-)

Probably the reason why the US government used to throw away money paying ESP researchers.

  • The pathologically shy

They want you to really understand what they think, so you will understand and like and love them.

Well, that's all find and dandy, but it's perhaps easier to actually express yourself instead of dreaming about having a ESP capability you will never have?

I feel some tenderness for these maladjusted guys, mostly because I used to be one, and I still am in some ways.

But I have learned a few things since then. No, they will not like you if they understand you. Or maybe yes. But it's not guaranteed. So, be a nicer guy instead of dreaming of telepathy. Start understanding them, even!

Warning, silly pseudo-buddhist anecdote:

The Buddha saw one of his disciples cross a river walking over the water. He congratulated him, then gave the disciple a coin and told him: use this to pay the ferryman next time.

A miracle that only does the same you get for a coin is a miracle that's worth a coin.

Telepathy is a miracle worth 20 bucks a month for 500 minutes or whatever your cell plan is.

2006-01-16 19:49

Marriage bureaucracy

Rosario and I are pretty much non-believers, so we are getting married only with a civil ceremony (which is mandatory anyway).

So, this morning we went to the Registro Civil to arrange the appointment for the wedding.

Everything was done pretty quickly, no fuss, good vibes from the lady who's marrying us, we were pretty happy. But one thing called our attention.

We had to wait for about 30 minutes to set the appointment because we were the third couple.

There were we (dressed... perhaps too casually. This is just bureaucracy and it was early in the morning ;-)

Another couple of about 35/40 year-olds dressed very nicely, good clothes, nice shoes (we do live in a pretty fancy neighborhood).

And the last one were in their twenties, good looking people.

Now, the three couples were performing a necessary and pretty critical step in getting married, it's not romantic at all, but after you put your fingerprint in the request, you are saying that you are really going to get married.

And anyway, we were all aking for dates in the next month, so we were all pretty close to getting marrried.

And you know what, I was there, holding Rosario's hand, we were talking about how much we wanted to finally get all this done and be a "legal" couple, hugging and kissing (nothing scandalous ;-)... the other two couples hardly talked to each other.

The older ones, I think the guy only said "this is taking a while" and she answered with a nod.

What the hell? I was thinking about starting to scream at them you are all going to be extremely unhappy!!! do not get married if you don't like each other!!!*

Then again, perhaps they had made the wrong line and were waiting for death certificates?

I mean, why the heck were they getting married?

2006-01-13 12:21

First piece of my "distro"

Here are runit RPM and SRPM for CentOS 4.2 (probably works on some other distros as well).

You install it, then clone your GRUB (or LILO) entry so you boot passing init=/sbin/runit-init to the kernel and when you boot it, it should start on a rather normal-looking runlevel 3.

To reboot or halt, use reboot-runit and halt-runit, please!

Keep in mind that this is just a beginning, since all your services (except your ttys :-) are still running without supervision!

Should not destroy anything, but use at your own risk.

You will have to work further if you want to do more.

Included is /etc/runit/services/test a trivial template service.

Sorry about the spammy hosting, but I will get a decent server space for these files somewhere eventually. These rpms are just a teaser, anyway :-)

2006-01-11 13:00

I am getting married.

  • Date? Feb. 18th. 2006
  • Where? San Isidro, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
  • Who? Rosario Guerrero + Roberto Alsina
  • Why? Because we love each other.

Look at this picture.

Yes, it's what it looks like. It's part of our wedding invitations. How nerdy is that, exactly?

2006-01-11 12:36

2006 resolution

I will make some of my work public.

The best candidate is one that will probably not appeal to anyone: my personal linux distro.

I have it, I use it all the time. It's not published yet, though, since it consists of a base CentOS + a lot of work.

So, I will try to make it systematic, call it an installer, and drop it on the unsuspecting audience.

Don't hold your breath, though.

Here are some of the features:

  • Server oriented. I use it for my clients' servers.
  • Qmail+courier+vpopmail+roundcube+spamassassin+clamav mail system.
  • Squid proxy+fwbuilder firewall
  • Smart for package management
  • runit-based boot/services.
  • KDE as a GUI. Accssible via FreeNX/secure VNC.
  • OpenVPN for simple VPN management.
  • Custom cherrypy-based admin tools
  • No SeLinux (sorry, it's a pain in the butt. Secure, but a pain).
  • Bacula for backups
  • Custom tool to back the whole disk to a bootable DVD (System Rescue DVD)
  • /etc in SVN+Trac (yes, really, and the admin tools force you to use it)
  • Probably djbdns for DNS.

All in all, it's a pretty ordinary CentOS-based thing, except that the switch to runit makes service management way simpler and regular ( you can do things like having a non-root user that can manage some services, yay!)

On the other hand, the cherrypy-based tools would probably need a bit of a rewrite, since some are pretty cruddy.

Mostly, I have been gathering these pieces over the last 6 years as I really don't like the way any of the Linux server distros are built.

I based it on CentOS because doing the whole distro by hand is way too much work.

I can probably show it around June, if I don't get too sidetracked. Hopefully, someone will read this list and tell me "but graxzst linux already does all that!" ;-)

2006-01-09 11:43


Saw Narnia the other day.

Liked it.

Of course, the whole story makes no sense, but hey, that's how it's supposed to be.

If you have not seen it, and have not read the book, and intend to ignore the plot, please stop here. Ok?

There is this large lion, Aslan.

He gives his own life to save that of a sniveling treacherous, silly kid who sells others for turkish delight (a candy Rosario tried in Istanbul, and tells me is pretty good, so there is some sense in him).

Ok, so the kid is actually just scared, and petty, and a kid, and he's not that bad.

On the other hand, the lion...

For the whole movie, the White Witch is built up as evil, and monstrous and a killer. But it turns out that the worse she does is freeze her victims. Unharmed.

She eventually kills someone in a battle (but so does Peter, our 14-year old "hero").

The frozen guys can be revived at will by Aslan. Who for some reason had not done so.

On the other hand, Aslan's big sacrifice? He knew all along that he would be unharmed. Even his mane regrows after a few hours.

At least he could have told the two poor girls who thought had seen him die. And skipped the whole heavy-hearted "oh, I am so sacrificing myself" walk through the woods.

Oh, you may say, but the war is fought so that the true rulers of Narnia will ascend to their thrones!

Well, how in hell are those four english kids the true rulers? They had never been there, they have no connection to anyone there!

Hell they are the only four bloody humans in the world!

It looks amazingly racist to me. Species-ist?

So, hundreds of Narnia inhabitants die (and I mean really die, not fake-die like that Aslan kitten) so some carpetbaggers get to lord as kings over the plebeian masses, instead of another high-born chick.

My suggestion to the hordes of gryphons, sphinxes, polar bears, fauns, centaurs and dwarves:

Kill them all, and start living a decent life, without supporting useless parasites.

Free Phillip!

PS: Yeah, I did like it ;-)

2005-12-30 14:25

My first time

I just found here the announcement of the first free software I published (at least, that I recall), from may 13, 1996. So, It's going to be 10 years in 5 months!

Killer quote:

Python 1.3 (Maybe 1.2 would work too)
XForms 0.80 (NOT 0.75)

2005-12-29 20:04

Ok, here is how you write the shortest one

About http://www.pycontest.net... here's how it's done.

Sadly, it's pretty much impossible to put the code on the web because it has some really non-ascii stuff in it ;-)

Here's the key tricks (thanks to Remi and the others):

One of the key tricks is writing a short version of a very long octal number (or three).

I tried using base36 and int('gobledygook',36).

You could use 0xhexacodehere.

But here's the most space-efficient one: use base 256!

For each byte you want, create a char using chr(byte). Then paste them all together. Then put it in your code as a string. If you are lucky you will have no quotes or newlines in it, and the python interpreter will eat it.

You can later get the byte number x using ord('h!alsdf'[x]), and each byte by some dividing and modulo operation.

Another important piece is encoding 7 3-character strings as compactly as possible, and splitting them by offsets (which are encoded in the previosuly mentioned big number in base 8 ;-)

One extra squeeze is finding the shortest way to concatenate strings.

It's ''.join(), but if you are using it twice (or more), you save space by doing j=''.join and using j later.

Last one: Instead of defining a function, do a lambda:

def seven_seg(x): return .....

seven_seg=lambda x:

6 chars less!

And here is the shortest code I got so far (121 characters, requires python 2.4. On 2.2, it has to be 124).

In the contest, some guys are at 120. I don't know how. I can't even guess how ;-)

Update: it turns out I did know how to do it check it out I think it's the first public 120 :-)

BTW: you can't write that using kwrite. Vim works, though.

2005-12-28 09:50

Python Contest

There is a python contest at http://www.pycontest.net/

The task is writing the shortest program to drive a seven-segment LCD thingy.

I have no hope of winning, but here's a helpful hint:

If your code is any longer than this (191 chars), it will not win ;-)

a=' _ '
c='   '
d='  |'
e=' _|'
f='|_ '
g='| |'
def seven_seg(x):
        return '\n'.join([eval('+'.join([v[int(l)*3+i]for l in x]))for i in 0,1,2])+'\n'

Note: I edited this item way too many times already ;-)

And yes, I can save two characters moving the return up.

A much uglier, yet much shorter (151) version:

def seven_seg(x):return''.join([''.join(['|    ||__  __ || |  |'[int('a302ho6nqyp9vxvpeow',36)/10**(int(l)*3+u)%10::7]for l in x])+'\n'for u in 0,1,2])

And yes, that pretty much proves you can write ugly python. And I am giving up. A shorter version probably involves a different algorithm, and I can't find any.

I am particularly proud of saving one character by writing 104004334054154302114514332064 as int('a302ho6nqyp9vxvpeow',36).

Also interesting is that the number I was using there originally started with 4 and was exactly the same length written both ways ;-)

Since that number is pretty arbitrary (it's an index table into the "graphics" array), I just shuffled the 1 and the 4. The 0 would have been better but then it didn't work, of course :-)

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