Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The universe is stalking me

Not like I feel as if the universe is following me around everywhere I go, everybody feels that. It's standard human paranoia.
What I mean is that the universe is actually stalking me, and probably out to get me.
See, the other day I went to buy new shoes. I walked into the shoe store and the overly helpful salesgirl bounded up and asked me if I need help.
I said I was looking for comfortable walking shoes. The ones I was currently wearing were completely worn through. (Yes, I walked holes in the bottoms of my shoes. It's possible, it just takes a lot of walking).
She steered me towards the correct corner of the store and let me browse for a few minutes. Once I had picked up and admired all of the shoes she came over again and I asked her if she could me this shoe in my size.
She smiled and asked what size is that.
I shrugged, since I didn't know. So I took off my shoe and looked in the tongue.
Would you believe me if I told you that my European shoe size is 42?
Well, it is.
That suddenly brought it all home to me.
Over the weekend I didn't check my emails or anything. So when I logged in this week I was expecting a lot of unread mail.
What I wasn't expecting was the exact number.
That's right. The window title proudly proclaimed that I have 42 unread emails.
On Sunday a few weeks ago I went to the gym, and when I was done I was kinda hungry. Fortunately there is a little café on the premises. I'd never been to this café before, and took my time poring over the menu, looking intently at all the sandwiches and trying to decide which one I want to eat.
Finally the guy at the counter asked me what I want. I randomly chose a sandwich from the list. I'm still not entirely sure what was in it. Some kind of cheese and tomatoes, also pesto and some other green stuff.
Anyway, I payed the man and he gave me my receipt. While I was waiting for my sandwich I idly glanced at the receipt in my hand. It had the name of the establishment, the name of the waiter, my order and the menu number of my order.
Sure enough, my random sandwich was menu item number 42.
And it gets even worse.
Last week I went to go buy new pants.
Now, the store that I went to sells cheap pants, but it's hard to find the correct size.
Not because of the selection, but because of the whole size system.
It's not like the sensible American system where you have 2 numbers, one for your waist and one for the length. The numbers make sense too, because they are precisely those measurements in inches.
Not here. They were using some weird European system where each pair of pants has a single number, which is supposedly the size of the pants. The numbers don't seem to correspond to anything in particular, just a random integer between 36 and 60. Usually an even number.
I have no idea whether this is the waist, the length or some strange computation of the two. The numbers seem to have no bearing on the physical description of the pants, yet they are clearly the pants' size. And even then, two pairs of pants bearing the same number are not necessarily the same size.
Anyway, at long last, after many trials and many errors I found a pair of pants that I liked and that mostly fit me.
I looked at the size, and sure enough, they were size 42.
I don't know what this means, only that the universe is probably up to no good and should get a ticket for stalking.
Hmm, all this writing made me hungry.
I think I'll go buy a sandwich.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Broked Universe

I think the universe we live in is a little broken.
Not broken in the meaning of "reboot and that should fix it" or even "you'll have to format your hard drive" but broken in the meaning that there is something fundamentally wrong with the universe as a whole.
Well, actually not the universe as a whole, just the universe that people prefer to live in.
That's right folks, I'm talking about TV and movies.
Now, there are many popular lists and stuff about the biggest physics blunders in television and movies.
I'm not talking about those either. I mean, they're true, and as a person who understands the laws of physics, sometimes when I watch something it really makes me wince.
For example, this new show called Defying Gravity (apparently it was so bad that the first season was cut short, and there will be no second). Now, they got a lot of the physics right there. They have centrifugal force providing simulated gravity, they discuss the rocket burns and acceleration times as if they know what they're talking about. They even designed a suit capable of withstanding the Venusian atmosphere for a short period of time, and they make it sound like it should work (the show is set 50 odd years in the future).
But one thing they ignore is the speed of light.
How can you have a video conference with somebody 38 million kilometers away with no lag in the conversation? There should be a lag of almost three minutes!
That just annoys me.
But what I am talking about is programming.
A lot of these shows, more so in the newer ones, have a lot of tech involved. And a large part of the tech is writing code. The characters frequently need to make some program or run some simulation that involves a lot of code, and it always works on the first try!
Forget about coding in an alien language (and here my ire is mostly against Samantha Carter and Rodney McKay who can write flawless code in Gua'uld, Asgard, Wraith, Ancient and numerous other human languages, and it's not just the language. The hardware is totally different from anything on Earth!) but why the hell does it always work for them?!
Every programmer knows that code never works on the first try.
A program that you write never ever works the first time you run it. If it does, something is wrong.
Just the other day I wrote a program, ran a test cycle and it looked like it worked!
Now this is terrible. Because now I have to find the cases where it doesn't work. Debugging code that doesn't work is hard, debugging code that looks like it works is nigh on impossible.
But in the shows they never have to debug!
It shows a warped version of reality and it screws kids up. Some kid watches this and he wants to grow up to be a brilliant programmer. So, he (or she, I suppose, but I'm lazy and will save myself from typing that extra letter every time) will go to school and learn to program.
As soon as his first "Hello World" doesn't work and he has to debug, his dreams are shattered. Nobody told him that programming was slow and tedious work, often involving guessing what the problem is. He saw programs that were written lickety split and worked right out of the box (so to speak).
So there, ladies and gentlemen (and sundry other folk who don't fall into either category but are reading this) is why the universe that we cherish and love is broked.
Now, if you will excuse me, I have to finish this conference call from Jupiter. I sent my query 64 minutes ago and should be getting a response any minute now.