Sunday, June 21, 2015

Common People

Common People from Pulp is one of my favorite songs from my student years. At that time I did not care too much about the lyrics of a song, as there were no sites with song lyrics yet and I was not very good at English, but I remember that part about seeing cockroaches on the wall which resonated well with a resident of Grozavesti :D Recently I found out this song was based on a real story, but the author would not tell who that Greek girl was. However, some journalists investigated who could have met the guy from Pulp when he was in college and they found that the most likely person is the wife of the current Minister of Finance from Greece (the story is here). Isn't it ironic? :) The socialist Greek politician who goes at E.U. official meetings like a rebel and wants to free Greeks from the evil troika is married with the girl loaded with money who wanted to live like common people. I guess an option would be to donate her money to the state to pay off some of the debts of Greece and then they could truly live like common people.




Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Libertarians in Action

Libertarianism covers many movements according to Wikipedia, but what I mean by this term is what Wikipedia defines as anarcho-capitalism: the political theory that all problems of human society are best resolved by market forces. So they want nothing more than to abolish the state and leave the market to take care of everything: from schools to health care and from defense and police to the justice system. These ideas originate from the group of economists known as Austrian School, like Mises and Hayek. The Austrian School had important contributions to the development of economics, refuting the marxist theory that was very popular in Europe at that time. For example they developed the subjective theory of value opposed to the labour theory of value proposed by Marx. They also predicted that implementing Marx's ideas will lead people to misery and dictatorship, but few people listened to them. We had to learn it the hard way, after 50 years of communism. However, libertarians took these ideas to the other extreme, idealizing the market forces in every aspect of our life. This is even more bizarre to me since even Hayek, the most recognized economist of this school, acknowledged in his works that there are situations of market failures, or other motives like moral grounds which legitimate the existence and intervention of the state.

I met once such a group, they were organizing a seminar discussing libertarian authors. They were very passionate about their ideas and would not consider any counter-argument. I remember somebody cheering the situation in Somalia on a forum, saying that the collapse of the state there 10 years ago will let people develop better since there will be only market forces at play. My reaction to this was to propose them to go on an inhabited island and build there the society they dreamed of. Recently I found that somebody did try to do exactly this. Not on an island (it's hard sometimes to eat your own dog food), but on the internet. This guy created an online marketplace, called Silk Road, using only encrypted connections so people cannot be traced. He wanted to seal this market from any possible government intervention, following the true spirit of libertarianism. And guess what trade flourished on this market: drugs, of course. It took FBI a couple of years to penetrate and dismantle this network. You can read the fascinating story on how Silk Road raised and fell in Wired in two parts here and here. A few days ago the creator of this market was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He is not at large anymore...

Saturday, May 23, 2015

New Voices in Romanian Music

I was challenged today at work to name some new Romanian singers or bands that make good music and here is what I came with:
Note that I don't actively follow what's new on the music scene, this is just what I picked up by listening to the radio now and then. Radio Guerrilla used to promote new Romanian bands, but since they closed there was a gap in my knowledge on this topic. Luckily the team from that station regrouped in two other radios, some of them at Gold FM and others at Tananana Radio. I recently started listening to these new stations, so I might pick up new bands. Until then let's listen to the song dedicated by Toulouse Lautrec to Radio Guerrilla, "Nu se termina asa" ("It Doesn't End Like This"):


Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Origins of Music Videos

I saw recently on Facebook a post about what is called the first Romanian music video. This was done for the famous song "Andrii Popa" by Phoenix, see below:



 By music video I mean a video telling a story together with the song, not just a recoding of the singer or band performing the song. I was curious to see how this special form of art appeared and I found some interesting facts. For example, Beatles were overwhelmed by requests to perform in TV shows, so they started recording performances for TV, which they sent to many stations. They got the idea to make them more fun by adding other types of videos apart from them just playing the song. An example is this video clip for their song "Help!":



On the other side of the world, in Australia, there were no that many bands willing to travel there in the seventies, so they made TV shows where they started doing collages to show while playing new songs on TV. They also starting producing video clips for local bands, like AC/DC, like this one for "Jailbreak":



The guy doing this work realized the potential of this new form of art and quit his job to become a director of video clips. Then MTV appeared and this business exploded, the rest is history :)
I found some of the information from this Wikipedia article on Music video, you can find more interesting details there.


Monday, May 04, 2015

Save Our Songbirds

Ciocarlia is a songbird found in many places in Romania. Here is a short video capturing its beautiful song.



It is also a famous Romanian song which was played by artists like George Enescu on the violin or Gheorghe Zamfir on the pan flute.





If you liked what you saw so far, here comes the bad news: too many (hundreds of thousands) of these songbirds are hunted every year and a new law was passed that will make even easier to hunt these birds (check some more details here). Some people started a campaign to stop this law. They made a powerful spot and initiated a petition that can be signed here.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Smart Phone Is Taking Over

When smart phones appeared first on the market I was not impressed. Ok, I saw you can use them as a mini-computer to browse on the net, read your emails or chat on the go, but apart from this I didn't see any killer app that would make my life easier. I'm not into gaming, I'm not into photography, so having two cameras or a processor that can run whatever game was not touching me at all. The first application that convinced me to buy such a phone was Google Maps (or any other maps) combined with GPS capability. I didn't have a GPS at that time, but I was considering buying one, so when I found that I can do the same thing with a phone I just bought the phone. The smart phone just killed an entire market of GPS devices, their only niche at this moment are the car companies where they can get deals to pre-instal their devices.
Now and then I find an application that can really help me with some task. If you go to a baby expo you will see countless of systems to track your baby if she sleeps in another room for example. Not needed anymore, there are application for your phone like Baby Monitor which can do the same thing and call another phone if your child starts crying in the middle of the night. Two days ago I was in line at the pharmacy and as usually I didn't have the fidelity card which gives you some discount with me. The man behind me at the queue told me that there is an application (VirtualCards which is tailored for the Romanian market, but there are others too) where you can store all your cards. It generates the same bar code as the one on the card and you can scan your phone instead of the actual card. Bang, you don't have to carry all those cards with you, the phone will suffice.
So if you know other cool applications for the phone let me know, I'm interested in simplifying my daily routine :)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Cheryl's Birthday

People are talking on the internet about a problem given at a math contest in Singapore, the problem even has a name now, "Cheryl's Birthday". Some were shocked that such a problem was given to 11 years old students (in fact it was given to 15 years old children), but actually there is nothing that would prevent a 4th or 5th grade student to solve it. You need to know only basic logic operations, nothing more, so it is reasonable for an 11 years old child who is good at math to solve such a problem. |Actually when I was in 4th grade I started attending a math circle at  my school and we were doing exactly this kind of problems. I remember even today how happy I was when I solved one of the first of those logic problems and of course I remember that problem too: There was a kingdom having capital punishment. Before execution each convicted person was allowed to appear in front of the king and say a statement. If the statement was false he would be beheaded and if the statement was true he would be hanged. How can a man escape execution in these circumstances?

Many years after I was attending a job interview in Bucharest. It was in those years when people found out that Google and Microsoft gave logic problems at interviews and the fashion spread to other companies. They gave me one problem which I solved and then they gave me a second one which I knew from the math circle. They asked me where do I know it and when I told them that I know it from the 4th grade and I used to solve this kind of problems every week they decided to skip that part of the interview :)

Now don't imagine that I attended some privileged private school. I was raised in Mangalia, a small town in communist Romania, and I went to the nearest school from my house which was still half an hour walk. It was the dedication of some passionate math teachers (Mr. Dinu, Craciunescu and Henny) who were willing to spend their week-ends teaching some extra hours of math for free to some little kids like me and many others. You know, I have to thank them once again here for their effort.