2006-06-30 15:35

Now that the world cup is over...

... let's turn to a completely different subject.

In my professional life (that is, not counting odd jobs) I have had only three employers.

I worked for many years for the nice guys at UNL and for about a year for the not so nice guys at Conectiva (now Mandriva) Ok, I take that back, they were nice guys, they just were not a good place to work at. Or rather to stop working at.

And the third one has been me.

I must say I am pretty happy with me as a boss. I have managed to go through some very difficult moments in my country's economy, and never failed to cover payroll. Then again, I was very willing to take some paycuts, so I am a model employee, at least about that.

But... I have decided, a few months ago, that there are clear limits on how far being one's boss and sole employee can take you, so with a couple of friends we have decided to start a company, sortof.

It's pretty tentative right now, but we are all three quite knowledgeable in many things, and our areas of expertise overlap enough so that we can cover each other, and are different enough that we have a varied service offer.

Our main focus is system/network/DB management, and a little coding. So from now on, you will see every now and then, updates about this new project.

Where are we now:

  • We have a few customers.
  • Each of us is keeping most of their old ones, too.
  • We are using Trac to manage issues like ticketing and documentation.

What we need to do:

  • We need to start marketing.

Anyone can recommend a good nerdy hosting? Unmanaged, cheap, Linux? We are going right now with Tektonic, which has some very cheap unmanaged plans.

Anyone can recommend good literature on how to manage a service company?

Anyone thinks this is a very bad idea? Or a very good idea? Why?

I am pretty psyched about this, these are the two persons I would trust most in this subject, and we have been friends for a very long time. It's going to be fun :-)

2006-06-30 14:59

Hurt-o-meter marking: yellow

So, we're out.

The match was pretty even, not badly played, but both teams played excellent defense, so ...

Penalty kicks can go either way, and we are out.

What I have learned:

  • Enalapril does work.
  • Tevez is a monster.
  • Germany will not win the cup... unless they get some more luck. Like Ukrayne in semis and France in the final. Anyone else and they are toast (ok, maybe Italy sucks enough).
  • We have a very good shot in 2010.

I am obviously not feeling ok right now, but ... I said quarters or semis, and I said it would be with suffering. So there. I was right. Not that I actually enjoy being right. It's more like I hate being right.

2006-06-26 14:25

The Value Of Difficulty

I am not an artistic person. I am not able to appreciate whole arts (poetry doesn't move me, Lyric Singing annoys me). But I do have a taste, which is my own, although I understand it is not exactly good taste.

Now, what do I like?, or rather, why do I like it? Does it say something about me?

I find that I don't like any form of art without intrinsic difficulty. Or rather, that I enjoy more if it is somewhat difficult technically.

For example, I know all the theory behind why this is supposed to be a great painting:



Hermann Nitsch's work draws parallels between religion and the ritualistic spiritualism of creativity. Heavily entrenched in ancient philosophy and a dissident, questioning Christian theology, he actively seeks catharsis through pain and compassion, a rigorously disciplined quest for ethereal release and enlightenment through an embracing of primal instinct and ancient sacrament.

Ermmm... I see mostly a red blotch, which I suppose makes me a philistine.

On the other hand, I see this, and I actually see a lot more that fits that description:


I like Ingres more than Rothko, I like Rubens more than Picasso... maybe I am just old fashioned?

I think not. I think I despise those who decide to master a game with no rules, where you can declare yourself winner without contrasting yourself to other players. That's why we watch the football world cup and not other games, because it's damn hard and you have to do it with your feet. I think modern painting is taking the ball in your hands and declaring yourself revolutionary.

This outlook, that having a good technique, a domain of a difficult craft before bothering with art has some strange effects in my life. I don't like the low hanging fruit. But then again, I am not really tall enough or strong enough for the one that's on the hard to reach branches.

That leads to a life of almost unending frustration and yearning, yet gives me lots of energy, and I think I have come to do some things I wouldn't have done had I settled for easier pickings.

I have been working for years on how to harness that thrust for my own benefit, and I am not too good at it yet. Maybe that's the toughest craft I need to master, and I am working on it.

2006-06-26 13:29

This is a podcast.

Thanks to a post Rich Burridge I found out about Talkr which provides a cute RSS-to-voice service.

It works pretty well, and it was a piece of cake to add to the blog.

So, you can click on the "Listen to this post" links and ... listen to this post.

In any case, this confirms I am a blog-fidgeter. And if anyone knows of any other cute toys for it, please let me know :-)

2006-06-25 14:23

Exhausted by a match. And I was just watching.

I wrote in my first post about the world cup this:

We have a probable superstar, but he's too young and a little injured. We have a terrible goalie, an aging defense, a lot of above average forwards... I say semis, or quarters. If we get any further, it will be in the Italy way, not the Mexico way.

When I said the Italy way, I meant as Argentina advanced in Italy 90: with lots of suffering.

Now, this was not even close to the equivalent match in Italy: relentlessly being dominated by Brazil, but boy was it painful.

Not a great match, but I have hope that's just beause we match up badly with Mexico.

Germany beat the tar out of Sweden, and England has just finished beating Ecuador.

  • Germany is good, but I still want to know what happens when they play a team that can actually score. The closest they had was Ecuador, but they played without their best forward.
  • Sweden... what a depressing team.
  • England... Like Sweden, but with a guy that can do free kicks.
  • Ecuador... nervous. But not a bad game, they could have won if they had decided to bring it to England, which should have had some player thrown out for repeated fouling.
  • Mexico... guts. Lots of them. People have said Lavolpe is crazy. His name means "the fox". So, yeah, he is crazy... like a fox! He made a perfect tactical setting, but was unlucky with injuries.
  • Argentina... we can get better. I feel there is still another gear. But we need it on friday.

And to all my german friends in KDE... good luck, and a painless 1-0 defeat to you! ( just kidding ;-)

BTW: this is what happens when Argentina plays (game started at 16 hours):


2006-06-24 09:35


If you have read the past 5 posts, you saw it was coming, right? ;-)

Via Slate here's a paper applying game theory to penalties:


The conclussion (and they made me retype this, because of stupid DRM):

The implications of the Minimax theorem are tested using natural data. The tests use a unique data set from penalty kicks in professional soccer games. In this natural setting experts play a one-shot two-person zero-sum game. The results of the tests are remarkably consistent with equilibrium play in every respect: (i) winning probabilities are statistically identical across strategies for players; (ii) players' choices are serially independent. The tests have substantial power to distinguish equilibrium play from disequilibrium alternatives. These results represent the first time that both implications of von Neumann's Minimax theorem are supported under natural conditions.

In human:

  • Players are pretty good at making decisions according to game theory
  • Game theorists call that good

However (this I am making up as I go)...

  • A well kicked penalty is a goal, because there are places the keeper simply can't reach in time.
  • Since there is a winning strategy, it makes no sense to apply minimax: there is a global maximum (yes, I know, it makes sense, you just need to consider missing the goal as the chance of failure, then it is not a winning strategy... and I am not going to read the 21-page paper to see if he thought about it).

Of course the winning strategy (strong kicks to the top angles of the goal) is impractical for mere humans. All the more reason to consider RoboCup the most important tournament for the future.

2006-06-23 14:53

More on .9999... and 1

Read the comments. I am ashamed of mathematical education, right now. If these people has passed any mathematics tests (and some even claim to have gone to college), maths are hopelessly difficult.

Some choice quotes:

1/3 is a symbol for a set of 4 words, it is not a NUMBER.

Only a single number CAN POSSIBLY = 1. Other numbers may ADD UP to 1, but they don't EQUAL 1. Since 1 clearly = 1, .99999 repeating simply cannot equal 1.

.33(repeting) is irrational.

.99999 does not equal 1. It might in the CURRENT UNDERSTANDING of mathematics, but that don't make it true.

Mathematics cannot even prove that .99999 ... is not equal to 1.

Right now, math really can't deal with infinite numbers

.9 repeating, an irrational number, is ABSOLUTELY EQUAL to the rational number 1. Can this be used as proof to show there is no such thing as irrational numbers?

I'm half tempted to say there isn't really a right or wrong answer

I think I've come to the conclusion that .999... = 1 in the same sense that .333... = 1/3. Which is to say, it doesn't, quite, but we treat it like it does because our decimal system has problems.

0.9 recurring does not equal 1. Why? Because it's 0.9 recurring.

1 = .9 repeating IF WE WANT IT TO.

This is an exploitation of our numeric system, to arrive at an outcome that is indeed very close to being true, but the closer it gets to being true the further away it actually is.

2.9 repeating plus 2.9 repeating equals 5.9 repeating 8

And this last one is amazing. The poster proposes a number that is a 5.9 (an infinite number of 9s... and an 8). Right. An 8. After infinite 9s. At the end of them. Right there. Go to infinity position, then one more. There's the 8.

My mind boggles. And it's a mind that actually accepts .99(repeating) is 1.

2006-06-23 14:14

How satanic messages work (with video)

Everyone knows about the hidden satanic messages in songs.

You take a song, you play it backwards, and in certain places, you will have the singer saying something evil, like "I like eating puppies with cinnamon".

I have always assumed that this happens because our brains try to recognize patterns in the sounds they get, and they are a bit too good in that job, but now I have proof.

Here's a video Rosario (my wife, hi dear!) sent me:

In it you can hear pieces of pop songs, in english (and latin), and subtitles of what they seem to say in spanish.

Now, unless you believe Avril Lavigne actually says "Leiva quiso venderme el Ford" (Leiva tried to sell me a Ford), and Marley sings about "Where is Julia", the "picking too much signal" theory seems true.

Specially, if you are told what you should hear, it works much better!

I had heard these songs a million times, and I had never thought they said that, but with the subtitles... some of them are pretty close :-)

The issue of why subliminal messages encoded backwards in songs make no sense in the first place is another topic.

2006-06-22 11:11

Infinite Amateurism on Maths

I stumbled upon Thomas Thurman's post on his blog (here) where he comments about a discussion on The Guardian about how .99(recurring) is or is not the same as 1.

Of course to anyone who knows what a rational number is, .99(recurring) is simply a very long way to write 1. Hell, to anyone who bothered learning his fractions, that should be obvious!

But anyway, one of the comments mentions Hilbert's Hotel, which is a pet toy of mine.

If you are uncomfortable or annoyed by the concept of infinity, you may want to avoid the rest of this post.

Hilbert's Hotel is this paradox (Thanks Wikipedia!):

A hotel with an infinite number of rooms (1, 2, 3 and so on, so it's a numerable infinity) is full. A guest arrives. Yet he still gets a room. How?

The answer is that you ask the guest in room 1 to move to room 2, from 2 to 3 and so on. Then the new guest goes to room 1, which is now free.

Because of the nature of infinity, this works, while on a finite hotel it wouldn't.

  • Unintuitive things about infinity: If you add any number to it, the result is the same infinity.

Now assume an infinite (numerable) number of guests arrives. You have to ask the guest in room 1 to go to room 2, the guest in room 2 to go to room 4, and guest n to go to n*2.

Now you have an infinite (numerable) number of free rooms: all the odd rooms.

  • Unintuitive things about infinity: If you multiply it by any number, the result is the same infinity.
  • Unintuitive things about infinity: If something is infinite, it contains a part the same size as the whole (follows from the previous two things, and is, in fact an "if and only if").

However, here's where it gets tricky. You could get a certain number of new guests and there could be no way to fit them in the rooms even if the hotel was empty.

Because there's infinity, and then there is infinity. You saw that whenever I mentioned the number of rooms I mentioned they were infinite (numerable)? That's because you can put an integer number to each, and number them all.

There are infinite sets of things that are bigger, they are literally uncountable. You can't put a number to each, even with an infinite amount of time (and yes, I know that infinite amount of time there is a big problem).

The simplest set imaginable that large is that of the real numbers. The real numbers are all the numbers you can imagine, allowing for infinite decimals, and allowing that those decimals may not ever be recurring (so you have things like 2, 1/3, and pi).

Showing there are more of those that there are integer numbers is not simple enough for this but go along with me for a while.

  • Unintuitive things about infinity: There are different sizes of infinite. Go blame Georg Cantor.

Now it gets really weird. Suppose we call the size of the infinite in Hilbert's Hotel A0 (I have no idea how to do an Aleph, sorry), and the size of the real numbers C. Cantor showed how to build, once you have an infinite set, a larger infinite set called his power set.

That means we now have a whole infinite (numerable) "sizes" of inifinite things. Those are called the transfinite numbers.

  • Unintuitive things about infinity: There are infinite different sizes of infinite. Go blame Georg Cantor some more.

Which brings a lot of questions:

  • Are there only those? Isn't there something between A0 and C which is some in-between size?
  • Is there an infinite set that's smaller than the integers?
  • Ok, infinite infinites... infinite (numerable) infinites, or infinite (something else) infinites?

Well... I have no idea. And last I checked, which was long ago, and my memory is no good, noone else knew.

This is the kind of things that will tell you whether you could be a mathematician. Do you find all this talk about transfinite numbers intriguing and mysterious, or just dull and boring and impractical?

If you find it dull and boring, it may be my writing, or you may be unsuited for maths.

If you find it intriguing and/or mysterious, it certainly is not my writing, and you would probably enjoy maths in your life. Where else are you going to run into "noone knows that" this quickly?

The problem is, of course, that most of the fun math has already been done at least a century ago, but there is always a chance of something fun and intriguing and new coming along.

The last I know of was Gödel's theorem, which is really simple enough for anyone with knowledge of arithmetic to follow, but weird enough for 99.99% of the people to go crazy about (and for those who don't really understand it to write whole books about it applying it to totally improper subjects).

But you know, noone really had thought of such thing as "larger than infinity" quite as Cantor did, and noone thought about Gödel's subject quite as he did before him.

Maybe we are missing something absolutely simple, incredibly elegant, awesomely shocking somewhere in basic maths. Not likely. But possible. Wouldn't it be fun to find it?

BTW: Gödel starved himself to death and Cantor "suffered poverty, hunger and died in a sanatorium".

2006-06-16 11:04

Happy post

I have not posted in a few days, because I have been very busy.

I have not even been able to see all matches (I missed USA/Czech, Italy/Ghana).

But man, did watching Argentina/S&M pay off! :-)

A very good match by Argentina, which of course brings up the obvious questions...

  • Is the S&M defense made of beheaded chickens?

Allegedly it's one of the best defenses in Europe, but their best player was out. So it's not conclusive. My bet is that they are not beheaded chickens, and that Argentina made them look bad. Or rather: 25% beheaded chickens, 75% Argentina's merit.

On the other hand, the player that said they should have attacked against the dutch was wrong. It's not called being a coward, it's called knowing you can't score.

  • Was the good Dutch performance against S&M real?

Who knows. We will figure it out for sure after they play Ivory Coast. My bet? Tough match for the dutch, possibly a tie.

Now for the other teams:

England has nothing. They suck much more than you think now. Wait until they play a team that actually has a forward who can score (and is not playing 5 like Yorke). Set pieces for Beckham at midfield and Crouch trying to head it in is not something that's going to work a lot. For their sakes, Owen and Rooney better start showing something completely different than against T&T. Which still has a chance. I would prefer them and not Sweden to stay in the cup!

Germany has something. The defense was improved (although Poland has a lame attack), and their forwards are not bad.

Spain has a lot. Specially going forward, and they made Ukrayne look like amateurs. We'll see if that was Ukrayne's fault of Spain's merit later on.

Brazil has something big. His name is Ronaldo. Remove him and they are going to kick ass.

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