Thursday, November 29, 2012

What Google knows

This week I got a new tool and a new toy.
My HTC Desire S unfortunately died last week – I will not go into details except to say that it couldn’t swim…
So, after a few days of getting by with a Nokia 6303i I found in a drawer, I received a new smart phone – this time a HTC One X.IMG_8017

Now, as some of you will already know, HTC uses the Android operating system, which is actually Google’s mobile platform. So, what does this mean? I’ll get to that in a moment, but I’ll start by saying that this thing seriously has the potential of being a highly effective little work tool which can really make my everyday easier by gathering information I already have available to me from various sources, cross-checking and combining it and presenting it to me in new formats that are compact, fast and easy to use. Also, the fact that it all fits on such a small device allows me to very easily bring it all with me wherever I go. image

That said, now let’s talk about Google. Like I said, Android is Google’s mobile platform. And yes, that means they packed it full of Google’s own stuff and applications. Basically, I can run the whole thing from my Google account. Most services and applications can interact with each other as well as with my Google account (once I have allowed them to) – and yes, Google has taken it upon themselves to store all this data for me in a cloud somewhere, under terms that I agreed to when I first set up my account and/or subsequently added or linked more services to it.

Also, as most people who have been online for more than 5 minutes already know, Google likes to keep track of what you use, what you click, what you like and what you search for and use this info to determine which ads to show you and which services to recommend and so on. I have seen ads for Microsoft SQL Server Database Administration (my profession) tools and utilities show up on the side when looking up printable coloring pages online with my kids. I have seen ads for EVRY (my current employer) suddenly show up when I visited an astronomy page. Actually, this kind of thing happens to me on a pretty regular basis, so yeah, I guess Google must think they know me pretty well. And yes, of course, being able to also get into my smart phone and follow me around with GPS tracking and all gives Google even more possibilities to gather data about me. 

When I got my new phone, I turned on, signed it into my Google account and gave it a set of permissions to gather and use various data – and it didn’t take too long before the thing had my full contact list and personal dictionary exactly as they’d been on the HTC Desire S that couldn’t swim. It knew how to spell my kids’ names. It knew what songs I played on my Desire the week before last. All this was just magically pulled out of the cloud in a matter of seconds. And no, I really didn’t mind much. It was quite convenient for me at the time and although I did pause to think about it one more time, it really wasn’t news to me.

The net is a public place and stuff you don’t want other people to see shouldn’t be out there in the first place. It’s basically about as simple as that. I have thought these things through before and I’m actually quite picky about not doing or storing stuff online that I am afraid of people finding out about me. So, no, I’m really not too troubled by what Google knows.

Some people think Google is really creepy. But let’s face it: If the KGB or the CIA or the Mossad or the Mafia decide they want to know something about Vegard Hagen, they won’t need me to have a Google account or carry a smart phone.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Of trolls and men

A couple of months ago, I read the blog post "Meeting a troll" by Leo Traynor and was appalled by what had happened to the man, but also impressed by the sheer power and beauty of the way he handled it. ScreenHunter_13 Nov. 23 01.47

Barrack Obama once said that "We can define our lives not by what happens to us, but by how we respond."

Well, this was the response of a great man if I’ve ever seen one.
A great man doesn’t need to stomp on anyone to prove how great he is. A great man will sit down with you and talk things through over a cup of tea, then he will stand and shake your hand and you will never want to cross him again.

Not because you know he has the power to destroy you, but because you know you’ve just experienced first hand one of the little miracles that make you believe there is still hope for this world after all.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Keep trying…

A few days ago, I became aware of the song “Try” from P!nk’s latest album “The truth about love”.
What immediately struck me is that this is not just the truth about love, but actually it’s a truth about life itself and basically pretty much everything in it: image

Where there is desire, there’s gonna be a flame 
Where there is a flame, someone’s bound to get burned 
But just because it burns doesn’t mean you’re gonna die 
You’ve got to get up and try and try and try

That's life for you. Very often, there will be no simple solutions, no quick fixes available and the only way to keep living is to keep trying. You don't always have to do it alone though. Talking to someone can be nice whether you're up or down, and if you have a big challenge to overcome or a problem that needs fixing, it's OK to get help. You can handle it any way you need to, but you do need to handle it. And if you've fallen and you're down, get up and keep trying.

The very act of doing so will itself help you feel better.

 

 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The unconquered spirit

“There is no shame in defeat
- as long as the spirit remains unconquered.”

These words, as I once heard them many years ago, were spoken by the fictional character Fenix in the computer game Starcraft 2, and they’ve stayed with me ever since. Truly, great quotes can come from the strangest places.

Having said that, I suppose I should also say something about why I think this is such a great quote. Well, basically because we all suffer defeat from time to time – and that’s OK as long as we learn from it and don’t give up, because it’s only if we give up that we’ve truly lost. The other way we’ve just lived and learned, and although some lessons can be quite costly to us, I generally also believe in the saying that what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.

52972438SG024_leppardOne unconquered spirit that I’d like to talk about today is Rick Allen, best known as the drummer of Def Leppard, which also happens to be my favorite rock band of all time. What’s special about Rick Allen? Well, not only is he a really a great drummer. He is a really great drummer with only one arm.

In 1984, he had a nasty accident and was thrown clear of his car in a crash at high speed. He lost his left arm and the surgeons of the time couldn’t fix it. So, what did he do? Give up? Nope, not this guy. He decided he’d rather go and learn how to drum with the one good arm he had left, and guess what, that’s what he did!

I once heard a radio host talk about how Rick Allen, the drummer of Def Leppard has only one arm and “that says it all about all other drummers in the world!”.

No, Mr. Radio Man, it says precisely nothing about any other drummer in the world.

The only drummer it says anything about is Rick Allen.

But yes, it also speaks volumes about what is really possible for someone who just won’t quit.

Or, in the words of another great artist of our time – Marshall Mathers, better known as Eminem:

“You can do anything you set your mind to, man.”

Friday, November 2, 2012

Please watch your angle

I like America. I love Americans. And once again, like in the days and weeks after September 11 2001, I am 100% behind Americans as they struggle in the face of disaster.

But I do have to say this: Please, please, please watch your angle here.

Once again, I am seeing comments like “We Americans are the most resilient and the most loving.”

I do love Americans. But I do, I do, I do resent the notion that we – the rest of the world – are somehow less genuine, less loving, less human...

It is one thing to love your country and your people,
to cherish and to be proud
and to find strength in unity in a time of crisis.

It is something totally different to elevate them “Über alles in der Welt”. 

Please don’t go there again.


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Hurricane Sandy meets Atlantic City’s famous Boardwalk.
Image credits: Dann Cuellar / AP

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lies and imposters

image

“Dear religion,
This week I safely dropped a man from space while you shot a child in the head for wanting to go to school.
Yours, Science”

A friend of mine posted this image on her Facebook with the comment “Enough said”.

I say not quite.

That wasn’t religion.
That was an imposter. And a lie.

You see, no matter what they call it, no matter what claims they make and no matter what “excuses” they may try to sell you,
the truth is that evil is just evil.
It’s not an integrated part of anything else. It’s just evil.

Remember that.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

There’s never a good time for bad wording

At the time I’m writing this, there’s 48 days remaining until the American 2012 election and the republican candidate Mitt Romney is in rough weather after being recorded saying 47 % of American voters will never vote for him because… well basically because, in his opinion, they’re simply too stupid to be reasoned with. In his defense, he did not use those exact words and it may not even be anywhere near what he meant to say. But that’s more or less how it came across.

So, basically, Romney did the kind of thing where you write a nasty e-mail about someone and it ends up getting sent to them? It happens. Well, if you write nasty e-mails about people, it will. Just a matter of time. And there’s never a good time for something like that to come back and bite you – and bite you it will. Which is why you shouldn’t write nasty e-mails about people, or post crappy comments online. You may think you are “amongst your own” at the time, but you never know who might eventually end up reading it and how bad it can make you look in their eyes. In fact, this applies not only to e-mails and online comments, but to pretty much the whole world in general: It is never a good idea to try to impress people by speaking badly of others. At the end of the day, most people will be anything but impressed.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

No thanks, Mr O’Leary

I hear the CEO of Ryanair, Michael O’Leary, has taken it upon himself to call a group of customers “idiots” for showing up at the airport without printed boarding passes. (Source: Time Magazine.)

As I understand it, the passengers were all checked in electronically, but failed to bring along printed boarding passes when showing up at the airport. For this, they were charged an additional fee of 60 euros per person and subsequently dismissed as “idiots” who got what was coming to them because “it was their **** up”.

This from an airline that keeps having to make emergency landings because they don’t put enough fuel on their planes (Source: The Telegraph).

No thanks, Mr O’Leary. I don’t need that kind of service.
I have never flown with Ryanair.
And I never will.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Sad but true…

Yes, it has occured to me, that although I scolded the “extremist blogger” Eivind Berge for his violent rhetoric in my recent Democracy revisited post, the fact that he did post the things he did and got arrested for it was the reason I even heard of him – and read his blog.

For him it did work: He got plenty of attention and now states that “While my kind of violent rhetoric is legal, it is no longer needed. We are strong enough to fight feminism in more elegant and subtle ways now.”

Yes, Eivind, posting those statements about “killing the cops” really worked out well for you. Sad but true. (Not sad because you got attention, but because of how you got it.) But I do hope this time you will actually practice what you preach.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Democracy revisited

Over the past several weeks, the "extremist blogger" Eivind Berge has gotten a lot of attention in Norwegian media. To those who do not know him, Mr. Berge calls himself a male rights activist (MRA) and anti-feminist, he opposes the "feminist state" and has repeatedly spoken favorably about the use of violence as a political tool - specifically against the police. For this reason, he was arrested and imprisoned for 3 weeks in July.

In the spirit of my own blog post about "true democracy" earlier this year, I have visited Mr. Berge's blog, read some of his work and responded rationally and without hate or anger.

I left the following comment under his "Thoughts about the trial" post:
In my humble opinion, Eivind has expressed several political opinions and rational concerns that are quite legitimate in themselves. But in my eyes, he completely and utterly destroys this legitimacy with his hateful ramblings about killing people.

Killing a police officer does not harm the state, it just kills a person and makes the state want to harm you. Also, it gives them all the legitimacy they could possibly need to do so: The moment you resort to violence, they can treat you ONLY as a dangerous terrorist and not pay any attention to your politics at all. I fail to see how this is supposed to accomplish anything good.

If you're angry about something and want to correct it, what you need to do is convince enough people and the state will correct itself. It can be a slow and painstaking process, but it's the only way I know that really does work.

As Winston Churchill once said it, "Democracy is by far the worst form of government. Except all the others that have been tried."

Democratic fair game

Since I'm writing a lot about democracy lately, let's level the playing field and lay out the ground rules of an open and free democratic debate, for use both on my blog and elsewhere.

In my opinion, we need only two rules:

1. Attacking, challenging or questioning an idea, a concept or a political opinion is always acceptable.

2. Attacking, threatening or discriminating against a person or a group of people is never acceptable.

There you go. It's as simple as that, I say.
But of course, this is an idea or a concept, so anyone who thinks otherwise is welcome to say so. ;-)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Greatest of all

22. July again.
A year has passed since the terror of 22.07.2011.
A few months ago, I was standing in front of Oslo's Central Church and I took the picture on the right.

The text on the red heart reads, "Greatest of all is love".

When we don't lose sight of that, even in the face of such evil, then it is truly a great victory not just for Norway, but for all mankind. Perhaps there is still hope for this world that we live in after all.

Monday, April 30, 2012

True democracy – do we have the stomach for it?

22. July 2011 is a date that we Norwegians will never forget. Yet many of us would like to say that it hasn’t changed us. But come on, let’s be honest with ourselves and each other here: No one can go through something like this and not change in any way. No one. Nor, in my opinion, should we want to, because that would be a quite spectacular display of inability to learn from even the most dramatic of events. I say, in this case - as so often in real life - the question is not if we change, but how we change. As individuals. As a society. As a nation. As a democracy. And as members of the human race and citizens of the planet Earth, both of which I personally hold above any and all national, ethnical, religious or political boundaries.

If we keep our minds open to it, there is always something new to learn and there is always something that can be changed to the better. Even after a tragedy like this. And that’s one of the major strengths of an open democracy where people can and do speak their minds: Somebody will always have learned something and if we listen to what they have to say and discuss it with them, we can all learn even more and our entire society can benefit from it in some way none of us have even imagined yet.

One interesting point I have seen raised in the wake of the 22. July attacks is that we should allow the people we consider “extremists” more room in our public debates. Yes, it may seem problematic to some, but consider this for a moment: If democracy is really such a great system, then shouldn’t we trust it? And if we actually trust our democracy, then why would we need laws against certain types of “unwanted” expressions and opinions? Isn’t democracy all about letting everybody speak their mind?

It seems to me like we do have a problem as a democracy when certain thoughts and opinions are considered “unwanted” and a person is practically excluded from participation in an open and public debate once he or she becomes known to have “unwanted” thoughts and opinions on things. First of all, it’s hardly a true democracy when it works like that for some people and second, I believe excluding people in such a way can actually do more harm than good.

For starters, if a person is practically excluded from public debate on the grounds that we don’t like what he or she has to say, then that fact alone goes a long way towards breaking down that person’s respect for our democratic system as a whole. Such people can very easily end up spending countless hours hiding in a room all by themselves, with nothing but their own dark thoughts to keep them company, and/or they get in touch with other “misfits” and join some shady group or another, seeking a sense of community and belonging that the regular society hasn’t given them. Typically, people within such groups will also have some sort of internal democracy and open debate within the group, but that’s just the thing – it’s all within the group, and only the “right” type of opinions are expressed there. So, while the rest of us gradually grow more “rounded” and “colorful” from participation in an open debate involving many different points of view, the “extremists” will only grow more and more “extreme” from participating in their own closed internal debates. Obviously, this is not a good thing and it’s not something we should want to make any kind of contribution to bringing about. In a society - any society – it is practically never a good idea to exclude anyone.

So, next time you hear somebody saying something you don’t like - whether it seems selfish, hateful or just plain stupid – don’t get angry and resort to name calling, but listen to what they have to say – and then tell them what you think about that. No, it’s not easy and it will not always be pleasant. But if you consider yourself a true democrat, I think you should at least give it your best shot.

Or, as a respected Norwegian politician once told a political opponent, "I don't agree with anything you just said, but I'd still die to defend your right to say it."

Monday, April 16, 2012

In search of a justice lost

Today starts the trial of the terrorist who attacked Norway on 22. July 2011. He says he did it to draw attention to his “cause”, thus proving once again the basic point that violence is the last refuge of the incompetent. As for attention, in my honest opinion he has already gotten far too much of that. Yes, even from me. I am writing this, after all. But I still refuse to even mention his name. When I mention him, I will name him only as “the terrorist”.

So, what can we hope for this trial to bring us?

Obviously, it can’t bring justice, because that would require 77 people returned from the dead and countless others relieved of a pain that no one can take away from them. What is done is done and no trial can change that. I think the best we can hope for is some answers to those who still have questions about what really happened that day, some closure in the sense that the case went to trial and reached a verdict and some comfort in the knowledge that even a terrorist like this received a fair trial in this country that he hated so much.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday

Today is Friday. Yes, I know the date and no, it doesn’t bother me at all. It’s just as dangerous as any other day, but there are actually fewer accidents on this date because people are more careful - or perhaps some of us just don’t do stuff on this date. Whichever is the case, I hope you have a nice day and a good weekend. And that’s all for now.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Ever heard of privacy settings??!?

I’ll make it short and concise this time:

I just overheard some kid talking about how bad it was if someone you really hated kept spamming your wall on Facebook. I just want to say that if there is such a person – as in someone you really hate – and that person has permission to post stuff on your wall or timeline on Facebook, that that is your wrongdoing even more than the other person’s.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

On “smart” computers

Computers are everywhere in our modern society. And they keep getting better, faster and smarter with each new model to hit the market. Or at least so we’re told. But two simple facts don’t change:

  1. A computer – any computer – is only as smart as the software it’s running.
  2. Unless the software corrects for known errors, the quality of the data coming out is only as good as the quality of the data going in.

A few weeks ago, my esteemed employer went and bought me a new phone – and a “smart” one at that - a brand new HTC Desire S. I got to pick it out myself and it was actually the cheapest HTC on the list I got to choose from. I like to keep it within reason, regardless of who’s paying, and my research says this phone is plenty good enough for my purposes. So, here I am with my new HTC and those who have been around me or followed me on Facebook or Twitter will have already seen it in action or heard / read comments about it – one of the first and most often repeated being that it really is a smart phone, but it also eats battery like pop corn.

When I first got this phone and turned it on for the first time, one of the first things it did was to figure out where I was and tell me what the weather was like there at the time – just in case I hadn’t already noticed these things myself. It also provided a detailed and - subsequently proven - pretty accurate forecast for the next several days, which of course could be more interesting and useful in most situations. Better yet, the phone can keep track of several different e-mail accounts, contact lists and calendars so I can have “everything” accessible in one place and that place is right there in my pocket and always with me. And yes, this can be very convenient and very smart, but also potentially a major security hazard – my colleague Per Thorsheim can tell you more about that side of the story. His blog can be found at  http://securitynirvana.blogspot.com    I will not go into more detail here except to say that I put “everything” in quotes because I myself don’t put everything on my smart phone – and neither should you. When deciding what to put on your phone, you should always keep in mind that what’s convenient for you could also be very convenient for the totally wrong kind of person if he or she ever gets hold of your phone. Therefore, as a rule of thumb, if it’s secret and sensitive, it shouldn’t be on your smart phone. Period. And enough of that (for now anyway).

Back to my basic point about computers only being as smart as they’re programmed to be. As I have already mentioned, my new phone has the capability to determine my location. It has a GPS function, but it’s also possible to use information from the mobile network itself and/or any wireless networks in the area to determine my whereabouts with a variable but usually pretty good degree of accuracy. Also, the phone can sense movement: it knows when I’m moving around and when I’m staying put – or at least it has the ability to. When I’m not actively using it to navigate, I leave the GPS off to conserve some battery. As a result, my phone often doesn’t know my exact location, but then again, I don’t need it to. Besides, like I said, it’s usually got a pretty good fix on my whereabouts anyhow.

However, yesterday I had my first experience of the phone totally misplacing me on the map, when I drove in to my childhood home in Andvik, Masfjorden and my phone claimed I was near Hosteland – on the other side of the fjord. It said “+/- 4 673 meters” and drew a big circle around my plotted position on the map to show the area of uncertainty, but even so, it missed me by about 300 meters – I wasn’t even inside the circle at the time.

So, evidently, the local mobile network alone does not provide solid ground for accurate navigation, which is why we have a GPS function for that purpose. I stepped outside and turned it on for a bit - and sure enough: the thing took about 5 seconds to figure out exactly where I was. But, since I already knew my location, I turned GPS back off to conserve some battery.

About an hour later and less than 20 meters from my last known GPS plotted position, I discovered that the phone had attempted to update my location – using data from the mobile network - and reverted back to saying I was about 5 km away and on the other side of the fjord…

Friday, December 30, 2011

Use vs. love

People are made to be loved.

Things are made to be used.

No wonder we end up with a messed up world when we use people and love things.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Negative return

OK, here I go again writing about space shuttles… But once again, this is not all about the shuttles, but just as much about life and people in general, really.

Those who know the shuttles well might recognize the call “Negative return” from Mission Control Center in Houston and know that, in its’ original meaning, this call indicates that a space shuttle has literally passed the point of no return after a launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. In other words: the departing shuttle is so high, so far away and travelling so fast that it’s no longer possible to just nose over and glide back to Kennedy for landing, which up until then is how they would actually abort the launch if it came to that. 

2011 got to be the year that all 3 surviving space shuttles flew their final missions, so after Atlantis landed for the last time on 21. July, the term “Negative return” kind of took on a new meaning for the shuttle.

But anyway, I promised to talk about life and people, didn’t I?
Yes, I did. So, how do I get this thing to say something about life and people? Well, the shuttles had their abort plans and backout procedures. For every step of the way, there were detailed procedures describing how they would get out of a messy situation and put the shuttle back on the ground. For instance, after “Negative return”, they had landing sites in Europe or Africa (known as “TAL sites”, short for Trans Atlantic Landing sites) that could host a shuttle landing in an emergency. But to a real person in a real life, more often than not, there is no abort option or backout procedure that can be followed. Once you’re in this life you’re in it and what’s done is done. When life is great, you can’t make a backup of it for possible restore some time in the future. When things go wrong tomorrow, you can’t go back to yesterday to fix it and then try again some other time when you’ve figured out a better way to do things. What’s done is done and the days that go wrong in your life will stay wrong forever. But you don’t have to stay there with them, because there’s always a new day coming tomorrow. Mostly that’s a good thing, but some times that can be bad too. Either way, it’s coming. Not much you can do about that either. Hence, in a way, every living breathing moment is a “Negative return” call.

Life isn't always easy, but it always keeps going forward.
Some times it might seem like you’re stuck on the shores of Hell and the only way out is through.

Getting through Hell is not easy. But people do it every day.

Negative return.

Comments welcome

I decided to make it easier to leave comments on my blog since I’m basically not getting any and I suspect the kind of cumbersome setup I’ve been using so far has contributed to that fact.

So, effective immediately and unlike my earlier practice, all comments are now published immediately and I will read them after they're published just like everybody else. Also, I have removed the word verification step for non-members wanting to leave a comment. Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep things like this from now on. :-)