Shareware Beach

Monday, 13 December 2004

Time to Uninstall SETI@Home?

Filed under: Cyberspace — Jan @ 19:40

Many people run the SETI@Home screen saver to contribute idle CPU cycles to the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence. An interesting article in Astrobiology Magazine argues that the effort is most likely to be in vain.

The SETI project uses a huge array of radar telescopes to scan signals from space for patterns (as opposed to random background noise). The article argues that signals with detectable patterns would be from aliens with limited technological skill in effectively encoding signals. The kind of alien that isn’t capable of sending signals into deep space in the first place.

Computer files are a good comparison. A simple file would be a plain text file. Even if it’s written in a language you don’t understand, there are clearly recognizable patterns in the file. Certain elements (vowels) occur far more often than others, elements appear in groups (words), some elements are used to create super-groups (punctuation), etc. It’s a very inefficient way of storing data.

A better way to store data is to compress it. A .zip file still has a certain amount of structure, since a simple layout is used to group files together in the .zip archive. But the compressed files inside the .zip look much like random bytes, with little statistical difference from random bytes. The better the compression algorithm, the closer the data will resemble a meaningless random stream of bytes. Because if there’s a pattern left, you could enhance the compression algorithm to compress the remaining pattern as well.

When sending signals through space over such distances that even the speed of light is a seriously limiting factor, you don’t have the luxury of using too many bytes. In fact, even our terrestrial communications and storage systems are using ever more sophisticated compression algorithms. Audio CDs and VHS tapes are uncompressed. MP3 songs and DVD movies use complex, patented compression methods.

Suppose you have a billion files on your PC’s hard disk, all of them containing random, meaningless bytes, except for one that contains a document written in an unknown language, compressed with a highly effective, unknown algorithm. There’s no way you can find out which file you want, let alone decipher it. Looking for a needle in a haystack is easy. Looking for a straw in a haystack is impossible.

And we haven’t even considered encryption yet.

Tuesday, 7 December 2004

Time to Take Action

Filed under: Recommended Reading — Jan @ 20:12

Seth Godin posted a list of the 24 best Seth Godin posts of 2004. Definitely an interesting read.

If you want to read only one post, my favorite is Time to Take Action. Very inspiring. The right time to start or grow your shareware business is now!

Monday, 6 December 2004

In Memoriam

Filed under: Personal — Jan @ 17:44

Mit & Charel

Saturday, 4 December 2004

To Blog or Not to Blog Frequently

Filed under: Cyberspace — Jan @ 19:58

David Pankhurst argues that business blog should be updated frequently, daily if possible. I disagree.

David compares reading a blog to watching a TV show. If you break the habit of watching the show, it’s often hard to tune in again later. But blogs are different. Most people read more than one blog, and many use news aggregators (special software for reading blogs and other newsfeeds). People make time to read blogs, not to read one blog in particular, as you do with a TV show that requires your attention for a specific timespan.

Personally, I just add the RSS or Atom feed to my bookmarks in Firefox. I have 18 of them in my list right now. When I take time to catch up on world events :-) I simply hover the mouse pointer over the bookmarks. I can instantly see whether a blog has a new entry, and read that entry or skip to the next blog. You’re not going to lose my readership if you don’t post anything for a few weeks. Skipping your blog only takes 2 seconds.

However, if you try to keep your blog fresh by posting more frequently than your creativity and writing skills can handle, your blog is far more likely to be deleted from my ever growing list of blogs to read. I’m only willing to spend a certain amount of time reading. And I don’t want to spend it reading an entry and find out it’s not interesting. The blogs with the most amount of least interesting information will be deleted from my bookmarks first.

Your blog doesn’t need to fill a predetermined amount of time like a TV show. Don’t fill it with fluff, but with interesting articles, and readers will continue coming back for more.

PS: David also recommends you keep note-taking software running on your computer, to quickly jot down ideas and save references, for use in later blog entries. I recommend and use AceText. Yes, I eat my own dog food. :-)

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