Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Electronic Test in Tampere University

Tampere University has new facilities for taking tests electronically instead of writing them with pencil and paper, which is cool since dead wood is soooo 20th century.

The tests are done in one of two Test Aquariums. Test aquariums are special computer classes. The user who logs on to a computer can use only the dedicated test software. The software has a web-based component that is used for enrolling to a test well before the test date. The student can choose her test date and time from a calendar. In the Test Aquarium, the same web-based software fetches the questions.

The answering software is a normal "thick client" and enables the user to navigate between questions and write answers to them. The test I took contained only open writing questions, rather than multiple choices, but the system seemed to be capable of automatically rating multiple-choice questions. There is also an automatic time limit for the test.

The system has some traces of being experimental. There was an Opera logo in the upper right corner, and instead of a normal edit box control the answering was done with a more limited control. It enabled normal typing in monospace font, and you could copy-paste text with menus, but not with shortcut keys. For me it worked overall like a dream, but a girl that participated in this test aquarium experienced problems: The system threw him out without any specific reason in the middle of the test.

Anyway, it's a huge improvement to current practice. It enables one to take tests when one is ready, rather than when the Official Test Date is, enabling one to take courses that are not lectured every year, and making it easier to get credit units in the summer. And typing the answer instead of writing it with pencil is a bit like writing a blog post.

By the way, if the test participation can be recorded on video, why can't lectures be recorded? With recorded lectures and Test Aquarium tests, many courses could be removed from face teaching. Face teaching should concentrate on the few areas that are worth human contact, like groupwork, honing writing skills and keeping presentations.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Today, the first 10cm of snow fell from the sky. I had to be at test by 10.00, so I left home at 9.05 to make sure there was enough marginal for possible problems.

At the bus stop, there were 10 people waiting, which is about double the amount that is withing normal daily variation. Some of them had waited for 20 minutes. When I was waiting, a car stopped at the bus stop and offered ride for some people. Then this happened again. It seemed to be the main way to get forward.

Well, I though that the marginal just may not be enough, if the buses don't come, so I started walking to ensure that I made it in time, while there still enough of it. Unfortunately I was stupid enough to choose a marginally shorter route, where the snow had not yet been pushed away, so I had to walk a kilometer in snow. In the end I made it in time, but only with ~5 minute marginal.

Anyway, I don't understand people who take stress about weather and curse it, even if it barely affects them during their commutes. Since weather can't be changed, it's a bit like being disappointed that you only have two eyes, while it would be sooo nice to have a third eye in the backside of the head.

(People working at transportation and farming sector have good reasons to be stressed about weather, so they are exceptions.)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Fake Headlines

This has potential to become a meme ... started by Vera. Here are a few fake headlines on energy.

"EU has decided to cut economic growth by 8% in order to comply with Kyoto targets. The decision is expected to have no effect whatsoever."

"Environmentalists support a scalable electricity production method!"

Comment afterwards: This post is really lousy. I intended to write a longer one about electricity generation to support the attitudes expressed here; however, I don't have patience to dig up the numbers. The points would have been that(1) economic growth and electricity consumption are inseparably linked; there doesn't exist a single 10-year period of economic growth combined with a decrease in energy consumption. (2) burning hydrocarbons and splitting atoms are the only scalable ways to generate electricity; the post would have argumented against wind.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Behaviorism Is Alive And Kicking

Marginal Revolution linked to an article about a school/mental asylum that uses behavioristic methods to keep the special education students well behaved.

They use electric shocks as a punishment. The shocks are administered by devices that are all the time connected to the clients. If the clients behave badly, the staff members can zap them, producing a shock that is comparable to a bee string. The punishment is not arbitrary, but "each student has a sheet listing the types of behaviors that prompt a staff member to administer a shock".

One of the basic ideas of behaviorism is that punishments and rewards should be (1) immediate (2) recognized as punishments/rewards and (3) appropriate for the student's level of understanding. The immediacy is important to ensure that "even a student with a low IQ or a severe psychiatric disorder might be made to understand that whatever he just did was unacceptable". The shock is unquestionably recognized as a punishment. However, it is important to notice that a punishment is not always experienced as a punishment - the article lists counseling as an example: "School literature states that counseling is done "as needed," but not when it could be seen as a reward for bad behavior".

In addition to electric shocks, the school uses a wide range of positive reinforcement. Also the mere threat of shock is for many clients enough to keep the behaviour in line so that actual shocks are not needed.

My take? Wish I could buy an alarm clock that would deliver an electric shock if the I don't rise from bed and press the button three times during the next half an hour.

The article also mentions that the founder of the institute tried to manufacture behavioristic teaching machines in the 60s. I've written about them here. Basically, the 60s teaching machine movement was trying to build mechanical and electric teaching devices to help with rote memorization, but the 60s technology was too inflexible. Present-day flashcard programs, including the ones I've written, are descendants of this tradition.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Dating meme: I am an asshole ... give me your candy!

Real men like me don't wait to be challenged to memes but take the initiative themselves, so I'll answer to Hurina's dating meme.

I'm short (163cm) and unmuscular. I like to wear yuppie-style collar shirts and cotton pants. I have a sense of humor, which I express mainly in writing.

Although I don't own a house nor a car and am not currently working, my financial situation is good thanks to disinterest towards the aspects of life that cost a lot of money.

My hobbies include writing computer-aided language learning software and playing go. It's also nice to play old Finnish popular music by electric organs, and go to electronic music events and dance myself legless.

I like to be in control of my own life, and I have succeeded in that a bit too well, since also in my sex life the initiative is in my own hands. Will you change it? I'd like to be tied up and shat on.

Update to avoid further misunderstandings: This dating annoucement is directed exclusively at women.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


Topic Absolutist view Relativist view
What makes you happy The absolute amount of resources determines your ability to satisfy your wants, needs and desires. Humans determine their level of satisfaction with their current situation by comparing themselves to others, so that your status relative to others determines your happiness.
Game metaphor of life Life is a positive-sum game, full of opportunities that benefit both parties and just wait to be exploited. Are you taking advantage of them? Life is a zero-sum game, where the spoils of co-operation are divided unevenly between participants. Are you a wolf or a sheep?
Attitude to power Power is legitimate, it hierarchy enables a group of people to get things done better. There's nothing wrong with being a servant in a legitimate hierachy that gives you better results than you could achieve alone.
Power is means for the strong to exploit the weak. You should get as much of it as possible. Serving others is necessary sometimes, but in the long run a sign of failure.
To gain happiness, you should be...
1. Resourceful in order to have something to give, so that you can participate in exchanges and get things you want.

2. Trusted so that other people are willing to engage in activities that carry a risk.

3. Networked and Informed so that you hear about the opportunities.

4. Social so that you can organize things and exchange views and information.

5. Intolerant agaist people who break the rules in order to create a deterrent.

1. Strong so that you can bully others into submission.

2. Ruthless so that you are not prevented by so-called "moral".

3. Cynical in order to prevent others from exploiting you.

4. Able to fake it to create a good impression.

Attitude to other people
Other people are an opportunity to gain information and get deals. You should take a positive attitude to socializing with other people, until they prove themselves untrustable or send signals that imply untrustability.

Other people are trying to manipulate resources from you by their emotions. You should be careful and wary of them.
Other people's happiness
Most people can achieve happiness, since if we set some reasonable standard of living, with suitable economic growth it is achievable for Joe on the street.

It is impossible for everyone to achieve happiness, since for each person who is above average in wealth or status there is another person who is below average. In the end, other people's happiness is your misery.
Opinion on current system
Democratic free martket system has achieved unprecedented standard of living. If you are not happy in this environment, the mistake is either in your attitude or the company you keep. The unemployed are nowadays enjoying many benefits unavailable for the nobility in the past, and this trend of improvement is continuing.

The income differences are starker than ever due to economies of scale and winner-takes-it-all competitions. Due to media, people increasingly compare themselves to the top, making them feel more inferior than before. Global competition for scarce resources is tougher than ever, forcing people to take desparate actions.
Attitude to information
Trying to talk true and insightful facts enhances other people's trust towards you. It is also important that other people know your interests, since it increases your chances to hear about opportunities to further those interests.

You should talk sentences that create positive/negative associations that serve your interests. Talking truth is unessential, since everyone knows it anyway and if they don't, it gives you a competitive advantage. The main thing is that the other believe you. You should always ask: Whose interests are these "facts" serving?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

What's Hot

Good Ear: Ear training for amateur musicians; trains your skills to identify intervals, chords and scales. Requires QuickTime.

Big Ears: Identify intervals. Requires Java applets enabled.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Werewolf Masquerade

A week ago me and my brother had a conversation about live gigs. He had seen an electro band Imatran Voima and was impressed by a combination of powerful music and good show. Since I used to visit rock gigs, he asked if that was usual in live performances.

I answered no, and listed the self-ironic bands ? the only ones that had made any impression on me.

Yesterday, I went to a gig by Moonspell, and it changed my views.

(By the way, it has nothing to do with my brother possibly listening to Moonspell in the past. I don't have any memories of being present when my brother put the cassette mentioned in the previous post to a cassette player. In high school, there was a metal fan named Leo who had Moonspell's songs Opium and Mr. Crowley in his hard disk, where I copied them via network share. Later, when I first connected to P2P network I copied more of Moonspell.)

In an earlier post, I?ve listed the reasons that I stopped going to rock gigs and preferred electronic music events: (1) that DJ music is better, since it is done by world-class composers and players, (2) that in your typical live gig the guitars, drums and vocals mix up into an incomprehensible mess, while record music tends to be well mixed, (3) the sound samples of the electronic music are optimized to stay clean and separate even in bad acoustic conditions, while electric guitar is not, and (4) the rave culture involves dancing, which is active participation; after getting used to it, it bores you to tears to just drink beer and watch bands come and go.

Well, in Moonspell?s gig it was all fixed! Moonspell?s musicians are some of the best metal composers and players. The sound was clear and instruments and vocals could be distinguished from each others without effort. And since they were popular, a huge mass of people gathered in front, making the participation more active than just sitting and drinking beer. Regarding the music, I had listened to some of the songs beforehand tens of times. That definitely helps immersion but that is a bit beyond point, since maybe 2/3 of them were still unknown to me.

And to top it all, the singer could really interact with the audience. Especially his hand gestures were really controlled, oscillating between sudden, violent movements that perfectly matched the rhythm on the one hand, and conscious, steady, fully-in-control movements that gave the audience guidance on when to raise hands. The hand dynamics are clearly visible in this video.

Earlier, I?ve noticed that the best of metal and the best of electronic music are equally good on record. Now I know that in the top end, also the live performances are equally good. However, this won?t make me a rock fan, since acts of this class are very rare and the quality of local, Tampere class bands is waaaayyyyy higher in electronic music.

A combination of heavy drunkenness on my part and dancing instincts trained on raves probably resulted in me looking distinctively like the drunken idiot I was, but that?s what people get drunk for. Immersion isn?t possible without a suitable level of drunkenness.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Sudden changes in personality

Recently, Ilkka has apparently had a sudden change in personality. When I still lived with my parents and siblings, my brother also had two sudden changes in personality. I'll describe them in order to provide perspective to Ilkka's case. Markku seems to know more, but doesn't want to tell.

Before the first change, my brother listened to metal (he had at least one Sepultura's record and Moonspell's casette) and had wrestling as his hobby. He was very hostile towards me and my parents. Once he spoke about a potential fight: He said that if the other party initiates it, he will be looking forward to beating the other person.

After the first change, he started drawing. He attended a drawing school, switched from normal class to a dedicated artistic class (there were 4 normal classes and one artistic class at each grade) and listened to electronic music. He related to the past personality with shame and embarrassment: Once when Metal Union started in Radio Mafia, he quickly closed the radio: "But it's metal!". He was still hostile towards me and my parents, so I have no idea what caused the change.

This continued until the second change. The first change happened in comprehensive school; the second change happened when he was in high school (in an artistic class). He switched from high school with an artistic class to the same high school where me and my sister went. He started to be interested in math and natural sciences, and spent much more time with homework. It culminated in him applying and getting to the the same math-oriented highscool which I described earlier.

Again, he condemned his past. He despised artists and art. At this time, my sister was going to study graphical industry, and he also expressed his dislike towards my sister's choice. As far as I know, the seconds change had a lot to do with personal chemistry; he got fed up with the strongly religous person that was running the drawing school.

He described as liberating the experience of leaving the drawing school for the last time and knowing that he will never again step there, which reminds me of Ilkka's comment that he is finally free.

Nowadays, the only trace from the wrestling period is his attendance to karate classes; but I'm sure he has a very different attitude towards the activity. The despise towards graphical art has also dissipated, which is most visible in his interest towards fractal art (here is his first production). The changes were genuine, but they were partially reversed, and the old traits and skills took a very different form.

He probably had a third change between high school and university, but I don't know about that since I didn't see him often.

Friday, September 22, 2006

EU: A federation based on rule of law

poliisi EU2006-kokouksen edeesä

Lately, the city center of Tampere has been full of policemen because of the EU2006 summit. I don't know what they decide; hardly anything that has a visible effect on my life. Certainly they have power to change significant things, but it is pretty much rendered insignificant by disagreements between different factions and the behind-the-scenes nature of EU regulation for those who don't work at administration and don't run a company nor a farm.

Even with its mild excesses, a society based on rule of law is infinitely better than one based on rule of mob and corruption.

That's why asylum seekers are queueing at our gates. That's why immigrants risk drowning to get here, and that's why new countries are constantly willing to join EU.

(What this is all about is providing an alternative interpretation against the baseless association of EU with a police state.)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

What worries me ...

... is that Lovelacen Testi and Danimal Archive are also gone. It would have been so nice to advertise Finnish Annotator as means to read a blogger censored by the feminists.

It's also a sign that the problems may be quite severe. Hopefully we'll find out what happened behind the scenes.

Disagreeing with Ilkka on many aspects, I have to admit that I feel a bit of the same schadenfreude that colored his writings so much.

Update: Answer to The Scientist: Yes, it was wrong for the reporter to do what she did, since she knew from the case of Lawrence Summers that such publicity can have dire consequences.

Finnish Annotator

Here's a webalized version of my old flashcard program.

The system includes:
1) A Finnish annotator,
2) a Chinese flashcard program,
3) exercise for drawing Chinese characters.

The annotator is the weakest part and barely functioning, but the other parts are quite ok.

PS. I'll remove the open registration in one week.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Should write a private biography someday.

The autobiography would consist of two parts: Firstly, authetic documents (diary notes, emails, blog posts) from the time. These documents would not be inteded to be read completely, but you could dip into them to get a better idea of past way of thinking.

Secondly, it would describe and analyze past events and worldview in the wisdom of the hindsight.

This kind of biography would enable to learn from past mistakes and get more invaluable life experience out of the same period of time.

It would be a monument to stupidity, silliness and embarrassment: The authentic documents would serve this purpose in "show, don't tell" style, and the hindsight part would be a constant ridicule of past me.

That kind of document would be too embarrassing to show for anyone else, which also decreases the motivation to write one.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Technical Skill And Maturity

Summary: Gifted young sometimes show a peculiar combination of high-level technical skill and low-level maturity. The lack of maturity is no excuse to belittle or dismiss their technical skill; it can and should be harnessed by methods that compensate for the lack of maturity.

Lately, Finns have discussed special education for gifted children. Since I went to a very ambitious math high school, I want to offer my view on this question.

The school was called Valkeakosken aikuislukion matematiikkalinja. It was located 10km from Toijala, a town with 8400 inhabitants. The students lived in the school.

I found out about the school, when they sent me a letter of invitation after I had done well in a competition. I entered the school in the summer 1997. The summer was a "probabtion period" where they checked if we were correct material for the school and prepared us for the following two years. The days were filled with math education, where we went quickly through a lot of material. We were not supposed to learn it, but to get a good overview which would facilitate more thorough learning later. Typically, every other week was education in Toijala and every other week was summer holiday in our homes.

There weren't that many applicants. If I remember correctly, there were 25 applicants for 20 places. Some of them didn't even want to continue after the summer. Rather than being a hypercompetitive pruning game, it was a test of whether we were prepared to leave our homes for fast-paced math education.

We also had a programming course in that summer. It was some kind of "Introduction to Programming", and it was lectured by two teachers from Tampere University of Technology. This programming course prepared us for internship in companies; that internship would pay our living costs. All students eventually passed the course, although many people had to return the exercise works several times.

With the fall of the autumn, we moved there permanently and started also part-time work. I was paired with Jarno, and we were given a work task by a nearby vocational school. They had a drilling machine, which made holes to chips in places where components should be inserted. The drilling machine took a list of (x, y) -coordinates and drilled the appropriate holes on an empty chip. Our task was to make a program, which would take a scanned picture of a chip as input. The program would identify the holes and output a list of coordinates for the holes.

They didn't just throw the assignment at us, but ensured that we would know what to do with it. Fortunately, I had done some simple graphics programming earlier; otherwise we couldn't have done it. Those past skills were put to good use in this programming task.

We didn't know enough math to rotate the scanned picture of a chip, so a student from the older class wrote a texture rotation code. Also, me and Jarno didn't have Windows programming experience; after we had done the basic algorithm, an experienced Windows coder from our class added a graphical UI to it.

The experienced Windows coder was one of the two persons in our class (2 our of 20), who had already developed almost industrial-strength coding skill before coming to Päivölä. What they had in common was that their parents could also code and gave them advice on their hobby. In addition, there were at least 3 persons (inclding me) who had had some earlier programming experience.

The vocational school headmaster knew how to extract productivity out of immature souls. He gave us a clearly defined technical task, and made sure that we knew where to start. We didn't need to do those parts that require maturity, experience and human relationship skills - negotiating conditions, choosing partners, finding out what needs to be done in the first place, etc. And frankly, I couldn't have done anything that required maturity. I had never had a summer job, my capability to take responsibility was low and my social skills were nonexistent.

The newspaper article ends with a sentence where the Finnish Minister of Education, Mr. Heinäluoma takes a stance against this kind of education by saying that "little Einsteins" would only be damaged if they were to be separated to their own caste.

First, I'll deconstruct the phrase "little Einsteins". The diminutive "little" can imply two things. Firstly, it can imply that these people are little mommy's boys, who do everything their mothers and teachers say and are in general spineless. This implies that they deserve to be insulted and bullied until they grow up to become sullen teenagers. Secondly, it can imply that these people only have "play" skills that are appropriate for children. As I have already explanined, the coding skills which I saw in Päivölä were very real, just waiting to be applied to the easy end of the industry problems.

The word 'genius' has two meanings. First of all, it refers to a person with extraordinary mental ability. Secondly, it is an insult against people who think they are smarter than they are.

We can conclude our deconstruction by saying that both "little" and "Einstein" can be considered as negative testimony against the character of the people involved, and as encouragements to insult and bully them. You wouldn't call a 25 years old fresh collage graduate a "little Einstein" who would be better off vandalizing, shoplifting and drinking himself into a gutter compared to using his skills in a productive way. Why is it completely appropriate to say such things about teenagers? Is it because our society so extremely low expectations about young people that doing something useful while you could just leech your parents has become a sign of profoundly un-indivualistic wimpyness?

Now, let's look at the claim that these people would be damaged by special education. I really don't think that the programming course, work intership, improved math education and likeminded company damaged me. If I was immature after it, that's only because I was even worse when I came there.

In short, Mr. Heinäluoma's comment demonstrates complete lack of understanding about the nature of giftedness; about the division to technical skill and maturity development, and about effective ways to harness giftedness in ways that are economically productive and good for the subject's development.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Antediluvian Information Technology

1. One book that changed your life

When I was in the elementary school, I had an MSX computer. It was comparable to Commodore 64 in memory and functionality, but it was made by Microsoft and never became as popular.
Anyway, it had a 20-page getting started manual, which was written in clear Finnish and contained some of the most basic BASIC commands. It was my first touch to programming, being simple enough to be understoon without human guidance, which wasn't available anyway. There was also a 100 - 200 pages long reference manual, also in Finnish, which listed all BASIC commands. Without those books, I wouldn't have learned to code, so you could say that they changed my life.

2. One book that you have read more than once

Asimov's Foundation trilogy. A relative brought it to our house by chance, and it was my first touch to science fiction. Before that I had read Enid Blyton and comparable books, and science fiction was much better compared to those.

Somehow, I skipped the youth books almost entirely, since I didn't have any source that would have recommended specific authors to me. There was one exception though: I heard Steissi by Teija Niemi mentioned by a girl in our class. It turned out to be written in slang, and the events took place in Helsinki railway station. The 200 pages were turbocharged with drama and sexual and violent action. The picture it painted about young people was that a boy becomes a man only when he beats up his alcoholist father, and a girl becomes a woman only after trying prostitution. It was very captivating, and I read it in one session.

Matti probably meaned this kinds of books, when he ctiticized the fact that he was made to read books that advocated bad habits (the fucker has deleted the article, so I can't link to it). My opinion is a bit different. Firstly, if you want to induce a habit of reading to people who don't have that habit, then turbocharged action books that appeal to our biological interests in sex and violence are probably the correct way to go. Those who have more refined tastes also know how to satisfy them themselves. Secondly, although I spent most of my time in front of computer at the time, some people in our class were actually having wilder lifestyles. Once in a geography lesson, when Estonia was mentioned, a boy shouted that he had visited an Estonian prostitute. The boy had severe difficulties in concetrating on anything. I'm not sure but I remember hearing that his father was an alcoholic. Later, he started a relationship with a girl in the same school, and they sometimes showed their affection quite openly in hallways.

Thirdly, the suggestion for Steissi came from peers rather than by top-to-bottom channels. So it was hardly an ideological statement by the establishment on the only correct youth lifestyle. However, some of the official choices did reflected the same line, for example the gang violence book Run, Baby, Run by Nicholas Cruz.

3. One book that you would want on a desert island

Someting that requires concentration and repeated readings to be understood. Something that is useful but too dry to be read in normal conditions without a very good reason, like a test in one week.
Knight's: Mathematical Statistics is one option.

4. One book that made you giddy

Alan Sokal's prank is more funny than anything I have read on paper, so I'll skip this.

5. One book that wrecked you with sobs

Carrie by Stephen King is the only one that has ever had that effect.

6. One book that you wish had been written

Social Construction of Software Development by Peter Berger, Alistair Cockburn and Peter Naur.

7. One book you wish had never been written

Pressman: Software Engineering. It is very thick and the author leaves the task of summarizing the essentials to the reader. In a course in TAY (Project Work) it was presented as the authorative text of software development. Presenting a 2000-page tome that doesn't event get into subject matter in the first 100 pages for an audience where most people probably don't know quick-reading techniques is a sure way to breed rabid anti-intellectualism ("I don't read books, since they are useless").

8. One book you?re currently reading

None. Well, I have Venäjän Historia in toilet, where I read it 2 pages a day.

9. One book you?ve been meaning to read

Should read something about microeconomics. I bought a 40 years old Textbook of Economic Theory from a sale, and I've read 1/3 of it. Newer textbooks seem to contain pretty much the same material, which is good - it means that the information will stay relevant also in the future.

Saturday, August 05, 2006


Was drinking yesterday with Tommi and his philosopher buddies. One of them was a girl named Essi, who worked in some EU-funded information society assessment project.

She told that in Sweden, the recipe system has been digitalized. The doctor sends the recipe information to a database, and at the drug store the drug clerk fetches the information from the database.

One obvious advantage of this kind of system is that it produces a big data set that allows data mining - supposing that privacy concerns don't prevent experts from mining it. Half Sigma demonstrates in his writings just how much information you can mine from a good data set. He also compares his findings to real research, and often finds that the results are the same. I'd guess that good data sets and proper data mining could considerably increase the productivity of researchers in some areas.

One obvious candidate for digitalization are the patient records. Earlier, I thought that privacy concerns were the main concern here, but Essi told that not only doctors but also the staff has access to relevant records. Therefore, the patient records can't be very confidential. So, it's just data; why can't they digitalize it? What's the problem, damnit?

If I were a dictator, all health-related information would be put to a big database. This would include not only patient records, but also all research data sets. Then, a public interface would be created to the database. This interface would allow anyone to make simple database queries to find out about numbers and correlations between various factors.

Privacy concerns would be addressed by putting a lower limit to the amount of cases. For example, if some query returns less than 20 matches, the results would not be shown for privacy reasons. If the database contained 5 million people, the restriction wouldn't be that harsh.

This kind of database would help researchers in quick testing of hypotheses. For example, this research tells about a parasite T. gondii that spreads from cats to humans and may cause schizophrenia. If some earlier research had tested the presence and absence of T. gondii for whatever reasons and this information was saved to the database, then a simple correlation between T. gondii and schizophrenia could be computed. This wouldn't replace the actual research - feeding antipsychotic drugs to rats that have T. gondii - but it would enable better justifications before any expensive animal tests are done. Database queries are damn cheap.

More bang for buck in medical research would speed up the achievement of SENS, so anyone appreciating longer life should agree.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Input/Output Brush

In the age of Amiga ~13 years ago, me and my brother happened to get our hands on an exceptionally good drawing program, Deluxe paint. The most notable feature was that you could cut a brush from any part of the picture you were editing, and use that brush to draw anything. That made especially all kinds of textures much easier to draw. In addition, you could pile various effects to the brush. It was years ahead of its time, best reflected by the absence of similar features in PC drawing programs.

Now, someone has made a comparable brush device for editing videos. Seems to have an infinite potential for highly psychedelic virtual illusions. Or at least draft versions of them.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Statue Spotting: Interlude

Noticed that there is another page listing less human-centric monuments (Thanks to Mette). These seem much more interesting. The Mannerheim statue - the king of military status in Tampere - is most suitable ending point for war monuments.

Statue Spotting 6: Mannerheim


Name: Mannerheimin patsas
Place: Mannerheiminkallio, Leinola (Mannerheim Cliff)

Mannerheim was desevedly voted as the greatest Finn ever, thanks to saving 5 million people from communism - twice. That kind of achievement is hard to beat.


Instead of being in a visible place, statue is in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by somewhat messy suburban sprawl. There were 6 signs like this, and they were all needed to find to the statue.

They say that the city council didn't want to put the statue to a visible place, since it depicts Mannerheim in war garments. The opponents should learn more about Mannerheim, since he was more than a rugged general. Speaking fluently 5 languages, he also made a two-year expedition to China. The expedition started from the Central Asia, where the 'stans currently are, continued through the Xinjiang hinterlands of China all the way to Beijing. I'm not sure if any expeditioner in Finnish history has done better.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Statue Spotting 5


Place: Pyynikin kirkkopuisto
Name: Suru (Sadness)

It is questionable, if this can is can be considered a military memorial statue or not. The Vapriikki page told that this statue has been sculpted less ~15 years after the WW II. The sculptor has also made other monuments with the same theme, some of them explicitly war monuments.

The reason I concentrate on war monuments is that the nonmilitaristic monuments in Tampere are so boring, and don't even have funny texts. There is one notable exception though - the unnamed technophallocratic monument in front of the Viikinlahti water treatment plant. I'll save it to the last post.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Statue Spotting 4


Name: Punakaartilaismuistomerkki
Place: Vesisäiliönmäki, Pispalanharju

Unlike most military statues, this one was erected full 65 years after the war had ended.

Täällä Pispalan harjulla työväen joukot
Tampereella viimeksi seisoivat ase
kädessä asiaansa puolustaen vuonna 1918.

Here is the from scenery behind the statue:


Thursday, June 08, 2006

Statue Spotting 3: Stubborn Determination Can Take You Through Solid Granite. Explosives Also Help.

Name: Sodanaikaisen talkoohengen ja yhteistunnon muistomerkki
Place: Asevelikylä, Jokipohjantie 51, Nekala (Brothers-in-arms village)

Talkoohengen ja yhteistunnon voimalla,
Läpi Harmaan Kiven,
rakensivat tamperelaiset kodin
rintamalla 1939-1944 taistelleiden omaisille.
Näin syntyi tälle alueelle Asevelikylä,
käsittäen 13 kahden perheen taloa.

Tampere - auta itseäsi.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Statue Spotting 2

patsas edestä

patsas edestä

Place: Pakkilankulma, 500m from Lidl towards Pirkkala
Made by: Vapaussoturien huoltosäätiö

joiden uskon, uhrausten
ja urheuden voimalla
Suomi vapautettiin 1918

Monday, June 05, 2006

Statue Spotting 1

Patsaan kuva

Name: Monument for the wars 1939-1945
Place: The Messunkylä Cementary

Kesken jos kalpamme katkeaa
ja kentille jäämmekin kerran,
täys´ onni on sen, joka maatansa saa
ees palvella hivenen verran.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A Shapeshifting Demon, Killing For Sport

Haven't watched a blink of Eurovision since I left home - until yesterday. That's how irrelevant it had become. It was about time for someone to jape the show.

I suppose that rock shows are all about theatre after a certain minumum level of musical skill has been achieved. At the same time another channel was playing a criminal comedy. It had a dance scene, where a housewife was preparing a romantic meal and dancing with apron in her front and knives in her hands. It was much more immersive than the Eurovision dance scenes. Helsingin Sanomien kuukausiliite had an article about the band, which said that the mastermind behind the band had also written storyboard comics for many Finnish movies.

My proposition for Finland's Eurovision 2007: Children of Bodom. With a stage show where they burn a miniature church made of paper, cut themselves with knives, and praise Satan. Teemu Mäki could also participate. No tits at Eurovision please - we can get better ones from other places (NSFW).

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Shaking up hearts around the world

If I met Hu Jintao face to face, I'll ask him about his past dance hobby. Secondary sources tell that according to his official biography, as a student he was a member of the dance team at the university, and occasinally danced solo at parties.

The Chinese word for dancing - tiao4 wu3 - consists of two charaters. Tiao4 means 'to jump'. Wu3 means 'to dance, to wield, to brandish'. I guess there is some deep oriental wisdom in it: according to the fighting hypothesis dancing skill is appreciated by women because it is a peaceful correlate of fighting skill: That the man is able to defend his family when needed, but prefers to stay out of trouble. Therefore, it is natural that the same word refers to brandishing and dancing.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

About the next post

The next post is a Finnish desk drawer writing about getting old. The reason I didn't publish it 8 months ago is that it mentions my mother and her sister; and family is a topic that is mostly avoided in blogs. There are two central points.

Firstly, when people become old, they'd better to also become wise. If they don't, they are just losing things with age. Getting wise is not that difficult - moderate effort is enough, since you have tens of years time. It is also important to get enough social and storytelling skills to actually talk the experience at suitable spots. If you become wise, you can retain some kind of genuine contact with younger persons like me (but not all kinds of young persons - young persons have different values and interests). If the young person has become interested in some topic lately, the old person can leverage his long experience and try to find stories and anecdotes from his memory. This compensates for the differences in viewpoints and interests.

The second point is that education matters; this is justified by the vast personality difference between my mother and her sister.

A Finnish desk drawer post about getting old

Vietin viikonlopun mökillä siskoni ja äitini siskon (Helena) kanssa. Sadoksi tuli 9l mustikkaa, joka on keitetty 11 purkiksi hilloa.


Helena on yksi harvoista tuntemistani yli viisikymppisistä ihmisistä, jotka ovat vanhentuneet tyylikkäästi.

Helena on käynyt kauppakorkeakoulun, ja työskennellyt Valion markkinointiosastolla niin kauan kuin muistan. Hän on myös matkustellut laajalti ympäri maailmaa.

Puhuin hänen kanssaan mm. Kiinasta. Hän kertoi, että Valiolla on Kiinassa yksi harvoista ulkomaantoimistoista. Siellä myydään kilohinnaltaan korkeita, pitkään säilyviä tuotteita.

Helena ja äitini kuulemma hankkivat jossain vaiheessa käsiinsä kaiken Kiinasta kertovan kirjallisuuden. Tämän harrastuksen tuloksena Helenan kasettikokoelmassa on suuri määrä kiinalaisia kasetteja, joista muutamia kuuntelimme mökillä. Hän kertoi käyneensä Kiinassa ensimmäistä kertaa parikymmentä vuotta sitten, ja menneensä matkalla kiinalaiseen diskoon. Kuulemma siellä soitettiin samanlaista musiikkia kuin länsimaisissa (se siitä eksotiikasta).

Helenan tyylikästä vanhenemista osoittaa se, että hänen kanssaan pystyy keskustelemaan kiinnostavista aiheista. Hän ei ole urautunut eikä kaventanut perspektiiviään. Monet vanhat ihmiset muuttuvat puheissaan ylikonkreettisiksi ja ylikäytännöllisiksi. Jos haluaa säilyttää kosketuksen jaettuun todellisuuteen nuorten kanssa, pitäisi seurata maailman menoa ja pystyä puhumaan siitä.

Lisäksi Helena on vanhentuessaan viisastunut. Häntä ja äitiäni yhdistää kiinnostus puutarhanhoitoa kohtaan. Helenalla oli mökillään hyllymetreittäin puutarhakirjoja, ja hän esitteli joitakin lähiympäristön lajeja koirienulkoiluttamislenkin aikana. Jos ihminen ei vanhetessaan viisastu, hän ainoastaan menettää vikkelän järkensä. Monissa asioissa - kuten maailman menon seuraamisessa tai puutarhanhoidossa - iän tuomasta pitkästä perspektiivistä on huomattava hyöty. Tieto kasautuu, jos sitä vähänkin aktiivisesti hankkii edes silloin tällöin.

Vuorovaikutus Helenan kanssa on sujuvaa. Siitä puuttuu sellainen kömpelyys, joka saa puhumisen monien ihmisten kanssa tuntumaan tervanjuonnilta. Hänellä on tarinankerronnan taitoa, eli hän osaa pitää monologeja sellaisista aiheista, joista tietää paljon. Ei tarvitse tietää täsmälleen, mitä kysyy.

Nature vs Nurture

Helenan ja äitini voi olettaa olevan 50-prosenttisesti samaa geenimateriaalia. Oletetaan kuitenkin, että Helenan ÄO on ollut alunperin korkeampi.

Heidän tiensä erosivat, kun toinen meni lukioon ja toinen ammattikouluun. Voi olettaa, että heidän kaveripiirinsä alkoivat tässä vaiheessa erkaantua, ja se on ollut yksi eroja synnyttävä tekijä. He kuitenkin pysyivät kosketuksessa toisiinsa. Helena on kertonut, että äitini luki nuorena samaa korkeakirjallisuutta kuin hänkin. Myös yhteinen Kiinan-harrastus kertoo keskinäisestä kommunikoinnista.

Jossain vaiheessa he asuivat yhdessä vanhempien talon ulkopuolella jonkinlaisessa nuorten ihmisten yhteisasunnossa. Käsittääkseni tässä vaiheessa kumpikin oli saanut opintonsa päätepisteeseen.

Tässä vaiheessa voi olettaa, että homologia eli työn ihmistä muokkaava vaikutus astui esiin. Helenan piti työssään käsitellä paljon monipuolisempia ärsykkeitä. En tosin tiedä kummankaan ensimmäisistä työpaikoista mitään. Jossain vaiheessa (syntymäni aikoihin) äitini muutti Poriin ja Helena Helsinkiin nykyiseen työpaikkaansa.

Tuloksena on kaksi hyvin eri tavalla vanhentunutta ihmistä. En ole kuullut äitini mainitsevan koko Kiinan-harrastusta kuin kerran. Kun vierailen Porissa, äitini kertoo, mitä kissa on tehnyt edellisellä viikolla. Kiinnostavat asiat yksikertaisesti menevät hänen relevanssifiltteriensä ohi, ellei niillä ole suoraa käytännön merkitystä.

Kun näen Helenan, pystyn keskustelemaan hänen kanssaan kiinnostavista asioista (sopivat aiheet tosin loppuvat nopeasti, joten keskustelu jää lyhyeksi.) Elämänkokemuksen ja kiinnostuksen kohteiden erilaisuutta kompensoi se, että hänellä on pitkä ja monipuolinen kokemus.

En usko, että ero on pelkissä geeneissä, sillä 3 hengen sisarusparvestani kaikki ovat hankkineet tai hankkimassa korkeakoulutusta. Voi olla, että koulutuksen hyödyntäminen edellyttää tiettyä pohja-ÄO:ta, mutta jos tämä pohja on kunnossa, koulutuksen hiovalla vaikutuksella on valtava merkitys.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Violence sucks

Today, when I was on the dancefloor in a rave, someone punched me in the face. It was totally unprovoked.

The timeline of events a bit fragmented. I don't remember the faces of the persons involved - I was too damn perplexed. The punch was preceeded by the following unusual actions: Someone asked me if the party was good, someone slapped me in the back, someone asked for light to the cigarette, I switched the position in the dancefloor to avoid further interference from that person. Then, someone touched my arm with a burning cigarette. Two persons took a fighting position in the dancefloor, but it didn't seem like a fight. I looked at them and made some uncontrolled gestures with my face (kind of impossible not to notice and not to attach attention). Someone took a fighting position at a different direction. I ignored him, thinking that it is not directed at me, but someone else (the direction was open to interpretation). I got a punch to my face. I exited dancefloor.

Some foreign person came at me and directed me to the bathroom, where he drew attention to the fact that I was bleeding between nose and eye. From bathroom I went to talk with bouncers. They got some ice (I didn't even know that ice was the correct response, not having run into this kind of situation before). After cooling down the wound for half an hour with a bag of ice, I exited the facility.

The bouncers saw two persons they suspected exiting the bar, and someone coming to them to announce that someone has been hit after that. They speculated that the folks came there instead of the going to now-closed Senssi - "väärät tyypit väärissä bileissä" - so it wasn't the rave people who did it.

It is extremely unfortunate that I don't remember the faces of the persons who did it, and that I was perplexed by the situation. Had I known what to do, I could have delayed the situation until the bouncers arrive - backing down, but not just exiting the dancefloor. This could have made it into a criminal matter, where the assholes get actually punished for it, and I would have gotten some monetary compensation.

This is exactly the kind of situation described in Vera's log about the optimal amount of violence in society, and my response to it. If I had known some self-defense, I wouldn't have been perplexed; the thugs have gotten actually punished.

By the way, unlike Jari Vaarma, my opinion is that this kind of violence sucks as much as anything can suck. Also, tiedemies, if you think that a punch to the face is the correct response to bad test results, you're wrong.

I guess that it is time to stop the whole dance hobby. The problem is not violence, but the fact that it is extremely inefficient way to familiarize with new girls. In the three months that the Chinese course lasted this year, I talked with two girls on the same course in leisure setting. After the course, they went to the same student restaurant, and I went to the same table and asked if they wanted company, to which they answered positively.

On the contrary, I haven't familiarized with new girls in the rave setting. I have talked with some girls, which I have first met on another setting, but that is also very rare. Taking into account that I have visited rave events for about a year now, that's extremely inefficient.

Maybe I should get some real hobbies. Self-defence/martial arts is a good candidate. Then, the next time some asshole punches me to the face I know what to do. And a martial arts course is probably a much better place to familiarize with new girls.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Chinese: 20% done, 80% to go

At the end of March, I had studied Chinese for 7 months. Yesterday I scored 750 recognized characters at Chinese character recognition test. (By the way, that is the only super-realistic test that I know of.)

They say that you need 3000-4000 characters to read Chinese newspapers, but educated Chinese need to know 6000 characters. By linear interpolation, 7 months for 750 translates to 3 years for 3750 characters, which should be enough for reading newspapers.

Of course the approximation is quite rough. On the one hand, learning may be slower since the amount of new characters should start to drop at some point, slowing down the character learning but vastly speeding up word learning. On the other hand, it may may faster since I now know how to write the radicals (building-blocks of the sinograms) and also have some routine in memorizing new characters.

Tampere University has 5 Chinese courses, and I've completed the 4th one. (The 5th is a paid summer course.) A girl in that course said that she has a Chinese newspaper and her goal is to find one sentence that she understands. She didn't reach that goal. I wonder if there are other languages where after 2 years of courses you are still at the "elementary" level instead of "satisfactory".

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Conceptual AI

Jantunen talks about artificial intelligence, which is capable on bringing so-called "technological singularity". This means that the AI is human-like and intelligent enough to perform various informational tasks, which require independent assimilation of facts. When the AI is sophisticated enough to design software and hardware, we can tell it to design a better AI, and so we have reached the technological singularity.

First, I characterize what I mean by conceptual AI, and then I describe how it may become reality.

This writing is about conceptual AI; an artificial intelligence, which can communicate with humans in natural language. It can also think with concepts, which are not hard-wired. Although current state-of-the-art game AIs can beat most humans in many areas (Deep Blue, Masters of Orion, ...), they wouldn't be conceptual AIs even if they had a natural-language interface, since they can only handle a finite set of concepts. The game AIs couldn't use new concepts to analyze the situation.

The conceptual AI can be divided roughly to two parts: the language unit and the domain model. The language unit could analyze textual descriptions of the domain model. It would try to map the concepts of the natural language to understand what domain model phenomena they denote. It would recongize and handle various linguistic problems: indetifying what pronouns, substantives and verbs denote, recognizing ambiguous exrpressions, guessing the standard of comparison when somtehing is described as "high", "bad" or "special", assimilating new concepts based on definitions, and recognizing when the other end is using a concept in a wrong way.

The domain model would contain the mechanics and dynamics of the subject matter. For example, if the topic of discussion is stock markets, the domain model would contain a database of financial information about the companies, about their production methods, dynamics of the industries, recent news events affecting the economy, etc. This domain information would be structured in a format, which is suitable for the AI. Some parts of format would depend on what concepts the AI considers relevant, and the format would be open-ended to enable extension when new kind of information is hypothesized to be relevant.

The conceptual AI wouldn't contain emotions, goals (except answering the user's questions and performing the tasks given to it), self-interests, visual memory (except if the domain model requires visual thinking), nor other human characteristics.

How Could Conceptual AI Be Developed?

I'm going to handle 3 scenarios; to reject 2 of them and give green light to one.

Rejected: Expert system is generalized into a Conceptual AI. The scenario is basically that initially there is a special-purpose AI, which has a complex and extensive domain model (expert system). The expert system is sharpened with a restricted natural-language interface to make it more usable and accessible for the people who need it. Gradually, the natural-language interface is extended and made more flexible, and metaconceptual elements are added. Why not credible:I haven't heard about expert systems, which could answer to a wide variety of different questions, nor questions which they are not designed to answer. Even if the domain model is complex, it still can probably handle only a finite types of questions. Therefore, there is little or no benefit from the metaconceptual lanugage module. The flexibility wouldn't be useful because of the rigid domain model.

Rejected: Data mining. The scenario is such that we have a huge database of numerical and textual data on some topic. We also have means to do some kind of preliminary analysis for the data: to put it to a relational database in nice tables, to parse the textual data, etc. First, a straightforward natural language interface is added to answer simple queries about the data. Secondly, the AI is sharpened with metaconceptual facilities. It is trained to recongize "normal" levels for various attributes based on distributions, so it can also recognize "higher than usual". It is made to understand definitions. It is made to point out trends and outlier cases. This time, there is both a advantage from the metaconceptual facilities. Why not credible: My impression is that the development is towards more flexible query languages. SQL (the current standard database query langauge) could be replaced by prolog-based query languages, providing a lot more flexibility and deduction. Therefore, there is little incentive to put a natural-language interface, when specialized query languages still have a long way to go.

Probable: Tech support. Suppose that we are talking about an ISP support phone. The AI would be developed gradually:

  • Phase 0 (where we are now): Asks the user to press 1 if the problem is in broadband connections, 2 for phones and 3 for other.

  • Phase 1: Asks the user to describe the problem. Uses the information to redirect the call to the person, who has handled this kinds of problems before.

  • Phase 2: Asks the user for some initial information to search the customer information. Uses the description to checks if the call reports a problem, which has already been reported by someone else.

  • Phase 3: The AI is extended to solve very simple and but common problems.

  • Phase 4: The metaconceptual side is extended so that it can better understand ambiguous descriptions and provide some initial information before the call is redirected to a human. This way, the queueing time is less wasted.

  • ...

  • Phase 20: The domain model is extended with information on how specific applications (Word, etc.) work.

  • ...

  • Phse 56: The domain model is extended with a computer. If the user describes a problem, the AI can try to reproduce the problem in the computer.

In this scenario, the incentive for a good metaconceptual unit is great right from the start, since user descriptions are seldom very clear nor logical. Secondly, each additional step towards more intelligent AI is economically justified, as it directly replaces human effort. The AI is useful right from the start, and there isn't any discontinuity point or big gap, where a big technical leap is needed to make the AI more useful. Therefore, there is constant incentive to take small steps towards a much better AI.
Why it hasn't started yet:This is possible only after a suitably robust speech recognition technology is available. The speech recognition technology must be able to recongize normal speech practically without errors, although it can ask the user to talk clearly. When the speech-to-text conversion is avalable, the work can start.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Habbo Hotel Goes Mobile

Last Tuesday, Sampo Karjalainen, a co-founder of the Sulake Corporation that maintains and develops Habbo Hotel, kept a lecture in Tampere about the past, present and future of Habbo. Habbo is virtual hotel, where people come to chat a bit like in IRC. The participants are represented by avatars, which walk in the 3D hotel rooms. The users see the rooms in the same perspective as in Populous, newer Civilizations or Settlers, and not in the first-person-shooter perspective. From the communication point of view, the main restrictions compared to IRC are that (1) one person can only be in one room at a time, while IRC allows many channels, and (2) the messages are shown in the top of the avatars, and not logged.

Gradual Development

The current version of the Habbo software is running localized hotels in ~20 different languages. However, the software started local and was developed gradually with many intermediate steps.

Seven years ago, the first prototype was located at the website of a band called Mobiles. From the screenshots Sampo showed it seemed to have 2 rooms, where the avatars mainly walked around. Mobiles was a non-commercial project and was not advertised, but it established a user base and demonstrated that there is demand for this kind of service.

The second version, and the first commercial version, was a Radiolinja advertisement game named Lumisota (snow war). There, the avatars first teamed up inside a skiing hut, and then went outside to throw snowballs at each others. The third version was Hotelli Kultakala (Hotel Goldfish), a Finnish virtual hotel.

The presentation was non-technical, so it is not possible to track down exactly what features were added at each point, and how the code size, complexity and technologies developed. Probably most of those facts are trade secrets anyway. The prototyping clearly had a dual role both in making the technology mature and finding out the target group and business model. I got the impression that there weren't any big risks taken; each step forward was clearly justified by extrapolating experiences from the previous prototypes.

Small Torrents Create a River

In Habbo Hotel, the users can get their own room for free. Initially, the room is empty. The user can buy furniture to make the room less hollow. The main sources of are advertising and the sales of Habbo furniture. They also sell ringing tones and logos.

The small unit price of the furniture items requires a solid micropayment solution. The presentation said that Sulake has 160 local partners in arranging the micropayments. I didn't ask how automated the purchasing was: it would have been interesting to know how many systems were directly interfaced with the Habbo engine so that no human intervention was needed in purchases, and what kind of difficulties had to be overcome to make it possible.

The estimated income for year 2005 was 30m euros. There were 5 million different users each month visiting the hotel. This means that the average user produced 6 euros in purchases and advertising income. It's amazing that a whole company can run on personalization - on the willingness to make the environment reflect the identity - and more specifically on virtual personalization.

Smells Like Teen Spirit

The age group 12-18 contains 90% of the Habbo users. Sampo pointed out a central double standards with regards to privacy and censorship in the Internet: With adults, listening to other peoples' conversations is spying, a violation of privacy, a threat to freedom of expression and in general a bad thing. With children, not watching the conversations is a comparable sin, since it exposes the underaged to paedophiles, drug dealers, foul language and bullying.

Sulake was actually contacted by Kuluttajavirasto (Finnish Consumer Agency), and they had to explain what precautions they take to protect the users. They have a special moderation system, and English conversations are watched 24h/day, while local conversations are watched only during times when there are some people in the hotels.

Mobility And Its Discontents

The first link to mobile phones was the micropayment by SMS. There was also a failed attempt to make WAP client to Habbo.

With the arrival of Symbian Series 60 phones, with the performance of native C++ applications (as opposed to Java Micro Edition) and socket connections, porting the Habbo environment became a realistic opportunity. Writing the Symbian client started in 2004 and was gradual. The first phase ensured that the phones are powerful enough to run the visual interface, which they were. The second phase concentrated on solving network-related issues.

Sampo showed an impressive demo, where he run the Habbo environment on a Symbian phone. The screen was big enough to show several avatars. The scrolling was smooth, and there was no visible lag. When the user typed, a red ball appeared on the top of the avatar to indicate that he or she is about to say something. It seemed like most technical problems in the client side were solved.

There were also some Habbo single-user games. The games were warm-ups of simple arcade and puzzle games of the past. The link between the games and the Habbo hotel is the Habbo brand, and they have little to do with the hotel environment. Apparently the intention is to use the huge user base to efficiently advertise the games.

I asked how they tested their software on wide number of mobile devices and languages. They co-operate with Universum to test Java applications. The Symbian application hadn't reached the point were this kind of testing is needed, so didn't get any tips on that.

The Mobile Context Of Use

The difference between the computer and the mobile phone is not only in screen size, keyboard, computing power and network conection, but also in the way people use them. Mobiles are ideally suited to be used in various waiting situations: trains, classrooms, meetings, pauses between events. Another typical feature for mobiles is partial attention: If a person is using a computer, he or she probably sits in front of it and notices quite quickly what happens. On the other hand, on mobiles the person may be doing something else, and only sporadically watch the Habbo interface. This creates the problem that avatars guided from mobile phones seem to be passive lampposts most of the time.

This had at least two consequences. Firstly, they intend to make a separate hotel for mobile users, instead of putting them to PC hotel. Secondly, the shift of emphasis from the Habbo groupware to single-user games reflects the problems of the mobile context of use - they don't consider mere discussion to be fancy enough in itself in the mobile context.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Limperin Hilma

From the point of view of Panu-style ATM activism, Limperin Hilma is probably the most realistic song about the relationships between men and women. Unfortunately my poetic abilities are not good enough to translate this hilarious song to English.

Vieläkö muistatte Limperin Hilman
koulumme oppilaan niin herttaisen
mukanaan aina toi kauniin hän ilman
mietimme ken tekee valloituksen

Anttilan Augustin kaihoisat laulut
herkkähän mielehen tehosi kai
lipevä kieli ja korkea kaulus
parhaimmat pisteet ne kilvassa sai

Hilma se hääräili pellolla illat
päivisin tehtaalla työskenteli
********** kehräsi naapurin villat
Että hän mökkinsä lunastaa voisi
Augusti työstä ei piitannut lain
mielummin Augusti laulais ja joisi
eläisi helpossa maailmassa.

Vieläkö muistatte Limperin Hilman
vihdoinkin rauhassa levätä voi
ruohoinen hauta on ristiä ilman
Augusti mökkinsä viikossa joi.

A note about the translation: "Aukusti" (August) is a Finnish male name.

Do you still remember Hilma of Limberg
pupil in our school, most pretty and smart.
Her presence always brought weather a glimmer
we speculated who'd conquest her heart.

August's emotive songs and harp
made deep impression to poetic mind.
Collar so high and tongue so sharp
guaranteed best scroes for lifelong bind.

Daytime she was in factory employment,
fieldwork was how she evenings spent.
(don't remember original, can't translate)

She worked hard to pay the debt for the house
August turned out to be a full dork
He dedicated to music and booze
preferred to live in a world without work.

Do you still remember Hilma of Limberg
at last she's getting the rest that she needs.
August sold house and spent all on beer
grave has no cross and is growing weeds.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Morals Of Narnia

When I went to see Narnia, I expected a story with some kind of christian morals. What I found was a mere Disney spectacle.

The movie started very well. The opening scene is a prime example of how action scenes should be written. It introduced the characters, and the tension between the defiant little brother and the responsible or bossy big brother. It was an integral part of the plot - motivating the move to the countryside - and not just a fill-up whose signifigance boils down to who dies and who survives. And it was short.

The quality of the movie decreased linearly with the time. The final battle scene was a prime example of how not to write action scenes. It revealed no new information about the characters. The solution was known all the time. It was artificially lenghtened. I often close my eyes during such action scenes, and open them when the noise goes silent. Not once have missed important plot events this way in any movie.

Anyway, back to the moral side. The moral choices of the characters consisted mainly of yes/no choices: "yes" continue the adventure, and "no" to return from Narnia to the common world. There were also some multiple choices. The characters didn't plan, didn't try to predict consequences nor predict risks. They were spectators who watched the story unfold. Even christian moral is more fine-grained than the moral of Narnia.

Next, I'll define a moral imperative, which is consistent with transhumanist ideology. I call it "techno-optimist moral imperative".

A pareto improvement in efficiency is a development, which increases the productivity of an employee without making his or her job more straining or irritating. For example, digging a gutter with a digger machine instead of a shovel is such an improvement.

Two things are required to turn the misery of the past into our current comfy Western civilization: pareto improvements in efficiency and political will to spread the bigger cake to masses in the form of democracy, rule of law, education, healthcare, etc. (You could add that a third requirement is some kind of middle-class attitude to life. I'm not going to dwelve into that.)

Since the implementation of rights (I mean real rights, like right to vote, right to a phone call, various contractual rights, etc. and not the kinds of subjective rights that are often ridiculed in other Erektus blogs) requires pareto improvements in efficiency, and the adoption of pareto improvements in efficiency usually enhances the rights of the masses in the long run, it is reasonable to rise these improvements into a moral imperative:

Techno-optimist moral imperative:

It is immoral not to adopt a pareto improvement in efficiency.

Tommi said in one of his writings that he seldom encounters moral choices. Multiple-choice moral decisions have been removed from the life of ordinary citizens, and outsourced to judges, jurys, members of parliament, those who prioritize various life-critical services, etc. The techno-optimist moral imperative concerns a different set of people: those who can influence their own work.

This moral imperative establishes a tight link between knowledge and morality. In order to know if some modification in the way you work is an improvement, you must have good knowledge of your own field. Unlike in Narnia, where the magic bow aims to the target by itself, techno-optimist moral imperative requires training and experience. It also requires the persons involved to plan and speculate what the way of working would look like after a change, and how the various side effects of the practice should be dealt with.

In many areas of informational work, the productivity can not be measured accurately enough to detect small changes (like 10% or so). In these cases, it is necessary to resort to secondary signs of efficiency. For example, if some problem is a recurrent source of frustration, then solving it is likely to also improve efficiency. For example, continuous integration may be such a practise. Also, reducing the time required to do some subtask is a secondary sign of efficiency.

Also, the moral imperative doesn't say that you should believe just any person who says that something will be an efficiency improvement. It is quite common that marketers claim that something improves efficiency, while the real effect is questionable.

Lastly, the imperative doesn't talk about the political feasibility of adopting an improvement. Suppose that there are 6 workers in the team, and a practise can be adopted if 3 people strongly agree that it is good, and no more than one is strongly against. In this kind of situation, the percieved benefits of the new practise are of paramount importance. Here the christian moral tradition offers a good motto.

God give me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to always tell the difference.

Monday, February 06, 2006

But There Was One Thing They Overlooked: The Masses And Multitudes Across This Land

In general I believe that the "deep structure" of international politics consists of (1)valid interest towards other countries and (2) the domeistic situation in the country. The valid interests include economic interests, security interests and geopolitical influence. The domeistic situation is more complicated and variable. Well-organized lobby groups, popular and loud ideologies, and recent events may exert pressure for changes in the foreign policy.

On the top of this "deep strucrure" there is a "surface structure", which consists of events, reactions, speeches, diplomacy, personal relations and other activities between the politicians and interested parties. In a stable and healthy foreign policy, the activities in the surface structure reflect the valid interests of the country.

The most striking feature in the Arab world's indignation towards the comics in Jylland-Posten is that there aren't any valid interests at stake. At least Helsingin Sanomat claims that it is very rare people spontaneously arrage demonstrations in the arab countries, so it is quite obvious that the burning of the Danish embassy is at least passively accepted by their government. It seems that the only interest of the Arab states is to give legitimacy for their own goverments by awaking suspicion towards the West. This interpretation would imply that many Arab governments have a dangerous legitimacy deficit.

Of course, this interpretation may be completely wrong. But if it is true, I don't see how this could be the beginning of any big change, except for the Danish dairy industry. Maybe in 10 years the internet will be full of caricatures of Mohammed, since drawing such caricatures is now brave and rebellious. At that point, the muslims which can see those comics will wonder what the fuss with the 12 first comics was all about.

Monday, January 23, 2006

5 Strange Habits of a Highly Ineffective Person

1. Sometimes I walk to and fro on the floor as a form of procrastination. I've heard that Wittgenstein had the same habit. However, coding is different from philosophy and walking to and fro on the floor doesn't cause any progress good whatsoever.
2. Currently most of my social interaction happens in language courses. Why? No one could be less interested in my school affairs, and I'm really lousy at chit-chat.
3. When I make my own food, I choose from a set of 5 dishes. They are: oatmeal porridge, müsli, [fried potatos OR spaghetti] with fried [onions, sausage cubes and soya], and instant noodles. I don't intend to try new recipes before I graduate and leisure becomes truly leisure - now "leisure" is time, which I should use for something productive, but fail to.
4. I read foreign news with great interest, but find domeistic news uninteresting. Income distribution? Full of moralistic rhetoric and little substance. Education? Most decisions that matter are done locally. Healthcare? Being young, my generation hasn't really confronted the hospital. Taxation? What is it that you can't buy now but could by after 1% reduction in some tax, which may or may not take place next year? It is not that these questions don't matter - they do - but I fail to see any link between the headlines and anyone's daily life. After reading all these peak oil stories on how the presence or absence of energy affects our daily lives, the gas pipe explosion at Georgia feels much more relevant.
5. I don't listen much music nowadays.

It is difficult to find people, who have not been challenged to this meme yet, but I came up with two of them - Taneli Dobrowolski and Syksy Räsänen.
Life imitates fiction.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

CALLT 5/5: Testing: When You Train Like You Fight, You Fight Like You Train

First, I'll define super-realistic testing; a form of computer-based testing, which provides uniform measures of skill, is sensitive to progress in language skill, makes cheating almost impossible, can be used for training and scales to a large number of students. Then I'll describe the only language testing project I have heard of [not. Just heard their specification is not ready.]

First, an example of super-realistic test for Chinese character recognition. The test material contains all chracters, which the student is supposed to recognize after the course. The test is administered with a flashcard-like web application. The test chooses randomly 20-40 characters. As I promised earlier, this kind of test would provide:

  • Uniform measure of skill:It doesn't matter, whether you learned the characters from course material or some other way.

  • Sensitive to progress:If you learn more characters, you get better scores.

  • Impossible to cheat:If you memorize all characters beforehand, you have learned what you are supposed to learn.

  • Scales to a large number of students:One server is more than enough for all person studying Chinese in Finland.

About the relationship between training and testing: In super-realistic testing, the same material can be used for training. The differences between training an testing is that (1) testing chooses a sample of material, (2) in testing, the true identity of the student needs to be checked.

The close link between training and testing ensures that there is "initial incentive" to collect material even before it reaches the level where cheating is impossible: When the amount of material is still small, it can be already used for training. Since a large number of students can use the same server, also a large number of teachers can divide the load of creating the material.

The same idea can be applied to sentence translation and reading comprehension, although not directly. For example in sentence translation it is common that there are several correct responses. Also common mistakes need to be taken into account - if the student commits a common mistake, he or she should be informed about the nature of the mistake. Just announcing that the answer is wrong does little good. In character recognition, it is OK to show the result after a wrong answer, but in sentence translation it may be better to let the user try again. Since minor spelling mistakes are more probable in long sentences, several tries are reasonable when training. Also some kind of lazy matching should be used, if the point of the sentence is grammatical and the student remembers some word a bit wrong.

In my last Chinese test, there were 4 kinds of questions: (1) Multiple choice: Given the character and the pinyin, Identify the english meaning, (2) Multiple choice: Given the character, idenify pinyin (3) Arrange the characters so that they form a sentence, (4) Given the English meaning and the pinyin, draw the character. From these 4 tasks, only the fourth is something that can't be digitized. The number of questions required to reach uncheatable level is quite low for the other types of questions. (There is a program to train character drawing, but it is too sensitive. It is good that when you train the program insists on absolutely correct form. However, in testing the standards should such that it is possible to get it right the first time.)

The fact that the progress in super-realistic testing is numerically measurable (number of characters recognized, number of sentences translated) makes it possible to draw charts of progress, if the student does the test on regular intervals (say, once every 2 weeks). These progress charts will add motivation by giving a hidden promise that if you keep on putting the same effort, eventually the progress line will reach the very top, and the effort is finished.

Friday, January 06, 2006

CALLT 4/5: Annotators

Annotators are programs, which take a web page as an input and annotate foreign words with extra information. For example, the annotated page could be such that when you hold the mouse cursor over some foreign word, it shows you its meaning in English.

The first annotator I saw was for Lojban. Here is one. I'm not sure if this is the same one. Lojban is an artificial language with a few tens of speakers. However, its grammar belongs to some easily parsable category (LL(k) etc.), which makes it easies to write an annotator.

Here is a Japanese annotator.

The Lukutulkki advertised in the is also an annotator. I've also seen a web page which claims to contain a Chinese annotator; however, the annotator didn't produce any output.

In general, annotators are very scarce when compared to dictionaries and flashcard programs. Are they really so difficult to implement? Is the process of annotating so straining for servers? Do so many dictionaries have a copyrighted vocabulary that they can't allow anyone to download it with an annotator?