Saturday, March 24, 2007

Daniel Tammet

I read the book Born on a Blue Day, which is about a savant called Daniel Tammet. I got the book after seeing the documentary "Brainman" on YouTube. The name of the documentary is a word play on the famous movie "Rain Man", where Dustin Hoffman plays an autistic savant. The documentary is over-dramatized, but by concentrating my attention only on the interviews it was an interesting watch.

In the Brain Man documentary Daniel Tammet describes his number synasthesia. "Synasthesia" means the property of associating two seemingly unrelated senses with each other. In the case of Tammet his synasthesia manifests as seeing numbers in different shapes, textures and colors. We might see the number "117" as a boring compination of three digits, but for Tammet it is a very distinct visual object. By using these associations he was able to recite 22,514 decimals of the irrational number pi without a single error. He also has some enrichened sense of words, which enabled him to learn the icelandic language in a week (to some level).

After seeing the documentary I had this image of a super-intelligent person, devoted to mathematics and indifferent to what others thought about him. In his book I discovered a different kind of Tammet however, one seeking acceptance and trying to fit in, all the while having trouble with small issues in life, such as brushing his teeth. A person not single-mindedly devoted to numbers, but one with a personal life with his husband Neil, staying at home cooking meals for him out of materials grown in their own garden. Crying over their dead cat. For Tammet numbers aren't the sole content of his life to the level I had imagined. In his book he hardly talks about numbers, rather concentrating on describing his exchange study in Lithuania and his attempts to be a part of the world which surrounds him.

However precisely because the book was so different from my image of Tammet, it was a very refreshing read. Without realizing it, I had this stereotypical image of what a savant "should be like". Real life is not just numbers, it is about having a daily life which you can feel content with, it is about fitting in, making friends, being accepted. Savant skills for him were not only a gift, but came with significant downsides as well. He had to try hard to make it in the world, but seems that he succeeded.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

AdSense - things I love and hate about it

  • It tempts me to create spammy sites which provide no actual value to the visitors, that in turn makes me feel superficial, greedy and in turn unhappy. My most embarrassing secret: I have actually made a page about mesothelioma once. No more! Valuable content and functionality only! (yeah yeah)
  • It never pays enough. I console myself with the thought that my AdSense ads still make me more than the daily average in some super poor nations, but on the other hand at times I feel like I've worked for that money as hard as someone in a super poor nation (okay not true).
  • Sometimes it displays really unsuitable ads and it angers me that I cannot just tell it what types of ads to display and instead have to rework my content to help AdSense guess better. Example: I wrote a page about how to create objects using a toolkit for a computer game, using a beer bottle as an example of an object you could create. Of course, now AdSense is displaying ads about beer, not about games. Grrr.
  • Spending countless hours excitedly monitoring my pathetic AdSense revenue and click-through rates. Wow, I made $1 today! Hooray! (what?)
  • Moving to a different country requires you to close your AdSense account and open a new one, accumulated funds are saved in the process but it still feels like an unnecessary hassle.
  • The fear that my account would suddenly be closed, without any explanation, with all my funds frozen and not getting an answer when I ask why (apparently has happened to people who at least claim to have done nothing wrong). Not sure if this issue is real, but the fear is, and Google doesn't seem to be very open about it.
Time to get positive...
  • It is a real joy to set up, copy & paste goodness.
  • It provides a somewhat predictable revenue stream when contemplating about starting new sites, a real enabler for webmasters everywhere.
  • It gives Google a lot of money -> Sergey & Larry seem to be into using some of it for space and artificial intelligence research -> I get to take a ride to a distant planet in an AI controlled spaceship and have an intense battle with the AI when it goes berserk midway.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Thank you Sierra for all the great moments

The first time I saw Space Quest 3 was at the house of the literally richest kid in town. I mean really, his dad owns a factory and even a a theme park! So they had this computer called the "PC", with a nice sound system and an expensive Roland sound card. I was standing there while he was playing SQ3 and I was blown away, not even really thinking I could ever own such a system myself.

Later I got an Amiga 500 computer, which looking back kicked the PC's ass when it comes to gaming. I was so happy that Space Quest 3 was available for it, now I could actually play it myself. Of course with all Sierra games there were several disks that you had to change during the game, and you often spent more time waiting for things to load and swapping disks than actually playing. I couldn't afford to get an extra disk drive, let alone a "hard disk" (I had read about those in a computer magazine, apparently it was a device that eliminates changing disks!).

Well, actually I once thought that the disk swapping might come to an end. In that magazine they were talking about this new type of disk, which is readable in a normal floppy drive, but could store as much as 10 megabytes on it. With that I could possibly store the entire game on a single disk and actually afford it! It was called "bubble memory", the technique was apparently that the data was stored as the state of a layer of bubbles on the disk. I was so excited I could hardly contain myself. Then I found out that it was an april fools' day hoax and... I cried.

The most emotional moment from playing Space Quest 3 was definitely walking around in a space scrap yard in the game, discovering something that looks like a ship, then actually getting it turned on and flying off with it! After that discovery I didn't want to fly off right away, but rather I called a friend over and we continued from there together. I think I was so excited I hit my head on my loft bed when getting up from my computer.

Thank you Sierra for all those great moments!