Read books – here’s a free sampler

December 17, 2009

Wil Wheaton posted about it, so you should download this eBook sampler.

Nothing more to add and it would only take away your reading time.

I am not a merry man

December 15, 2009

Listening to Wil Wheaton’s Happiest Days Of Our Lives, 2 things jumped into mind. First, I wish I could be as open and honest as he can be. For reasons I plan to explain in a future post, I think I can’t. Second, his recount of how music and certain songs were part of his live and how it defined a certain period or occasions. In my life, music played a part, a big one. This is probably not much different from other people. There is difference in the particular choice although, arguably, is not different from most people. [the follwing is extremely incomplete and will be filled in and possibly contradicted in future posts – it does paint a good picture though) When I was 11 I started to define my taste in music, like all the kids. Slowly, what I liked started to define me and other kids appeared to have different, if not bad, tastes. It started with Kiss, who were at the peak of their popularity. I jumped on the bandwagon with I Was Made For Loving You but before I knew I bought the older albums and even solo albums. Within a year, not propelled by a hitsong, Bob Marley came in the picture. That was exciting music because he sang about ‘important stuff’. The years that followed had me expanding. Of what I remember, most notably were Madness and Adam and the Ants. I had most albums of the former and all of the latter, including Dirk Wears White Sox, from before international fame. Of course I didn’t have it until after their breakthrough Prince Charming because without the internet it wasn’t easy to find out. Radioshows with alternative music were late in the evening and magazines weren’t cheap for me. When I was 17 I went to a new school and I had a bit more money to spend. On top of that, I had discovered the municipal music library. In that school, I hooked up with a mixed group of punks, new wave kids on sort-of-goth (I believe the term wasn’t known then – I called the girls of that style ice queens). As is my nature, I completely jumped ahead of the queue. The Cure, the Smtihs, U2, Exploited, Dead Kennedys, Pink Floyd, Echo and the Bunnymen, it wasn’t enough. I did have all that music and I loved it (still do) but I was on my personal playground and had to push it. During a science fiction convention there was a Hawkwind concert. I was sold on those acid space rockers. Around that time I bought, in a second-hand shop, a book listing all songs with somewhat of an science fiction or fantasy connection. most were obvious and not very interesting (In The Year 2525 was not much of a science fiction song to me). The one band that stuck for reasons emtirely unclear to me was Van Der Graaf Generator. I had never heard of them. They had some SF-esque songs but it was not what they were about. Somewhat akin to progressive rock, they took it much further. In another post I might expand on that. Now it is time to tell about what those songs meant to me. Age 17 to 22, I was mentally derailed. Not clinically crazy or such, I just didn’t know what to do and I wanted to disappear, beyond the level of my teenage peers. In that time I met my future wife and what she saw in me is still beyond me. A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers – Van Der Graaf Generator A descent into madness and suicide. While the song is full of metaphor, it didn’t take me very long to figure it out, between 5 and 10 listens. I never played this song in the morning. Late afternoon until deep into the night. This is one of those songs I preferred over my headphones, to listen to without distraction. Walking home from school, I sang it in my head. Unless the weather was warm, to me it goes with any weather up until room temperature. [note: I’m new at this, it’s not going like I have in mind yet] The song defines me in moments where I felt nothing. Going through it felt good, not not-alive. The depth of the song, which leaves behind any such song by a wide margin still sucks me in. I’m just going to put this up. I’m not happy with it but I would be fuzzing over it until the end of internet. Typos and other errors will be corrected later.

Wrong

December 14, 2009

In my ill-considered career as an IT guy I made many wrong decisions. It is a small miracle I still have a decent job.

It’s not that I don’t care about the work, I love it with all my heart. That might sound strange in a world that, at least in my perception, focusses on creativity, meeting people, going to all kinds of places and I could give you some more cliches if I put my mind to it. Creativity, of course, means writing, painting, making music and, again, all the cliches.

Nothing wrong with the cliches except that few realize that that’s what they are, cliches. What makes playing a guitar a more creative or in any way better passtime then setting up a computer and make it communicate with another? If you don’t see that, your guitarplaying, painting or writing is a choice made in the absence of knowing other choices. Computers are as good a passion as binge-drinking on a Saturday night that passes off as socializing.

Back to my career in IT. Besides my passion for bits travelling across silicone, waves, copper and what-not, my crappy focus is a hindrance. I want to do it all: setting up and administrating networks, messing with hardware, programming, you name it. Every time I find something great to do. What so far kept me working has been spells of a benign labormarket, being able to do interviews fairly well enough times to land a job and spells of focus.

I’ve been through a rough spot, the second time where money was so tight I was scared for my family, as in getting food on the table and having a roof over it too. In one case, the most recent one, it was partly my inability to focus, partly my inability to keep an eye on the people around me.

I have Asperger. I have a hard time figuring out what people are up to by their body language. Basically, if you don’t tell me you’re trying to pull my leg, I won’t think or see that you do. My previous project was going fine. No complaints, I did, as expected, run the extra mile (‘taking initiative’) and when I needed information and didn’t get it, I asked again and, if needed, asked yet again. I went on holiday and the last day before it, the project teams got together, we spoke through everything: what was done, what needed to be done, who would do what. There had never been a single complaint, not a word of dissent. Nothing.

A week later, 2 days before my return, they let me know, indirectly, that I hadn’t done anything right, they would not discuss their decision, it was final and all that. The source? Here to comes ‘there were rumors’  by unidentified persons. I checked with my hiring company if they asked for a replacement. They did. Well, ok. Only later I, by chance, spoke with the replacement. They interviewed him, hired him and before he started, cancelled because ‘ they had to solve some internal issues’.

I am the first to find fault with myself. Initially, although the reasons given (including that it wasn’t entirely my fault) puzzled me. Now, I don’t blame myself much. Except for not being able to see what was happening. In the first week they made it clear they didn’t have much to do for me, they said they hired me too soon etc. I should have asked my hiring company to look for somethng different. But if anything, I’m almost always loyal beyond what’s reasonable. Someone there fucked up and waited for my to be on holiday to find a reason to get rid of my and took a whole week to come up with vagueness.

Weeks later they came up with a slightly more coherent excuse. It basically took them a month. It took me 3 months to land a job again. The first crucial week was wasted because of their timing. Not being paid when I’m not working, that timing was very costly.

I’m trying to do it right again. My job now allows diversifying and it will cost me most of my chrismas holiday for the third time in a row but I’m going to study and study hard. I need some certificartes. The wife will be working, as she has done almost every night this and last month (restaurant) so we can repair the financial damage. During christmas, she’ll stay in the restaurants hotel because the time between two shifts is too short to come home. We’ll find a way to make it fun for the kids. At least one of us will be with them.

My wife is awesome, my kids are awesome, our mothers are awesome (our fathers are dead, they were awesome though). There are good companies, where good people work. To those who abused my trust (I count 4 in a career of almost 2 decades): I hope you’ll do better next time. I know, to safe face, you can’t hire me anymore. I don’t need you. While you lazily scrape in the case, my family and I work hard, very hard and make sacrifices, knowing that, bottomline, we still have it good, compared to most people out there in the world.

So, where was I? My decisions aren’t always solid and brought me in tough spots. I working on it every waking hour.

Afterthought: I planned on making this coherent and well-written. Halfway I sidetracked myself. I leave it as it is. I hope my writing will improve. Too many plans involving writing died an early dead or prematurely even because I was afraid to suck, wanting to be perfect from the start. Not this time. I will suck and will suck. It is a good day to suck.

TRS-80

December 13, 2009

My first computer experience was a TRS-80. I remember it well. It was the last year of my first middle/high school. I was 14 and it was almost summer. Next year I would start somewhere else. It must have been June, the year was 1983.

I knew we had a computer (three as it turned out) and also that it was on the 3rd floor behind a door with a big metal plate. I guess the school’s administration was on it, most likely on software programmed by a teacher or someone’s kid. At that day, The Door went open and a lot of kids flocked around thess magical pieces of machinery. At some point I got my turn. My programming skills were from watching what the other kids were doing. Before that moment I had not the slightest idea of what programming meant other than a vague idea that it let Computers do Stuff. Although my, even then, skeptic mind prevented my from believing the computer to be anything else than a very interesting machine, I approached it with a bit of awe. And I created my first program.

All the others were doing about the same thing:

10 print “hello”

20 goto 10

Not me of course. I was much more creative:

10 print “H”

20 print ” e”

30 print ”  l”

40 print ”    l”

50 print ”    o”

60 goto 10

After that, I added inputs, so you could create you own 5 letter word. I can still picture it, what the weather was outside, most of the people who were there with me.

I was hooked.

The next school had 5 TRS-80 computers. As often as we could, about 4 of us tried to find a teacher who had to do some work so that we could program on the computers after class hours. It still ranks among the best of my teenage memories. I wrote a program, if you could call it that, testing reflexes by pushing a button after a word appeared on screen, keeping the best score. It was used during a promotion day, were everyone could visit the school. My physics teacher won. It was my first program for public use.

When I turned sixteen normally I would get a moped. At that age, it is the first motorized vehicle you can drive. Still today, kids can’t wait to turn sixteen and drive a scooter (in my day, scooters were lame, now they are cool – that’s how it goes). I wanted a computer, a Commodore 64. I got it and spent countless hours with it, deep into the night, divided between gaming and programming.

Eventually I became a system administrator, not a programmer. As I love anything having to do with information technology, I’m very happy. Lately I’ve turned to programming again and it’s a much different world from the days of Basic and such languages. Not better or worse, just different. Inside, there is always the teenage boy, intent on making the computer do what he wants it to.

Meta-pondering: what will I write about and how?

December 11, 2009

My childhood years were, like that of most people, uneventful for anyone but myself. To me it was a big deal.

Still, I would happily dish out stories that endear people, telling how, besides a few incidents, was lovely and heart-warming. On the other hand, it wasn’t traumatic or horrible. So what would I speak about? At this point, I’m not sure. Despite relative anonimity, Idon’t feel comfortable getting to personal. So I’ll start off gently, conciously and unconciously leaving out things, making it sound better, or at least different.

How I became a skeptic

December 11, 2009
I think I have always been a skeptic. How I define that is as being someone who wants good evidence before considering something either true or useful. The latter by which I mean that something might work but as long as we have no good idea of how it works, it can’t be used in a practical sense.
In my childhood I was already interested in science, mathematics and philosophy. I was known as the little professor, you might know such children yourself. Forever digging into books, news (as young as 7) and reasoning. On my twitter account I recently (approximately 11 to 14 November 2009) I remarked on the low number of good science books as compared the, at best, speculative science in my local public library. They have no Carl Sagan but they do have Sylvia Browne, Char Margolis and Allison DuBois. For want of a better word, I consider this disgraceful and shameful. If anyone would like to argue otherwise be my guest. I feel very strongly about this.
When I was young, it wasn’t much better. At an age where I didn’t have any meaningful command of English, I had to do with books translated into my mother tongue, Dutch. This is a small market which means that mostly books expecting to sell a good number are translated. In practice it meant that for example the only Carl Sagan book I found was Cosmos (from the TV series) and one other (Dragons Of Eden, if I remember correctly). The number of books on the paranormal, alternative healing, UFOs and such were plentiful. On a sidenote, this is why I am not surprised why such things (homeopathy for example) persist despite scientific advances.
Such a situation is not good for the development of critical thinking. I had no intellectual tools to counter false claims. Also, I assumed the writers were honest and some were, yet that does not exclude naive and misguided thinking. Good intentions are no guarantee in research. The result was that I believed in spirits and ghosts, ancient civilizations, the Bermuda Triangle, energy healing, homeopathy, the list goes on.
I didn’t believe just anything, there was a core of skeptic thinking, I just missed good methods to detect pseudoscience. I did not suddenly rid myself of this. Not 6 years ago I explained to someone close how a message from his deceased father seemed incorrect only because time flows differently there. 5 years ago I was considering learning reiki. In the past 10 years I consulted 3 psychics as well as using homeopathy against inflammation of the elbow. As a teenager I borrowed the I-Tjing from the library (an example of a translated work of pseudoscience) and was earnestly using it for predictions. I thought that my lack of understanding how it worked was my fault (faulting the practitioner is a common excuse used in the world of alternative and pseudoscience). I also was a faithful listener to a radioshow about the paranormal and went to the first Dutch paranormal fair. I cannot count the times I explained to people how the spiritworld, energyfields and so forth work.
Had Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World been available in translation, I am reasonably sure this would not have happened. However, as I said, there was much pseudoscience, less science and no books on critical thinking. School was not helpful either. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the science thaught in school, only later I realized how it lacked in teaching the scientific method or critical thinking. I had mostly good, enthousiastic and sometimes inspiring teachers but they could do only so much. I don’t blame them.
Human memory is a crude, insufficient device. That is why, in good science, eyewitness accounts need to be used with care. What I remember is incomplete. I have only 2 examples I can be sure enough about to illustrate how my thinking developed.
First was a book that explained why the Bermuda Triangle mystery was not a mystery and not true. It made a list of everything that was claimed to have happened because of it. First it set aside everything that, if it had happened, did not happen there. Then it proceeded to inspect each case. For example, if the disappearance of a ship was claimed and there were no records of such a ship ever to have existed, it was taken of the list. By the end, no claim was left: there was no evidence of a Bermuda Triangle mystery.
Secondly, there was Cosmos, the TV series. It was not to teach critical thinking, yet it prevaded it. No more needs to be said of it and it helped my critical thinking and appreciation of true wonders. Even if spirits existed, it would not come close to the amazement over the life of a star, how it comes into being, lives and dies.
Slowly and surely, my belief in anything pseudoscientific vaporated. The last things to go were (afterlife) spirits, reiki and homeopathy. The first might have been UFOs. Conspiracies never entered my mind, I never believed anything of it.
I stopped believing in homeopathy because it didn’t work. In the world of homeopathy this apparently counts as good evidence, as many such products are supported largely by testimonies. So my testimony should count equally: it never worked for me, despite my belief in it. Having a homepathic/antroposofic GP for 20 years, I had a lot of exposure to it.
I stopped believing in psychics for a remarkable reason, at least I think so. All 3 psychics (and may I remind, I believed in it during and even after it) either started explaining that what they did was real, despite that I did not challenge them (I even agreed with them) and one did not want to tell me about a ghost he saw being with me because I was too skeptical. Let me assure you I was nothing of the kind towards his claimed abilities. I believed him to be a true psychic.
Now I realize the problem. I’m diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrom (my son is an autist, middle- to high functioning). Part of that is my lack of appropriate facial or bodily expression. When I listen, people often think that I don’t listen, ignore them or don’t believe them. Reality is, I have little no expression. Part of what psychics do is reading facial expression, consciously or unconciously. We all do but for psychics it is especially important. I think I made them uncomfortable because I could not hand them this tool. My sincere assurance to them of their readings being correct did not ease them. One was confused, one kept explaining the reality of his ability and one was irritated, somewhat hostile even (I was not so much told I was skeptical, the tone was accusing).
My sense of wonder is for the explained and eventually to be explained universe. Magic holds no attraction to me. It is empty.

Moving to here

December 11, 2009

When I picked Blogspot for blogging it was mainly because it was part of Google and I wanted to be in the Google cloud. An app for posting to WordPress from my Symbian-based phone changed my mind. WordPress it is.

Posted by Wordmobi

Hello world!

December 11, 2009

Welcome to WordPress.com. This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!