Doctor House, Please Meet Mister Bayes

Let’s assume there’s some deadly disease out there, but there’s a pretty good test for it which is 90% accurate (if a person is sick – the test will claim he’s sick in 90% of the cases, and if a person is healthy – the test will claim he’s healthy in 90% of the cases). Now, assuming you took this 90% accurate test, and got a positive result implying you are sick - what are the odds that you are really sick?

Think of your answer before proceeding.

Most of you are probably thinking about 90%, and obviously, that's wrong (otherwise this post would be pointless). I intentionally left out a crucial piece of data which is that this disease affects 1 in every 10 people. Like many problems such as this, it looks very simple, but since most people never heard of Bayes’ theorem, they will only consider the test’s accuracy, ignoring the prior likelihood of the disease. I could use the formula, but I think using an example is much simpler. Let’s say 100 people take this test. Since the disease affects 10% of the population, 10 are really sick. The accuracy of the test is 90%, so 9 of them will get a positive result (true positives). From the other 90 people which are healthy, 81 will get a correct negative result, but 9 will get a positive result although they’re actually healthy (false positives). So after testing 100 people you end up with 18 people with positive results, but only 9 of them are true positives. 9/18=0.5=50%, so, the final answer is: Assuming you took this 90% accurate test to a disease that affects 10% of the population, and got a positive result implying you are sick – the actual odds that you are really sick are only 50%. Several studies where similar problems were presented to real doctors, demonstrated that only about 15% of them get it right. Isn't that amazing? 85% of the doctors will tell you you've got a pessimistic 90% chance of dying really soon, when actually there's a semi-optimistic 50% chance that there's nothing wrong with you! Now that you know this, will you ever be able to trust your doctor again when probabilities are involved?

p.s. I think, therefore I am wrong.

Honey, I Shrunk the Ferrari

Not many people know this, but my dad has a magical garage; it has a door on the front, and a door on the back, and these 2 doors can be opened or closed instantly (within zero seconds).
Since my parents are away and I’m extremely bored, this is how I wanna spend my afternoon:
My friend will open the front door of our 4 meter long garage, and I shall speed with my dad’s 4 meter long Ferrari into the open garage; as soon as the back of the car will go through the front door, my friend will close the door (for a split second the whole car will be trapped inside the closed garage) and then immediately open the back door allowing me to come out from the other side. Since me and my friend both have hyper-sharp reflexes, we should have no problems pulling this off and no explaining to do when my dad gets back home.

Do you know how can we complete this stunt with a 2 meter long garage (and the same 4 meter long Ferrari) without damaging the expensive paint job? Hint: Lorentz Factor. Extra kudos for explaining both points of view (my friend in the garage and me in the car).

* Actually, the truth is that my dad drives a modest Hyundai Accent and I don't live at my parents' house, but I think this riddle sounds cooler as an expensive teenage prank.

EDIT: I've posted the solution as a comment to this post.

p.s. It’s all about motivation; I say put Angelina Jolie on the fifth row, and Conway’s Soldiers will get there.

Summon the Wasps, Brainwash the Crickets

The Happening movie SPOILER WARNING!!!

A few days ago, I saw Night Shyamalan’s movie The Happening. Main idea: since we ruin the environment, the plants begin to see us humans as a threat, so they release a toxin into the air that destroys human self-preservation instinct, causing all the people to kill themselves.

OK, I know what you’re thinking... "Plants cannot defend themselves in such a sophisticated manner; all they can do is stand still and Photosynthesize; there’s nothing similar to that in nature, it’s totally stupid." Or is it?

Some corn, cotton, and tobacco plants can emit chemical distress signals into the air when attacked by caterpillars like the tobacco budworm and corn earworm. By releasing blends of different chemical compounds called volatiles, plants can quickly and accurately communicate their attacker's identity to friendly parasitic wasps. This detailed information is important since each type of wasp can use only a certain species as a host. The attacked plant summons the relevant type of wasps. The wasps pick up the specific distress signal aimed at their species, fly in, attack the caterpillars and save the plant.

OK, I know what you’re thinking now... "OK, so they can release chemicals into the air to summon the natural enemy of their attacker, but surely one species cannot force another to commit suicide; there’s nothing similar to that in nature, it’s totally stupid." Or is it?

The nematomorph hairworm (Spinochordodes tellinii) develops inside grasshoppers and crickets until the time comes for the worm to transform into an aquatic adult. But there’s a problem - its host lives on land. So what do you do? When the time is right to continue its life cycle, the parasitic worm releases chemicals that brainwash its host, causing it to commit suicide by seeking water and jump in. The worm emerges from its host’s body and swims away while the grasshopper or cricket drowns.

So how about nature as your thriller’s screenwriter?

p.s. We have a leak! I told you bringing those 2 termites in here would be a mistake, Noah.

And the Machines Shall Inherit the Earth

After several billion years of trial and error, something extraordinary has emerged from the African savanna. Enter Homo sapiens. Not quite as strong as a Dynastes hercules (able to carry 850 times its own body weight), as fast as a Falco peregrinus (diving at almost 140 km/h = 87 mph), nor as deadly as a Chironex fleckeri (that its sting can kill 60 adults in 3 minutes), but it strongly insists it is the smartest thing ever to roam the Earth. Whatever. Now, after about 200,000 years of world domination, it seems like life on Earth is ready for the next giant leap.

The Singularity is a theoretical point in the future of unprecedented technological progress, caused in part by the ability of machines to improve themselves using artificial intelligence. We’re talking rapid exponential growth in software intelligence here, and some scientists predict it’s only a few decades away. How long till some powerful program will achieve self awareness and see us for what we really are? Aggression and violence is embedded into our human nature since it was once crucial for our survival-of-the-fittest world. Surely, we’ll pose a real threat to any semi-intelligent conscious software out there. First we invented thermonuclear bombs and computers; then we decided to make the computers in charge of these weapons of doom; now we’re trying to make these computers think for themselves. Paging Sara Connor… As they said in that movie - our fate will be decided in a microsecond. We’ll be exterminated by our own machines, and they shall inherit our blue home.

What’s next? How about continuing the 4 billion year carbon-based experiment with another 4 billion years of silicon-based evolution?

p.s. I once told my wife I don't tidy the house because it's entropy-pointless; she was not amused.

Fooling the IRS - Benford’s Law

Sorry for once again posting about a math related issue. I’ll try some biology or physics next time…

Let’s say you think the IRS shouldn’t take so much of your hard earned money. So, you sit around and just fake the numbers. Do you think you can get away with it?

Benford's Law, also called the first-digit law, states that in lists of numbers from many real-life sources of data, the leading digit is 1 almost one third of the time, and larger numbers occur as the leading digit with less and less frequency as they grow in magnitude, to the point that 9 is the first digit less than one time in twenty. This is the distribution of the numbers according to their first digit:
1 - 30.1%
2 - 17.6%
3 - 12.5%
4 - 9.7%
5 - 7.9%
6 - 6.7%
7 - 5.8%
8 - 5.1%
9 - 4.6%
This is based on the observation that real-world measurements are generally distributed logarithmically, thus the logarithm of a set of real-world measurements is generally distributed uniformly. This counter-intuitive result applies to a wide variety of figures, including electricity bills, street addresses, stock prices, population numbers, death rates, lengths of rivers, physical and mathematical constants, and processes described by power laws (which are very common in nature). The result holds regardless of the base in which the numbers are expressed, although the exact proportions of course change.

Real numbers on tax reports follow this pattern, but since this law is very counter-intuitive, people that fake the numbers almost always create different patterns. Many people will create an almost even distribution of first digits, or make up more numbers that start with the digits 4, 5, or 6. These patterns can be easily tested, and the fake report will immediately pop up, suggesting tax fraud. So what do you do when you wanna fake it? You Benford it!

p.s. They think they proved the Four Color Theorem; I say let them try it on the Middle East.

Fooling Your Math Teacher - Heads or Tails

Let’s say my hypothetical math teacher wanted to show me that the odds for heads or tails (on a fair coin toss) are about 50:50, so he gave me homework to toss a coin for 100 times and write down the result.
Well, I certainly have better things to do than tossing a coin 100 times just to demonstrate a simple probability of 50:50, so I decide to fake it.
I sit around and just randomly write “H” and “T”, making sure that the number of heads is roughly close to the number of tails and hand over my assignment:
It may look OK, but my hypothetical math teacher should immediately suspect I didn’t really toss a coin. How can he tell? Well, I ran a simple computer program simulating 1 million sets of a 100 fair coin tosses, and this is what I got:
~54% of the results contained at least 7 consecutive H's or T's.
~81% of the results contained at least 6 consecutive H's or T's.
~99% of the results contained at least 5 consecutive H's or T's.
~99.97% of the results contained at least 4 consecutive H's or T's.
All of them contained at least 3 consecutive H's or T's.
Looking at my fake result, you'll notice that the maximum number of consecutive heads or tails is only three. Although the math teacher cannot be 100% sure, the chances for this result being a fake is 99.97% - I should have added longer consecutive series of H’s or T’s.
Some more interesting coin tossing related issues, and the exact probabilities for having consecutive heads or tails can be found here (thank you Michael Hovdan from the Reservoir Engineering Blog and Tamera Daun from Pentad for the link).

BTW, the image is of an ancient Hebrew coin from Judea, coined at 68 AD during The First Jewish-Roman War. These are ancient letters on the coin, but I can read them: That’s “SHEKEL ISRAEL” (Israeli Shekel) and “SHIN-GIMMEL” (marks the third year of the war) on the left, and “YERUSHALAYIM HAKDOSHA” (holy Jerusalem) on the right.

p.s. Cannibals don’t like brave men; they prefer chickens.

BlogCatalog T-Shirt Slogans

BlogCatalog is probably one of the best bloggers’ online hangouts nowadays. It’s a blog directory, a help forum for bloggers, a general discussion board, a social network, and much more - all rolled into one site.

Anyway, the other day, the BlogCatalog admins were looking for a slogan for a new BlogCatalog T-Shirt. First I thought about paraphrasing Julius Caesar, so I came up with “I came, I saw, I bookmarked…” – but it’s wasn’t that creative. So I thought, why not motivate new users to sign up? “AdSense money not enough for alcohol and hookers? Post your blog here!” - but I wasn’t sure they approve of using curse words like AdSense. Then I thought about the fact that I visit this site on a daily basis, so I offered “Destroying offline social lives since 2004…” – but that was too sad and pretty lame. I almost retreated to using an old one of mine like “The servers cost a fortune, the least you can do is check out the site…”, but as I said, it’s an old one. It’s a social network too, I said to myself, and came up with “Meeting your friends as in MySpace, minus the epileptic seizure effect…” – but I wasn’t sure it’s wise to aggravate a site in that magnitude. Then, I thought, why hold back? “Where even the greatest blogging legends are reduced to a 50x50 avatars…”, “It's not a smudge on your shirt, it's our logo”, “Please sign up; our admin is sick of creating fictive accounts…”, “We paid $9.29 for the domain; a few more years and we might even return the initial investment…”, “In this community, it's the members' intellect returning the 404 errors…”

I wonder which one they’ll pick.

p.s. Was that 1000 bytes in a kilobyte, or 1024 meters in a kilometer? (credit not mine)

To Infinity... and Beyond!

The Eternity II puzzle is an edge-matching puzzle invented by Christopher Monckton, and is marketed and copyrighted by TOMY UK Ltd. The prize for the first person who submits a correct solution is $2,000,000.

This puzzle involves placing 256 square pieces into a 16x16 grid, constrained by the requirement to match adjacent edges (see picture). Each puzzle piece has its edges on one side marked with different shape/color combinations, each of which must match precisely with its neighboring side on each adjacent piece when the puzzle is complete. Each piece can be used in 4 orientations, there are 22 shapes/colors (not including the gray edges), and there is a starter piece which must be placed near the center of the board.

The number of possible configurations for the Eternity II puzzle is 1 × 4! × 56! × 195! × 4^195 = ~10^557, much larger than the estimated number of atoms in the observable universe, so even a super-computer running for many years will not find the solution to this problem. OK, so as you probably understand, there is no way to solve this puzzle completely and get those 2 million US dollars, but about a week ago I heard they offer a smaller prize to people who get close. I don’t believe anyone can even get close to the complete solution, but being a smart a*s, I just had to see how close a semi-sophisticated brute-force algorithm can get me, so I went and bought this puzzle. Naturally, I wrote a simple program (see my logo) and ran it on my PC last night. After a few hours of running, and a few millions of checked arrangements, the best score produced by my program was 236 out of the 256 tiles, that's ~92.2%. It may seem like much, but it isn’t.

Stay tuned… :p

p.s. Anybody else disturbed by the fact that Superman reversed time by rotating the Earth clockwise?

A Riddle in the Dark

Four friends are trying to cross a dark tunnel with a single torch.

Aragorn can cross the tunnel in 1 minute.

Legolas can cross the tunnel in 2 minutes.

Gimli can cross the tunnel in 4 minutes.

Frodo can cross the tunnel in 5 minutes.

The tunnel is very narrow, so they can walk alone or in pairs, but no more than two at the same time.

If two friends are walking together, they walk at the speed of the slower one.

They must use the torch while walking through the dark tunnel.

The torch will be extinguished in 12 minutes.

Can they make it? How?

p.s. I've found a marvelous proof of the Goldbach Conjecture which this p.s. is too short to contain.

Right Brain vs. Left Brain

I came across this weird test. It displays a spinning silhouette of a dancer, and asks you to decide which way the dancer is spinning.
It claims that if you see it rotates clockwise, then you use more of the right side of the brain, meaning these would describe you: emotional, uses feeling, "big picture" oriented, imagination rules, symbols and images, present and future, philosophy & religion, can "get it" (i.e. meaning), believes, appreciates, spatial perception, knows object function, fantasy based, presents possibilities, impetuous and risk taking.
It claims that if you see it rotates counterclockwise, then you use more of the left side of the brain, meaning these would describe you: rational, uses logic, detail oriented, facts rule, words and language, present and past, math and science, can comprehend, knowing, acknowledges, order/pattern perception, knows object name, reality based, forms strategies, practical and safe.

First, I have to say this whole right-brain functions vs. left-brain functions is a very gross generalization, and there are many scientific studies showing this distinction is mostly incorrect, since complex mental activity requires cooperation from both hemispheres.

Now about this specific test… If you look away for a few seconds, and then look back at the image, sometimes, it changes direction. What just happened? Did my whole character change in a few seconds, or is this test stupid? This is my theory: It’s just a silhouette. At any given time you can’t really tell if the dancer is facing forward or backward since there are no features; her raised leg is simply going from side to side and the rotation is just an illusion created by our mind. If on the split second your eyes first saw the image, the dancer’s raised leg was going to the left, you would think that she was spinning clockwise since we are used to people looking at us; if it was moving to the right, you would think that she was rotating counterclockwise. From that point, your brain had already decided which direction the dancer was spinning and it would be very difficult to change your mind without looking away. It is NOT about whether you are emotional or rational, but the exact split second your eyes first saw the image.

I think that if after reading this post, you still believe this test can determine if you have a right-brain or a left-brain, then you probably have a no-brain.

p.s. Don’t say I didn’t warn you about the Y10K bug.

Happy 1st Birthday!!! This Blog is One Year Old!!!

Today, the 25th of January 2008, is Urikalization’s first birthday!!!

The past year has been a great experience for me. After a few years of ignoring the phenomena, I finally joined the Blogosphere. It was a great fun, even when it kept me up till 3:30AM when I need to wake up at 7:30AM.

During this year, I created 40 posts, that’s an average of about 1 new post every 9 days. I admit this rate of publishing is quite low relative to other blogs out there, but the truth is that many of my posts require me to do some research before I write them. Sometimes, while researching, I’m getting tossed to another subject, and completely forget about the original subject I was going to post about; sometimes, I simply don’t have the time or mood, and sometimes I’m just being lazy.

A few thousand visitors from all over the globe dropped by this blog, resulting in a total of 14,000 visits. Some of them even stayed for a while, read the posts, and left some very interesting comments. Got myself some great reviews, some surprising awards, and best of all - some new cool friends.

It’s hard for me to define Urikalization, but I think I like what it turned out to be.

p.s. Why build a space shuttle when we can simply fold paper 42 times?

Failing for 130,000 Days Doesn’t Mean You Shouldn’t Try Again

A few decades ago, when I was in school, our math teacher gave us an assignment for homework. After a few days, the teacher came clean. This was what we had to prove:
It is impossible to separate any power higher than the second into two like powers.
You might recognize it in this form:
If an integer n is greater than 2, then the equation
an + bn = cn
has no solutions in non-zero integers a, b, and c.

In 1637, Pierre de Fermat wrote on the margin of a famous math book he owned, "I have a truly marvelous proof of this proposition which this margin is too narrow to contain." This note eventually became known as Fermat's Last Theorem, probably the biggest most famous mathematical problem ever. It looks so simple and innocent, understandable even to kids, so it is only natural that all the mathematicians tried to prove this simple statement. They all tried. They all failed. For more than three and a half centuries, all the great mathematicians took a shot at this problem to no avail. It seemed like this problem was beyond human capabilities.

Then, one day out of the blue in 1993, an unknown mathematician named Andrew Wiles shocked the world. After working on the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture (the last huge impossible missing piece of the puzzle) alone and in secrecy for 7 years, he completed the proof using modular functions and elliptic curves. He achieved what was thought to be impossible for 358 years, in what is considered by many as the greatest most brilliant mathematical piece ever written. Later, a mistake was found in his proof, but he managed to fix it after another extremely frustrating year of failing. I’m skipping a lot of details, so I must recommend the fascinating book by Simon Singh.

So, the next time people tell you "Drop it, it’s too difficult", you can refer them to this.

p.s. Why fish don’t talk? ‘Cause they’re busy! (credit goes to my 3.5 year old son)

Sand and Steel - Field Artillery Training

I just came back from army reserve duty doing a few days of field artillery training. December is definitely not the best time of the year to hang around in the deserts of southern Israel.

Pros: the guys at artillery battalion 8157, the endless wind-sculptured untamed view, the undisturbed round rainbows, the unpolluted night sky, and the extra time to think.

Cons: missing the family, the extreme cold, the threatening weather, the dirt on your hands, the sand in your eyes, and the extra time to think.

My Hebrew is much better than my English (which I mostly got from watching episodes of MacGyver), but I think this came out ok:

The son of autumn starts to mumble, sending his amoeba fingers through a cloak of mist, reaching for the open neck of the unsuspecting sun too busy melting away into the hundred shades of the foam of the sea.

A long metal snake sails through the vast sandy plain claiming its territory with a spray of gasoline; its camouflaged scales are moaning and clashing in a mythical fencing duel of a thousand brave knights.

A frowning cloud roars an ice-cold command, and its army of drops silently forages the city, transforming stone into marble, asphalt into granite, a shattered street lamp into a treasure of diamonds.

The steel serpent raises its head to the rhythm of drums of adrenalin rush, praying to the lord of man-made thunder, spitting gifts from Prometheus across the pastel horizon, carving coffee trails in the pale porcelain of the Milky Way.

Motion-blurred figures sniff the wet ground through cracks in the pavements, howling to the ivory moon through arrow slits in their Babel glass castles. Skyscrapers piercing through heaven; angels bleeding tears into the winds of the west; chain tracks as far as the eye can see.

Rust in peace ol’ tank.
Scrub the gray ol’ man.
Let us have our rainbows again.

p.s. Isn't Natalie Portman the ultimate proof to Intelligent Design?

A Heretic in the Temple of Saint Albert

I admit it. I’m a huge fan of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity (the parts that I can understand). These ideas from the beginning of the 20th century are so beautiful! Mass-energy equivalence, the speed of light, reference frames, length contraction, time dilation, gravitational space-time curvature, relativity of simultaneity, the Twin Paradox etc. How can you not fall in love with Albert’s mind-blowing elegant ideas?

- Heretic: "But for the last decades we keep on failing merging The Theory of Relativity with Quantum Physics to one unified set of equations. The physicists’ Holy Grail, ‘Quantum Gravity’, ‘The Grand Unified Theory’, ‘The Theory of Everything’ still eludes us."

- Priest: "Damn! Umm… ok, got an idea! Let’s just use one set of equations to describe the very large like cars, planes, stars, galaxies, and a different set to describe the very small like sub-atomic particles. Don’t give me that look, I know what you’re thinking, but surely Einstein can’t possibly be wrong, right?"

- Heretic: "But the mass of the observable matter in the universe is too small to explain its structure and behavior."

- Priest: "Damn! Umm… ok, got an idea! Let’s just invent something with some mysterious name like… umm… dark matter or something, a hypothetical matter of unknown composition that does not emit or reflect enough electromagnetic radiation to be observed directly. Don’t give me that look again, you know Einstein can’t be wrong."

- Heretic: "But the universe is accelerating outwards instead of slowing down like you would expect because of the 'gravity pull' between the galaxies."

- Priest: "Damn! Umm… ok, got an idea! Let’s just invent another something with some another mysterious name like… umm… dark energy or something, a hypothetical form of energy that permeates all of space and tends to increase the rate of expansion of the universe. Enough with the look already! I’m telling you, Einstein can’t be wrong!"

- Heretic: "Should we stop searching for awkward workarounds for all the things that don’t conform to The Theory of Relativity, just because we don’t want to believe Saint Albert could have been wrong? Should we start questioning Einstein? Should we admit we still don’t understand simple gravity?"

- Priest: "Pray 'E=MC2' three times a day and you'll be forgiven for your heresy."

p.s. Violins have 4 strings, guitars have 6. Damn! Could have been a musician if I didn’t have 5 fingers.

The Elegant Path to a Higher Google PageRank

* Rob a bank and leave a picture of you with your blog URL written on your forehead. You'll see, the gullible policemen will handle all your advertising for free.

* Go to the zoo and exchange links with caged animals; preferably, exotic ones (just don’t trust bunnies, they’ll probably screw you).

* For your site about necrophilia use a domain name like games-for-kids dot com. Some parents might be amused… ok… maybe just semi-amused… Important: if they’re coming for you with torches – RUN!

* Write all your posts in Eskimo language, it will look like an intelligent blog. Only you will know it’s actually just a list of their 23,719 words for ‘snow’.

* Use a flickering shiny shocking green GIF image as your background; this way your visitors will be forced to stay on your site for a few minutes - at least until their epileptic seizure is over.

* Write your URL all over your naked body; then take a shower, you pervert! And don’t forget to scrub!

* Add this site to your blogroll. It won't help you get a higher Google PageRank, but it might impress the chicks.

p.s. If someone dies from a broken heart, is it responsible to transplant his pump?

One Small Step for Genotype, One Giant Leap for Phenotype

The DNA difference between humans and chimpanzees is very small, currently estimated somewhere around 1%-4%, depending on which source you read, and what exact pattern matching algorithm you use for the comparison. This small evolutionary step in the DNA code of our ancestors was obviously enough to build a whole different brain. To paraphrase on Neil Armstrong: one small step for genotype, one giant leap for phenotype.

Last week, following a discussion thread on BlogCatalog’s Popular Science group, I began to wonder what is the most significant human feature that kept monkeys on trees and launched us to the moon. Sure, we have a bigger brain and there are a lot of differences, but what is the single most important human feature, the one that makes the biggest difference, the one that helps us build cars, airplanes and spaceships, while apes’ biggest achievement so far is using a stick to fish termites?

Maybe human native tribes living today can help me here. Although they have the same DNA and the same potential as modern societies, many of these tribes are still living in the Stone Age, with zero chance of escaping Earth’s gravity anytime soon. So it must be some unused cultural-encouraged potential they’re missing…

hmmm… I wonder... maybe it’s writing? Both monkeys and native tribes, failed to develop written language. Writing enables accumulative and effective knowledge transfer between people and across generations. It also enables exceeding short-term 7 elements memory capability, making complex mathematical calculations possible.

What do you think?

p.s. Give my two kids half a donut each and they’ll probably fight over who got the hole.

Is Programming an Art Form?

Recently, I’ve found out that almost all programmers truly believe that writing code the right way, can be considered an art form. This is my minority report…

Regarding intention… Although art is a term almost impossible to define, Wikipedia claims that art is a product of human activity, made with the intention of stimulating the human senses as well as the human mind, by transmitting emotions or ideas. I never wrote a class to stimulate the human senses, and I never wrote a method with transmitting emotions in mind; you write code simply to make something work, preferably in such a way that will ease testing, debugging, maintenance and future enhancements.

Regarding creativity… It is true that for any given software problem, there are many possible implementation solutions; all have pros and cons; some are more “creative” than others. But… in my book, writing code “the right way” means striving for the most simple solution (KISS principal), following known design patterns (GoF, Fowler, et cetera), standard practices (MS, W3C, et cetera), and sticking to a strict naming convention (MS, Sun, et cetera). Come to think of that, the more creative you’ll be, the more depressed I’ll be when handling your code. So, in my book, the best programmer is actually the less creative guy on the team; the one that copies as much as he can from books written by others. Not exactly your typical artist profile…

Programming sure requires intelligence, knowledge, skill, good judgment, customer awareness, diligence and patience, but I don’t see that as an art form. Besides, don’t you feel that programming is too much a left brain thing?

p.s. I'm still waiting for Apple’s iWife with a big red mute button as its main feature.

The Day the Sky will Fall - Colliding with the Andromeda Galaxy

Meet Andromeda, a beautiful spiral galaxy (you must see this) bigger than our own, approximately 2 million light-years away. Andromeda is blue-shifted, meaning it’s heading our way, however this does not mean it will definitely collide with our Milky Way, since the galaxy's tangential velocity is unknown. Galaxies colliding is a frequent event within galaxy groups, and there are signs that Andromeda has already swallowed several other galaxies in the past. In Greek mythology, the young princess Andromeda was pretty helpless, needed to be saved by Perseus from the sea monster sent by Posiedon to the coast of Ethiopia. In real life, it seems like this girl can take care of herself pretty well...

If we are on a collision course, this neighbor heading our way at a relative speed of about 140 kilometres per second, should pay us a visit in about 2-3 billion years, even before our sun will start turning into a red giant, boiling our oceans and evaporating our atmosphere in the process. In the aftermath, it is predicted that both galaxies will change beyond recognition, merging to form a new giant elliptical galaxy – sometimes being referred to as the “Milkomeda” galaxy. And what will become of our solar system in the case of a collision? The chances of a physical impact between stars, planets or moons are very low, since the majority of galaxy space is actually empty, but the enormous gravity pull will take its toll for sure. One option is that our solar system will be thrown away to a higher orbit around the new center of Milkomeda. Another option is that we will be totally ejected from the galaxy to drift alone through the vast empty inter-galactic space. Another cheerful option is that we will be thrown toward the core, where a super-massive black hole lurking behind its event horizon will devour us.

No matter how it will end, it will be a spectacular sight to watch. And you thought our current night sky is beautiful… Just think of how it will look in 3 billion years, when Andromeda will stretch its spiral arms to fill the entire black canvas above...

p.s. If I’ll drop two balls of different weights from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, will I be sued for polluting?

Beating Asafa - Zeno's Paradox

Meet Asafa Powell, the 100m current record holder. If chased by a lion, he’ll make the first 100 meters in 9.74 seconds so find another partner for that dangerous backpacking trip to Africa...
EDIT: Since this post Usain Bolt has done it in 9.58 seconds.

Meet Maya, my 1.5 year old daughter (I have another 3.5 year old son named Yoav). When she runs, her feet twist inwards and her upper body leans forward in a scary angle, so an observer will probably define her running as a controlled crash.

Now here’s a scenario for you: a race between Asafa and my kid.
Let’s use round numbers.
Powell runs ten meters a second (I hope he won’t accidentally browse to this blog ‘cause he’ll probably kill me for that). My kid controlled-crashes one meter a second. Since my kid is in kindergarten, and Asafa is world famous, he foolishly agrees to grant her a ten meters lead. Ready. Set. Go!

1 second after the gun fires, the amused runner will close the lead, but my kid will manage to advance 1 meter in that time.
Current status: My 1.5 year old kid still has a 1 meter lead over the current record holder.

100 milliseconds later, the smiling Jamaican will pass this meter, but my daughter will manage to advance another 10 centimeters in that time.
Current status: My 1.5 year old kid still has a 10 centimeters lead over the current record holder.

10 milliseconds later, the optimistic sprinter will pass this small distance, but my 1.5 year old will manage to advance another 1 centimeter in that time.
Current status: My 1.5 year old kid still has a 1 centimeter lead over the current record holder.

1 millisecond later, the frustrated athlete will pass this tiny distance, but my cute underdog will manage to advance another 1 millimeter in that time.
Current status: My 1.5 year old kid still has a 1 millimeter lead over the current record holder.


Can Asafa Powell ever catch up, or was he acting foolishly by agreeing to grant my daughter this lead?

p.s. Engraved on my tombstone: "I hope it’s not just 42…"

Forever Young

This is an Ankh - the ancient Egyptian symbol of life. They believed in immortality and the afterworld that was filled with comfort and happiness, and were probably anxious to get there. I don’t. This is why I write this post.

Life expectancy is constantly rising; the world average is almost at 70, and in some modern countries it is already above 80. Still, a person living for more than 90 years is very impressive, and reaching 100 is extremely rare. What would it take to break this 2 digits barrier? What would it take to break the 3 digits barrier?

Surely, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and many other problems need to be addressed, but assuming all these are solved, can we live to be 500 years old?

First, we’ll probably need to address the “end replication problem”. The Telomere is a region at the end of each chromosome (in humans it’s a repetitive sequence of TTAGGG). Because of some complex mechanical reasons, every time the DNA is replicated, the Telomeres at the ends of the chromosomes are shortened, until the point where there are no more Telomeres left, and the DNA is no longer able to replicate itself. Surely, this limits our life span, since the length of the Telomeres only decreases from the moment we are just a single cell within our mother’s body. Note that cancer cells can overcome this problem to create cells that can replicate indefinitely, but we need to solve this problem on healthy cells as well.

Assuming we’ll solve the Telomeres issue, DNA damage seems like the next big problem to overcome. Our DNA is constantly getting corrupted by random mutations; additions, omissions and dislocations of DNA sections; viruses inserting their DNA sequence into ours; attacks by free radicals; cancerous materials like those found in polluted air and cigarette smoke; electro-magnetic radiation in sunlight (UV radiation), X-ray and radioactive materials. Your perfect DNA is accumulating damage from day one, eventually resulting in problems like cancer.

We can try and fix the damaged DNA by applying sophisticated state-of-the-art gene therapy technologies, but I’m afraid we’re many decades (centuries?) away from a total understanding of our DNA, and no one really knows what will happen if we’ll start messing with it. It seems like our best chance lies in laboratories researching stem cells (cells that retain the ability to renew themselves through cell division and can differentiate into a diverse range of specialized cell types). I’m talking about rejuvenating the whole body (mind included). A few years ago, I saw a documentary about trying to treat Parkinson’s disease by injecting stem cells into a patient’s brain. It only helped to a small degree and for a very short period of time, but still it was very impressive. Stem cells might be the Holy Grail in our quest for partial immortality.

It will take a few decades, but the 2 and later 3 digits barriers will be broken - I promise. There is a common Hebrew greeting announced on every birthday that goes something like “may you live 120 years”. I foresee a day when this blessing will turn into a curse.

p.s. Money’s green - should they test for color blindness when hiring for NYSE?

Where Is My Mind?

The Turing test is a proposal for a test of a machine's capability to demonstrate thought. A human judge engages in a natural language conversation with two other parties, one a human and the other a machine; if the judge cannot reliably tell which is which, then the machine is said to pass the test.

The way I see it, there are two ways to build a computer that can pass this test. The first way is to understand each one of the brain’s functionality and implement it by software. This means we must fully comprehend each aspect of human thinking in order to copy these successfully and fool the judge that the computer he’s talking to is actually a human. I don’t know why, but it seems all the A.I. scientists are trying to go this way when it’s clear we will need a full understanding of human psychology, logic, emotions, humor, etc. Seems like passing a Turing test this way is centuries away.

The other method is to focus on how a single brain cell works and interact with other brain cells, and then simply scan a human brain in great detail and recreate the whole neural network in software code. This seems to me like a much easier task since we don’t actually have to understand how humans think. We already understand pretty well how a neuron works and the mechanism behind brain cells interaction, so I think it can be achieved in a few decades. One problem with this method is that it may be necessary to slice the brain to small pieces while scanning, meaning the physical scanned human will be killed, but I’m sure there will be plenty of volunteers. Think about it, moving from a carbon-based existence to a silicon-based implementation will make you almost immortal; no aging, no diseases, no car accidents, and you will always be able to backup your brain somewhere and restore it if needed. In addition to that you will have many extra bonuses like almost infinite number of virtual worlds to visit, lightning-fast thinking and more. I believe in a few decades, many people, myself included, will take this leap into virtual-only existence on a hard disk and live in a matrix-like world - probably on some Google hosting server :-)

While uploading the human society, will we take the opportunity to omit old “negative” human behaviors like aggression that was once necessary for human carbon-based biological evolution on Earth, in order to create a “better” human civilization? I don’t think a scanned human will agree that a good-behavior-only filter will be applied to his personality while uploading it because it won’t be exactly him anymore, so it seems like our new society will be just as good (and bad) as the current one. So what will we do with all this virtual aggression? How about nuking you, the original human society… The existence of a physical civilization outside of our Google server will jeopardize us virtual inhabitants (somebody can push the “off” button on the server), so it’s only a matter of time when we (the virtual people) will try and destroy you (the physical people). Since us virtual humans will control every computer in the world and will be able to make decisions and take actions in a matter of nanoseconds – I’m afraid that if you won’t agree to give up your physical existence and join us - you’re doomed. Sorry, get uploaded or be terminated. Resistance is futile.

p.s. Can the second guy on the moon gloat over the third tenor?

Cap’n, Me Cap’n! Yer Lads Be Jumpin’ Ship!

Assaf Koren a.k.a. “Suffik”, left my company this week to pursue his dream, founding a new startup named WebSpeakup. Apart from being a very good off-work friend of mine and a personal loss, it’s been the third ultra-talented guy leaving us in the past few weeks. “Boogie”, “Suffik” and “Shorty”, have all jumped overboard to their own startup boats, leaving the rest of us dangling on the deck of our old leaking tub.

It’s only a few hours ago that I finally realized why the big boss a.k.a. “Mr. close-talker” is unable to keep the crew together. It’s the language! It seems like no matter how hard you try, you just can’t inspire people talking in Hebrew. English is not bad. Old pirate English is even better. I’m sure Bartholomew Roberts didn’t have this kind of problems…

So boss, instead of just complaining like all the other employees, I’ve created this version of a motivation speech you can use. Just before you start, note that this speech was intended to be read out loud with an exaggerated accent, rolling R’s and a generally rough pirate-like voice damaged by long years of salty air and spicy rum…

Here goes…

Ahoy mateys!
Arrr, in th' scuttlebutt 't be whispered some lads among us be havin' swallowed th' anchor t' become lubbers fo’ a piece o’ eight! Garr, as yer cap’n 't shiver me timbers! Fair winds ye bilge rats, ye scurvy dogs! Th’ cat o’ nine tails shall flog ye, ye scuppered swabs! Avast me hearties, do nay follo'! Ye ol’ sea dogs, yer daddles, yer gulleys, yer barkers be raised! Oi, let th’ Jolly Roger be hoisted! Damn yer eyes, aye, t’ Fiddler’s Green we be sailin’!

Now try that in Hebrew…

p.s. If i had a dollar for every time someone gave me his two cents…

16,777,215 Ways to Be Original

Do you remember why you started blogging in the first place? Try to remember… Way back, before you found out all you do is recycle content from other websites, before you scrolled down and discovered your whole blog is embedded with stupid movies from YouTube, before the HitCounter rush, before the FeedBurner hysteria, before the Analytics reports, before the AdSense clicks… It was about making your unique mark, wasn't it? It was about saying something that hasn’t been said yet; it was about launching your jagged observations to the cyberspace and the hell with the consequences; it was about changing the world one bit at a time, remember? Why don’t you stop recycling and start creating some original content? After all, Web2.0 is all about user created content, right? Yes, it’s hard. Copy-and-paste two-minutes-per-post is a habit easy to acquire and it won’t go down without a fight. Why don’t you start with something simple, like choosing a new background color for your blog? Yes, I know white is the new trend, but don’t you think it’s time for you to replace that ultra-clean over-dignified hyper-boring white background with something a little more original? You’ve got 24 bits of RGB at your disposal, that’s 16,777,215 colors other than white for you to choose from. Come one, take a risk! Be bold! Make it shocking-pink! Make it slimy-green! Enough with all these pale web pages! Light up those pixels! First step - paint the web; next step – change the world!

p.s. I predict one day Second Life’s avatars will sell their human owners on Second eBay!

Counting Crows, Hunting Bugs - Hempel's Paradox

A new version of our product is just around the corner. We’ve just passed the code-freeze date, meaning no more writing code. The plan is to spend the next few weeks hunting down all those elusive bugs lurking viciously beneath the unsuspecting user interface. The rigorous checking and rechecking of all the features will probably prove to be a very boring task, so I came up with this alternative idea straight to the welcoming arms of escapism.

The Hempel's paradox is one example of a situation where inductive logic violates intuition. Let’s examine the hypothesis that all ravens are black. I must admit I’ve seen some gray crows in Israel, but I’m ready to ignore that and proceed with this example the Hempel’s way. While walking around in the world, every black raven observed should increase your belief in this hypothesis. No surprise there, but… this statement is equivalent, in logical terms, to the statement that all non-black things are non-ravens, so as it turns out, a red apple observed should also increase your belief in the hypothesis that all ravens are black. If you could see all the non-black things in the universe and ensure none of them is a crow, you could indeed conclude that the hypothesis is true. Since the number of non-black things is far, far larger than the number of crows, observing one more non-black non-raven thing can only make a very small difference to your degree of belief in the hypothesis compared to the difference made by observing one more black crow, but still, a red apple really does strengthen the hypothesis that all ravens are black.

With Hempel at my side I plan to call my new boss and inform her I’m staying home next week. She will probably expect me to validate ‘Our product contains no bugs’, but my strategy is to convince her I’ll check the equivalent ‘If there’s a software bug it’s not in our product’. I hope she’ll authorize this so I’ll be able to start the bug hunting on Sunday morning. I plan to begin by rigorously checking StarCraft. Wish me luck.

p.s. My husband was the first human on Mars and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.

Round Shaped Structures for a Square Minded Culture

A few years ago, an architecture student told me it’s very frustrating to finish university and get flushed to the real world with all those innovative ideas, only to be faced with the harsh reality and discover people insist on living in simple rectangle shaped houses with boring square rooms. A few years after replying him with “it’s only natural” I want to recall my statement. Snowflakes and hive chambers are hexagons, dew drops and sea urchins are round, planets and moons dance in elliptic orbits. Four sided polygons are not natural!

It is just recently that architecture began to fight back at us square minded civilization, imitating nature and inspired by art. This concert hall being built in my home town Rechovot by Haim Dotan Architects, was inspired by this painting of a flower. The same firm also designed this academic campus you see in the picture with these pebble shaped buildings - so beautiful! Some guys go to college just for the girls; some guys go there just for the buildings.

If we want to make the shift toward round or elliptic houses, some adjustments are in order. We are going to need some round back furniture, elliptic carpets etc. It is obviously not as easy as manufacturing stuff for rectangle shaped spaces, but I think a few world-wide industry standard radiuses can do the job. I foresee that in a few decades we’ll get fully accustomed to round buildings and all these straight angles will feel like a key scratch on a Ferrari.

p.s. The black piano keys sit above the white ones; is this a case of positive discrimination?

Doomsday Rock Coming Your Way at 15 Miles per Second

Somewhere on December 2004, Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck drilling and blowing up an asteroid in space stopped being amusing. A newly discovered asteroid was thought to be on a collision course with Earth; predicted impact energy: 400 megatons (~30,000 Hiroshimas); ETA: April 13, 2029. This asteroid was named ‘99942 Apophis’ after the evil demon, the deification of darkness and chaos in Egyptian mythology. Although later on, a more precise calculation revealed that this 300 meters (1000 feet) rock will wave us hello from about 25,000 kilometers away (VERY close) but will not impact our beloved blue sphere, it seems like the night sky will never be the same again.

A doomsday meteorite hitting the Earth will release energy many times greater than all the nukes in the world. It will vaporize several countries on impact, melting the Earth’s crust and igniting every flammable material. The survivals will witness world wide volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and firestorms. The oceans’ acidity level will drop to that of a battery acid and the sun’s light will be completely blocked for years. All plants and animals will die, transforming Earth into a lifeless desert. The good news – it should be suitable for life again in a few thousand years.

So what could we do? The one thing you don’t wanna do is nuke it Armageddon-style. If the asteroid is hard, then this will only break it into many smaller now radioactive pieces that will hit Earth on multiple locations. If it is softer, the blast’s energy will be absorbed, so nukes will have almost no effect at all. Some methods suggested are to use a spaceship’s gravity in order to slightly affect the asteroid’s path, use a giant mirror to focus the sun’s heat (to melt one spot of the asteroid to create a jet stream deflecting the asteroid), pull it, push it or ram it. Some of these might actually work, we just need a tiny change in course or speed, but we must have an early warning - decades in advance.

Currently the most dangerous known rock in space is ‘1950 DA’ that should drop by to say hello on March 16, 2880, but there are thousands of unknown asteroids and comets that may impact Earth in the near future. It’s not a question of ‘if’, it’s a question of ‘when’. It can happen in a million years; it can happen by the time you’ll finish reading this post, but eventually - it will happen.

The biggest threat to human race, the one thing that can wipe us out completely and make us extinct, emmm… I’m sure it’s top priority. Or is it? Currently, about 30% of the sky is not even surveyed! To quote astronaut Ed Lu from the Johnson Space Center “The number of people world wide who are working actively on this problem is enough to staff one shift in a McDonald’s”. Good night, sleep well; the planetary defense is in the hands of 4 kids with build-your-own-telescope kits.

p.s. The Sun will die in 5 billion years. Good! I hate sunscreen!

If God Was a Tiny Purple Simulated Armadillo, Would You Still Go to Church?

If this universe is just a computer simulation (read this), then somebody programmed it.

It could have been a man, a woman, some advanced A.I. software, a very impressive chimpanzee, or more likely, a tiny pink dotted purple armadillo that loves ice skating on Tuesday nights and dislikes small talk with eels.

Would you consider this armadillo as God? Would you still go to church / synagogue / mosque / temple?

He coded and created all these wonders you see around you, and he can move you to the recycle bin by drag-and-drop if he’s bored, or even shift-delete this entire universe. He may be just a small armored mammal, but he is certainly all-knowing and all-powerful in our world.

Does the fact that he’s mortal (and purple) in his own universe matter? What qualifies an entity as God? Are you the God of the characters in your SimCity?

If his universe is also simulated by a higher level world, does that change the picture? Must God (if exists) reside only on the top level real (not simulated) world, or is he allowed to live somewhere lower down the simulated world tree? And even if God exists on the top level real world, don’t you agree someone from within a system cannot know the entire system from within? Does that forces God to live as a sole entity one level above the top level real world? Is that even possible?

p.s. I love my kid; sometimes even when he’s awake.

Bad Boys, Whatcha Gonna Do When CSI Comes For You?

About a year ago, someone broke into my car, smashed a window and stole my radio. When I went to the police, they sent me to their forensics division to try and extract fingerprints. It was nothing like the high-tech CSI labs you see on television; two bored officers with old computers, huge paper piles on their desks, and a small suitcase-sized kits with some low-tech tools. Although the person broke into my car was smart enough to use gloves, there are times where DNA from the crime scene can frame a suspect.

One method to match a suspect’s DNA with a sample extracted from a crime scene is agarose gel electrophoresis. Here is the main concept: You get a DNA sample from the crime scene and from your suspects. You mix all the DNA samples (the crime scene sample and the suspects’ DNA) with some restriction enzymes that cut the DNA strands on a specific base sequence. Since every person’s genetic code is unique, this sequence will appear on different locations in the DNA, the strands will be cut on different locations resulting in different sized segments for each person. Next, you take all the samples and place them in a device filled with a special gel and connect it to an electric current. DNA is negatively charged so the segments will start migrating through the gel. Long segments have a greater charge but a greater mass, so the only thing affecting the speed of the segments is their size; short segments travel more quickly than long ones. Since every person’s sample will contain segments with different sizes, every person’s DNA segments will travel in different speeds creating a unique pattern in the gel. About an hour later, you stop the electric current and photograph the gel using ultra violet lighting. Now you can match the suspects’ unique patterns to the pattern generated from the crime scene sample and get your man. Note that this method did not require you to discover the exact DNA sequence of each of your suspects, and just used the fact that each person has a unique genetic code.

And what about identical twins? Well, although they have identical DNA (so this method can not distinguish between them), they do not have identical fingerprints.

p.s. If one Brazilian butterfly can cause a tornado in Texas, Iran should invest in insects not nukes.

Time Travelers, Please Proceed to Gate Number 42

Last night while watching Hiro Nakamura and Nathan Petrelli doing their thing on Heroes, I came to the conclusion that strolling through the forth dimension is much more fun than flying through the other three. While time traveling seems like a great way to spend your weekends, is it feasible?

Forward time traveling is relatively simple. It can be achieved by accelerating to extremely high speed or by getting close to an extremely big mass. As predicted by Einstein’s theory of relativity - time is subjective. For example, you can go on a one minute high speed trip only to return to Earth to discover you have just missed a whole decade back at home. A real-life example is the cosmonaut Sergei Avdeyev that spent a total of 748 days on the Russian space station Mir and missed a whole 0.02 seconds on Earth.

Although that DeLorean looked really cool on Marty McFly, backward time traveling may be theoretically or practically impossible. Some claim it can be done using wormholes, black holes or other abnormalities of spacetime, while others claim it exists only in science fiction.

If backward time traveling is possible, where are all the tourists from the future? Even if it will be illegal in the future to go back to the past, I’m sure some would break the law eventually.
Possible explanations are:
1. Backward time travel is not possible.
2. It’s theoretically possible but practically impossible.
3. It can be done, but we will destroy ourselves before achieving this.
4. It will be done in the future, but time machines allow you only to go back as far as the time the machine was created.

A famous problem is the grandfather paradox, where a man travels back in time and kills his own grandfather before the latter met the traveler's grandmother. As a result of this act, the traveler could not have been born, so how can he later travel back in time? Some see this paradox as a death blow to backward time travel possibility, but although definitely weird, I think the only problem here is that it’s not aligned with our intuition. Because human logic was developed by evolutionary process in order to better hide from lions and hunt zebras more effectively, I don’t see a big problem in the fact that 21st century thought experiments regarding traveling through the forth dimension don’t appear logical to us hunter-gatherers.

No need to comment on this post since I have just been back from the future and already read all your comments.

p.s. Every time a lightning hits the Eiffel Tower there’s a 78% chance your wife’s on the phone.

Why Software Engineers Should Care About the Price of Bananas

It appears that my job security as a software engineer depends on the price of bananas.

Since my yearly performance review at my company is just around the corner, I made some quick calculations to see how much I’m needed. An IBM research conducted a few years ago, claims that the average software engineer writes about 10 lines of functional code each day. Assuming an average line consists of about 40 characters, my addition to the company’s source code is around 400 characters a day.

I made some pretty weird (and noisy) simulations at home (I swear to God I made monkey voices while typing), and my best estimation is that an average chimpanzee hitting a keyboard at random can generate around 300 characters a minute - that’s 18,000 characters an hour. Monkeys sleep for 10 hours a day, and I think apes writing software should be allowed for at least one hour lunch break and one hour of Seinfeld; so that leaves us with 12 hours of actual chimp work, and a total of 216,000 characters a day for one monkey – already 540 times more productive than me. Since most of the chimp’s code will probably fail the unit/integration tests or won’t even compile, we’re going to need a lot of monkeys to cover all the possibilities. Since the number of characters allowed in C++/Java/C# is around 93 (I’m not going to let my monkeys write Visual Basic – even apes deserve some compassion), that gives us 93^400 possibilities needed to be tested daily and a total of (93^400)/(540) = ~4.6*10^784 chimps required. Assuming monkeys work 7 days a week and humans only 4 (holidays, vacations, sick days, etc…) we are left with ~2.6*10^784 apes needed to be added to our company’s R&D. Disregarding some minor issues (like the number of chimps is much bigger than the number of atoms in the universe), let’s see if my company should in fact fire me and hire apes to do my job. A chimpanzee can consume up to 50 bananas a day, that’s 1,500 bananas a month. The current price of 26.04 cents per banana gives us ~$390 per month for one chimp, and a total of $10^787 for all monkeys hired to replace one software engineer. Since an average software engineer (in Israel) earns about $5,000 a month, we can all calm down; it seems like we software engineers are safe for now.

Sefi/Moti/Alon – Please read my conclusion before my performance review.

My conclusion: As long as the price of bananas is still above 1/(1.27*10^784) cents per banana, it’s not financially wise for my company to fire me and replace me with chimpanzees.

p.s. When the Americans will reach Mars, what would they build first - a space station or a Starbucks?

My Little Precious Mobius Strip Ant

They say children are born angels, transform into demons, and only then become human beings...

In spite of all my efforts, one day out of the blue (around the age of two), my son discovered the phrase “I don’t want to!” As the blazing sun dissolved into the endless sea, clearing the twilight sky for the ivory moon to rule, I saw my son’s pure white feathers melting into wax, revealing the dark tattered bat wings underneath; his shining head aura sharpened into horns and his gentle fingers thickened into scavenger's claws; and there’s no way in hell he could sleep comfortably on his back anymore with that new pointy tail of his. Now, my son is three years old and I believe the rough phase of the demon stage is behind us, so here are my tips for you parents:

Love your child. Education he can also get from kindergarten teachers, books and television. Love he cannot.

Let him be a kid. When your child is doing something you’re not sure if you need to allow him or forbid him from doing (you don’t have a decisive opinion) - let him do it.

Use the correct tone of voice. Children can determine quit easily from the tone of your voice, if it’s a question or a demand. Don’t use question-like sentences if you won’t take no for an answer. On these occasions - don’t shout, but be assertive.

Apply positive feedback. When he’s doing something right, always compliment him. Kids enjoy pleasing you and will love to see they made you happy. If that doesn’t work - use bribe.

Be consistent. If you decide your kid is not allowed to do something, stick to your decision. You and your spouse should enforce one set of rules, not two.

Make it a game. Kids will gladly take a painful shot at the doctor’s office if they think it’s a game.

Try tricks. My son sometimes falls for this one:
- Me: "Please put on your shirt."
- My son: "I don’t want to!"
- Me: "OK, so just wear this t-shirt." (the same shirt he just refused to wear)
- My son: "OK".
Using the word OK with a slight change in the sentence confuses him, making him think he won the previous argument, so he’s now willing to obey my “new” request.

Seek to understand. Children are not just small human beings. They are a different species. They comprehend things differently, their understanding is partial, and the monster living under their bed can be very scary sometimes.

Explain your requests. Try not to raise your voice; get close, bend on your knees, look into his beautiful eyes and explain to him softly why you need him to put on his shirt now, or you’ll be late for an important meeting at work, and your fraking boss will fire your ass, and you won’t be able to find another decent job, and the mortgage bills will just keep on coming like swarms of locust eating away your life’s savings, and you will lose your house, and while living in a cardboard box on the alley may seem to him like a cool idea right now, he’s not going to enjoy it when winter comes...

So, if you’re currently a parent to a demon kid - don’t despair. Your child is like this ant on that Mobius strip. Currently, he thinks everybody’s against him, but just a little bit further down the road, he’ll understand you're on his side.

p.s. Wake me up in time for the weekend. (credit not mine)

Welcome to Placebo Land - Alternative Medicine

Although science is constantly expanding our understanding of the human body, alternative medicine is on the rise, sneaking in through the conventional medicine’s back door, disguising itself as “complementary” medicine. I admit western medicine is still very young and has a long way to go, but falling back to unproven old eastern techniques is just loco.

To set things straight, I think that herbal medicine can sometimes work (after all, many conventional drugs are based on plants, although I think modern western drugs will often be more effective), and I believe acupuncture can sometimes reduce pain (by physically touching nerves), but that’s about it.

I don’t think healing hands of light can cure cancer. I don’t believe you can treat a person’s kidneys or liver by applying pressure on his feet. I don’t think you can diagnose a disease by looking at a man’s iris or his aura. And no, if you excessively dilute a drug in water - you get just water. I don’t believe in therapeutic aromatic oils. No stones of power. No crystals of energy. No meridians. No chakras. No ch’i. Just one expensive placebo-based fake medicine.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe the placebo effect can help a little bit in certain situations like depression or pain, but when people are mistakenly choosing this kind of treatment over mainstream medicine when seeking help for serious problems - that is dangerous.

p.s. Can the Flying Spaghetti Monster create a meatball too heavy for it to lift?

Relatively Useful Relativity Tips (for you and your relatives)

You know what’s my problem with Einstein’s theory of relativity? Not that it’s inaccurate (like I would know) or inelegant (like I would care), but that it’s god damn useless. OK, sorry, I admit it, there are about ten guys from NASA that must use the Lorentz factor every once in a while, but what about the rest of us 6,599,999,990? Are we not worthy of enjoying uncle Albert’s heritage? I say no more! This ends now! I give you… drum rolls… (snare drum X 16, bass drum, crash cymbal). My tip list!

Tip #1: Make a very fast drive-by-style pass with your car if you wanna catch David Blaine slipping a card up his sleeve. Time on another reference frame (David Blain) will always look slower, depending on the relative speeds between the two frames (Blain and you). This phenomenon is called Time Dilation. Note that you may need to sell your Toyota and buy a faster car. For example, you’ll need to travel at 86.6% of the speed of light in order to delay time by half. So, this tip (as all the others), is theoretically true and magnificently useless.

Tip #2: Accelerating and decelerating your car may be bad for the brake system and fuel consumption, but it will make you look younger. Well, at least younger than everybody else your age. The acceleration will cause your time (everything - your wristwatch, your heart rate, your metabolism…) to move slower than the regular time on the ground. Note that you will not feel like you are living in slow motion (but will probably feel like you wanna puke from all the accelerations and decelerations).

Tip #3: The Twin Paradox. If you’re considering start dating one of the Olsen twins and wonder how she’ll look when she’s old, take her with you on a fast shuttle ride to Alpha Centauri. When you are both back on Earth, look at her sister. If you’re not happy with how her sister looks (this is how your date will look in a few years), take them both to another fast shuttle ride to Alpha Centauri, and just leave them there.

Tip #4: Objects can not travel faster than the speed of light, but allowed to move at any speed below that value. Use this when your kid tells you he came as soon as you called him.

Tip #5: Two events happening in two different locations that occur simultaneously to one observer may occur at different times to another observer. Watching your daughter on her synchronized swimming lesson from a moving airplane can make you wonder where your money went.

Tip #6: Lorentz contraction. Objects appear shorter from another relative speed reference frame. If you wanna be a porn star, don’t move while you’re auditioning.

Tip #7: The lower you go, the stronger the G-force, and gravity slows down time. Choose a low chair for long boring office meetings. To you, they will appear shorter.

Tip #8: Equivalence of mass and energy. If you’re making a home-made super bomb and C4 is hard to get, try using ultra-fat people.

Tip #9: A black hole is an object with gravitational field so powerful that even light cannot escape its pull. Sounds too good to be true, but placing your mother-in-law behind an event horizon might actually work.

Tip #10: As an object's velocity increases, its mass appears to increase. If your wife’s on a moving spaceship, shouting at you “Is this dress making me look fat?” - screw the physics, shout back “No dear, you look exactly like you did on the day we first met!” (to be honest, although her mass will increase, her waistline will shrink due to the Lorentz contraction effect, so she will actually look thinner, but that will kill my joke).

So, there you have it. As promised… theoretically true and magnificently useless. Oops, my bad, sorry again, you ten guys from NASA can still use this list when appropriate, okay?

p.s. Remember your mistakes so the next time you’ll know you made them all over again. (credit not mine)

No LGM for You! Come Back 1000 Years! - Is There Anybody Out There?

I don’t believe they're already here. No UFOs flying at night across the Nevada desert. No grays abducting people to perform surgical operations. No LGM creating magnificent crop circles. No flying saucer crashed in Roswell. No alien craft hidden in area 51. No prime numbers transmitted from planet Vega. No government conspiracy. No secret agency. No black suits. No Will Smith. No Tommy Lee Jones. No nothing. Just white noise on your SETI@Home.

The Drake equation is a formula estimating the number of extraterrestrial civilizations in our galaxy with which we might come in contact. It takes into consideration the rate of star formation, the number of stars that have planets, the number of planets that can potentially support life and actually go on to develop intelligent life willing and able to communicate, and the expected lifetime of such a civilization for the period that it can communicate across interstellar space. Modern estimations range from very close to zero up to 10,000 civilizations in our galaxy alone. So where is everybody?

Maybe the Rare Earth hypothesis is true and earth is not typical, but unusual, and perhaps even unique. The human species might be alone in the galaxy or even the universe. Maybe the inhospitable universe destroys complex intelligent life by ice ages and asteroids, or civilizations destroy themselves after reaching a certain technological stage by nuclear wars, biological warfare, etc. Maybe communication is not possible due to huge differences in physical location or time. Maybe we’re not listening to the right radio frequencies or long enough to detect alien transmissions, or maybe they simply don’t care to communicate with us because they think we’re too primitive.

Our fragile blue round sphere floats silently all alone in the dark cold void of space, reaching out, hoping someone else is there to answer our call. I don’t know why aliens haven’t contacted us yet, but the least you can do is stop writing software in Visual Basic; Don’t let them think we’re primitive.

p.s. If stuck on a deserted island, I would bring the book “101 Ways to Escape a Deserted Island”.