The purpose of Twitter

13 November, 2012

I find this site hilarious. C’mon, you know they’d do the exact same thing if they had won!

Anyway, the ridiculous message screencaps reminded me of a recent insight I experienced:

The purpose of Twitter is to transmit stupid thoughts to vulnerable minds.

I hope you are doing your part 😉

Somehow this is so telling. A WordPress blog called “People are Garbage” has one “Hello world!” entry (full text: “Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!”) – and 316 comments consisting entirely of robospam.

I’ve been thinking about architecture, prompted by watching Grand Designs and reading this thread.

I don’t want to go into a long rant, so I’ll just state some basic principles which underlie my tastes:

Architecture is not sculpture. We’ve been sold a bill of goods as far as “human”, “playful” postmodern architecture is concerned. A provocative sculpture is not the same as a good building. I call these things “gimmick buildings”; they are amusing in the short term but banal and annoying in the long term – and the long term is what architects should be thinking of. In fact, in practical experience, these are generally bad buildings. You can’t make a comfortable home out of a concept, however “visionary” that concept may be. (Nor can you redeem a Modernist box by pasting a sneering caricature of a past style over the facade.)

Modernism was wrong. Critics and defenders alike of Modernist trends usually overlook that Modernism was an intellectual trend imposed across society, not confined to any one area of life. The Modernist impetus to wipe out the “redundant” past, and create superior new forms from nothing except abstract ideology, is visible in Communism (and, disguised, in Fascism), architecture, music, writing, education, etc., etc. A few worthy creations labelled Modernist do not justify the eradication and derision of all the old ways; we see that the best of culture usually arises from organic development, and not by reinventing the wheel.

Flat roofs are stupid. Unless you are building in a place with NO precipitation (and with no massive duststorms), flat roofs are impractical, expensive to keep up, and more liable to fail disastrously. (They also often are eaveless, so that modern “pure” box buildings are streaked with grime from the run-off, and in hot countries the lack of eaves means you use more energy keeping the interior cool.)

Doors are for closing. Sure, you may feel, in some hippyish way, that living without the artificial barriers of doors and walls will lead to some sort of freeing of consciousness, spiritually and politically and environmentally. But do you really want your kids to hear you fucking (or you to hear them) from the other side of your open-plan communal dwelling? Do you want to smell someone frying garlic while you are having a shit (or, God forbid, vice versa)? Do you want to try figuring out the household finances while listening to the kids playing on the X-Box and the spouse watching a movie? The invention of the door was one of the major events of civilisation, because it was a revolutionary machine for keeping bad air (and predators) out, maintaining a comfortable temperature, and getting silence and privacy in which to think for yourself. Don’t throw that gift away.

Windows have consequences. Just in the last year or two, a new building went up at Sydney University which is basically a glass box suspended in the air. It will cost a FORTUNE to keep cool in summer, and warm in winter. The advantage of this design? Well… I suppose it’s cheaper to build a giant greenhouse than to drop a billion dollars worth of gold bricks into the ocean. There is that. Oh, and, of course, it has a flat roof.
The opposite approach is also used – great concrete bunkers (often university libraries) with tiny slits for windows that are practically useless, and make the occupants feel like prisoners.
This is also the place to mention that great hypocrite Mies van der Rohe, who berated his clients for installing curtains or blinds in their windows, which should have been kept pure and bare, and meanwhile, in his own home, Mies was surrounded by bourgeois chintz.
Nowadays, many commissioners of domestic fish tanks architecture have drunk the Kool-aid, and, like self-flagellating monks, willingly expose themselves to the glare of the sun and the gaze of their neighbours, all in the cause of Modernism. As with open-planning (see “Doors are for closing”, above), it seems that Modernists regard the desire for privacy as something shameful. Like Victorians trying to prevent masturbation, Modernists are horrified at the thought of a person going about their business without the constant supervision of their family or co-workers or neighbours or random passers-by. What have you got to hide?!? Take all the doors off their hinges, confiscate all blinds and curtains. Be Healthy and Clean and constantly visible to all. I suspect all this enforced openness has a deleterious effect on the psyche.

Apart from the above approaches to avoid, here are some positive suggestions:

Subtle ornament. All the great buildings of the past use elegant, repeated motifs to make them seem organic and alive. However, please note the word “subtle”. Giant flashing lights installed at one metre intervals across a bare concrete plane are not subtle.

Regularity, but softened. The human eye loves symmetry and regularity, but this should not be overdone. Patterns of regular repeating features should be occasionally broken up with an element that complements, not contrasts, the overall scheme.

Human scale. Low ceilings and narrow corridors are oppressive, because the person feels confined and restricted; towering ceilings and huge doorways are also oppressive, because the person feels dominated and lost. If you are a human being, you will know what the happy medium looks like. Apply that to your buildings. Remember that the ratio of height to width determines scale, but the amount of light in a space is also an important factor.

Sun and shade in 3:2 proportion. This is a rough ratio for designing outdoor spaces, so that people can shelter from the elements (and not feel exposed like ants on a rock) without being mired in gloom. For indoor design, I’d suggest reversing the ratio – certainly not exceeding it, because a degree of shadedness makes people feel safe, and this shouldn’t be sacrificed to an abstract notion of “openness” (see also the above section “Doors are for closing”).

Geek girls are fakes

3 August, 2010

While perusing the internet for ideas to help me meet the nice nerd girl of my dreams, I’ve encountered the ugly truth about the recent geek girl fetish fad. It’s a hoax. Go on – Google “geek girl” with the filters off and see what happens. Even with filters on, all you’ll find are generic Barbie doll models who are designated geeks by the simple method of putting glasses on them. And in forum discussions about geek girls, you’ll find a rather odd definition of attractive that excludes most of the genuine females nerds I’ve met, as these “superior” fellows are buying into the Barbie-doll-with-glasses image without hesitation.

Even if someone attempts to show real geek girls on the internet, what you end up with is a bunch of spokesmodels (corporate shills and “technology reporters”), actors making money from the geek market, and professional pinups. No authenticly nerdy girl is going to let someone take professional “cheesecake” pictures of her and use them to sell tech-related peripherals. Bikini shot = sellout. Fetish pose = blatant fake. And experience has shown it’s possible to know C++ and still be a stupid slut. Such females should not be dignified with the words geek or nerd. “Idiot with a degree” will suffice.

What exactly do our terms mean? Before it was turned into a category of erotica, “geek” was understood to mean a nerd with special skills, basically; e.g. electronics, physics, even “soft” areas like history and music. The requirement was for a combination of expertise and intelligence, but also, not clearly realised at the time, was the need for nerd-dom. Just as a tasty steak is not a meal unless you have some vegies with it, so a geek without nerd qualities is really nothing more than a “suit”, even in civvies.

It’s time for real nerds to put the matter straight. Whenever the drones start posting pictures of “hawt geek girls”, point out that they’re just a bunch of conformists ogling Barbie-dolls-with-glasses. If they disagree, point out that the defining characteristics of real geek girls are (random list):

1. They try to avoid wearing makeup.
2. They rarely tan.
3. Many don’t actually wear glasses.
4. They’re not fashion plates, and don’t own a lot of clothes.
5. They don’t have a practiced “look” for the cameras.
6. They prefer paperbacks to hardcovers (more space efficient and flexible).
7. They don’t have more than one swimsuit (that’s wearable).
8. They are not going to “put out”.
9. They only wear fitted clothes if their job demands it.
10. They hate “lingerie”.
11. They are not what Americans call “popular” (because what’s the point?).
12. They are rarely “toned”, unless they do a lot of hiking or skateboarding (I mean real skateboarding, not showbiz “I’m a bad girl” skateboarding).
13. Fiction set in the “real” world generally bores them silly.

Feel free to add your own suggestions to the list. I know it’s very incomplete.


I happen to know all this because I’ve always liked real nerd girls. Girls who are indoors a lot and thus have soft pale skin; who don’t want to look like a freaking Barbie doll; who read a lot of paperback fiction or thick non-fiction books (for pleasure) and have a real affection for their bookshelves; who like music that some would call a bit strange (and prefer it if the singer isn’t “hot”); who scour the TV guide for all the science fiction shows; who are creative (music, writing, drawing, whatever); who are introverted but quietly passionate, and who hate six-packs and he-men (no danger of that with me, I must confess).
I haven’t met the right one yet; please wish me luck. 🙂

(Oh, just to clarify, a “dork” is a geek or nerd with a completely uninteresting personality.)

The Sydney Morning Herald has a story up today about a report of the most common passwords (download the report PDF here). The gist is that a lot of people are using overly simple or predictable passwords, which are easy to crack. Here’s the list (the number in brackets is the number of instances of that password being used in the sample of 32 million):

1. 123456 (290,731)

2. 12345 (79,078)

3. 123456789 (76,790)

4. Password (61,958)

5. iloveyou (51,622)

6. princess (35,231)

7. rockyou (22,588)

8. 1234567 (21,726)

9. 12345678 (20,553)

10. abc123 (17,542)

11. Nicole (17,168)

12. Daniel (16,409)

13. babygirl (16,094)

14. monkey (15,294)

15. Jessica (15,162)

16. Lovely (14,950)

17. michael (14,898)

18. Ashley (14,329)

19. 654321 (13,984)

20. Qwerty (13,856)

Now, there are a number of observations we could make here. For instance, the top password was used by 290,731 people, which seems like a lot, but is only 0.00908534375% of the sample. But I guess if you add up the people using easily-guessed numerical sequences, the percentage would be a bit higher.

The observation I can’t help making is that passwords can reveal things about the user’s personality. For instance, people called, or in love with people called, Nicole, Daniel, Jessica, michael, or Ashley, are likely to be less knowledgable about or concerned with computer security. And (assuming these are direct transcriptions), these people don’t like to capitalise the name “Michael”.

We may also observe that these people find the phrase “I love you” is one that springs to mind automatically, when the question is “Please choose a password for your account”. This suggests a lack of intellectual seriousness (joke!).

I’m disappointed but not surprised that a lot of females, plus a few gay males, like to think of themself as a “princess”. I was more confused by the phrase “rock you” being a popular password, until I noted that these samples were all hacked from a website called I dread to think what kind of site that might be.

“babygirl” is presumably a self-given nickname in the same vein as “princess”. “monkey” is more likely to be a nickname for someone else. Or else, as with “I love you”, it’s a verbal expression that seems ready to launch itself at any moment to the surface of consciousness, for reasons I cannot immediately discern.

“Lovely” is a weird choice for a password (especially if it’s deliberately capitalised). I can’t imagine it being the choice of many males who are not highly effeminate. Notice that there are no masculine equivalents in the list, e.g. “terminator”, “rambo”, “hellyeah”, “laydeez”, or, indeed, “ilovepussy”. Either men are cannier with their passwords, or they are the ones who picked all the numerical passwords, or the people who frequent are mostly female, or else there are some males there, but they are completely illiterate.

“Qwerty” was presumably the choice of people who’ve done typing courses, or are interested in the history of the keyboard. What do you think?

Thanks to my work admin, I am stuck with IE8. I swear IE has been going downhill since 4.5… Here are some of my favourite stupidities:

Toolbars seem to be less customisable than before: the address bar is at the top of the screen and you can’t move it. The search bar, which I never use, can’t be removed. The favourites button can’t be removed (it calls up the Favorites explorer bar, which basically duplicates the Favorites drop-down in the menu bar). I can’t move/remove any toolbar icons (unlike in Word, for instance).

The address bar will only drop down if Autocomplete is enabled. I hate autocomplete. Drop down addresses are displayed in over-large font (a limited number of addresses, in the order IE8 think is best), and there is an INVISIBLE delete button beside each address (to the right). The Compatability Mode icon keeps flashing up messages I don’t need to see.

OTOH, we get “searchability”, which seems to me to be enabling stupidity – you can now do so many different things from the address bar that it’s impossible to tell what you’re doing. Whoopdedoo.

Bret Stephens uses his column to bait “global warmists”.

The spark for this particular column is an item in the new book SuperFreakonomics, by Levitt and Dubner. They report a new solution to global warming proposed by Intellectual Ventures (a company which largely serves as a clearinghouse for technological and scientific patents): pumping sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, in order to mimic the global temperature-lowering properties of the Mt. Pinatubo volcano.

After this announcement, various prominent global warming activists are quoted as calling the idea crazy. You can already see where Stephens is going with this, can’t you? He gets in a good dig with the First Commandment of global warming, which is Thou Shalt Not Call It A Religion, and then adds a handful of disputed facts to show that global warming is not an issue, if it is an issue it’s not our fault, and we can’t do anything about it either way.

This logical approach, quite common in the anti-global warming camp, always reminds me of Sir Humphrey Appleby’s eternal wisdom, the standard Foreign Office response in a time of crisis:

In stage one we say nothing is going to happen.
Stage two, we say something may be about to happen, but we should do nothing about it.
In stage three, we say that maybe we should do something about it, but there’s nothing we can do.
Stage four, we say maybe there was something we could have done, but it’s too late now.

Stephens goes on to suggest that people who warn of the global warming crisis are all after a piece of the public-spending action. In some cases this may be true, though both scientists and professional activists tend not to find work difficult to get in any case. He doesn’t mention the possibility that people who’ve grown enormously rich via polluting industries (or who hope to do so) have at least equal incentive to find the facts as favouring their side of the argument. These rich people also have a lot more resources with which to promote their interests.

Finally, Stephens comes out and calls global warming activists and their many “fellow travellers” Marxists, as both ideas feed “man’s neurotic fear of social catastrophe while providing an avenue for moral transcendence”. I have no doubt that there are many mindless ideologues in the global warming camp, but True Believers are found in every avenue of life, and their existence is no proof of the falsity of their ideas. Many anti-global warming campaigners are obviously on the band wagon for the chance to relive the culture wars of old, regardless that the issues at stake do not exactly co-align.

What of the proposal itself, to pump sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere? Here are the obvious counterarguments, which I hope you will see are not merely ideological kneejerk reactions:

1. Sulphur dioxide has negative environmental effects: it contributes to acid rain (which is why industry in the West has been reducing its coal and petroleum emissions since the 1970s), which has a negative effect on foliage and water supplies, this eventually causing harm to living creatures. Atmospheric sulphur dioxide is also associated with increased respiratory symptoms and disease, difficulty in breathing, and premature death.
2. Continually pumping sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere will require a large ongoing supply. If global warming causes increase in strength, more will be required. It may be easier to just set off a volcano.
3. If global warming is “solved” by sulphur dioxide, action to reduce emissions may be halted (will be halted, if we are honest about these things). As emissions increase unchecked, more sulphur dioxide will need to be used to offset the problem, which will exacerbate the issues mentioned in point one.

So, a less caustic substance would be better. But even so, the cause of the problem would increase.

But according to Stephens, the problem itself doesn’t exist in the first place, so why has he written a column about the “solution”?

Well, he is an ideologue, and his concern is with ideological combat, not the problems of the real world. Ideologues on both sides of the argument would best be ignored, leaving the grown-ups to manage the problems without their “help”.