Be all you can be. Facebook.

If there is one thing I hate about the Internet it’s the damaging effect that social networks like Facebook have on people’s minds.  Some of the younger minds are getting complete out of touch with the real world. They create their image to be seen online as super heros, bad boys, or even criminals. While in the real life, they could be  vulnerable teenagers or young adults  suffering from fear, anxieties, and lacking communication skills. But even 30-year old are losing their minds when get connected.

Yesterday I’ve heard the news on the radio, which is a good example of how far sick minded people can go on the Web. I’m talking about a virtual cannibal. He worked as a New York policeman till his wife found his online communication discussing preparing, cooking and eating his wife. She immediately packed her bags and ran away with their child.

Yesterday this virtual policeman cannibal was released from jail because he didn’t kill or eat anyone. IMO, the laws should be changed and such social-network-virtual-criminals should serve time in prisons for just presenting themselves as killers, robbers, rapers, et. al.

Mark Zuckerberg should buy out the US Army’s motto:

Be all you can be. Facebook.

 

 

First we take Crimea, then the Internet

I’m sure you like the music by Leonard Cohen. One of his hit-songs  has the words “First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin“. The Russian authorities sing it differently: “First we take Crimea, then the Internet”.

Yesterday, Russian authorities started blocking dou.ua – the main Internet portal for Ukrainian software developers. I write a column for this portal too. Now people who live in Russian Federation can’t read it unless they’ll go an extra mile and use one of the foreign-hosted proxy servers to sneak in.

Russian authorities want to be able to control the content published within the country as well. It’s not about preventing kids from watching porn. It’s about being able to turn off any Web site that publishes the info that contradicts with the current views of the rulers.

The next candidate for blocking is a popular and reliable hosting service CloudFlare from California. Lots of Russian Web sites are being hosted by CloudFlare. Russian authorities tried to shut some of them down but CloudFlare ignored their requests, which is pretty humiliating, isn’t it? This resulted in the publication (on the gov.ru) that recommends Russian Internet resources not to use CloudFlare as a host or else.Here’s the original version of this document, and this is its English translation made by Google .

Based on the wording of this article, all the sites that use CloudFlare will be blocked, and of course, Roskomnadzor deeply regrets that some of the quality Internet resources won’t be available in Russia just because they happen to select the “bad hosting company”. Sure, it’s a lot cheaper to block the access to anything-ClourFlair that to hire IT professionals and block access to only those sites that violates Russian laws. But this is just how dictatorships work.

So far there are 2000 blocked Web sites in Russia. It doesn’t seem to include any porn sites. Some of them are online casinos, some sell grass, some sell fake driver licenses, some sell university diplomas.  Luckily, I live in the USA and can visit all these banned sites. At the time of this writing I have Master Degree in Applied Math.  If later this year you’ll see “PhD” next too my name, you’ll know where I got it from.

 

Get professionally trained in understanding Russians

After the Berlin Wall collapsed, the world population started to see Russians up close and personal. The world got to learn that Russians are not always walking with balalaika and vodka while being chained to a bear. European cities are filled with Russian-speaking tourists. They look normal. Ignore the small group of them dancing on the restaurant tables after a day of skiing in Courchevel. Russian export oil, weapons, and computer programmers. Americans and Russians became really good friends in Space exploration (where else?).

After 20 years of personal contacts lots of Westerners are still having troubles understanding the Russian Soul. Do you know why they are not smiling? Trying to figure out what Mr. Putin really means speaking while talking about Ukraine? Can’t figure out how on Earth a brigade of unarmed Ukrainian Soldiers can come up with an idea of marching toward Russian military pointing AK-47 at them? Spending $51B on Olympics to improve the image of Russia followed by the immediate invasion of Ukraine to seriously damage the above doesn’t make any sense to you? Russians programmers work for/with you and “trying to do better” get carried away and miss deadlines?

I got good news for you! Enroll into Coursera’s free trainig “Understanding Russians“. Spend 9 week working hard for 4-6 hours a day, and you may get a chance to understand Boris and Natasha. Does it worth the efforts?

Debating around the Groupon’s offer

I like Groupons. I really do. Groupon already saved me lots of money.It introduced me to lots of new places. It can bring a real value to me, the consumer. Groupon does it perfectly when there is a match between what I need and what’s offered. This happened to me twice so far, and saved me hundreds of dollars. But more often Groupon offers something that looks lucrative, but I don’t need this thingy, really. But it looks good though. But will I use this offer by its expiration date? I might, but it’s going to put some pressure on me.

Here’s a typical situation. We are planning to go out for dinner with friends. While deciding on the place we learned that our friends have an expiring groupon for so-and-so restaurant. Let’s go there. Driving for 10 miles eats up half of the savings. Was it really worth the hassle?

Here’s the today’s Groupon’s offer I’m debating. The one that resulted in this blog. It’s about Macarons, the French pastries.

macarons

Here’s the deal. For $10 I can get a box of 6 macarons, which normally goes for $15. Or even better. For $20 I can get a dozen, which otherwise would’ve cost me $30. Looks like a no brainer. I should go for it, right? Not so sure.

This place is located in Greenwich Village in 1.6 miles from where I live. According to Google Maps I can get there in 14 min by bike. This means that I’d need to allocate about a hour for utilizing this Groupon offer. To save $5. On the other hand, there is a place in 7 min walk from my house, where I can buy macarons for $2.50 a piece, and I don’t even have to commit to the box of 6. So, if I’ll buy 4 macarons in my neighborhood bakery, I’ll spend the same $10 saving a half an hour on this ordeal. Besides, by doing this I’ll support the business in my neighbourhood, which will make my area flourish. Why would I need to support the bakeries located in the Village? Well, there are great bars with live jazz, which (during the last 6 months) I’m planning to visit. Need to support them too…

But are these Groupon’s macarons even good? The fact that the name of that bakery consists of two French words may be a trap. Actually, the deal’s description mentions the name of their pastry chef: Oliver. He must be French. They are the best in cooking.

But what bothers me the most, some time ago I had bad experience with pastries that looked like macarons, where marked as such, but were not as fluffy and tasty like the real ones. I mean the original ones from Laduree, Maison de Macarons. We tried them in Paris first, but now they have a store here in Manhattan on the Upper East side. It’s far from me, and each costs $3. But they are real. On the other hand, Laduree is about to open a new store in Soho, which is pretty close to where I live. But $3*6 = $18. Man, it’s not an easy decision to make.

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When I woke up this morning, the last thing on mine mind (after the yesterday’s Super Bowl’s party) was French macarons. But here I am, spending already 30 min on writing this blog, and I haven’t even make a decision regarding that Groupon offer. What should I do? Please help!

Analytical Thinking for Dummies

Some people believe that only good math students can become computer programmers. Nothing can be farther from the truth. To be a successful programmer, a person needs two talents:

  • Logic
  • Analytical Thinking

Logic is needed because the majority of programming in the enterprise world is about writing if-statements. If this happens do this, otherwise do that.

Analytical Thinking is an ability to take what seems to be a complex problem and turn it into a set of simple steps. I’d like to share with you a simple expample illustrating what is analytical thinking.

On Wednesday evening I was walking along Broadway in New York City. While passing a Citibank branch, I noticed a girl who was standing there exchanging text messages with someone. Clearly, her phone was out of juice, but I’ve been wondering how she managed to reach the electric outlet conveniently placed this high?

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Somehow the metrics didn’t work out, I took a photo and published it on my Instagram and Twitter accounts with the title “Girls Can Jump”, and one of my followers posted a funny comment, “It’s not the worst thing to expect from Android”. But I was trying to recreate the situation with the outlet, and decided that she asked some tall guy to insert the plug. I was still wondering, how she’d unplug the wire? Would a simple jerk motion do the job?

Yesterday, I’ve published my regular audio podcast about America (it’s in Russian) and asked the audience to offer their version of this puzzle. One of my listeners goes under the nick CoderA – he’s a software developer from Moscow. He answered with a picture that’s worth a thousand words:

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And this is a great illustration of what analytical thinking is. Taking a complex task (“Just figure out how she did it?”) and turning it into several simple ones:

  • What’s the distance between the electric outlet and the floor?
  • What’s the hight of her shoulder?
  • Whats the length of her arm?
  • What’s the length of her forearm?
  • How standing on her toes could extend her reachability?

After adding all these numbers together (the sizes are in pixels), it’s clear that this girl could have plugged it in by herself!

You can start arguing that the numbers may be wrong, but it’s beside the point. What’s a lot more important that CoderA has analytical skills and being a sofwate developer is the right profession for him. When during technical interview at Google they ask candidates “How many piano tuners live in San Francisco?”, they don’t expect to hear the exact number. They want to see the job applicant would try to find out this number!

If anyone from Google reads this post, consider extending a job offer to CoderA. We all know that knowing the syntax of the if-statement in a particular programming language is an easily obtained knowledge. But figuring out how she reached the electric outlet is not a trivial task. It requires analytical thinking.

Using Facebook? Don’t!

My son Dave showed me the episode from the South Park, season 14, titled “You have 0 friends“. This great episode resonates with my understanding of the virtual world, hence this blog.

1. People who are using Facebook daily are doomed to lose their social skills. I mean, seriously.

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2. People enjoying social networks are either already sick or getting there. On the surface it looks like social networks help lonely people to find someone to talk to. But people are more and more immersing into a virtual world and getting back to reality may become problematic, at least to some of them.

3. Young generation has troubles in communicating with people in the real world because of social networks. Yes, I’m an old fart, and you don’t need to remind me about it, but I’m actually meeting my friends face-to-face.

4. To me, the best momemt of this South Park episode is at about 8’10”. But what if he wouldn’t get a response? This would be a disaster (in a real world). Do you know what should you do after watching this episode? Watch it again. Recognized yourself? Sorry, but you’re on the road to join the world of people’s profiles… Good luck in getting back to the reality.

5. I’m not a social networks nazi. I have accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Twitter is for business. Facebook – I just don’t know how to cancel it. LinkedIn is for business.

twitter

6. Don’t trust me? Read this.

7. When I see that so-and-so wants to connect with me on LinkedIn I just ignore it unless I know this person.

linkedin

8. There is another very smart movie about the World War III (Facebook user may need to watch it twice to get it).

9. Enjoy this hashtag video with Justin Timberlake.

Close your Facebook account. Get real. Do you know how many friends you need in a real life? Just one.

Damaged by SmartPhones

When I saw the sign that in case of fire you should leave the building before tweeting about it, I smiled. But this is sad. I’m pretty sure that at least in the New York City most of the people in case of fire will either tweet or text about it.

First leave than tweet

Slowly but surely the young generation is moving into a virtual world where posting a funny message and getting more followers is more important than saving yours or someone else’s life in the real world. People witnessing a street fight will first post pictures on Instagram, and then, maybe call 911. Who cares, everyone knows that when a person gets killed, you can start a new game and get more lives! Just click, sorry, touch the button.

In rare occasions when kids get together, their bodies are in the same room, but their minds are occupied with manipulating smartphones. Check out this post titled “The day Einstein feared the most have finally arrived”. This is today’s reality that will only get worse.

A couple of years ago I was invited to a birthday party of one lady. We were already sitting in a restaurant, when her daughter and teenager-grandson showed up in the restaurant. The kid was holding the phone with both hands while quickly typing. His mom was slightly pushing him toward our table so he wouldn’t hit any obstacles on along the way. He didn’t even raise his head, and sat on the chair continuing typing. I know this family for years, his grandmother was raising the kid, and they both love each other. Well, she loves him for real, and he loves her back… virtually.

I know an employer, who had a job applicant who would agree to work on one condition: no communications in person or over the phone – only text messaging. This boy was a nice kid, but please let me talk to you!

I have two sons. The elder lives separately, and my wife often complains that when she calls him on the phone she always get his voicemail. But I’m glad that his phone is somewhere in the bag and not in his hands. Honey, he’ll call back soon. I want my younger son to do the same – live in the real world where people talk to each other while looking at each other rather than into this high quality retina display talking to Siri.

May be the day will come when people will be able to live in two worlds at the same time as in a great novel 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. Unfortunately less and less people remain in the real world. Kids, come back!

How to Create the Next Facebook for Ten Bucks

Just got an email that the eBook “How to Create the Next Facebook” is on sale: $10 instead of $20.99. This raises lots of questions in my mind about the readers of this manuscript. If a reader a cheap bastard who couldn’t afford to pay the full price, what are your chances that you will actually create the next Facebook?

facebook

If the author of this book knows how to do it, why he “crystallizes the process” and provides “a guided blueprint” for us instead of doing it himself? The chances are that he has a big crystalized idea, but no money to implement it. Where to get the money? If a thousand naive people will shell $10 a book copy, it’ll add up to $10K. After the publisher recovers expenses, the author will get less than $1K in royalties, which can cover a dinner with a venture capitalist, where the author could ask for some investments into the next Facebook.

Nay, this doesn’t sound like the author’s plan. Most likely he hopes that this catchy book title will make ten thousand of simple people to part with their $10 (what’s the hell, it’s a price of one pack of cigarettes). Then the author will get $10K in royalties that will put some bread on his table for a short period, unless he’s planning on downshifting and settling down somewhere in a bungalow in Thailand where $10K is enough to get by for a year. Not exactly a Facebook style of living, but hey, it’ll give the author time to write another manual with even better title – something similar to this one:

photo (1)

I’m sure people will be waiting in line to purchase this piece of advice. By the way, anyone knows a country where cost of living is lower than in Thailand?

Listen to Youtube

I don’t have time to read. Because of that I listen to audio books on the go, and it’s really great. During the last ear I’ve consumed a dozen of novels (yes, non technical books), can you believe this? I did it while walking, driving or riding. Listening to the books is great.

I also listen to audio podcasts,lectures, and radio programs available as audio files or as a stream.

But what to do with video presentations from youtube? There is some great content there that I would not want to miss. On the earlier stages of my evolution I was using the Firefox plugin called dwhelper, which can save (most of) youtube videos in the files in mp4 format. Then I’d copy it to my iPhone to play using the VLC application.

When I walk or drive I can’t watch the iPhone screen. I listen. You’ll be surprised, but most of the presentation slides are pretty much useless for the audience. You can listen to the audio and visualise what the speaker refers to. With presenters like Steve Jobs it was easy – there were no program listings on his slides. It’s not difficult with most of other speakers too – they read from Powerpoint slides anyway.

So now I’m getting rid of the video part completely. This is how it works. Go to youtube and find the video you’d like to listen to, for example, Martin Fowler’s intro to NoSQL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=qI_g07C_Q5I

Then copy this URL to a converter service that can extract the MP3 out of it. So far I’ve been using free service at http://www.vidtomp3.com. In some cases it works very fast, in some cases it’s slow, but it does the job. Copy the mp3 to your audio player and consume the info on the go. This is all it takes.

P.S. If you of better ways to consume info, please share.

P.S.S. If you believe that we already have too much of the information to consume, do not follow my advices. Consult with your therapist.

What Makes America the Greatest Country in the World?

My son Dave bought the DVDs with the first season of the HBO’s series “The Newsroom”, and we watched the first episode today. In the beginning, they showed a press conference, where a journalist asked a TV anchor, “What makes America the Greatest Country?”. He could not give a decent answer, which got me thinking, “How would I answered this question?”

I live in the USA for twenty one years. Before that I lived in the USSR. I’m an American citizen. I don’t have any other citizenships. I can compare. I can observe. I can speak up freely.

To put it short, the USA is the most wanted country in the world. That’s why it’s the greatest country in the world. Of course, not 100% want to relocate to America. But most of the people do even if they say otherwise.
People vote for America by putting the money (or lack of thereof) where their mouth is. People find any possible way to get their feet on our soil. Some people are educated and they know exactly why they want to come here. Some people simply get a gut feeling that this is the right place to live and raise children.

Some people use this magic word “opportunities” without knowing exactly what it means. For most of them it’s an expectation of some miracle. Say, I’m a poor guy from Pakistan working at a gas station, and one day the the Rolls-Royce pulls over and my life will never be the same. Or more realistically, I’ll work for 7 years and make enough money to buy a house in my country and my family will live better. Because of America. There’s something in the air…

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Living here for two decades, I can say that the USA is not a rosy place where life is good for everyone. I see double standards in politics. I see that we are sending our kids to wars where we shouldn’t be. I see fraud in financial and insurance industries. I see how lawyers rule here, but they do it according to the laws and not the bribes. I know that pharmaceutical companies do what they want in pricing, but people have pills. Maybe too much of the pills. I had to go through a surgery. After getting a second and third opinion, I picked one of the best surgeons in the country and everything went perfect.

But I also see that there is law in this country. A policeman is not your enemy (even if you’re making 80 on 65). I see that if you have an idea for business, this country doesn’t stop you. Go ahead and try it out. If you made a mistake, try again.

This is the country with the most stable financial system. People from around the world send their own money to America for storage. Technically, they give us the money for free, without the interest. Dollar up, dollar down, but it’s The World’s Currency.

The high education is one of the most respected and recognized in the world. Seven hundred thousand foreign students get their higher education in the USA.

I see that more that 200 nationalities learned how to live together and respect each other. Do they really like each other? Not always, but they respect the rights of other to be here. Live and let live. Again, it’s not perfect. The Ebony and Ivory problem still exists. But it’s better than in any other multi-national country.

We have fair elections. They may not be perfect, but when Barak Obama won, I knew that he won not because some people cheated on counting votes, but because he’s a winner according to the today’s laws.

I like the fact that people are smiling to each other. Not as much as before 9/11, but they smile. I like the fact that most of the people you are contacting try to help you and not take advantage of you. Retired people can maintain a decent lifestyle and enjoy good medical treatments (at least till Obamacare will come into our lives).

That’s why the USA is the greatest country in the world in my opinion. This is not the right country for everyone. If you need siesta and fiesta on the daily basis, your native Colombia or Brasil is a better place for you. But why all these Mexicans are risking their lives illegally crossing the border every day just to get to the American soil without education, English or profession? I guess, they decided that America is the greatest country in the world. I decided this wehn I was a kid and have never changed my mind since.