Thursday, January 30, 2014

Favorite stories: how programmers benefited from my book(s)

I received this very pleasant note today from a PL/SQL developer:
Actually, the second edition of PL/SQL programming is what jump started my career as a PL/SQL developer. I was sold to my first Oracle customer as an Oracle developer, while I had actually never written any PL/SQL. So I raced to the biggest bookstore in Rotterdam and guess what I found [Steven: the biggest computer book he ever saw? :-) ]. The sad thing is these kind of books cannot be found in physical book stores anymore.  For years I used to visit Barnes & Nobles in WPB and pick up an Oracle book when on holiday. Every year the computer book section would occupy less space, and would recently only offer books on iPhone programming, Excel for dummies and such. This year I didn't even bother. Even my favorite bookstore of all times, Computer Book Centre in Funan Centre Singapore is now on line only.
Wow, his favorite bookstore is in Singapore. I like that!

I sure enjoyed my time in Singapore, though bookstores didn't figure much into the visits....

I have to say that I've never been overly concerned about how my books might help a corporation improve its bottom line. But I have always felt very satisfied when I hear how my books may have helped an individual's career.

Oh, this Dutch developer also shared with me his orange bookstack:

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Free Shipping! Free Shipping! Free Shipping!

If you are one of the many humans who don't believe in evolution, or more specifically believe that the planet is just 6,000 years old, or believe that a God or gods have a plan for us, I wouldn't bother reading any more of this post.

OK, then. So if you are still reading this, I will assume that you have a healthy respect for the scientific method (including, at its core, a constant challenging of its own "theories" - current models for explaining how the world works) and a growing horror at what we humans are doing to our world  and, just as importantly, doing to the millions of other species of living creatures on this incredible planet.

But we shouldn't give up, right? We should do whatever we can, whenever we can, to heal the world from the worst of human ravages, cut back on our consumption, educate our fellow humans about the importance of changing our ways.

Absolutely. But first allow to express a bit of concern about the chance that anything we do will have much impact.

1. "Free Shipping" 

Among the many incredible accomplishments of e-selling juggernaut Amazon is that "visionary" Jeff Bezos has managed to zero out the entire cost of the infrastructure of transportation of products in the minds of consumers. We have become addicted to "free shipping" (hey, and if you pay just $79 for Amazon Prime, free second day shipping) and fully expect that we should not have to pay anything to:

a. Move the product from the factory in China to a truck.
b. Drive the truck to the train.
c. The train chugs its way to a port.
d. A truck takes the product from the train to a container.
e. Container is loaded onto massive cargo ship (holding thousands of said containers).
f. Cargo ship crosses big sea, consuming enormous amounts of fuel.
g. Ship arrives in San Francisco and lets all its ballast water out into the Bay, releasing billions of creatures who do not belong, some of whom will invade and wipe out native creatures.
h. Move container off ship to truck.
i. Truck to train.
j. Train to truck.
k. Friendly Fed-Ex or UPS fellow leaving a box at our door.

All of that, and not only for free, but cheaper than we can get it ANYWHERE ELSE including the store down the street.

Causing this shift in our perspective is no small accomplishment - and has, I fear, nothing but bad consequences.

Seems to me that 2014 is the wrong year (as if 2013, 2012, 2011 or 2010 were any better) for humans to no longer have to pay any attention - or money - for the vast and vastly destructure globalized movement of products.

Not promising at all!

2. "All the News That's Fit to Banner"

It's not hard to find an article or blog post or (even better) a tweet about how our attention spans are decreasing, how young people don't read lengthy books or articles anymore. They are easily distracted and tuned to receiving short bursts of highly packaged data. Yeah, OK, we've heard all that.

And I believe it.

So I found it really striking and downright depressing that none of our major newspapers even include the Environment, Planet, Ecology, Climate Change, etc. as a top-level entry on the banners of their websites. Take a look:

If these hold-outs of reason and deep(er) thinking can't seem to manage to accept the world-killing efforts of humans (also a major killer of humans) as a significant category of news in 2014, then I truly do not find it easy to be optimistic about the chances that we will change our consuming ways.

3. Dolphin and Killer Whale Shows

Well, I am not going to repeat what I already said here, except to say:

The next time anyone sounds off about the superiority of human beings over other creatures, ask them what they think about us enslaving other sentient beings.

Monday, January 13, 2014

SETI is a Grotesquerie

SETI - the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence

I used to be big into sci-fi. I read lots of fascinating stories involving ingeniously crafted aliens. It was very entertaining and thought-provoking.

Like many humans, I looked on with awe as humans found their way into space, peered ever deeper into space (and the universe as it existed long ago), and searched avidly for life on other planets.

Now I find all of that to be a grotesque mockery, since that search for extra-terrestrial life is possible only through our utter disdain for and vast destruction of life on our very own planet.

The only life we know for sure exists.

How many species of frogs, butterflies, trees, bats, birds and myrid others have gone extinct so that humans could establish and operate the vast network of factories, homes, aircraft, trucks, trains and more, required to send rockets (and humans!) into space?

Clearly, humans don't really give a shit about life, in general.

All we give a shit about is us: sentient, self-aware, tool-making us. Special and unique us.

And what we are looking for "out there" are others like us: tool makers, manufacturers, consumers.

If that wasn't the case, if what we really wanted to do was establish contact with other sentients, regardless of how they lived in the universe, so that we could learn from each other, then, let's see:
  • It would be considered murder to kill a whale.
  • It would be considered slavery to keep a cetacean captive (and performing tricks) at places like SeaWorld and Shedd Aquarium.
  • We'd be working awfully damn hard to learn how to communicate with cetaceans.(even if only as practice for the "real thing")
Why do I say this? Because cetaceans are self-aware.
Cetaceans - whales, dolphins and porpoises - have been evolving for millions of years, just like us. They have big, complex brains. They have language. They recognize themselves. They have a sense of humor, for heaven's sake.

Repeat after me: cetaceans are self-aware.

Too bad, then, that they don't make stuff. Because as far as humans are concerned, if you are not ravaging your planet in order to build things to make your lives more convenient and comfortable, then you are a lesser being. And that renders you simultaneously uninteresting (except as a source of entertainment) and available for exploitation.

And so here it is, 2014, and still our governments can't even agree on enforcing a worldwide ban on whaling, thereby ending the rampant slaughter of these extraordinary creatures (who, we should recall, evolved from land-based mammals, reclaiming a life in the ocean. Amazing!).

Don't worry, though: even if all the whales are dead, we will still have recordings of their haunting, beautiful songs.

And we can still take our children to "educational shows" that feature those cute, smiley dolphins leaping on command and wiggling their tail in delight over being fed a fish.

As if dolphins need humans to feed them fish! This sort of travesty is what passes for the most high-minded, progressive education of our youth.Yuck.

The fact that humans can't even accept cetacean self-awareness shows clearly that we do not respect life and we do not respect sentience. The only thing we respect is the ability to manufacture and consume things, regardless of the cost to the rest of our planet and its inhabitants.

C'mon, SeaWorld: let your killer whales go!

Hey, Shedd Aquarium, close down your abomination, the Abbott Oceanarium!

Oh, and NASA (and China National Space Administration and India Space Research Organization and European Space Agency and...)? Please shut down operations. Now.

If we are going to drive to extinction hundreds, probably thousands, of species, and obliterate the lives of trillions of individuals, let's at least commit the resources that result from those deaths to finding a way to reduce the awful impact we have on our world.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

To Buy or Not to Buy: FIJI Natural Artisan Water

Here's why FIJI Water thinks we should buy "their" water:

In Fiji, rainfall filters through volcanic rock over hundreds of years, adding vital minerals that give FIJI Water its unique and refreshing taste. The water collects in an ancient artesian aquifer deep within the earth, where it is protected from external elements. It's the way nature intended water to be. Untouched.

Here's why I think we should NOT buy this water:

In Fiji, rainfall filters through volcanic rock over hundreds of years. The water collects in an ancient artesian aquifer deep within the earth, where it is protected from external elements. It's the way nature intended water to be. Untouched.

So don't touch it, FIJI Water. Leave it the f%$k alone.