Orc potion

If you ever read The Lord of the Rings (and if you haven't, you should) then you might remember the passage about Merry and Pippin being captured by some Orcs. In order to keep the hobbits awake and giving the strength to run the Orcs force them to drink a special potion. I quote from The Two Towers:
[The Orc] cut the thongs round Pippin's legs and ankles, picked him up by his hair and stood him on his feet. Pippin fell down, and Uglúk dragged him up by his hair again. Several Orcs laughed. Uglúk thrust a flask between his teeth and poured some burning liquid down his throat: he felt a hot fierce glow flow through him. The pain in his legs and ankles vanished. He could stand.

I now know what this mysterious potion is. I've been taking it myself for a couple of days now to keep myself standing. It's Chi san. I can tell you, it's not a very nice sensation to drink it. But does help.

And no, I did not get any money to write this post.


Beautiful pictures

Two galleries I found online with absolutely awesome pictures.

Inside The Tube: Incredible Wave Photography

David Burdeny


Vista Service Pack 2

I've just upgraded to Vista Service Pack 2. So far I'm not that impressed.



Sometimes you have to invent a new word. As a scientist I have to come up with new names for new concepts I think up but it's not that often that I need a new name for something that occurs in everyday life.

This summer I was on a summer school for two weeks together with about a hundred other people. Most where Ph.D. students quite a bit younger than me and inevitably there were a couple of romances there. For reasons I won't go into we started to refer to these romances as "drowning". For example, if we suspected that one guy had fallen in love with someone we would alert that he was drowning. Some couples had serious cases of drowning. It was rather absurd but also a bit of fun to refer to it as drowning.

At some point I commented that drowning was a euphemism but quickly realized that I was wrong. A euphemism is a word which sounds much nicer that the word it is replacing. However, drowning is certainly not as pleasant as falling in love. Hence drowning, in the sense we used it, it not a euphemism. But then what is it? Is there a name for this? No one new, not even the guys from Oxford. So one of them, Christopher Broadbent, came up with a word: malfemism. It's obviously derived from euphemism using a bit of Latin which goes well beyond my knowledge. It's not that it will be the most useful word in the history but I still like it, both for the way it sounds and the fact that it was created for a situation where I actually needed it.

So here's a new word for you: malfemism, for when the actual word is too nice and boring.

Google Toolbar

I've had my ups and downs with the Google Toolbar for Firefox this week. Normally I think it has some valuable features in addition to what Firefox offers although I only use a fraction of all the things you can do with it. But things have been a little frustrating the last few days.

It started with Google announcing Sidewiki. Reading their announcement really got me fired up. This is something that I've been thinking about and wanting for many years. Well frankly, the scale was a little smaller in my head. What I've been after is a way for academics to annotate papers they read with comments and share them with others in a simple way. I've discovered quite a few bugs in research papers over the years and at times I've been frustrated with the fact that no one takes responsibility for these, not the published and very seldomly the author(s). So naturally Sidewiki got me very enthusiastic because it's just what I wanted, and on steroids even!

So I rushed to download the new Google Toolbar which is needed to access Sidewiki. After I restarted Firefox I looked around for the new feature. After a few moments of unsuccessful searching I went to consult Googles help section. As it turns out Sidewiki doesn't work in all languages yet, and one of the unsupported languages is Swedish. Dang! But why am I using a Swedish toolbar in the first place? I often use the English language version of software because I often find that the Swedish translations can be confusing and I tend to use the English terms anyway.

The next step was naturally to download the English version of the toolbar. But the download page didn't give me any choice of language. After a couple of minutes of more research I find out that the language of the toolbar is determined by the language used for Firefox. So it turns out I have a Swedish version of Firefox, something that is complete news to me, especially since all the menus are in English. Argh! And the reason for this is because I choose the Swedish as my language when installing Ubuntu some two years ago since Ubuntu handles the installation and upgrading of Firefox.

To sum up, I can't use Sidewiki because some decision I made a couple of years ago. Sigh. There are of course a whole number of things I can do to make it work but I don't know of a single one which I would actually be prepared to do at this point. I just have to be patient for a Sidewiki to be translated to Swedish.

There was also one other thing today. The new version of Google Toolbar that I now have installed has a feature for translating web pages and offering this translation of pages not in your home language. I've already disabled this feature for English pages. But a few moments ago I visited a Swedish page. Google Toolbar identified it as being in German and offered to translate into Swedish. Hello?



Douglas Coupland is an author that I've been following rather closely during the years. He has a way of describing the modern world in a way that's funny, clever and very much to the point. One of his key ingredients in these descriptions are phrases which captures modern world truisms, something he refers to as Couplandisms. Given my taste for quotes I really cannot resist these. Coupland maintains a page full of these phrases and it's little goldmine. Here's a few examples.
We’re rapidly approaching a world comprised entirely of jail and shopping.
If you don’t change, then what’s the point of anything happening to you?
Figure out what it is in life you don’t do well, and then don’t do it.
Is there anything in the world more annoyingly creepy than an unspoken dress code?
It’s weird when people start sentences with ‘frankly’ — as if their other sentences don’t count.
I don’t want any vegetables, thank you. I paid for the cow to eat them for me.

The Couplandisms are a quotes from his various books. Maybe sometime I'll write about which of his books I recommend and which I don't. For now, have fun with the Couplandisms.


Looks like a Berg

This got to be a pretty unique career among actors. Check out actor Carl Bressler's listing on imdb. Twelve of his twentysix characters that he has played has the last name 'Berg'. That's over 46% of all his gigs! I guess Carl Bressler simply looks like a Berg.


Stand Up Comedy

One of the best stand up comedians I've ever heard: Adam Hills.



Currently, as I'm writing this, the number of movies I've seen on imdb's top 250 list and the number of geocaches I've found are exactly the same. 85. What a coincidence.

A while ago I added two counters on this blog to show my progress with both of these activities. You can see them to the right.

These two things, watching movies and geocaching, are two of my main hobbies at the moment. Though I have been watching movies for quite a longer time than I have been geocaching. Given that I have only been a geocacher for less than a year the number of geocaches I've taken will exceed the number of movies I've seen pretty soon. It's possible to take quite a few caches in a short time and it's also a good way to get some exercise. It's not quite the same for watching movies.

Although I am not completely bound to the imdb top 250 list I find it is a very good source for watching good movies. Last night they showed the Hitchcock movie Rebecca on Swedish television which I enjoyed very much.


What makes games fun?

It has happened more than once as we sit and play some board game that we try to analyze why we think the game is fun or not. Why is it fun, what is it that makes us want to come back to a game over and over again? Quite frankly, I don't know much about this, even though I happily engage in these kinds of discussions and offer various explanations. It's an interesting topic.

There are of course people who have looked into these things, game designers who want to know how to best please the game playing crowd. And it can be very interesting to hear what they have to say. Some time ago I came across an article which talked about randomness and how it affects the popularity of a game. Even if you only have the slightest interest for these kinds of things I can recommend that you read the article. It really goes into some depth as to when randomness is perceived as something positive and when it has a negative influence on game play. Any attempt from my part to summaries what he's trying to say would do it injustice so I won't comment on it any further. Just read the article.

Also, make sure to read the extra section on Randomness in Chess which has some interesting nuggets such as this one:
All good games have a "rock, paper, scissors" metagame. By "rock, paper, scissors," I mean to imply three or more strategies that work to defeat one another without any one being dominant. How do I know this? Because if one strategy could dominate, it would, and the game would collapse in on itself. Thus by the knowledge that a game has lasted the test of time, I know it has an inherent "rock, paper, scissors" metagame.



Last week we had some really interesting clouds here over Gothenburg. The light they give feels rather ominous and they have a very characteristic wavy underside. In the Cloud Appreciation Society these types of clouds are referred to as Asperatus and considered to be a class of its own different from the standard and well established types of clouds. This name and classification has not yet gotten widespread use outside of the society.

I didn't take any pictures of the clouds when they appeared but there are plenty of nice pictures in the Cloud Appreciation Society Gallery along with a little bit of discussion about this type of cloud.


Winning and losing at the Crucible

I've noticed an interesting pattern among those players who reach the final in the World Championship in Snooker. For many of them it seems better to actually lose the final. Of course everyone wants to win it, but if you take a look at the history it shows that handling a victory is a lot more difficult than winning in the first place. This naturally doesn't hold for the more experienced players like Ronnie O'Sullivan but for younger, more inexperienced players, being the runner up might be one of the best things that happened to their careers.

The first piece of data I'd like to present is the fact that no-one has ever defended the title the first time they became reigning world champions. Steve Davies, Stephen Henry, Ronnie O'Sullivan, Mark Williams, none of them could repeat their first victory the year after. Indeed, it's only Steven Henry and Steve Davies who have defended a title at all in the Crucible.

Next let's look at a few examples of wins and losses in recent history. In 2005 we saw Shaun Murphy take the victory. He dismissed his opponents with a form of play never seen before nor afterwards. No shot seemed to difficult for him, he potted everything in sight. But after becoming the world champion he struggled a bit and basically had to rebuild his whole style of play, leaving his impossibly offensive play for a more tactical one. He has said in interviews that he was very disappointed not having defended his world title and that surely must have had a detrimental effect on him.

Another example of a struggling champion is Graeme Dott. He won in 2006 but after that he started a decline which hit rock bottom during 2008. It seems he didn't pot a single ball during that year, I even saw him miss the pack of reds in the first shot of a frame. I'm glad to see though that his slump is over, he's won a couple of matches this year and won his first match this World Championship against the ever unlucky Barry Hawkins.

What about those who lose the final? Here we have two excellent examples to support my theory: Mark Selby and Ali Carter. Mark Selby has become the one that many people see as the true contender against O'Sullivan. And indeed, after his defeat against John Higgins in the final at the Crucible in 2007 he has displayed a lot good snooker and won several tournaments. It seems as if he took his game to the next level after being in the final. The same holds for Ali Carter who has had a fantastic season, taken his game to absolute top class and won his first tournament. It's clear that both these players has benefited a lot from their successes in the World Championships.

If you know your snooker history you'll be likely to point out that Graeme Dott did in fact lose a final before actually going on to win it. The thing is, I don't remember enough to recall how that affected his play afterwards but it could have been that bad since he came back to win the championship two years later. So if anything I'll count him as yet another case in point.

So there you have it. For many players it might actually be ultimately better for them to lose the final. They have a lot less pressure to live with, only the fantastic experience of performing really well at the most important tournament of the year. It's the really great players who manage to come back after an early win in their career and repeat it, even several times. This is a testament to how important the mental part of snooker really is.


Beating O'Sullivan

It's been a while since I wrote something snooker related but since the world championship is around the corner I thought I'd jot down some of my thoughts.

Just as last year, the player to beat is Ronnie O'Sullivan. Indeed, he's always the player to beat but in recent years he has found a bit of calm that makes him more stable and his performance more even than before. For his opponents that means it's much more unlikely that he has a bad day which makes it at least possible to beat him.

Back in the years, one of the more subtle symptoms that The Rocket had a bad day was that he would start playing faster and faster. He normally has a very high potting speed but sometimes he would increase it to go at a neck breaking pace. O'Sullivan explains this behavior in his autobiography "Ronnie" that it depends on him feeling bad and uncomfortable and he just wants to get out of the place. My own interpretation is also that if his head is full of bad thoughts then increasing the speed means that he needs to force himself to focus on the snooker and thus keep the bad thoughts out, at least momentarily. Even though this speed-snooker has many times made him lose matches I think it also has helped him keep up the pace in his over-all game. A bit like speed-reading were you can increase your reading speed by successively increasing the reading pace until you no longer understand what you are reading. If done repeatedly this will make you read faster over time. And I think we're seeing the same effect in Ronnie.

Over the years O'Sullivan has acquired a mental advantage over many players. Just the fact that playing against O'Sullivan seems to instill a fear, or makes his opponents full of adrenalin. In these cases it doesn't take that much to win, O'Sullivan can play for him average snooker and still win comfortably. I've seen both Stephen McGuire and Ali Carter coming in full of adrenalin being determined to give The Rocket a match, but failing then missing the simplest of pots simply because they haven't been able to calm down. Another example was a match against Tom Ford, where O'Sullivan play some of the worst snooker I've ever seen him play. But Ford just couldn't take the chance he got. Despite leading the final frame and the balls being in good position he failed to win the match. It looked almost as if he just refused to win, even when O'Sullivan gave him chance after chance. O'Sullivan won in the end (and in the next match he beat Ali Carter with five centuries, of which one was a 147).

There are a few players which are not intimidated by O'Sullivan. None of the old masters like Davies, Henry, Higgins, Doherty, Williams, Ebdon and Fu get their nerves out of control. They're just too professional for that. But there are some younger players who also can handle the situation with The Rocket at the table. The first and foremost is of course Mark Selby but also Ricky Walden seem to be doing just fine. These are the players that have a chance to beat O'Sullivan and can hope to beat him on one of his bad days.

Who can beat O'Sullivan when he plays his best snooker? Some people say none. Others say Higgins is the only one with the capacity. Personally I don't know. Sure, Higgins can give O'Sullivan a match but ever since Higgins won his last World Championship he hasn't been able to demonstrate his best game, and when he has been playing good, it's only been for short periods of time. So realistically, over a long match I don't think Higgins has what it takes to beat O'Sullivan. Not anymore.

O'Sullivan used to have a weak spot when it came to complicated defensive games. It was possible to get him out of balance and he would lose his patience. He has improved a lot in this respect the last couple of years. It seems he has decided it's ok and sometimes even fun to battle out a defensive duel and he's not going to be thrown off by it. Sure, he can still improve his defensive game but it is still good enough to outmaneuver many of the players in the circuit.

It's going to be great to see Ronnie again in the crucible. That's when he's the most concentrated and really wants to win and it's at those moments he plays his best snooker. And he is looking as hard to beat as ever. Is there anyone capable of beating him? There might be a few players who will give him a match but I think in three weeks time we will see Ronnie O'Sullivan get his fourth and second consecutive world title.


Joke of the Day

"Doctor, doctor! I think I'm a snooker ball, what should I do?"
"Go to the end of the cue."
From the blog 147 at eurosport.se.


Joke of the Day

Why is six afraid of seven?
Because seven eight nine.

I suppose it's an old joke but I've never heard it before. Came across it in the game Violet.


Good Old Slashdot

Back in the days (like in the 90's) I used to read Slashdot, the geek news site. I don't anymore, I waste my time elsewhere these days.

But today I found out a pretty cute thing about Slashdot. They send random silly quotes in their response HTTP headers. If you don't understand what I just said, it means that when Slashdot talks to your browser it includes some stuff that is unnecessary and which the browser will simply throw away. But this extra stuff is actually silly quotes.

If you're on linux you can do curl -I slashdot.org to watch all the headers.

Here are some examples:

X-Fry: Sweet justice! Sweet, juicy justice!
X-Bender: Stop doing the right thing, you jerk!
X-Fry: But this is HDTV. It's got better resolution than the real world.
X-Fry: The butter in my pocket is melting!
X-Bender: I'm tired of this room and everyone in it!
X-Bender: My full name is Bender Bending Rodriguez.

Wow, these guys really have a thing for inserting silliness everywhere.



Wordle is a nice online service for creating word clouds. Here's some words from my blog:
Wordle: My Blog
From this there are a number of feature that I would like wordle to improve on. First of all, when reading off a blog it's clear that they're just concatenating the different posts. But it seems that they forget to insert a space between the posts which results in some funny words with a period in the middle. Secondly it would be nice to be able to treat several words as a single one. In the above example you can see that I've written "Star Wars" quite a lot. But the words "Star" and "Wars" are treated separately. It would be swell if I could say that any occurrence of the word "Star" before "Wars" should be treated as a single word.


Fancy Pants Adventures: World 2

Finally! I have waited so eagerly. A couple of years ago I came across this incredibly awesome flash game called Fancy Pants Adventures. It's a platform game in the style of Sonic the Hedgehog and sports a really cool main character which is very well animated despite being a stick figure. I really enjoyed it, the only problem was that the game was too short. But already from the start it advertised that there would be a continuation.

And now, much to my joy, the sequel has been released: Fancy Pants Adventures: World 2. And it definitely lives up to my expectations. We meet the same main character but now he has learned a few tricks, like sliding in oil. He can even slide up oily walls. The music is also largely the same, which I don't mind since I liked the music a lot.

So what has changed? Quite a lot. Now there is actually a story to the game but that particular part I don't consider to be an improvement... The graphics has gotten quite a face lift and there are some levels which are quite beautiful. There are also some clear influences from other platform games here. The levels are generally longer and offers more varying game play that World 1.

The secret levels are now more well hidden and have gotten quite a bit of attention. Each of them uses graphics from/inspired from some other game made by friends of Bram Borne, the man behind Fancy Pants. Some of them are not only bonus level but are also a bit tricky to get through.

Another new game element is a kind of golf that can be played on each level. On each level there is a snail and if you jump on it its shell will remain and you can kick that around. The goal is to get the shell into a special hole. The price for doing so is a new color on your fancy pants.

The final boss is also a bit more of a challenge in World 2 compared to the pretty harmless penguin in World 1. This time it's a rabbit which has some clear influences from Bowser in Super Mario World. It took me a while for me to figure out how to beat him and even then he can be a bit problematic since he's throwing spiders at you from time to time.

All in all I really like World 2 and all the improvements it made. My only problem with it is the same as with World 1. The levels are too small and the game is too short. It took me twelve minutes to complete the game the first time. The second time I found all secret levels. I wish there was more. I'm already waiting on World 3.


George Lucas in Love

Following up my latest post on Star Wars, here's a movie about how George Lucas found the inspiration to Star Wars while being in College. It's a really well made little movie that takes inspiration from Shakespeare in Love and applies it to George Lucas. Lots of fun stuff for Star Wars geeks. Enjoy!


Star Wars: you don't need to see the movies to know them

Here's about the funniest thing I've seen in a while. It's a recap of the original Star Wars movies (episode 4-6). It's retold by someone who hasn't seen the movies. Laughter warning for Star Wars fans!

Star Wars: Retold (by someone who hasn't seen it) from Joe Nicolosi on Vimeo.

QOTD - "It's obvious"

Conal Elliott discusses the use of "It's obvious" in discussions and how it thwarts creativity. He summarizes the basic misconception as follows:
I understand discussions of what is “obvious” as being founded on a fallacy, namely believing that obviousness is a property of a thing itself, rather than of an individual’s or community’s mental habits (ruts).



Here's a wonderful little short movie which I can heartily recommend. It's called Validation and has won more prizes than I knew existed. It's only ~16min so it's a quick watch. I saw it on my lunch break today.

Via Ulisses Costa.

QOTD - Comparing Obama and Bush

On comparing Obama and Bush:
It's like comparing pumpkin ice cream to poop.
Found on reddit.


Hierarchical tabs

Over at the Chromium blog they have a nice article about their thoughts on tabs in Google Chrome. Clearly they've given this quite some thought and also studied how users use the tab functionality to organize their surfing. One particular thing that I learned was that in Chrome they loosely group together some tabs that come from the same origin. But that's not the point of this post.

For quite some time now I've had another idea on grouping tabs together. I think it would be interesting for a browser to have hierarchical tabs. Hierarchical tabs would allow certain tabs to contain a whole new set of tabs, much like directories are a kind of file which can contain files.

Most people already have a first approximation of hierarchical tabs. The bottom layer is that which is provided by the window manager, showing which programs are currently running. For instance, right now I have a file browser, Open Office, Evince (a pdf reader) and Firefox running. The next level is in the browser itself which of course contains the web pages.

Allowing hierarchies of tabs would allow grouping together sets of tags quite nicely, and would help solve the problem which tab overflow when the number of tabs grow large.

I realize though that it would require some thought and experimentation to see if this can work out. One problem is that deep hierarchies will take up screen real estate. But introducing an arbitrary limit on the depth doesn't feel like a good measure either. Another problem is how to easily create a new "directory" tab and send tabs into it. The risk is that the user interface becomes unwieldy.

I know that there are some experiments out there but the one I've seen, Tabgroups is rather underwhelming. It doesn't really deserve to be called hierarchical tabs.

All in all I'm not sure whether hierarchical tabs can be made into a useful feature. But I can't stop thinking about it. I would be totally excited to see some serious experiments with the idea.