Do you have a time machine on your desk?

If we define time machine as an apparatus, which can transfer information from a possible future to the past – does a PC, which is sufficiently powerful to run simulations (i.e. has at least 4K memory), meet this definition?

Consider the following.

You want to know what will a potential future be, if you choose a certain course of action. This information will allow you to decide if to follow this course of action or a different course of action.

You develop (or pay someone else to develop) a program which simulates the future to the level of detail which you need. You run the program on your PC and analyze the simulation results. Finally you decide if you want this future or some other future.

However, simulating the future is philosophically equivalent to having a look at the future. Of course, you’ll not see everything in the future. But a time machine would not transfer from the future to the past every detail about the future world. Both PC and time machine will tell you as much as you need to know about the future. Sometimes less than you need, due to fog (time machine) or numerical difficulties due to chaotic regions in the simulation (PC).

The mystery of Queen Maud

One of my childhood’s mysteries was: who was the mysterious Queen Maud, whose name I saw on a large part of Antarctica in maps?

The grownups, whom I asked this question, were too busy in their affairs or about improving my deaf speech to take this question seriously.

No queen in the history books, which I read, had this name. I wondered whether there is a fairy tale, whose heroine has this name. I never saw or read about a real woman having this name.

In fact, the first time I saw Maud used as a woman’s name was in the movie “Harold and Maud”, which I saw several years after having seen Antarctica’s map.

The above happened in the pre-Internet era, when it was very difficult for me to find information which one’s parents and teachers don’t consider to be important or valuable.

For several years I forgot about this mystery. Once I remembered it again, few minutes’ worth of googling yielded the following facts.

The surprising conclusion was that even in pre-Internet stone age, it would have been sufficient to briefly glance through a book about modern history of Norway to find the answer to the Queen Maud mystery. The Queen Maud Land part of Antarctica is the area claimed by Norway. Queen Maud herself was a real person, and she was queen of Norway. The land in question was named by Roald Amundsen in honor of his queen.

Using welfare to restructure economy

Previously I wrote about the make-work problem of developed countries’ economics. In brief, the problem is that to produce the needs of a population, only small percentage (i.e. much less than 100%) needs to work. Thus, a system is needed to:

  1. Distribute the fruits of the producers’ labor among the entire population.
  2. Discourage people from being freeloaders incapable of doing productive work should this ever be necessary.
  3. Allow people to choose to work more (or make effort in another socially acceptable way) in exchange for more luxurious lifestyle.
  4. Develop and maintain excess capacity to work. This excess will allow the population to recover quickly from disasters.

There are some possible solutions:

  1. The conventional solution is to use advertising to develop artificial demand, and to get people to work to meet this artificial demand. I wrote elsewhere about some consequences of this solution.
  2. A better solution is to let people work in smaller and less efficient production units (factories, farms, or whatever) if they cannot pay for the products of bigger production units. On the other hand, people may find themselves working so much and get so tired that they cannot get ahead by studying.
  3. Even better system is to get people, who don’t have a job, to spend time learning something which will improve their productivity in the future.

The first two solutions are such that no special mechanisms are needed to cause cash to flow in a way which holds them together. This is why several economies implement them. The third solution needs special mechanisms to get goods to flow from the producers to the students, as there is no direct benefit to the producers from the fact that students spend time studying.

Now, I would like to propose a solution to this problem.

Welfare – both taxing of high incomes and handing out of money to people with low incomes – is now an established and accepted part of several economies. The welfare systems do a lot and get abused a lot.

My proposal is to replace existing income-based criteria for getting welfare by willingness to spend time studying something new.

Under this proposal, anyone, who did not (or was too lazy to) find a job, can get money for studying something. Welfare applicants would be evaluated to get a recommended course of study. However, they will then be free to study whatever they wish, at least some of their time.

Single mothers would be provided with services which look after their children while they study. People, who have learning disabilities, will be catered to by special methods of instruction, matched to their preferred studying style.

Just by studying, people would be able to get a minimum level if income. Certain subjects, which are deemed to be in demand, may carry higher pay tag. People, who study those subjects, will get more money while they study them.

The HELP 2004 Exhibition

Today I visited the HELP 2004 Exhibition in the Exhibition Grounds at northern part of Tel Aviv.
This is an exhibition of equipment, accessories, means and methods for the population of people with disabilities in Israel.

It was a small exhibition, occupying only one building in the Exhibition Grounds.
This exhibition started yesterday and will end tomorrow.

Overwhelmingly majority of the booths exhibited equipment which helps wheel chair bound people. Elevators, equipment which allows them to drive cars or to use cars at all, new kinds of wheelchairs, walkers, etc. The needs of the hard-of-hearing were represented mostly by booths of audiological clinics and hearing aid dispensers. I don’t recall seeing booths with equipment which serves the needs of blind or hard sighted people.

The hall was indeed full with people on wheelchairs. There was also respectable representation of people with hearing impairments, even though today was not Hearing Day (which was held yesterday, in parallel to the exhibition). Usually when I go to exhibitions or such places, I meet zero or one people whom I know from other place. This time, I met no less than two people whom I know from other places, not to mention people who manned (or rather, womanned) the booth of Bekol.

My personal goal was to find people, who develop new kinds of assistive equipment, and need help with the software part of their inventions. I located no such people, but I got hold of up-to-date contact information for M.I.L.B.A.T., the Israeli center for technology and accessibility. This center employs the services of volunteer professionals, who design custom adaptations for the needs of people with disabilities. I was in contact with the center several years ago, but somehow lost contact with them.

Selling your software – a brief review of two articles by Eric Sink

Closing the Gap, part 1 talks about the function of proactive sales in a small ISV.
Closing the Gap, Part 2 describes an alternative to hiring a sales guy.

Both parts elaborate on closing the gap between your product and a prospective customer.
Part 2 also has links to further reading about the subject.
Those parts and several other articles by Eric Sink are worth the time spent reading them.

Another point of view on current economic situtaion in developed countries

Let’s assume that thanks to advances in technology, it is sufficient to support the basic needs – food, clothes, shelter, medicine – of a 1,000,000 people population by the efforts of 10,000 people working normal work weeks.

This leaves 990,000 people unemployed. Applying the current economic model of requiring people to work in order to get goods and services would mean that 990,000 people would die of famine or illness even though there are resources to keep them alive and well. There are possible good and bad solutions to the problem, and several of them were used, to varying degrees, and for better or worse, in the world’s economies:

  1. The 10,000 people are made slaves of the entire population. They are forced to work and support the other people. For example, by means of high income tax and high sales tax (or VAT) – accompanied by generous welfare handouts to people without jobs.
  2. Make work. People without jobs persuade some of the 10,000 job holding people to part with some of their money, to buy doodads and fake services. This can be carried out by means of religious brainwashing, advertisements, and educating children to consume.
  3. People who have a job – work. People who don’t have a job go to school and study yet another occupation. Some of the studies are from books and other people. Other studies are performed on nature itself and known as ‘research’. Someday they may have a job which utilizes what they learned. But even if not, they get paid for the time they study. Today’s universities are an example of this.
  4. Special kind of make-work: deploy smaller manufacturing plants, which need more labor per unit of produce, but can be operated by more people. An example: small high-labor organic farms operating next to big farms, which save labor by using all kinds of agricultural machines. People who find a job work for a large concern. People who don’t find a job – operate their own farm and sell its produce. The disadvantage is that the extra labor leaves them with less time for studies.

I believe that the best system is the one in which people either have jobs or study or mixture of both. However, I don’t see yet a good solution how to construct an economic system, which transfers value from the 10,000 workers (in the above example) to those of 990,000 who study and who exercise wisdom in their choice of subjects to study.

What happens if we cross physics with Scheme?

The data structures in Scheme (and for that matter, also in Lisp) can be used to model different realities. Functional programming corresponds to closed systems, which evolute in time without interaction with their surroundings beyond initial conditions and harvesting of computation results. Imperative programming corresponds to open systems, which interact with their surroundings and their state contains a record of such interactions which occurred in the past.

So I am wondering whether additional models of reality can be investigated by means of Scheme. Such as open systems, which hold memory of both past and future events.

In my Google search, I found only the following:
SCMUTILS Reference Manual, which is referred to by Christopher Browne’s Web Pages. However SCMUTILS is not what I am looking for.

Source of inspiration: chapter 3 of the SICP 2nd edition.

A cultural trip in Neve-Zedek neighborhood of Tel Aviv

Neve-Zedek neighborhood was the first neighborhood out of Jaffa in the area which later became Tel Aviv.
It has been neglected for several years, but at recent years, its homes are getting preserved and renovated. The area is becoming an artists’ area.

Today I was in a guided tour organized by Bekol, an organization of hard-of-hearing and deafened people. The tour was made accessible to people with hearing impairments thanks to a FM system which allows the hearing aid using participants to hear the guide’s story even against background noise. There was also a Sign Language interpreter for people (like me) who don’t benefit from hearing aids.

We met outside Nachum Gutman’s museum (some of the Web site’s features do not seem to be available in Mozilla 1.4 without the appropriate plugins) in 21 Shimon Roceach St. The next half hour was spent looking at his pictures and marvelling at the times during which it was true that “Tel Aviv is a small city and people in it are few” (the title of one of Gutman’s books for children).

The next stop was in Chelouche House. It was the first house built outside of Jaffa, by the Chelouche family, which was a very well-to-do family. This building was neglected for several years, and only very recently it was renovated and turned into a combination of museum and concerts hall.

On the top floor of the Chelouche House, there was an exhibition of photos taken of the Neve-Zedek neighborhood by a photographer, who lived in the area. Our guide told us that she tried to make an appointment with the photographer to meet us and talk with us about his photos, but she was not successful in getting his phone number from the “144” phone company service.
Why? The attendant didn’t understand what the guide wanted from her.
Why? The photographer’s name is Honi Hamagel (Honi the Circler). This is the same name as someone from Talmudic days, who had fate similar to that of Rip van Winkle.

We also had a brief look at the outside of Dallal Center. The tour ended for me personally with an ice cream serving from “Gelidat Savta” (Grandmother’s Ice cream) in Yehieli St., near to Chelouche House. I ordered ice cream there the way I usually order food in an unfamiliar gourmet restaurant – by asking the attendant which tastes she recommends. I don’t understand how she rightly guessed that I am a chocolate/coffee based ice cream type rather than fruit based ice cream type. Or is their chocolate based ice cream better than fruit based one?

PyGTK Hell

I am prototyping a keyword search based application.

For easy programming, I use Python.
For easy GUI design, I chose glade.
So I have to use PyGTK.
The application is not demanding in terms of innovative technology or software versions, so I use a PC with RedHat 8.0.

However, I ran into a snag:
I wanted to use the gtk.TreeRowReference binding to refer to rows of a listbox, which I want to delete.
However, it turns out that the Python bindings of GTK didn’t cover 100% of the GTK’s API. One of the missing APIs is… gtk.TreeRowReference, which was added only to PyGTK 2.4.
The PyGTK version which came with RedHat 8.0 is 1.99.12.

I worked around the problem by using paths. Since paths (unlike references) become invalid if rows are inserted/deleted into the listbox before the row referred to, I had to delete the rows in reverse order – from the end to the beginning.

I promise to myself that next time I install Linux from fresh, I’ll use Debian. Then I’ll be able to solve the problem by upgrading packages until I get PyGTK 2.4 and the appropriate versions of packages upon which it depends.

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