Barely tolerable

Some diseases and other problems limit themselves. A parasitic colony must limit the level of exploitation of the host, because a dying host will kill the parasite with it. The colony must limit itself. It can also be limited by circumstances. A sick and hungry host might mean that the parasite will also be hungry and weak.

Today’s computers don’t seem faster than 10, 20, or 30 years ago. I’m sitting in front of a computer with an Intel processor clocked at 2.7GHz, but when I press a key, I’m waiting longer than I did when I used a computer with a Zilog Z80 processor, clocked at 0.0035GHz. This means that the clock is 770 times faster. Why do I have to wait for a reaction longer than earlier? Or, why do I wait more or less exactly as much so that it irritates me a bit, but doesn’t frustrate me to the point where I want to give up using my computer?

Making code changes is annoying, because I can’t just change what I need to. I have to make changes in 8 other places, because different parts of code aren’t fully independent, and layers of abstraction are leaky. I curse, and painstakingly make my changes, hitting one snag after another. Still, the problems I encounter are not as grave as to discourage me from making my changes, or to begin a project to clean it up.

Car drivers are stuck in traffic. The state keeps on building new roads, and makes the existing ones wider, but somehow the traffic is getting worse. A long time ago a journey from A to B was slow, because you had to use a horse and a cart. Then came the automobile, but it was as slow as the horse. Later, a fast car came along, but speed limits and traffic lights also appeared. Other fast cars are in the way, and once you get there, it’s hard to park, which takes additional time.

Extrapolating all this… why do we live in an environment which we can barely stand?

It has to be that way, by definition. If the environment was not bearable, we would have done something to change it. When we accept the environment as is, we let it drift, and that drift has only one direction: to the worse.

Why only to the worse?

A sand castle is only one of many possible configurations of grains of sand. However, from all the possibilities, the orderly ones are a staggering minority. The majority of possible configurations are a gravity-flattened mound of sand without any edges, corners, circles, walls, or any other regular shapes.

From all the possible states of our environment, the majority is sorry, messy, ineffective, not gratifying, and ugly. The number of possible orderly states is much smaller. Thus, when our environment is drifting from the current state into an adjacent random one, it is almost certain that it will transition into a worse state.

There is a higher number of inefficient versions of our computer program, than efficient ones.

There are more ways to cram the city with cars, than to maintain free space on the streets.

Everything around us undergoes something akin to evolution, except without natural selection. The pervasive disorder surges in all aspects of our lives.

We know from experience however, that it’s not always like that. There are some fast computer programs. Some cities aren’t choking on cars. There is computer code that’s pleasant to work with. I’ll ask again, then: why do we live in an environment that is hardly bearable?

Aren’t we guilty of this? Why do we only react instead of working proactively? Why do we wait idly until the environment is intolerable?

Five Minute Breaks

About two weeks ago, I posted this in a few places:

Dear Lazy Plus,

For a few days now I’ve started to take regular, 5-minute breaks during work. They are literally 5-minute breaks, with a timer running on my phone. I make a cup of tea, take a few sips, and di-ding! I’m heading back to my desk.

Thing is, there’s only so many times making tea is enjoyable. Or any beverage, for that matter.

I’m looking for something else to do in these 5-minute breaks. Ideally, something that isn’t staring at my phone, or involving any kind of screen. One thing I tried is juggling 3 balls. I’m not very good at it, which is great, because I feel that I’m improving slightly. But I’d like to add more activities. Any ideas?

Here’s the compilation of answers I’ve received:

  • Music room [I play bass]
  • Take a 5 minute nap on a bean bag
  • Doodle
  • Stairs
  • Rubik’s cube
  • Meditation (breathing, etc)
  • Do nothing, just relax, maybe reflect on what you did since the last break and why what you’re going to do next matters
  • Juggling a squash ball [I was offered instructions on how to do it]
  • Basic wrist / arm stretches
  • Go strike a conversation with someone on another floor
  • Origami. Yodeling. Bonsai. Learning to play the xylophone. Chemistry experiments. Psychological experiments.
  • Push-ups. Skipping rope. Chin-ups. Hold a pillar bridge/plank for 5 mins. Balance things on your head. Meditate. Journal.
  • Take up smoking [plus a suggestion of a smoking companion, haha]
  • Do two things with a Mobius strip. Do one thing with a piece of knot theory.
  • Deep Diaphragmatic Breathing, five minutes of that a day will revolutionize your life.
  • Work on doing impressions.

So far, the easiest thing to do, was striking a conversation with whomever happened to be around the micro kitchen. I’ve talked to several people who I’ve just been passing in the corridor without even a greeting. Now I know their names and a little bit about them. It was satisfying. It will take me time to try out the other ones.

Prisoner’s dilemma and bullying

Prisoner’s Dilemma is one of the classical games in game theory. It’s an interesting abstraction of a whole class of situations, where two parties can choose between cooperative and non-cooperative behavior. It’s a kind of game where win-win and lose-lose result can be achieved. It doesn’t apply to situations like negotiating a price, where one party’s loss is another’s gain; prisoner’s dilemma applies to situation where two parties form a team and work together.

Continue reading “Prisoner’s dilemma and bullying”

Sitting straight

Joanna sent me a link to an article about sitting straight at the desk. It says that sitting straight is bad for backs. Why?

Levent Caglar from the charity BackCare, added: “In general, opening up the angle between the trunk and the thighs in a seated posture is a good idea and it will improve the shape of the spine, making it more like the natural S-shape in a standing posture”.

I disagree with the article, or rather with the conclusion. Sitting straight is good for back. The reason for the researchers to say otherwise is that most of people can’t keep their lower spine in the right position. It’s best to show an example, perhaps with a little exaggeration:

When sitting like this, the spine has its natural, S-like shape. It’s seemingly easy, but in fact it’s not. Most of Europeans can’t do this. And for sure, most of them can’t do that for more than just few minutes.

Most of the people, to set their spine in S-shape, need to lean back. Paraphrasing the article, I would say: Being stiff ‘bad for backs’.

New year, new job, new country

The new year brought lots of new things to me. A new job in a new country, an all that comes along with it. I needed to cancel my flat rent in suburbs of Warsaw, go to Dublin and find myself a place to live.

It all went fine, as I’m currently sitting in a nice apartment in a residential area, about 30 minutes walk from UCD, where I work.

In my new exciting job, I am developing a software package called Genepi, which is designed to perform statistical analysis of genetic data. It is licensed under terms of the General Public License. I am very happy about it ― it’s like a dream come true.

So far, I was mostly writing on my Polish blog, which is being read by my Polish friends and family. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to write both Polish and English blogs. The Polish blog will probably remain my personal blog for the time being.

My trip to Ireland seems to be much easier than the previous one to Denmark. I don’t know exactly, why is that. Maybe it’s that I have more money now? Or more experience? Or simply more luck? Whatever the reason, it is all easy and nice.