Google Transit

I've just read on the google blog about a new project called Google Transit. It's a nice little feature that allows you to get local transit schedules and routes (displayed on google maps - go AJAX go! ;-) ) via a simple search engine like free text query. Cool. But even cooler: they include the price for the trip and compare it to the price of driving the same route by car. Cars lose again. Here's an example query: http://www.google.com/transit?q=pdx+to+100+nw+couch+st,+portland,+oregon&hl=en


A Foot of Snow...

... and M√ľnster descends into chaos! Oh such fun - I love winter ;-) Anita and I went to a musical last night, Jeckyll and Hyde - awesome - go see it - which was 4 hours long. Coming out of the theatre all cars were burried in 20cm of fresh snow. Total chaos on the parking lot, no one could get out. Anita and I were on foot ;-) Today, almost no trains are running (which is relevant for my brother who tries to get to Cologne to see Tracy Chapman in concert), 40km traffic jams on the Autobahns because trucks can't make the easiest of slopes, non stop emergency sirens because people are just too damn stupid to deal with snow, power outings, ... I cycled 6km through the snow, took me almost twice as long as usual but was great fun... Go winter go! BTW, a cool non-car transportation system (that'd probably work in winter): http://www.skywebexpress.com/


Edible-Rock gold master done!

Just wanted to let you know that the new Edible-Rock CD music4earthlings is sent to the factory! Finally done! ;-) The official release party will be held on november the 27th, details to be announced on the website. As an appetizer I've snatched two songs from the new album: H.P.V. (of course I had to have this one since I kinda inspired it with my bike ride ;-) ) and Writings On The Wall And of course you can already listen to the album and see the cover art on Last.fm. you heard it here first!


Last.fm + Audioscrobbler know your musical taste!

I've said it before when the service was still called audioscrobbler: last.fm totally, absolutely, fantastically rocks! It's another one of these up and coming social computing websites. You download a music player and optionally a plugin for your current music player of choice. The plugin will upload your musical choices from now on (if you allow it to) - thus creating a musical profile. From that info it generates a list of musical neighbours, a list of recommendations (people who shop on amazon should know them: "people who bought X were also interested in Y") and all kinds of custom playlists. But the real bummer is yet to come: via their free player you can listen to dynamically generated radio playlists all day long - specifically tailored to your tastes! If you don't like it you can just skip a song and go to the next. Or say I only want to listen to music similar to "Jack Johnson" (insert your favourite artist). I love it. BTW, my profile and playlists are at: http://www.last.fm/user/BuschnicK/


I'm back from Canada

Anita and I arrived home from Canada last monday. We had a total blast. We spent 7 weeks driving, canoeing and hiking around in the Great Outdoors that is British Columbia. I have updated my Amazon associate links on my bookreview pages. If you happen to be a regular shopper on Amazon why don't you use this link instead of the regular Amazon one. Thank you. I'm currently loking for more software development contract work, so if you have any work/tips for me please contact me.


Life is fun

Spent two days cycling along the Ems river to the North Sea. Visiting my girl friend at her parents house. 265 kilometres, 115 the first day, 150 the second. I camped on a clearing near Meppen and woke up at exactly midnight to a fantastic lightning storm. Almost windstill, but continuous thunder and ligthning. My tent was bright for seconds on end. Nature at her finest. While cycling I only had the best weather though. I still have the sun tan line on my legs from my 6 months bicycle tour a year ago. Because of that I didn't have to use any sun screen this time and am back to my old dark "cyclist skin" ;-) It seems like my job will soon be a bit of C++ again - yeah! I had a couple of interesting discussions and language lawyer puzzles recently. Fun, fun, fun. Virtual inheritance, dominating methods, ... ahh the complexities and subtleties of the language never cease to amaze and intrigue me - I'm a whacko I guess ;-) I've started packing for Anita and my Canada trip this year. Plane leaves on Sunday...


book review: Coder to Developer

I used to post my book reviews on Amazon.com and received some very positive feedback on them too (almost 100% helpful votes and one author even published my review on his website). Unfortunately my original Amazon account got lost and I don't know how to continue with a new account under the old name. I got totally lost in the Amazon html maze trying to figure that out. Ah well. Starting afresh then. Anyways, here is my latest review: Coder To Developer Tools and Strategies for Delivering Your Software Mike Gunderloy ISBN: 078214327X The book tries to cover the whole of the software development process from planning, team management, coding best practices and finally creating an installer and releasing the product. With such a broad range of topics each one is only treated very superfluosly and shallow. The author has a very tool centric view on things and as such many chapters are just a market overview of available software for the task at hand. I don't think this is of much use for the reader since that is exactly the kind of information you can gather in half an hour of internet research with google - and even after reading the book you'd still have to do this research anyways in order to gather current prices for the latest gadgets. All software solutions presented in the book are for windows only and Microsoft's tools seem to get extra focus and attention. The intended target audience for the book are independant developers and small software shops. As such the author assumes that you are wearing multiple hats and are filling all kinds of different roles from designer to coder to management. I very much liked this perspective on the software world because for one thing I am one such lone wolf developer and second because there are already tons of software books for the large corporate software developer. Those books typically assume loads of process and management and different departments etc which all don't apply for the single developer. Two important things missing in the book's coverage are two chapters: One for the time before concrete planning actually begins on the question of "what to develop" and determining markets. Another one for the other end of the road on how to market your software, how to price it and how to present and distribute it. If those were included I think the book would truly cover the complete process a lone developer goes through from idea to product. All in all, the book gave me little new information but a good checklist to work through on a project.


Bits and pieces

Take a look at this guy. He has left a sprinkler running all through an Alaska winter. The result is a ~30m high artificial tower of ice he uses for climbing. Humans need hobbies I guess ;-) It's worth reading the article from the beginning, the writing is hilarious and witty. In my arrogant moments I like to think I'm a free electron... but then reality usually catches up ;-)


Edible Rock rocks!

My brother's band won the first round in the international Emergenza newcomer festival. Congratulations! Now on to the next couple of rounds ;-) The festival covers the US, Canada and Europe. There are several qualification rounds, the first couple are decided by audience vote alone, while the next few will have a jury. Tonight 8 bands were competing and Edible Rock won first place with 80 votes. Second was Fortitude with 56. I believe in Germany alone 2500 bands have signed up for the competition... If you haven't been there yet, head straight over to the Edible Rock homepage and download some cool music.


European patent law

...or how big money has won over Democracy yet again. For the really optimistic there's still a glimmer of hope left, but seriously... http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20050307095336843


It's snowing!

Finally we get some real snow... I love it. I've just read that the night from sunday to monday was the coldest this winter with temperatures just above -14 degrees celcius. Funnily enough we heated our outdoor bathtub that night. So I was lying around naked in the snow - not feeling cold at all ;-)


Debugging society - part one

Debugging society - part one:

Thoughts on free markets and a capitalist economy

I believe our current economy and capitalist system to be deeply flawed, unjust and ultimately doomed. Let me state a couple of the reasons why:

It's flawed because it encourages all the wrong mechanisms and motivations. Free market advocates quote the fundamental mechanism of supply and demand and competition as the driving forces that keep the system healthy and alive.

Competition is what I call a destructive motivator. Meaning that to thrive in a competitive market it is to your advantage if your competitors (opponents?) struggle. This is not a healthy situation, not productive for society as a whole. Cooperation on the other hand is a constructive motivator. It is good for you if your partners thrive. If competition is the only viable motivator (as seems to be assumed) how can it be that even in a capitalist system the greatest leaps in productivity come when people cooperate? Rebuilding after a war, causing “economic miracles”? Building up to a war? Why, if competition is the only viable option, do we expect friends and family to work by wholly different and opposite principles?

Supply and demand is a broken system as well. There are lots of things that are in huge demand and are not in the hands of capitalism to supply (rightly so). Think about our natural resources like air and water. The demand is huge and never-ending. Yet at the same time they have no monetary value attached to them. Which means it’s not, cannot be, in a capitalist’s interest to invest in, or even just to conserve them. But the alternative also isn’t possible. We cannot attach a price value to natural resources as that’d mean poor folks would only get three breaths a day or something…

Another key observation is an individual worker's productivity. In previous centuries, when work mainly consisted of manual labour, all workers were pretty much equal. Sure, if you put in twice as many hours as your neighbour or are twice as strong as him you might manage to work twice the land he does. But basic physical principles prevent huge differences in work productivity. Not any longer. Technology has changed all that. A farmer using modern machinery can easily be a hundred times as productive as one that doesn't. A logger with modern equipment cuts down a whole forest in the same time even Hercules needs to cut down a single tree with his axe. A good software developer is light-years ahead of a bad one. This increase in an individual's productivity is a good thing. It is enabling. Only because humanity invents ever more powerful tools do we progress and are able to sustain our numbers. And yet, capitalism punishes these advances. Oh sure, the one productive farmer is rewarded for his work. Yet the 99 others that are now without work are now without work- read: unemployed. This too, should actually be a good thing, because they are now free to pursue other venues. Yet their choice of alternative occupations is severely limited by what the market supports. Unemployment is only bad because it is made so. Think about it for a second: How often did you say “If I only had more free time I could…”. Unemployment is the ultimate in free time. Granted you need a system in place to keep the 1 worker that supports the 99 unemployed happy and working. The current system’s answer is to punish the 99 and make them all compete for the 1 worker slot. Is there really no alternative? More on this in another post (as it is a topic that interests me very much because my job as a software developer is basically making other people’s jobs superfluous).

It’s unfair because the old saying of money breeds money is just all too true. I think I don’t even have to argue this point much. Once you have a million it’s easy to make the next. Even if you didn’t even deserve (earned with your own labour) the first to begin with. It’s unfair because it actively sustains and supports the current global imbalance. It’ll never be in our best monetary interest to share our resources with the poor, yet it is in our interest to use their labour. It’s unfair because work is valued crassly to the advantage of the already rich. The further away your job is from work that is necessary, from work that actually must be done, the more money you’ll get for it. Imagine that! The more needless and dispensable your job is the more money you’ll get for it. Someone working the fields until his fingers bleed every day of his life just to support his family doesn’t even compare to someone working the stock market 20 years of his life and retiring early. Someone selling lottery tickets earns more than the local bakery… I’m lucky; I’m pretty much at the top of this chain. I enjoy a very high luxury standard of living for typing stuff on a keyboard each day without any real risk of starving or even losing my standards. But is this fair? Should this be so?

It's doomed because of all the reasons stated above (individual productivity increasing through technology, money piling in fewer and fewer places) and because it’s already failing in a downward spiral. Take a look at the world today. How many are we? Common wisdom has us believe that free market capitalism is the best option, the survivor, the winner, the dominant. I’d go so far to even argue that point. Seriously, of those people – how many do even participate in capitalism? How many of them have more than a dollar a day at their disposal? Less than that and you do not really participate. I bet if you view it that way capitalism doesn’t come out all that well. And if I had to guess again I’d say the group that’s not actively participating in, but just being controlled by, capitalism is increasing faster than the other one.

Disclaimer: I don’t have the slightest clue about what I’m talking here. These are all just personal observations and first stabs at refining them into some more or less coherent arguments. If you agree/disagree/have strong opinions on the topic yourself – feel invited to cooperate and shape my views ;-)


It's fun learning new stuff...

First update in a long time. I have been very busy recently, working two contract jobs, hunting for a new appartment, helping a friend with his move to Stuttgart, and getting all the insurance and tax paperwork done for my independant work. It's fun learning new stuff! My job used to be programming C++ pretty exclusively. I'm still doing C++ work, but my primary tools at the moment are Java, VisualBasic, PHP, MySQL and Halcon Script - with a major project in each. PHP and MySQL are an insanely productive combination in their problem domain and real fun to work with. Java feels like a toy language coming from C++ - it's similar enough so you are able to dive right in and hack away and forgiving enough to let you get away with it. The refactoring tools available for it are powerful and easy to use. I don't like it's exception handling and object lifetime semantics though. VisualBasic and HalconScript are clumsy and basically a huge PITA to work with. Dunno why BASIC ever got as popular as it is. Working independantly takes getting used to. For one thing I find working from my home office more exhausting than sitting at the company's desk. Maybe it's just me, but when working from home I only bill actual working hours. For an eight hour work day that feels like taking an eight hour exam and I'm completely wasted afterwards. Working at the company's office on the other hand you seldom if ever get eight hours of high concentration work done on any single day. Colleagues, phones, meetings etc interrupt often enough that the typical eight hour day is more like five or so... Cool new website find of the month: spurl A page that manages your bookmarks and finds related links and information. I wonder when the ultimate-uber-search engine will emerge. A mix of technorati, google and the likes. I wanna have my own customizable web spiders. Continuously monitoring and crawling the web for me and presenting relevant results. I'm already using a baby version of a service like that, which lets you craft a search and updates you via email or rss when something relevant to your search happens. But it's not good enough.